Healthcare workers angry over new laws for immigrants

Public health protest in Madrid last month
Health workers protest in Madrid last month

Healthcare employees across Spain are uniting as conscientious objectors in protest at new laws that require them to deny treatment to illegal immigrants.

The new royal decree, to be passed on Friday, removes the right to free health care for illegal immigrants in Spain. The decree comes into effect on September 1st.

As a result of the change any immigrants without a residency card will be denied treatment at public hospitals. Exceptions will be made if the person seeking treatment is under 18, pregnant or requires emergency treatment.

The change is part of Mariano Rajoy’s austerity measures intended to reduce public spending to facilitate meeting the budget deficit target set by Europe.

However, healthcare workers have hit out at the decry saying it is “unethical” and “inhumane” and they are registering their objections.

Across Spain over 800 doctors have already signed forms, distributed by the Society of Family and Community Medicine (Semfyc),  objecting to the law.

The doctors are not alone and the government faces a serious backlash against this decry. The Medical College Association has said the new law “violates the ethical principles of medicine and the code of professional ethics”.

Also against it, the Spanish Association of Neuropsychiatry said the law marked “a regression in human rights” in Spain.

Since the measure was announced in April protests have taken place outside hospitals and health ministries across the country.

A number of Spain’s autonomous regions, heavily indebted and with new budgetary  restrictions, have said they will defy Madrid and continue to provide basic healthcare and medication for anyone that needs it, regardless of their residency status.

Teachers strike over spending cuts

Photo: Sergio Perez  /  REUTERS
Teachers walked out across Spain

Teachers across Spain walked out of work yesterday in protest at education spending cuts, erecting makeshift tombs at university campuses to symbolise the death of the country’s schooling system.

Union officials said that around 80% of the country’s teachers supported the protest with teachers of all levels in 14 of Spain’s regions joining the strike, the largest so far this year.

In contrast, the Education Ministry claimed a much lower turnout suggesting only 19% of teachers walked out. They also praised the ones that did turn up to teach.

Mariano Rajoy’s government has introduced a range of austerity measures and spending cuts to try and rein in their escalating deficit. The education sector has been hit by 3 billion euros of cuts which translates into fewer teachers, a higher teacher-student ratio and fewer extra-curricular activities.

One student dressed up as the Grim Reaper as he marched with other protesters.

“For us, the university so far has been a place of knowledge, that’s our idea of the university. Now it’s becoming a place of recruiting armies of workers,” he said.

Virginia Fernandez, a representative of the Madrid branch of the teachers union FETE, said a lot of parents even at the primary school level had kept their kids home in a show of support for the strike.

“Families are really getting involved,” she said. “There is major involvement in all of the education community.”

However, I think she may be looking through rose tinted glasses as I was told a different story by parents affected by the strike.

“When I collected my child from school on Monday the teachers advised me not to bring my child the following morning as there was unlikely to be sufficient staff”, one unhappy mother told me.

“I have to take a day’s holiday when my daughter is home from school. I have already taken some this year because of other strikes. I can’t strike and it’s unacceptable and disruptive when the teachers do so”, she added.

Indignados take to the streets again

Spain Indignados
Thousands protested over the weekend

A year after Los Indignados first took to the streets across Spain, the group returned over the weekend to protest as Spain sits in a second recession while unemployment approaches 25%.

Thousands of people gathered across Spain united against Mariano Rajoy’s austerity measures which include cuts in social services, education and health, while the government pumps seemingly endless cash into the banks.

Everyone was there from pensioners and the unemployed to teachers protesting at education cuts. Protests began on Saturday and resumed on Sunday afternoon, and some were expected to continue until this morning.

On one of the hottest days of the year so far protesters gathered under banners reading “No to cuts” and “People, not Banks”  as demonstrations filled the squares.

A repeating chant of “They don’t represent us” was aimed at the country’s politicians as drums were beaten and handkerchiefs waved with a carnival atmosphere.

However, it wasn’t all peaceful and protest organisers say up to 20 people were injured during what they say was excessive violence used by the police to clear another demonstration earlier on Sunday.

Javier Bauluz, a photographers from Associated Press, said he was pushed and struck in the face by a police officer “for doing my job”.

“The general attitude was to get us out of the square and prevent us from working, shoving us if necessary,” said another photographer, Gabriel Pecot.

Turnout at the protests seemed to be lower than last year. Police estimate around 100,000 people protested across Spain.

Traditional marches for May 1st

Trade unions across Spain are preparing to march in protest of austerity measures and cuts implemented by Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government.

As unemployment spirals out of control and spending cuts are implemented across the board it’s no wonder that the workers of the country are feeling a little aggrieved.

Many protests are planned for today with further events scheduled for Thursday.

I wanted to mention though that today has traditionally been a day for the workers to make themselves heard. May 1st, or International Workers Day, has been celebrated across the globe for many years. It is an official holiday in over 80 countries and is celebrated unofficially in many more.

In Spain the day was celebrated in the 1930’s but was soon banned by the fascist Franco regime. In 1975 following Franco’s death the holiday was reinstated, however it was not officially celebrated until 1977 when the Communist Party of Spain was legalised.

It has since been seen as an official holiday traditionally used as a platform for trade unions to voice their concerns and for social and labour vindications.

Workers are expected to unite with coordinated marches and occupy rallies planned in countries across the world as the global financial crisis deepens. The average Joe on the streets sees no solution to the mess and politicians that are more interested in how they look in the polls than in actually doing anything about the problems.

Labor reforms fast-tracked

A number of arrests were made
A number of arrests were made

Spain’s new conservative government, led by Mariano Rajoy, have approved desperately needed labor market reforms as part of a drive to revive a failing economy and solve Europe’s worst unemployment rate of nearly 23 percent.

The plans are designed to encourage companies to hire more people by simplifying the hiring and firing procedures and offering tax breaks for employing young people.

However, the fast-track approval of the reforms resulted in violent clashes between riot police and protesters who say they will lose worker benefits.

Spain’s largest union is now calling for mass protests across the country on Feb. 19 in response to the changes.

Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, a spokesman for General Workers and Workers’ Commissions said the reforms “are brutal, they cheapen, facilitate and deregulate firing workers as the government’s only solution to unemployment.”

“We want to raise a clamor in the streets of Spain against the labor-market reforms,” said Sr Toxo, although he stopped short of calling for a general strike.

He added that the reforms “limit the rights of workers but offer no benefits for the people.”

The decree will reduce the cost of an unfair dismissal associated with an open-ended contract to 33 days a year worked, down from 45. More importantly, it will make it easier for employers to justify a fair dismissal with a cost of 20 days. Some economists and business leaders say the high costs associated with dismissal can act as a disincentive to hiring.

Under the new reforms, companies will be able to pull out of collective bargaining agreements and have greater flexibility to adjust an employee’s working hours, tasks and wages depending on how the economy and the company are doing.

Severance packages will also be cut from 45 days of severance pay per year worked to 33 days.

Nearly a third of workers in Spain are on temporary contracts, a huge percentage that makes the country’s jobless rate so volatile. From January 1st, 2013, temporary contracts must become permanent after 24 months. Zapatero’s Socialist government had introduced reforms in 2010 that allowed temporary contracts to run indefinitely.

Taking people off benefits will also provide employers with incentives under the new laws by paying the employer 50% of the unemployment benefit while the employee will continue to claim 25%.

This is sold as a 25% saving for the government. How? Usually when someone gets a job they come off benefits so how is this going to save money? You get a job and continue to receive benefits – surely that’s spending more, not less.

One protester, Cristina Fernandez, waved a placard saying “Every cut mutilates my rights” and said the labor reforms won’t achieve the government’s goals in reducing unemployment.

“To reduce unemployment, you need to create jobs, not simplify firing,” she added.

It seems to me that there is nothing in the reforms for me, and the rest of the workers that keep Spain alive. Only the companies that choose to treat employees like numbers seem to be gaining anything here. They can dump you cheaper and easier than before.  This will do nothing to reduce the unemployment level in Spain. If anything, it will increase the numbers as it’s almost certain that many people who were in secure positions before will now become victims of the new “easier-to-justify-and-cheaper-dismissal” laws.