Thursday, November 21, 2013

Work harder for less money and reduced security

One of the root causes of the economic meltdown in Spain was high wages. Before the crisis hit, Spanish workers enjoyed much better salaries than their counterparts in e.g. Germany which made the country uncompetitive in the European and world markets.  Workers in Spain also had more favourable contracts than their neighbours which made firing them almost impossible.

To try and regain competition, the government had to make alterations to the laws governing work contracts, trim down the workforce and force those in employment to accept lower wages. Three bitter pills for Spaniards to swallow.

Of course, the second and third measures could only be applied to public sector workers, it was left to private companies to sort out the situation for themselves. Lack of competition in the market place and high unemployment which brought about reduced public spending, have made it impossible for private companies to continue as they were doing. They too have had to take stringent measures to stay in business.

In Madrid, they wanted to reduce the number of people that clean the streets by 1,134 and at the same time cut  all of the salaries by 40%. As you might expect, the workers went on strike, leaving the streets full of rubbish. On Sunday the impasse was broken when an agreement was made not to fire any of the workers but instead lay people off on a temporary basis when necessary. This more egalitarian approach was more acceptable to the union  because it will effect all and not just one section of the workforce.

When I first started teaching, the school I was at stood next to the council depot where the refuse collection wagons were housed. Each night, at about 3pm, bin lorries would line up at the top of the road waiting for their shift to finish before returning to the depot. No doubt, the workers had also taken long breaks during the day to try and keep to the excessive timings that had been set for their rounds. At the correct time, the wagons would return to the depot in convoy. This ritual  was played out every day.

I imagine that this need to waste time came about because, when the timings were set, the workers did everything according to the book. In the real situation, they obviously found ways to cut corners and save time which they could then spend sitting in the cab reading the paper. However, the bombshell dropped when the collection of rubbish was privatised. The company that took on the contract, re-employed all the workers but insisted on more accurate timings and greater efficiency. Their aim was to make profit which meant no more extended breaks.

In my opinion, with massive unemployment in Spain, nobody should expect to be able to sit about doing nothing and still get paid for it. If they can reduce the number of hours of the workforce that cleans the streets in Madrid without detriment to the service then that is what they must do. Hopefully, the savings made will allow others to be employed elsewhere in the city.

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