The work department of the Basque Government accumulates the work these days, worth the redundancy. On the one hand, it is the competent authority to give approval to the ERTE of Basque companies and the avalanche is enormous, since it allows SMEs and large companies to temporarily put their workers into unemployment. On the other hand, it must also respond to complaints from unions regarding the lack of security measures. Deputy Minister Jon Azkue explains how they are acting in both matters.
– There are already 8,932 companies that have filed an ERTE in the Basque Country, with 63,241 workers temporarily unemployed. What profile do they have?
– They are companies with an average of seven workers, a true reflection of our fabric. The first to take refuge were those in service sectors closed by decree, such as bars or schools. Later others that have no activity due to the coronavirus have been added. I would like to point out that the affected workers represent 8.2% of the total.
– Do you expect many more?
– I’m afraid so. A few thousand more will enter.
– Do they have the capacity to manage them?
– In ERTE due to force majeure, which is 95% of those that have appeared, we have five days to respond. In the event that we do not answer within that period, the file is understood to be accepted, although our intention is to review them. And that yesterday we received 1,688, which makes one a minute. It is true that there are times when the system hangs, but we are solving it. Everything is designed to give you the maximum possible agility; workers to collect unemployment and companies to free themselves from social security contributions. Once they have been authorized by the ERTE, they are the ones who have to process the unemployment of their workers in the SEPE so that there are no problems on that side.
– But there are many doubts as to when SEPE will pay. It is said to be collapsed.
– That is not my competence.
– There is a clamor from companies, large and small, to be flexible when considering ERTEs as force majeure. Only in this way are they exempt from social contributions and have the procedure in five days.
– The decree already considers ERTE due to force majeure as the main instrument to protect companies and workers affected by the impact of the coronavirus. It is contemplated for most possible situations and we see it as well. Sectors closed by decree can be accepted, but there are also other assumptions such as the high risk of contagion or lack of supply.
“In complaints about lack of security, what the unions said was not followed”
Lots of doubts
– There are many doubts about the possibility of alleging force majeure. I give you two examples: a fish wholesaler who attends restaurants or a construction company that has been left without activity.
– The first is clearly force majeure. The second has more doubts, but could present an ERTE for economic reasons.
–But in that case the company will continue to pay the social contributions. Big ones like Mercedes or Michelin go by force majeure.
– It is that there are assumptions that can be accepted.
– Basque and central government call to keep the activity where possible, but more and more groups are asking for the closure by decree to avail themselves of measures such as the ERTE: architects, engineers, dentists, podiatrists …
– That is the decision of the central government.
– In the industry the debate is very intense. The ELA and LAB unions advocate shutting down everything except essential services.
– It is the central government that determines which sectors to maintain assets and which not. It is a political decision, advised by scientists. As a good sailor, I respect what the captain says. In the non-closed sectors it will be necessary to study the level of production that can be taken, prioritizing health. In some cases it will be 100%; in others 50% or 0%. And to decide that there are means. We are not in the 19th century. All companies, large and small, have an obligation of a prevention service to assess risks. And union prevention delegates participate in decision-making.
– But they don’t agree. In Sidenor, for example, workers stopped the plant because they did not see security. In Aernnova there is the same confrontation. There it is Work that decides.
– If the unions denounce and stop a plant, we have to respond within 24 hours. Our technicians, with the advice of Osalan and Inspection, decide. And in the reported cases, what the unions said was not followed.
– Unions accuse them of folding to employers.
– They know that’s not true. Companies have their prevention services evaluating risks and I don’t think they are lying. On the contrary, they are coming to raise their doubts with Osalan, who is helping them. I am confident in the responsibility of companies not to jeopardize the health of their workers. And I also expect responsibility from the unions to act rationally.
– The plants also say that there is no point in using protective equipment (PPE) in industry when they are needed in the health system.
– The use of masks is not necessary in all places. In many companies operators operate within two meters of each other.
– Are there enough inspectors and technicians to check that security measures are being followed?
– I insist that this work is done by the prevention services, that they are coming to consult with Osalan and the Inspection. We attend to the complaints that arise. And it is acting.
“There are already 4,000 people who have lost their jobs and there will be more”
Workers affected by ERTE will charge 70% of its regulatory base, with a minimum of 500 euros and a maximum of 1,400 euros, although the company could improve it out of pocket. The main advantage they have is that their situation is temporary and that the benefit they consume will be replaced. Furthermore, they are not required a minimum contribution. Workers who are fired or their contract is not renewed are more unprotected.
– The ERTE require to keep the job six months. This can lead companies in sectors such as hospitality to leave out eventuals so as not to assume that commitment.
– I’m afraid that will happen anyway due to the structure of the labor market. From the data we know so far, there are already 4,000 people who have lost their jobs and I am convinced that the number is going to grow much more.
– But perhaps that demand should be lowered.
– I already say that it is not only the condition. It is that there are many short-term contracts that are not going to be renewed. Unfortunately, that is the dynamics of the market.