Commission must stop imposing austerity on Spanish recovery

Leaders of European and Spanish trade unions today told the European Commission to stop using negotiations over Spain’s national recovery plan to frustrate reforms of workers’ rights and pensions.  

ETUC general secretary Luca Visentini and UGT general secretary Pepe Álvarez, who also spoke on behalf of the CCOO, held an online meeting with Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis to discuss his recent comments regarding Spanish government plans for progressive labour and pension reforms as part of its national recovery plan.

The planned labour reform would reverse a 2012 law, passed by the previous Spanish government as part of Commission-mandated austerity measures, which pushed down wages by ending sectoral collective bargaining in favour of weaker company level deals and increased unemployment by making work more precarious. The result was an increase in poverty and inequality. 

Commissioner Dombrovskis, who is the Commissioner responsible for “an economy that works for people”, appeared to oppose the reform in an interview with El Pais in March, which came in the middle of social dialogue between trade unions and employers on the issue. The intervention prejudiced the outcome of social dialogue - placing the Commission firmly on the side of employers’ organisations, contradicted the Commission’s role as guarantor of social dialogue, and was also contrary to this Commission’s stated commitment to collective bargaining as the best means to achieve fair wages and secure employment.

In today’s meeting, union leaders sought guarantees that Spain’s recovery plan would not be subject to austerity conditions that are not part of the Commission’s Recovery and Resiliency Facility and would go against its social objectives.

Afterwards, Mr Visentini said he felt reassured that the Commission had abandoned any politicised intervention and was committed to the promises made to citizens at the Porto summit last month about how Europe will raise living and working standards through stronger social rights.

Speaking after the meeting, ETUC general secretary Luca Visentini said:

“The Commission’s interference in Spain far oversteps its competences over national social dialogue, contradicts its own social objectives and shows it still has lessons to learn from the failure of its response to the financial crisis.

“Spain’s current labour law was introduced as part of austerity measures after the last crisis and resulted in lower wages and higher unemployment. Strengthening collective bargaining to repair the damage of past reforms is badly needed to lift people out of poverty through secure jobs and fair wages as well as ensuring a fair transition to a digital and green economy. A pension system whose main aim is to ensure dignity in ageing for all is also needed. 

“We made clear to Commissioner Dombrovskis today that there is no mandate for austerity conditions like weak workers rights to be imposed on national recovery plans and called on him to respect and uphold the process of social dialogue taking place in Spain.”

Pepe Àlvarez speaking on behalf of UGT and CCOO pointed out during the meeting that more than 4 million workers in Spain are not protected by a collective agreement - 10 times more than before austerity reforms.

He said: “If we want to have fairer wages in Spain workers should be given the right and the opportunity to bargain collectively.

“The European Commission should encourage the Spanish government to reduce precarious work and help prevent young workers start their working lives with very bad working conditions.”

Mr Àlvarez  welcomed vice-president Dombrovskis’ commitment during the meeting that the European Commission remains committed to social dialogue.

More broadly, Mr Visentini also stressed that emergency measures to mitigate the effect of the Covid crisis on workers must be kept in place across Europe until employment has fully recovered, which followed the mixed messages sent by Commissioner Dombrovskis over public investment on Wednesday.


Letter sent by ETUC, UGT and CCOO to Commissioner Dombrovskis