The general board of Catalonia’s civil service met on Thursday morning to discuss what compensation will be offered to staff who have been on the front line of the fight against COVID-19. They are not only health care professionals, but also staff working in care homes and facilities for the disabled, plus emergency service employees and firefighters. The Catalan government has suggested allocating €45m to be shared by the 45,000 professionals which they estimate are eligible for compensation. On average, every one would receive €1,000 (€666 after tax), although the actual figure is still being discussed by the various ministries involved in the decision.
This compensation will be paid as a productivity bonus in 2020 to all the staff who have been working effectively from March 1 to April 15, either on site or remotely. Staff who were on sick leave during some of this time due to COVID-19 will also receive the bonus.
Unions snub the proposal
The plan was unveiled by Catalonia’s Ministry for Digital Policy and Public Administration after being debated by the ministries concerned and the leaders of the main trade unions: five representatives of UGT, CCOO and IAC. The €45m cash pot that the Catalan government aims to pay out would come from additional funds set aside in 2019 and 2020 (0.25 and 0.3 per cent of public workers’ salaries).
However, the unions have objected to the idea. “We oppose it for two reasons. First of all, the additional funds were never intended for this sort of thing, but to compensate public workers for the cutbacks made during the recession. They are doing this to save face. Secondly, the best compensation public employees could hope for would be to see their rights asserted and to receive the resources they need [to do their job]”, said CCOO representative Joan Maria Sentís. Speaking to this newspaper, he slammed the government’s decision not to hold a second meeting to continue the discussion and their decision to “swap safety for cash”. The unions support the idea of a bonus, provided the cash is not paid out of the fund and they believe that employees first need to receive the extra pays that they are owed from 2013 and 2014. Workers have been paid 60 per cent of the 2013 pay and the outstanding amount is due to be paid this year. The 2014 pay should be settled between 2021 and 2022.
Despite the unions’ reluctance, sources from the Ministry of Digital Policy have explained that they will go ahead with the bonus payment. As ARA reported in an interview with Ivan Planas, the finance manager of Catalonia’s Health Service, the Catalan government intends to reward the efforts of certain services in the fight against the pandemic. Annabel Marcos, the secretary for Public Administration, stated that “we welcome the initiative but, unfortunately, once again the unions surprise us by snubbing the idea, although we feel it is a fair proposal and the general public approve of it”.
The Doctors’ Union of Catalonia also slammed Thursday morning’s meeting and complained about the fact that they hadn’t been invited saying it was “utterly shocking”. They noted that doctors feel “scorned” for not being issued “an invitation” to sit down with the government. “The Catalan government’s actions are slap in the face of all doctors who are toiling away amid an unprecedented public health emergency”, they said in a statement.
Sap-Fepol, a police union, joined in the protestation and called the Catalan government’s proposal “an affront” to the Catalan police force, which won’t be included in the payout. In a press release the police union claim it is “an embarrassment” and it shows “a lack of respect”, considering that the Catalan police force has had to change their work shifts and routines to respond to the pandemic and 1,700 officers remain at home in self-isolation. The union predicts that “if the proposal goes ahead as it is now, there will be consequences and a strong response”.