Monday, February 26

When purity leads to precariousness

Listening to some criticism of Royal Decree Law 32/2021, I have the feeling that they refer to a different text than the one published in the BOE.

That the Popular Party opposes the validation has all its logic. This is how it maintains its strategy of tension and political destabilization. In this case, confronting a Law that supposes a double challenge to its Decree of 2012. Because of its content and because it is the result of a social consultation agreement between the government, unions and employers.

VOX is also consistent, a party that represents the most extreme version of class ultra-interventionism in favor of economic powers, combining political authoritarianism and economic neoliberalism.

On the other hand, it is much more difficult to understand the opposition of some parties located on the left, which in 2012 spoke out against the PP Decree and have now announced their no to the validation of the Decree Law agreed within the framework of social dialogue.

There is no doubt that the reasons given by ERC, Bildu, CUP and BNG to vote against the agreed labor reform are different from those of the extreme right and the extreme right. But the result, if his no is successful, would be the same, reinstate the validity of the Rajoy Decree with all the job insecurity that this entails.

All criticisms are legitimate, but some show great ignorance of what happens in companies. Especially when it is stated that this reform is just smoke or simple makeup.

Those who set as their goal the full repeal of the PP’s labor reform were wrong. But those who now value Royal Decree Law 32/2021 only in reference to the Decree of 2012 are also wrong.

The approved Law represents a clear discontinuity with respect to the labor policy of the last four decades. It breaks unequivocally with the ideological foundations that have justified all labor legislation, with some exceptions, since the reform of the workers’ statute of 1984

During these years job stability has been presented as an obstacle to job creation. That is why temporary contracts have been legally incentivized and their fraudulent use has been allowed – with derisory sanctions. And in parallel, dismissal has been facilitated as the main employment adjustment mechanism.

At the same time, it has been theorized that the rights of workers are an obstacle to an efficient organization of work. And that is why business unilateralism has been imposed, dressing it with the elegant qualifier of flexibility.

In the same logic are wage devaluation policies, which had a critical moment with the legalization in 1994 of a Temporary Employment Agency model, which did not guarantee wage equality for its workers with those of the main company. And they reached their zenith when the Decree of the PP set the application priority, in salary matters, of the company agreements as opposed to the sectoral. This commitment to precariousness, low wages and corporate dumping as a competitive strategy has been reinforced by the unlimited use of subcontracting.

The Decree Law that is submitted for validation by Congress represents a clear break with this conception of labor relations. Of course, it does not repeal all the precarious legislation. No one, honestly, can say that this is achieved with a legislative stroke of the pen. But it can be affirmed that the agreed reform involves a significant disruption in relation to the labor policy of these years, at least in four very important areas.

There is a clear commitment to indefinite hiring as a rule and temporary employment as an exception, very limited in the assumptions and demanding in the requirements. The outsourcing of business risks and costs is limited by limiting precarious subcontracting.

A RED mechanism is also created, for flexibility and stabilization in employment, which promotes the suspension of contracts and the reduction of the working day as an alternative to dismissal. And it establishes that its authorization corresponds to the labor authority. This, together with the actions foreseen in the new Strategic Plan of the Labor Inspection in the regulatory files, entails a greater intervention capacity of the Autonomous Communities. Also in Catalonia, if there is political will, of course.

Finally, the balance between the parties in collective bargaining is restored, which is a determining instrument to guarantee rights and a factor of solidarity among workers.

This rule is not the first to move in this direction. Before, the objective dismissal for medical leave was repealed, even if they were justified. The ‘Rider Law’ was approved to guarantee the rights of people dedicated to distribution in the field of digital platforms. The rights of workers’ representatives were expanded in the face of the use of algorithms by companies. Not forgetting the successive and important increases in the minimum wage. I am very much afraid that if the validation of the Decree Law is truncated, the possibility of doing more things in this direction will also be blocked.

Those who say that all this is smoke should talk to the companies that are taking advantage of the transition period until March 30 to modify their hiring policy and even the organization of work. For example, companies linked to the tourism sector with many abusive temporary contracts that must now be transformed. Or companies in the health sectors whose human resources managers know that they will no longer be able to make temporary contracts from day to day. Or those companies that discharged and discharged their workers on weekends.

Those who say that nothing is going to change should talk to the workers who have had their agreements blocked for years by the bosses. Or they should ask the people who work for the so-called Multiservice Companies, created solely to be able to reduce rights and wages.

Those who insist that it is a mere make-up should talk to the people who work in subcontracted companies and to whom the agreements cannot now be applied fake and their salaries will have to increase because they will be those of the sector. In this journey through the companies, I suggest that they speak especially with women, young people and immigrants, the main beneficiaries of this reform, because they are the ones who suffer the most precarious conditions.

If after these conversations with workers and companies they are not convinced of the intensity of the change, they could meet with the labor inspectors to explain the changes introduced in terms of infractions. Perhaps in this way they will confirm the importance that from now on each fraudulent temporary contract will lead to a sanction, putting an end to a perverse situation in which companies received the same sanction regardless of whether they had one or a hundred temporary contracts in fraud of the law. The dissuasive effect of this new system of sanctions can be very important in limiting abusive temporality.

Those who emphasize that the agreed reform does not touch the dismissal regime are right. Although they forget that, while the amount of compensation is important for people with more seniority, it is much less important for those subjected to temporary work and constant rotation. And that for all of them the important thing is to avoid layoffs as a mechanism for adjusting employment. In this direction, the RED mechanism can be an alternative, as has been shown with the ERTE, which during the pandemic have managed to save thousands of companies and jobs. We cannot know in advance its usefulness, but we do know that it is a significant change in orientation in employment policy.

I can share the doubts about whether this reform is going to mean a significant reversal of the model stuck for four decades. Precariousness acts like a coronavirus that constantly mutates and adopts new variants to elude the protective action of the law and collective bargaining. What I do dare to affirm from my own experience is that, if changes are minimized and restrictive interpretations are made of them, business strategies that are committed to maintaining precariousness are being facilitated.

I do not know if those who oppose this reform because they consider it insufficient, rather than regressive –which in pure logic does not justify the rejection of validation– are aware of the dimension of these changes. I do not rule out that some of them wish that their position against the Decree Law does not prosper and the reform is approved with the votes of other parties.

This is a frequent attitude in politics, also in trade unionism. Let others be the ones who get wet in order to stay with the flag of purity and incidentally criticize those who assume responsibilities and contradictions. Their problem is that, in the eyes of working people, they may appear to be irrelevant to guaranteeing their rights.