Malaga is the province of Andalucía which has the highest number of self-employed workers. The latest figures from the Social Security authorities show that 83,132 people in the province are registered as 'aútonomo', and that is considerably more than in Seville province, where there are fewer than 75,000.
Nor does Malaga only stand out for the number of self-employed workers, but also for how this has grown in recent years. The work ministry website, which has data going back to 2016, shows that between that year and the third quarter of 2022 the number rose by almost 16 per cent, whereas in Andalucía as a whole the increase was just over nine per cent and in Spain less than three per cent.
Why is there this difference? José Luis Perea, who is head of the self-employed workers association (ATA), says there is a certain entrepreneurial spirit in Malaga, especially on the Costa del Sol, and it is structural in nature rather than not cyclical.
He also says measures introduced by the Andalusian government to reduce social security payments for the newly self-employed have encouraged people to start working for themselves, and the strength of Malaga's tourism sector is another important factor, because the sheer number of visitors to the area provides numerous opportunities for people to set up in business on their own in order to provide services for them.
In fact, it is noticeable that 80 per cent of workers in Malaga's services sector are 'autónomos', compared with 73 per cent in Andalucía and a similar proportion in Spain as a whole.
Malaga is similar to the Canary Islands in this respect but their figures are higher than the Balearics and Valencia, the two other most popular Spanish holiday destinations.
The number of technology companies in Malaga province should also be taken into account, some of which are major international names. Numerous startup businesses have been created on a self-employed basis as a result of their presence in the province in order to provide services to them.
The ecosystem generated by these businesses, and other geographical characteristics of Malaga province, have attracted digital nomads from all over the world in recent years, to such an extent that over 20 per cent of those registered as self-employed are foreigners: 22 per cent, in fact, which is more than 18,800 people.
The figure for foreign self-employed workers Spain as a whole is 13.3 per cent of the total, and it is barely 10.5 per cent for the region of Andalucía.
Those in Malaga province account for half of the total of foreign 'autónomo' workers, and it is the fourth province in the country in this respect. Only in Madrid, Barcelona and Alicante are the figures higher.
One aspect in which the self-employed in Malaga do coincide with Andalucía and Spain is that the vast majority paid the minimum rate of social security in 2022. In fact, there are comparatively more self-employed people in this province paying the lowest rate than in the region or the country: the figure for Malaga is 89 per cent of the total, compared with 87 and 85 per cent respectively.
In addition, most of them are registered as self-employed businesses with no employees: those account for 78 per cent in Malaga, whereas in Andalucía the figure is 75 per cent and in Spain it is 79 per cent.
Sources at the self-employed workers union of Andalucía (UATAE) explain that the fact that so many people are paying in the minimum rate of social security payments every month may be because their earnings are low, or because they are very young and are therefore not concerned about their retirement situation yet.
The most recent figures show that nearly 30 per cent of self-employed workers in Malaga province are under the age of 40, whereas the figure for Spain is 25.7 per cent.
José Luis Perea of ATA also adds that another cause of so many people paying as little as they can could be the fear that their business will not be successful. That concern tends to be greater in the early days of their new venture.
In Spain, 56.3 per cent of self-employed people have been registered as such for five years or more, whereas in Malaga province the figure is ten per cent lower.
This model of lower social security payments resulting in fewer benefits is now coming to an end in this country. From this year onwards, and progressively, the amount of money that self-employed workers will be able to pay as their social security contributions each month will depend on their level of income, and this will bring with it several improvements to their rights.
This is basically what is involved in the latest reform of the system which has been designed by Minister for Inclusion, Social Security and Migrations José Luis Escrivá.
As José Luis Pérez explains, the aim is that, eventually, being self-employed will mean having practically the same rights as people who are employees of companies and therefore have work contracts with more retirement benefits.
Working for oneself can be a precarious business. On one hand, there is the problem with the 'fake self-employed', where firms avoid the higher costs of taking on staff by hiring 'autónomos' instead for fixed roles. But on the other hand, setting up in business can be a way forward after being made redundant, especially for someone aged 40 to 45. "You join the world of the self-employed through vocation or because of need," say sources at the ATA. The inconvenience of doing so for the second reason, explains the UATAE, is that people often lack the entrepreneurial spirit, the dedication needed to create a business of their own, or they just fancy a life without bosses. In addition, those who do so because they want to be independent rarely have as much stability or drive and are more likely to suffer ups and downs because they do not normally understand the conditions of the market. And in many cases, if the opportunity arises, they end up going back to work for somebody else.
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