Tuesday, July 5

The Murcian hotel industry: precariousness, fed up and flight of waiters

June 21 is approaching, a date marked by the start of summer, and the waves of tourists who contribute each year to boosting the Spanish economy. In this season in which the coasts are flooded with travelers, the staff of the hospitality sector is conspicuous by its absence. In this sense, the Region of Murcia is ahead of the neighboring provinces. The cause? The poor working conditions backed by a Collective Bargaining Agreement that has not been renewed for fourteen years, and the reluctance of employers and unions to give their arm to twist.

Teresa Fuentes, General Secretary of the Federation of Workers Commission Services -CCOO- in the Region of Murcia, attributes the delay in the renewal of the agreement to two key points. On the one hand, the salary increase proposed by the employer. On the other hand, the request of the representatives of the employers to withdraw the Temporary Disability Supplement -IT- for common illnesses, a condition that the unions are not willing to assume because it would mean “depriving workers of rights that were already consolidated”.

Jesús Jiménez, President of the Regional Federation of Hospitality and Tourism Entrepreneurs -HOyTU-, considers the wage increase requested by CCOO and the General Union of Workers -UGT- “totally unaffordable”, since it would harm a sector “battered by the crisis pandemic”.

Looking for better conditions

In the Region of Murcia, workers in the sector are moving to other Spanish provinces in search of better conditions and, specifically, better wages. The number of waiters who decide to look for work in Almería and Alicante is remarkable. In the latter case and according to Report on the Murcian hospitality of CCOO and UGT, moving a few kilometers further means charging around 250 euros per month more. The contrast will be greater when the 4.5 percent salary increase, agreed this May between the unions and the Alicante business community, is applied in Alicante.

“The Region of Murcia has, at a tourist level, great potential. The problem is that it is a giant with feet of clay, because it is useless for tourists to arrive if the main actors, who are the workers, are paid a pittance”, laments Iñaki, a member of the works council of the hotel in which He has been working and employed in the hospitality sector for 35 years. The reason for this flight to other regions is reflected in the aforementioned union report, where the wage contrast between neighboring coastal provinces can be seen.

But the leakage is not only between geographic areas, but also between sectors. José has been in the profession for 20 years and currently works as a cook. They have always treated him well and he is satisfied with his work. Even so, for him, the split days are the stone that slips into the shoe of the hospitality industry. “I understand the employer and that he cannot hire a different staff for each meal shift. But, with the day split, you hook up in the morning and come back in the afternoon. You have two or three hours in between, but you can’t get involved, because you have to come back right away”. For the chef, this is one of the reasons why people seek positions in other fields.

Iñaki agrees, since many hours and little free time are equivalent to a continuous feeling of always working, especially in summer, when the days are longer. “There are people who go out later at night instead of sleeping, because it is the only time they have left. These people drink and even flirt with drugs to get through certain days,” he alleges.

Partial contracts are part of the problem. Jennifer has been working in hospitality since the summer of 2019, normally in the summer season. Her first experience in her sector was in a beach bar, where she never had a contract. Her transfer to a restaurant near La Manga did not improve her quality of life. “They only discharged me half a day and I did a full day and more. They told me that if they did it that way, they could give me what they saved on social security. I wasn’t stupid, but I needed the job.” Jennifer was deprived of her day off at both locations and worked under conditions that she herself describes as “psychological abuse.” “Most of the people I have worked with are people in need: minors, undocumented immigrants… people who have no choice but to accept whatever they are given for fear of being fired.”

“Most of those who accept bad conditions do so out of necessity”

The lack of a good public transport offer both on the coast and inland has influenced the reduction of hotel staff, says Iñaki. Without a driver’s license or money to pay rising fuel prices, workers “get discouraged.”

The turning point was reached in the pandemic. Workers who put in between eight and ten hours, without being included in the contracts, ended up included in the Temporary Employment Regulation Files -ERTE- enabled by the Government to alleviate the economic consequences of the virus. According to him Official State Gazette -BOE-, at the time of collecting it, 70 per cent gross of the quoted salary was received, which in many cases was synonymous with a very small figure. Teresa Fuentes recalls that “there were fathers and mothers of families who received 400 euros through the ERTE”, people who needed a salary to be able to support their family, and who found it in other sectors. “When you already have the noose around your neck, you do whatever it takes,” she declares.

The oldest hospitality agreement in Spain

The Hospitality Agreement of the Region of Murcia has been practically frozen since 2008, with the only intervention of a rise in salary tables carried out in 2017, the year in which negotiations began between unions and employers to update the oldest Hospitality Agreement in Spain. The global pandemic and the growing rise in the CPI show the need for a renewal of the aforementioned agreement.

What prevents reaching a consensus? “Where the heart of the matter lies is, first, in the temporary disability supplement, which the employer wants to withdraw in the case of common illnesses”, confirms Teresa Fuentes. According to her, this would be acceptable if the workers did not have such low salaries. The employers proposed a progressive salary increase of 5-6 percent in two years and the coverage of an annual common sick leave. “The unions are willing to give in to the first, but only if rights are not eliminated through the IT complement”, explains the Secretary.

Today, with the notable rise in the Consumer Price Index and the inflation that Spain is experiencing, Fuentes estimates that Murcian hoteliers have lost more than 20 percent of their purchasing power, since their salaries are not growing. “Murcia depends on the rise in the Interprofessional Minimum Wage -SMI- so that their own wages rise.” The Secretary General assures that in other territories the salary of a cook or waiter is above the SMI. This is not the Murcian case. “We have one of the lowest salaries in Spain and yet the employers accuse us of demagoguery for wanting to balance it,” he laments.

Faced with the problem, the Autonomous Community states that it is at the disposal of what both unions and employers need, although it does not consider that it is within its powers. “The negotiation in this area is an exclusive matter of the representatives of the workers and the unions”, explains Marcos Ortuño, Minister of the Presidency, Tourism, Culture and Sports of the Region of Murcia. HOyTu agrees with the counselor, but the same does not happen with the Workers’ Commissions. “The autonomous community should intervene to put pressure on employers with the aim of signing a decent agreement,” Fuentes denounces.

Iñaki says that when he arrived in the region in 2005, there was “a lot of work” and conditions were “very good.” Three years later, the new collective agreement was born, and after the 2008 crisis, labor reforms were made that negatively affected workers. Purchasing power has been declining until reaching current levels. “Everything has evolved, except for the figure of the waiter, who has been stuck with the agreement that supports it.”