Public employees and the Catalan Government clear on their aims for next year’s salaries and staff numbers

Public employees have taken to the streets to put pressure on the Catalan Government during the negotiation of next year’s budget. The Government proposed 19 measures affecting public employees and aimed at saving €625 million in 2012. They include salary reductions, modifications in working conditions and review “of temporary staff”. Negotiations began on November 30th and, despite some temporary suspensions, they are on-going. The Catalan Government wants to close a deal as soon as possible, and unions want to keep negotiating until next year’s budget approval.

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll

December 14, 2011 10:44 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- Public employees are on guard as the Catalan Government announced in November that in order to meet the 1.3% deficit objective for 2012 most of next year’s budget adjustments will be made by reducing labour costs. Negotiations between the Catalan Government and public employee representatives began on November 30th and are on-going, despite some tensions and temporary suspensions. On Wednesday evening, trade unions wanted to show their strength by demonstrating in front of the Catalan Government Palace in Barcelona and its delegations in Girona, Lleida and Tarragona. Around 6,000 people came together in Barcelona according to local police, and some 1,500-2,000 in each one of the three other cities. They asked the Government not to lay off temporary staff. In addition, union leaders insisted that negotiations have to continue until next year’s final budget is approved. However, the Catalan Government wants to end negotiations with public employee representatives next week, in order to close the budget proposal for next year and focus on parliamentary negotiations with other political parties. On Wednesday, before the start of the demonstration, the Vice President of the Catalan Government, Joana Ortega, who is in charge of public administration and human resource policy, stated that “no temporary employees will be laid off because of the budget”. Despite the announcement, trade unions continued with the scheduled demonstrations. In addition, Ortega proposed that some temporary workers could have their working hours reduced by 30%, and subsequently their salary.

The Catalan Government has to reduce its deficit next year, as it already did this year. All government departments suffered from budget cuts in 2011, which represented a public spending reduction of 10%. The reduction was not the same for all departments with some being affected more than others. In order to meet the 1.3% deficit objective in 2012, the Catalan Government run by the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition ‘Convergència i Unió’ (CiU), proposed a reduction in administration costs as one of its main strategies, in order not to further affect Welfare State services. The Catalan President announced the initiative, just after the Spanish elections. However, the Government is said to be willing to negotiate those cost reductions with trade unions. They began talks on November 30th.

The Government announced 19 measures, saving €625 million

Public employee representatives and the Catalan Government have been sitting around a negotiating table in an aim to find solutions to the grave economic situation. The Government announced a proposal with 19 measures affecting public employees, which aims to save €625 million next year. Some of the measures included are reducing the number of personal days, eliminating meal vouchers and reducing the Christmas bonus. Furthermore, the first measure was a “review in the number of temporary staff”. They are workers who do not have a fixed contract and normally substitute absent permanent members of staff. According to the various different unions, the Government initially intended to lay off some of the temporary workers in order to reduce administration costs. Negotiations have slowly moved forward but both sides agreed that they were finding it difficult to come to an agreement..

Negotiations suspended for several days

On December 2nd, public employees working in the Catalan prison service came together at the gates of Barcelona’s Model Prison, impeding the entrance of other workers to the facilities. The situation became quite tense, and the Catalan Police intervened. In addition, there were some reports of disturbances among prisoners. The Catalan Government, which manages all the prisons in Catalonia, considered the action an intolerable way of putting pressure on the negotiations so they opted to suspend them indefinitely. One week later on Friday December 9th, negotiations recommenced.

Both sides clear on what they hope to achieve

Now, in the middle of the third week of negotiations, both sides are clearer in what they want to achieve and are attempting to do so by reaching the best possible deal. The Catalan Government hopes to have an agreement by next week, preferably on Monday, in order to approve its budget proposal for 2012 and have it sent to the Catalan Parliament. This would leave CiU time to negotiate the final budget for next year in the Parliament and approve the law in early February. However, trade unions do not want to close a deal now and insist in maintaining the negotiations active, even if the budget proposal is already in the Parliament. Trade unions hope to show their strength by demonstrating in Barcelona, Girona, Lleida and Tarragona. At the same time the Catalan Government wanted to send two clear messages on Wednesday: a concession to trade unions and a demonstration of strength. The concession is Joana Ortega’s announcement that “no temporary workers will be laid off for budgetary reasons”.  In exchange, Ortega proposed that some temporary workers could have their working hours reduced by 30%, and subsequently their salary. The proof of strength is Ortega’s announcement that the negotiations will end and an agreement will be reached in a matter of days.