The Economic and Social Council
The Economic and Social Council is a constitutional body for consultation and social concertation. Its main goals are to promote the participation of economic and social agents in the decision-making process of the organs of sovereignty, mainly within the scope of social and economic issues. It is the prime space for dialogue between the Government, the Social Partners, and the remaining representatives of an organised civil society.
The Constitution of the Portuguese Republic (Article 92) grants the Economic and Social Council two types of roles: that of consultation and that of social concertation.
The Council’s consultation role is taken forward via the collaboration with organisations that represent the Portuguese society and economic agents and is carried out by writing opinion reports, either requested by the Government or other organs of sovereignty, or upon the Council’s own initiative. Through these opinion reports, the Council expresses an opinion on the final drafts of policy documents such as the country’s major options of the plan, plans for economic and social development, economic and social policies, Portugal’s place in European institutions in light of those policies, the use of European funds at the national level, the country’s policies of restructuring and social and economic development, the country’s economic and social situation, and the regional development policies.
The social concertation role aims to promote social dialogue and negotiation between the Government and the Social Partners – the latter being trade unions and employers’ representatives – and it is taken forward via tripartite negotiations with representatives of such bodies, during which legislation proposals are appraised, especially with regards to social and labour issues, and social concertation agreements take place.
The Economic and Social Council’s work is carried out via the legal entities that constitute it, namely the President, the Plenary, the Specialised Standing Committee on Social and Economic Policy, the Specialised Standing Committee for Regional Development and Land Planning, the Specialised Interdisciplinary Standing Committee for Fertility, the Coordinating Board, the Administrative Board, and the Social Concertation Standing Committee. The latter works independently of the Social and Economic Council, which is nonetheless tasked with providing the logistic and administrative support for its functioning.
Sara Falcão Casaca
Sara Falcão Casaca is a full professor at The Lisbon School of Economics and Management (ISEG), University of Lisbon. She is currently the president of the Research Centre in Economic and Organisational Sociology (SOCIUS). She is the author and co-author of several scientific papers.
She is currently the coordinator of the Doctoral Programme in Economic and Organisational Sociology in ISEG. She collaborates – as an expert in gender equality – with national, European, and international entities, and associated mechanisms for gender equality. She is part of the scientific and technical group of the Portuguese mechanism for gender equality (CIG). She collaborates regularly with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and is one of the authors of the Handbook on Gender and Organizational Change. From 2018 until 2019, Sara Falcão Casaca was a consultant for iGen – the Forum Organisations for Equality – and co-coordinated the technical evaluation of the applications to the Equality is Quality Award.
She was a member of the European Union’s High-Level Group in Gender Mainstreaming, and a member of the board of management of The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) in 2010. On that year, Sara Falcão Casaca was also the president of the Portuguese mechanism for gender equality (CIG).
She became the interim President of the Economic and Social Council on the 29th of January 2024. Decision that was then confirmed by the council’s plenary on the 7th of February 2024.
The President of the Economic and Social Council is elected by the Portuguese Parliament, by a majority of two thirds of the members present, as long as the number of members present is superior to the majority of the members in office. The Council’s president’s mandate is in line with the Parliament’s, and it is renewable without limitation.
The President represents the council at national and international levels, in addition to presiding and coordinating its several bodies, namely the Plenary, the Coordinating Board, and the Administrative Board. The President also has a seat in the Social Concertation Standing Committee, with no voting rights.
Other Bodies of the Council
The Plenary consists of 76 full members – the advisors – including the President of the Social and Economic Council, who chairs the Plenary meetings and is elected by Parliament, and four Vice-Presidents, elected by the Plenary itself, and who assist the President.
Although the Council’s advisory members are not formally associated with a group, it is possible to consider six groups, distinguished by the nature of the interests the advisors represent:
- Representatives of regional and local government
- Sundry interests
- Individuals of renowned merit
The Plenary usually meets six times a year, in bi-monthly intervals, although it may meet in extraordinary sessions upon the initiative of the President or at the request of at least one-fifth of the members of the Plenary.
The Plenary holds a vast range of functions and roles, of which the opinion reports of Government proposals are highlighted, such as the final draft proposals for the “Major Options of the Plan,” and the “Social and Economic Development Plans”.
Unless stated otherwise in legal or regulated proceedings, the Plenary’s decisions are taken via simple majority, with the president having the deciding vote, in case of a tie.
Voting at Plenary meetings is public, unless the Social and Economic Council is deliberating on a request from the organs of sovereignty.
Specialised Standing Committee on Social and Economic Policy
The Specialised Standing Committee on Social and Economic Policy (CEPES) is made up of four representatives of the Government, employers’ representatives, trade unions, local Government, a representative from each of the autonomous regions, and one representative from each of the sectors that are part of the Social and Economic Council. It may also include one or two individuals of renowned merit.
The CEPES is headed by a President, assisted by two Vice-Presidents, all elected from its members in the first meeting after its composition.
CEPES’s meetings do not follow a fixed schedule; they are scheduled upon initiative of its President or following a justified request by a third of its members.
Specialised Standing Committee for Regional Development and Land Planning
The Specialised Standing Committee for Regional Development and Land Planning (CDROT) is made up of four representatives of the Government, employers’ representatives, trade unions, local Government, a representative from each of the autonomous regions, and one representative from each of the sectors that are part of the Social and Economic Council. It may also include one or two individuals of renowned merit.
The CDROT is headed by a President, assisted by two Vice-Presidents, all elected from its members in the first meeting after its composition.
CDROT’s meetings do not follow a fixed schedule; they are scheduled upon initiative of its President or following a justified request by a third of its members.
Specialised Interdisciplinary Standing Committee on Fertility
The Specialised Interdisciplinary Standing Committee on Fertility (CEPIN) is made up of four representatives of the Government, employers’ representatives, trade unions, local Government, a representative from each of the autonomous regions, and one representative from each of the sectors that are part of the Social and Economic Council. It may also include one or two individuals of renowned merit.
The CEPIN is headed by a President, assisted by two Vice-Presidents, all elected from its members in the first meeting after its composition.
CEPIN’s meetings do not follow a fixed schedule; they are scheduled upon initiative of its President or following a justified request by a third of its members.
The Coordinating Council is the body that assists the President of the Council. It has different roles, including approving the Council’s budget proposals, putting together the items on the agenda for each Plenary meeting, and reviewing those entities that apply to become members of the Social and Economic Council.
It is made up of the President of the Social and Economic Council, the four Vice-Presidents, and of the Presidents of all the Specialised Committees, namely CEPES, CDROT, and CEPIN.
The Administrative Council is the body that has as its main roles the preparation of the Council’s budget proposals, and guaranteeing that the actions of the Council – both in administrative and financial matters – are in accordance with the law.
It is made up of the President of the Council, the Vice-Presidents, the Council’s Secretary General, and by the head of the General Administration of the Social and Economic Council.
Social Concertation Standing Committee
The Government and the Social Partners (ie, the employers’ representatives and the trade unions) are part of the Social Concertation Standing Committee (CPCS). CPCS’s main function is to promote dialogue and social concertation, with the goal of establishing agreements between the parts.
CPCS also has the following roles:
- Issuing opinions on restructuring and socio-economic development policies, as well as on their implementation.
- Issuing proposals of solutions for the proper functioning of the economy, taking into account their social and labour impacts.
- Regularly appraising the evolution of the country’s social and economic situation.
- Appraising legislation proposals concerning social and labour matters, namely proposals on the labour law.
CPCS works in several stages, with a stage to propose the themes to be discussed and an associated timetable, and a stage to define the best methodology for the analysis of the issue at hand, based on a work schedule, which can be either annual or the length of the mandate, and accepted by all the members. With regards to the matters to be discussed, they are matters such as public policies for employment, professional training, social security, tax, and public administration.
There are also matters that must be preceded by a preliminary hearing with CPCS, such as the setting of the minimum wage, as determined in Article 273 of the Labour Law.
Regarding the writing of opinion reports on complex issues, a themed work group is usually created, made up of the Social Partners who wish to participate in that group. In these work groups complex issues are properly analysed, from a technical and exhaustive standpoint. Afterwards, the written review is appraised by CPCS as a whole.
CPCS is made up of four members of the Government, to be designated via prime ministerial decree, two representatives of the trade union CGTP-IN (Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores – Intersindical Nacional), two representatives of the trade union UGT (União Geral de Trabalhadores), the President of the farmers’ association CAP (Confederação dos Agricultores de Portugal), the President of the commerce and services confederation CCP (Confederação do Comércio e Seviços de Portugal), the President of the industry confederation CIP (Confederação da Indústria Portuguesa), and the President of the tourism confederation CTP (Confederação do Turismo de Portugal).
Arbitration is one way of collective conflict resolution in labour matters, and it takes place under the Social and Economic Council’s umbrella.
In this area, the role of the Council is to organise and upkeep the lists of referees who can get selected, the draw of referees from the list when needed, and the guarantee of payment to the referees, specialists, and technical and administrative support that guarantee the functioning of the arbitration court.
Arbitration can be of different kinds, namely mandatory arbitration, necessary arbitration, and arbitration for setting minimum services.
Mandatory arbitration aims to resolve a conflict that results from trying to reach a collective labour agreement, and it can take place in three situations:
- When, being the first agreement, it is requested by any of the parties involved in the agreement, as a result of unsuccessful negotiations.
- When there is a recommendation from CPCS.
- By initiative of the Minister responsible for labour matters, and after a hearing takes place with CPCS, when essential services are under discussion.
The necessary arbitration is determined by ministerial decree and its aim is to reach a collective labour agreement, when one or more of these agreements has expired, as long as there is no new agreement reached in the 12 months after, nor a new agreement takes place, and no other agreement is applicable to at least 50% of the workers.
Arbitration for setting the minimum services takes place when the provision of minimum services needs to be guaranteed, in order to make sure that essential social needs are met, throughout a strike taken forward by a company from the corporate Government sector and when the minimum services are not defined via collective regulation or by an agreement between the parties involved.
The arbitration court is made up of a President Referee, chosen by the referees that represent each part or selected via a drawand by two referees from the parties lists, one to represent the workers, and the other to represent the employers.
Note: The arbitration decisions made under the Regime do Contrato de Trabalho em Funções Públicas can be found on the DGAEP website.