Report examines temporary employment in the public administration

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In late 2004, Spain's Economic and Social Council (CES) issued a report on the high rate of temporary employment in the public administration. Nearly 23% of workers in the public sector are on temporary contracts, the highest rate in the EU 15. The new report, which has been welcomed by trade unions, describes the phenomenon in detail, analyses its causes and proposes solutions.

In November 2003, in response to demands from trade unions, the national Ombudsman (defensor del Pueblo) criticised the high rate of temporary employment in the public administration, linking this situation to a deterioration in the quality of service ES0311206F). In late 2004, at the request of the Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español, PSOE) government, the Economic and Social Council (Consejo Económico Social, CES) issued a report describing the phenomenon in detail, analysing its causes and proposing solutions ('La temporalidad en el empleo del sector público'. Informe 3/2004. Colección Informes. CES). The main points are summarised below.

Public temporary employment

The rate of temporary employment in the public administration in late 2004 was 22.8%. The greatest increase was between 1997 and 2003, during the government of the conservative People's Party (Partido Popular, PP), when temporary employment in the private sector was falling as a consequence of a set of agreements concluded by the social partners in 1997 (ES9706211F). The number of public employees is now approximately 2.8 million (the different sources vary on this point), one third more than in 1987. Since 1987, the temporary employment rate in the public sector has risen from 9.4% to 22.8%. During this period. the number of public employees has increased mainly in the regional administrations (partly through transfers from the central administration), local administrations, education and healthcare, and it is in these areas that the temporary employment rate is highest: 29.7% in local administrations, 29% in healthcare and 23% in regional administrations.

Temporary employment is more common among women than among men (especially in healthcare and education). It is also higher among workers under the age of 29, and since 1999 the temporary employment rate of young workers has been higher in the public than in the private sector. By occupations, the temporary employment rate is highest among the least qualified, as is the case in the private sector.

In comparison with the other EU 15 countries, Spain has the highest temporary employment rate in the public administration as a whole and also by subsectors, with the exception of Portugal and Finland in education. The rate of temporary employment is clearly too high for an effective functioning of the public administration, according to the CES report, and this comparison with other countries shows just how great the problem is.

Reasons

On the question of the reason for the high temporary employment rate in the Spanish public administration, some analysts state that it is logical because the administration needs to face changes with policies of flexibility, following the general behaviour of the economy. Others state that it is a way of adapting to the rigidity of the civil service system. However, these arguments do not take into account the fact that public sector temporary employment is not so high in other countries, or that public employees are not only civil servants (61% of the total), but also 'contracted workers' (31%) and workers in other situations (8%), a fact that undermines the image of rigid employment in the public administration.

The CES report goes further in exploring the reasons for the high level of temporary employment. First, it mentions 'economic and budgetary reasons'. The policy of restricted public expenditure that has been applied in recent years has not only halted the increase in public employment, by filling only 25% of vacancies for example, but has also led to the creation of jobs with a lower cost. Furthermore, a growing need for personal attention in public services, as in healthcare and education, has forced the authorities to use less expensive temporary contracts (such as 'contracts for works and services'- ES0409104F). The second factor mentioned is 'legal and organisational causes'. Sometimes vacancies are not announced systematically (for example each year) and the procedures do not operate as rapidly as they should. In other cases the organisation of the workforce is inadequate and human resources needs are not planned, and when the need arises temporary employment is the solution. Other possible causes are a 'lack of funding' in local administration, and that in education and healthcare staffing has been organised without bearing in mind that 'permanent jobs need permanent workers'.

CES proposals

The report puts forward political, legal and organisational proposals for reducing temporary employment in the public sector. In the political sphere, the filling of vacancies should not be restricted because needs have not decreased but increased, it argues. Furthermore, measures should be introduced to remedy the less advantageous position of women. Where temporary employment exists, it should be subject to the same rights as open-ended employment. In the legal sphere there is a need to adapt employment to permanent activities either through stable contracts or through 'fixed-discontinuous' contracts if the job is not required all year round. In the organisational sphere, the report recommends the drawing up of a list of jobs, systematic announcements of vacancies and more flexible contracting procedures. In education it calls for the stabilisation of the public teaching profession through annual announcements of vacancies. In healthcare, a process of filling and consolidating positions approved in 2001 must be concluded. In local authorities, organisations must have adequate staffing for the stable services that they provide.

Varied reactions

Trade unions have greeted the CES report with satisfaction, because they have been criticising this situation for years. They state that much of the problem comes from the policy of the PP governments, which filled only 25% of the vacancies in public employment. They also state that, though some jobs are indeed temporary, the maximum temporary employment rate should be 8%, as was established in agreements reached in 2003 and 2004. The unions feel that now is the time to negotiate with the government to achieve a rapid reduction of temporary employment, and that talks should start immediately. Furthermore, the problem of the temporary employment in the public sector is one of the problems that must be solved in line with a 'declaration on social dialogue in the public administration' signed by the trade unions and the government in late spring 2004. The employers' organisations have made no comments on the report, but some experts in the private sector have once more expressed concern about the rigidity of the civil service.

Commentary

It is a cause for satisfaction that the government is finally taking seriously the problem of temporary employment in the public sector. The current situation is often unfair, because people are employed in an unstable way in jobs that are stable, and it is inefficient, because people on temporary contracts tend to be less inclined to train, qualify and do their work well.

Temporary employment in the public sector, particularly in local administration, education and health, is not caused by poor personnel management or the rigidity of civil servants, but rather by insufficient funding, rigid regulations on recruitment, or political decisions taken at higher levels. In addition to the measures recommended in the report by the CES, there is a need for a new policy of assignation of public funding that takes into account the needs of the citizens that must be met by the decentralised administrations.

Having said this, it must be remembered that temporary workers in the public administration are in no way comparable with those in the private sector. The former often have temporary contracts, but these are renewed periodically as the programmes or budgets are approved. They normally have access to training and other rights, and tend to be well covered by collective bargaining. On the other hand, a large proportion of the temporary workers in the private sector have contracts of no more than three months, after which they register as unemployed and are re-employed by the same company (as part of employee turnover) or by another company in another sector.

Finally, one issue is raised by the report though it was not the object of study: the effects of outsourcing by the public administration on employment. Workers in companies performing outsourced activities that are now outside the administration may become temporary workers in the private sector, with all its characteristic precariousness and lack of job security. (Fausto Miguélez, QUIT-UAB).

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