Nursing staff in Spain: high standards, hardly any stability

Status: December 27, 2021 6:30 a.m.

Due to the pandemic, nurses are in great demand in Spain. But their working conditions are bad. Low wages, hardly any contract security. Many emigrate.

By Oliver Neuroth, ARD Studio Madrid

Maria Moreno enjoys her job. She likes to take care of the sick and the elderly, says the 28-year-old. But she is anything but satisfied with her working conditions as a nurse in Madrid.

Oliver Neuroth
ARD-Studio Madrid

“I’ve been in the job for five years now, and I’ve had more than 25 contracts,” she says. “Sometimes I stepped in because someone in a clinic had reduced their working hours – sometimes there was a job for three days a week. That is normal in the health care system in the Madrid region.

Having your own car, your own apartment – this often remains a dream for young nurses in Spain for years. Maria lives with her mother and sister. “I would like to move out of home and live with my partner,” said Moreno. “But that doesn’t work. Both he and I have temporary contracts of two, three or four months if it comes down to it. No landlord gives you an apartment.”

Unlimited? Inconceivably!

Open-ended employment contracts are inconceivable for young Spaniards in the nursing sector. And that, although they have to do a university education for the job, unlike in Germany. Prospective nurses study nursing sciences for three years in Spain, after which they have a bachelor’s degree and medical knowledge that puts them ahead of many of their German colleagues.

“It is true that sometimes you feel like leaving Spain, going abroad, where you get better contracts as a nurse and have a better life thanks to better working conditions,” says Moreno.

The emigration has consequences

Thousands of Spanish nurses moved to Germany during the severe economic crisis that began in 2008. Permanent positions beckon, plus wages of just under 30,000 to around 43,000 euros gross per year. In Spain, the German starting salary is usually the maximum possible after many years in the job. In addition to Germany, Great Britain has also been a popular destination for Spanish nursing staff in recent years.

The migration of these skilled workers is clearly noticeable in Spain: there are only six nurses for every 1,000 inhabitants. The European average is nine. José Luis Cobos, Vice President of the General Committee of Nursing, calls the development dramatic.

He points to research that shows that more patients survive in hospitals when the number of nurses is higher. Even the corona pandemic has hardly caused the Spanish state to rethink. Although the current government, made up of socialists and the left-wing party Podemos, always insists on wanting to strengthen the public health system.

“Very bad working conditions”

After all, says Elena, also a nurse from Madrid, there are now half-year contracts. Compared to the weekly or monthly contracts, this is a step forward: “The Covid contracts now provide a little stability, at least for the pandemic period. But basically it remains the same: We get horror time limits, that’s not how you deal with your specialists . The working conditions are really bad. “

The Association of Nursing Staff SATSE also confirmed on request: The situation of nurses and carers in Spain has deteriorated rather than improved in recent years. The pandemic showed how important and indispensable this profession is. Nurse Elena fears that emigration will be the only way to get ahead in the nursing profession.

Is there improvement in sight?

“It’s just sad. I still remember my grandparents saying that they had to emigrate because there were hardly any good jobs in Spain. And now, 50 years later, it’s actually the same. The guest worker principle. Really Sad.”

But there could be some movement in the Spanish labor market. Shortly before Christmas, the government and the trade unions agreed on a fundamental labor market reform. Details are not yet known. But a central element should be that there are fewer fixed-term contracts. This is what the European Union asked Spain to do. Young workers in the nursing profession in particular can therefore have hope.

“Horror Limitations”: The Fate of Nurses in Spain

Oliver Neuroth, ARD Madrid, December 27th, 2021 6:28 am

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