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Spain's much-vaunted economic recovery masks lingering jobs crisis

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Spain's much-vaunted economic recovery masks lingering jobs crisis
Locals make a human chain in the city in Valladolid in 2014 to demand decent jobs and a basic income. Photo: Cesar Manso/AFP
15:48 CEST+02:00
Data shows Spain's economy recovering, but tell that to Javier Pichel: this summer he packed and left for the only place he could find a decent job — Germany.

Millions of Spaniards are scraping by on benefits, family handouts or working cash-in-hand as they wait for the apparent economic rebound to create the hundreds of thousands of jobs the government is promising.

Experts say that these jobs are being created — but that the problem is many of them only last a few days.

Since leaving school, 22-year-old Mr Pichel from the northwestern Galicia region has racked up training certificates in finance and business, but has received no decent job offers in Spain.

"You can get a contract for three weeks or three months. You're happy, but you quickly realise that there is no job security," he said.

Spain's government is forecasting the economy will grow by 3.3% this year, one of the strongest rates in the eurozone.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in 2012 passed reforms making it easier for firms to hire and fire as part of his austerity reforms.

Now he has promised a million jobs would be created over the 2014-2015 period.

Mr Pichel and others his age find that hard to imagine. Opposition parties and labour unions dispute the diagnosis given by the conservative government, which is preparing to fight for re-election in December.

Spain's unemployment rate remains extremely high at more than 22%. One in every two eligible workers under the age of 25 is out of work.

"Every month in Spain 1.5-million contracts are signed. That's 18-million a year. So what's going on? These are contracts for just a day's or a week's work," said Manuel Lago, an economist in the major union CCOO.

"Employment in Spain is very seasonal. Jobs start getting created shortly before Easter and the unemployment rate goes down all summer" before ticking back up in August.

Anna Laborda of ESADE business school in Barcelona agrees that the jobs being created in Spain are "very unstable" ones.

Labour ministry figures show that one quarter of all contracts signed in the first half of this year were for a week's work or less.

"If the unemployment rate has gone down, it is only because the number of people eligible to qualify as job seekers has decreased" due to emigration, said Ms Laborda.

Spain suffered two recessions after its housing bubble burst in 2008. It returned to growth in mid-2013.

Many of the millions of immigrants who were drawn to Spain during the prior boom years were driven away by the crisis.

Young people with qualifications and languages have followed, since all Spain seems to offer is "seasonal or unsteady jobs", Ms Laborda added.

Despite his business diplomas, Mr Pichel had been scraping a living by refereeing football matches at weekends.

Then he landed a three-year contract at a bank near Dresden, including a fixed salary, housing and four paid return journeys to Spain a year.

Two other Spaniards have since joined him at the bank.

"I pulled the long straw," he said. "It sounded too good to be true."

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