The mantra for Mallorca’s tourism is, and words to this effect, never mind the quantity, it’s the quality. Less is more, assuming that the less is of sufficient quality to generate more spending than the quantity has hitherto. With the less, the island will be better protected from the effects of the very industry that sustains it, while the less will at the same time generate wealth to ensure employment - and a quality employment at that.
The quest for quality employment is one of the commandments inscribed on Balearic government headquarters walls and is to be found double-underlined at the portal to the ministry for the economic model, tourism and employment. When considering the challenges of policy areas facing this government, where does this quest rank in terms of overarching importance?
Ministers, always committed to a principle of equality, would doubtless maintain that there is equal weighting, but in terms of public statements it can at times appear as if this specific quest sits above the climate emergency, health, education, housing, social services and so on, all of which in themselves demand programmes of high qualitative added value.
This employment holy grail naturally dovetails with other areas, most obviously education and increasingly the climate emergency. The response to climate change is transition not just of the means of supply of electricity but also of the productive sector. Directly, this boils down to new jobs, especially those for photovoltaic installation. But once the panels are in place, the employment ratio for management and maintenance declines markedly.
The green economy seeks new ways for the productive sector, such as hydrogen manufacture. But as yet, there is an illusion with this as far as jobs and indeed applications are concerned. Mapping a future for employment on these islands, one that is well-paid and secure, is akin to the labours of mediaeval cartographers charting the globe, much of which they were ignorant of.
Inherent to this future is to be the hoped-for alteration of employment in the largest of all sectors - tourism, both directly and indirectly. Putting a definitive figure on the scale of tourism employment cannot be an exact science on account of the shifting dynamics of demand, with seasonality the most obvious cause of variation.
As a rule of thumb, however, the tourism workforce averages around 30% of the labour market, with something in the region of 13% of this labour market (based on the highest levels of summer employment) contracted on ‘fijo discontinuo’ terms - 80,000 or so employees.
Spoken of so often, what does this quality employment imply? The answer is simple - good salaries and permanent contracts, counted among which are those of the fijo discontinuo employees. An argument about the lack of winter tourism centres on this form of contract. As it means semi-permanent working but with the benefits available to the permanent workforce, it is grounds for seasonal layoffs. Hence, businesses close.
Be this as it may, for quality employment is otherwise, and according to the Economics and Social Council (CES), already with us, albeit that greater quality still has to be created. The CES has been producing a Work Quality Index since 2004. Its latest report, which applies to 2020 (and so therefore with all the Covid caveats), discovers that the Balearics rank third among the Spanish regions behind the Basque Country (habitually number one) and Navarre.
For the Balearics, a regional economy so weighted towards tourism, to be vying with two regions that are not tourism dominated must surely say something. At the bottom end of the scale come the Canaries (thirteenth), Valencia (fifteenth) and Andalusia (sixteenth). Rank bottom is Extremadura, a non-tourism economy and generally accepted to be Spain’s poorest region.
So, all is pretty good for the Balearics, you would think. The largest component of the index is pay. This accounts for 51%. Others are working conditions (to include employment contracts), accident rate, work-life balance, training, promotion, and gender equality. The authors point out that despite the problems in 2020, the Balearics managed to maintain the third place attained in 2019, having climbed from a more typical ranking of between fourth and sixth.
All pretty good, and yet almost simultaneous with the publication of the CES report for 2020 came the latest figures from the Labour Force Survey. In 2020, the average salary in the Balearics (gross) dropped by nearly five per cent to 1,844.85 euros per month. Inevitable, you would think, and so would I, even if the CES presents a more positive panorama.
This average is far from high for a region with the cost of living that it has. And averages are of course just that. There are all those below the average. What was it that the Tax Agency reported just a couple of weeks ago? In 2020, there were 135,000 workers in the Balearics who earned no more than half the minimum wage. Exceptional circumstances and all that, but that was an extraordinary number and one that paints a different picture to that of the CES.
The quest for quality employment, which above all means good pay (as indicated by the weighting given by the CES), has a long way to go.