European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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Industrial relations in Spain: background summary

  • Trade union membership in Spain remains low, at around 16% of the workforce on average.
  • However, union density is higher in the public sector than in the private sector, and in large companies than in small- and medium-sized companies. It is also higher among men than among women, and among older workers than among younger workers.
  • By membership, the largest trade union confederations are UGT (around 930,000 members) and CCOO (around 910,000 members). Other trade union confederations (CSIF [which organises public employees], USO, etc.) have substantially fewer members than the two big ones.
  • Union representativeness is not based on membership, but on the number of delegates elected in works councils and other representative bodies in both the private and public sectors. Delegates are elected by employees in a company or establishment every four years. By this criterion, CCOO and UGT have always been the two main trade union confederations in Spain. They are considered the most representative at national level. CCOO gets around 36%of all delegates (all sectors combined) and UGT gets around 33%of all delegates. No other confederation comes near; indeed, no other confederation reaches the minimum threshold to be considered representative at national level (10% of all delegates at national level). These data are ever-changing, since electoral processes are constantly taking place. Other unions may be representative at sectoral level, at company level or at regional level.
  • The main employer confederations are CEOE and CEPYME (the latter represents mainly small- and medium-sized companies). Only around 26% of firms declare themselves to be associated with an employer organization. Larger firms are more likely to be associated than smaller firms; 67% of companies employing at least 500 employees are associated.
  • Collective bargaining is a constitutional right of employers and employee representatives. It takes place mainly at sectoral level, either nationally or regionally. Over 90% of the employees covered by a collective agreement are covered by a sectoral one rather than by an agreement negotiated at company level. Around 82% of the companies are bound by a sectoral collective agreement rather than by a company-level collective agreement.
  • Collective agreements have general efficacy ("erga omnes"). They apply to all the employees employed by each company within the bargaining unit, regardless of membership in the signatory trade unions or employer organisations. General efficacy explains the high coverage rate, which is probably around 85%.
  • General efficacy is the main cause for the employees' low interest in union membership. Union members receive hardly any additional advantage beyond legal assistance from the union. General efficacy is also said to justify the controversial public financing of the activity of collective bargaining carried out by unions and employer associations on behalf of members and non-members alike.
  • Collective bargaining may also take place at company level. Elected representatives (works councils -"comités de empresa", employee delegates -"delegados de personal") are in practice the main employee representative channel in Spanish workplaces. Works councils and employee delegates have a statutory right to collective bargaining in the workplace. However, union representatives in the workplace have a preference for bargaining at company level, as long as they represent the majority of the members of the works council and employee delegates within the company. Over 95% of all members of works councils and employee delegates have a close connection with a trade union in the sense that the candidate has been promoted by the union.
  • The main mechanism for setting pay in Spanish private sector companies is collective bargaining. The national minimum wage set by the state (as of 2016, €764.40 per month for a full-time employee) is almost negligible (less than 1% of the workforce earn less than 105 % of the monthly minimum wage in proportion to their working hours). Sectoral minimum wages are much more important in practice; since 2012, a collective agreement negotiated at company level may set wages below the sectoral level, but this is a rare practice..
  • There is no statutory right to employee representation at board level in the private sector in Spain.
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