"He stripped naked and insulted us for 45 minutes because we wouldn't give him an appointment"
Incidents against SEPE (Spanish State Public Employment Service) workers soar in the wake of the pandemic
It was Maundy Thursday when a man in his fifties showed up at the office that the SEPE (Spanish State Public Employment Service) shares with the SOC (Catalan Employment Service) on Sepúlveda Street in Barcelona. He entered and tried to make an appointment after explaining, in desperation, that he had tried repeatedly by phone and online but there was no way. The workers told him there was nothing they could do. "He went to the office door, undressed - he even took off his mask - and insulted us for 45 minutes because we wouldn't give him an appointment", explains Miguel Ángel García, an Employment Service worker at the office. "The man was very angry, shouting and calling us all kinds of things", he adds. The incident ended when the Mossos d'Esquadra showed up, alerted by security staff, and the man got dressed up and left.
Since the SEPE offices were opened to the public after the strictest lockdown, last July, incidents and threats towards the staff have increased, according to what the unions denounce, by desperate citizens who are fed up with seeing months and months go by and there is no way they can be attended to. "There have been very unpleasant situations, with users who went to the offices to threaten, insult, shout or even physically assault workers who were attending in person", explains the state coordinator of the SEPE UGT Union.
The incidents of maximum tension happened just after the home lockdown, with a large number of furloughed cases to be resolved. In Madrid, for example, there were cases of citizens who waited for employees who were in the office without attending in person to leave work to insult them. "In some cases they hit windows and even broke some of them. It created a certain psychosis", García admits.
"The situation was very difficult: we had not been open to the public for many months, people came to the offices because they could not get in touch with us by phone or internet, with the logical nervousness as a result of not having been paid for months", explains another SEPE worker from another office in Barcelona who prefers to remain anonymous.
Faced with this situation, the SEPE opted to increase security at the offices, which went from having one guard to two. In the case of Sepulveda it increased to five, because there are two offices together. "During this time I have heard many cases of desperation from those affected, which I fully understand. Fortunately, I have not suffered any personal incidents", says García.
The Mossos d'Esquadra, however, have had to be present several times in the office where he works. On another occasion, he recalls, a group of citizens waiting to be attended, taking advantage of the arrival of media, began to shout and denounce the malfunctioning of the SEPE. Despite these incidents, however, Garcia says that in the current context citizens - many of whom continue their desperate battle with the SEPE - "have shown, once again, to have more common sense than our leaders".
Lack of staff
From the UGT Union they assure that the SEPE staff understand the desperation of the users but stress that "in no case" can their situation be blamed on a staff that is "close to collapse", diminished by staff cuts in recent years. By the way: the man who stripped naked was attended to on Tuesday just after Easter.