Population: 45,000,000
Capital: Madrid
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Labour unrest followed the government's unilateral decision to reduce the pay for public sector employees. The Community of Madrid again tried to prevent strikes by abusing the minimum service requirements.


The law recognises freedom of association. All workers, including migrants and undocumented workers, can form or join the union of their choice, although there are a few exceptions. Members of the armed forces, the national police force and some regional police forces are not allowed to join unions, whilst judges, magistrates and prosecutors are not free to join the union of their choice. The Constitution guarantees the right to collective bargaining and protects the binding power of collective agreements. The law also protects the right to strike.


Background: Spain struggled with major economic issues in 2010. Unemployment soared to 20% – twice the average for the euro zone. In May the government introduced a EUR 15 billion austerity plan to reduce the country's budget deficit, including a 5% cut to public sector salaries. The unions called a general strike in September, the first one in eight years. In January Spain took over the rotating EU presidency for six months.

Abusive use of minimum service rules: Public sector workers employed by the Community of Madrid were unhappy at the decisions made by their regional government. The strike on the Madrid metro on 29 and 30 June was in protest at the application of Law 4/2010 of the Community of Madrid, which cut metro workers' salaries by 5% on the grounds that they while belonged to an enterprise of a commercial nature they received income from the general budget of the Community and were therefore civil servants. In organising the strike the workers respected the legal requirements concerning the notice period, strike call and notification.

The Transport Department of the Community of Madrid imposed minimum service requirements on the strike days, which in practice obstructed the right to strike of the majority of the workers, given that 100% of workers in the metro stations came under the minimum service rules. The trade unions have repeatedly lodged complaints with the courts against the Community of Madrid for abusively imposing minimum service rules every time there is a strike. Despite the fact that court judges have repeatedly sanctioned these abuses, the Community of Madrid again imposes minimum service rules knowing that even if there is a complaint, the judge's decision will be made after the strike has taken place, and so will not affect it.

Despite blatant attempts by the company to avoid another strike the workers heavily supported it and on 17 July an agreement was reached. Plans for further strike action were called off. On 31 August the company lodged a claim against the strike committee and the trade unions for a massive six million euros compensation for damages and asked that the strike be declared illegal. The company's claim was before the Madrid High Court at the time of writing.

Undermining collective bargaining rights: For the first time since democratic rule began the national government approved salary reductions for public servants in Spain by an average of 5% and a wage freeze for 2011, sharply reducing workers' purchasing power in practice. The cuts were introduced by means of Royal Decree-Law 8/2010 of 20 May, introducing extraordinary measures aimed at cutting the public deficit. The new law also included a significant reduction in public employment in Spain, which has one of the lowest employment rates in the public sector in relation to total employment in the European Union.

The government's unilateral decision amounts to a serious undermining of collective bargaining rights, and breaks the commitments agreed with trade unions concerning pay and employment in the "Government and Trade Union Agreement for the Public Sector within the framework of the 2010-2012 Social Dialogue" signed in November 2009 and still in force. The trade union federations representing public sector workers within the General Workers' Union (UGT) and the Workers' Commissions (CCOO), together with other organisations in the sector, organised rallies, demonstrations, delegates' meetings and a public sector general strike across the country on 8 June in protest at the government's measures and demanding the right to collective bargaining.

The change in government policy from one of guaranteeing social expenditure and productive investment in order to stimulate recovery and protect employment to a restrictive policy that seriously impacts on social expenditure and economic growth was continued in the form of Royal Decree-Lay 10/2010 of 16 June, imposed by the government, and Law 35/2010 of 17 September on Urgent Measures for the Reform of the Labour Market.

Both legal texts were deemed to be a serious attack on workers' rights, as they led to a loss of both individual and collective rights, substantially changing the regulations that had hitherto governed labour relations in Spain, in particular collective agreements, the quintessential instrument of labour regulation.

The 29 September general strike called by the UGT and CCOO and widely supported by other trade union and social organisations in response to the package of measures was met with a markedly anti-union campaign by the media on the radio, in the written press and on television.

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