Administrations will have three years to fill interim positions with permanent staff

Public workers' unions denounce reform will leave civil servants who have been working for decades out on the street

3 min
The new Minister of Territorial Policy, Miquel Iceta

MadridThe Spanish government is preparing a major legal change to put an end to the high rate of temporary employment in the public sector. The Minister of Territorial Policy and Public Function, Miquel Iceta, announced on Thursday that the executive will reform the Basic Statute of the Public Employee (EBEP) to force all public administrations - including town and city councils - to fill positions that are currently occupied by temporary workers with permanent staff within a maximum period of three years. Staff with temporary contracts working directly for the State is around 8%, while it soars to 30% in the case of regional administrations. In the Generalitat, it reaches 32%. With the reform, the central government wants temporality to be kept under 8% in all public administrations.

"The goal is to develop objective measures to prevent and punish abuse and fraud in temporary employment, to emphasise its exceptionality and to limit its maximum duration," Iceta explained in an appearance in the Senate. The Spanish government points out that a large part of the problem of temporary employment is concentrated in education and health. In these two sectors, the percentage of temporary workers is between 30% and 40%.

The Basic Statute already limits interim employment in public administrations, but the unions denounce that it is not being complied with. Iceta has admitted that the problem exists and has attributed it, among other factors, to the austerity policies of recent years that have aggravated temporariness. The minister has also recalled that between 2012 and 2015 - under the mandate of Mariano Rajoy - the rates of replacement of civil servant posts were 0%. "The administrations that had to continue providing services were forced to hire interim staff," he explained. "Some temporariness is acceptable and even necessary in some circumstances, but if a person performs a task in the administration that is permanent, the most normal thing is that he or she performs it with a permanent contract and not from a temporariness that makes employment precarious," he has stressed.

Pressure from the European Commission

Brussels has been pressuring Spain for years to reduce the rate of temporary workers in the public sector. It is one of the recurring recommendations of the European Commission in the economic reports on Spain. Now the executive of Pedro Sánchez has included changes to the Basic Statute in the list of reforms included in the recovery and resilience plan. In the document that the Moncloa will send to Brussels, Sánchez is committed to promoting the reform of the public sector before 2022. It is a commitment that Spain acquires in exchange for the 140,000 million euros that it will receive to boost the economy, badly hurt by the pandemic.

In the Senate, the head of Public Function has assured that before the summer there should be an agreement between regions, town and city councils and trade unions on some aspects of the reform. The Spanish government plans to approve a preliminary draft of the civil service law and a decree to legislate on teleworking in the public sector in September. The Public Employment Offer 2021 will also be approved in June.

The reform will go beyond the reduction of temporary employment. The Spanish government wants to modernise the civil service to make it more "productive, efficient and motivating". Among the plans that the ministry has is a new strategy to reform access to public employment and implement a plan to attract talent.

Criticism from civil servants

The unions of public workers have spent years denouncing an abuse of temporary contracts by administrations, but criticise Iceta's announcement. They seek to regularise the situation of temporary workers who have been working for years and are against new public sector examinations which could see workers who have been in their posts for decades lose their jobs. The spokeswoman for the Plataforma d'Interins/es a Catalunya (PIC), Cristina Gruas, says that "we are facing a very serious situation" because the reform "will leave a whole group of people on the street, many of whom are over 50 years old and will find themselves in a difficult situation in the labour market". According to the PIC, there are 95,000 temporary workers in the Catalan administrations.

During the appearance of the Minister of Public Function in the Senate, a group of civil servants have demonstrated to demand an end to the high number of interim positions, despite making it clear that they are opposed to the reform proposed by the Spanish government.

According to ministry figures, 51% of civil servants will retire in the next 10 years. Currently, only 12% of public workers in state administrations are under 40 years old.