• Forecasts. The government expects a slowdown in productivity per worker: employment will grow more than GDP

Employment in number of workers has grown much more since the shock of the pandemic than the hours worked in the country, among other things because there has been a sharp increase in people who, being employed and having a job, do not work any hour a week . Specifically, when the National Institute of Statistics made its round of calls to prepare the Active Population Survey for the first quarter of this year, a total of 1.65 million people answered that they had a job but that in the previous week – the reference week – they had not worked any hours.

This is a much higher volume of workers than the one that responded in the same sense in the first quarter of 2019 – the last comparable before the pandemic – when a total of 1.13 million people were in that situation in Spain, so we now have 46% more people who, despite having a job, do not work in practice.

There are different reasons why an employee, having a job, may not have worked any hours in a particular week, such as having been on vacation, having paternity or maternity leave, being affected by a Temporary Employment Regulation File (ERTE), being on leave (although from 2021 it would only count as occupied if it is for less than three months), that is discontinuous fixed and has no activity at that time, or that is on leave due totemporary disability, illness or accident.

In this way, in 2020 and 2021, in Spain the number of employed people who in practice did not work, since they were mostly affected by ERTE, skyrocketed. In the first quarter of 2020 they reached 1,966 million and in the first quarter of 2021 they were still 1,964 million.

The end of the pandemic and the return to activity of all people affected by ERTE seemed to indicate that the number of employed people without work would return to its pre-pandemic level, but in practice this recovery has not occurred and there is still a very high volume of employees who do not work. Experts are not able to say why so many people are out of work, but they agree that everything seems to point to an increase in the number and duration of sick leave.

At first, you might think that these are sick leaves linked to covid – respiratory or even associated with mental health – but the data seem to show otherwise. "According to the mutual societies, there has been an increase in sick leave due to diseases linked to mobility – fractures, sprains, etc. -. So there is not necessarily a relationship with covid, although there are lower detection rates and waiting lists in Health that lead to longer leaves," explained Marcel Jansen, a researcher at Fedea, during the presentation of its Quarterly Labour Market Observatory together with BBVA Research.

These traumatisms, which seem to be responsible for the increase in sick leave, could be associated, in some cases, with the change from face-to-face work to teleworking and, in others, with the general aging of the population. With more and more older workers, who are most likely to be on sick leave, the aggregate number of people on sick leave increases.

However, ageing is not the only reason, as LFS data show an increase in the number of people who do not work any hours in all age groups. "Given that it is occurring in all age groups, aging is not the only reason," confirms Florentingo Felgueroso, also from Fedea, who also recalls that these casualties represent an extra cost, especially in some public jobs.

"In the case of teachers and doctors, not only do they not work when they are on leave but at the same time they have to be replaced, because you can not stop teaching or attending to patients, and the same happens in health when they go on vacation, they compute two employed: the one who is on leave or vacation and the one who replaces him. There is an effect on occupancy and double counting," he says.

Cause for concern

Another factor to take into account is that, since 2018, paternity leave has been equated to coincide with maternity leave by 16 weeks, which extends the periods in which male workers are out of work.

The increase in absenteeism is of great concern to employers and trade unions, since it has a direct impact on the productivity of the economy and the latter should determine the evolution of wages. Therefore, in the Agreement for Employment and Collective Bargaining (AENC), both parties expressed their "concern about the indicators of temporary disability derived from common contingencies", since they see it necessary "to reduce the frequency and duration of temporary disability processes, among others trying to make better use of the resources of the Collaborating Mutual Societies of the Social Security ".

According to the INE, the sectors in which there are more employees who do not go to work are commerce (represents 14% of total absenteeism), followed by manufacturing (11%), health and social services activities (10.8%) and education (10.4%). The last two are sectors with a very high weight of public employment and in the Public Administration there is the circumstance that the templates are very old.

Even so, of the 1.6 million who in the first quarter of the year did not work any hours in the reference week, one million were employees in the private sector, 195,500 were self-employed, 180,000 were entrepreneurs and only 388,900 were public sector workers.

In terms of the type of occupation, workers in catering, personal, protection and sales services are the most absent from their work; followed by technicians and scientific and intellectual professionals; those with elementary occupations; and craftsmen and skilled workers in manufacturing and construction, although in general all types of professions have similar levels.

"The increase in employed people absent from their position compared to the pre-pandemic period occurs in all occupations and in all types of contracts (it is not only managers, for example, who could have more vacations). It is true that it occurs more in people with indefinite contracts than in temporary or discontinuous fixed because they have more vacations, tend to be older and more likely to be on sick leave, "they point out from Fedea. In any case, "for the three types of contract, this percentage has not returned to pre-pandemic values."

Regardless of the reasons, for the country's economy it is worrisome, experts agree, that there is an increasing number of workers who spend full weeks without working, since that will result in a fall in productivity: we will be able to produce the same or less with, in theory, more workers (even if they are not actually working). Therefore, they insist that the evolution of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is more correlated with the number of hours worked than with the number of employees in the country.

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