Privileges in Parliament: chamber pays €1.7m a year to officials who no longer work there
Two former secretaries general, under this regime, are paid more than €140,000 a year
BarcelonaTwo former secretaries general of the Parliament of Catalonia and nineteen other officials of the chamber receive almost 100% of their salaries despite the fact that they no longer work there. This is a special regime called "age leave" that exists only for workers of Catalonia's Parliament since 2008. It is an unprecedented privilege that has no comparison in the common private market or in the administration of the Generalitat, and that until now could be requested when workers reached the age of 60 and had worked for over fifteen years in the parliamentary administration. They then receive this pay until they reach official retirement age. ARA has learnt from a freedom of information request made in April last year and recently answered, up to 21 former officials are covered by this system, with a salary totalling €1.7m per year (see graph).
Half of the people on age leave are officials in the highest ranks of the chamber (A1), who take the biggest slice of the pie. The individual figures are disparate because they depend on officials' rank, but on average the lowest salaries range from almost €56,000 per month –journalists, assistants or telephone operators– to €10,000 euros per month in the case of former secretaries general or former heads of department. Some of these remunerations can exceed that of Catalan ministers (€115,517 a year) and senior officials (€92,063) and even that of the Catalan president, Pere Aragonès (€130,250), and are very close to that of Parliament's Speaker, Laura Borràs (€155,570). This is the case of the two former lawyers who are on age leave and who held the highest position in the parliamentary administration: Imma Folchi, who was secretary general of Parliament between 1999 and 2015, and Pere Sol, who held the same position from 2015 to 2016. This newspaper has tried to contact them, without success, through Parliament's communication department.
Age leave is a special regime in which the worker maintains his status as a civil servant even though they do not go to work: not only do they continue to be paid their salary, but their salary is increased so as not to lose purchasing power, they continue to accumulate seniority and their Social Security contributions are maintained so that they are not affected at the time of retirement. This is beneficial for the person who takes advantage of it but has counterproductive effects for the administration. In addition to the public expense involved, the position cannot be filled until the civil servant on age-related leave retires, so that if there is a lack of human resources, the staff has to be increased and, therefore, the expense. Age-related leave is regulated by the Chamber's internal statutes, which set the conditions for employees. This regulation usually goes unnoticed and over the years the conditions have been improved through a pact between the workers of the Parliament represented in the staff council – the equivalent of the works council – and the politicians on the Parliamentary Bureau.
€250.000 for the chief clerk
The case of the age leave is the most shocking, but there are other benefits: the retirement bonus, which consists of receiving a full year's salary when the worker retires –although those who are on age leave do not receive it in full–, or remuneration received by civil servants for seniority. Unlike what the Generalitat pays its civil servants –a fixed amount that this 2022 will be €47.67 per month for its most senior employees–, every Parliament worker gets a 5% increase in salary for every three years they have worked there. If you have been a civil servant for many years, this is a very important part of the salary, which is not made public, arguing that it is personal data. In the case of the general secretariat of the Parliament, however, an exception has been made for the first time at the request of this newspaper considering that it is a position of trust of the Bureau and public management. This has been ruled by Parliament's Transparency Guarantees body, –despite the fact that at first it refused to give the information– in the same way that it considers that it can also make public the seniority bonus the senior counsel of Parliament receives(also elected by the Bureau).
Thus, the Catalan chamber has published what secretary general Xavier Muro was paid in April 2021: he received €18,190 euros per month, of which €7,166 were for seniority. That is, of the €254,671 per year, almost half (€100,325) were for seniority. This remuneration that almost doubles that of the Catalan president. The salary of the current secretary general of the chamber, Esther Andreu, appointed in June, could be around the same figure, since she also started working as a lawyer for Parliament over thirty years ago, but it cannot be specified because the chamber has only provided data from April, arguing that this is when they were requested. For the same reason, the salary of the senior counsel, which in April was vacant, has not been provided: it is €125,959 for the position plus the accumulated seniority of the person who takes on the post.
As a result of Parliament's data protection policy, it is also not possible to know the exact salary of the people who are on leave due to age and an approximate calculation has to be made. The Parliament has delivered the basic salaries and allowances received by civil servants under this regime, but has provided the triennia they receive by grouping all civil servants at the same level. To calculate the real salary of the two former secretaries general of the chamber, Folchi and Sol, the ARA has estimated that they could be receiving about €5,000 for seniority, in addition to €5,729 per month as former lawyers. Folchi started work for Parliament in 1981 as a lawyer –she was the first woman to do so–, but she spent some time in the Government and at private firms, while Pere Sol worked in Parliament since the nineties, according to several sources. To calculate seniority, we can use the fact that Muro, who still works for Parliament, receives €7,166 euros per month for seniority: his three-year periods correspond to having entered the Parliament as a lawyer in 1992 and having spent the previous years in other administrations.
The origin of the age leave can be found in 2008, when Ernest Benach (ERC) presided over Parliament, accompanied by vice presidents Ramon Camp (CiU) and Higini Clotas (PSC). Parliamentary sources explain that at that time it was argued that it would serve to give incentives to an administration with few possibilities of job promotion and also to "rejuvenate" the staff, despite the fact that the positions on leave due to age cannot be formally occupied because they are still in "active services". The same sources also argue that the introduction of this figure has to be put in context: it was a pre-crisis period and there was not the same sensitivity when it came to spending public money.
However, this system has passed all the stress tests up to 2021, despite the economic difficulties of recent years and the fact that there have been Speakers from various political parties –Núria de Gispert (CiU), Carme Forcadell (Junts pel Sí) and Roger Torrent (ERC)–. Only in 2017, when Sol was secretary general, a part of the percentage paid for specific complements was minimally reduced. The current Parliamentary Bureau, chaired by Laura Borràs, after the ARA made the request in April , has introduced reforms that were approved in the last meeting of 2021. The age leave was modified to contribute to the "economic containment" of the chamber and so that "it does not hinder the management of human resources" –expenditure on civil servants was €12.9 million in 2021-. From January 1, 2022, age leave has become a kind of progressive reduction of working hours for a period of five years, linking salary to attendance. In any case, there is an extension that does not affect either the 21 people who are already in this system nor those who requested it last year. Workers who request it between 2022 and 2023 can also opt for full-time leave without going to work, but receiving less pay than they do now.