Thursday, October 28

Officials return to office amid union protests because they have only one telework day

The incidence of the pandemic is at minimum levels and the limitations assumed by health issues are beginning to be lifted. Among other fields, public officials and workers are some of those affected by the easing of these measures and, especially, what refers to teleworking. This Friday the latest order of the Ministry of Finance and Public Function comes into force, which reduces the distance work of almost 230,000 workers of the General State Administration to a single maximum day.

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This order, however, comes with the rejection of the main unions of the collective, CCOO, UGT and CSIF, which did not sign this decision when they were called by the Ministry, as indicated by the different union centrals. The unions point out that they were given as “fait accompli” without the possibility of negotiating what the long-term situation will be for these workers. In any case, this regulation does not imply the regulation of teleworking, but rather a return to a situation already similar to the one that existed before the health crisis.

The workers who return this Friday to a model of four days in person and only one at a distance are those who belong to the General State Administration. That is, all those who work for the different ministries, autonomous bodies, public business entities and state agencies, among others. They add up to a group of 229,348 workers who to date, if their position allowed it, had been working four days at home and one in person.

To understand the situation that opens this Friday for thousands of officials, we must go back to June 17, 2020. After the confinement caused by the pandemic, the Ministry of Territorial Policy and Public Function, then led by Carolina Darias, and the unions signed an agreement for the teleworking of public personnel. The intention was thus to facilitate conciliation for those with the most problems to reconcile personal life and work or those most vulnerable to illness. It was contemplated, whenever conditions allowed, to work up to four days from home and one at work.

This has been the case to date. The Basic Statute of Public Employees was modified to be able to include the modality of teleworking in the public function, until now not contemplated, that is, before there was no remote work for these civil servants. But the decision to allow four days of teleworking and one face-to-face was temporary and linked to the pandemic. Temporality that now comes to an end due to the improvement of sanitary conditions, the advance of vaccination and the fall in the accumulated incidence. Only those workers who are immunosuppressed, undergoing cancer treatment, in quarantine or in certain territories abroad are excluded from this change.

But between that June 17, when it was decided to regulate teleworking due to the pandemic, and this October 1, there have been different movements to make teleworking a permanent reality, as long as the position and the department allowed it. Those movements came to fruition on April 12 in an agreement signed by the unions and the Ministry of Territorial Policy and Public Function, at that time led by Miquel Iceta. This agreement contemplated three days of teleworking and two in person, always on a voluntary and reversible basis and with the condition that the employee had a minimum of one year seniority in that position.

That agreement had to become a Royal Decree that would formalize the conditions of teleworking. As detailed by the unions, this process was to be completed in September, without any change in this regard. In between, there is another important date. On July 10, Pedro Sánchez remodels the Government, Iceta goes to the Ministry of Culture and Sports, while the Public Function goes from Territorial Policy to Finance, so María Jesús Montero is the new head of the branch.

The unions assure that there is “anger”, “annoyance” and even “ignorance” among public workers and they demand that the Secretary of State for Public Function resume the negotiation to turn the agreement that was signed with Iceta into a normative reality and that telework becomes a permanent tool in the administration.

Royal Decree Law in the shortest possible time

The Ministry of Finance and Public Function clarifies that one issue is the return to the situation prior to the pandemic, given the improvement in the health situation, and another is the agreement that was signed with Iceta. Public Function sources indicate that work is being done to convert that agreement into a Royal Decree Law in the shortest possible time, although no date is set for it. The plan is to comply with what has already been sealed with the unions.

The different organizations protested the publication of the Ministry’s order to limit teleworking to one day a week. UGT denounced the “confusion” by the Administration, which “constantly changes its criteria, even going so far as to propose its intention to make the non-face-to-face mode of service provision disappear.” From the union they point out that it is an inconvenience for many employees who go from working only one face-to-face day to doing four and, in the coming months, to return to an intermediate system, since it “complicates the organization.”

For their part, from CSIF they recalled this Thursday that the Ministry’s resolution introduces other changes regarding the operation to date due to the pandemic. One of them is the one referred to the meetings, which in general will be face-to-face or mixed. In addition, the travel ban is lifted, although videoconferencing will continue to be prioritized, as will training courses and selective tests.

Waiting for salary negotiation

It is not the only open front that has the Public Function, and therefore the Ministry of Finance. The imminent approval of the General State Budgets requires a preliminary step. The Ministry must convene the General Negotiation Table of the Public Administrations, which brings together the different levels of the administration and the representatives of the workers to determine what the salary increase of the civil servants will be.

This meeting seems imminent. The Government must bring the table together before the Council of Ministers approves the Budget bill and sends it to Congress. This law is pending that the two partners of the Executive, PSOE and United We Can, unblock an agreement that has had as main obstacles the housing law and the corporate tax reform to add a minimum of 15% for large companies. The second of the points has been unlocked in the last few days, facilitating the next approval of the accounts, which should be in the next few weeks.

The unions trust that the Ministry will summon them with enough time to be able to negotiate the rise and that they are not a fait accompli, as they claim that it has occurred with the new face-to-face system. CCOO, the majority union in the public service, announced this Wednesday that it had sent a letter to the Ministry to convene the meeting. “We insist on the need for the urgent convocation of the table for the negotiation of the General State Budgets for 2022 so that the employees and public employees, and also the workers of the business public sector, see their efforts recognized beyond the good words, applause or acknowledgments, “he said.

The objective of the unions in this negotiation is, they point out, to continue recovering purchasing power and they coincide in requesting that a joint negotiation be carried out for next year and the following, until the end of the legislature. In addition, they intend to bring to the table the issues related to public job offers, to eliminate the replacement rate that sets how many of the retired officials must be replaced, and to increase the workforce of certain organizations that have dragged problems for a long time such as the SEPE or the Tax Agency.

‘A topic a day’ is the new daily podcast of, with Juanlu Sánchez. You have more information here and you can follow it on Podimo and other platforms.

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