The ‘Big Quit’ hits Spain despite high unemployment and huge job vacancies

The phenomenon sweeping across the US, where millions have quit their jobs during the pandemic, has now arrived in Spain, despite an unemployment rate of 13.5 percent and 109,000 job vacancies.

Waiter in Barcelona, Spain
Is the great resignation coming to Spain? Photo: LLUIS GENE / AFP

The ‘Great Resignation’ trend, also known as the ‘Big Quit’, began at the beginning of 2021 in the United States, when large numbers of people decided to quit their jobs in order to seek better opportunities, quality of life or pay, often without having a new position lined up beforehand. 

Now, the phenomenon has found its way to Spain, despite the chronically high unemployment rate here (currently 13.5 percent) that’s plagued the country for years.

While the numbers of people voluntarily quitting their jobs in Spain are still far below the likes of the US and Italy, the Spanish government is starting to worry as 109,000 job vacancies remain unfilled.

In the US, so far a whopping 50 million have quit their jobs since the start of 2021 and in Italy, it has been reported that 1.3 million have left their jobs.

Increase in job vacancies in Spain

During a debate for Spanish news agency Europa Press, Spain’s Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Labour Yolanda Díaz expressed concern and urged that the “great resignation” in Spain needed to be stopped.

“Spain needs 109,000 workers. Part of these vacancies are in the hospitality sector, but there are others that have to do with the need for highly qualified personnel linked to technological and digital transformation”, she said.

According to the latest social security statistics, around 30,000 workers in Spain voluntarily left their jobs in 2021 and the trend is continuing to rise.  

A survey by Spanish jobs website Infojobs in February found that 27 percent of employees in Spain were contemplating quitting their jobs in 2022, which could suggest that many daren’t resign or that many more will hand in their notice in the following months.

However, Díaz explained that based on Eurostat data, out of all the countries in the EU, Spain is the least affected. The proportion of vacancies in Spain is around 0.7 percent, while the European average exceeds 2.5 percent and in countries such as Germany, it is at 3.8 percent.

Another report carried out by human resources company Hays on work trends for this year indicates that 77 percent of Spaniards surveyed said they would change jobs if they could.

READ ALSO: Meta, IBM, Google, Amazon – How thousands of tech jobs are being created in Spain

68 percent of them confessed that they are actively looking for another job and the main reason they argue is to find a job with a better salary. 

This data reveals that the reasons for the great resignation are slightly different in Spain from the reasons why people are quitting in the US, which is mainly due to burnout and the desire to find a job that fulfils them and makes them happier, rather than just seeking out a better opportunity for more money. 

Solutions to the problem

During her speech, Díaz pointed out the importance of increasing the minimum wage (SMI) and ensuring that “they are not the cause of the increase of CPI [Consumer Price Index]”.

According to Hays, 71 percent of the Spanish companies surveyed plan to hire more employees in 2022, and 67 percent of them consider that their business will increase during the year. The most sought-after employees are salespeople, engineers and computer scientists. 

Despite this news, Spain’s labour reform which came into force at the beginning of 2022, means that the spike in permanent contracts is improving job security and quality for thousands of previously exploited temporary workers.

READ ALSO: How a spike in permanent contracts is improving job security in Spain

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.

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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.