Text in which the author defends ideas and reaches conclusions based on his / her interpretation of facts and data

A chance for Isabel

The opportunity she was being offered consisted of working 11 hours a day for 350 euros a month, and almost no social security contributions

Almudena Grandes

It's an opportunity, said her father, and her mother too. An opportunity, she herself concluded.

Six years ago, Isabel worked in a clothing store belonging to a big chain. It paid well; she liked it, and didn't mind the commute, a total of 90 kilometers on buses back and forth four times a day between Rota and El Puerto in Cádiz province. Then one day she began to hear of the crisis, as of a mythological beast, a storm on the horizon of a blue summer sky. What happened then? She has no explanation. She is not yet 30, and has been jobless for five years.

To her, unemployment has been a flat and infinite desert, a sterile landscape without even a dry thorn tree. Nothing ahead, or behind, or above or below.

It was not that she hadn't tried. All the supermarkets, all the offices, all the shops, even sticking ads on the lampposts of her town. Ready to take on any job, you understand. So, when they called from a hotel called Costa Ballena to offer her a job as an entertainer for tourists, she did not even stop to think that she had never done anything of the sort, that she had no experience in entertaining a crowd of children. It was an opportunity, so she spruced herself up, breathed deeply, borrowed her father's car and went to the interview. On entering the office, she still believed she was ready to take on any job. She didn't yet know exactly what that meant.

Isabel is young and attractive, dresses well and has a pleasant voice. So all went well until the time came to talk about money. Even then, for a while, it seemed like business as usual, because she needed some time to process what she was hearing, and to add, and subtract, and to understand at last what sort of opportunity had been dropped in her lap.

But... if I arrive here at 9.30 in the morning, and leave at 9.30 in the evening — she recapitulated aloud — I can't come on the bus, because the hours don't work out.

Yes, but you told me you drive and have a car.

Well, yes, but of course it's twelve hours...

Eleven — her interlocutor went on unfazed, a fixed smile on his lips, because you have an hour to eat.

Of course — Isabel repeated — but in one hour, here and back, it's not worth going home to eat, so I'd have to have a sandwich here.

Of course — the man behind the desk repeated for the third time - or whatever you prefer. But you'd have to bring it from home, because it's not included in the job.

Yes, clearly (though it wasn't very clear). But between what I spend on gas, on food... She thought of a straw to clutch at. How about Social Security?

One hour.

One hour... What?

We insure you one hour for each day you work.

Isabel reviewed it in her mind. The opportunity they were offering her consisted of working 11 hours a day, no transport, no lunch, for 350 euros a month, and a Social Security input 10 times smaller than what it ought to be. She could not believe it. However, she still had one question left.

Sorry, but... is this legal?

Her interlocutor leaned back in his chair and burst out laughing.

Of course it is. What did you think?

(This is a true story. Isabel exists, and the job offer she turned down, because working 11 hours a day would almost have cost her money, exists too.

Costa Ballena is in the province of Cádiz, a stone's throw from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, which looks out onto the Doñana natural reserve from across the Guadalquivir.

To reach the hermitage of Rocío you only have to cross Doñana, and for this reason I take pleasure in dedicating this article to Doña Fátima Báñez, a devotee of the yearly pilgrimage to the Rocío — who prepared, or at least approved, the text of the labor market "reform" now in effect here, and who is the labor minister in the government of Spain.)

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