The Economic and Social Council was established by law in 1991 (Lei n.º 108/91, and further amendments). The Constitution of the Portuguese Republic (article 92) grants the council two types of responsibilities, one consultative and the other of social concertation, both within the scope of economic and social policies.
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The aim of the Economic and Social Council is to promote the involvement of economic and social agents in the government decision-making process on socio-economic issues. It provides the chief forum for dialogue between social partners and other civil society organisations.
In the course of this work it draws up opinions on draft legislation and economic policy programmes submitted to it by the government or on its own initiative. Moreover, it promotes social dialogue and negotiations between the government and the social partners through the Social Concertation Standing Committee.
Following the Labour Code published in 2003, new tasks were committed to the Council related to arbitration to settle collective conflicts in the labour relations. Arbitration takes on several forms, namely mandatory arbitration, required arbitration and arbitration to define minimum services.
The Plenary is composed by the following members:
· The President;
· 8 representatives from the government;
· 8 representatives from trade union confederations;
· 8 representatives from employers associations;
· 2 representatives from the cooperative sector;
· 2 representatives from the National Science and Technology Council;
· 2 representatives of the liberal professionals;
· 1 representative from the state-owned enterprise sector;
· 4 representatives from the autonomous regions (Madeira and Azores);
· 8 representatives from local government;
· 1 representative from the national associations for environmental protection;
· 1 representative from the national associations for consumer protection;
· 2 representatives from solidarity and charity institutes;
· 1 representative from family associations;
· 1 representative from universities;
· 1 representative from associations of young entrepreneurs;
· 2 representatives from organisations representing family farming and the rural world;
· 1 representative from associations representing the field of equal opportunities for women and men;
· 1 representative from women's associations with generic representativeness;
· 1 representative from women's associations represented in the Advisory Board of the Commission for Citizenship and Gender Equality (CIG);
· 1 representative from organisations representing people with disabilities;
· 2 representatives from organisations representing the financial and insurance sector;
· 1 representative from organisations representing the tourism sector;
· 5 individuals of renowned merit.
The term of office of the council members runs concurrently with the legislative period of the Portuguese parliament and ends when new members take up office. Their appointment should take into account the relevance and importance of the interests represented. For each one of the sectors represented, there is the same number of alternates as full members represented on the council.
The President is one of the Council’s governing bodies and is appointed by the national parliament with a two thirds majority of the members of parliament present, as long as this is greater than the majority of MPs in office. His/her mandate corresponds to the legislative period of parliament and is renewable without limitations.
The Social Concertation Standing Committee is a tripartite body composed of 12 members. It is chaired by the prime minister, who can delegate this task to a minister, and consists of representatives from the government, from trade union confederations and from employers associations. Its membership is as follows:
· 4 representatives from the government (who are appointed by the prime minister)
· 4 representatives from trade union confederations (2 appointed by CGTP-IN - General Confederation of the Portuguese Workers and 2 appointed by UGT - General Union of workers);
· 4 representatives from employers associations (1 appointed by CAP - Portuguese Confederation of Farmers, 1 appointed by CCP - Confederation of Trade and Services of Portugal, 1 appointed by CIP - Business Confederation of Portugal and 1 appointed by CTP - Portuguese Confederation of Tourism).
The Specialised Standing Committee for Economic and Social Policy and the Specialised Standing Committee for Regional Development and Land Planning are made up of 4 representatives from the government, employer associations, trade unions and local government, 1 representative from each of the autonomous regions and 1 representative from each of the sectors represented at the plenary. They may also include 1 or 2 individuals of renowned merit.
The Coordinating Board is composed of the President and the four Vice-Presidents.
Meetings are convened by the President, after discussion with the Coordinating Board.
The Council’s opinions are voted on at the plenary sessions and must be approved by a majority, except opinions resulting from the right of initiative, which must be approved by two-thirds.
The Council’s work is carried out by its specialised committees, by the Social Concertation Standing Committee and also in the arbitration tribunals that operate under the Council.
Members of the Specialised Standing Committee for Economic and Social Policy and of the Specialised Standing Committee for Regional Development and Land Planning are appointed by the plenary, taking into account the type of interests represented by the organisations and bodies on the Council and the relevance of these issues to the areas dealt with by these committees. They meet whenever they are called upon to do so or on their own initiative, as they deem necessary.
The Social Concertation Standing Committee works independently of the Council which is tasked with providing the former with logistic and administrative support. The Committee’s main task is to foster dialogue and social concertation to enter into agreements. Employment policies, vocational training, social welfare, tax and public administration policies are included among the matters to be discussed.
In the context of arbitration, the Council’s duties concern the organisation and maintenance of lists for appointing arbitrators, the drawing of lots to designate arbitrators whenever necessary, ensuring payment for arbitrators and experts and technical and providing technical and administrative support for the normal functioning of the arbitration tribunals.
The consultation role of the Council is carried out by drafting opinions, requested of it by either the government or the Parliament, or upon its own initiative. Those opinions focus on the drafts of the programmes and policies in fiscal, economic and social domains, Portugal’s positioning within the European institutions with regard to these policies, the use of European funds at national level and the regional development policy.
Referrals which have been officially submitted to the Council for an opinion are forwarded by the President to the Presidents of the specialised committees; the resulting reports are then submitted to the President of the Council who sends them on to the relevant authorities.
The work is distributed among the committees according to subject matter and is managed by the President of the committee concerned. It is his/her task to steer the work and the activities of rapporteurs as well as to ensure that deadlines are met for completing the opinions, reports, studies and information documents which are the responsibility of that committee; it is also his/her responsibility to keep the Council President up to date on work in progress.
Studies, opinions, reports and other information documents approved by the committees will be sent to the Council President who, having consulted with the Coordinating Board, will place them on the Plenary session agenda, since an Opinion can only be officially adopted after being voted on in the Plenary. The Council opinions are not binding nor are they published officially, but they are published in its website. The general public is informed of the Council’s work through the media and through publication of its opinions, studies and activity reports.
The Social Concertation Standing Committee appraises legislation projects with regard to social and labour matters, for which social concertation agreements are then entered into.
Another aspect of the CES’s activity concerns arbitration, as a means to settle collective conflicts regarding labour relations.
In this context, the CES’s duties concern the organisation and maintenance of lists for the appointment of arbitrators, the drawing of lots to designate arbitrators whenever necessary, ensuring payment for arbitrators and experts and providing technical and administrative support for the normal functioning of the arbitration tribunals.