The Spanish Central Independent and Public Employees’ Trade Union (CSIF) before the Supreme Court vs Ministry of Health in Spain

As at 31 May 2020, according to official figures in Spain, a total of 238,564 cases of SARS CoV-2 had been confirmed and the total of 27,121 had been confirmed through polymerise chain reaction (PCR) testing.

With such figures, Spain is the country with the second-highest death rate per 100,000 inhabitants, surpassed only by Belgium and higher than in countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy or France, which certainly have a higher number of recorded deaths than in Spain, but whose populations are considerably larger.

The real figures are not known at this moment in time. A recent government statistical study raises the number of infected persons to 2.5 million persons; the deaths recorded in the civil registers reveal that some 15,000 more people have died than were expected to die under normal circumstances in March, April and May.

The Spanish Government’s lack of foresight has left thousands of public workers without appropriate and sufficient means of protection to carry out their duties and cover essential services. We are talking about police, prison, central, regional, local and justice officials, as well as non-health workers in hospitals that are classified as low-risk personnel.

Government negligence is particularly serious in the health services.

On 30 March 2020, CSIF filed a report against the Minister of Health before the Supreme Court.
The report has been filed regarding alleged offences against the rights of workers set forth in Articles 316 and 317 of the Criminal Code and, in relation to the them, the alleged offence of death by negligence (Art. 142) and injury through negligence (Art. 147).
CSIF has not filed a report against the Minister of Health for the overall numbers of the pandemic but, rather, for its lack of foresight in upholding its duty to protect health workers (civil servants).

In terms of figures, Spain has some 515,000 health workers: approximately 51,000 of them have been infected with SARS CoV-2. In other words, 10 per cent of Spain’s health workers have been affected by the coronavirus. Neither the United States of America, nor the United Kingdom, Italy or France, to mention but a few, have reached this level of infections among their health workers.  On 30 January 2020, the World Health Organizations (WHO) declared a public health emergency of international concern in connection with the spread of SARS CoV-2. Prior to this, namely on 27 January 2020, CSIF contacted the Ministry of the Civil Service, requesting the establishment of health protection action protocols in anticipation of the novel coronavirus reaching Spain.

The Spanish Government failed to respond to this letter and did not take action until the gravity of the situation surrounding the disease was evident and the WHO had already declared the coronavirus to be a pandemic. The response to the lack of personal protection equipment (PPE) was both late and poor, compounded by the acquisition of fake masks and the irregularities in the export of PPE, leaving our health workers defenceless in the face of the coronavirus.

On 12 May 2020, the report of the alleged offences became a formal complaint against the Minister of Health.

This procedural change means that CSIF features as a party to the proceedings. The events related to the acquisition of fake masks, distributed without having undergone quality control and with the irregularities noted in the export of PPE, were added to the events reported on 30 March 2020.
Currently, in order to back up the accusations made, the formal complaint consists of 38 documents and 22 testimonies of health workers, many of whom have been affected by COVID-19.
The formal complaint contains a request for senior government officials to testify before the Court, beginning with the Minister of Health, and a further request for the Ministry of Health and the General Labour Inspectorate to be investigated.

CSIF remains vigilant in order to avoid any infringement of risk-prevention regulations through our prevention officers.

Other union action lines taken by CSIF

Following the declaration of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) by the International Health Regulations (IHR, 2005) Emergency Committee on 30 January, and more specifically, since the declaration of a health emergency in Spain, CSIF has undertaken firm and decisive action, essentially aimed at halting the spread of the virus and protecting the health and rights of workers. CSIF has put forward proposals and initiatives, many of which have been reflected in national regulations throughout this period.

We consider it necessary to highlight the following proposals and initiatives:
• We requested the establishment of prevention protocols across public administrations and the expansion of the definition of the groups exposed to risk of infection.

• The suspension of administrative and legal deadlines.

• The declaration of a state of emergency, the closure of borders and the cessation of non-essential work activities to stop the spread of the virus. (12 March)

• The provision of personal protection equipment (PPE) for our health, social and essential workers, as well as the conducting of PCR tests or other diagnostic tests for persons with a suspected case of COVID-19, for risk groups, and for workers who are joining the workplace or those who have been in contact with infected persons.

• The consideration of COVID-19 as an occupational accident for the purposes of obtaining financial support.

• Special protection for women working during pregnancy or for nursing mothers.

• Special attention paid to gender-based violence during the pandemic.

• The extension of the support measures adopted by the Spanish Government to groups such as domestic workers.

• We proposed amendments to the prevention procedures dictated by the Ministry of Health to protect effectively the health of health workers who have already had to return to their place of work with COVID-19 symptoms.

• CSIF has also actively participated in legislative proposals as, throughout the state of emergency, the Government has used the Royal Decree-Law to enact legislative changes without parliamentary debate within the framework of extraordinary and urgent necessity.

• CSIF, the highest governing body (Trade Union Council), at its meeting held on 28 May, approved a resolution acknowledging the work and commitment of all public workers throughout this health crisis, who with their professionalism, dedication and efforts have kept public services running normally, thus guaranteeing the provision of services to citizens, and also urging the Government to promote investment policies to guarantee the welfare state and to provide high-quality public services.

In parallel, CSIF is working in three areas:
• A request has been made for COVID-19 to be classified as an occupational disease in the health system. We have already succeeded in achieving its recognition as an occupational accident for all intents and purposes.

• We are organizing the defence of our members from all sectors of activity in their complaints made against the Administration, whom we consider to have been grossly negligent in terms of health protection in the workplace, affecting the physical integrity of members.

• We made a request to participate in the committee or working group that has been established to draw up, implement and follow up the necessary recovery plan for public administrations with the aim of strengthening public services that have been put to the test during this pandemic. Issues such as teleworking, digitization and increasing staffing levels are some of our proposals.

Madrid, 1 June 2020