COVID-19: Report from the Spanish Central Independent and Public Employees’ Trade Union

With the emergency of COVID-19, CESI asked Miguel Borra, President of CSIF, Spanish Central Independent and Public Employees’ Trade Union, an update on the national situation and challenges for the profession deriving from the infection.

I, the national President of CSIF, like all Spaniards, am facing a completely new situation. We Spaniards had never had the experience of confining the population to their homes to prevent the spread of a virus; something that we thought would never happen to us.

This situation represents a challenge, not only of a professional but also of a personal nature.

It is a professional challenge because we are going to continue to work alongside public employees and private sector workers whom we represent and we have had to redouble our efforts to address the doubts, queries, and fears of these workers in the face of a labour scenario that has completely changed.

If we think about it, our work is the same, but isolation makes it more difficult to interact with workers and the administration, something that is the basis of our work. For this reason, this crisis is putting to the test all our organisations and forcing them to adapt and, from my personal point of view, it requires each and every one of us to work even more intensively.

It is a personal challenge because extreme care must be taken to minimise the risk of infection. We need to create new routines and keep our heads busy either working or doing any other activity and, above all, trying to keep our spirits up, since this has only just begun.

Since last Saturday, March 14, Spain is in a health emergency and the government has restricted travel and the movement of people on streets to the most essential tasks (buy food, go to work, etc.)

The whole country is at home under the #YoMeQuedoEnCasa #IStayAtHome. This is the motto spread by the public employees of the health sector to avoid the collapse of health services in Spain.

On Thursday 12 March, CSIF requested the government of Spain to declare a state of health emergency in the face of the alarming data we received from health professionals. This is because the main problem is not the virus itself but rather its impact on the health system due to the swift infection rate that threats to overwhelm it.

At the time of writing this report, the number of those affected by COVID-19 is about 14,000 with 1,081 deaths, when a week ago they barely exceeded 2,000 cases and 50 deaths. And the number continues to rise because experts have confirmed that we have not reached the maximum point of infection. That is why the government is preparing to extend the health emergency for another 15 days.

This official data do not take into account the citizens who are in their homes in quarantine because they present symptoms of COVID-19 and who have not been tested because there are not enough tests. Given this, it is possible that health personnel, who are in quarantine for having been exposed to the virus, do not have it and could return to their jobs if they could be tested and found not to have the virus.

The situation is especially serious in Madrid, which is the region that has registered the most cases, followed by Catalonia, which is approaching 2,000 infected people, and the Basque Country with almost 1,000 people with COVID-19.

In this situation, the sector that is suffering the most from this pandemic in our country is healthcare, for several reasons:

  • Lack of staff. Health personnel, especially in the most affected cities, are working double shifts in order to attend to all patients. They have requested the hiring of at least 25,000 health professionals. In addition, CSIF’s health delegates who work full-time for the union have offered to job-share in order to do their bit.
  • Lack of protective gear for health personnel. Masks, gloves, antiviral protection equipment, etc. The impact of this is that the patients cannot be properly cared for and that health personnel are one of the groups most affected by COVID-19.
  • Lack of beds and means especially in the regions and cities most affected by the health crisis.

CSIF has expressed its recognition, support and thanks to the health public personnel who are making an enormous effort to attend to the growing avalanche of those infected. We must take care of our carers.

Likewise, CSIF has asked the Ministry of Health to guarantee non-on-site work measures in the whole of the public sector to limit the exposure of public employees to the virus and, in accordance with the aim of this health emergency, to maintain social distancing measures to avoid the spread of the virus.

With this in mind, CSIF has proposed measures to promote teleworking or, failing that, provide the service on an availability and location basis for when public worker intervention is really necessary.

Likewise, the lack of means of protection (alcoholic gels or gloves) and inadequate disinfection of public buildings is the general trend in all of the various public sectors in Spain at the moment and this is suffered by those workers who have to attend essential services in their workplaces.

If anything is becoming apparent in this crisis, it is that the cuts in public services, ageing of public sector workforce and the non-replacement of workers come at a price, especially in times of crisis like those we are suffering today.

In the last 10 years, 53,300 jobs have been lost in public administration, 30,000 people will retire this year and the healthcare sector needs 25,000 more professionals to overcome this situation and offer a solid staff structure to provide the standards of quality that citizens require.

That is why CSIF has proposed an ambitious public employment plan to create 100,000 new jobs with which to reinforce the structure of the kind of welfare state to which Spain should aspire.

At CSIF, we are calling on everyone to sign solid agreements, as well as improve the quality of employment. We must dignify and place at the centre of the reforms the group of public employees who, with professionalism and dedication, have kept the state running, contributing to economic recovery and stability commitments.

In the field of private companies, CSIF welcomes the measures adopted yesterday by the government that include 200,000 million  euros to avoid an economic crash and to jump-start the Spanish economy once COVID-19 is defeated (117,000 from the public budget and the rest from the private sector) but calls for its scope to be broadened by introducing:

  • more flexibility in working time schedules,
  • an increase to the number of labour inspection staff to monitor the suspension of contracts, temporary redundancy dismissal procedures and shortened working hours caused by this crisis,
  • more protective measures against the virus for all workers, including the disinfection of workplaces,
  • measures that facilitate teleworking and organisational changes in companies during the duration of the pandemic.

Before I close, I would like to voice our CSIF solidarity to the great CESI family, starting with the Secretariat staff as well as each and every member organisation and its affiliates. We offer our support and wish strength to the colleagues from those countries that are passing through the worst part of this infection, like Italy, and, particularly to all those who are directly or indirectly suffering the impact of COVID-19 personally, in their families and friends. We wish all a speedy recovery.

We are at your disposal for whatever you need.

Hoping to see you again soon in Brussels, in Madrid or in any CESI event. Sending a big hug from Spain.

Take care and keep safe.

Miguel Borra

CSIF President

Spanish Central Independent and Public Employees’ Trade Union