Labor reform

Tensions between ERC and Díaz over labour law evident

Parliament will validate the decree by the minimum with the support of Cs and PDECat

4 min
The second vice-president of the Spanish government, Yolanda Díaz, and the ERC spokesman in Congress, Gabriel Rufián

MadridYolanda Díaz will finally manage to validate the labour reform: Parliament will approve the reform with 176 votes in favor and 173 against. The royal decree was supported by Cs, PDECat and other minority parties, including Unión del Pueblo Navarro, whose two MPs toed the party line despite giving interviews voicing their own opposition. PSOE had been confident for days that the bill would get through, but intrigue was maintained until the end. The negative side for the second vice-president is that she did not secure the support of ERC, PNV and EH Bildu, who she held as priority partners. Díaz managed to save her star project –not doing so could have compromised her future in the executive– but Pedro Sánchez, who has accompanied the minister in her entrance to Parliament, has found new allies.

"Parliament is debating whether the PP's labour reform will be confirmed forever and ever. If this aggressive reform receives once again its endorsement or whether we leave behind the model of precariousness, low wages, cowboy outsourcing and anti-union prejudice of the right. This is the dilemma," Díaz wanted to contextualise. This is the message Díaz has been sending left-wing parties opposed to the measure in recent days, stressing that if it got voted down, Spain would return to the scenario that caused two general strikes in March and November 2012. But Diaz also raised the tone against ERC.

In the final part of her presentation, she thanked unions, employers and parties that opt are voting for the law, and also the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), although it has voted against it. "My thanks to the PNV, because they have discussed content, they have been serious and clear," she continued. This Wednesday Díaz urged ERC to hold a "serious" negotiation, which to her understanding did not arrive. Sources in the Labour Ministry assure that a last document was transferred to them and the conversations continued until the end, but it has not been possible to reach an agreement. ERC also accuse Diaz of not offering a "serious" negotiation because, they allege, she was not willing to change the bill.

Rufián sees a "dangerous precedent"

"When you say that this is what we have and that it cannot be touched because you have agreed on it elsewhere, you do not believe that Parliament is the seat of popular sovereignty, you think it is a notary. For us it marks a very dangerous precedent that we will not accept," said ERC spokesman Gabriel Rufian, who denounced that his party has been subjected to a "process of pressure". In his speech he has stressed that compensation for unfair dismissal is maintained as in the PP reform, as well as the processing wages. "They could do it: first, because they promised it; second, because we proposed it; and third, because they had the numbers and the majority to do it [if endorsed by the PSOE]," he noted.

"The question is not why we don't accept the labour reform, it's why they [United Podemos] do. If they tell you that you have to like the thing as [employer association] CEOE, [conservative think tank] FAES, Santander Bank and Ciudadanos like, who is wrong, you or them? ERC is not today asking the government to fulfil ERC's promises and manifestos. It is only asking it to fulfil its own promises and its manifesto", continued the pro-independence leader. The non-repeal of the PP reform has been a reproach shared by EH Bildu, the BNG, the CUP and even Compromís, which despite voting in favour has pointed out the "excessively high expectations" the executive created.

While the tone with ERC was hard, in line with the negotiation, with the PNV Díaz explored the abstention of the Basque nationalists until the last minute. Their support was subject to establishing the prevalence of the regional agreements over state-wide agreements, which would imply modifying the decree, which was not an option. Diaz's entourage points out that the PNV's abstention could imply Cs changing its position, jeopardising the vote, so that finally there have been no changes. In the negotiation with PNV, issues unrelated to the labour reform had also been addressed, such as the completion of the transfer of the management of minimum vital income to the Basque regional government.

The spokesman for PNV, Aitor Esteban, made it clear that it was essential for his party to maintain the framework of labour relations in the Basque Country and criticized the fact that the strong roots of the Basque trade unions had not been taken into account. In his speech, he regretted that the Socialists aligned themselves with the employers when it comes to not allowing any changes to the bill. "It is intolerable blackmail," he stressed. In this sense, he has been sympathetic to the pressure received from Brussels, but considered that establishing the prevalence of regional agreements did not distort the "core" of the reform.

Diaz has avoided entering the fight and has not answered to the opposition's criticism of the opposition, but in her initial intervention she already regretted that some positions were not based on the content of the reform. "It saddens me, I confess, that a norm that I believe to be the most important this Parliament is substantiated in superficial debates that do not help to overcome the discredit of politics. It makes me sad that the debate is placed in the field of partisan rivalries. I have to admit it: I have not managed to talk about the content of the reform. Instead of trade agreements or the fight against precariousness, I have only heard personal projects, smoke and makeup," she lamented.

This sentence was an attack on ERC, but also on the PP and Cs, which devoted its intervention to celebrate that ERC and EH Bildu were left out of the equation. "ERC loses, Bildu loses and sectarianism loses," stressed Cs leader Inés Arrimadas. On the other side, PP spokeswoman Cuca Gamarra has warned that if her party reaches government it will repeal the Díaz reform.

Recovering alliances

After this vote there remain open wounds in the investiture bloc, but those involved have warned that there has not been an incorrigible turning point. "The world is not coming to an end. We are aware of the alternative," was the first thing Rufián said. "If today there is a fracture, tomorrow it will be time to rebuild. We will work for that," agreed EH Bildu deputy Oskar Matute. The unions have also been left with a bittersweet aftertaste. The leaders of Comisiones Obreras and UGT, Unai Sordo and Josep Maria Álvarez, have witnessed the debate from Parliament. Union sources also point out that it will be necessary to "rebuild" alliances.