March looks set to be the worst ever for unemployment figures as businesses shut down. On Wednesday, the national Ministry of Work said it was already dealing with 400 to 500 official layoff requests from nationwide firms. Regional governments, including Andalucía, said they had already received thousands more requests from local firms.
The minister of Work, Yolanda Díaz, called for companies to be "responsible" in using a key temporary layoff mechanism, known in Spanish by its initials as an ERTE. This allows a company to send staff home temporarily, or reduce their hours, in times of economic trouble. The staff member can claim some temporary unemployment benefit.
The government said this week that it would make the scheme more flexible, including helping businesses pay Social Security for laid-off workers. But the minister added that she would study each request for an ERTE to avoid misuse of the system.
Firms putting in applications this week included Seat which wants to send its almost 15,000 car workers home for five to six weeks. Adolfo Domínguez said that it would ask for an ERTE for its 728 staff after closing 188 of its clothing shops. Burger King and Iberia were also among firms that asked to stand down staff. In Malaga, components firm Fujitsu Ten fell back on its expected ERTE and hotels are expected to follow.
There was initial disappointment among "autonómos" (self-employed workers) affected by the crisis, that the government was not going to relax the payment of Social Security quotas. However, on Thursday afternoon it appeared to have relented, pending formal clarification on the process.
The government has indicated it will make it easier for autónomos to claim unemployment benefit if they stop work without having to deregister as self-employed and so lose acquired rights.
There was also concern this week that regional government unemployment offices were shut, which means workers affected by ERTEs cannot sign on, and replacement phone or online services are inadequate.