An estimated 4 million workers in Spain returned to their workplaces on Monday April 13th after a two week “economic hibernation” period which only allowed “essential workers” such as hospital and supermarket employees to carry out their indispensable jobs during the height of Spain’s Covid-19 crisis.
Most of these non-essential workers that have been given the green light to leave their homes are in the construction and industrial sectors, as well as other businesses classified as important: those selling hygiene products or press and stationery, petrol stations, tobacconists, law firms, telecommunication businesses, those selling pet food, e-commerce businesses, dry cleaners and hairdressers going to people's homes.
But according to the vice president of Spain’s Business Confederation (CEOE) Íñigo Fernández de Mesa, the vast majority of these Spanish companies do not have enough protective gear supplies such as gloves or face masks to guarantee that their employees aren’t at risk of contracting Covid-19.
“What we’ve ascertained from our business sphere is that large companies possibly do have stock and access to these supplies, but small and medium-sized companies don’t,” he said in an interview on Antena 3’s Espejo Público news programme.
This is of particular concern because 95 percent of companies in Spain are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
“The delivery of tests, masks, gloves, hand sanitiser and other equipment is essential to guarantee the safety of workers and for the production line to resume activities,” Fernández de Mesa stressed, whilst pointing out that there’s a lot of legal uncertainty in terms of health protocols for companies.
“I’m sure that companies are going to try to protect their workers as much as possible because they’re their main asset, so businesses that see that they can’t avoid the risks will postpone their opening.”
Spain's Interior Ministry announced on Saturday April 11th that it would start distributing 10 million face masks to public transport users – aimed specifically at these returning workers – from Monday April 13th onwards.
But the return to work for these non-essential workers, though not mandatory, has been criticised by regional governments and political opponents of Spain’s ruling socialist government.
Spain's main trade unions CCOO and UGT have also distanced themselves from Sanchez's measure, stating that the government's recommendations “are difficult to apply” and pleading with companies not to ask employees to return to their workplaces if “they cannot guarantee safety protocols”.
Spain's Prime Minister has justified the decision by saying it will help prevent “the economic collapse and standstill of the economy” and that vulnerable workers as well anyone experiencing any Covid-19 symptoms should stay at home even if they are now technically allowed to go back to work.
A study published by Spanish market research group DYM found that Pedro Sánchez is the only political leader on a list which also included Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, Angela Merkel, Giuseppe Conte and Emmanuel Macron to have lost popularity since the start if the pandemic.