Half the story

Clearly, jobs with a short lifespan continue to play an oversized role in the Spanish labour market, much to the detriment of large sectors of its workforce

MARK NAYLER

Both September and October of this year were historic months for Spain's employment/unemployment levels. The former saw more than 20 million people employed for the first time since 2008, when the last economic crisis hit; and the latter was the first time that unemployment dropped in the tenth month of the year - the month that typically posts a sharp decline in tourist-orientated labour - since 1976. October was also the eighth month in a row to feature a fall in the jobless rate. Things, it seems, are definitely on the up.

Now, I don't want to sound like a grumbling, joyless cynic here, but I'm always initially sceptical when I see such figures. This isn't to say that I think they contain no positive message at all, because they do: in this case, they are a solid indication that general post-Covid economic activity is continuing apace and that the hospitality sector hasn't suffered from more restriction-induced setbacks. These are both welcome pieces of news. But a breakdown of the figures reveals that the recovery they advertise isn't quite as stable or long-term as it might seem on the surface.

The September statistic is the product of job-creation in the third quarter, during which 359,300 more people were employed than in the second quarter. Unsurprisingly, though, the majority of these new positions were in the tourist-dominated services sector, which always thrives during summer months - Spain, after all, is the world's second most-visited country after France. Of the 409,100 new contracts signed in Q3, 264,100 (64.5 %) were temporary, keeping Spain's temporary worker rate at around 20%, six points above the EU average of 14%. The same was true of a supposedly-bumper October, in which 88.8% of the 1.8 million new contracts were for temporary work.

Clearly, jobs with a short lifespan continue to play an oversized role in the Spanish labour market, much to the detriment of large sectors of its workforce. Another persistent stain on Spain's employment record is joblessness amongst under 25s, which increased by 2.3% last month. The country's youth unemployment rate remains the highest in the EU at 37.1%, almost seven points higher than second-placed Greece.

Employment minister, deputy prime minister and Podemos member Yolanda Diaz seeks a complete overhaul of the labour market measures introduced by Mariano Rajoy a decade ago, which gave businesses greater flexibility at the cost of worker stability. But she faces staunch opposition from the Socialists, who have greater clout in the coalition and favour a softer approach to the sector-wide problem - although they've yet to explain exactly what it is. But until something's done about this perennial scourge, record-breaking statistics such as those posted in September and October will only tell half the story.