Back to work for Spanish civil servants: the shape of things to come in the UK?May 7, 2020
Spain’s deescalation plan has been set in motion. The broad parameters of each phase were defined by the Spanish government and, as of 4 May 2020, each of Spain’s territories and islands entered either phase 0 or phase 1. (As to the various phases of the Spanish deescalation plan please see a previous article here.
The parameters of the plan were defined in broad terms to allow each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities to determine precisely when each phase would come into effect, according to the level of success with which each autonomous community reduces the level of contagion within its own borders, or within each province or other administrative unit within the autonomous community.
On Monday the Spanish government announced that the offices of the Spanish public administration would reopen from 25 May. That includes all government departments and their various representative offices throughout each autonomous community, at which citizens can attend in person, and marks the beginning of phase 2 of the deescalation process.
As in the UK, in Spain all efforts are being made to avoid a second spike of the disease. As with the deescalation plan, the return of people to work in government departments is being implemented gradually and will go hand in hand with the introduction of safety measures, as agreed between the Independent Trade Union, the Official Central Union (CSIF), and the Ministry of Territorial Policy and Public Function.
There are a range of obvious reasons for which the Spanish need access to government offices, but one key factor worthy of particular attention is that personal tax returns for the tax year ending 31 December 2019 must be submitted by 30 June 2020. In Spain, a great number of residents present their own tax returns in person at the local office of the Spanish tax agency. The Spanish government has not extended the final date for submission of the documentation to be submitted, or the tax payable. Neither has the Spanish government varied obligations in relation to the date of submission of VAT quarterly returns or corporation tax returns, or the corresponding payments of tax.
To the greatest extent possible, contact with Spanish government offices will be by telephone, or via email and any attendance in person will need to be by appointment only. In some autonomous communities, civil servants will be able to continue to work from home, in Spanish referred to as “teletrabajo”, in particular employees in the highest risk categories, such as pregnant women, those with chronic diseases, and those responsible for children and other dependents. Government employees with essential roles will be asked to return to the workplace, but measures are being introduced to allow employees to avoid close contact with each other, such as face to face work shifts and flexible working arrangements.
Perhaps most surprisingly, a decision has been taken to maintain government offices open until 9pm during the week, to allow more people to attend. This may seem extremely late for us in the British Isles, but it ought to be considered in light of the traditional Spanish working practice of keeping shops and offices open until 8pm and not eating supper until 10pm. Whether or not Spain’s phased return to a new normal may appear to be implemented at a rather fast pace, it seems that great care is being taken to avoid a second wave of infection. We can only wait and see to what extent the UK’s efforts to return the country to work will emulate Spain’s effort. We hope, I am sure, that whichever of Spain’s practices we may follow in our return to work, it will never extend to mealtimes.