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En Español: ‘At least you have a job’

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The Spanish government says their labor reforms have created success. Spanish workers say differently. — illustration by Jared Jewell

Al menos tienes trabajo

Seis años de la última reforma laboral en España

Pasé unos días por Madrid aprovechando las vacaciones de invierno. Días que se llenaron de cafés, de cañas, de cenas con amigos — días de reencuentros y conversaciones, conversaciones en las que siempre aparecía un tema común: el trabajo. Me hablaban sobre subcontratas absurdas. Jornadas eternas. Recortes. Mientras en el aire flotaba esa frase que nos hemos acostumbrado a escuchar en los últimos años: “no te quejes, al menos tienes trabajo.”

M. no ha llegado ni una noche a tiempo para cenar conmigo. Aunque su jornada laboral acaba a las seis es raro el día que sale antes de las nueve, las diez, las once. Tampoco cobra las horas extras. Pero al menos M. tiene trabajo: un trabajo cuyo sueldo es indigno si lo dividimos por las horas dedicadas en realidad, no las que figuran en el contrato. M. es informático y le contrata una consultora para que trabaje para una multinacional que, a su vez, ofrece sus servicios a un gran banco. Tres grandes empresas tras el puesto de M., un puesto que, sin duda, genera mucho dinero, pero, ¿quién se enriquece con su contrato? Claramente, no es él.

T. trabajó en “Correos”, la compañía pública de servicio postal, pero hace unos días le despidieron. Dentro de unos meses, me cuenta, le volverán a llamar. Siempre hacen lo mismo. Le contratan seis meses, le despiden y medio año después le contratan de nuevo. T. me cuenta que si encadena contratos durante dos años, la empresa está obligada a hacerle indefinido; en cambio, si pasan meses entre un contrato y otro, no lo está.

R. también sabe de contratos temporales. Estudió arquitectura, pero trabaja en una estación de esquí en temporada alta y la despiden cuando termina el invierno. En sus contratos siempre figuran menos horas de las que en realidad trabaja: cotiza cuatro horas al día, pero hace más del doble.

Mi amigo J. es ingeniero, trabajaba para una multinacional aeronáutica y tenía varias personas a su cargo. La multinacional fue absorbida por otra mayor que colocó a su gente en puestos como el de J., mientras él y otros como él fueron despedidos. Después de haberse dejado la piel en cada uno de los proyectos para asegurarse un buen futuro en la empresa, J. está en el paro. Está pensando en emigrar porque desde que busca trabajo encuentra sueldos más bajos, condiciones peores.

La última reforma laboral de España cumple seis años este mes. El gobierno presume de que ha bajado el desempleo, de la creación de nuevos puestos de trabajo. Suena ideal, pero en esta página no caben las historias de amigos que con una formación excelente tienen empleos con condiciones injustas. No cabe la precariedad que esconde cada bajada del paro. Ni la temporalidad. Ni los peores salarios. Ni el abaratamiento del despido o las horas trabajadas en negro. Tampoco la degradación que han sufrido los derechos de los trabajadores tras esta última reforma por la que los miembros del gobierno se dan palmaditas en la espalda.

La crisis ha servido para respaldar esta reforma, ha sido la excusa perfecta para que muchas empresas justifiquen los recortes en los derechos de sus empleados, mientras estos deben dar las gracias porque al menos tienen trabajo. Porque sí, lo tienen, pero ¿a qué precio?

At least you have a job

A portrait of Spain, six years after the last labor market reform.
Translated by Nieves Martín López

This winter break I took the chance to spend a few days in Madrid. Those days were full of meetings for a coffee, cañas of beer at the bars, dinners out with friends — days of homecoming and long conversations, where the same topic would always pop up: work. I kept hearing about absurd subcontracts, never-ending shifts, budget cuts. In the meantime, there was a statement in the air, invisible but present, the one we have grown used to hearing in these past years: “Some have it worse, at least you have a job!”

M. never makes it on time whenever we plan to meet up for dinner. Even though his shift ends at 6 p.m., it’s not usual for him to get off work before 9, 10 or even 11 p.m. On top of that, he doesn’t get paid for those overtime hours. But at least M. has a job; one with an insufficient salary, if we divide it among the actual hours he invests in it, not the hours stipulated on the contract. M. is a computer expert, and he works for a consulting agency, which works for a multinational corporation which, in turn, works for a big bank. M.’s job depends on three big companies. There’s no denying that his position generates a lot of money, but who is getting rich with it? Clearly, not him.

T. worked for Correos, the Spanish public postal service, but he was fired a few days ago. He says that in a few months, they will call him back. It’s always the same: they hire him for six months, they kick him out and six months later they hire him again. T. tells me that if he were to renew his contract for more than two years in a row, the company would have to make him permanent; however, if the company hires him for six months and then leaves some time in between contracts, they are not legally required to do the same.

R. also knows about temporary contracts all too well. She studied architecture, but she works for a ski resort during peak season, and once winter is over, she is laid off. In her contracts, the hours stipulated are always less than what she actually works: On paper, she works four hours a day, but in reality she works more than twice as many.

My friend J. is an engineer. He used to work for an aircraft company operating in multiple countries, and he had several people working for him. The multinational was absorbed by a bigger one, which took the jobs from J. and his employees and gave them to their own people. J. is unemployed, after bending over backward in each and every one of his projects so that he could secure his future in the company. He is considering moving to another country, because now that he is in the job market again, everything he finds has lower salaries and worse conditions.

This month marks six years since the current labor reform in Spain has been in force. The Spanish government brags about lower unemployment rates and an increase in new contracts. Sounds good, right? But in reality, I couldn’t fit in here all the stories of friends who have had to endure outrageous conditions at their jobs, in spite of their excellent education. I couldn’t fit in here all the job instability underlying that optimism for those lower unemployment rates, or the amount of temporary contracts and undeclared hours, or the shameful decrease in wages and dismissal fees. I couldn’t fit in here all the ways workers’ rights have been undermined since this last round of labor market reform, the same one for which members of our government smile and pat each other’s backs. The current economic crisis was the springboard for this reform, and it has served as the perfect excuse for many companies to justify abusing employees’ rights.

Meanwhile, those people have to be thankful, because “at least they have a job.” Indeed, they have a job, but at what cost?

Elisa Ferrer Molina is a current MFA student in Spanish creative writing at the University of Iowa. Nieves Martín López is working towards an MFA in literary translation at the University of Iowa. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 236.


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