Negotiations on agricultural unemployment benefit break down

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At the end of June 1999, trade unions broke off negotiations with the Spanish government on agricultural unemployment benefit and announced major mobilisations of workers in the agricultural sector.

At the end of June 1999, the agricultural workers' federations affiliated to the CC.OO and UGT trade union confederations, FECAMPO-CC.OO and FTT-UGT, officially broke off negotiations with the government on agricultural unemployment benefit and stated that new mobilisations of workers would be called in the next few months. This marked the end of negotiations that had gone on for over two years.

In 1996, the government and the trade unions signed the "agreement for agricultural employment and social welfare" (AEPSA). With this agreement, the unions achieved a historic demand: the government's commitment to extend the general system of unemployment benefit to cover casual agricultural workers. In Spain, agricultural workers are subject to specific social security regulations and do not have the same benefits as workers covered by the general system: one of the most pressing problems is that temporary workers are not entitled to unemployment benefit. There is a special unemployment subsidy for agricultural unemployment in only two regions, Andalusia and Extremadura, where there is a great deal of casual employment and unemployment. The AEPSA set 1 January 1998 as the date for fulfilling this commitment, but over a year and half later, nothing has been done (ES9905226N).

In the past few months the union federations have called mobilisations across the country to accelerate the bargaining process, but this has been in vain: the government has maintained an uncompromising position, claiming that the cost is too high. It agreed to extend contributory unemployment benefit to casual agricultural workers as of 1 January 2000, but postponed the extension of non-contributory unemployment benefit. It also intended to take advantage of the occasion to cut the agricultural unemployment subsidy for Andalusia and Extremadura, limiting access for new claimants and in certain cases establishing incompatibility with the general system of unemployment cover.

For the trade unions, this proposal was unacceptable because it represented a clear step backward from the commitments made in the AEPSA. According to their data, only 10% of Spain's 300,000 casual agricultural workers would be able to receive contributory benefit and the remaining 90% would be left without cover. The unions could not even agree with the government on the final cost of the measure: whereas the government estimate was ESP 40 billion a year, the trade union estimate was ESP 26 billion. The trade unions claim that the discriminatory treatment received by agricultural workers is totally unjustified, because the National Employment Institute (Instituto Nacional de Empleo, INEM) - the body that is responsible for unemployment benefits -had a surplus of ESP 300 billion in 1998. Also, the agricultural sector has benefited from a constant increase in productivity, while farm owners receive large amounts in subsidies and agricultural wages are the lowest in any sector.

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