Collective Labour Disputes in Spain

A collective dispute is a procedure that arises due to disagreements between an employer and a group of workers over working conditions. Such a dispute arises when it affects the general interests of the latter.

In other words, a collective dispute involves general interest claims made by a significant number of workers regarding the application and interpretation of state rules, collective bargaining agreements, decisions or practices of the employer. Disputes that only affect individual employees or a small group and do not impact broader interests are not considered collective disputes.

Types of Collective Disputes

Collective conflicts can be:

Economic or interest conflicts

Economic or interest disputes often arise from disagreements over the interpretation or application of pre-existing standards established by the state or through collective agreements. For example, when workers perceive their wages or working conditions as unfair.

Legal or law disputes

Legal conflicts can arise when workers believe a law is unjust or a collective bargaining agreement is illegal, prompting the need for a modification or replacement.

Requirements of a Collective Dispute

The Supreme Court has repeatedly stressed the fundamental criteria for a collective dispute:

  • It must impact the entirety of the workers
  • The collective involved must be homogeneous
  • Judgments issued are generally declarative, with obligations imposed only in exceptional cases; in such instances, the courts might instruct the company to take specific actions concerning the workers.
  • The collective dispute must have legal grounds
  • It must be initiated through the appropriate procedure tailored to each case
  • Conflict arising from business practices pertains to agreements entailing contentious interpretations or applications of state regulations and general or sectoral agreements.

Royal Decree-Law 17/1977 of 4 March 1977, regulating labour relations, delineates the regulatory framework governing labour relations and outlines the procedure for resolving collective disputes in Spain. This process can be initiated by

  • Workers’ representatives, including works councils, personnel delegates, and trade unions, either independently or at the behest of the workers themselves
  • Employers or their legal representatives, depending on the nature and extent of the dispute.

Collective disputes must be formalised in writing, providing a detailed account of the underlying facts. The document should also include the identity of the individuals filing the dispute and specify the number of workers or employers affected.

The notice is to be submitted to the Provincial Labour Directorate if the dispute is limited to a province or the relevant body of the Autonomous Community or the General Labour Directorate.

Once the relevant body has received the document outlining the collective dispute, a meeting between both parties will be convened within a maximum of three or five days, depending on the number of arbitrators appointed to resolve the conflict. The meeting aims to reach an agreement that holds the same weight as that established in the collective bargaining agreement.

In cases where the parties fail to reach an agreement or appoint an arbitrator, and the dispute stems from disagreements over the interpretation of an existing rule, the Labour Authority will forward the proceedings, along with its report, to the labour courts. If the dispute involves changes in working conditions and the compulsory imposition of the arbitration award is considered unconstitutional, the parties must persist in negotiations, if necessary, to resolve the matter.

Carlos Rivero

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This article is not considered legal advice

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