Regional decentralisation of labour market services

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On 3 June 1997, an agreement was finally reached between the Generalitat (Catalonia's autonomous regional government) and the central Government in Spain to transfer part of the management of the National Institute of Employment (INEM) to the Catalan regional administration. A historic demand that has been made for over 15 years has thus been satisfied. For the central Government, the transfer of INEM to Catalonia is a "pilot scheme" that will serve as a basis for the transfer of powers in this field to other autonomous communities such as Galicia and the Basque Country.

Employment services in Spain

Since 1978 responsibility for mediation in the labour market - ie, bringing together job seekers and job offers - and management of employment policy was the sole and exclusive responsibility of the National Institute of Employment (Instituto Nacional de Empleo, INEM) an autonomous organisation within theMinistry of Employment and Social Affairs. This meant that, unlike other European countries, Spain had a single institution responsible for managing employment measures like vocational training, promotion of employment and careers guidance. Its limited role in the effective management of job placements (over the last 12 years, it has dealt with only between 7% and 18% of the total) led to many criticisms of the management of INEM, which was seen as excessively bureaucratic. The social partners demanded greater "proactive" involvement in the management of vocational training, careers guidance and promotion of employment. In 1988, this led the Government to draw up a proposal for the reform of INEM, aimed at reinforcing its role as mediator in the labour market and in the management of active employment policies. However, despite consensus among all the social partners on these objectives, this reform came to nothing.

Redefinition of INEM

The 1994 reform of the labour market marked the definitive end to INEM's monopoly of mediation in the labour market. Since then, in addition to INEM there have been public and private mediation agencies such as the temporary employment agencies (ETT s) and the non-profit placement agencies. In parallel, the integral employment promotion services (SIPE s), public and private non-profit organisations that provide careers guidance services, are being set up. The purpose of the SIPEs is to articulate active employment policies during the whole process of accompanying job-seekers in their search for employment.

At a regional level, some autonomous communities use the regulatory framework for non-profit placement agencies to design their own placement services. The most representative cases are Catalonia and the Basque Country. In Catalonia this is achieved through the Catalan Job Placement Service (SCC), whose main objective is to improve the connection between supply and demand in the labour market through a computer network that connects all the public and private organisations operating in Catalonia in the areas of vocational training, careers guidance and job placement. In the Basque Country the public service Egailan, which has been set up to complement INEM, deals with the design and management of employment promotion and training programmes in the Basque Country.

Transfer of INEM to the Generalitat of Catalonia

The transfer of labour market mediation functions to the autonomous communities began in 1984, with the transfer to some communities of powers to regulate programmes of employment support. In 1991 management of vocational training also began to be transferred. However, some autonomous communities - especially Catalonia - had for some time been demanding the wholesale transfer of INEM.

At the beginning of June 1997, after intensive negotiations, an agreement was signed in which 74 offices of INEM were transferred to the Generalitat of Catalonia. This means that from 1998, the Generalitat will manage "active" employment policies, including the registration of job seekers, management of offers, registration of contracts, careers information and guidance, subsidies and aid for the promotion of employment, vocational training, authorisation and monitoring of job placement agencies and agreements with SIPEs. INEM has thus relinquished the management of policies aimed at the placement of certain categories of unemployed people. However, the Catalan Government did not achieve its initial objective of also obtaining the management of "passive" employment policies (such as the processing and payment of unemployment benefits).

The fact that only active policies have been transferred means that in Catalonia offices managing unemployment benefit will coexist with regional employment offices responsible for active employment policies. It is anticipated that both offices will be located in the same building in each town.

Trade union perspectives

Initial assessment of the transfer by the unions is positive, since it satisfies a demand that has been made since 1980, though there are some variations in views regarding the specific manner in which the transfer has been made.

However, the Catalonian unions do not agree with the public employment service model advocated by the Generalitat of Catalonia, because the Catalan Job Placement Service (SCC) is based on the privatisation of the management of job placement, careers guidance and vocational training, and on a drastic reduction in public involvement in these areas. Almost a year ago negotiations opened on the role of employment issues in the Catalonian model of INEM. However, in practice these discussions came to nothing. According to Angelina Puig, secretary for employment and vocational training of the National Workers' Commission of Catalonia (CONC), the Generalitat intends the SCC to deal with active employment policies, which "will depersonalise and privatise a service that needs personal contact and that should guarantee equal opportunities".

However, the unions and the Generalitat both oppose the transfer of only active employment policies. Both the UGT and CC.OO union confederations advocate the management under one umbrella of both active and passive employment policies, arguing that separating measures to protect workers against unemployment from those aimed at reintegrating the unemployed runs the risk of transforming unemployment benefit into a mere social subsidy.

Commentary

The reform of INEM is still pending. The transfer of active employment policies to the Generalitat of Catalonia is undoubtedly a first step in the process of its regional decentralisation. But much still remains to be done: mechanisms must be proposed to allow the social partners to participate in the design and operation of the future INEM; it is essential to ensure the correct definition of the role of each of the authorities (state, regional and local) involved in labour market mediation; and it is essential to extend the decentralisation process down to the local level, since the town halls are in more direct contact with the people. And of course, other autonomous communities must also assume the powers that for the moment have been transferred only to Catalonia.

Regional decentralisation is only one aspect of the reform of INEM. The discussion of the model of the employment service at a regional and state level cannot not be postponed any longer. The operation of INEM has been the object of much criticism, above all with regard to its management of training and employment promotion policies. It is therefore essential to undertake reform to improve the management of active employment policies and to devote the same level of resources to them as in other European countries. In this sense, the transfer of active employment policies involves the transfer to the Catalan Government of the responsibility for finding effective mechanisms to improve their management and to convert them into an effective instrument for fighting unemployment. Up until now, the tendency of the Catalan Government has been to privatise some of these activities (such as vocational training, careers guidance and so on) and to reduce the involvement of the state in this process. It remains to be seen what the role of the Generalitat of Catalonia will be from now on. The future model of the Spanish employment service will be determined to a large extent by: the Generalitat's ability to manage active employment policies effectively; its ability to coordinate and give coherence to the activities of the various organisations that interact in the process of placement; its ability to solve current problems; and its ability to involve the social partners in the design and management of the new organisation. (Claudia Vallvé and María Caprile, Fundació CIREM)

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