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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‘Spain must invest in Spaniards rather than turning to migrants’: EU work chief

The European Commission’s head for jobs and social rights has said Spain “must first find a solution for young people, women and the elderly” with regard to its labour market and “see later if they need immigrants”.

'Spain must invest in Spaniards rather than turning to migrants': EU work chief

The European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit recently took part in a summit on job security in Bilbao, where he spoke with Spain’s Labour Minister and Second Deputy Prime Ministers Yolanda Díaz about the state of affairs for workers in the country. 

When discussing potential solutions to Spain’s high unemployment rate, Schmit explained “I would not exclude immigration, but when I analyse the data, I see youth unemployment of 30 percent, more than double the European average”.  

“The priority for Spain must be to invest in its people,” Schmit continued.

“They must first look at their labour market and find a solution for young people, women and the elderly. They will see later if they need immigrants”.

Despite high unemployment levels which currently amount to three million people, Spain has worker shortages in a wide variety of sectors. 

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

The Spanish government recently changed its immigration laws to make it easier for employers to hire non-EU citizens for sectors with shortages, from waiters to plumbers, whereas previously recruiters were required to prove that they couldn’t find an EU candidate for the job and the skills shortage list was limited and outdated. 

READ MORE: How spain is making it easier for foreigners to work in Spain

In 2023, Spain’s Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration wants to hire 62,000 third-country workers to cover an array of construction and trades jobs, something the country’s Labour Ministry has not agreed to yet. 

READ ALSO – EXPLAINED: Spain’s plans to recruit thousands of foreigners for construction and trade jobs

The government also recently passed its new startups law to attract foreign investors, digital nomads and talent to the country.

Could Spaniards not be trained to do these jobs as Schmit alludes to? Currently, low wages and unstable working conditions are dissuading many locally trained professionals from staying.

This includes almost 20,000 doctors who have moved abroad in recent years as salaries in other European countries are significantly higher than in Spain, with a newly qualified doctor’s salary only around €1,600 gross per month.

Staff shortages in the health sector are not helped by the fact that foreigners with non-EU qualifications wait for several years for their qualifications to be recognised in Spain through an unnecessarily laborious administrative process known as homologación. This applies to a number of regulated fields, from engineering to dentistry, all of which face shortages. 

READ MORE: How Spain is ruining the careers of thousands of qualified foreigners

Spain’s Socialist-led government has partly addressed some of its labour market issues by reducing the rate of temporary contracts and increasing the minimum wage (SMI), but voices within the opposition have accused Sánchez’s administration of “dressing up” the dire reality.

When asked about the rise in minimum wage, Schmit said that he believes “it will not mean significant changes for Spain, which already has a tradition of updating the minimum wage on a regular basis… but the government must take into account factors such as the cost of living and the economic context”.

“Spain must question whether the SMI allows for a decent life or creates poor workers. Its economy cannot be supported by low wages and low productivity,” he continued.  

When asked if salaries and inflation have to go hand in hand, Schmit argued “wages must be set by collective bargaining. We are experiencing very high inflation because of the explosion in energy and food prices. If there is a large lag between wages and inflation, there will be an impact on demand and the risk of recession will increase”.

With regards to pensions, Schmit explained: “I don’t think that pensions are very high in Spain and if you leave a gap between the rise in benefits and inflation, you can create a situation of poverty among the elderly. Spain has a disadvantage in that it has one of the fastest-ageing societies… The solution is to modernise the economy to make it more productive and attract more people to the job market”.  

Despite these issues, the commissioner acknowledged that the Spanish labour market has surprised many with its resistance this year. “Employment will remain strong if there is no deep recession,” he said.  

“The national plan for access to European funds has a good combination of measures to invest in green energy, digitisation, education and public employment services… Spain experienced its economic miracle due to the real estate boom, which exploded, and now it has to transform to go in the right direction”.

According to a report carried out by human resources company Hays on work trends in Spain in 2022, 77 percent of Spaniards surveyed said they would change jobs if they could. Furthermore, 68 percent of them confessed that they are actively looking for another job and the main reason they argue is to get a better salary. 

According to Eurostat data from January 2021, 37 percent of Spain’s workforce is overqualified, 17 percent higher than the EU average.

READ ALSO: Why more people than ever in Spain are overqualified for their jobs