No clear rules yet on getting 3.4 million furloughed staff back to work

Some staff need to start work.
Some staff need to start work. / EFE
  • Bosses are worried that, under the government's ERTE conditions, it will be unviable to take all workers on again when the state of alarm ends

The government said this week that 3.4 million workers in Spain had been furloughed under the ERTE temporary layoff scheme. As the winding down of lockdown measures gets under way, ministers, unions and representatives of companies are negotiating against the clock over the conditions firms can ease staff back into work.

Bosses are concerned about a number of unresolved issues. They say the phased reactiviation of the economy means all their staff cannot go back to work at once, especially in key sectors on the Costa, such as hotels and restaurants, even if a state of alarm ends sooner.

There are fears that up to 30 per cent of those furloughed will not get taken on again this year. Firms have also been told that if they make any staff redundant later in the year after being on an ERTE due to forced circumstances (fuerza mayor), they will have to pay back all the social security quotas the government has being paying on their behalf.

"We need a secure legal base to restart activity in a gradual and flexible way," said Javier González de Lara, president of the Andalucía business association.

The urgent need for clear rules was highlighted this week when it emerged that hotels in the Canaries, and not other areas, may be allowed to extend their ERTEs for 'fuerza mayor' beyond the end of the state of alarm.

Unions say that some companies have been preparing to move staff off forced furloughing to more flexible ERTEs negotiated with staff.

No news for autonómos

What similar, adjusted measures might be available for autonómos (self-employed) as well, if the state of alarm ends during a phased lockdown, wasn't clear this week.

Over a quarter of people who were working in Malaga province in February are now idle, due to unemployment, ERTEs, or other furloughing measures.

The government insisted this week that it was doing all it could to get the payouts for unemployment or inactivity to those affected after complaints about how long it has been taking.

From this week, domestic staff and people who were on temporary contracts due to expire when the state of alarm was declared on 13 March will be included in the government's financial relief measures. These two groups were initially left out of the plans and the government has reacted to criticism.