Spain’s left-wing government on Tuesday banned companies from firing workers who repeatedly take sick leave, in its first reform of a contested 2012 overhaul of the country’s labour laws.
“We are sending a message to our society that from now on, nobody will be fired who has a legitimate reason for taking sick leave,” Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz told a news conference after a weekly cabinet meeting.
“With this repeal we are correcting an anomaly that differentiated our country from those around us,” she added.
An article of the 2012 reform of Spain’s labour laws carried out by the previous conservative government made it easier to dismiss a worker on the grounds of repeated absences for ill health, even when an employee produced medical certificates justifying them.
Previously it had been possible to fire a worker who missed a week or more of work over a two-month period if the average number of sick days taken in the previous 12 months reached five percent of the total.
The 2012 reform brought that bar down to 2.5 percent.
Introduced at the height of Spain’s economic downturn in a bid to bring down sky-high unemployment, the labour law reform made it easier and less expensive to lay off workers, and also limited the power of labour unions to negotiate contracts over entire industrial sectors.
The International Monetary Fund said in a recent report that the reform had “improved the performance of employment” in Spain but critics blame it for a decrease in job security. Spain is more reliant on temporary contracts than any other European Union nation, according to Eurostat figures.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialist Party and his leftist coalition partner Podemos made overturning parts of the 2012 legislation a centrepiece of their electoral campaigns.
Spain’s unemployment rate plunged from a record high of 27.2 percent in the first quarter of 2013 to 13.8 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, still the second-highest jobless rate in the EU after Greece.