Parliament granted 12 age leaves while negotiating the system's reform
Civil servants who benefited can take advantage of the five years' salary without working
BarcelonaA total of 21 workers and an expenditure of €1.7m in salaries. These are the data that Parliament delivered to the newspaper ARA on January 14, regarding the number and the salaries received by civil servants who had been granted age-based leave. However, this data corresponds only to April 2021, since Speaker Laura Borràs explained this Wednesday to RAC1 that during this year, before the reform was approved that tightened the conditions for access to this special system, up to 12 workers requested this leave. The data was not passed on to ARA on January 14 because only the information relating to April was given, arguing that it was the date of the first request for public information.
What happens, then, with these 12 people who took leave last year, meaning that in total there are 33 civil servants who are being paid without working? Parliamentary sources consulted by ARA explain that these requests have been granted but then "postponed" due to "service needs", as provided by the regulations (which give a maximum margin of one year between being granted and being executed).
These requests were made while the process of requesting information from ARA lasted and a reform was being negotiated that had to tighten the conditions for accessing this special regime. As they were approved before the December reform, these 12 people can opt to be paid for five years –and not three, which is what the new regulations set– without the need to work. They were safeguarded by the same agreement the bureau reached on December 21: "Age-based leave authorised before these rules come into force is governed by the previous regulations".
However, after ARA published the terms of the age-based leave on Monday and on Tuesday the Bureau backtracked to eliminate it completely, it is being considered whether these 12 applications can also be overturned. According to parliamentary sources, a report has been commissioned from the lawyers to find out if the situation can be reversed. They do admit, however, that nothing can be done in the case of the 21 workers already on age-based leave, since they are considered "acquired rights".
A model that tends to extinction
Borràs explained that negotiations will begin with the staff council to extinguish this special regime, but there are no plans, at least for the moment, to directly eliminate Article 79 of the Statutes of the Regime and Internal Government of Parliament (ERGI), which regulates age-related leave. Even so, the Speaker has explained to RAC1 that the reform implemented in December already foresaw "the extinction" of these licenses. This statement seems to be at odds with the document approved by the board just three weeks ago, which established a change in the conditions but no deadline to end the privileges. When asked about this, Borràs pointed out that the spirit of the reform was "tending towards extinction".
Borràs also explained that the requirements for accessing age leave were tightened, so that from now on fewer civil servants would be eligible for it. The conditions for receiving 100% of the salary were toughened: before, 25 years of service were required and now it is 29. However, those necessary to access the leave are maintained. That is to say, to have worked for 15 years in Parliament.
The Speaker has also claimed to have been the first to cut the licenses by age. This is certainly the case, despite the fact that she is not the first to have reformed the model. In 2016, under Carme Forcadell's Speakership, certain changes were introduced to add, among other things, the possibility of accessing a reduced working day from the age of 60: cutting the working day by a third and collecting 90% of the salary or cutting it by half and collecting 75% of the salary. These conditions were maintained in last December's reform. In 2017, a small modification was also made to age-based leave and the changes even passed through the Governance, Public Administrations and Housing committee, where all parties in the chamber are represented. That reform, which reaffirmed the validity of most of the model bears the signature of the president of that commission, Joan Garriga (CUP), and the secretary, Sònia Sierra (Cs).
Torrent says he did not have the information
Age-based leave was approved during the mandate of Ernest Benach (ERC) in 2008, but has been maintained in subsequent speakerships, under Núria de Gispert (CiU), Carme Forcadell (ERC), Roger Torrent (ERC) and now Laura Borràs (JxCat). The only one who has not yet commented on the issue has been Forcadell. On the other hand, Torrent broke his silence today: "If we had had the information that we have now, we would have acted differently," he said from Madrid, celebrating that now they are working to reverse them. Also from Madrid, the spokesman of ERC in the Spanish Parliament, Gabriel Rufián, has asked for "forgiveness": "In politics, you are responsible for what you know and what you don't know", he told Catalunya Ràdio.
On the other hand, union Intersindical, which has members in the staff council of the Parliament, has defended in a statement the "professionalism" of the workers of the chamber, before the "discredit" they consider originated in a "battle between parties". In any case, the union has branded age-based leave as an "aberration" and stressed that not all workers who could enjoy it are doing so.