Social dialogue cools after two years of idyll

After a decade of May Days featuring the same claim, the unions will be able to turn the page -in part- this 2022: The partial repeal of the labor reform of Mariano Rajoy is already in the BOE. When the PP approved its norm, Spain was capsizing due to the worst of the Great Recession, the ERTE mechanism was somewhat residual, the most feared virus internationally was avian flu, and three of the four protagonists of this social dialogue agreement had not given the jump to the national sphere. Yolanda Diaz She was a deputy in the Galician parliament and unai deaf Y Pepe Alvarez they directed the Basque and Catalan federations, respectively, of their unions. While Antonio Garamendi was vice president of Cepyme and was preparing his first (failed) attempt to unseat John Rosell as president of CEOE.

The labor reform has been, for the moment, the last great agreement of the social dialogue, which has been cooling down in recent months after two years of exceptional idyll. Said ‘honeymoon’ has left large transversal agreements such as the ERTE, the teleworking law, the ‘rider law’ or the first agreement on pensions.

However, as the pandemic has reduced its emergency and the agreements have depended on whether or not to increase labor costs, the employers have gone on to deny joint photos to the Executive. As proof, the pick up of the last two increases in the interprofessional minimum wage or the last rise in social contributions to feed the pension piggy bank.

Although the labor reform and the first part of the pension reform are two of the milestones of the legislature in labor matters, this still has a few more cartridges to burn. And that promise to put to the test the negotiating capacity that the social agents have shown in recent years.

TEMPORALITY: Redirect the contracting flow

The most immediate challenge after reaching the first major labor reform agreed in a decade and a half is that it be fulfilled. Reducing temporary employment in the Spanish labor market -until now champion throughout the European Union- was the main objective of the aforementioned regulation and for now the statistics accompany it.

According to the last three monthly balances of the Social Security, between January and March, 1.06 million permanent contracts were signed in Spain; more than double the number signed during the first three months of 2021.

A large part of this rise in permanent contracts can be explained in two ways. On the one hand, fraudulent temporary contracts that the Labor Inspectorate is forcing companies to convert to permanent ones. Or companies that directly do it on their own initiative to avoid future sanctions. And, on the other, contracts that were previously temporary for work and service and that are now registered by companies as indefinite permanent discontinuous.

Until now, this modality has been little exploited by companies and is where the Government aspires to redirect a large part of the contracting flow. However, the discontinuous fixed requires more management time to order when the worker is called to service, how far in advance, what consequences it has if the employee refuses to join… Defining all these issues well is one of the pending matters of the negotiation between employers and unions and how they are will define if this figure ends up involving a more orderly and safer ‘temporary’ for workers or a mutation with another name of the same conditions prevailing until now.

WAGES: A decade of frozen wages

The other great battle in which employers and unions are already immersed and which promises -whether there is an agreement or not- to mark the evolution of the labor market is that of wages. This is, together with temporality, the eternal pending subject of the Spanish economy. And with the current levels of inflation, fueled by the war in Ukraine, resolving this ballot seems more complicated than ever. The unions press to generalize the salary review clauses that allow them not to lose purchasing power and the employers refuse to reach that point so as not to compromise their business margins.

Salaries reach this great pact after a decade frozen in Spain. Making a cross between the latest available data from the EPA, the INE and the CPI, wages have risen on average 0.3 points less than inflation in the 2010-2020 period. These barely rose during the Great Recession and then when they started to take off, the pandemic came and stopped everything. The high unemployment rates that the Spanish labor market has maintained despite re-creating large amounts of employment have not contributed to encouraging wage increases among certain profiles. And now, with inflation hovering around double digits – in April it stood at 8.4% after 9.8% in March – employers refuse to equate salaries to those levels. Meanwhile, the unions are not willing to sign agreements that make their constituents lose purchasing power.

Finding the square of that circle and drawing a balance between business margins and payroll is the main challenge that social agents now have ahead of them. The centrals advocate year-to-year salary review clauses, while the employers would be willing to accept a salary review after three years. Neither of the two parties accepts the position of the other, the talks continue and the unions have already threatened to turn the negotiation of each agreement into a ‘Vietnam’ if there is no salary agreement.

TELEWORK: The challenge of ordering and regulating by sectors

The blocking of the negotiation of agreements has many derivatives and one of them is the blocking of teleworking agreements. The law approved by the Government last year left to collective bargaining the specification of how each sector and each company should specify their remote work dynamics. Large companies have been finding their ways beyond the health emergency, adopting hybrid models that mostly oscillate between three days in the office and two at home (like BBVA, for example) or vice versa (like Ikea). And with compensation for expenses to employees that vary, but are usually located in a range of between 50 and 100 euros per month per employee.

This last element is the one that pulls companies back the most, especially SMEs. To the point that in Catalonia it is the main reason that the Interprofessional Agreement of Catalonia (AIC) is blocked, the agreement of agreements that employers and unions agree on triennially. And it explains the absence of regulation of this practice in most cases. In other words, much more telework is done than is formally agreed.

According to the latest data from the INE, 13.6% of employed persons work remotely occasionally or for more than half the week, while, according to data from the Ministry of Labour, only 3% of wage earners are covered by a agreement that regulates this modality. Deploying sector-to-sector and company-to-company agreements to order teleworking is another of the challenges that the Spanish labor market faces.

TIME REFORM: Improve the distribution of time

The struggle for the distribution of time is a constant in the world of work, which is currently under pressure from the generalized robotization of processes. From automated checkouts in supermarkets through which the customer bills for their purchase to the electric vehicle, which requires much less labor than the combustion vehicle.

The distribution of employment and working hours is another debate that is making its way. Seat workers, for example, are already asking the company to reduce their working hours to avoid layoffs in the process of transitioning to the electric car.

The 4-day working day is a concept as incipient as it is unexplored by Spanish companies. Those, the few, that have adopted similar formulas tend to reduce working hours, but also salary. See the case of the Desigual group, which cut its workers one day off… and 6.5% of salary. Even the pilot program that Más País managed to wrest from the Government in exchange for its support for the latest General State Budgets has not yet transcended the theoretical plane, according to sources consulted at the Ministry of Industry. In this department fell the budget of 10 million euros to finance experiments in private companies that were willing to reduce their hours and maintain the salary of their employees.

On the distribution of time, work and family reconciliation and the right to digital disconnection, the Ministry of Labor has a new law on the agenda this year. It will be the law of uses of time, although from the department led by the minister Yolanda Diaz they recognize that the wickers of the legislative project are still to be finalized.

OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH: 21,280 fatalities

In Spain, two people die every day as a result of work accidents. After falling from a scaffolding, overturning the tractor they were driving or after suffering from cancer derived from exposure to a toxic product, among many others, a total of 705 people lost their lives at work or going to and from it during 2021 , according to data updated this Friday by the Ministry of Labor. Of this total, 91 of them in Catalonia.

Related news

A scourge that does not stop and that, although it goes down when the economy contracts, then shoots up again when the boom returns, as is happening now. In the last 20 years, Spain has accumulated 21,280 fatalities due to labor accidents.

The unions have been claiming the Ministry of Labor for some time to lead a great pact against workplace accidents, although for the moment said demand has not transcended into concrete actions.

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