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Uncertainty reigns among Catalonia's vehicle repair shops

With only 30% of workshops open to service essential vehicles, associations in the sector demand clear and more effective government measures

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02 April 2020 06:21 PM

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ACN|Barcelona

The health crisis has brought uncertainty to Catalonia's vehicle repair shops, with confusion over whether the restrictions imposed by the authorities allow them to work, difficulty in ordering spare parts, and financial measures that do not apply to many in the sector.

Almost 70% of repair shops are closed, with those that remain open mainly servicing vehicles considered essential, such as police cars or ambulances. "Only 30% are providing a minimum service," says the head of the Corve vehicle and repair association, Jordi Solà.

"The Spanish government's directive did not make it very clear what we had to do," says Jaume Roura, who heads Catalonia's association of vehicle vendors, Fecavem, "but the message that came out of business associations is that workshops had to close."

Yet even those repair shops that continue to work behind closed doors, servicing mostly emergency vehicles, have had to reduce their staff due to the drop in demand, and are now also finding it increasingly difficult to get the spare parts they need.

"Most suppliers have only a minimum service and some have closed; the parts do not arrive or do so late, and that means some vehicles for essential services could be out of action for days," says the owner of a workshop in Riudellots de la Selva, Narcís Panella.

4,500 mechanics temporarily laid off in Girona

Since the covid-19 crisis started, demand has plummeted and Panella has had to temporarily lay off 15 of his 22 employees. Yet, he is not alone, as the Corve association says that in the Girona region some 4,500 mechanics have been dismissed. 

The head of Corve also points out that mechanics find themselves in "a very compromising situation," as the sector is mainly made up of self-employed people or companies that employ only five people on average.

According to Solà, whose association includes some 800 companies in the sector in the Girona region, "it's not very clear how we will able to benefit from the financial measures put forward by the Spanish government."

That's why the Corve association wants financial measures for the sector that are "more specific and effective," such as allowing firms and freelancers to defer sales and income tax payments, and that are above all "clear" and do not require interpretation.

Lleida's workshops still servicing farming vehicles

Meanwhile, in the western province of Lleida, those repair shops that are still working are mostly servicing agricultural vehicles, as farming is an essential activity. However, the local association of vehicle firms says the quantity of work is "insufficient."

The association also complains about the lack of clarity in the directives: "We're not considered an essential activity, but we provide services to sectors that are, and that's why we can't close repair shops completely," they say.

The sector in Lleida has also seen temporary dismissals, while those that remain working are sometimes reported: "Police come and we have to explain to them that we are repairing a car of a supermarket worker or police officer." So far no one has been charged.

Information not communicated "well or quickly," says sector head

In the southern region of Tarragona, too, the sector complains about the directives. "Every time the rules change, the information is not communicated either well or quickly," says Emili Beltran, secretary-general of the Astave vehicle sales and repair association.

Beltran says there have been some situations that "make no sense," and he gives one example of a mechanic who was detained by local police when he was traveling to work in order to repair a Catalan police car.

The association explains that the repair shops that are still open are working behind closed doors and that they only service essential vehicles, such as those used for transporting goods, or those used by health professionals.

The Astave association estimates that half of all workshops in Tarragona have applied to lay off employees. They also complain that some applications have been rejected when it is "obvious" that they cannot work because of the covid-19 crisis.

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  • A mechanic repairing a car in Riudellots de la Selva (by Xavier Pi)

  • A mechanic repairing a car in Riudellots de la Selva (by Xavier Pi)

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