Probably only around one in seven employees in Spain (14%) are union members, although the results of elections to works councils indicate that unions have much wider support. There are two dominant union confederations in Spain, CCOO and the UGT, although there are other important groupings at regional level and in the public sector.
There are no up-to-date official figures on union density (the proportion of employees who are union members) in Spain. The most recent official figures come from the 2010 Survey on the Quality of Working Life (ECVT), which the Spanish government has now discontinued. They show that in 2010 16.4% of all those in work were union members. Looking just at employees – the usual basis for calculating union density – the percentage would have been higher, at between 18% and 20%, although the figure cannot be precise as not all union members are employees. However, union membership in 2010 was at record levels and figures published by the main union confederations show that membership has fallen by around 20% since that date (see below). At the same time, employee numbers have risen, after dipping between 2010 and 2013. By 2019, there were 6.9% more employees in Spain than in 2010. As a result, union density has fallen.
Figures from the unions themselves (see below) indicate total union membership across all union groupings of around 2.8 million. This implies a union density of 16.8% in 2019, although not all union members will be employees and some of the membership figures may be overstated. The ICTWSS database of industrial relations statistics suggest a lower figure, estimating union density at 13.6% in 2018.
Another measure of the degree of support for unions is provided by elections to works councils, which take place on a four-yearly basis. A relatively high proportion of employees vote in these elections. In 2015, a third (34.4%) of all private sector employees voted, equivalent to 41.1% of private sector employees in workplaces with a legal possibility of setting up a works council (six or more employees). The overwhelming majority of those elected are trade unionists (97.5% in 2015), with most belonging to the two main confederations. On this measure, unions have much greater support than the level of union density would indicate.
There are two main trade union confederations in Spain at national level, CCOO and the UGT, although there are also other union bodies which play an important role. CCOO and the UGT have broadly similar levels of membership and support in works council elections, although CCOO is slightly ahead on both indicators. The two confederations come from different political traditions (see below) but are able to work together successfully. They are also the only "most representative unions" at national level – a status which depends on having at least 10% of the representatives chosen in works council elections at national level – and this gives them rights in the area of collective bargaining (see section on collective bargaining).
The CCOO reported in December 2019 that it had more than 966,000 members. This is a 6% improvement on the 909,052 members in December 2015, reported to the 11th congress of the confederation in 2017. But is fall of 18% on the figure of 1,171,858 in 2010, the last year for which official union density figures are available. The 2016 figures reported to the congress in 2017 show that the vast majority of its members were employed (84.1%), with 10.9% unemployed, 4.9% retired and 0.4% self-employed or in some other employment situation.
In terms of support in works council elections, figures published by the CCOO and not disputed by other confederations, show it had the largest number of representatives elected in the four years from 2015 to 2019, just as it has in every electoral cycle since 1995. Out of a total of 273,955 representatives elected over this period, it had 97,086 (35.4%).
The size of the UGT’s membership is similar to that of CCOO. It states on its website that it has 941,485 members (November 2020). This is slightly higher than the membership of 928,846 it reported for 2015, but 22% lower than the record membership of 1,209,651 it reported in 2010.
In terms of the elections to works councils, the UGT is in second place, slightly behind CCOO with 87,663 elected representatives – 32.0% of the total.
Although these two confederations dominate at national level, there are other important union groupings, as indicated by the fact that unions outside these confederations accounted for more than a quarter (29.2%) of all elected representatives in the period to 2019.
These other union groupings fall into three groups:
- national confederations, which compete directly with CCOO and the UGT across Spain;
- regional confederations, which operate in some regions; and
- individual unions or union federations, which organise in specific sectors, industries or occupations.
The three national confederations operating across Spain in competition with CCOO and UGT are USO, CGT and CNT. USO, which emerged in opposition to the Franco regime at the end of the 1950s, is the largest of the three, reporting a membership of 120,545 to the ETUC’s 2019 gender equality audit. It gained 10,993 representatives in the works council election up to 2019 (4.1% of the total). The CGT emerged from a split in the anarchist CNT in 1979 and took the name CGT a decade later. It was reported to have 85,000 members in 2018, and has 5,435 elected delegates (2.0% of the total). The CNT, which has continued to exist since the split, is reported to have 50,000 members. However, there are no figures on the number of the CNT’s elected delegates, as the CNT does not participate in works council elections.
The trade union groupings with a regional base reflect these regions’ demands for greater autonomy or independence. Although nationally these unions only obtained 6.8% of the delegates in the period to 2019, within the regions in which they operate they sometimes have more support than the two main national confederations.
The Basque nationalist ELA is the strongest confederation in the Basque Country by a considerable margin, in terms of its vote in works council elections. The CCOO figures for the cycle ending in 2019 show that ELA had 7,038 elected works council representatives (41.0% of the total) in the Basque Country, more than double the number of the CCOO, with 18.6% of elected delegates and even further ahead of the UGT, on 10.7%. In fact, the second strongest union confederation in the Basque Country, in terms of elected representatives, is LAB, which is close to those demanding complete independence. It had 19.1% of the elected works council members in the Basque Country. Because they have at least 15% of the delegates elected at regional level, ELA and LAB both have the status of "most representative unions" in the Basque Country. The ELA website states that ELA had 98,960 members in March 2017. The LAB website states LAB has 45,000.
In Galicia in the north west of Spain, the Galician union confederation, CIG, is the largest union grouping in Galicia, in terms of representation, with 4,595 elected representatives (28.8% of the total). This puts it ahead of the UGT, in second place with 4,445 (27.9%), and CCOO, in third place with 3,993 (25.0%) Like ELA and LAB in the Basque Country, with more than 15% of the elected delegates in Galicia, CIG has “most representative union” status in the region. There are no published figures on membership, but CIG’s general secretary stated in 2018 that it had more members in Galicia than both UGT and CCOO. Given that CCOO reported a membership of 42,311 in Galicia to its congress in 2017, this suggests an affiliation level for CIG of perhaps 45,000.
Among the union bodies which operate only in specific sectors, industries or occupations, the most important is CSIF in the area of public administration. In the four years to 2019, it had 10,283 elected representatives, which calculated across the whole economy, was 3.8% of the total, but amounts to a much higher percentage in public administration. As a result, government figures on the election of representatives in central government (known as AGE) in 2019 show that CSIF representatives were the largest grouping by a slight margin. They accounted for 27.6% of the total, ahead of both the UGT (25.9%) and CCOO (24.2%). After several years of growth, CSIF’s membership was reported to have reached 192,655 by the end of 2017.
However, CSIF is by no means the only union body to have an influential role in a specific occupation or industries. In retail and associated industries, FETICO negotiates alongside CCOO and the UGT, together with another union body FASGA. FETICO reports that it has 66,000 members, and the CCOO’s figures show that it has 4,818 elected representatives (1.8% of the total) across the whole economy. In health, there is a separate union, SATSE, which organises nurses and physiotherapists. It reports that it has 124,000 members, and has joined with another union for teachers, ANPE, with 67,000 members, and a third doctors’ union to form a federation for unions in education and health, FSES, which, on the CCOO figures, has 1,889 elected representatives (0.7% of the total). There is also a separate union for those working in private education, FSIE, with 4,728 elected representatives (1.8% of the total).
There are many other smaller unions outside the main confederations, such as the pilots’ union, SEPLA, a union for flight attendants, STAVLA, a union for train drivers’ SEMAF , an important grouping of unions in education, STEs, and a union for bank staff, FITC. In total, figures from CCOO indicate that nationally smaller independent unions obtained 8.3% of the delegates in the round of works council elections which ended in 2019, and in individual companies or organisations they can be much more significant.
Despite the existence of these smaller unions, the legislation which states that unions must have at least 10% support in works council elections nationwide to be nationally representative, gives a dominant position to CCOO and the UGT the two confederations with this level of support. A recent attempt by USO, the third largest confederation, and six other independent unions to challenge this situation seems unlikely to be successful.
Relations between the two main confederations are normally good, although subject to certain tensions. They have reached a series of joint agreements with the employers providing a framework for annual pay increases and the structure of industrial relations in Spain (see section on collective bargaining). They also both signed a tripartite agreement with the government and the employers on remote working arrangements in September 2020.
All the confederations are structured on an industry basis with separate federations for different industries, and in both CCOO and the UGT number of federations has fallen in recent years, as the result of mergers.
In line with the plan of action approved at its congress in 2013, the CCOO has reduced the number of its federations and now has only seven, including one for retired members. All manufacturing industry, for example, is now covered by a single federation, CCOO de Industria, formed through a merger of two separate federations in February 2014.
The situation is similar in the UGT. It only has six federations, and, with one each for agricultural workers, retired members and the self-employed, almost the whole of the economy is covered by three federations, one for public administration, health and education, one for other services, including transport, and one for manufacturing, construction and energy.
In both CCOO and the UGT, these federations are better seen as sections of the main confederations rather than autonomous bodies. Spanish trade unionists are more likely to see themselves primarily as members of the UGT or CCOO than their industry federation.
Both confederations also have regional structures, which correspond to the country’s regional divisions, and play an important role.
Historically the two main confederations had different political links – with the socialist party (PSOE) for UGT and with the communist party (PCE) for CCOO. However, a 2018 study for the ETUI suggests that these political and ideological differences are today “only minor” and that both are broadly social democratic organisations. The Basque and Galician confederations, ELA, LAB and CIG, are politically aligned to calls for greater autonomy or in some cases independence for their communities, and the occupational and industrially based unions outside the main confederations place great emphasis on their political independence.
Trade union membership in Spain was rising before the economic crisis in 2008, with official figures from the Quality of Working Life survey showing that the proportion of trade unionists among those in work increased from 15.8% in 2007 to 17.4% in 2008. It then fell slightly to 17.2% in 2009 and 16.4% in 2010, the last year these figures were published. Figures from the two main union confederations after this date indicate a further fall in their membership from 2.38 million in 2010 to 1.84 million in 2015. Since then, their membership has increased, rising to 1.91 million by 2019. Similar figures are not available for the smaller union groupings, but figures from some of them indicate a growth in recent years.
Both main confederations have emphasised the need to increase affiliation. The CCOO, in the document to be presented to its 2021 conference points first to its low level of affiliation, which it estimates to be 4.9% of employees, as a limit on its negotiating ability. And the UGT, in a document for its congress in 2021 described “encouraging membership” as a priority for the union.
There are no official figures later than 2010 on the proportion of men and women who are union members. The 2010 figures from the Quality of Working Life survey showed that 17.8% of men in employment were in a union, compared with 14.8% of women. Figures submitted to the unions themselves to the ETUC’s annual gender audit show that, in 2019,44.1% of CCOO’s membership was women, 36.8% of the UGT’s, 40.0% of USO’s and 45.2% of ELA’s.
 Encuesta de la Calidad de Vida en el Trabajo (ECVT) (2010) Table 5.10 http://www.empleo.gob.es/estadisticas/ecvt/Ecvt2010/IN5/index.htm (Accessed 04.11.2020) http://www.1mayo.ccoo.es/nova/files/1018/Portada201208.pdf (Accessed 11.05.15)
 Figures from the Encuesta de población activa (Instituto Nacional de Estadística) which show that there were 16.67 million employees in Spain in 2019 and 15.59 million in 2010
 Jelle Visser, ICTWSS Data base. Version 6.1. Amsterdam: Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies AIAS. October 2019
 La representación sindical en España: cobertura y límites by Pere Jódar, Ramon Alós, Pere Beneyto and Sergi Vidal, in Cuadernos de Relaciones Laborales 36(1), 2018 https://cedproves.uab.cat/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Cuadernos-de-Relaciones-Laborales_2018_36_1_Jodar_Vidal-et-al.pdf (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 For an analysis of the situation and development of Spanish unions see Spain: a peripheral economy and a vulnerable trade union movement by Holm-Detlev Köhler and José Pablo Calleja Jiménez, in Rough waters: European trade unions in a time of crises, edited by Steffen Lehndorff, Heiner Dribbusch and Thorsten Schulten, ETUI, 2018
 Gaceta Sindical Edición nº 409, December 2019 https://www.ccoo.es/bc6d78a4dbdce411e085b37ecb69ec3a000001.pdf (Accessed 04.11.2020))
 Memoria de Actividad, 11º Congreso Confederal, CCOO, 2017 https://www.ccoo.es/0279d2e4901465674f6d9c0c5a745ea5000001.pdf (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 Memoria de Actividad, 10º Congreso Confederal, CCOO, 2013 http://docpublicos.ccoo.es/cendoc/035875XCongresoCSCCOOMemoriaActividad.pdf (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 Gaceta Sindical Edición nº 432, June 2020 https://www.ccoo.es/c2085d8a95b4589b418baf794f5b99c9000001.pdf (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 ¿Qué es UGT? https://www.ugt.es/que-es-ugt (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 Nuestras cuentas: Información económica de la CEC, Unión General de Trabajadores, 2016 http://docplayer.es/74293457-Nuestras-cuentas-informacion-economica-de-la-cec.html f (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 Gaceta Sindical Edición nº 409, December 2019 https://www.ccoo.es/bc6d78a4dbdce411e085b37ecb69ec3a000001.pdf (Accessed 04.11.2020))
 This and subsequent figures on the number and proportion of representatives elected in the period up to 2019 come from details published by CCOO in 2019 https://www.ccoo.es/05719941f755aa9b2aec7e126c36227d000001.pdf . They differ slightly from the 2020 figures quoted above, but are used because they provide more information on smaller union organisations.
 ETUC Annual Gender Equality Survey 2019 – 12th edition, by Lionel Fulton and Cinzia Sechi, ETUC, April 2019 https://www.etuc.org/sites/default/files/circular/file/2019-05/ETUC_Annual_Equality_Survey%202019_FINAL_EN.pdf (Accessed 04.09.2020)
 Los sindicatos recuperan afiliados por segundo año consecutivo, Expansión, 04.02.2018 https://www.expansion.com/economia/2018/02/04/5a76ee98268e3ecc738b45d9.html (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 Del 8M a Amazon: CNT y CGT resucitan a costa de los dinosaurios sindicales, El Confidencial, 25.03.2018 https://www.elconfidencial.com/espana/2018-03-25/cnt-cgt-sindicatos-ugt-ccoo-huelga-amazon-feminismo_1540327/ (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 ¿Qué es CNT? https://www.cnt.es/que-es-cnt/#elecciones (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 Resultados de las elecciones sindicales. 31-XII-2011, Departamento de Empleo y Asuntos Sociales, Gobierno Vasco, April 2012 http://ccaa.elpais.com/ccaa/2015/03/04/paisvasco/1425501954_026895.html
 La afiliación y representación en cifras https://www.ela.eus/es/sobre-ela/afiliacion-en-cifras (Accessed 04.11. 2020)
 Langile Abertzaleen Batzordeak https://www.lab.eus/es/langile-abertzaleen-batzordeak/ (Accessed 04.11. 2020)
La CIG ya es el primer sindicato de Galicia en delegados y delegadas, Galici@press, 08.06.2018 https://www.galiciapress.es/texto-diario/mostrar/1107530/-cig-xa-e-primeiro-sindicato-galicia-delegados-e-delegadas (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 Avance provisional de resultados elecciones a órganos de representación del personal al servicio de la Administración General del Estado, Ministerio de Política Territorial y Función Pública, 19.06.2019 https://www.mptfp.gob.es/dam/es/portal/funcionpublica/funcion-publica/dialogo-social/Elecciones-sindicales-2019/Avance_provisional_resultados.pdf (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 Los sindicatos recuperan afiliados por segundo año, tras la fuga de la crisis, EFE, 04.02.2018 https://www.efe.com/efe/espana/economia/los-sindicatos-recuperan-afiliados-por-segundo-ano-tras-la-fuga-de-crisis/10003-3513517#:~:text=Desde%20entonces%2C%20el%20n%C3%BAmero%20de,peor%20momento%20de%20la%20crisis (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 FETICO – historia https://www.fetico.es/conocenos/historia (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 SATSE aumenta en un 23 por ciento el apoyo logrado en las elecciones sindicales, SATSE (12.06.2019) http://www.satse.es/comunicacion/sala-de-prensa/notas-de-prensa/satse-aumenta-en-un-23-por-ciento-el-apoyo-logrado-en-las-elecciones-sindicales (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 Afiliación - ANPE sindicato independiente https://anpesindicato.org/afiliacion/index.php/inicio/mas (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 USO, Fetico, Satse, ANPE, CCP, Gestha y CSL "unen sus fuerzas" para acabar con el 'bisindicalismo' La Vanguardia, 03.07.2019 https://www.lavanguardia.com/vida/20190703/463276626877/uso-fetico-satse-anpe-ccp-gestha-y-csl-unen-sus-fuerzas-para-acabar-con-el-bisindicalismo.html
 Las Ejecutivas de UGT y CCOO ratifican el acuerdo para regular el teletrabajo, Europapress, 22.09.2020 https://www.europapress.es/economia/laboral-00346/noticia-ejecutivas-ugt-ccoo-ratifican-acuerdo-regular-teletrabajo-20200922112057.html (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 Spain: a peripheral economy and a vulnerable trade union movement by Holm-Detlev Köhler and José Pablo Calleja Jiménez, in Rough waters: European trade unions in a time of crises, edited by Steffen Lehndorff, Heiner Dribbusch and Thorsten Schulten, ETUI, 2018
Encuesta de Calidad de Vida en el Trabajo (2006-2010) http://www.empleo.gob.es/estadisticas/ecvt/welcome.htm (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 CC.OO. y UGT llegan al Primero de Mayo con menos afiliados que antes de la crisis, ABC, 01.05.2018 https://www.abc.es/economia/abci-ccoo-y-llegan-primero-mayo-menos-afiliados-antes-crisis-201805010145_noticia.html (Accessed 12.05.2015) plus figures at the start of this section.
 Propuesta de ponencia 12 Congreso, p. 46 Consejo Confederal, 20.10.2020 https://comisionesobreras.congresos.ccoo.es/e2f70522d1a4a1380fccc941df5cc297000001.pdf (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 Normativa interna p. 65, Comisión de propuestas 43, Congreso https://www.ugt.es/sites/default/files/normativa-interna-43-07092020.pdf (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 ETUC Annual Gender Equality Survey 2019 – 12th edition, by Lionel Fulton and Cinzia Sechi, ETUC, April 2019 https://www.etuc.org/sites/default/files/circular/file/2019-05/ETUC_Annual_Equality_Survey%202019_FINAL_EN.pdf (Accessed 04.11.2020)
Negotiations take place at national, industry and company level in Spain, with a national agreement generally providing a framework for lower-level bargaining. The overall level of coverage of collective bargaining is high at around 80% of employees, and major legal changes introduced in 2012, have not changed this.
Negotiations between employers and unions take place at three levels: national, industry and company/organisation.
National level negotiations, involving the government, unions and employers (sometimes all three, sometimes just employers and unions) have played a key role in determining pay, working conditions and key elements of labour market policy since the 1980s. They have produced agreements on specific issues, like training, social security, health and safety and gender equality, and, in most years since 2002, guidelines on pay increases for lower level negotiators.
Examples of national-level agreements on specific issues signed since 2017 include: an agreement on minimum wages in December 2017, which foresaw a substantial real increases over the next three years, although in fact the minimum wage did not grow as agreed; an agreement on training to improve digital skills in April 2018; another agreement on the minimum wage in January 2020; an agreement on employment protection during the COVID-19 pandemic in May 2020; an agreement on remote working (teletrabajo) in September 2020; and an agreement on conflict resolution in November 2020. These agreements are frequently followed by legislation implementing their provisions.
Guidelines on the level of pay increases have been agreed between the national unions and the employers covering every year since 2002, with the exception of 2009 and 2017. These agreements, signed by the CCOO the UGT and the main employers’ associations and generally running for three years, make recommendations to negotiators at industry and company level on pay bargaining for the coming year.
Until 2012, the agreed formula was that negotiators should seek an agreement combining a pay increase at the level of forecast inflation with an amount to take account of higher productivity plus a catch-up payment if inflation turned out higher than forecast.
However, this model changed as a result of the financial crisis which hit Spain in 2009., The two three years-deals signed in 2012 and 2015 provided for more modest increases. These were initially below 1.0% and later just over that figure, although the recommended increase for 2017, which was intended to be fixed once government forecast for the year had been published, was never agreed between the two sides. The settlement reached in July 2018 for the three years from the start of 2018 to the end of 2020 marked a return to higher annual increases, with a planned 2% increase in basic pay accompanied by another 1% in variable pay, linked to productivity.
The recommendations agreed between unions and employers at national level do not have any binding force. However, figures on pay increases agreed by lower-level negotiators indicate that they are generally observed.
Below the national level, where the recommendations are implemented in specific settlements, the structure is complex and overlapping. Past attempts to create a more coherent structure, including an agreement on reform reached by employers and unions in 1997, have not been successful.
Figures produced by the ministry of labour show that in 2018, the latest year for which final figures are available, there were 5,589 collective agreements registered as affecting pay in that year, covering 11,423,657 employees. The vast majority of these agreements, 4,413 or 79.0 % were signed at company level but they only covered 857,724 employees, 7.5% of all those covered by collective bargaining. At the other end of the scale, there were 93 national industry deals (1.7% of all agreements), but they covered 3,813,306 employees, a third (33.4%) of the total. In the middle were provincial agreements accounting for an eighth of the agreements registered (12.5%) but a third (33.7%) of the employees. Most other workers were covered by agreements signed at regional level, which made up 5.0% of the agreements registered but almost a quarter (22.8%) of employees. These proportions have remained broadly constant in recent years.
The general pattern has been that large and medium sized companies have their own agreements, sometimes at plant level, while smaller employers have been covered by provincial agreements for their industry. In addition, some industries, like construction, banking and chemicals have national agreements. Collective agreements are binding on all employers and employees in the areas that they cover, providing they have been agreed by unions and employers or employers’ associations with the right to sign them (see section on “Who negotiates and when?”).
The government has powers to extend collective agreements in areas where negotiations have not taken place, and these were strengthened in 2005. However, a study in 2011 concluded that the extension of agreements in this way played an “increasingly marginal role” in Spanish industrial relations, with no agreements at all being extended in 2010. There is no evidence that this has changed.
Despite this, collective bargaining coverage is high. Comparing the 2018 figure of the number of employees actually covered by collective bargaining (11,423,657) with the number of employees registered for social security contributions and thus potentially covered by (14,288,800) produces a figure for collective bargaining coverage of 79.9%. (These figures exclude civil servants, whose terms and conditions are negotiated under different arrangements, which were strengthened in 2015.)
This figure of 80% bargaining coverage is only slightly lower than those recorded in the period since 2010, when the system for registering collective agreements was changed.
This suggests that the major legal changes to collective bargaining introduced in 2011 and greatly strengthened in 2012 (see below for details) have not had a dramatic impact on the proportion of workers whose terms and conditions are set through collective. Reports suggesting a dramatic fall in bargaining coverage, such as one indicating a drop from 81% in 2011 to 46% in 2015, are misleading because they are based on provisional figures for later year,s and agreements are often registered up to 18 months after the year to which they apply. The final figure for collective bargaining coverage in 2015 was 80.3%.
This does not mean that the changes introduced in 2012, which the unions have continued to oppose, have not had an impact on collective bargaining. The legislation (Ley 3/2012), known as the” reforma laboral”, which built on other similar legal changes (RDL 7/2011) introduced in 2011, gives a much greater role to company bargaining, as well as allowing companies, in certain circumstances, to suspend key agreement terms.
As a result, company agreements now have complete and explicit precedence in key areas, even if the provincial-level agreement covering their industry is still in force. Company agreements can set terms on wages, hours, grading and other issues, such as work-life balance, irrespective of those in industry-level agreements. In addition, where a company faces particular financial difficulties, it is able to suspend many of the key agreed terms and conditions. The areas covered by this suspension include pay systems and the level of pay, working time, shift systems and increased functional mobility. The employee representatives (essentially the unions) should be consulted on these proposals but, if they do not agree the issue goes to arbitration for a decision. In addition, the legislation introduced changes to the length of time agreements continued to be effective after they had formally expired (see below).
The overall impact of these changes is difficult to assess. As already noted, there has not been a substantial fall in the coverage of collective bargaining, and while the number of company-level collective agreements has increased by 29% – from 3,422 in 2011 to 4,413 in 2018 – the number of employees covered by these agreements has fallen by 8% – from 929,000 in 2011 to 857,700 in 2018. Over the same period, the number covered by agreements signed at a higher level – provincial, regional and national – has risen by 9% from 9.73 million to 10.57 million. At the very least, there has been no substantial switch from industry-level to company-level agreements.
The ministry of labour statistics on collective agreements also indicate that only limited use is being made of another aspect of the 2012 changes, the possibility of suspending some elements of agreed terms and conditions. In 2018, 857 companies/workplaces, employing 20,924 people, suspended some elements of the collective agreements covering their activities. This is a tiny fraction of the 1.36 million companies and 11.42 million workers covered by collective agreements in 2018. The figures also show that in most cases it is small companies which suspend agreements – 84% of the companies using this mechanism in 2018 employed fewer than 50 employees. However, the 15 companies with more than 250 employees, which took advantage of the opportunity to suspend their agreements, employed 4,465 workers, 21% of the total.
A 2019 study by CCOO, one of the two most representative union confederations, looked at the measure over a longer period, from October 2010 to February 2019. It confirmed that most of the 9,673 cases registered over the period were in small companies, with 60.3% in companies with 10 or fewer employees, but that large companies, with more than 250 employees, accounted for a large proportion – in this study 50% – of the employees whose agreements were suspended. The study also found that the largest number of suspensions were in 2013, the year after the introduction of the measure, when 2,572 covering 161,835 workers were registered. (This is almost half (46%) of all the employees whose agreements were suspended over the eight-an-a-half year period.) In almost every case (97%) companies suspended the terms of the industry agreements that covered them, and the industries most affected were retail, hospitality, the iron and steel industry and construction and public works.
Irrespective of the precise effect of the various measures introduced in 2012, the unions see reversing them as a top priority. The coalition government of the social democratic PSOE and the more left-wing Unidas Podemos, which took office in January 2020, has indicated it is willing to make changes to existing legislation, and, shortly after taking office, it repealed a clause in the legislation permitting the general dismissal of sick employees. However, it has also suggested that a full repeal may depend on agreement between the unions and the employers.
In addition to collective bargaining between unions and employers, there is also a national consultative body, the Economic and Social Council (CES) made up of equal numbers of representatives of the employers, the unions and other groups (representing agriculture, fishing, consumers, cooperatives plus experts). It is consulted on proposed legislation on socio-economic and employment issues and it can draw up its own proposals and reports. The 20 union representatives consist of nine each from the two most representative union confederations (CCOO and UGT) and one each from Basque confederation ELA and the Galician confederation CIG.
Who negotiates and when?
Collective agreements are legally binding on all employees in the area they cover, provided the negotiating parties are entitled to sign the agreement (although the employer is now able to suspend some of these terms in times of economic difficulty – see above).
At the company and plant level the appropriate negotiating bodies are the employer and the works council, although union sections at company level can sign agreements, if they hold a majority of seats om the works council. At higher level – provincial, regional and national – the only trade unions who can sign the agreement on behalf of all the employees in the industry concerned are union bodies which are affiliated to the "most representative unions" at national or regional level (if it is a regional or provincial agreement) or other unions which can demonstrate a specific level of support in the area covered by the negotiations. This level is set at 10% of the members of the works councils in the geographical and industrial area covered by the agreement
The status of "most representative union" depends on support in the works council elections. At national level a confederation must get 10% of the votes, while in the autonomous regions the threshold is 15%. Nationally only the CCOO and UGT are "most representative unions". ELA/STV and LAB also have this status in the Basque Country and CIG in Galicia. In addition, the public service union CSIF has most representative union status in public administration. Figures from the ministry of labour show the extent to which negotiations are dominated by CCOO and the UGT. In 2018 CCOO signed agreements covering 98.4% of all employees affected by collective bargaining; for the UGT the figure was 98.5%; and for all other unions it was 27.0%.
The law lays down specific rules as to how negotiations are to be conducted and the composition of both sides. It also states that negotiations must be carried on in "good faith". One problem in some industries is that the trade unions have no employer grouping with whom to negotiate.
Agreements normally last several years, with the period set out in the agreement. Three years is typical, but some last longer. For example, the department store agreement signed in 2017 lasts for four years.
Changes in the length of time the terms set out in agreements continue to be in force after the agreements themselves officially expire was one of the key elements of labour legislation (Ley 3/2012) introduced in 2012 (see above). The legislation limited the period to one year, after which point the higher-level agreement would apply. However, the impact of the change has been less than expected. This is in part because of agreements between the employers and unions, including the national agreement in 2017, which have found ways to overcome problems presented by the law, and in part because of court judgements which have limited the extent to which existing terms and conditions can be set aside. In addition, most agreements signed after 2012 have made use of the possibility provided by the legislation of including clauses guaranteeing that they will continue to apply after they formally expire.
Agreements almost invariably start from 1 January. But typically, negotiations do not begin until later in the year when the inflation figures are available and often drag on for months.
The subject of negotiations
The national agreements covering the whole economy deal with non-pay issues such as training, equality and remote working, and since 2002 have, in a series of three-year deals, set broad guidelines on pay increases.
Lower-level agreements normally cover pay and working time, although clauses which in the past provided additional payments if inflation exceeded an agreed level, have become less common. (Only 18% of agreements in force in 2018 included such clauses.)
They can also cover a range of other issues, and the ministry of labour publishes statistics on the extent to which these topics are included in agreements. These show that:
- 91% of workers were covered by agreements including arrangements for social payments, such as in case of sickness or accidents at work;
- 87% of agreements included details of job classification;
- 79% covered arrangements for time-off for union representatives;
- 51% covered training; and
- 48% included clauses covering pension arrangements.
Companies with 50 or more employees are required to draw up and implement a gender equality plan, which much be negotiated with the employee representatives, and the ministry of labour figures show that 45% of employees are covered by collective agreements promoting equality between women and men. Other topics found in agreements include: switching from temporary to permanent employment (30% of workers are covered by agreements including such clauses); limits on the use of temporary workers (26% of workers covered); and health and safety training (19%).
Spain has a national minimum wage which is normally uprated in January. This is set annually by the government after consultation with most representative trade unions and employers associations, and the legislation (Estatuto de los trabajadores Art 27) states that the government should take the consumer price index, increases in national productivity, labour’s share in national income and the general economic situation into account. In practice, some increases have in the past been implemented following national agreements between unions and employers. However, this has not always occurred.
 For a detailed examination of collective bargaining in Spain see Spain: challenges to legitimacy and representation in a context of fragmentation and neoliberal reform by Carlos J. Fernández Rodríguez, Rafael Ibáñez Rojo and Miguel Martínez Lucio in Collective bargaining in Europe: towards an endgame, edited by Torsten Müller, Kurt Vandaele and Jeremy Waddington, ETUI, 2019
 Estadística de Convenios Colectivos de Trabajo: 2018 Datos Definitivos CCT-II.2 (percentages calculated) http://www.empleo.gob.es/estadisticas/cct/welcome.htm (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 Balance de las experiencias de extensión de convenios colectivos en España, by Tomás Sala Franco and Javier Thibault Aranda, 2011
 Ministerio Trabajo y Economía Social. Datos anuales. Estadística de Convenios Colectivos de Trabajo. Boletín de Estadísticas Laborales
 Figures calculated on the basis of the number of employees covered by collective bargaining and the number registered for social security contribution (Régimen General) show coverage at 82.0% in 2010, 83.2% in 2011, 81.0% in 2012, 85.8% in 2013, 84.8% in 2014, 80.3% in 2015, 81.1% in 2016 and 79.0% in 2017.
 La cobertura de los convenios colectivos bajó del 81% al 46% con la reforma laboral, Libre Mercado 30.06.2018, https://www.libremercado.com/2018-06-30/la-cobertura-de-los-convenios-colectivos-bajo-del-81-al-46-con-la-reforma-laboral-1276621123/ (Accessed
 Estadística de Convenios Colectivos de Trabajo: 2018 Datos Definitivos CCT-III. http://www.empleo.gob.es/estadisticas/cct/welcome.htm (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 Los acuerdos de inaplicación de convenios colectivos en cifras, CCOO, December 2019 https://www.ccoo.es/e9d82eef33d18d09f654f24df8888fdb000001.pdf (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 CES website http://www.ces.es/funciones (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 Estadística de Convenios Colectivos de Trabajo: 2018 Datos Definitivos CCT-I-4 http://www.empleo.gob.es/estadisticas/cct/welcome.htm (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 Estadística de Convenios Colectivos de Trabajo: 2018 Datos Definitivos CCT-I-3.1 http://www.empleo.gob.es/estadisticas/cct/welcome.htm (Accessed 04.11.2020)
Elected works councils are the main channel of workplace representation for employees in Spain, although the law also gives a specific role to the unions at the workplace and in larger workplaces the trade union delegate may be the key figure. The works councils themselves are dominated by the unions and, as well as having information and consultation rights, they also bargain on pay and conditions at company level.
Workplace representation in Spain has a clear legal framework, provided in the main by the 1980 Workers’ Statute (Estatuto de los Trabajadores, Articles 61-76) and the 1985 Law on Trade Union Freedom (Ley Orgánica de Libertad Sindical). As well as workplace union structures, the law provides for elected representatives of the whole workforce in all but the smallest companies, with comparable structures in public administration provided in the (Law of the Basic Statute of the Public Employee (Ley del Estatuto Básico del Empleado Público Articles 39-46).
Formally the workplace representation structure of elected employee delegates and works councils does not depend on union involvement, but, in practice, the unions play a central role. The vast majority of elected representatives are proposed by the unions and around three quarters of them come from the CCOO and the UGT.
Spanish trade unions also have separate legally recognised structures within the workplace with a range of legal rights. These trade union sections bring together all the members of a particular union in the workplace.
In addition, in larger workplaces union members can elect a trade union delegate who also has specific rights.
A high proportion of workplaces appear to exercise their right to elect employee representatives. A survey, based on workplace elections in the four years to the end of 2015, found that while only 21.2% of workplaces with six or more employees – the threshold for employee elections – had employee representation, the companies with representation employed 63.7% of the workers in companies of this size. The same study also found that participation in the elections is also substantial – of the 6.56 million entitled to vote, 3.73 million did so (64%)
Another indication of the relatively high level of employee representation at the workplace is provided by the results of Eurofound’s 2013 and 2019 European Company Surveys. These show that, in 2013, 57% of establishments in Spain with at least 10 employees had some form of official employee representation – a workplace union organisation, a works council or a comparable body in public administration or an employee delegate. This was well above the EU28 average of 32%.
The comparable figure for 2019 is lower at 40% in Spain, but this may partially reflect differences in how the information was collected, and, again, Spain is above the EU27 average of 29%. As elsewhere in Europe, larger organisations are more likely to have such a structure than smaller ones. The 2019 survey shows that 86% of establishments with more than 250 employees had representation, and that in those with between 50 and 249 employees, the percentage of workplaces with representation was 57%. In smaller workplaces in Spain, those with between 10 and 49 employees, the survey indicates that just over a third (36%) had employee representation.
Numbers and structure
The right to elect employee representatives begins in workplaces with more than 10 employees and they can be elected in workplaces with as few as six people if a majority of employees want this. Where there are fewer than 50 employees, the representatives are called employee delegates (delegados de personal). If there are 50 or more employees, then the representatives are elected as members of a works council ((comité de empresa). There is no difference in terms of rights and duties between the employee delegates and the works council.
The calculation of number of workers needed to access these rights is done on a headcount basis. In other words, part-time workers count the same as full-time workers. Specific rules apply to workers on temporary contracts (found widely in Spain). Temporary workers who have been with the company for more than a year count in full, in the same way as those on permanent contracts. For those with shorter periods of service the numbers are calculated by counting the total number of employee days worked by these temporary employees, with each 200 days or part thereof considered as an additional employee. Members of senior management and agency workers are not included in the calculations.
Employees in several workplaces in a single company, which together have more than 50 employees but separately have fewer, can set up a joint works council, provided the workplaces are in a single province or in neighbouring municipalities.
Number of representatives
Name of representative
works council members
Thereafter the number of representatives increases by two for every additional 1,000 employees up to a maximum of 75.
The provisions covering the number pf employees and the number of employee representatives is exactly the same in public administration. However, in public administration the body equivalent to the works council is called a personnel board (junta de personal).
The works council (like the personnel board in public administration) is a purely employee body. There are no members representing the employer. It is elected in at least two groups, one by the manual and the other by the non‑manual workers, and it is legally possible to set up an unspecified third group for separate election if laid down in the collective agreements.
Once elected the works council sets its own rules of procedure, for its meetings and actions. But the works council must elect from its members a secretary and a chair. Normally the chair comes from the union with the largest number of members on the works council and the secretary from the next biggest union. The works council must also meet at least once every two months and works council decisions should be taken by a majority of its members not simply the majority of those present at its meetings. The works council can also set up sub-committees on a range of issues.
The trade union section (sección sindical) consist of all the members of that particular union in the workplace. Their internal procedures and activities are governed by the rules of the unions. For example, the rules of the CCOO state that trade union sections should "function democratically and reach decisions on a majority basis".
In addition, in workplaces with more than 250 employees, members of each union which has seats on the works council have a legal right to elect a trade union delegate. Generally, there is only one trade union delegate per union but in the largest workplaces there can be more. In addition, because there is normally more than one union in a workplace, there will normally be more than one union delegate in workplaces with more than 250 employees.
Tasks and rights
The tasks and rights of the works council cover information and consultation, the monitoring of the application of certain labour regulations, and, in some cases, the control of social facilities at the workplace. However, it has no powers to prevent management acting as it wishes in the final instance. In addition, unlike works councils in some other European states, works councils in Spain are directly involved in collective bargaining, if it takes place at company level. Employee delegates, acting jointly, have the same rights as the works council
The works council has a general right to be informed and consulted by the employer on those issues that may affect the workers, as well as on the company’s and developments relating to employment in the company. Being informed means being given information by the employer in a way that allows the works council to examine the issue concerned, while being consulted means an exchange of opinions and the opening of a dialogue and, in some cases the works council producing a report on the issue. The works council and employer should act in “a spirit of cooperation”, considering both the “interests of the company and those of the workers”.
The works council has the right to be informed every three months:
- on the general evolution of the economic sector in which the company is operating;
- on the economic situation of the company and the recent and likely development of its activities, including environmental actions that have a direct impact on employment, as well as on production and sales, including the production programme;
- about the employer's forecasts for the appointment of new staff, including the type of employment contracts to be used, possible additional hours for those working part time and information on subcontracting; and
- on the rate of absenteeism and its causes, accidents at work and occupational diseases and their consequences, accident rates, studies on the environment at work and the hazard prevention mechanisms in use.
It also has the right to annual information on the position of women and men in the company in relation to equal treatment and equal opportunities This includes:
- access to the pay register with information on all aspects of pay, broken down by sex;
- the pay audit that companies with more than 50 employees must now carry out;
- data on the proportion of women and men at different grades;
- the measures that have been adopted to promote equality between women and men in the company; and,
- if there is an equality plan, how it has been implemented.
The works council must also, at the appropriate time:
- be provided with details of the company’s balance sheet, income statement and annual report, plus, where the company has shareholders or partners, receive the documents that shareholders or partners are given;
- be made aware of the types of employment contract the company uses as well as the documents relating to dismissals;
- be informed of all penalties imposed for gross misconduct.
The works council also has a right to receive copies of employment contracts as well as notification of the extensions and terminations within 10 days of their taking place.
The works council has the right to be informed and consulted on the situation and structure of employment in the company or in the workplace, as well as to be informed quarterly about the likely changes in employment, with consultation when changes are expected.
It has the right to be informed and consulted on all company decisions that might result in changes in the way work is organised and employment contracts. It also has the right to be informed and consulted on any potential counter measures, especially if there is a risk to employment.
There are six specific issues where the works council has a right to produce a report prior to the employer implementing the proposal. The works council must be given appropriate information on the issue and, if it wishes to produce a report in response to the employer’s proposals, it must do so within 15 days. There should be an opportunity for the employer and works council to meet and, if possible, reach agreement. The issues covered by this obligation are:
- workforce restructuring, and the total or partial dismissal of the workforce, whether temporary or permanent;
- reductions in working hours;
- the total or partial transfer of facilities;
- mergers, acquisitions, or changes in the legal status of the company that might affect employment levels;
- the company’s occupational training plans; and
- the implementation and revision of systems relating to work organisation and monitoring, time and motion studies, setting up bonus and incentive schemes, and job evaluation.
The works council also has a duty to monitor
- that the employer is complying with employment and social security legislation;
- conditions in relation to health and safety; and
- the application or the principle of equal treatment between men and women, particularly in the area of pay.
Works councils also participate in the control of social facilities at the workplace, such as canteens or social clubs, where this is provided for in collective agreements.
The works council is also called on to work with the management to improve productivity to promote conciliation measures and to inform those it represents of issues which might affect industrial relations.
In addition to these points, which are set out in Article 64 of the Workers’ Statute, employee representatives also have a right
- to receive a copy of the standard employment contract (Article 8);
- to be consulted on transfers to other locations, when a significant percentage of the workforce is affected (normally 10% or 30 workers, whichever is smaller) (Article 40);
- to be consulted when the employer plans major changes in working conditions and significant percentage of the workforce is affected (normally 10% or 30 workers, whichever is smaller) (Article 41);
- to be informed on plans to subcontract services and work (Article 42);
- to be informed about any transfer of ownership and to be consulted if this transfer may have an impact on the workforce (Article 44);
- to be consulted about any temporary suspension of work or reduction in working time caused by short-term technical or economic difficulties (Article 45);
- to be consulted about large‑scale redundancies (normally 10% of the workforce or 30 workers, whichever is smaller) (Article 51).
In addition, a worker may request the presence of an employee representative when signing a document stating that an employment contract is officially ended (Article 49).
However, for many works councils, their most important power is that they can negotiate binding collective agreements covering pay and conditions in their company, or part of their company (see section on collective bargaining). The composition of the works councils is also crucial in determining who has the right to reach collective agreements at industry level.
The rights of employee representatives in public administration are similar but much more limited.
The trade union sections have a role both within the workplace and outside it. Inside they are a forum for discussing and promoting union policies in the workplace, as well as ensuring the payment of union subscriptions and their rights include holding meetings, collecting contributions and distributing trade union material. Outside the workplace the union sections play a part in the decision‑making structures of the union.
A key task for the trade union section is to back its union's candidates in the works council elections and discuss the policies the works council should pursue.
In smaller workplaces the key union figures will be elected members of the works council. In larger workplaces – those with more than 250 employees – the key union influence on the works council may come through the trade union delegate. He or she represents the trade union directly with speaking but not voting rights on the works council. He or she also has rights to receive the same information as works council members.
Trade union delegates also have the right to be heard by the employer before action is taken against workers in general and their own union members in particular, especially where there is a possibility that union members may be dismissed. They are thus in a stronger position than the works council as the employer is only required to inform it after the event.
Trade union delegates can also conduct collective bargaining provided they have a majority on the works council. Overall, the relationship between the trade union sections and the works council varies depending on the strength of the union in the workplace.
Election and term of office
Nominations are made on the basis of lists for all members of the works council, either by the unions or by groups of individual employees provided that the number supporting a list is three times larger than the number of places to be filled. Candidates must be employees of the company (so excluding agency workers), be aged over 18 and have at least six months’ service. Members of senior management cannot stand for election to the works council
The works council is elected on the proportion of votes which each list receives, eliminating those getting less than 5% of the votes. All employees (again not agency workers), other than senior management, can vote, provided they have at least one’ month’s service. There is a detailed procedure for monitoring the results of the elections with disputes, in the end, being referred to the labour courts.
The 2016 study into employee representation, referred to above, found that, despite a long-term increase in the number of women elected, a clear majority (59.9%) of employee representatives elected in the four years to the end of 2015 were men, and that almost half (45.8%) the representatives were aged 35 to 49, with 29.6% aged 50 or over and 11.1% younger than 34.
The study also shows that almost all (97.5%) of the representatives are nominated by unions, although the individuals concerned may not always be always be union members.
Elections for works councils and employee delegates take place every four years.
Trade union delegates are elected by the trade union members in the company in line with the rules of the union.
Protection against dismissal
Works council members and employee delegates have priority in keeping their jobs where employees are being dismissed for economic or technical reasons, and for remaining on site when workers are being transferred. They cannot be dismissed as a result of exercising their rights as a works council member; and they cannot be punished for allegedly serious misconduct without the works council having a right to make its case to the employer.
Trade union delegates have the same employment protection as members of the works council if they are not themselves members.
Time off and other resources
Works council members and employee delegates are legally entitled to paid time off for their duties. The law lays down the following scale for each member of the works council / employee delegate:
Number of employees
Paid time-off a month (hours)
Up to 100
101 to 250
251 to 500
501 to 750
The rules are exactly the same for employee representatives in public administration.
These amounts can also be improved in collective agreements and their distribution between various members of the works council can also be altered. In 2018, agreements, covering almost half (46%) of all employees, whose deals were signed in that year, included provisions for employee representatives that were superior to the legal minimum levels, and agreements covering 79% of employees allowed a redistribution of time off.
In practice in large workplaces, these time-off rights are often used to allow key members of the union to devote themselves entirely to union matters off site. Many of the leading figures in union structures at both regional and local level are still company employees.
In addition, the employer is obliged to provide the works council with an adequate room as well as notice boards for its use. In most cases the union locally also has the right to have a notice board and, if the workplace employs more than 250, an adequate room for its activities. Collective agreements can improve on these basic provisions.
Trade union delegates have a right to paid time off on the same basis as works council members.
Employee representatives have no statutory right to time off for training. However, part of their overall paid time-off can be used for training, and there are examples of agreements which include rights to a specific period of additional time-off to attend union courses.
Representation at group level
A group works council (comité intercentros), bringing together several works councils in the same company is possible but only where this is provided for in collective agreements. The maximum number of members of this group works council is 13 and distribution of its membership between the unions must match the results of the elections in the works councils involved, taken as a whole. Its powers are those laid down by the collective agreement and it may not exceed them. The existence of a group works council does not remove the necessity for setting up individual works councils in every workplace with at least 50 employees.
Group works councils are relatively common in larger companies. There were only 58 company-level agreements signed in 2018, which provided for a group works council, but they covered 66,600 workers, a quarter (25%) of all workers covered by company-level agreements, signed in that year.
 La representación sindical en España: cobertura y límites by Pere Jódar, Ramon Alós, Pere Beneyto and Sergi Vidal, in Cuadernos de Relaciones Laborales 36(1), 2018 https://cedproves.uab.cat/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Cuadernos-de-Relaciones-Laborales_2018_36_1_Jodar_Vidal-et-al.pdf (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 Eurofound (2015), Third European Company Survey – Overview report: Workplace practices – Patterns, performance and well-being, Figures for Table 44
 European Company Survey 2019, Workplace practices unlocking employee potential, Eurofound and CEDEFOP, 2020 Figures for Figure 72
 La representación sindical en España: cobertura y límites by Pere Jódar, Ramon Alós, Pere Beneyto and Sergi Vidal, in Cuadernos de Relaciones Laborales 36(1), 2018
 Estadística de Convenios Colectivos de Trabajo: 2018 Datos Definitivos CCT-I-3-1 http://www.empleo.gob.es/estadisticas/cct/welcome.htm (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 Cláusulas de formación en la negociación colectiva, CCOO, 2020 https://escuelasindical.ccoo.es/29f53f397776a56c5921e68e9f38bc35000001.pdf (Accessed 04.11.2020)
 Estadística de Convenios Colectivos de Trabajo: 2018 Datos Definitivos CCT-I-3-2 http://www.empleo.gob.es/estadisticas/cct/welcome.htm (Accessed 04.11.2020)
There is no overall right to employee board-level representation. However, there are a small number of employees on the boards of some publicly owned companies.
Although the 1978 Spanish Constitution (Article 129) includes a statement that “the public authorities shall efficiently promote the various forms of participation within companies and shall encourage cooperative societies by means of appropriate legislation” there is no general statutory right for workers to have representation at board level.
However, an agreement signed at national level in January 1986 between the UGT, one of Spain’s two most representative union confederations and the government, represented a step towards employee board-level representation in the public sector. The agreement provided either for minority union representation on the boards of public sector companies with more than 1,000 employees or for the establishment of monitoring and information committees with equal representation of the unions and employers.
The choice between the two options was left to the unions, and, where the board level, option was chosen, the two most representative unions, the CCOO and the UGT, were able to nominate one member each. There was no requirement for the union representative to be employed within the company. These union nominated members had the same rights as other members of the board.
In June 1993 similar framework agreement was signed between the metal working federations of CCOO and the UGT and INI-TENEO, the state holding company. It covered publicly owned companies in the metal sector with at least 500 employees, and provided that unions with 25% of the members of the works council would have a right to a seat on the board. If only one union had more than 25% of the works council seats it would have a right to two seats.
However, many of the public owned companies covered by these measures have ceased to exist. INI-TENEO was dissolved in 1996 and its holdings were passed on to a new company SEPI, which disposed of most of them. Currently SEPI holds majority stakes in 15 companies. Of these, only four have trade union representation on their boards. These are Navantia (shipbuilding), ENSA (nuclear and heavy engineering components), HUNOSA (energy and mining) and TRAGSA (rural development). In each case there are two trade union members out of a total of between 10 to 15 board members. In Navantia both come from CCOO but in the three others there is one representative each from UGT and CCOO.
Until recently CCOO and UGT each had a member on the board of the Spanish state TV and radio company RTVE, under legislation passed in 2006. However, the right to reserved seats for the unions was lost in new legislation passed in 2017.
In the past, employee representatives had a clearly established right to be present on the boards of local mutual savings banks (cajas de ahorros) with 5% of the seats. However, the banking crisis in 2012 and the scandals at many local savings banks that followed led to new legislation in 2013, which placed greater emphasis on board members having adequate financial competence. Under this legislation, depending on each bank’s statutes, employees can still be represented in the general assembly, up to a limit of 20% of the participants. But employees no longer have a right to representation on the board, which is elected by the general assembly as a whole. (Depending on each bank’s statutes, it is possible for the individual groups represented in the general assembly to elect members from their own groups, but independents must always be in a majority on the board.)
In any case, the restructuring of the sector, following Spain’s banking crisis, means that these local mutual savings banks have essentially ceased to exist, with local savings banks merging and being transformed into commercial banks. The two main financial institutions that emerged from the restructuring of local savings banks, CaixaBank and Bankia, themselves merged in December 2020. There are no employee representatives on the board of the new body, which is a commercial bank and retains the name CaixaBank.
 Los sindicatos participaran en los consejos de administración de las empresas públicas, El País, 13 January 1986 https://elpais.com/diario/1986/01/14/economia/506041218_850215.html (Accessed 10.12.2020)
 Los sindicatos, participarán en las decisiones estratégicas de las empresas del metal del INI, El País, 29 May 1993 https://elpais.com/diario/1993/05/30/economia/738712801_850215.html and Convenio Colectivo de la empresa «Equipos Nucleares, Sociedad Anónima», 27 February 1995, https://www.boe.es/diario_boe/txt.php?id=BOE-A-1995-6106 (Accessed 10.12.2020)
 SEPI website. Each majority owned company provides details of the membership of its board (Consejo de administración) https://www.sepi.es/es/sectores (Accessed 10.12.2020)
 Ley 17/2006, de 5 de junio, de la radio y la televisión de titularidad estatal
 Ley 5/2017, de 29 de septiembre, por la que se modifica la Ley 17/2006, de 5 de junio, de la radio y la televisión de titularidad estatal
 Ley 31/1985, de 2 de agosto, de Regulación de las Normas Básicas sobre Órganos Rectores de las Cajas de Ahorros
 Ley 26/2013, de 27 de diciembre, de cajas de ahorros y fundaciones bancarias
 CaixaBank press release 3 December 2020
Spanish members of bodies concerned with European Works Councils and European Companies are chosen by the unions which either together or separately have majority support in the companies concerned. On European Companies, the legislation makes clear that they should be selected in line with the support that the unions have received in the works council elections.
European Works Councils
Spanish members of the special negotiating body (SNB) of an EWC are appointed by majority decision of the union bodies which together form a majority in the works council or works councils or – where appropriate – the employee delegates, or they are appointed with the support of a majority in these bodies. In 2001 an agreement was reached between CCOO and UGT, establishing that they would take turns to share seats in EWCs.
The procedure is the same for members of an EWC set up under the fallback procedure, but in this case the individuals appointed must be employees of the company.
Spanish members of the special negotiating body (SNB) of a European Company are appointed by majority decision of the union bodies which together form a majority in the works council, or works councils or – where appropriate – the employee delegates, or they are appointed with the support of a majority in these bodies. The legislation goes on to state that the choice of members must be proportional to the votes which each union has received in the elections to the works councils or for employee delegates in the workplaces involved. The individuals chosen can either be employees or external union representatives.
The procedure is the same for members of the SE representative body set up under the fallback procedure, but in this case the individuals appointed must be employees of the company and be either members of the works council, employee delegates or trade union delegates.
Exactly the same rules apply to representatives from Spain taking seats on the board of a company under the fallback provisions in the annex and here again they must be employees.
 Empresa transnacional y nuevas relaciones laborales, Sergio González Begega, 2011.
Health and safety representatives in Spain should be present in all companies and workplaces employing more than five people. They are chosen by and from among the existing employee representatives. They have substantial consultation rights, and in larger companies (50 or more employees) they work with the employer in health and safety committees.
Basic approach at workplace level
Employees have a right to effective protection in the area of health and safety at work and this should be guaranteed by the employer. Employees’ rights to be informed and consulted about health and safety issues are part of this right to protection.
Employee health and safety bodies
Where there are six or more employees, health and safety representation is provided through special health and safety representatives, known as prevention delegates (delegados de prevención), chosen from among the existing employee representatives. In larger companies or workplaces (50 or more employees) there is also a joint employee/employer health and safety committee (Comité de Seguridad y Salud).
Numbers and structure
Employees are entitled to participate in health and safety issues and once there are six or more employees, either in the company or the workplace, this participation is through specially designated health and safety representatives, known as prevention delegates. The number of these prevention delegates increases with the number employed (see table).
Number of employees
6 to 49
50 to 100
101 to 500
501 to 1,000
1,001 to 2,000
2,001 to 3,000
3,001 to 4,000
More than 4,000
In addition, in all companies or workplaces with 50 or more employees, a health and safety committee should be set up. This consists of the prevention delegates and an equal number of representatives of the employer. Also participating in the meeting of the health and safety committee are the trade union delegate or delegates (one or more employees representing the union in companies with more than 250 employees) and the health and safety professionals employed by the company. Both groups can speak at the meetings, but they do not have a vote. The health and safety professionals are not included in the headcount of employer representatives.
In companies with several separate workplaces, it is possible to set up a joint health and safety committee covering them all. However, this depends on the employer reaching an agreement with the workforce and the agreement also determines the powers of this joint committee.
Research by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work in 2014 found that 51% of workplaces in Spain had safety representatives (prevention delegates) and 20% had a health and safety committee. These are both slightly below the EU-28 averages, which are 58% for health and safety representatives and 21% for health and safety committees. (The figures are for workplaces with five or more employees.)
National figures for the proportion of workplaces with prevention delegates are higher at 64%. However, this is not surprising as these figures, from the 2015 National Survey of Working Conditions, are based on workplaces with 10 employees or more, and on average larger workplaces are more likely to have employee representation.
Tasks and rights
The basic principle is that employees have a right to participate in health and safety issues and that, once there are six or more employees, this is done through the prevention delegates (and the health and safety committee in bigger companies).
The main tasks of the prevention delegates are:
- to work with management to improve action on risk prevention;
- to promote and encourage employees’ cooperation in applying health and safety regulations;
- to monitor compliance with health and safety regulations; and
- to be consulted by the employer in advance about the following issues:
- work organisation and planning in the company, including the introduction of new technology and its health and safety impact;
- the organisation of health and safety and risk prevention measures in the company, including the appointment of health and safety professionals or the use of an external health and safety agency;
- the designation of employees responsible for reacting to emergencies;
- the provision of health and safety information to employees; and
- employees’ health and safety training.
What is meant under the consultation referred to above is that the employer must give the prevention delegates a period of 15 days to respond to proposals, unless a shorter period is necessary to prevent an imminent risk. If the employer decides reject the prevention delegates’ proposals, he or she must provide grounds for this rejection.
To enable prevention delegates to carry out these tasks, prevention delegates have the right:
- to accompany health and safety professionals carrying out risk assessments as well as labour inspectors monitoring health and safety compliance – the prevention delegates can point out concerns to the inspectors in the course of their visits;
- to have access to the appropriate documentation about working conditions;
- to be informed by the employer about workers’ injuries or ill health and to examine the place where these have occurred;
- to receive information from the health and safety professionals employed by the employer;
- to visit workplaces and talk to employees;
- to encourage management to take preventative measures and improve health and safety arrangements;
- to propose to the employee representatives that they agree to order a halt to work to avoid a serious and imminent danger. (It is the main employee representatives, rather than the prevention delegates who have normally the right actually to halt work – see below.)
The joint health and safety committee also has a range of tasks and rights, and where there is no health and safety committee, these tasks and rights fall to the prevention delegates.
The tasks are to:
- participate in the drawing up, implementation and evaluation of risk prevention measures, involving looking at the choice of measures, the activities of external agencies contracted by the company for health and safety, work organisation, new technologies and protective equipment; and
- promote initiatives for effective risk prevention making proposals for improvement and to remedy failings.
The rights are to:
- have direct knowledge of the risk prevention situation in the company, through appropriate workplace visits;
- have knowledge of all the necessary documents about working conditions and health and safety activities in the company;
- know about and to analyse any negative impacts on workers’ health in order to establish the causes and make proposals to avoid them; and
- be given the annual report and proposals for action produced by the health and safety professionals in the company.
The legislation makes plain that the health and safety structures (prevention delegates and health and safety committees) do not remove the right of the existing structures of employee representation – the employee delegates (delegados de personal), the works council and the union representatives – to defend the interests of the employees in the area of risk prevention. As a result it is these structures that normally have the right to halt work in cases of imminent and serious risk. If work is halted in this way the employer and the health and safety authorities must be informed immediately and the authorities have 24 hours to either confirm or lift the suspension of work. (Only if the existing structures of employee representation cannot be brought together quickly enough, can a majority of prevention delegates agree to halt work.)
Both the health and safety structures and the existing structures of employee representation have particular rights with regard to the health and safety authorities. They can call on the authorities if they consider that the employer’s efforts in the area of health and safety are insufficient. The prevention delegates and the health and safety committee (or existing representatives if the health and safety representatives are not present) should be informed of inspections by the health and safety authorities, so that they can accompany the inspectors, and they should also be given the results of these inspections.
Frequency of meetings
The health and safety committee meets every three months as well as when either side requests a meeting.
Election and term of office
In companies with up to 30 employees, the existing employee delegate is also the prevention delegate. In companies with between 31 and 49 employees the existing employee delegates (there should be three) choose one of their number to be the prevention delegate. In larger companies or workplaces the prevention delegates are chosen by and from among the works council members (companies and workplaces with more than 50 employees have employee-only works councils rather than employee delegates) and the trade union delegates (representatives of the union in companies with more than 250 employees).
Where there are no employee delegates or works council, the employees should elect a prevention delegate directly.
The period of office of employee delegates and works council members and therefore of prevention delegates is four years.
Resources, time off and training
Prevention delegates should use some of the time they are given for the other positions they hold as employee representatives for their health and safety work. By law, employee delegates and works council members get a set number of hours for their duties, although collective agreements can improve on this. The number rises as the size of the workforce increases, as follows: up to 100 workers – each delegate or member gets 15 hours a month; 101 to 250 workers – 20 hours a month; 251 to 500 – 30 hours; 501 to 750 – 35 hours; and above 750 – 40 hours a month.
However, the legislation also makes clear that meetings of the health and safety committee and site inspections should not count against this total.
Prevention delegates should also receive the training and the means necessary to carry out their tasks. This training should be paid for by the employer and should take place during working time.
Protection against dismissal
As prevention delegates also hold other representative positions, they benefit from the protection against dismissal that these provide. They have priority in keeping their jobs where employees are being dismissed for economic or technical reasons; they cannot be dismissed as a result of exercising their rights; and they cannot be punished for allegedly serious misconduct without the works council having a right to make its case to the employer.
Other elements of workplace health and safety
The legislation allows employers to choose between four ways of dealing with their health and safety responsibilities, in part depending on the number of employees involved. They can undertake them themselves, choose one or more employees to carry them out, establish an internal health and safety prevention service, or make use of external specialist companies.
Employers can only undertake health and safety tasks themselves if they have 25 or fewer employees (10 in more dangerous industries) and have the appropriate skills and knowledge. If employees are chosen to undertake health and safety responsibilities, they must also be appropriately qualified and have sufficient time and resources to carry out the health and safety tasks they have been given. At the other end of the spectrum, larger employers, those with more than 500 employees (250 in dangerous industries), must establish their own internal health and safety prevention service, including appropriately qualified experts.
In practice, the vast majority of employers use the services of external experts. The national health and safety management survey in 2009 found that almost three quarters of employers (72.8%) used an external prevention service. The other ways of dealing with an employer’s health and safety responsibilities were used much less frequently: 15.0% gave health and safety duties to one or more employees; 9.9% undertook the responsibilities themselves; 4.9% had an internal health and safety service; 4.2% used a health and safety service shared with a relatively small number other companies, for example in the local area; and 10.1% had nothing. (0.6% did not know or did not reply.)
The ministry responsible for health and safety at work is the Ministry of Employment and Social Security (Ministerio de Empleo y Seguridad Social) and the National Institute of Occupational Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Instituto Nacional de Seguridad, Salud y Bienestar en el Trabajo – INSSBT, formerly the INSHT) has prime responsibility for promoting health and safety at work. The Inspectorate of Labour and Social Security (Inspección de Trabajo y Seguridad Social, ITSS) ensures compliance with health and safety legislation, as well as with more general labour and social security regulations.
Trade unions and employers have a guaranteed role in health and safety at national level through their membership of the National Commission for Safety and Health at Work (Comisión Nacional de Seguridad y Salud en el Trabajo, CNSST). It has a total of 76 members, with 19 each coming from central government, regional government, the employers and the unions, and it is intended to have a key role in formulating and developing health and safety policy.
There is no specific Spanish legislation on psychosocial risks, but, in its guide on the topic the Spanish labour inspectorate (ITSS) states they are implicitly included in the main Spanish health and safety law, the Law on the Prevention of Occupational Risks.
Law 31/1995: Prevention of Occupational Risks, 8 November 1995
Ley 31/1995, de 8 de noviembre: Prevención de riesgos laborales
Royal Decree 39/1997, approving the regulation of prevention services, 17 January 1997
Real Decreto 39/1997, de 17 de enero, por el que se aprueba el Reglamento de los Servicios de Prevención.
 Second European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks, European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2016
 Encuesta Nacional de Condiciones de Trabajo. 2015 6ª EWCS – España, Instituto Nacional de Seguridad e Higiene en el Trabajo (INSHT), 2017
 Encuesta Nacional de Gestión de la Seguridad y Salud en las Empresas (ENGE), 2009, INSHT
 For more information on the national context see OSH system at national level – Spain by Carsten Brück, OSH Wiki https://oshwiki.eu/wiki/OSH_system_at_national_level_-_Spain
 Guía de actuaciones de la Inspección de Trabajo y Seguridad Social sobre Riesgos Psicosociales, 2012
Despite the efforts of the EU to boost the incidence of workers’ financial participation employee share ownership schemes in Spain are at a lower level than in the 1990s. With regard to how widespread profit-sharing schemes are in Spain recent studies come to different conclusions.
Employee financial participation plays no role in collective bargaining and trade unions accept financial participation models only in the form of additional benefits over and above normal remuneration. However, participation models other than traditional profit-sharing and share ownership schemes are practiced. Cooperative schemes might be mentioned in this connection.
The relatively few companies offering such schemes are usually bigger companies listed on the stock exchange. But cooperatives and workers’ companies also play a special role.
Profit-sharing schemes enjoy no preferential tax treatment. Any payments are treated as wages subject to tax and social security contributions. Profit-sharing bonuses are treated in collective agreements additional payments the employee always receives, independent of the company’s profits. Normally it is paid either once a year as an additional monthly wage, or as a fixed percentage of wages.
The findings of the European Company Survey, a survey of more than 27,000 HR managers in Europe conducted in 2009, show that 17% of private-sector Spanish companies with 10 or more employees offer their employees a profit-sharing scheme. Compared with other European countries, this is a slightly above-average figure (the 30-country European average is 14%). The prevalence of employee profit-sharing schemes in Spain varies only slightly with company size. 17% of companies with 10-49 employees, 16% with 50-199 employees, and 19% of companies with more than 200 employees have a profit-sharing scheme.1 var obj = document.getElementById('note_hidden'); obj.value = obj.value + '1
1. European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (2010): European Company Survey 2009. Overview. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.
Employees’ financial participation is subject to minimal regulations under Spanish legislation. The Spanish Constitution of 1978 underlines that the state should promote employees’ access to the ownership of the means of production, favouring the purchasing of stock options. In spite of this, legislation on this aspect is minimal.1 var obj = document.getElementById('note_hidden'); obj.value = obj.value + '1
1. Würz, S. (2003): „European Stock-Taking on Models of Employee Financial Participation“, S. 105 (data: Dr. Dr. Heissmann GmbH).
Supplementary payments are governed by the 1986 Workers’ Statute. Policy regulations focus on the social economy and cooperatives. Law No. 11/1994 reformed the labour market while trying to make the rigid payment structures more flexible. The 1986 Workers’ Statute regulated employee buy-outs and was modified in 1997 to create special employee financial participation schemes for workers’ public or private limited companies. The cooperatives are governed by law no. 27/1999 and by the laws of the autonomous regions.
Income deriving from company shares is tax-free under the following conditions. The shares must have been offered to all employees of the company; an employee and his family must not possess more than 5% of total company shares; and the shares must be held for at least 3 years. The annual tax-free amount is €12,000. In groups of companies, the share options must be offered to employees of the whole group. Employees wanting to take up share options are subject to income tax, with the taxable amount being the difference between the share’s market price and the price at which the share is actually bought. The employer deducts the tax at source, also paying social security contributions. There are lower tax rates for shares held longer than one year.
Spanish trade unions generally take a critical attitude towards employee financial participation schemes. In individual cases, they are however accepted, insofar as the participation is on top of normal wages and no wage components are substituted by the participation.
Though the social partners are signatories to the 1994 law designed to support flexible financial participation schemes, both parties ignored it in the ensuing bargaining processes. They still do not seem to be very interested in discussing employees’ financial participation schemes.
The trade unions prefer real wage increases and are critical of new remuneration forms such as long-term incentive plans. In addition, they are reluctant to accept participation schemes without more co-determination. Their negative approach towards flexible remuneration models is rooted in their collective bargaining tradition.
The Spanish Employers’ Association is also reluctant with regard to long-term incentive plans. Additionally, some employers’ associations believe that employee share ownership schemes can be a solution for companies in difficulties.
- Lowitzsch, J., Hashi, I. & Woodward, R. (2009): The PEPPER IV Report: Benchmarking of Employee Participation in Profits and Enterprise Results in the Member and Candidate Countries of the European Union. Country Profile “Spain”.
- European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (2012): Fifth European Working Conditions Survey, Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.
- European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (2010): European Company Survey 2009. Overview. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.
- European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (2001): Recent trends in employee financial participation in the European Union, Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.
- European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (2007): Financial participation of employees in the European Union: Much ado about nothing? Background Paper.
- Instituto Nacional de Estadística (2013): Sociedades laborales registradas y socios de las mismas por tipo de dato, sector de actividad y period
- Poutsma, E.; Lighard, P. (2011): Compensation and Benefits, in: Cranet Survey on Comparative Human Resource Management – International Executive Report.
CC.OO and Affiliates
- CC.OO - Trade Union Confederation of Workers' Commissions
- AADD - private service sector workers' federation
- COMFIA - financial and administrative workers' federation
- FCT - communication and transport workers' federation
- FE - education workers' federation
- FEAGRA - agriculture and food workers' federation
- FECOMA - construction and wood workers' federation
- FECOTH - commerce, hotel and tourism workers' federation
- FES - health workers' federation
- FI - industrial workers' federation
- FITEQA - chemicals and textiles workers' federation
- FPJ - pensioners and retired workers' federation
- FSAP - public administration workers' federation
- FSC - public services workers' federation
- FSS - health and social sector workers' federation
UGT and Affiliates
- UGT- General Union of Workers
- MCA - Metal, Construcción y Afines - Federación de Industria (metal and construction workers' federation)
- TCM - Federación de Transportes, Comunicaciones y Mar (transport and communication workers' federation)
- CHTJ - Federación de Comercio, Hostelería-Turismo y Juego (commerce, hotel and tourism workers' federation)
- FSP - Federación de Servicios Públicos (public service workers' federation)
- UPJP - Unión de Pensionistas, Jubilados y Prejubilados (pensioners and retired workers' federation)
- FITAG - Federación Industria y Trabajadores Agrarios (agriculture workers' federation)
- FETE - Federación de Trabajadores de la Enseñanza (education workers' federation)
- FeS - Federación de Servicios (service workers' federation)
- Unión de Trabajadores por Cuenta Propia
- UPA - Unión de Pequeños Agricultores
- UPTA - Unión de Profesionales y Trabajadores Autónomos
- UPA - Unión de Pequeños Agricultores y Ganaderos
Other Union Organisations
- CNT-AIT - National Confederation of Labour
- CGT - General Confederation of Labour
- USO - Workers' Trade Union Confederation
- CIG - Galician trade union confederation
- CSI-CSIF - confederation of independent and civils servants' unions
- ANPE - education workers' union
- SEPLA - pilots' union
- SUP - police union
- CEOE- Spanish Confederation of Employers' Organisations
- CEPYME- Spanish Confederation of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises
- ACADE - private education employers
- AEDAVE - travel agencies
- AEFJ - toy manufacturing employers
- ANAIP - plastics employers
- ANATRANS - transport agencies
- ANCED - distance learning centres
- ANEFHOP - concrete manufacture
- ANFAC - motor manufacturing employers
- ANSEMAT - agriculture machinery employers
- ASCER - ceramic tile manufacture
- ASETA - Spanish Toll Road and Tunnel Association (En)
- ASIMELEC - electronics and communications employers
- ASNEF - credit institutions employers
- CECA - savings banks employers
- CECE - education employers
- CEOPAN - bakery employers
- CEPES - Spanish Business Confederation for Social Economy
- CNC - construction employers
- CONFEMADERA - wood industry employers
- Confemetal - Spanish Confederation of Metal Industries (En)
- FEFE - pharmaceuticals employers
- FEHR - catering employers
- FEIGRAF - graphical employers
- FEIQUE - chemicals employers
- FEOPE - fishing employers
- FEPEX - fruit and horticulture employers
- FIAB - food and drink industry employers (En)
- FICE - footwear industry
- OFICEMEN - cement producers
- SEDISI - IT employers
- SERNAUTO - auto components manufacturing employers
- UNESA - electricity industry employers
- UNESPA - insurance employers