Sent home over Covid-19, laid-off workers still waiting for their checks in Spain

Delays processing ERTE claims have left thousands of families in a precarious financial situation

An unemployment office in Seville.
An unemployment office in Seville.PACO PUENTES (EL PAÍS)
Gorka R. Pérez

Thousands of workers in Spain are still waiting to receive unemployment assistance after being placed on a temporary layoff scheme known as ERTE (or expediente de regulación temporal de empleo in Spanish).

Under the scheme, employers can send workers home without pay for a certain amount of time, but must take them back once this period ends. Workers can claim unemployment during this time, and companies can also put staff on a reduced schedule.

Nearly half a million companies filed for ERTEs in response to the coronavirus lockdown, which forced the temporary closure of businesses across the country. While this measure brought relief to some workers, thousands more are still waiting for their unemployment benefits.

Labor Minister Yolanda Díaz announced last Friday that the national agency SEPE, which handles jobless claims, had recognized and paid 3.3 million beneficiaries within 33 days. According to the minister, 46,000 more requests were set to be resolved in the following days. “It is not true that payments will be delayed until June 10 due to a lack of liquidity,” Díaz told Congress on Wednesday.

It is not true that payments will be delayed until June 10 due to a lack of liquidity
Labor Minister Yolanda Díaz

But the government’s claims have been contradicted by organizations such as the General Council of Administrative Gestores of Spain, an association of professionals who help the public with the paperwork involved in administrative processes such as taxes or property registration.

According to a survey published by this group on Wednesday, more than 900,000 workers placed on the ERTE scheme had still not received their unemployment assistance by mid-May. Meanwhile, the Madrid Hospitality Association says that 40% of workers in the sector have not yet received any payments.

Sara is one such case. This 31-year-old worked at a bingo hall in Xirivella, Valencia, until she was placed on an ERTE. The mother of three has been fighting since March 14 to receive her unemployment benefits. Sara’s husband, who harvests oranges, has just returned to work after recovering from Covid-19, which kept him on sick leave for one month and a week.

“In April, I didn’t receive any payment form March, and in May I was only paid 17 days from April. It is all that I have received in three months,” says Sara by phone. “SEPE tells me that if it [the payment] hasn’t been processed it is because the company had to send some files and hadn’t yet.”

“It is not just a problem with my own gestoría, it is happening with many others across Spain. They have not been given enough information to know what to do, nor even what type of ERTE they were dealing with,” she continues. According to Sara, some of her 35 colleagues have only received €48 in all this time. She figures that, after having sent in all the necessary documents, she will be paid the €500 owed to her from April on June 10.

According to the Independent and Civil Servants Union (CSIF), SEPE is managing 530% more jobless claims than in 2019, as revealed by figures from the Labor Ministry. Although the workload has increased exponentially, the union complains that staff numbers have only risen by 10%.

€280 in two months

María Victoria Gómez is a cook in a bar in Valencia. She stopped working there on March 12, and since then has only received €280 owed to her from that month. The bar, which has an outdoor eating area, is set to open soon under Phase 1 of Spain’s deescalation plan. “I am going to return to work having received no unemployment assistance whatsoever,” she says. “For 15 days, I’ve been waking up at 9am and making calls and sending emails until 2.30pm. I live alone, I have a daughter to look after, I have rent, electricity and water bills to pay, and all the payments are late because I can’t do anything with €280. Unfortunately, I don’t have relatives to help me out.”

Gómez is one of 11,255 members of a support group for workers who have been placed on ERTEs. On social media, they share their experiences. “It’s awful what you find there,” says Gómez. “Although some people have been paid, there are 17 families who have only been paid the equivalent of four days of March, and others whose jobless claims have not even been processed despite being filed two months ago.”

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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