Costa del Sol's economy left 85 per cent paralysed by new restrictions on non-essential activity

Construction work has been suspended for the next two weeks.
Construction work has been suspended for the next two weeks. / ÑITO SALAS
  • The only activities allowed to stay open are agriculture, food shops, transport, health and those firms whose staff can work from home

The goverment further toughened its initial restrictions on businesses last weekend and ordered at short notice all non-essential workers to stay at home until after the Easter break. Up to then some sectors, such as construction, had been allowed to keep working.

The economy of Malaga province, including the Costa del Sol, has now gone into a state of hibernation and nobody knows when or how it will wake up. The Malaga business association, CEM, estimates that 85 per cent of the province's productive activity is now suspended.

"About 70 per cent of the Malaga economy stopped when the state of alarm was decreed two weeks ago, and now construction and other industries and services are having to do the same," said CEM president Javier González de Lara. He is sceptical about the government's claim that it might be possible to restart activity after Easter.

The CC OO union doesn't believe the impact of the new restriction will be as serious as that. "It is in force until 9 April, so there are only going to be seven working days with no activity," says the union's provincial secretary, Fernando M. Cubillo, who says stopping the spread of the disease has to be a priority. His counterpart in the UGT union, Ramón Sánchez Garrido, was initially reticent but has now come round to the idea, "because the experts really believe it will help to stop the illness".

Days off to be made up later

The new decree from last weekend establishes a 'permiso retribuido recuperable' from 30 March to 9 April for employees who do not provide essential services. This means they will receive their normal pay during the period they cannot work, and will have to make up the hours when things return to normal. People who are able to work from home are not affected nor those where their employers have already processed an official temporary layoff, known as an ERTE, because business income has been affected.

The impact of the new, tougher stoppage measure in sectors such as gardening and maintenance is also considerable on the Costa.

Two of the three principal motors of the Malaga economy - tourism and construction - are, therefore, completely switched off - and the third, commerce, partly, so with only the food side operative. The only activities which can continue are the agro-food sector, a few industries considered essential such as pharmaceuticals, technology and office activities which have been relocated to homes, transport (which is also affected by the fall in consumption and industrial activity), financial entities, professional firms and, of course, health.

When the new decree was announced, there was relief when the government added a 24 hour period of grace to enable firms to organise the closure. Due to the short notice, some businesses didn't know whether their activity was considered essential or not and staff didn't know whether they should turn up for work.

ERTE requests grow

In addition to the added measure of non-essential workers being forced to take extra holiday, other companies have been flooding the system with formalised temporary layoff requests , known as ERTEs.

Due to the coronavirus crisis around 80,000 workers in Malaga province are now affected by 'expedientes de regulación temporal de empleo' (ERTEs). These mean either having to work fewer hours a day on reduced pay or having an employment contract temporarily suspended. The government is paying out benefits to make up most of the difference.

Companies are rushing to implement this temporary suspension measure to avoid as many people losing their jobs as possible. The majority are in the tourism sector. ERTEs are justified for two reasons: force majeur or economic, technical, organisational or productive causes.

Tech sector largely unaffected

Working from home has been the salvation for many Malaga companies. In fact some, such as Freepik, Google (Virustotal) and Opplus had already told their staff to work from home before the state of alarm was announced, and the PTA technology park is one of the few oases which has escaped the inactivity and ERTEs. "Of the 20,000 people who work on the PTA, 18,000 are working from home," says director Felipe Romera.