Every year when the summer period approaches, Spain’s hospitality sector begins to prepare for its busiest months and hire new employees accordingly.
But the situation is different this year, just as the tourism industry and global economies edge towards normality after two years of Covid-19, and holidaymakers are more eager than ever to travel.
Worryingly, Spain’s hospitality sector is now warning of the very real prospect of not having enough staff to serve national and international tourists this summer.
In Spain’s popular tourist areas such as Catalonia’s Costa Brava, which expects a summer of record numbers of visitors, hotel and restaurant owners have been complaining about finding workers this summer to meet the demand. Some say they will not be able to open completely if they can’t.
In the Costa del Sol in southern Spain, there’s a shortage of 20,000 camareros (waiters), whereas in the Canary Islands 30,000 hospitality workers are unemployed but thousands of positions are not being filled ahead of the summer. Benidorm alone is 3,500 workers short for the high season.
The same situation has been reported in the southern region of Murcia and in towns across Galicia. In fact, all over the country, businesses are facing shortages of wait and kitchen staff.
So why does no one in Spain want to be a waiter anymore?
Están hartos as they say in Spanish, they’re fed up. Spain’s hospitality workers have for years been complaining about long hours, night shifts that go unpaid, wage cuts, job instability, unpaid holidays and employers paying them under the table to avoid having to pay tax and social security.
“There isn’t a lack of workers, there is a lack of slaves. People want to work, but with decent conditions”, tweeted Gonzalo Fuentes, from the Hospitality Federation of Workers’ Commissions.
The unionist spoke specifically of the poor work conditions that exist for waiters across Spain, explaining how employers don’t always comply with collective agreements, they register employees for fewer hours than they actually work, they do not pay overtime or they pay part of the salary ‘in black’.
Spanish radio station Cadena SER recently took to the streets to ask citizens in the Murcian city of Lorca why many don’t want to be a waiter anymore. Most responders agreed on the same points: instability, long hours and a very low salary, in addition to the lack of tact that some clients have.
According to Alfonso Soler, president of hospitality company Hostecar in Murcia, the main problem why nobody wants to work in the hospitality industry is the lack of stability and excessive hours. “People do not take it as a serious job and they only see it as a summer extra,” he said. “Now the busy season is coming and we find that we do not have staff, especially cooks.”
Restaurateurs and hoteliers see a lack of motivation in the candidates, while Spain’s unions denounce the sector’s poor working conditions.
One of the main issues that has been cited is low salaries. According to a recent Infojobs report on the labour market in Spain, 80 percent of candidates reject job offers due to low wages.
Data from Spain’s National Statistics Institute (INE) shows that salaries in the hospitality sector have been stagnant since 2017, while those in real estate, health or public administration activities grew at a rate of around €500 per year more during that period.
Emilio Gallego, general secretary of Hospitality in Spain, says that the average position is around 1,740 hours a year and the average salary is around €1,400 or €1,500, with €1,200 as an entry salary.
While in Murcia, the salary of the waiters is €1,000 gross full-time by collective agreement, according to Teresa Fuentes of CCOO workers’ union.
Workers’ agreements haven’t been renewed
Another problem, cited particularly in Catalonia and in Murcia is that general union agreements for wait and kitchen staff have expired and haven’t been renewed.
In Catalonia, the collective agreement expired in 2019 and in Murcia, the agreement hasn’t been renewed since 2008.
Fuentes has slammed the agreement in Murcia for being obsolete and the fact that employers put up “obstacles” to renew the agreement as they want to eliminate the disability clause. This would mean that in case of sick leave, a waiter would only receive 70 percent of their salary.
There are business owners in Spain who comply with collective agreement conditions even if they have expired, but for many waiters, cooks and other hospitality workers not having a deal in place means contract hours are not respected, overtime is not paid and it is very difficult to reconcile family life.
Such precariousness is dissuading many in Spain from applying for hospitality jobs.
Young people don’t want hospitality jobs anymore
According to Gallego, there are around five million 16 and 25-year-olds today in Spain, which is two million less than 20 years ago, meaning there are fewer young people to fill hospitality positions.
He also noted that university students used to consider hospitality jobs to get some money in the summer months or on weekends, but that they don’t even contemplate it anymore.
Cheché Real, president of the Provincial Association of Hospitality and Tourism Entrepreneurs of Lugo in Galicia, explained that when you offer a salary of €1,200, many are refusing, saying that they prefer to stay at home receiving €500 in benefits instead.
More remote jobs available
Other experts partly blame the Covid-19 pandemic, saying that with the number of remote or work-from-home jobs available with more flexibility, no one wants to have to do face-to-face hospitality jobs anymore.
This is part of the phenomenon known as ‘the great resignation’ which has reached Spain, after being a popular trend in the US. 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, while there are currently around 109,000 job vacancies.
According to Gallego, foreign workers are needed to help meet the demand and fill jobs.
To this end, Spain will reportedly agree to double or triple the number of temporary workers from Central America, currently accepted through an employment-based migration programme, in a deal with the United States government.