Spain approves new labor regulations with Catalan MPs split

Labor minister celebrates "historic" bill, while pro-independence parties say text not ambitious enough

Spain's Congress on November 11, 2021 (by Congreso de los Diputados)
Spain's Congress on November 11, 2021 (by Congreso de los Diputados) / ACN

ACN | Madrid

February 3, 2022 06:38 PM

The Spanish Congress has passed the new labor market regulations in a close vote on Thursday, with only 175 out of 350 MPs in favor. 

Spain’s labor minister, Unidas Podemos' Yolanda Díaz celebrated the "historic" bill that leaves behind a "precarious" model in place since 2012. The bill was approved by the People’s Party 10 years ago when they had an absolute majority in Congress. 

The vote generated so much expectation up to the last minute. When Congress speaker Meritxell Batet read the number of votes, she got confused so she said the law had been "rejected." Seconds later, when the opposition to the regulation was celebrating, Batet corrected herself. 

The number of votes was expected to be 176, however, two MPs of the Unión del Pueblo Navarro (UPN) voted against their party directive and rejected the bill. That would have meant that the ruling would not have passed as there were 176 votes in favor. 

But, conservative MP Alberto Casero despite voting 'no', the system recorded a 'yes' vote. After asking to vote again, the parliament bureau rejected the request as he had already submitted his vote.

Different opinions among politicians

"I feel sad that this debate is based on simple discussions and on political rivalries," the labor minister said during her speech.

The bill has been in place since December 30, 2021, and Catalan MPs were split on the decision, with 25 of 48 voting in favor. 

However, the Catalan government coalition partners were united in their rejection of the bill. Esquerra Republicana (ERC), who had been in negotiations with Spanish authorities over a potential agreement, does "not work under threats," spokesperson Gabriel Rufián said during the debate. He added that the new norm is just "a revision of 2012 conservative’s party regulation." 

Míriam Nogueras of Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) criticized the new labor market regulations, saying it is based on a social dialogue that "completely ignores Catalan workers, the self-employed, and small- and medium-sized businesses." It does not include "99.8% of Catalan businesses network," she pointed out.  

Other Catalan parties, such as anti-capitalist People’s Unity Candidacy (CUP), warned that the new regulation would not "repeal" the previous bill as employers will still be allowed to fire staff under the same "conditions imposed" by the conservative force 10 years ago, as MP Albert Botrán said.

The only pro-independence party to vote in favor of the bill is the center-right Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT). As rejecting the new labor market regulation, as they claim, would only bring "instability" and "stop the European recovery funds," Bel explained. 

Opposition parties also split in the vote

"Ciudadanos is a sensible political force with state vision," former Catalan opposition leader and spokesperson of Ciudadanos, Inés Arrimadas said. 

This is why they have voted in favor of the norm and celebrates that "thanks to Ciudadanos other parties such as ERC or [Basque Country’s pro-independence party] Bildu lose," Arrimadas claimed. These two forces united "efforts" back on April 20, 2019, after the general elections for a common stance.  

The other major Spanish party, the People’s Party (PP) fully rejected the new regulation. The last bill was passed back in 2012 when they had an absolute majority. Now, they criticized the new law as it is "an objectively bad change," Cuca Gamarra, PP spokesperson said.  

PP believes that the country deserves a "new step ahead" following the 2012 regulation instead of "a step backward" as they claim this is the case with the approved version.   

Trade unions also split 

Society is also split on the new labor market regulation. General Workers Union (UGT), as well as Comissions Obreres (CCOO) trade unions, defended the law. 

They claim it is "the best rights improvement in the last three decades and the most ambitious reform in years," CCOO Pepe Álvarez secretary-general said. 

Both of the unions were part of the negotiation team between the Spanish government, businesses, and workers associations. 

However, in Barcelona, a hundred people protested on Thursday morning as the new law is "treason" to workers. 

Lowest unemployment in 13 years

Unemployment in Catalonia dropped for a fourth consecutive quarter in the final months of 2021, and returned to pre-pandemic levels, according to the latest labor force survey (EPA) published on January 27 by the Spanish statistics institute.

The jobless rate in December 2021 stood at 10.16%, almost 4 points down from the figure one year before; 13.87%. 

Indeed the figure dropped to levels not seen since the third quarter of 2008 (when it stood at 8.8%), 13 years earlier, when the rate began to skyrocket after the financial crisis and reached as high as 24.45% in 2013.