Labour laws simpler and clearer

THE PORTUGUESE government has modified and simplified the country’s Código do Trabalho (Employment Code) in a bid to improve productivity, competitiveness and flexibility.

The alterations better define what constitutes independent, non-contractual, casual work (recorded on the system of green receipts) and what constitutes contractual work with the attendant rights to paid holidays and sickness benefits. The changes, which come into force in 2005 and 2006, also aim to close up the current loopholes that exist within the green receipts’ system, where widespread abuse is possible.

Dr. Luís Brito Correia, a law professor and lawyer, discussed the Código do Trabalho (CT), its Regulation (RL) and the changes that have been made to labour laws at a recent seminar organised by the British-Portuguese and German Chambers of Commerce. He explained how the new CT has scrapped 50 existing laws and reduced them into just two laws made up of 1,200 articles. The new CT and RL are far simpler to understand and, together, they should reduce the current legislative chaos caused by having to cross reference different laws.

At the heart of the changes is the necessity to make Portuguese companies and businesses more competitive and productive. “Today, in the EU, we are confronted with problems linked to competitiveness and competition from companies in Eastern Europe, China and the Far East,” Dr. Correia pointed out. “The new labour laws are trying to find a middle way for the government to free up the geographical mobility of employees and help business, while understanding the necessity of satisfying its Union partners.”

Under the changes to the laws, maternity and paternity rights have been reinforced and clearer differentiation has been made between the functions of varying types of companies: micro, small, medium and large.

Dra Catarina Correia da Silva explained in her presentation at the seminar what was in the revised Code of Contract, and the rights and guarantees of the employer and employee. One important change is in the area of ‘personal affairs’ of the employee. This includes the rights to non-intrusion into the employee’s personal life (such as pregnancy), health issues (that clearly do not prevent the employee from doing the job effectively) and religious and political beliefs. With regards to professional training within a company, the employer must provide and encourage the employee to obtain adequate training, which should be not less than 36 hours a year, and to achieve the necessary qualifications that will result in a certificate accredited by the company.

Dra Correia da Silva also mentioned methods of surveillance used by companies, such as CCTV in receptions and car parks. The law now states that the employer cannot use surveillance within the workplace to control the activities of its workforce, unless the system is used to protect the safety of the personnel.

Another important area, which has been clarified, is the right to confidentiality of information contained in emails. All personal electronic messages received by an employee are confidential, even if received on company computers. But the employer has the right to establish parameters, such as firewalls, rules on usage of internet sites and sending of electronic messages.

To sum up, Dra Correia da Silva explained that the Employment Code has been set out to be simpler and clearer.