Spain: Agreement to reduce temporary employment in public administration

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Approximately 250,000 temporary employment positions in Spain’s public administration will become permanent in the next three years, after an agreement on the issue was reached by the Spanish Ministry of Finance and Public Function and the major Spanish unions representing public employees. The changes will reduce the share of temporary posts from 20% to 8%.

Background

There are four different types of employees in Spain’s public administration:

  • career civil servants (personal funcionario de carrera) – these have passed a competitive selection process, achieving the official status of civil servants, regulated by administrative law
  • contract workers (personal laboral) – these are hired on an indefinite or fixed-term contract, and are covered by labour law
  • provisional employees (personal eventual) – these are public employees appointed on an ad hoc, temporary basis and occupy trust or advisory roles, which not reserved for civil servants
  • temporary substitutes (personal funcionario interino) – these are brought in to provide cover for career civil servants (for example, during maternity leave) and their status is regulated by administrative law.

The use of temporary employment in the Spanish public administration system is widespread at all levels (including general administration, autonomous communities, and local bodies). According to estimates by the Spanish government, there are approximately 300,000 temporary substitutes in Spain, representing approximately 20% of total employment in the Spanish public sector. Sectors where this is particularly noticeable include:

  • health provision (30% of the total sector employment)
  • justice administration (25%)
  • non-university education (20%).

There is also a high percentage of temporary substitutes in some autonomous communities:

  • the Balearic Islands (28.4% of the total regional public employment)
  • Canary Islands (27%)
  • Aragon (25.7%).

The extensive use of temporary substitutes has been caused by the economic crisis and by budget constraints. It is seen as a flexible way of running services without having to hire permanent staff (PDF) or hire employees with civil servant status, even though the Spanish Public Employee Statute explicitly states this type of employment is only for reasons of necessity and urgency. A good illustration of this situation is the lack of significant employment drives in public administration in the last six years.

Agreement to reduce share of temporary employment in public sector

Characteristics of the agreement

Negotiations were officially launched on 14 February between the Spanish Ministry of Finance and Public Function and the three major trade unions in the Spanish public administration were officially initiated on 14 February. The unions involved were:

  • Workers’ Commissions (CCOO)
  • General Union of Workers (UGT)
  • Union of Government Employees (CSI-F).

The unions mainly wanted to discuss:

  • finding a solution to the high rate of temporary public employment
  • the introduction of a replacement plan to cover the job positions lost by retired civil servants
  • a salary increase higher than the 1% suggested by the Spanish government.

The unions also demanded that the negotiations should cover autonomous communities and local bodies.

The ministry showed a willingness to negotiate and to incorporate any agreement reached in the Spanish General Budget Law proposal for 2017, yet to be approved by the Spanish Parliament.

On 29 March, the ministry and the unions signed the Agreement to improve public employment (PDF). This includes three main elements:

  • the goal of reducing the number of workplaces occupied by temporary substitutes by up to 90% in three years and keeping the rate of temporary workers constant at under 8% (even after the agreement expires)
  • preserving all the jobs lost due to civil servants’ retirement in certain strategic public services (including health, education, justice administration, security, social services or tax fraud) as well as preserving 50% of job positions lost due to civil servants’ retirement for the remaining public sectors
  • setting up working groups from the Spanish public administration and representative unions to study possible measures affecting issues such as the geographical and functional mobility of public employees, promoting training, gender equality and the follow-up to the implementation of digital administration.

No agreement was reached on salary increases. This implies that the final salary increase will be 1%, as suggested by the ministry. This is similar to the previous year’s rise but not as much as the trade unions had wanted – an increase at least higher than the inflation rate, with expectations of 1.2% for 2017. Nevertheless, the lack of agreement on this has not impeded the signing of the agreement. Also, the ministry has committed itself to increase public employees’ salaries by well above 1% in the following year.

Next steps

Specifically, the agreement will be implemented via an extraordinary public employment offer where all Spanish public administration offices (including general administration, autonomous communities and local bodies) will be able to launch competition procedures for job positions occupied by temporary substitutes, to turn them into permanent civil servants.

The actual number of these job positions is still uncertain as the final number is yet to be agreed with the autonomous communities and the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP). Estimates by the ministry suggest a total of 250,000 positions to be changed in 2017–2019, primarily in three sectors:

  • health (129,700 jobs)
  • non-university education (98,807 jobs)
  • justice administration (8,564 jobs).

The turning of temporary positions into permanent ones does not imply an increase in expenses/personnel. It will also guarantee the principles of open competition, equality, merit, capacity and transparency.

However, to cover all the posts lost by retired civil servants in certain strategic public services, the ministry has estimated a public employment offer of about 67,000 places. Some 19,000 places will be in the general State administration, 28,144 places in the autonomous communities and around 20,000 places in local bodies.

The Spanish Parliament must now approve the 2017 Spanish General Budget Law project produced by the government. However, trade unions have requested ‘legal guarantees’ to allow the implementation of the agreement if it is not passed by Parliament. Indeed, trade union representatives are confident that, if Parliament rejects the agreement, it will still be implemented by Royal Decrees issued by the Spanish government.

Commentary

The agreement is an important step in improving job quality in the Spanish public sector, particularly in terms of reducing the number of temporary jobs. It also represents a giant advance in relations between the Spanish government and the public workers’ unions since there have been no real negotiations between them since 2010. However, this agreement will only be implemented if the 2017 Spanish General Budget Law project is approved by the Spanish Parliament, unless some alternative ad hoc legislative solutions are found (such as approval by Royal Decree).

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