Spain’s job market hammered by COVID-19

Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz said that 834,000 jobs had been lost in March due to the national lockdown forcing all but essential workers to stay at home until at least 12 April. [Pool/EPA/EFE]

With more than 800,000 jobs lost in March, Spain’s labour market has suffered its worst month on record due to the coronavirus, the Spanish government said on Thursday (2 April). EURACTIV’s partner EFE reports.

Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz said that 834,000 jobs had been lost in March due to the national lockdown forcing all but essential workers to stay at home until at least 12 April.

“Spain has registered an increase in unemployment of 302,265 people. It is not a historical figure in the number of unemployed, but it is in terms of a monthly increase,” she told a press conference, adding that “we have 3.5 million people registered as unemployed”.

The services sector has been the most affected with an increase of 206,016 unemployed people as bars and restaurants were ordered to temporarily close down.

The second most affected sector was construction with a 22.92% increase in unemployment, followed by agriculture with 6,520 unemployed people (4.26%).

“The virus does not have a gender-specific impact, but structurally the labour market has a very strong gender bias. There are two million unemployed women,” Díaz said.

Spain has prohibited companies from firing employees during the health crisis and is instead encouraging employers to offer temporary lay-offs called Erte, of which 620,000 have already been processed, said Díaz.

Still, some Spanish employers have yet to provide data. Those claiming Erte are among new social security welfare claimants and not counted among job losses, as the government had relaxed the rules on state benefits to widen the scope for those who can qualify for aid.

Social security Minister José Luis Escrivá said the monthly job loss figures were comparable to those observed in Spain in the first 100 days following the 2008 financial crisis. He said it was important to compare the data before Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez declared a national lockdown on 12 March and after, adding that in the first 11 days of the month — usually a good time of year for employment — some 64,843 jobs were added to the system.

Between 11-31 March, however, the number of social security taxpayers “imploded” by 898,822. This tally comprised 855,081 employees and 40,877 self-employed.

A household survey published by the national statistics institute (INE) on Thursday (2 April) said 4.79 million people in Spain were living alone during the coronavirus quarantine period, of which approximately 2 million were over 65.

The human side of the health crisis

Antonio García Alburquerque (88) from Murcia, is one such person.

He told Efe about how the coronavirus outbreak had got him worried not only about his own health but that of his sons, his grandchildren and his neighbours. “My son brings me food so that I don’t have to go out,” said the man known in his building as El Abuelo (The Grandfather).

“I don’t move from my chair so we don’t get close. But that’s worse for me. I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life. Not even in the post-war period. This bug is a global problem, and it worries me a lot,” said García. García has vowed to get back to his daily games of dominoes with his friends once the crisis has passed.

“I’m old, on 5 September I’ll turn 89. But my grandchildren and my children are young. My neighbours, too, and them getting close to me is a worry. Not just for me, but most of all for them, because you want to avoid the hospital at all costs,” he added.

Alleviating pressure on intensive care units

Since the outbreak started, Spain has registered 110,238 infections, around 85,000 of which remain active. Just over 6,000 people are receiving care in ICUs across the country, a figure that equals the official number of ICU beds in the country, although health authorities insist more beds are being made available.

Several field hospitals are being set up around the country. The Ifema fair trade centre in Madrid has been repurposed to provide over 5,000 extra beds and a naval vessel off the coast of the Spanish enclave of Melilla will offer a further 650, including 8 ICU beds.

With the rate of new daily infections dropping, the government is now focusing on stemming the number of hospital admissions to alleviate the pressure on intensive care. According to the head of Spain’s public health emergency department, Fernando Simón, ICU patients tend to spend longer in hospital, meaning numbers accumulate.

“The focus is no longer on the peak (of new cases), we’re already at the peak and some regions are descending. The focus is now on hospitalizations, we have to make sure this week that the ICUs don’t collapse,” he said.

New medical equipment

At least 54,000 people have been hospitalized since the outbreak began and 26,700 have recovered from the virus.

Spain’s health ministry said a million rapid-testing kits had arrived in the country this week and that 90 ventilators were expected in the coming hours.

On top of that, 5,000 domestically-manufactured ventilators are expected in the coming weeks with car manufacturer SEAT teaming up with medical experts to produce 300 a day.

[Edited by Daniel Eck / Frédéric Simon]

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