CORONAVIRUS

Spain’s new lockdown restrictions: The measures for non-essential workers

The stricter confinement orders, announced by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus, will not affect people working remotely or temporary layoffs

Construction workers in the southern Spanish city of Seville.
Construction workers in the southern Spanish city of Seville.PACO PUENTES / EL PAÍS

The Spanish government this weekend opted to impose stricter confinement measures on residents of Spain in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced on Saturday the halt of all non-essential activities starting today, Monday March 30, until Thursday April 9, both inclusive. April 10 is a national holiday in Spain for Easter Friday.

The measure, which was approved on Sunday at an extraordinary Cabinet meeting, is aimed at limiting as much as possible the circulation of persons and thus flattening the curve of infections. Here is a list of questions and answers about the new rules, which will go into effect from today.

Which activities are considered to be essential?

Essential services are those considered necessary for the maintenance of basic social functions (health, security, social and economic wellbeing of citizens), or the efficient working of the institutions of state and public administrations, such as the health sector, security forces, telecommunications and the power sector. The royal decree that was published late on Sunday night includes an appendix with 25 points that detail the activities that will continue to function.

Among them, are those that were already included in a number of articles from the March 14 royal decree that put the state of alarm into place: retail establishments selling foodstuffs, drinks, and essential products and goods; pharmacies, doctors, opticians and stores selling orthopedic products or health products; press and stationery; IT and telecommunications vendors; pet food vendors; commerce sold online, via phone, or correspondence; launderettes; food-delivery businesses; activities needed to guarantee the power supply; and companies related to petroleum and natural gas derivatives.

What’s more, all companies that supply products and services to these essential activities, such as those that guarantee the stock of foodstuffs and drinks, hygienic products and medication, will continue to operate.

Also operational will be banking services, lawyers and notaries, as well as telecommunications, audiovisual and essential IT service companies, trash collection, cleaning services and organizations that offer protection and attention to gender violence victims, or those who assist dependants or the disabled.

What will happen to employees?

The paralyzation of non-essential activities does not mean that workers will not get their salaries. They will continue to be paid as normal by their companies under a system of paid recoverable leave. When the emergency situation is over, they will work the hours they missed on a gradual basis.

What happens if activity cannot be interrupted at once?

In Article 5, the decree recognizes that companies can continue working today, Monday, in the case that it is “impossible to immediately interrupt activity.” The text details, however, that this situation is permitted with “the only aim of carrying out the essential tasks in order to make the recoverable paid leave effective” and ensuring activity can be restarted after the said time period.

Does the measure affect home working?

Labor Minister Yolanda Díaz explained on Sunday after the Cabinet meeting that home working is not affected by the measure. That’s to say, that in cases where employees can work from home, they should continue to do so.

What about employees whose jobs have been suspended?

A wide range of companies in Spain have already temporarily suspended their workers’ jobs using a mechanism known in Spanish by the initials ERTE. Finance Minister and government spokesperson María Jesús Montero and the labor minister specified that the paid recoverable leave plan will not affect employees who are already remote working, those who have been subject to an ERTE, those who are off work due to temporary incapacitation or paternity or maternity leave, those who work in essential services or those who work in activities that have had to close as a result of the declaration of the state of alarm.

When will the hours missed have to be worked?

Díaz said on Sunday that the efforts to overcome the crisis would have to be made both by companies and workers. She clarified that while companies would have to guarantee the salaries of their workers, employees, for their part, would have to pay back the hours not worked before December 31. “We are talking about 15 days, but in reality they are eight working days,” Díaz explained, given that Thursday and Friday of Easter week are holidays in most of Spain’s regions.

“These are not obligatory vacation days,” Díaz added. “We will let each sector negotiate how it will manage the payback of the hours. These are days that must be returned, and there is a time frame to do so up to December 31, 2020.”

How will the hours be paid back?

The labor minister did not specify how many workers will be affected by the measure, and said that the hours must be paid back in accordance with Article 34 of the Workers Statute: respecting daily and weekly rest breaks, and being compatible with the right to conciliation. As such, she added that negotiation mechanisms have been created with the main unions and representatives from each sector to decide how to organize the payback. Smaller companies that have no union representation will be dealt with on an ad hoc basis.

Can ERTEs no longer be filed?

Díaz explained that the new measure does not mean that companies will no longer be able to file ERTEs. In cases where workers are subject to an ERTE to reduce their working day (i.e. where activity is not completely suspended), the hours that were being worked will now be covered by this recoverable paid leave.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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