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Speech by President of the Government at closing event of Congress of Association of Independent Contractors

Monday 9 March 2020

PEDRO SÁNCHEZ, President of the Government.

Good day to you all, President of the Regional Government of Madrid, Mayor of Madrid, President of the CEOE, President of Cepyme, and political leaders. You will forgive me on this occasion for personally congratulating Inés on her election as President of the political party Ciudadanos. And above all, my congratulations to the President of ATA on his election and also my congratulations to the whole management committee of this important organisation.

To take over a little the baton passed to me by both the President of the CEOE and the President of ATA, I have come to chair the technical health committee in relation to coronavirus, to which end I would like, first of all, to send out a message of acknowledgement and support to our healthcare professionals, particularly to those public health professionals in each one of our autonomous regions.

I would also like, as President of the Government, to pass on our deepest sympathies to the families of those who have died. And also to express our thanks to people for their understanding over the measures we have been implementing. All of these indications follow recommendations made by experts, which we would ask to be followed to the letter, particularly as they are being followed by our elderly; listen closely to the recommendations being made by the healthcare authorities in each autonomous region.

The government, at all times and since the start of the crisis, some weeks ago now, has been guided by four criteria of action:

Firstly, all political decisions are based on scientific evidence, and on the criteria of experts.

Secondly, there is a monitoring process, which was daily at the beginning, but which is now hourly, according to the situation, and consequently adapting our lives to the development of the crisis.

Thirdly, we have headed up effective coordination with all the regional governments, and also with local authorities, dear mayor, and also clearly with our European partners and with the World Health Organization.

And fourthly, something very important when facing this kind of public health problem, which is providing transparent information.

The monitoring of coronavirus, as you know, has been conducted daily in Spain for several months now; as is its communication, and this week I would like to take advantage of this forum, dear Lorenzo, to say that, as well as the technical monitoring committee which meets each morning and afternoon, a decision has been taken to schedule a weekly meeting of the inter-ministerial committee, on Wednesdays, to strengthen the government's coordination.

And the government has also decided to schedule, on a regular basis, two weekly meetings of the Inter-ministerial Committee of the National Health System to strengthen - and I would like to emphasise this - the already close cooperation between the Government of Spain and the regional governments.

Hence, we continue to further strengthen a stable framework of coordination, key for the effective management of this crisis based on criteria related to revision, management, pre-emption and communication.

As the other speakers have already mentioned here, in view of this public health problem, all public powers must be at the service of the experts and of science.

And in Spain, as Antonio rightly mentioned, we also have a tremendous advantage, which is that we have one of the best public health systems in the world, with great healthcare professionals, as they demonstrate every day.

Our health system is working well and the different health authorities are acting in unison, with great responsibility.

We are obviously constantly monitoring the situation, putting together a precise and comprehensive diagnosis. And at an economic level, we are in ongoing contact with all sectors, with the social stakeholders and, in if we need to act, we will do so together, as we have done, in coordination with the social stakeholders and with other authorities.

(Inaudible) … as proposed to me by both Lorenzo and Antonio a couple of weeks ago now, the Government of Spain has sat down to draw up an action plan that we will implement as soon as possible. And, above all, we will do this in collaboration and coordination with the social stakeholders.

Consequently, I want to send out a message of unity, of calm and of stability.

This is a cause that does not distinguish between ideas or colours, and it is also showing that when faced with a problem that affects us all, we know how to respond as a country to protect us all.

We have a robust health system with excellent and extraordinary professionals, and with the collaboration of everyone, and by taking the measures pointed out to us by the experts, I am convinced that we will overcome this public health issue.

Having said that, dear Lorenzo, dear friends, I will now move on to a matter that led to your kind invitation to this forum.

What can our society expect from a self-employed worker? Well, it can expect certain actions and concepts that have been explained here in different speeches - a certain dynamic, creativity, flexibility, experimentation with new work formulas in line with the economy of the 21st Century.

What you cannot expect or demand from a self-employed worker is an intrepid hero or an eager risk seeker. You cannot expect them to shoulder economic imbalances, social incomprehension or adverse taxation. And much less can you ask them to compete under unfavourable conditions.

And yet, these are, unfortunately, the conditions under which they carry on their work as independent contractors on many occasions.

That is why I want to thank you for your invitation to come here today, and allow me to address you, so that I can say that the Government of Spain is strongly determined to ensure that the main issues pending that affect such an important group as the one you represent during this term of office.

We rely on independent contractors to carry out the main transformations that Spain needs. And to do that it is necessary for them to rely on the support of the government and on all public authorities.

The social and economic fabric of our country cannot be comprehended without the self-employed. Self-employment is synonymous with entrepreneurship, innovation, and small companies that create jobs and generate wealth.

Let's look at some figures that illustrate this. For example, on 31 December last year, there were 3,269,000 independent contractors registered, one in every six National Insurance contributors. Of these, almost 2 million are individuals that create their own jobs, thus directly taking on the risks of their own activity. And one-fifth of them have employees working for them.

The self-employed are a priority for this government, because there are three transformations on our agenda for progress in which you are essential.

Firstly, the transformation to bed down our economic growth, which must be sustainable and create quality jobs. The self-employed have a tremendous potential to increase social capital, forging alliances in the regions where they are based, and thus fostering social cohesion.

They are also drivers of job creation; in fact there are more than 425,000 independent contractors that are not companies but which have salaried workers in their charge. In total, they maintain more than 870,000 jobs, you maintain more than 870,000 jobs, and this is also a key factor in the progress and achievement of something important for this government, which is achieving the Sustainable Development Goals set out in the 2030 Agenda.

The second important transformation is territorial cohesion. Just a few days ago I had the chance to chair the first meeting of the recently created Delegate Committee for the Demographic Challenge in La Rioja. This is a committee which will coordinate the work of all ministerial departments to address a challenge that affects us all - depopulation.

So, we are convinced that independent contractors, above all, young independent contractors, can be the driver to revitalise 'empty' Spain.

One figure sums up the strategic importance of the self-employed in territorial cohesion, which is that more than half of all independent contractors are engaged in trade, construction, agriculture, hotel and catering, which are activities particularly present in the countryside.

For all these reasons, last year we allocated 80 million euros to creating jobs, particularly for young independent contractors in areas affected by depopulation, an initiative implemented by the former Minister for Work, Magdalena Valerio. I also wish to acknowledge Fátima Báñez, the former minister of the previous administration. And this is the path this government will continue to tread.

The third great transformation that directly affects independent contractors is the digitalisation of our economy. This is an unstoppable process, which is also desirable, and creates tremendous opportunities for development and the internationalisation, not only of medium-sized companies, but also of small companies and the self-employed.

Just look, we must close some gaps. For example, a quarter of SMEs in this country have no Internet connection, one in four. And the future of self-employment is inextricably linked to the digital transformation, just as in many other sectors.

Over the last three years in Spain - this is a figure sufficiently startling to highlight the significance of what we must tackle - 25,000 small businesses have closed down. Most of these were run by independent contractors, and their closure is closely linked to the lack of development of their digital businesses that compete with large platforms for the sale of products and services which, by the way, then pay no taxes to fill the State coffers.

70% of independent contractors are over the age of 45, with limited digital capabilities and knowledge, and this means that we must make a special effort to train independent contractors over the age of 45 so as to employ their talent and experience in a much more successful fashion.

Just look, only 30% of independent contractors are digitally competitive, only 30%. And this is a very important matter because the salary of digitalised independent contractors is three times the average salary of Spanish independent contractors. And 39% higher than the average of salaried workers.

We are convinced of the transforming power of digitalisation, and the solid and balanced growth of the Spanish economy must also be based on this. We must structure the improvement in social welfare and job creation on this power that makes small things grow.

So, ladies and gentlemen, sustainable development, territorial cohesion and the digitalisation of the economy, three pillars that are essential for the government's economic policy, and regarding which independent contractors are, in my opinion, as I said before, essential.

We are greatly concerned, as regards another of the government's strategic areas - the gender gap - self-employed men represent almost two-thirds of the total, while for workers they represent little more than one-third, or 35.7%, which is why it is very important, dear Lorenzo, as you mentioned in your speech, to have parity in the composition of the management bodies of your organisation of independent contractors. And after having celebrated, successfully I believe, International Women's Day on 8 March, I believe we should step up initiatives for self-employed women to balance this disproportion, the root cause of which lies, as we know, in a division of work by sex which unfortunately still keeps many women in the home.

Ladies and gentlemen, the government wants dialogue, as the President of the CEOE rightly said before, to be one of its hallmarks, and through dialogue we will face up to all the challenges that lie ahead of Spain, also in terms of self-employment. We will step up dialogue, contact with independent contractors; dialogue is the best way to forge effective, stable solutions that contain all perspectives, particularly those of the interested parties, which is why I have come here today, to listen to you, to strengthen a communication channel that must be fluid and ongoing. The challenge we face requires us working together and the government is aware of the path it needs to continue down, because we started it in the eight months of activity of the previous government, when it was fully operational and in that brief period of time we made progress on questions that have been mentioned here by Lorenzo which I believe are important. We need to remember we brought into line the social protection of independent contractors with salaried workers. And we did this through dialogue and an agreement with the main associations who I also want to thank for their attention and presence at this event. We extended the coverage for all contingencies as well as for cessation of activity, the so-called "unemployment of the self-employed", and the period for the duration of the coverage was doubled to 24 months, thus bringing its duration in line with that of salaried workers. Conditions were also made more flexible for applying for this, and it is true, I am well aware of this, that its application is not proving altogether satisfactory. But we must ensure, and this is a task ahead of us in this term of office that has begun, that this social protection measure becomes truly effective and covers all independent contractors.

Spain became, at any event, and I feel it is important to underline this, together with Luxembourg, one of the very few countries to offer independent contractors full and compulsory social cover, but there is still a lot to do and we will get to that.

Firstly, I want to stress that the government will draw up a Workers' Statute that takes into account the new labour realities and addresses the challenges of employment in the 21st Century. I said this before, the digitalisation I mentioned a moment ago has created a great many opportunities, but also a great many dysfunctionalities that must be regulated; technology and digital platforms cannot come here and make jobs insecure and thus remove worker protection. We want to see true independent contractors, that opt to operate as such and seek to undertake a professional and life project, rather than false independent contractors merely labelled as such to evade labour responsibilities.

The figure of false independent contractors is a violation of the rights of workers disguised as such and an affront to true independent contractors. The digital revolution thus justifies the urgency with which we must address the changes in the labour market to reduce job insecurity and prevent the abuses that we are seeing on a daily basis in the streets.

The next step in relation to contributions from independent contractors is what I wanted to convey to you, and which we are currently working on, which is, consequently, to design a system of making contributions according to real earnings. Your associations have been calling for this for a long time now, and it is obvious that this is a measure of social justice that guarantees equal protection for earnings from activity and also leads to an improvement in the future pensions of independent contractors.

Dear Lorenzo, representatives of ATA. We must set up the Self-employment Council; I don't know how many years we have been talking about this, Lorenzo, but we must definitively set up the Self-employment Council to guarantee a channel for participation by the most representative organisations in this sector in the design of political policies that are related to self-employment. And within this framework, I believe that we must design and set in motion a plan to boost self-employment that contains measures for each of the stages of the development of activity. We want businesses to be born, grow and develop their full potential. We want to see a stable, robust and lasting eco-system. And lastly, we want digitalisation, the demographic challenge, gender equality and the sustainability of our planet, which I have referred to in my speech, to be at the heart of this system.

We will also revise the Late Payment Act to ensure that it protects independent contractors from debts with companies and we will evaluate the current special VAT cash accounting regime and proceed, if necessary, to its revision and improvement. And we will also make a decisive commitment to specialised training, to innovation and to internationalisation, which particularly affects independent contractors. On this matter, I want to highlight the effort being made to improve training in digital skills in our education system. The Government of Spain is absolutely committed to vocational training, this is clear; over these last few months we have already approved 183 new qualifications. And these new qualifications, which will shortly begin to be taught, more than half include digital skills. This is a key and strategic area, as I said before, for the government, and in this case we are undertaking our work and I can announce to you, also within this framework, that we will approve a new Vocational Training Act, also in collaboration with the regional governments and with input from the social stakeholders.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me conclude with an experience I have had. I have the privilege, as President of the Government, to travel the length and breadth of Spain, throughout our regions, and to meet people who have decided to undertake personal work projects, start-ups, craft work, small agricultural holdings, livestock farmers, retail traders, cultural workshops, professional offices, to quote a few examples. In short, people who have opted for digital professions of the future or for more traditional trades. People who live in cities or, in contrast, choose the countryside. The diversity of work performed by independent contractors is - you know this better than anyone - extensive, infinite, but there is always one common thread among these people and with this I will draw to a close - their excitement at developing their own, personal life project, which offers them a future, and their families, and which contributes to the cohesion of the country. This government, dear Lorenzo and Antonio, adopts this mission on as its own.

Thank you very much.

(Transcript edited by State Secretariat for Communication)

Non official translation