A decision of the Spanish national appeals court ( Audiencia Nacional) dated 10 September 2012 consolidates the new structure of collective bargaining approved by the Spanish Labour Reform Act.

The decision confirms the primacy of the plant-level CBA over the sector-wide CBA in respect of regulations governing salaries and other basic labour conditions, as provided by law.

The Court was requested to enter a judgment on the lawfulness of certain clauses of the recent V National Collective Bargaining Agreement for the Cement Products Sector, signed on 21 February 2012, which had been challenged by the Employment Authorities.

Indeed, articles 3, 34 and 41 of the CBA established restrictions to the sector’s plant-level CBAs and gave priority to regulations agreed at a regional level on issues concerning (i) minimum salaries, remuneration and economic structure, and (ii) any other conditions of employment, except those expressly reserved to plant-level collective bargaining.

However, these clauses did not seem consistent with the wording of article 84.2 of the Spanish Workers’ Statute provided by the new Labour Reform Act, which entered into force on 12 February 2012. That new wording gave specific priority to plant-level CBAs over sector-specific CBAs in respect of basic labour conditions, such as salaries, overtime, shifts, working time, professional classifications, employment contract types, mediation and any other condition that sector CBAs might establish. 

The Spanish Audiencia Nacional found that, regardless of the moment it is signed, a CBA must comply with the provisions of the Labour Reform Act up from 12 February 2012, following the prevailing regulation hierarchy of the Spanish legal system.

That court then went on to state that sector-specific CBAs cannot force plant-level CBAs to set particular minimum salaries for the workers affected by them. As a result, the affected clauses of sector-specific CBAs are declared null and void.

Certainly, the new collective bargaining structure introduced by the Labour Reform raises an on-going debate on whether or not collective bargaining and trade union freedom are being breached as constitutional liberties. However, there remains no doubt that this decision confirms a definite shift in the structure that has existed up to now, with the conditions established in plant-level CBAs  being priority over regional or national CBAs.