The Spanish Equality Act

Country: 
Spain
Category: 
Equality

Background

In Spain unions are internally organised both sectorally (federations) and geographically (territorial branches). The main generalist Spanish trade unions are Comisiones Obreras (CCOO), Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT) and Unión Sindical Obrera (USO). In addition to generalist trade unions, there are also unions only active in one sector. Not all the trade unions have a Spanish-wide dimension. This is the case, for instance, of the Unió de Pagesos (Catalonia) and the Sindicato Andaluz de los Trabajadores (Andalusia), two important trade unions in the agricultural sector.  Some trade unions are linked to political parties (CCOO and UGT), whilst others are independent from any political party.

Context

The Equality Act was passed by the Spanish government in March 2007 and sets out legislation for gender equality. The law arises from article 14 of Spanish Constitution, which states the right to equality and non-discrimination only on the grounds of gender. However, this old legislation is considered as outdated and inadequate as gender inequality issues still persist, for example, gender violence, gender-based wage discrimination, higher levels of  unemployment for women, a weak presence of women in high ranks in the cultural, social, political and economic life, difficulties related to work-life conciliation,  to name but a few. The aims of the law are; to eradicate all forms of direct and indirect gender discrimination in the fields of employment and training, education, health, housing, artistic creation, sport and so on and to promote equality in a proactive way.  

Although there is no explicit reference to precarious work in the Act, in practice it can contribute to its reduction by promoting measures particularly favourable to female workers as, although there is no accurate data about the gender or the age composition of precarious work in Spain, it is widely assumed that it affects more women than men. One of the measures the Act includes requires the implementation of equality plans , and this could certainly contribute to decreasing the incidence of precarious work, by making it compulsory that women and men are treated equally at workplace.

In this regard, the Act must be regarded as a new legal tool to tackle job precariousness in Spain, both within enterprises and at the institutional level. The Act also reinforces the role of trade unions in making proposals for enterprises to promote job stability.  

Outcomes 

COOO believes that this law could contribute to a decrease in precarious work in Spain through two measures: a. the obligation on enterprises with more than 250 employees to negotiate and implement equality plans and b. the provision of incentives for employers to recruit workers on contracts of indeterminate length. In this way the Act benefits both female and male workers with precarious contracts.

Regarding the first measure, the law also recommends the introduction of equality plans in medium-sized and small companies, on a voluntary basis.  

Nevertheless, it has to be stressed that the law does not apply to those workers who are working in the underground economy and who are considered as the most precarious of them all. Workers who have neither a formal employment contract, social security nor any legal protection are invisible although they are commonly employed in the agricultural sector, although less so in the food sector. Being invisible as these workers are, there is no official data about the extent of the underground economy in Spain as a whole or in a given sector such as agriculture or food. Nevertheless, unofficial data estimate that the underground economy represents over 20% of the Spanish GDP. Regarding the countries of origin of the workers employed in the agricultural sector on an irregular basis, most of them come from the South Saharan area.    

The law can only benefit precarious workers in a legal employment situation, who are mainly those working involuntarily in either part-time or fixed-term jobs in all sorts of frameworks, including seasonal jobs. Most of them are third-country migrants in a regular or irregular situation , women on a part-time basis, young people in their first job and relatively old workers. 

There has been no internal opposition to the law within the CCOO, but it has been opposed by many enterprises in Spain, although the exact number is not known. Despite those enterprises with more than 250 employees being obliged to issue equality plans, some of them prefer to pay a fine than negotiate with the trade unions to issue equality plans. The union’s response consists of denouncing these enterprises to the labour inspection. Each time that a given enterprise is denounced, it is punished with a higher fine.  In fact, the main drawback regarding the topic of equality is the low level of awareness-raising in Spain concerning gender equality. CCOO is constantly working to increase awareness both internally and externally and even has an equality plan of its own. 

Other problems concern the existence of gaps in the text of the law, which are expected to be solved through the implementation of new legal regulations, which are currently being drawn up. As an example of such gaps, the law does not made it compulsory that trade unions sign the equality plans they may have cooperated in designing. In fact, for these plans to be valid, only the signature of the company is legally required, so that even its own employees may be not aware of its contents if the company does not publicise them. 

Precarious work can be understood in relation to recruitment, promotion and training and work-life reconciliation including all those employees working involuntarily on partial-time, fixed-term, seasonal, rotational contracts, etc.    In terms of recruitment, the law provides for a number of short-time contracts to lead to contracts of indeterminate length and for a number of part-time contracts to be transformed into full-time contracts. In terms of work-conciliation measures, CCOO is of the opinion that male workers must make a greater use of them that has been the case so far in Spain.

Since the approval of the law, the CCOO has appointed at least one person working on a full-time basis in each Autonomous Community  on topics related to equality. The law has also moved the CCOO to bring about changes which have led to a higher presence of women in the top ranks of the union.

Evaluation, challenges, benefits and innovation

The social improvements that the law brings about must be consolidated, however, through collective bargaining. In the agricultural sector, this law is also to benefit female farm workers by developing the legal figure of the joint ownership in land in order to ensure that women’s rights are fully recognised in this sector.

For the trade unions, the law has represented an opportunity to gain a greater insight into precarious work and to achieve a higher influence in policy making. Their level of co-operation with other unions both at national and European levels has also increased.

CCOO considers that this law is an innovative initiative both at the Spanish and at the European levels and is of the view that no similar law exists in other European countries. This does not mean, however, that Spain is in a more advanced position, because at least in some European countries there is a greater awareness concerning equality and gender-related issues than in Spain. However, COOO is of the opinion that a similar law should be passed in all the European countries.

It must also be regarded as a progressive law in terms of social and labour rights and must be conductive to wage equality in sectors where wage differences between women and men are very acute. 

The law should contribute to making Spain a fairer and more egalitarian country, although through an obligation imposed on enterprises. The impact of the Law, however, has been uneven, meaning that it has been very positive in those sectors with a strong union presence (big enterprises in the industrial sector, big and medium-sized enterprises in the agricultural and food sectors, public enterprises dealing with the prevention and extinction of forest fires), but much more modest in small companies. 

Annex 1: Sources used in the case study

Interviews were conducted with the trade union CCOO.

Additional resources:

The Equality Act at: http://www.boe.es/boe/dias/2007/03/23/pdfs/A12611-12645.pdf.