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10. Trade Unions and Employers Associations

Brief Description of Employees’ and Employers’ Associations

Trade unions are recognised in Portuguese Law and its respective regime, but are primarily ruled by the Portuguese Republic Constitution and by the Labour Code.

Portuguese law recognises each employee´s free right to affiliation, which means he/she may become a member and leave any trade union. Portuguese trade unions cover almost all existing professional activities. In theory, therefore, all employees could be unionised, despite of unionisation rates being quite low. There are two main trade union federations in Portugal: UGT and CGTP. Although formally independent they are strongly connected or close to left wing political parties, mainly the socialist (PS) and the communist (PCP) party.

Employers are legally prevented from interfering with union activities, even with the purpose of promoting, supporting or financing trade unions. There are several collective bargaining agreements ruling all different kinds of activities.

Rights and Importance of Trade Unions

The employees are entitled to associate with unions for the purpose of defending and promoting their social and professional interests. Such associations cover unions, federations, leagues and confederations.

Types of Representation

The unions are entitled to negotiate collective labour agreements, render economic or social services to their members, participate in the preparation of labour legislation, initiate and intervene in legal and administrative proceedings concerning the interests of its members, take part in undertaking restructuring processes, establish relationship or membership in international union associations, and others.

Number of Representatives

The following maximum number of union representatives apply: 1 member in undertakings with less than 50 unionised workers, 2 members in undertakings with 50 to 99 unionised workers, 3 members in undertakings with 100 to 199 unionised workers, 6 members in undertakings with 200 to 499 unionised workers and in undertakings with 550 or more unionised workers the number of representatives is the result of the formula 6 + [n – 500) : 200], where n is the number of unionised employees.

Tasks and Obligations of Representatives

The tasks and obligations on union representatives and of members of Works Councils are similar, and in many circumstances overlap. There tasks and obligations are essentially connected with i) information and consultation rights in a number of labour related subject matters (such as redundancies or restructuring measures); ii) rights to be informed and consulted in disciplinary procedures involving union representative employees; and iii) involvement in redundancy proceedings. Union representatives, in contrast to Works Council representatives, may also be involved in the negotiation of collective bargaining agreements.

Employees’ Representation in Management

Employees do not have any particular right to be part of the company’s social bodies.

The employees’ representation in the management is assured by the obligation that the employer has to consult the workers’ representative bodies in a number of matters that regard the management of the company, namely the organisation of the company’s workers’ structure, careers and promotions, bankruptcy procedures, dismissals and  company restructuring.

Workers’ councils have the right to meet, at least once a month, with the management body of the company to assess issues related to the exercise of their rights.

Other Types of Employee Representative Bodies

For purposes of collective defence and pursuit of their rights and interests, the employees can create workers´ councils / committees and sub-committees and take part in European work councils. In each undertaking, employees have the right to create a workers’ committee to defend their interests and exercise consultation and information rights and other legally foreseen interests.

The maximum number of employee representatives within the committees depends on the number of employees employed within the undertaking at a certain time:

  • 2 members in entities with less than 50 employees;
  • 3 members in undertakings with 50 or more employers and less than 200;
  • 3 to 5 members in large undertakings with between 201 to 500 employees;
  • 5 to 7 members in large undertakings with between 501 to 1000 employees; and
  • 7 to 11 in large undertakings with more than 1000 employees.
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