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

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.

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

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.”

For members


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.