Strikes set to continue as Spanish truckers reject government offer

The Spanish government's offer to subsidise up to 20 cents per litre of diesel has been rejected by striking truckers as supermarket shortages continue and demonstrators convene in Madrid.

Strikes set to continue as Spanish truckers reject government offer
Truck drivers gather during a demonstration in the Spanish Navarre city of Pamplona on March 15, 2022. Photo: Ander Gillena/AFP.

After negotiating for over twelve hours on Thursday March 24th, the Spanish government has made a preliminary agreement with a major transport union to subsidise fuel for striking truck drivers.

However, as is common in Spanish trade union politics, there are several smaller disparate union groups organising the haulage shutdown that have rejected the offer and will continue the strike into a third week.

The offer effectively represents a 20 percent reduction in fuel prices for truckers between April 1st and June 30th, but after refusing to negotiate with the unions who actually called the strike – likened to the ‘far-right’ by some in cabinet – the government have instead worked with a national union, Comité Nacional de Transporte por Carretera, that doesn’t even represent the majority of the striking truckers.

The organisers of the strike, Plataforma Nacional por la Defensa del Transporte – unnamed in the agreement and unrecognised by government – rejected the proposal, have called a demonstration in Madrid on Friday morning outside the Ministry of Transport and say they will continue with strike action until they are received by the government for direct negotiations, something the government has, until now, refused outright.

However, with political pressure building and hundreds of protestors already gathered in Madrid on Friday morning, the Minister of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda, Raquel Sánchez, has hinted that the government may be willing to negotiate with the group.

Speaking on Spanish radio programme Más de Uno in the last few minutes, Sánchez stated that she does “not rule out receiving the convening platform.”

READ MORE: How the truck drivers’ strike is affecting life in Spain

The government has until this morning seemed intent on continuing without the smaller union groups, and refuses to recognise their legitimacy. “We are talking to the right spokespeople,” Minister of Economic Affairs Nadia Calviño said on Thursday. “I hope an agreement is reached, there is the will.”

The proposed deal

The framework agreement made in the early hours of Friday morning would be worth over 1 billion to the haulage sector, of which 600 million will be used to subsidise 15 cents per litre of fuel, added to another 5 cents – minimum – contributed by fuel companies themselves.

The government claims this amounts to approximate monthly savings of €700 per truck running on diesel, and another €450 million will also be made available in direct aid to both the freight and passenger transport sectors: reportedly €1,250 per truck, €950 per bus, €500 per van and €300 per light vehicle (such as taxis and ambulances).

The effects

As the strike action nears its third week, the knock-on effects are being felt across Spain on the roads and in supermarkets and restaurants. With truck drivers blocking key roads, ports, industrial areas and intersections with their vehicles, there have been reports of kilometre-long traffic jams in Madrid, the Valencia region, the Basque Country, Andalusia, Navarre, Galicia, Murcia and other parts of Spain. 

READ MORE: How soaring prices are fuelling growing social unrest in Spain

Supermarket shelves have been bare, with shortages of fruit and vegetables, milk, cheese, and other dairy products, and meat and fish in particular. The dairy sector has been severely affected, with thousands of litres of milk spoiling in factories as there aren’t any trucks to transport them around the country.

Bars and restaurants across Spain have also felt the effects of strike action. Many have been forced to change or adapt their menus, or even put up their prices to recoup some of the losses.

As of Friday morning, the situation remains fluid and it remains unclear if the government will actually negotiate with the striking truckers themselves, and demonstrators in Madrid have called for the resignation of Minister for Transport Raquel Sánchez as a condition of ending the strike.

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Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Talk of abortion policy reform and proposed menstrual leave has dominated Spanish discourse this week, but it’s also dividing Spain’s coalition government.

Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Spain’s PSOE-fronted coalition government recently outlined proposals that have dominated public discourse in the country.

But the legislation, which would allow women over the age of 16 to get abortions without the permission of their parents and introduce ‘menstruation leave’ for those suffering serious period pains, has not only divided Spanish society but the government itself.

The proposals would make Spain a leader in the Western world, and the first European Union member state to introduce menstrual leave, and changes to abortion law would overturn a 2015 law passed by the conservative People’s Party that forced women aged 16 and 17 to obtain parental consent.

The wide-ranging bill would also end VAT on menstrual products, increase the free distribution of them in schools, and allow between three and five days of leave each month for women who experience particularly painful periods.

READ MORE: What are Spain’s abortion laws for foreign residents and visitors?

Menstrual leave

Ángela Rodríguez, the Secretary of State for Equality, told Spanish newspaper El Periódico in March that “it’s important to be clear about what a painful period is – we’re not talking about slight discomfort, but about serious symptoms such as diarrhoea, fever and bad headaches.”

“When there’s a problem that can’t be solved medically, we think it’s very sensible to have temporary sick leave,” she added.

Cabinet politics

The proposals are slated for approval in cabinet next week, and judging by reports in the Spanish media this week, it is far from reaching a consensus. It is believed the intra-cabinet tensions stem not from the changes to abortion and contraception accessibility, but rather the proposed menstrual leave.

The junior coalition partner in government, Podemos, largely supports the bill, but it is believed some in the PSOE ranks are more sceptical about the symbolism and employment effects of the proposed period pain policy.

Vice President and Minister of Economic Affairs, Nadia Calviño, said this week: “Let me repeat it very clearly: this government believes and is absolutely committed to gender equality and we will never adopt measures that may result in a stigmatisation of women.”

Yet Second Vice President and Minister of Labour, Yolanda Díaz, who is viewed as further to the left than President Pedro Sánchez and other PSOE cabinet ministers, is reportedly “absolutely in favour” of the measure to reform Spain’s “deeply masculinised” labour market.

Sources in the Spanish media have this week also reported that some PSOE cabinet ministers feel the proposed paid leave not only plays up to stereotypes of women, or stigmatises them, like Calviño says, but also places them at a disadvantage in the world of work.

Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, José Luis Escrivá, stated that while the government should seek to improve women’s employment protections, it should also seek to boost their participation in the labour market under “better conditions.”

In that vein, some feel menstrual leave could be used a form of of employment discrimination similarly to how pregnancy has been historically, and the policy would, in that sense, actually be more regressive than progressive in enshrining women’s workplace rights. 

READ MORE: Spain eyes free contraception for under-25’s

Trade unions

Trade unions are also sceptical of the menstrual leave legislation. Cristina Antoñanzas, deputy secretary of UGT, one of Spain’s largest trade unions, has echoed those in the cabinet who feel the proposals could “stigmatise women.” She added that “it does women a disservice.”

Public opinion

A survey run by INTIMINA found that 67 percent of Spanish women are in favour of regulating menstrual leave, but also that 75 percent fear it is “a double-edged sword” that could generate labor discrimination.

The survey also found that 88 percent of women who suffer from disabling and frequent period pain have gone to work despite it. Seventy-one percent admitted that they have normalised working with pain.

Cabinet showdown

The proposed menstrual leave policy will be debated in cabinet next week when the Council of Ministers debates and approves the broader abortion and contraception reforms. According to sources in the Spanish media, and many cabinet ministers themselves, it seems a consensus on menstruation leave is a long way off.