Public Administration
Politics 09/05/2022

Speaker Borràs defends keeping granted age-based leaves

Despite controversy, political parties are reluctant to withdraw age-based leave for workers already enjoying it

4 min
The interior of the Parliament, with one of the officials, in an image of this legislature.

BarcelonaIn March Parliament's lawyers submitted a report that backed requesting civil servants on age-based leave (whereby staff can continue to draw a full salary without doing any work) to return to work. That is to say, they gave the green light to revoking age-based leaves retroactively, both for the 21 civil servants who were already enjoying them and for the 12 which had been approved by Parliament's secretary general Esther Andreu in 2021 but had still not become effective when ARA first broke the story. However, this is not what has happened: there is no political agreement for civil servants to return to their jobs and the 12 new licenses which had been put on halt have now gone through. ARA has learnt Speaker Laura Borràs claims age-based leaves which have already been authorised cannot be modified because, although the lawyers' report does not say so, these are "automatic, consolidated rights".

This is reflected in the minutes of the meeting on March 22, to which this newspaper has had access. Borràs affirms the "process to eliminate age-based leaves" was part of what she wanted to fo when she came to office, but avoiding causing a stir "both on the inside and the outside": she made a first reform, which was agreed unanimously by Parliament's bureau, which kept age-based leave in place but cut the number of years workers could enjoy them from three to five. However, she says: "The appearance of a newspaper article that offered biased information on age-based leave [referring to an ARA article uncovering that Parliament spent, according to its own data, €1.7m a year to pay for these benefits] led to a feeling of social alarm that triggered drastic action by the board to end what was considered a social scandal". She argues age-based leave should be eliminated "for the future" and should not retroactively affect workers who requested it when it was available to workers.

Her argument is that it could expose Parliament to lawsuits, contrary to its own legal services' advice: "It is a consolidated and automatic right which was fully in force and legal at the time when workers accessed it". And the parliamentary bureau's second secretary, Aurora Madaula (JxCat), adds: "It is not fair to establish a retroactive regime for those who are enjoying leave". On the other hand, deputy speaker Alba Vergés (ERC) asked for time to negotiate with workers because modifying age-based leave "directly affects people's lives". The position is different in the case of PSC and the CUP, who are in favour of revoking all age-based licenses. Bureau member Assumpta Escarp (PSC) affirms: "Authorised licenses whose effects were deferred are revocable and should not be granted". As for those already in force (21), she is in favour of a compensation system on a case-by-case basis. Fellow Bureau member Carles Riera (CUP) is in favour of revoking all licenses, but after a "collective negotiation" with workers.

Activation of new licenses

But not only has the Bureau not withdrawn age-based leave which had already been granted; in recent months new age-based leaves are being made effective. According to several sources, some officials whose leave had been approved but not executed have stopped attending work. This means they have now started enjoying this special benefit that will allow them to collect their salary in full for five years without working.This has been accepted by all political groups. After ARA uncovered golden early retirements in Parliament, the Bureau decided to abolish this regime and set a April 1 deadline to decide what to do. On the one hand, this would affect people who were already on leave (21 officials with a combined salary cost of €1.7m per year); on the other, the 12 officials who had requested the leave in 2021 but whose effects were deferred to this year.

The elimination of a key paragraph

Parties removed the last fragment of this text, so civil servants who were authorised to take age-based leave are taking advantage. Staff may apply for age-based leave after their 60th birthday, as long as they have worked for Parliament for at least 15 years.

"Parliament must establish the definitive regime applicable for workers [whose age-based leave had been approved prior to its repeal] before June 17, with prior collective bargaining [...]. Officials whose age-based leave has been authorised to start before this deadline expires, must continue to work in Parliament until a definitive regime is approved."

Now, when it came time to agree on a definitive regime for these cases, the bureau decided to give itself more time to reach an agreement with the staff council - the equivalent in the Parliament to a works council - and decided to resituate the deadline to June 17. To do so, the Parliamentary Staff Regulations (ERGI) had to be amended again, first in the enlarged bureau - where all groups are represented - and then in the Institutional Affairs Committee. But not only was the deadline for negotiating extended, but a much more far-reaching legal change was made, with direct effects for the administration and its budget. At the table it was approved to establish a "definitive regime" before June 17, with prior collective bargaining, for those who have authorized the age leave before its abolition, and it was added: "Officials who have an authorized leave and have to start enjoying it before the end of the term, have to continue providing effective services to the Parliament until the definitive regime is not approved". Therefore, it was understood that no other official, until June 17, could leave the chamber and continue to be paid with the leave. But, paradoxically, this last fragment disappeared from the text that ended up being approved by all parties in the Institutional Affairs Committee, with immediate consequences: the civil servants to whom the age leave was activated between April and June have started to take it. One of them, at least, close to Esther Andreu.

Request from the staff council

According to parliamentary sources, the last-minute modification was introduced at the request of the staff council, as a sign of goodwill by political parties to start negotiating a final regime. It was accepted "although they may subsequently be revoked or modified". However, truth is that up to now parties have had the possibility to put an end to this special regime and they have not done so. What is more: those in charge of personnel at the Bureau have delegated negotiations to the general secretary (who, according to several sources, requested and was denied age-based leave before taking office) and to the head of human resources. They are tasked with reaching an agreement with the rest of staff. In the meantime, some workers will continue to access age-based leave.

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