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Low turnout in Spain’s unemployment office SEPE strike

Organising union claim 20% participation for action demanding reinforced workforce and modernisation of computer systems whilst Ministry of Labour say it was only 2.8%


29 March 2021 03:38 PM


ACN | Barcelona

The first day of the strike called by the USO for the workers of Spain’s Public Employment Service (SEPE) has seen a particularly low turnout, only 2.8% of employees not going in to work on March 29, according to Spain’s Ministry of Labour.

For example, in Barcelona, where turnout was notably low, in the central SEPE office only one staff-member went on strike. 

Participation on the first day has been so small that Yolanda Díaz, Spain’s Minister of Labour and Social Economy, has even said that SEPE are “working as normal” and that “there won’t be any delays” to the service.

The organising union (USO), however, have claimed that attendance was actually at 20% of the workforce, while also accusing the body of “boycotting the strike”. They also draw attendance to the differing impact across Spain, Valencia having a particularly high rate of participation. 

Barcelona cyberattack

On March 9, Barcelona SEPE offices faced a cyberattack which prevented them from resolving pre-applications, the most common way to apply for unemployment.

Monday March 29 has been the first day that SEPE employees have been able to start resolving these pre-applications. Before the attack, the queue of these pending requests was at 22,000

This figure is not so bad compared to previous months, but the office still finds itself overwhelmed by the chaos that began in the first months of Covid-19, when around 70% of the requests were not put in the system in due time.

In November 2020, SEPE had still not paid any unemployment benefits to those who reported having lost their jobs August 12 in the Barcelona region – except for the few people who managed to arrange an in-person appointment at the office. 

This March, strikers call for immediate staff reinforcements to meet the workload, update and modernization of computer systems used by office and home-workers as well as improvements in health and safety. 


  • A man speaks to a worker at a Catalan employment office booth (by Lluís Sibils)

  • A man speaks to a worker at a Catalan employment office booth (by Lluís Sibils)