With Fernando Medina

“Spain’s tourism industry has disappeared”

The officer in charge of institutional matters at the International Union Action Secretariat of the Services Federation of Spain’s labor confederation Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) spoke with La Rel about how the pandemic is impacting the country’s tourism industry, one of the worst hit by the current health crisis.

Fernando Medina | Photo: Gerardo Iglesias

-Given that tourism is one of the industries that contribute most to Spain’s GDP, how is the pandemic affecting workers in this area?
-Spain’s tourism industry has disappeared.

In 2019, Spain welcomed 109 million foreign tourists who brought some 93 billion euros into the country, so this health crisis, which is global, has dealt a crushing blow to the sector.

Hundreds of business establishments are closed and thousands of workers have lost their jobs.

With the exception of food delivery and hospital catering services, which are still operating, all other activities are at a standstill.

-Both CCOO and UGT (the General Workers’ Confederation of Spain) have been negotiating mitigation measures with the government. How is that process going?
-That’s correct. In both federations we are working on joint proposals to address the crisis caused by the pandemic.

In that sense, together with the business associations and the government, it was decided that temporary employment regulation schemes (ERTE)* would be applied to minimize the loss of wages for the month in which business establishments were shut down by decree. But seeing that the crisis will go on for longer than expected, we are now negotiating extensions of the ERTEs for at least six months.

-How many workers in the sector are affected by COVID-19?
-The percentage is extremely high. An estimated 1.3 million workers lost their job, including both workers with a permanent contract and those who worked under seasonal contracts.

This past Monday, May 4, the government authorized the reopening of some coffee shops, those with outdoor sitting areas, and it also authorized people to buy take-out from restaurants.

But these measures are minor. We’re thinking that the tourism industry will take much longer to recover. Europe won’t be opening its borders until at least July of this year and when it does there are no guarantees that the industry will be reactivated.

Right now the only certainty we have is that everything is uncertain. As things stand, our priority as a labor federation is to minimize the impact of the health crisis on workers, in an industry that accounts for almost 14 percent of Spain’s GDP.

* Under ERTEs workers are temporarily laid off due to exceptional circumstances affecting the industry, but they are still technically employed by the company, receiving unemployment benefits from the government, while their employers continue to pay their social security contributions and are bound to reinstate them once the ERTE period expires.