Parliament has spent €14.4m since 2009 on paying civil servants no longer required to work
Expense was highest during 2020
BarcelonaAge-based leave was created in 2008 during Ernest Benach's presidency of the Catalan Parliament. There are several theories about what led the chamber to promote this unprecedented figure that allowed civil servants to collect virtually 100% of their salary without attending work in the five years previous to their retirement: some say it was created to accelerate some senior officials' departure; others, that it was a request by the staff council; there are even those who claim senior staff pulled strings to have a golden pre-retirement – Imma Folchi was then secretary general and is one of the beneficiaries of age-based leave. Be that as it may, what is certain is that the system was kept in place for 14 years and was not eliminated until ARA reported on January 17 that in 2021 Parliament allocated €1.7m to paying 21 officials who no longer worked there. This Friday, Speaker Laura Borràs explained that, in total, since 2009 the Catalan Parliament has paid €14.4m to people who no longer worked there.
In a half-hour speech to take stock of her first year as president, Borràs has defended the changes she introduced to the parliamentary administration. These include the reform of "triennia", a 5% salary increase for every three years worked for the same company. Parliament workers will now only get a pay rise for every three years worked at Parliament, rather than at any other administration. She also took pride in the reform of age-based leave agreed on December 21, 2020, which reduced the length of time staff could draw a salary without working from five to three years. "As soon as I was aware of [age-based leave's] existence and scope, I promoted ways of resolution [...] without internal revolt and without media stir, which in such sensitive issues always ends up offering a blurred picture of reality", she said, highlighting that none of her predecessors – Roger Torrent, Carme Forcadell and Núria de Gispert – had taken any action.
Beyond the figure offered by Borràs this Friday, ARA made a freedom of information request and has had access to the detail of the total cost of this benefit. Since its creation in 2008, 67 age-based leaves have been granted in Parliament. Twelve of these were granted in 2021 but are not being executed. The data show how civil servants have taken advantage of this benefit exponentially, especially in recent years, so that the expenditure went from €302,109 in 2009 (counting basic and supplementary remuneration, annual cost of contributions and pension plan) to €2.16m in 2021. This amount is higher than the €1.7m that we published on January 17, 2021 because the figures we were given in response to our first freedom of information request did not include the cost of social security and pension contributions.
It should be noted that the age-based leave has exceptional conditions. It is a figure that allows civil servants to retain all their rights without doing their job. That is to say, they continue to be counted as in active service and, therefore, remuneration updates are maintained, salaries continue to increase every three years and social security contributions are paid. This condition of active services has resulted in the fact that the Parliament did not have these civil servants in their jobs, but could not replace them either. Therefore, it had to create new positions – and, consequently, further increase spending – or leave these positions vacant, which implied a bigger workload for the rest of civil servants. In the same statement that Parliament has delivered to this newspaper, Parliament admits that this has generated "tension" and that it has an economic impact that has not been quantified.
Since 2009 – the first year in which age-based leave was granted – 23 of the 55 vacant positions have been filled through internal provisions. "Some have been filled from the start, others after a few months, or years, and others never," says the resolution, and in this regard adds: "The cost for Parliament would not only consist of the cost of the remuneration for officials on age-based leave, but in the cost of the real workload borne by many active officials who have had to take on more tasks, and that is very difficult to quantify, in addition to the cost of paying 23 staff who have indeed come in as replacements," Parliament admits. Therefore, if this calculation were to be added, the total cost to Parliament would be more than €14.4m.
Each year new officials took age-based leave, joining those who were already enjoying it. According to data provided by the chamber, the year in which the highest number of officials were on age-based leave – looking at the data of remuneration per year - is 2020, the year of the coronavirus pandemic. This was under the Roger Torrent's speakership and leave was authorised by Xavier Muro. That year alone, nine were granted, which added to those already in place, meant that a total 28 civil servants were on age-based leave. This implied an expenditure of €2.4m, the highest ever.
Confidence in the secretary general
ARA also made a request to find out the salary, including any seniority bonuses, of the current secretary general, Esther Andreu, and the senior counsel, Miquel Palomares. In January Parliament only gave the information on former secretary general Xavier Muro, who received €254,671 per annum. The current secretary general of the chamber receives €241,390 per annum (the president of the Generalitat receives €130,250), of which €85,654 are seniority-based bonuses. This means that the bonuses Andreu receives thanks to how long she has been working in Parliament are roughly the same as Spanish president Pedro Sánchez's salary, who receives €84,845 per annum. Miquel Palomares, senior counsel, receives €184,284 per annum, €57,191 of which are seniority-based bonuses.
This Friday, Speaker Laura Borràs has defended her "open" management at the head of the chamber and the reforms that she has made to workers' conditions and has again denounced the "interference" of State powers in Parliament's sovereignty. She claimed she has been able to make thanks to the collaboration of Andreu.
In this sense, Borràs has reaffirmed her confidence in Andreu, despite the fact that, like Muro, Andreu also stripped an MP of his seat. In her opinion, this is not a case of double standard – she was very critical of Torrent's speakership when Torra was stripped of his seat – and has defended that she did everything she could. "The culprit of the outcome of the Juvillà case is the repression of the Spanish state," said Borràs in an appearance in which she has ended up accepting questions at the media's insistence, since originally she had rejected them. She said he had learnt the "lessons" of the Juvillà case and therefore called for "rebuilding" trust with ERC and CUP and the "unity" of the independence movement to face future cases.