SPAIN: AT BREAKING POINT? A political and economic analysis for 2013 IBERIANS OF THE YEAR: The most influential people and groups of 2012


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Jobless in Spain: a personal viewpoint

As the Rajoy government unveils its labour market reform, one of the country’s recently unemployed workers wonders whether something other than the law needs to change.


Getting a job in Spain is hard enough, but once in a company, it can feel like you're efforts are not valued - or evaluated.

In January of this year, I became one of Spain’s five million unemployed.

The redundancy in itself has not hurt me badly. I receive a decent monthly unemployment benefit (with entitlement for 16 months) and, on a personal level at least, must admit to being pleased that my husband is one of Spain’s 2.5 million job-protected funcionarios.

The circumstances surrounding my redundancy, though not atypical, were legally ambiguous. “Ambiguous” because I had been hired to work until the completion of an unspecified project (or ‘Fin de Obra’) under what remains to date the most common type of contract in Spain.

As I was hired in 2009, more than two years prior to recent changes in contractual law, my contract, and those of my colleagues, had now become technically obsolete.

The new legislation pushed through by the then-governing Socialist Party last October made clear distinctions between ‘End of Project’ contracts and those which are ‘Indefinite’, the second most common type of contract in the country. ‘End of…’ contracts must now specify the project’s start and end dates and the responsibilities involved in the job. My contract contained none of these.

On being laid off, I could have done what the union said was within my rights: reported my redundancy to the courts on the grounds that it was unlawful. Essentially, however, I would have been fighting a much larger battle on my own. After all, if my case was so valid, why wasn’t every employee at the company going on strike?

All in all, the 2011 legislation did little to protect my rights.

With more labour reform on the way, we are promised yet again that laws surrounding contracts will change. Given my personal experience, I remain sceptical as to how real those changes will be for the employee.

We will know details of the measures on Friday, though given Mariano Rajoy’s comment to the Finnish prime minister, Jyrki Katainen, that they will “cost” him “a strike”, they don’t bode too well for the ordinary worker.

Rajoy is doubtless right to fear a possible strike and unions may well have reason to worry about the consequences of the approaching reforms. It will be interesting to see whether, as rumoured, the Spanish leader is intending to follow Angela Merkel’s advice of linking employees’ wages to national productivity and profit.

Such a move could have complex implications for workers’ salaries, both positive and negative. However, the way things currently stand, without performance indicators there is nothing to stop company bosses taking a disproportionate percentage of a firm’s profit.

Nevertheless, if Rajoy wants to address the real root of Spain’s crisis, it will depend less on pure macroeconomics, and more on how effectively he can convince the working population they have a stake in the future of their country.

Following my personal experience, and in spite of the crass treatment I received on being laid off – a series of misdemeanours that included being sonorously told off for even considering taking them to court – what still rankles most is the way I felt during my time as an employee.

If I felt like a discarded cog in a wheel the day I was made redundant, it was little more than a fair reflection of how undervalued and overlooked I often felt during the three years I was a member of staff. While I started out full of ideas and motivation to drive the project forward, I had all but run out of steam by the end.

Money yes, but where’s the motivation?

When people say there is no money in Spain, I’m reminded of a conversation my husband had with his dentist. After a particularly complicated and potentially expensive filling, he received the good news that, in light of the recession, dentists (bless them) had lowered their charges owing to the recession. He then added, quite frankly, that despite such cuts in their income, most had noticed hardly any change to their standard of living.

We all know that those with large capital still have plenty. This is true the world over. But in Spain it has led to major haemorrhaging, not just in the economy but the advancement of the country on so many levels.

As a Brit in Spain, it is easy to think that the grass in greener back home. I am well aware of the pitfalls in this. But one thing I frequently missed during my three years as an employee here was the sense that someone was evaluating my contribution as a member of staff.

To the disbelief of most of my colleagues (‘evaluation’ in Spain is still tantamount to examination: pass or fail) I would have welcomed a work appraisal. And were I employed by a UK firm, I would almost certainly have been submitted to one.

Though still not subject to law, statistics show that almost all British companies carry out annual appraisals, and why? Because such a system, when correctly implemented, leads to greater job satisfaction, performance and productivity.

Of course, the key point of appraisals is that both employer and employee come under scrutiny. This implies (in theory at least) that all parties play an active role in individual staff development and overall company output.

If Rajoy is serious about overhauling Spain’s employment culture in a way that has a lasting impact on the economy, he will need to address more than just the question of contracts, wages and collective bargaining.

It is no secret that Spaniards work hours that are greatly out of proportion to their levels of productivity. What the Spanish government needs to ask now is: Why?

However far-reaching your new reforms may be, Mr Rajoy, until you address the issues of job security and employee motivation, Spain’s almost 20 million workers will continue to function like little more than rusty cogs in a tired old wheel.

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Published: Feb 10 2012
Category: Iberoblog, Featured, Spain News
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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1 Comment for “Jobless in Spain: a personal viewpoint”

  1. This is a very informative article and gives a great insight into life an a working and non-working expat in Spain. There needs to be more transparency for workers and motivation is so important; otherwise people may as well be living in Soviet Russia circa 1950!

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