The Council of Ministers’ rules of procedure stipulate that ministers can carry out consultations with other groups they consider relevant prior to presenting draft legislation. In practice, this occurs with varying frequency. As described in the SGI 2009 report, some areas (pensions, wages and labor regulations) are still influenced by corporatist arrangements, set through formal negotiations between the government, trade unions and employers’ associations. Other interest groups have considerable influence in areas such as health, justice, defense, security and education.
The period under analysis has been marked by a relative easing in the relationship between the government and interest groups, with the government more willing to compromise as compared to the situation described in the SGI 2009 report. Thus, when a conflict emerged between the government and the powerful National Association of Pharmacies over pharmacies’ profit margin, the government ultimately decided in favor of the industry group’s position in late May 2009, overturning the Health Ministry’s initial decision. This is not to say that all such conflicts have ended; in April 2009, for instance, the government challenged the National Association of Pharmacies over its decision to replace medical prescriptions for branded drugs with equivalent generics (which are more profitable to pharmacies than branded drugs). The relationship between teachers and the government was particularly conflict-prone, over proposals to assess teacher performance. These led to a massive and unprecedented wave of demonstrations and strikes by teachers, which continued throughout 2008 – 2009, abating gradually over the course of this period. It seems that the government’s unyielding position became less intense as the 2009 legislative elections approached, suggesting an adaptation of the government’s position to the electoral cycle.
Portugal has a social concertation committee, called the Permanent Committee for Social Dialogue (Comissão Permanente de Concertação Social, CPCS), which is a part of the country’s Economic and Social Council. This latter group is “a constitutional body for consultation, concertation and participation in the field of economic and social policies.” As highlighted in the 2009 SGI report, this group has been called to provide input on policies dealing with pensions, wages and labor regulations. In June 2008, the CPCS approved new public sector hiring rules with support by the employers’ associations and one of the trade union organizations. It also approved a new system for the regulation of labor relations, employment policies and social protection in Portugal, which led inter alia to a revision of the labor code in 2009 (Law 7/2009). As with other previous measures of this kind, these provisions were approved by employers’ associations and the UGT, one of the trade union organizations. The largest trade union confederation, the CGTP-Intersindical (which is close to the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP)) continues to reject these measures, and accuses the CPCS of excluding the PCP from negotiations.