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WORKING IN SPAIN

Spain bans job dismissals linked to crippling energy prices

The Spanish government on Tuesday banned firms which get state aid to deal with the economic impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine from firing workers over rising energy prices.

Spain bans job dismissals linked to crippling energy prices
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the Spanish government also banned companies which received state aid to furlough workers from dismissing staff. (Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP)

Like the rest of Europe, Spain has been grappling since last year with soaring energy prices which helped push inflation in February to its highest level in over 30 years.

Job terminations will be deemed “unjustified when they are the result of causes linked to the rise in energy costs,” Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz told a news conference.

“I want to send a clear message to business leaders in our country: during a crisis, when social protection mechanisms exist…we must not lay off,” she added following a weekly cabinet meeting.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s government approved Tuesday plans to offer €16 billion ($17.5 billion) in direct aid and loans for companies and households hit by the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The measures, which will remain in place until June 30th, include a discount of 20 cents per litre of fuel, with the government paying 15 cents and fuel providers the rest.

It also includes a €362-million aid package for the agriculture and farming sector, €68 million for the fishing and aquaculture industries and a two percent cap on rental increases.

The plan also provides funding for a furlough scheme to help struggling firms avoid job cuts like the one put in place in 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic hit and which will end on March 31st.

“It would make no sense for us to spend public money by paying salaries and social contributions to then allow (companies) to lay off,” said Diaz, who belongs to far-left party Podemos.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the Spanish government also banned companies which received state aid to furlough workers from dismissing staff.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED – The plan to lessen Ukraine war impact on Spain’s economy

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WOMEN'S RIGHTS

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.




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