One-year extended validity for collective labor agreements, unless otherwise agreed
We have dealt in previous articles with the interpretation by the courts of one of the key aspects of the labor reform (Law 3/2012, of July 6, 2012, on urgent measures to reform the labor market), in relation to the intention of the lawmakers.
The same analysis can be made of another key aspect of the reform: the one-year limit placed on the extended validity of collective labor agreements in the absence of a replacement (referred to as ultraactividad), unless otherwise agreed.
Prior to the reform, unless otherwise agreed a collective labor agreement remained valid if no agreement was reached by the parties by the deadline for negotiating its replacement.
One might say that, under this regime, ultraactividad was the general rule and that the parties could agree on the exception (limiting the period of extended validity).
This concept of unlimited extended validity formed part of the provisions concerning validity of the majority of collective labor agreements prior to the reform, it being agreed that their content would remain valid until a new collective labor agreement was signed.
Following the labor reform (article 86 of the current Workers’ Statute), unless otherwise agreed a collective labor agreement will cease to be valid if, after one year has elapsed from the notice of its expiration, no agreement has been reached between the parties for its replacement, with the higher-level collective labor agreement, if any, becoming applicable.
In other words, under the new legislation, the loss of validity of the collective labor agreement after one year if no agreement is reached is the general rule (limit on the period of extended validity), with respect to which the parties may agree on the exception (increase of the period of extended validity).
To clear up any doubts, the lawmakers explained the purpose of this legislative change as follows: “the aim is to avoid a “petrification” of the working conditions agreed in the collective labor agreement and to ensure that the renegotiated agreement is not delayed excessively, by limiting the period of extended validity of the collective labor agreement to one year.”
How are the Spanish courts interpreting the regime of extended validity established by the labor reform? For the time being, and until such time as a ruling is made by the Supreme Court, the National Appellate Court judgments of June 23 and November 19, 2013, have held that the provisions of collective labor agreements signed prior to the reform that stipulate that the agreement will remain valid until a new agreement is signed correspond to the contrary provision (i.e. “unless otherwise agreed”) established in the reform to allow for an increase of the period of extended validity. The court argues that, prior to the reform, provisions could be agreed to limit the period of extended validity and that if the parties agreed that the agreement would remain valid until a new agreement was signed, this provision would be valid as an exception to the one-year limit on the period of extended validity established by the labor reform.
In accordance with this interpretation, and somewhat curiously, a provision made before the new general rule existed or was known, and which was not intended to establish an exception or contrary provision (limiting the extended validity) to the previously applicable general rule (unlimited extended validity) but rather to reproduce such general rule, is accepted as an exception or contrary provision (increasing extended validity by more than one year) to the new general rule applicable (one-year maximum extended validity).
Nevertheless, until a ruling is made by the Supreme Court, collective labor agreements predating the reform which stipulate that they will remain valid until a new agreement is signed, will remain valid even after one year has elapsed from the notice of their expiration and no new agreement to replace it has been reached by the parties, unless otherwise agreed.
Garrigues Labor and Employment Law Department