Borràs halts approval of paid leave for parliamentary staff over 60

Speaker criticises new model for being very similar to age-based leave

3 min
The president of the Parliament, Laura Borràs, in an archive image

BarcelonaThe age-based leave controversy is still causing a stir, after this Tuesday the Parliamentary bureau approved that civil servants over 60 could continue to draw salary despite not working. This Thursday the decision – which came out of negotiations between Parliament workers and the Bureau representatives of the table – was to be formalised by the Committee on Institutional Affairs (CAI), but the vote has been postponed. According to several sources consulted by ARA, this was because Speaker Laura Borràs is not satisfied with the outcome of the negotiation and intends to rethink the model, still very similar to the one she had pledged to eliminate. Thus, the matter will no longer be discussed urgently and instead, it will be at a new meeting of the Parliamentary bureau –which could be convened for this Friday– which will debate whether to introduce changes in the document agreed with workers.

Bureau secretaries Ferran Pedret (PSC) and Aurora Madaula (JxCat) were responsible for negotiating with staff representatives for weeks. They reached an agreement whereby all civil servants with a minimum experience of fifteen years in Parliament could continue to collect a salary without working for five years prior to their retirement. Instead of 'age-based leave', the new system would be called "incentivised voluntary leave". Yet it would remain broadly the same, with the main difference being that a maximum pay would be set: civil servants would only be entitled to the equivalent to their pension, not their salary. Progressive reductions in working hours without a salary reduction were also introduced. The PSC, ERC and JxCat voted in favour of this proposal (Cs and the CUP abstained and En Comú voted against), but it could change again.

Now sources consulted explain that Borràs does not like the fact that the paid leaves of absence are accessible to all of Parliament's workers, but is in favour of limiting them to people who were already enjoying an age-based leave (21 workers, plus a further 12 to whom leave had been pre-awarded although the leave had not yet started). In practice, this would mean the current model would end definitively when these 33 people retire but no new leaves would be granted; the new agreement, however, would allow these golden early retirements to continue. Some of the sources consulted by ARA question the Speaker's move and recall that it was only two days ago that the parties, including her own (JxCat), backed the measure.

Controversial golden retirements

Faced with the controversy that arose when the ARA made public that Parliament spent €1.7m a year on salaries for 21 workers on an "age-based leave", all parliamentary parties committed to eliminating this system, even though they had initially agreed to modify it slightly so that workers would be paid despite not working for three years, instead of five. Even so, negotiations remained open and the workers representatives threatened legal action, on the understanding that rights acquired through collective bargaining could not be stripped.

What is at stake, in short, is correcting golden early retirement for some parliamentary staff at taxpayer's expense which other civil servants cannot access (although teachers can retire at 60, and dangerous jobs such as police officers are encouraged to do so). In Parliament, in fact, not only can a worker be paid for five years without working, but there is a retirement bonus through which a worker can receive a year's salary when they retire (those who are enjoying age-related leave do not receive it in full).

Age-based leave was created in 2008 and were backed by all parties and under Ernest Benach's speakership. They continued in place under subsequent Spears Núria de Gispert, Carme Forcadell and Roger Torrent. In the current Parliament, under Borràs's speakership, the measure's possible suppression is being discussed, but for the moment months go by without definitive action being taken.