In Spain, the law expressly prohibits age discrimination in employment and that includes dismissing someone for that reason, as it would clearly go against fundamental rights. This is established in article 17.1 of the Workers' Statute. However, companies have found perfectly legal ways to get their older workers out, with lights and stenographers. The architecture designed by the human resources departments is very broad and ranges from the classic incentivized leave, which in many cases can only be accessed from a cut-off age, generally located in the fifties; to income plans, individual suspension plans or early retirements.
In practically all of them the result is the same: the worker finds himself on the street (with more or less compensation) and, more and more often, with up to ten or more years of active life ahead of him before he can retire. In the case of early retirement, compensation plans often make it unnecessary to return to the labor market. However, the years of the golden early retirements of banks or other large companies on the Ibex are now behind us. On the contrary, in recent years many of the adjustments have forced workers to remain active.
The latest and most notorious ERE (Extinction Employment Regulation File) has been the one announced by Telefónica last week. It expects more than 5,000 employees, mainly over 55 years of age, to leave the company. But in the last two years, many other firms such as Banco Santander, Unicaja, Sabadell, Naturgy, Pepsico, Danone or El Corte Inglés have pulled these adjustments of one kind or another, which end up focusing on older workers. In some of them there were even more workers willing to join the ERE than those initially agreed in the collective dismissal.
What is it that leads companies to make their adjustments fall on the most senior employees? Sources from two of the aforementioned companies who have experienced these processes closely and ask not to be identified, because it is not a friendly matter to talk about for the directors of the companies, insist that the main reason for filling these processes with seniors is "purely economic". Although they also add that doing it this way is seen as "a less traumatic exit bridge".
However, the outplacement sector adds other causes. These companies are well aware of the reasons for designing the adjustments in this way. Since 2012, the law in Spain obliges all companies that make collective redundancies of more than 50 workers to offer those affected a six-month relocation program. This is also mandatory in France, for example, where the culture of outplacement is much more widespread.
With the perspective of this knowledge, Marcos Huergo, president of LHH (part of the Adecco group), explains three causes that fundamentally lead companies to seek the exit of the over-50s. The first is that they have higher salaries and more advantageous conditions, so maintaining them is often more expensive. In addition, "these are the least digital profiles and there is no doubt that all companies are facing technological transition processes to a greater or lesser extent," says Huergo. Many companies believe that these employees may have less capacity to learn, but, above all (this is the third reason), "they calculate that with these workers, who have fewer years of working life left, they do not return on the investment in training them". This is especially true in the financial and technology sectors, but also in others such as logistics and hospitality, which have adjusted more than 10,000 jobs in these ways and in all types of companies, large and SMEs.
Beyond this supposed technological maladjustment, different sources agree that the recourse to adjusting the workforce with older workers is produced by the combination of being a less expensive instrument in the medium term (because maintaining them is more expensive due to their higher salaries) and, at the same time, they insist that it is the least traumatic option. That is the most widespread idea among the human resources teams in charge of designing these plans, according to Orestes Wensell, CEO of Talent Solutions, another of the main outplacement companies belonging to the Manpower group: "Managers want to reduce the number of people affected as much as possible; that departures should be as voluntary as possible; and lowering the age of early retirement so that they can reach more people." Although Wensell also insists that the transformation processes in which society is immersed are the cause of these adjustments, "they are not done because it is the cheapest or the easiest," he points out. In fact, in reputational terms it is not good for the company, although it is not usually frowned upon from the point of view of shareholders and investors.
In any case, it could be said that early retirements are the friendliest face of the adjustments and the rest of the incentivised plans to cut the workforce are just the tip of the iceberg of a problem that affects almost 850,000 people over 50 years of age who are unemployed in Spain, which represents practically one in three unemployed. But where the severity of the situation is really noticeable is in the time it takes for these workers to find other jobs. While in general terms 25% of all unemployed people have been unemployed for two or more years, in the case of those over 50 this percentage exceeds 42% on average.
This is not replicated in the same way in many of the countries of Europe, where the adjustments are not made so much on the side of age, according to union sources. This is also reflected in the figures of the latest quarterly Labour Market Observatory of the economic research centre Fedea, which reveals that Spain concentrates 27% of all unemployed people over 50 years of age living in the EU. This situation has worsened markedly in recent years, as Spain is now the fourth country of the Twenty-seven with the highest proportion of older unemployed, while before the 2008 financial crisis it was the fourth country with the fewest oldest unemployed.
"Quite possibly they don't call me because of my age"
M. A. spent almost 20 years working in an SME distributing sound material, until 2020. His company sent him out of work after going through several ERTEs (temporary layoffs) since the pandemic. The first thing he did was to register on job portals such as Linkedin or Infojobs, and on Sepe. He gets alerts every day first thing in the morning and at noon, and he's been to two or three interviews. As he will still receive the benefit for a while, he assures that he is not going "for everything that comes out". He is trying to apply for positions in the activity to which he dedicated himself for two decades. He is clear about why he sometimes submits an application in which he meets 100% of the requirements and is not even called: "It's very possibly because of my age," he says.
While an opportunity arises, M.A. is doing what all the job search manuals say at any age: continue training to improve her employability. "I had a lot of experience but I didn't have the accreditation," he says. In his case, he has focused on obtaining certificates of professionalism, which are qualifications accrediting the experience that workers have but for which they do not have previous academic training. But he calls for improving the effectiveness of public employment services: "Sepe from time to time sends me a course that is good, but the other day, for example, they proposed two. One was corporate social responsibility and the other was management skills and team management; And I was like, 'Where am I going with that?'"
Lawyer in Venezuela, unemployed in Spain
R. A. D., who has not been able to validate her Venezuelan degree to practice as a lawyer, this Tuesday in Madrid. Claudio Álvarez
Another case of difficulty in finding a job is R.A.D., who is 60 years old and has been unemployed for a few months. "I have to put less age on my resume, but when they see me, nothing anymore," she laments. "If the job has some physical part, even if you have experience in hospitals or cafeterias, they don't tell you that they don't take you because of your age, but in the end, for all kinds of work you realize that they only want young people, prepared and available all day," adds this Venezuelan with a very particular story. R.A.D. is a lawyer and had a successful judicial career in her country for more than 20 years. Since 2019, shortly after arriving in Spain, he has been trying to homologate his degrees without success. She found a job on a digital service platform, advising customers to make returns and complaints, which "suited more" her training. But that job ended and he now collects 600 euros in unemployment benefits. "I don't want to spend my unemployment, I have a year left to pay, and that's why I'm desperately looking for work," she says.
R.A.D. is one of the unemployed women who has participated in the personalised guidance programme Journey to Employment, of the Madrid City Council. "They give you techniques to do job interviews, they have also enrolled me in courses on the use of digital tools, where I meet people like me between 55 and 70 years old, very prepared and who have been looking for a job for 5 or 6 years." But she returns to the issue of age: "With my experience of the last four years and an accrediting course that I have in customer service, I am looking for a job in that sector, but the first thing my Travel to Work advisor told me was: 'For that job it has to be only telephone service, face-to-face with your age, Forget it."
"They only call me to cover casualties"
Raquel lives in Avilés (Asturias). She is 52 years old and has worked all her life in the underground economy, both in hospitality services and in cleaning work. "I knew that this did not respond to my abilities and that's why, since I had no education, I got a degree in social integration," she recalls. He finished in 2020 and assures that for his sector he has a lifetime of experience living in working-class neighborhoods "accompanying many people hand in hand". She currently sees herself as "a mature person personally and professionally," she says, and more productive than ever: "I'm at the point where I know what this is about."
However, the reality has turned out to be different. "I'm the social integration worker that all third sector organizations and companies would raffle off, but so far I've only been able to access sites when they can't find anyone to fill a temporary position or a replacement," she complains. And she says that more than once her bosses have expressed that they would like to keep her in the company but cannot do so because the position has "other guidelines" of age.
"I needed to go back to work to feel valued"
Being highly qualified and having a successful career is also no guarantee of success when looking for a job if you are over 50 years old. Antonio (not his real name), 56, worked for more than 25 years in one of the most important consulting firms in the country and therefore asks to remain anonymous. A few months ago, he lost his job in one of the many workforce adjustments that these companies constantly make. His company encouraged him to participate in an LHH outplacement program for six months and he values that experience very positively. "They helped me make my resume more attractive, manage my social media search, and build a personal brand. But the most complicated thing, in which they also help you, is to do a good management of impatience. Being out of work at this age is a rollercoaster of emotions with many peaks and valleys," he says.
His network of contacts and the one acquired in this course provided him with being in several national and international selection processes. "In Europe I have not been asked about my age in any of the processes I have participated in, the ageism that is so evident is something that occurs more intensely in Spain," he says. Through one of the contacts made at the beginning of his career in a sector other than consulting, which he met by chance, he has begun to work in a new position as a manager of technological transformation projects in an important national company. "I never stopped training, nor did I stop mentally preparing myself to lose my job," he explains, "when the children of colleagues start to come to your team, who have also almost all left before you, you know that the time is going to come [to be fired] because it is very difficult for companies to manage three or four generations simultaneously." And how does it feel to go back to work? "I needed it, not so much economically as psychologically and socially, to feel valued and continue to contribute things to society," he answers.
"I've learned not to put my age on my resume"
Jordi Rotllan, who became unemployed at the age of 50 and has found work again, this Friday at his home in Girona.Massimiliano Minocri
There are companies that don't look at age when recruiting. This is the case of the Spanish temporary employment firm Eurofirms, which has hired Jordi Rotllan, 52, for its structural staff, who came from a very bad experience looking for a job, without success. After having been the owner, as a freelancer, of a digital consultancy and distributor of a small appliance, for more than a decade, he had to close his business for family reasons and was out of work for a year. By the end of this time he had already turned 50 years old, had been off the market for months and had no studies, an unflattering cocktail. "I started very badly because I was desperate, because it was the first time I had ever looked for a job in my life and I chose to be from hospital stretcher bearer to waiter," he recalls. However, his story has had a happy ending and now Rotllan, who is a digital tester at the ETT, proudly says that he is the oldest of the team: "But it doesn't show at all," he warns. From the times when he was looking for a job, he does not forget the main lesson he learned: "During this time, if I learned anything, it was not to put age on the resume."
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