Referring to the political situation as an excuse to sack workers is not, in general, an acceptable practice, but it is the reason that has been given by Barcelona's emblematic Hotel Fairmont Rey Juan Carlos I. El Nacional has learned that the hotel has sacked up to 15 workers alleging that "the political uncertainty in Catalonia has had a strong impact on the hotel sector", but the company bases this claim on "medium term" predictions and data that does not reflect the real results of the sector.
In the dismissal letters that the company has sent to the affected workers and to which El Nacional has had access, the hotel explains that "the current political situation in Catalonia, in which major events are occurring, such as the departure of numerous important Catalan companies, moving their social and fiscal addresses to other points of Spain, is producing a situation of significant uncertainty for the hotel sector in Catalonia".
One of the workers affected, A.A.G., aged 57, has told El Nacional that the company decided at the end of August this year to sack him "after more than twenty years working there as an assistant maintenance manager". The dismissed worker explains that "among other falsehoods, the company justifies its decision alleging productive causes" and it links the sacking to "the current political situation in Catalonia".
Joan Bagué, lawyer for one of the fired workers, has told El Nacional, that it is a case of "wrongful dismissal", and that the "justification given by the company is without any solid basis in fact". The company alleges, among other things, "the delocalization of major companies in Catalonia", asserting in the letter of dismissal that this "reduces the Catalan GDP and tax takings, as well as having a demoralizing effect on the public". Bagué considers that there is no basis for this reasoning since "we already know that the delocalization [that took place] does not affect the real economy".
Part of the letter of dismissal is below:
1.2. Productive Causes
i. Political uncertainty and impact on the hotel sector
The current political situation in Catalonia, in which major events are occurring, such as the departure of numerous important Catalan companies, moving their social and fiscal addresses to other points of Spain, is producing a situation of significant uncertainty for the hotel sector in Catalonia.
The relocation of such important companies implies an important reduction on the Catalan GDP and tax takings, as well as having a demoralizing effect on the public. If the current spiral of political instability is not ended, the Catalan economy will be affected seriously in the short and medium terms, and it will seriously affect the generation of wealth and employment in Catalonia and consequently, the hospitality sector will be seriously affected.
According to the Exceltur/Alianza para la Excelencia Turística report on the tourism outlook for 2018 in its number 63, if new episodes of tension were to occur in 2018, due to a new situation of political tension in Catalonia, this could reduce Spain's Tourism GDP for 2018 by as much as 0.5%.
For this reason, if the scenario of tension similar to those observed in the months of October and December 2017 were to be replicated, with a considerable decrease in tourism activity in its main and iconic destination, Barcelona, the total tourism activity in in Catalonia could be reduced by up to 924 million euros, an amount that would also reduce its contribution to the total Tourism GDP for Spain, which would fall by 5 decimal points.
Low redundancy payments
Alleging economic reasons for sacking workers allows a company to keep redundancy payments to employees very low. Many of the workers affected have been working for the company for more than twenty years, and have thus reached relatively high salary levels, and, consequently, are also entitled to significant compensation payments. However, an economic justification for dismissals allows the company to use the "cheap redundancy" option, which mean workers are awarded only twenty days' pay per year worked. "There is no law that expressly forbids alleging political causes", explains Bagué, but what is illegal is to allege invented causes. If the company cannot justify what it says, it will be a case of wrongful dismissal.
It is for this reason that, as sacked worker A.A.G explained, "since these justifications are unfounded and in the face of the non-existence of objective real causes that justify my dismissal, I have presented a case for wrongful dismissal to the Barcelona labour tribunals". The hearing already has a date assigned, and is set for 19th March next year.
Lies about instability: the excuse
The sources contacted by this newspaper agree on the fact that the company's justifications "don't make any sense". Paco Galván, head of the hotel business sector for the Comisiones Obreras trade union, states that there is no "juridical coherence" in the case and that it is "clearly a wrongful dismissal". He adds that he has never come across a case like this previously, and that "not even in the midst of the independence process did I come across companies that took a stand like this and used the situation to get rid of employees".
In addition, the sources consulted explain that the data provided by the company does not stand up. 2018 has been a good year for tourism in Catalonia, and although records have not been broken, the figures for overnight stays and tourist spending have been high. The latest data published on tourism in Catalonia confirms "the good progress of tourism", with a total of 2,005,260 foreign tourists visiting in the month of September, 0.3% more than the same month a year before, according to Spain's National Statistics Institute. As well, Catalonia absorbed the largest proportion of tourist spending in the Spanish state (23.4%) in the first nine months of this year - a total of 16.8 billion euros; and it is the most important tourist destination in the Spanish state, according to data from the Catalan Government and its statistical body Idescat.
Finally, the hotel company also argues that "the reproduction in 2018 of new episodes of tension through a new situation of political instability in Catalonia, could reduce growth in Spain's 2018 tourism GDP, by as much as 0.5%" - this is a claim about a hypothetical future situation, upon which it founds its argument for the dismissal of the 15 workers at the hotel Rey Juan Carlos I in Barcelona. However, the courts will have the last word.