Spain’s self-employed suffer skills shortage

Spain's 2.9 million-strong army of self-employed people is among the least skilled in Europe, a new study by employment human resources agency Adecco shows.

Spain's self-employed suffer skills shortage
According to Adecco, only 38.2 percent of Spanish women working for themselves carry out specialized tasks. Photo: Victor1558/Flickr

The European Union (EU) could boast of 23.8 million self-employed people in 2012, or 15.2 percent of the region's workforce.

In Spain, meanwhile, a slightly higher then average 16.8 percent of people — or around one in six people — are their own boss.

This puts the Iberian country mid-table in the self-employed stakes: out in front is Italy where 23.4 percent work for themselves.

At the other end of the scale is Sweden where just 10.2 percent of people are in this situation.

In Germany and France, meanwhile, this rate is 11 percent.

These are some of the figures presented in a study by employment agency Adecco into self-employment in ten EU countries. 

Based on figures from the European stats office Eurostat  and from Spain's national statistic institute (the INE), the HR company's study also provides a detailed snapshot of Spain's self-employed workers.

It shows that in Spain — as elsewhere in Europe — the older you are, the more likely it is you are working for yourself.  

Among 25 to 49-year-olds, 14.6 percent of workers are self-employed, against 13.9 across the EU.

"Most of Spain's autónomos (self-employed workers) pay a minimum flat rate of around €250 a month," Sebastián Reyna, the President of the Union of Professional and Working Self-employed  People (UPTA) told The Local recently.

"In exchange, these registered self-employed people receive health care and pension entitlements — at least once you have paid into the system for 15 years."

These costs can appear prohibitive to younger less-established workers given that they have to be paid every month.

But Reina says new reduced tariffs for self-employed people under 30 have helped boosted the number of self-employed workers in Spain.

Spain saw over 17,000 new self-employed workers in the first half of 2013 according to a study carried out by entrepreneur association ATA.

At the other end of the age spectrum, the percentage of workers aged 65 and over who are self-employed workers jumps to 51 percent.

"This is partly because older people are topping up their pension payments," Reyna from UPTA said.

The Adecco study also shows that just under one in three self-employed Spanish workers (31.4 percent) have contracted other staff.

This is slightly above the European average of 28.3 percent.

In Germany, that figure is 42.9 percent, while in the UK it's 17.7 percent.

"Given the economic situation, Spain's self-employed workers are very unlikely to take on new staff," said Reyna of UPTA.

"Those contracts that are signed are likely to be only temporary," he added.

The Adecco study also provides a breakdown of Europe's self-employed workers by sector, with industry, agriculture and services represented.

Spain self-employed workers are much more likely to work in service industries than their European colleagues, with 57.6 percent of the country's autónomos in this sector.

Italy has a similar figure at 56.1 percent while the study average is ten points lower at 46.1 percent.

Another finding of the Adecco study is that there is a very high rate of unskilled workers among Spain's self-employed army with this figure hitting 32.5 percent.

"This includes everyone from taxi-drivers to people working in transport or sales as well as people in the leisure sector," Reina from UPTA explained.

Among men, this rate is 23 percent but among women it's almost double at 43.9 percent.

According to Adecco, only 38.2 percent of Spanish women working for themselves carry out specialized tasks.

That's against an average of 50.3 across the European Union. 

The gap is narrower for men: 68.2 percent of self-employed men in Spain are doing specialized work that requires training.

That's against a European average of 72.5 percent.

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Do I have to take most of my annual leave in August in Spain?

Many Spanish companies still expect their workers to take their holidays at specific times of the year, primarily in August, right in the height of summer when many hotels are fully booked. So what are your rights, are you obliged to take your vacation in one particular month?

Do I have to take most of my annual leave in August in Spain?

While it’s your right as an employee to be able to take holiday days, do you have to take them when your company wants you to take them, or are you able to choose and have more flexibility?

Despite August being one of the hottest months in Spain and the one month of the year when many official companies and offices shut up shop, not everyone necessarily wants to take their break at the same time as everyone else.

Taking your holidays in August means less availability in hotels, overcrowding and more expensive transport and accommodation. If you don’t have children who are off from school during the summer months, then you may wish to take your vacation days at another time of the year, when it’s less busy and cheaper.

To answer the question it’s important to know the details about what the law says about how paid time off is taken, requested, imposed, or granted.

What laws or regulations dictate the rules about paid holiday time?

There are three different sets of rules and regulations, which are responsible for regulating the laws on vacation time in Spain. 

Firstly, you need to look at the Spanish Workers’ Statute, which includes rights, duties and obligations applicable to all salaried workers in Spain.

Secondly, you need to be aware of the collective sector and/or company agreements, which may dictate the rules for a particular industry for example.

Thirdly, you need to look at the contract, which you signed with your employer when you started working for them. This sets out your individual circumstances and the rules you must abide by.   

Workers Statute

As a general rule, all employees are subject to the Workers’ Statute. Holidays are part of this and are the subject of article 38. These conditions can never be contradicted by individual companies and are set as a guaranteed minimum. 

The minimum number of holidays in Spain is 30 calendar days per year. This equals two and a half days per month worked, in the case of temporary contracts. The statute states that vacations must be taken between January 1st and December 31st in separate periods, but one of them must be for at least two weeks. They are always paid and cannot be exchanged for financial compensation.

The period when you can take them is set by a common agreement between the employer and the worker, in accordance with what is established in the collective agreements on annual vacation planning. If there is disagreement, the social jurisdiction is resorted to.

At a minimum, the company must offer vacation days at least two months before the beginning of the holiday period, so that the employee has time to organise and book.   

When the planned time to take vacations coincides with a temporary disability, pregnancy, or childbirth, you have the right to enjoy the vacations at another time, even after the calendar year is over.

Collective agreements on vacations  

Your sector’s collective agreements may also help to answer this question. These aim to improve upon the basic and general rights that are included in the Workers’ Statute. They seek to adapt the rules to each type of industry or company. They could, for example, set out extra vacation days, which are greater than the standard 30 calendar days. 

You will need to find out what your specific sector or company’s collective agreement is. There is a possibility that your sector or company has mandatory summer vacations for the month of August and in that case, you can choose vacation dates, but only within this month.

Your work contract 

Lastly, you will need to consult your individual contract which you signed with the company when you were hired.  As well as the minimum conditions set out in the Workers’ Statute, your contract sets out your particular agreement with your employer in terms of holiday duration, the work calendar and other details.

Therefore, you should state in your contract whether you have to take your holidays during August, or if you’re free to take them at other times of the year.

If after consulting these three sets of regulations and there are still in doubt or in disagreement with your company about vacations, such as having to take them during the month of August, you should consult a lawyer specialising in labor law. They should be able to give you an answer specific to your situation.  

Can I appeal or disagree and what are the consequences? 

To appeal or express disagreement with what is proposed by the company, there is a period of 20 business days from when the vacation schedule is sent out, after which time you don’t have the right to show that you disagree.  

Companies can proceed to disciplinary dismissals due to abandonment of the job if you decide to take vacations that have not been granted or agreed upon with your employer. To avoid this type of problem, always make sure you have a record in writing of your request for vacation time and subsequent approval by the company.