Pepe Álvarez (Belmonte de Miranda, Asturias, 1956) has directed the General Union of Workers (UGT) for almost five years. In this time it has not organized any general strike against the Government. But now he plans a campaign of mobilizations to demand the Executive to comply with the socio-labor reforms agreed between the PSOE and United We Can in the investiture. “The unions do not have money or other resources to pressure the Government, we only have people and we are going to throw away that,” he warns.
Have the fringes of the agreement reached this week to extend the ERTE been resolved?
These are technical allegations of a legal nature that we hope will be included in the decree approved by the Government on Tuesday. We trust that the job maintenance clause is guaranteed.
It seemed that the employer was not going to accept that clause …
The bosses have always staged a lot and have done so throughout this process and the Government helps them because it gives them the opportunity, with some elements, to maintain that staging.
The Government has just presented its proposals for labor and pension reform this week that it has sent to Brussels. What do you expect from the hiring reform that you include?
The first thing is that they are quite generic to leave room for dialogue, as we requested. But it does draw the lines in relation to collective bargaining, firing (target) causality, and hiring. At this last point we want to go beyond addressing very short-term contracts. There must be guarantees that this will change. If we only do tweaks that companies can turn around, as they have done so far, it won’t do any good.
They also propose a fund to finance ERTE when the pandemic passes. What would it be like?
The unions have already proposed to Mariano Rajoy the creation of one of these funds, like the one existing in Germany, to complete the benefits, which does not come out of the unemployment benefit budget, it would be additional. It would be for large companies and auxiliary SMEs in reconversion or other circumstances. In Spain you have to think about it to see in which areas it can be applied, what time frame it would have and what part each would put in.
In this negotiation, do you plan to recover the prior administrative authorization for collective redundancies eliminated in 2012?
Of course. That is the starting point. Although I do not doubt that in the negotiation we can find another system that guarantees that the process is legally reliable. There is no other European country where you can be fired without cause and only with a negotiation process and at the expense of a court agreeing with you. That has to be reversed and you can go to a prior authorization or to a system like the French one that requires a social plan from the company. It is also necessary to recover the causes of dismissal (objective) prior to the reform because now the causes are all: you can be fired for having losses or anticipation of having them. And in the end the collective dismissal has become a free layoff sluice at 20 days a year and 12 monthly payments.
Do you expect to have the government on your side in all this?
Defining that now is very complex. I do not know what support we will have, we know that of United We can publicly, but I am interested in the whole of the Executive. But we are aware that mobilization is necessary for a reformist agenda like that of the Government to be fulfilled. That is why we are going to combine negotiation with pressure.
I understand that you are referring to the February mobilizations with CC OO. Have we asked them for help?
No. In any case, we ask them and the PSOE, beyond the ministers and ministers, to be clearly committed as parties to these reforms. Although I know that it is complicated that the secretary general of the PSOE is the president of the Government. We would also have done the mobilizations with an eye on what will happen at the end of the pandemic and along the way another reason for protest has emerged: the refusal to raise the minimum wage. That it has not been uploaded is a matter of extreme gravity in our relations with the Government. From my point of view it is a betrayal.
Are you confident that it will rise in the second half of the year?
Yes. We are going to win this battle, I don’t know if in April, June or August. But we are going to remind the Government every day of the year that it is a pending debt. It’s going to be a permanent daily Malay drop until they upload it. And we are not worth a 0.9% hike. It must be a rise that clearly puts us on the path of 1,200 euros at the end of the legislature.
As for the most controversial part of the government’s pension reform, would the UGT accept an extension of the calculation period together with the possibility of ruling out the worst years of contributions?
No. And being able to rule out the worst years should already be possible with the 25 years that are currently taken into account. This reform has to have two legs: more income and that the State pay the inappropriate expenses of the Social Security. But the pension reform proposal is also very ambiguous and, therefore, I entrust it to social dialogue. That said, there is not a single document from the European Commission that forces us to touch pensions.
And would they accept that the purchasing power of pensions was guaranteed over a multi-year period?
No way. I know that the Government has considered that, but no. And another proposal that is going to fall immediately is the tightening of early retirements. But they are not going to have a problem just with our refusal, because they have to take this to Parliament. The Government has to know that if it does not have the signature of the unions, the PP is not going to give it anything in Parliament.
To negotiate all this, are you going to run for reelection in the Confederal Congress in May?
I have not made the decision yet. We are very focused on the crisis that the pandemic has generated. I will only introduce myself if there is a collective interest in which I see myself useful.
Have the union’s financial problems been solved?
The union’s economic problems are never going to be solved because the Spanish system is designed so that the unions live in absolute economic hardship. But the union has made a major spending adjustment and reduced its deficit by more than 80%.