Politics: Six of One, Half a Dozen of the other!

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Reflections on Life In Spain – WAGE cuts, more unemployment, cuts in public spending… wherever you look the headlines don’t make good reading, regardless of whether you are in Spain or in the UK at the moment. A couple of things spring to mind when looking at the current political and economic situation here in Spain.

Firstly, I wonder what expatriates are feeling right now having fled from these type of headlines in the UK to a life in Spain. And secondly how wonderfully symmetrical it is that in the UK there is in effect a Conservative government trying to correct the mistakes and inactions of a Socialist government, while in Spain, unless things change drastically, there will be a new Conservative government next time round trying to correct the mistakes and inactions of a Socialist government.

Add to the current economic climate, the proposed Smoking Ban in Spain, the increase in the crime rate (did you know that in the summer in Spain domestic violence figures increase because spouses are forced into spending more time together?), and the public sector strikes and all of a sudden the British expatriates must surely feel extremely Spanish, or at least like they have fled from home to home!

Of course it isn’t quite the same in Spain as in the UK, because at least in Spain the current Socialist government led by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, is attempting to put in place what they believe are the correct measures to combat what is widely accepted as being the worst recession in decades which has sent the unemployment rate soaring to more than 20 percent.

The Spanish economy entered the recession at the end of 2008, and emerged two months ago amongst claims from the International Monetary Fund that Spain‘s labour market was too rigid and in need of urgent reform. There was a widely held view amongst many economists that the high jobless rate was a result of the high cost of firing workers in Spain, which makes employers reluctant to hire staff and encourages the use of temporary contracts that have few benefits and rights.

The result has been the recent passing, by just one vote, of the government’s 15 billion euro austerity package, including cuts to public workers’ salaries, and the pushing ahead of the labour reforms, despite criticism, strikes, and polls suggesting it is political suicide.

Recent polls have suggested that, if elections were held today, the opposition Popular Party (PP) would win 45.3 percent of the vote to 33.5 percent for the Socialist Party (PSOE) of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, which would give the PP an absolute majority.

The Labour Reforms are by far the most controversial proposal, and it has to be said more than a little confusing! Zapatero is claiming that the changes will benefit staff, and being a good Socialist chap is adamant that he will not make it easier or cheaper for companies to sack staff or make them redundant. He has been picking and mixing at the smorgasbord of European Labour markets, with a bit of the Austrian Model, which creates a pool of mutual funds made up of contributions from companies to fund redundancy payments, and a sprinkling of the German Model, where, to minimise redundancies all staff hours are cut and wages reduced where possible.

Zapatero says the reforms will ‘allow companies to adapt to economic circumstances’, whilst ‘benefiting employees since they can ‘choose reduced hours and pay over redundancy’, and in addition will help generate confidence in the Spanish economy, although it won’t create any new jobs in the short term.

I must say it all seems very confusing to me, but being in Spain I suspect we should give Snr Zapatero credit for taking the bull by the horns, however late in the day, and I can’t help but wonder if Mr Brown wished he had been as strong as Snr. Zapatero.

General elections are not scheduled in Spain until 2012.

By Chris Marshall

www.almerimarlife.com

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