No trade union support for Spain's 1999 NAP

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The Spanish government's 1999 National Action Plan (NAP) for employment, in response to the EU Employment Guidelines, has been severely attacked by the trade unions. The unions criticise the content of the NAP, approved in May 1999, and the funds assigned to it, and claim that it appeared late and lacked social dialogue in its preparation.

Since 1998, all EU Member States are obliged to draw up annual National Action Plans (NAP s) for employment (EU9805107N) based on the EU's Employment Guidelines. From May 1999, Member States started to submit their NAPs for 1999, analysing implementation of the 1998 Plans and describing the policy adjustments made to incorporate the changes introduced by the 1999 Employment Guidelines (EU9810130F).

The Spanish NAP for 1999 was drawn up and approved in only two months, being ratified by the Council of Ministers in May 1999, four days before its presentation to the EU. Spanish trade unions rejected the NAP, as they did with its predecessor (ES9805152F). This reception contrasted with the congratulations that the Spanish government received from the member of the European Commission responsible for employment and social affairs, Pádraig Flynn, in July.

The content of the Plan

The Spanish NAP for 1999 has a budget of about ESP 1,000 billion and is aimed at creating 370,000 jobs and giving guidance and training to 900,000 unemployed people, according to the Minister of Labour, Manuel Pimentel. The NAP observes strictly the four "pillars" and 22 guidelines of the Employment Guidelines. It is within the first pillar - "improving employability" - that the government has put forward the most new features compared with the 1998 Plan. These include:

  • individualised tutorship, in which a tutor monitors job-seekers in their attempt to find work and gives them guidance on the writing of CVs and application letters, and on dealing with job interviews;
  • new "employment workshops" (talleres de empleo), based on the strategy of the existing "workshop schools", which will be directly linked to the labour market and focus on the training and preferential recruitment of unemployed persons over the age of 40;
  • an "emergency plan" in 25 municipalities, consisting of integration plans aimed at specific groups and designed according to needs previously detected in municipalities with special unemployment problems;
  • the "voluntary activity commitment programme", under which the public employment services commit themselves to organising active job-seeking and access to employment for people receiving unemployment benefit;
  • the reduction of the tax burden on employment based on a recent reform of personal income tax (IRPF) (ES9812290F); and
  • a new "law for social and labour integration", to encourage the integration into the labour market of excluded people (such as prisoners, drug addicts and some immigrants).

The Plan also provides for: the continuation of incentives to promote permanent recruitment; the revision of current agreements on continuing training (ES9907133F); an increase in the variety of vocational training modules; and the revision of some certificates of professional competence and status.

Regarding the second pillar of the guidelines - "developing entrepreneurship" - the government proposes to simplify administrative procedures for companies (especially small and medium-sized enterprises ) and to introduce business advice measures for self-employment, giving priority to the groups with greatest difficulties on the labour market: the young, women, people with disabilities and immigrants. It also plans to introduce a new law on cooperatives and to continue with local employment initiatives, especially those that satisfy needs not covered by the market and those that fall within new sources of employment. This point also includes the incentives for full- or part-time permanent contracts.

Regarding "encouraging adaptability of businesses and their employees" - the third pillar - the government proposes to develop the social dialogue and collective bargaining on many issues, including: reducing temporary employment and contract turnover; the distribution of working time; the development of variable pay; eliminating discrimination; and occupational risk prevention. A new feature is that the NAP proposes a geographical mobility plan to enable unemployed people to fill employment vacancies in any part of the country, thus favouring a better match between supply and demand. It also plans to put into operation the recently created Foundation for the Prevention of Occupational Risks (Fundación para la prevención de los riesgos laborales), and the abovementioned revision of agreements on continuing training. None of these actions have funds assigned to them. However, the incentives for the new stable part-time contract (ES9811289F) and the development of continuing training through subsidies and tax incentives continue.

Finally, to "strengthen equal opportunities policies for women and men" - the fourth pillar - the Plan proposes: a series of studies on the situation of women in the labour market; special exemptions from social security contributions or increased subsidies when the various employment programmes mentioned above are aimed at women; and the approval of a bill on reconciling family and working life.

Trade union proposals and criticisms

The two main trade union confederations, UGT and CC.OO, have criticised the Plan, and their criticisms are similar in terms of their contents and severity.

Late and unilateral drafting

The trade unions claim that the Plan was drawn up late and unilaterally, which they find unacceptable. They state that only one meeting with the social partners was called by the government, one month before it was passed, and that this was merely an information meeting. They consider that the Spanish government has not fulfilled the resolutions of the December 1999 Vienna European Council meeting on social partner participation (EU9812141N).

The unions bemoan the absence of their own specific proposals in the Plan. These include:

  • specific action for women, young, long-term unemployed and disabled people, regardless of the economic situation;
  • the extension of the right to unemployment cover (ES9810183F), an increase in the amount of benefit and a general increase in the funds assigned to the National Institute of Employment (Instituto Nacional de Empleo, INEM);
  • new job creation policies. These should include support for job creation by reducing and reorganising working time (CC.OO calls for a regulatory framework for collective bargaining and UGT calls for a law), and development of new sources of employment and local employment initiatives in general;
  • a reduction in temporary employment by introducing tax penalties for temporary recruitment and increasing specific control measures (ES9906137N); and
  • extending public services, such as nurseries and day centres for older people, in order to foster equal opportunities.

Insufficient funds

The unions criticise the fact that the government presents the increase in the amount assigned to active employment policies as an improvement, because the government has reduced its contribution to INEM's budget to 7.5% of the total expenditure, the rest being funded through contributions levied on pay. They also criticise the fact that there is no ad hoc budget for the NAP, which is financed through existing funds assigned to specific institutions. They consider that the budget is poorly distributed, increasing concessions to employers and cutting protection for unemployed people.

Bureaucracy

The trade unions criticise what they see as the bureaucratic conception of the employment plan, which has led the relevant interministerial working group to draw up a plan that the unions consider to be a simple reorganisation of measures that are already in force, which in many cases are repeated from the previous year and are not very specific.

Specific measures

For the unions, the Plan contains too few actions linking training and employment (workshop schools, employment workshops etc), when it is known that these programmes give better results than those of guidance or training, on which the government bases most of the proposed actions. There are also, it is claimed, too few local employment programmes, which have been reduced by 75% from the initial proposal involving 100 municipalities. In other cases the perceived problem it is not quantity but content: The "voluntary activity commitment programme" is considered discriminatory because it affects only those unemployed people who receive benefit, who are already the most favoured group of unemployed. The trade unions also fear that this is a measure with the hidden objective of cutting unemployment benefit even further. The geographical mobility plan for unemployed people will be blocked by the unions if at any time it involves the obligatory transfer of workers from one region to another. The unions think that this would increase regional inequality in Spain, which can be solved only by promoting investment in the regions with less wealth and higher unemployment

Commentary

The Spanish NAP for 1999 was drawn up in two months, in the second quarter of the year to which it applies. It is surprising that the employment Plan of the country with the highest unemployment rate in the European Union should be drawn up and approved in such a short time and so late. With luck, the measures will come into effect at the end of the third quarter of the year.

Dispute between the government and the trade unions on the NAP has diverse origins, but major differences lie in their basic views of how to reduce unemployment. The measures proposed by the government tend to focus on unemployed people, with training and guidance the most frequent actions. The union proposals, on the other hand, focus on the structure of production, stressing job creation and development of the fabric of production. Several studies in Spain indicate that training is not the solution to unemployment, because employment depends on many factors that have little to do with the training of the workforce. Most Spanish workers work in companies in which few jobs require training in the sense in which it is described in the Plan (the traditional meaning of the word), and in which demands have little to do with training and more to do with adaptability and commitment, such as accepting flexible working hours or doing more than is specified for their occupational category (Clara Llorens, QUIT-UAB).

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