“It is necessary to strengthen the diversification of the Spanish economy”


The economic crisis derived from COVID has had a strong impact on employment. Many people lost their jobs and many others continue in ERTE. What is your assessment of the situation in the labor market, worldwide, and in particular in Spain?

The impact of the health crisis on the economy and employment has been brutal. In the second quarter of 2020, as many hours of work were lost as the equivalent of 490 million jobs worldwide. Informal workers, who are the majority in some regions of the world, have been the most affected because they lost their jobs and income, and also women because the social health sector, one of the most affected, is made up mainly of women. Likewise, it has had a great impact on immigrants because they had a position of greater weakness. And one of the sectors that has suffered the most has been tourism. In those countries or territories where this sector is a fundamental part of the economy and employment, its impact has been much greater.

How do you rate the measures that have been taken in Spain to support employment?

In Spain there is a social protection system and it has a tripartite social dialogue that has been very active and has made it possible to articulate protection responses such as the Temporary Employment Regulation Files (ERTE), which have been key to saving employment and Business. Unlike the previous crisis, when there were no such instruments, the difficulties in many cases led to the closure of companies and the loss of jobs. There has been a social shield, not only in Spain, but also in Europe, even with higher levels of protection. In Spain, and we as the ILO, have appreciated the value of social dialogue to respond to a situation that was not easy.

Spain was coming out of the previous economic crisis, but had not yet come out of the social crisis, when it encountered this situation and thanks to social dialogue it has managed to cushion the worst effects

Joaquín Nieto has headed the ILO office in Spain since 2011. Before taking up this position, he was at CCOO and has held prominent responsibilities, including vice president and member of the National Commission for Health and Safety at Work. In addition, he was president and co-founder of SustainLabour, International Labor Foundation for Sustainable Development.

Another consequence of the pandemic has been the generalization of teleworking.

Teleworking has seen a dizzying expansion. It is true that it was already knocking on the door due to the digital transformation of economies and new forms of work organization, but with the pandemic it has spread and that has generated some problems, because it is not the same that it is mandatory than voluntary. Teleworking has come to stay, but it must meet certain conditions, that it is voluntary, that it is developed through agreements between companies and workers, in ergonomic workplaces, that there are working time controls, the right to digital disconnection … a series of elements that will also result in an improvement in productivity.

In addition, a law has been approved to regulate remote work …

Unlike what usually happens, that Spain joins modernization processes too late, in this case it has acted early. It has also had an early action, and we value it highly as an international organization, in regulating certain jobs on platforms, such as riders. Likewise, it has had an early foray into the right of workers and their representatives to participate and control algorithms in what affects the organization of work and people.

What do you think are the main defects in the Spanish labor market?

Structural weaknesses have to do with the production model. The high unemployment rates that exist in Spain have to do with production models that are excessively dependent on certain activities. Yesterday it was for construction, today it is for tourism, with a level of internationalized industrialization that is too weak, with progress in the environmental transition also too weak. More modernized, more internationalized and environmentally more advanced systems would be needed. In this situation you will also have higher employment rates and a higher quality of employment.

Do you have to change the labor legislation?

With the same labor laws, there are territories in Spain that have half or three times less unemployment than others and there are territories whose jobs are more stable and are better paid. This has to do with the design and the reality of each one’s production model. That said, it also has to do with the temporality and quality of employment, not so much the quantity, it also has to do with labor laws.

Spain is undergoing a transformation process that is going to accelerate after the pandemic with economic and social recovery because it is a process of international transformation towards digitization, towards the ecological and energy transition, which is at the same time an opportunity for Spain to change your production model and make it more diversified. Social dialogue will be key to making these transformations and strengthening the quantity and quality of employment.

Should changes be made in the tourism field?

Tourism will always be important in the Spanish economy and particularly in some territories. It is one thing that it is important and another thing is that its dimension generates what we have called a monoculture. It will also be better for tourism if the set of activities is more diversified and more balanced. In this sense, it is necessary to strengthen the diversification of Spanish economic activity. Tourism will have to make some internal changes in two dimensions, in the social and environmental dimensions. Socially, because in recent years, the economic recovery of tourism has not been accompanied by a social recovery

Income has been distributed unevenly and there are even groups that have experienced an accused and unfair reduction in their remuneration

This is the case of the chambermaids, known as kellys, who have gone from earning more than 1,000 euros to 700 overnight. Issues like this have deteriorated the socio-labor conditions of the sector and it cannot be allowed because the quality of care has a lot to do with the quality of the people who have to provide that care.

And from an environmental perspective …

In this sense, the tourism sector has come a long way, it has reconsidered issues that it did not value before. It has incorporated environmental criteria into management, but the transformation is still insufficient. The impact on the territory is excessive and this in the long run has negative repercussions on the tourist activity itself. Integration in the environment still has a long way to go and it is necessary for the sector to consider its future prospects, knowing that its relationship with the territory has some weakness that must be corrected.

We collaborate with the World Tourism Organization and we know that our colleagues are very strongly about promoting what is called responsibly sustainable tourism throughout the world.

What will digitization mean for the labor market?

It must be done with a just transition, which involves accompanying people in this type of process, offering them guarantees that they will have social protection, that they will not run out of income, that they will have training to be able to stay in the same company or in another company if in these processes some sectors replace others and that in any case employment is going to be, as we call it, decent work. That is, with a contract, without discrimination, in health and safety conditions, with an income that allows a dignified life and with social protection.