Entire layer of Spanish youth frozen out from jobs market
A type of age-based apartheid favours those in work and victimises entrants
Nacho Barcena (27) standing outside a state employment office in Madrid last month. He has two degrees and speaks English but is unemployed despite his skills. Photograph: Sergio Perez/Reuters
Going into the recent European leaders’ summit in Brussels, the conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy was in the unusual position of enjoying the wholehearted backing of the Socialist opposition as he lobbied for swift action by the EU to stimulate the youth jobs market.
It was an extremely rare instance of unity between Spain’s main two political parties, usually at odds over everything from abortion to austerity. But it was also a sign of how desperate a problem the lack of jobs for young people has become here.
The overall jobless rate is just over 27 per cent, but with 56.4 per cent of under-25s out of work, youth unemployment is perhaps the most damning legacy of the country’s ongoing economic crisis.
“The Spanish market consistently has a high unemployment rate,” says an official at the CEOE employers’ association, pointing to a labour environment that has historically undermined the prospects of younger workers. “We have a strong duality, with young people having nearly no protection at all and the core workers in the market over-protected.”
Workers on permanent contracts in Spain have traditionally received good salaries, bonuses, up to six weeks’ holiday and the knowledge that they are – and expensive – to fire. Those on temporary contracts, who are often young, don’t enjoy the perks and are much cheaper to lay off.
On taking power 18 months ago, Rajoy said unemployment would be his priority. Yet to the neutral observer he has placed far greater emphasis on slashing the public deficit through austerity as he has sought to meet EU economic targets and ward off a full sovereign bailout.
But there have been initiatives to counter the employment problem. In November of 2012, the government introduced a new dual training contract which borrowed from the German model. It was aimed at encouraging firms to hire young workers while also guaranteeing them a minimum of training. But, eight months on, the scheme has failed to take hold, with businesses complaining that further norms are needed to ensure it benefits both employees and companies.
A sweeping labour reform introduced in the first quarter of 2012 did at least partially address the issue of the market’s wildly contrasting contracts, for example by cutting the cost to firms of firing those on permanent contracts. However, the situation of those on temporary contracts has not improved.
“The labour reform has given us more unemployment and more precarious jobs,” said Tania Pérez, head of the youth wing of the Comisiones Obreras labour union, which led a general strike against the legislation last year.
She says measures within the law designed to incentivise hiring, such as a first year’s employment on a probationary basis for new young staff, are abused by many companies, which often let those workers go once the 12-month test period has passed. They then hire someone else under the same, precarious conditions.