Ana Gomes, Víctor Jiménez and Diana Checa are not co-workers. In fact, they don’t even share a profession. Ana is an administrator, Victor is a nurse and Diana is a teacher. However, the three are united by something that conditions the way in which they exercise their profession: they are public workers and they are temporary.
No matter how long they have been in the same position – in some cases more than a decade – everyone knows that the time will come when they will have to start over elsewhere. They are not the only ones: of the 16,241,500 salaried people registered by the National Statistics Institute (INE) during the fourth quarter of 2020, 4,000,700 (24.6%) had a contract with an expiration date.
Or what is the same: one out of every four jobs in Spain at the end of last year was temporary. In the case of the public sector, the percentage of precarious is even higher: at the end of 2020 it set a record of 29.9%.
Instability is an intrinsic phenomenon in the Spanish labor market and has fluctuated at the same rates for decades. The loss of workers in the Administrations after the crisis of 2008 and the lack of replacement of personnel has been the main complaint that the unions have launched in recent years.
Last Thursday, the new Minister of Territorial Policy and Public Function, Miquel Iceta, met with the unions to address a catalog of improvements to these internal deficiencies. The workers’ representatives advocate —among other demands— to implement a plan to incorporate thousands of workers into the system in the next three years.
After the meeting, Iceta affirmed that one of the measures it will take urgently will be to reform the revised text of the Basic Statute of Public Employees to oblige the administrations to cover “in reasonable terms” the positions created that are currently occupied by people without permanent contract.
The then Minister Cristóbal Montoro also committed himself to something similar in 2017 – 250,000 in three years – and the objectives were not met.
The temporary employment rate fluctuates between the 10% that prevails in the central Administration and 33% in the communities. What can be done to end these ratios? “The legislation, apparently, not only discourages, but also penalizes unjustified temporary hiring,” says Jesús Cruz, professor of Labor Law at the University of Seville.
However, “despite the fact that the courts have been reinforcing the declaration of illegality of abusive temporary hiring, there are no effective sanctions that function as a firewall to lower temporary rates,” he adds. This judicial disagreement is a source of debate. “The general criterion is that there must be compensation or dissuasive penalties to prevent abuse.
But from there, the Court of Justice of the EU washes its hands and says that it is the judge of each country who decides whether these dissuasive sanctions have to be given. Result: in Spain they do not occur ”, clarifies Cruz.
This lack of action has caused that from Europe the behavior of its administrations has been repeatedly disfigured to Spain.The Luxembourg Court has sided with the interim in several rulings. The last European catch came a week ago, at the risk of receiving European aid .
“A large part of the current season has to do with the previous crisis and the freezing of the workforce. But that does not mean that needs are frozen ”, settles Sergi Jiménez, professor at Pompeu Fabra University.
And it is that to fill these personnel holes, the communities have repeatedly resorted to temporary contracts, especially in those essential public services, such as education and health, over which they have competencies. In these two sectors, the temporality is out of control: in 2020 it was 29.1% and 41.9%, respectively, according to the microdata of the INE’s Labor Force Survey (EPA).
The great challenge of public employees
“In health, the temporality is very high, especially among women over 35 years of age. And not because they fail to approve the opposition, but because calls are not issued. Neither has there been a way to do them due to the pandemic; all the employment in the past year has been temporary ”, says Florentino Felgueroso, a researcher at Fedea.
The emergence of the health crisis, however, has questioned the validity of this model and has exposed the precariousness of many employees.
“My working life occupies six pages,” jokes Víctor Jiménez, who at 32 years of age works as a nurse at the Hospital de La Paz, in Madrid. Since he finished his degree in 2009 he has been chaining one contract after another: both months and single days. “I can’t become independent, I can’t stabilize my life, and forget about buying a flat because they won’t give me a mortgage …”, he says resignedly.
Only the vocation exerts, for the moment, as a counterweight. “I love my work. There are many of us who believe in the public system, we defend it, and we are willing to put the weight of appalling working conditions on our shoulders to continue maintaining it ”, he summarizes.
Rotation in health care is the order of the day, but the avalanche of patients generated by covid-19 has taken its workers to the extreme. “So many back and forth means that work teams cannot be formed and common dynamics are not established that result in much better care for patients”, analyzes Itziar Fortuny, emergency physician at the Infanta Sofía Hospital and delegate of the Association of Physicians and Higher Graduates (Amyts). Fortuny, at 47, has been acting for 18 years.”Despite all this time, tomorrow they can fire me without compensation without any problem.”
What are the professional consequences of living like this? “This precariousness leads to the fact that you are gambling your position forever and that is why you make fewer claims for fear of reprisals and the model remains,” he says.
The Canary Islands have the highest temporality in the health sector: 56.4% in 2020. This situation is a reflection of the lack of public job offers, according to a complaint by Francisco Bautista, from UGT. Since 2007, only two calls have been held and the last one, in 2019, only affected less than 1,000 employees in the categories of midwives, physiotherapists and nurses.
In the case of doctors, there was only one call since 2002, although the internal regulation establishes that these selection processes must be carried out every two years.
“In health there is a lot of hiring for a few days, and the result is that there is no other sector with such a high temporality and such qualified personnel. There are doctors and nurses who accumulate more contracts than a construction laborer, ”laments Felgueroso.
He explains that the savings for the Administration – for the interim it is more difficult to accumulate three and five years, on which the evolution of labor costs depends – turns into a mirage in the long term. “It has a direct effect on patients and a cost for the State. Our health workers are trained here and have been emigrating since before the 2008 crisis due to the precarious conditions ”.
Filling vacancies until obtaining a fixed position through opposition is also the prevailing habitat in the educational environment. Diana Checa (34 years old) today has a contract for the entire course at the IES Neil Armstrong de Valdemoro (Madrid), but until reaching it she has had to make multiple substitutions since 2016 for shorter periods.
“Sometimes they hired you for 15 days and then you were there for the entire course,” he explains. In fact, she considers herself lucky to have found an annual vacancy. Even so, a few days ago he experienced a situation that made him understand that his situation was not as good as he thought.
“I went to the bank to ask for a mortgage and they did not offer me the same conditions as if I were a worker with a fixed position.”
María Jesús Fernández, a senior economist at Funcas, maintains that temporality has negative effects in areas such as productivity, training or the living conditions themselves: “It generates significant distortions in the functioning of the labor market and the entire economy.”
Although the temporality in teaching is similar in percentage values in the public and private sectors (25.2%), the effects on the civil service that the Administration itself selects are more shocking for the experts.
“The greatest short-term problem that temporary employment in the education sector generates is the instability of teaching teams,” adds Mariano Fernández Enguita, professor of Sociology at the Complutense University and director of the National Institute of Public Administration (INAP). “Every huge sector of work will always have a certain turnover rate due to the need for professional coverage of positions, and that teaching will never prevent it. But obviously it could be less ”, he adds.
Very critical of the competitive examination system that evaluates teachers, Fernández Enguita justifies the increase in temporality based on the selection model itself: “If you are going to give up a job for life, you make the entry process more expensive and selective, which produces a higher rate of instability ”.
The result of all this inevitably results in the students. “One day a magnificent interim teacher may arrive, but when he moves, the project disappears.”
Guillem López Casasnovas, professor and former vice-rector of Economics and International Relations at Pompeu Fabra, agrees that the current hiring pattern is very old-fashioned. “In the case of universities, it is necessary to give more autonomy and financial responsibility to centers and departments in the selection of their personnel. What justifies the permanence of an official is that he can select other better ones without risk of his own job “, he maintains.
Cantabria closed 2020 with the highest temporary employment rate in the country in the education sector , 45.8%, eight points higher than 2019. Conchi Sánchez, general secretary of the Education Federation of CC OO in the region, assures that the problem comes from far: “The minimum templates published in the BOE do not correspond to real needs and there is a lot of inequality between centers.”
Although he points out that the two opposition processes that took place in the last four years reduced the temporality, he regrets that the expansion of the workforce undertaken in 2019 and the covid-19 reversed the trend. “Last year the corresponding positions could not be filled and in August and September there was a lot of temporary hiring due to the pandemic.”
The researcher Enrique Negueruela considers that the fight against temporality in Spain has always been a failure. “An agreement is needed to return to an administration as it deserves, an agreement from the whole of the Government,” he maintains.
The journey of Ana Gomes, 51, who came to SEPE three years ago , after entering the administration as an interim program officer in 2010, perfectly portrays the situation of thousands of public workers. “First I was in the Telematic Attention Network for two years, and then I was dismissed.
I went back into the User Service Center, and after three years they fired me again. Weeks later I entered the office where I am now ”, he says. “In 2018 they fired me again and after 52 days on the dole I went back into the office,” he says. On June 30, he will be unemployed again.