The Autoridade para as Condições de Trabalho – ACT (Authority for Working Conditions) is a public service that oversees compliance with labour legislation and aims to improve working conditions in all sectors of private activity. Its mission is to prevent (the occurrence of incidents, conflicts, workplace accidents and occupational diseases), supervise (the conditions under which work is performed) and fix (by fomenting legislative improvements).
In times of pandemic, the ACT is faced with a worsening of the problems that were already there and which, to a large extent, are a challenge to its enforcement role. Problems such as: situations where workers are forced to work in poor health conditions (for example, call centre workers), to accept contract cancellations by mutual agreement, or to have their contracts terminated (even in cases where companies benefit from State support during the lay-off period); the real risk of unlawful collective dismissals; the profusion of precarious work in more vulnerable sectors of the workforce (temporary workers, outsourcing, freelancers, probation period); increasing demands from a non-regulated digital; the insecurities of teleworking, etc. These and other examples have highlighted the ACT’s scarcity of human and technical resources, a long-time complaint only recently (May 2020) corrected with the inclusion of 80 inspectors admitted by open competition (starting in 2016) and a further forty inspectors admitted by internal competition (in 2019).
The usefulness of the 19 recommendations issued by the ACT at the end of April 2020 as a means of (re)adapting to workplaces in the framework of a return to “normality” is unquestionable. But it would be desirable that the “transfer” of powers from the Labour Courts (in relation to the suspension of dismissals that show signs of illegality) to the ACT receive increased political trust rather than being treated as a merely transitory measure. Equally, the promotion of law-trained labour inspectors should take priority over the recruitment (even if temporary) of inspectors in other services. It is also crucial that the inspection actions take the form of actual visits to companies instead of being conducted by phone or email.
Since the health crisis is a global problem, it is also time to make the European Labour Authority effective. COVID-19 has stimulated processes of confinement within national borders, but transnational mobility processes (over 17 million between EU Member-states) cannot fail to mobilise governments to strengthen joint inspections, enabling safe mobility rights and unrestricted access to social protection mechanisms.How to cite: Costa, Hermes Augusto (2020), "Authority for Working Conditions", Words beyond the pandemic: a hundred-sided crisis. Consulted at 20.06.2021, in https://ces.uc.pt/publicacoes/palavras-pandemia/?lang=2&id=30224. ISBN: 978-989-8847-28-7