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WORKING IN SPAIN

How a spike in permanent contracts is improving job security in Spain

Spain’s new labour reform, which includes measures targeting the job precariousness of temporary contracts, appears to be paying off as 48 percent of people hired in April 2022 have been offered permanent contracts.

How a spike in permanent contracts is improving job security in Spain
The new labour reform is helping to resolve the rampant insecurity of Spain’s labour market. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

Spain still has a long way to go in terms of turning its services-heavy job market into a more resilient, fair and diverse model, but progress is being made.

In just four months since it came into force, the left-wing coalition government’s labour reform is already changing one of the main pitfalls of the Spanish job market: temporary employment. 

Around a third of employees hired in the first four months of 2022 have been given permanent contracts. 

The rate of new permanent contracts has been rising month on month this year, representing 15 percent of new hires in January, 22 percent in February, 31 percent in March and 48 percent of new contracts in April.

In fact, the month of April saw a record 698,646 contratos indefinidos (permanent contracts) signed and there have now been more permanent contracts handed out in these first four months of 2022 than for every full year from 2009 to 2016.

It’s the first time there are more than 20 million workers in Spain affiliated to the country’s social security system and the number of unemployed has dropped below 3 million, the lowest rate since before the 2008 financial crisis.

So what’s changed for Spain’s job market?

Before the labour reform came into force in 2022, fixed-term contracts represented the vast majority of those signed month on month in Spain, many of which were lined up one after another and some contratos temporales could last just hours.

In fact, in 2021 Spain had the highest number of temporary contracts in Europe.

For millions of temporary workers in Spain, there were (and still are) no guarantees in terms of future work and income in a seasonal market where employers have become accustomed to not offering employees guarantees or work rights.

But the measures spearheaded by Spanish Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz, fully approved in February after a voting error by a PP deputy, are now helping to resolve the rampant insecurity of Spain’s labour market as well as improving working conditions.

READ ALSO: Spain’s govt salvages key labour reform thanks to voting error

Temporary workers may now be hired to fill a position, but for a maximum of 90 days a year and not consecutively, as is often the case for large employers trying to save on costs and who effectively employ temporary workers full-time but don’t recognise their pay or protection as such.

Likewise, in the last quarter of each year, companies must give workers some kind of forecast of what type and how much work they will need for the coming year. 

In terms of new temporary training contracts, temporary hires are allowed in alternation, meaning in situations that include both elements of work and training, but are only available with employees who are 30 or under. 

To try and further clamp down on exploitative practices in seasonal work, the reforms introduce a ‘fixed-discontinuous contract’ for “carrying out work of a seasonal nature or linked to seasonal productive activities.”

A contrato fijo discontinuo, as the name suggests, is a type of contract with no set end date but that isn’t carried out throughout the whole year and it is often meant for seasonal work.

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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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