Spain: Struggle against pirate companies

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Everything started in Spain with the 2012 labour market reform, when the PP (People’s Party) and their absolute majority changed the collective bargaining rules to make company agreements prevail over sector agreements.

By Santiago González Vallejo (USO)

Since then, in the private security sector, among others, new “pirate” companies have been proliferating. They have been set up purposefully to benefit from lower social and working conditions than those laid out in the collective bargaining agreement of the sector, and therefore to compete on the basis of lower market prices. It must be noted that the private security sector has always been characterized by the fragmentation of labour among thousands of different working places with very few workers each, even though there used to be a relative concentration of the sector into the hands of relatively few companies.

The Private Security Workers Federation (FTSP) of USO, together with other trade unions, responded by organising the workers of the pirate companies and lodging a complaint before the court about these unfair competition practices. The workers, guided by the unions, have gone on intermittent or “japanese style” strikes, forming endless queues, etc. These actions in public sector workplaces have unveiled the practices of government bodies which awarded public contracts to new tendering companies employing the same workers as the previous ones, but on much lower pay and far worse terms and conditions.

These mobilisations have set off responses at various levels. At the legislative level, the Parliament (where the Government party, the PP, is now the minority) approved in 2017 a reform of public procurement rules in which they recommended that the price should no longer be the main awarding criteria and that the provisions of the sectoral collective agreement should be complied with.

Judicially, there has also been progress against pirate companies such as Marsegur/Novosegur, which headcount rose from 100 in 2013 to 1500 at the end of 2017. The 1500 workers, however, were paid wages up to 5000 € a year lower than those established by the sectoral collective agreement. The trade unions took legal action against the company and the court ruled in favour of the unions. The breach of the right to strike during the mobilisation process was also confirmed, and the company was ordered to pay compensation to the trade unions. In addition, the first company collective agreement was declared null and void because the “signing workers” were not elected trade union representatives. Last but not least, the court argued that, by operating with labour costs lower than those established in the sectoral collective bargaining agreement, the company was guilty of unfair competition practices that were detrimental to private security undertakings and workers in general.

This hard-won victory achieved in the private security sector must be extended to other sectors where collective agreements going below the sectoral ones have proliferated. In the end, it all boils down to breaking the iron fist of neoliberal austerity policies that change legal frameworks in order to reduce the wage share in the national income as compared to profit and, by the same token, bring corporate income taxes down.