December 5, 2023


Professional waiter experts

Pandemic pushes Spanish workers out of the shadows

MADRID/ROME (Reuters) – For decades, a income-stuffed envelope – or “sobre” – was how hundreds of hundreds of Spaniards doing the job devoid of legal contracts in tourism, agriculture or construction gathered their salaries.

A waitress pours beer in a restaurant in Playa del Ingles, Maspalomas on the island of Gran Canaria, Spain, May possibly 3, 2022. REUTERS/Borja Suarez

COVID-19, having said that, could lastly be placing paid out to the “sobre”, economic data and workers’ activities advise – accelerating a six-calendar year-long crackdown in Spain on the shadow financial system and providing a welcome enhance to the country’s general public finances.

The Spanish financial system was the most difficult strike in the euro area by the pandemic, shrinking 11% in 2020 amid tricky lockdowns. Two many years later on, it has nevertheless not returned to its pre-virus degree.

But a little something surprising has also occurred: in general tax receipts and the range of individuals in formal employment are now actually bigger than at the stage COVID-19 struck.

The explanation, in accordance to labour specialists, trade unionists, companies and personnel interviewed by Reuters, is that one unexpected facet result of the pandemic has been to flush several Spaniards out of the shadow overall economy and into normal work.

Main brings about have been the declining use of dollars as a consequence of pandemic-period cleanliness actions, with each other with amplified demand for contracts by staff who observed that likely below the radar also intended missing out on furlough payments through lockdowns.

Though some of all those variables implement to other international locations, the makeup of Spain’s overall economy and other community variables necessarily mean the influence has been especially tangible there.

“In the catering sector, there is a Just before and Just after the pandemic,” reported Gonzalo Fuentes, catering sector representative at CCOO, Spain’s largest trade union of a sector which in 2019 accounted for 12.4% of Spain’s official financial state.

“Workers realised getting underground doesn’t spend off, even even though by having to pay no taxes or social expenses they were earning extra.”


When measuring shadow economies is because of to their extremely nature hard, estimates confirmed that even in advance of the pandemic Spain’s generate to control concealed action had noticed it pull away from euro zone friends Italy, Greece and Cyprus exactly where shadow financial action continues to be important.

Spanish authorities pre-pandemic ramped up labour inspections in tourism and agriculture, even applying algorithms to detect tax fraud.

“Employers have modified. Everyone now gives you a agreement,” stated just one 55-calendar year-old who would only be recognized as “A.R.” since he has worked undeclared for 30 decades as a waiter to dietary supplement his principal profits in the general public sector.

“I don’t forget currently being at a wedding day just ahead of the pandemic and prior to the support started, the inspectors arrived and began to determine all the waiters. A group of them ran off via the olive groves,” he instructed Reuters.

At the same time as labour techniques had been changing, COVID-19 highlighted the lack of protection for informal employees and introduced about a shift in purchaser behaviour as hygiene protocols inspired a switch from funds to credit rating card payments, a crucial variable in minimizing tax fraud.

“This is extremely critical for tax handle mainly because they are traceable transactions,” the director of Spain’s Tax Company, Jesus Gascon, instructed lawmakers on a parliamentary committee.

Furthermore that shift was coupled with a ban in July 2021 on shelling out additional than 1,000 euros ($1,054.00) in funds as part of government steps to crack down on the shadow economic climate.

“Paying by bank transfer has absolutely adjusted the overall state of mind in the agriculture sector,” stated Vicente Jimenez, responsible for the agriculture department at the CCOO union. “This is a journey of no return. A journey into the 21st century.”

Combined, these two trends have experienced sizeable impacts.

The number of workers producing social security contributions exceeded 20 million for the to start with time ever in April 2022, in comparison to somewhat underneath 19 million just before the pandemic.

Taxation receipts strike in gross conditions 275 billion euros in 2021, when compared to 248 billion in the preceding 12 months and 266 billion for 2019 prior to the virus struck.

That extra enhance for condition coffers has been one particular aspect making it possible for Spain to lower its spending budget deficit in 2021 to 6.9% of GDP, from 11% the former 12 months, above the government’s have anticipations.

“The underground financial state, which was a person of the weaknesses of the Spanish tax program, is last but not least becoming brought out into the open,” Financial system Minister Nadia Calviño explained to an April 29 news convention presenting Spain’s financial outlook.


Info collected by University of Linz economist Friedrich Schneider, an skilled on shadow economies whose get the job done in the place has been released by the International Financial Fund, propose Spain is going away from its major Mediterranean peer, Italy.

According to his calculations witnessed solely by Reuters, Spain’s shadow economic system briefly grew in 2020 to 17.39% of complete financial activity right before looking at a sharp drop in 2021 that will see it strike 15.8% of exercise this calendar year. That is very well underneath Italy, Greece or Cyprus where by concealed activity accounts for at minimum 20% of total economic activity, according to Friedrich, and lower than the European normal which he forecasts at 17.29% this yr.

Italy’s efforts to deal with its concealed financial state have stalled, according to Schneider’s info, trapped at around 20% of the Italian overall economy due to the fact 2020.

Schneider stresses the 2022 facts are nonetheless only projections and observes that the dimensions of a country’s shadow financial state is also motivated by regional variables.

In federalised nations this kind of as Spain in which lots of taxes are managed regionally, the propensity to shell out taxes is bigger, says Schneider – anything that is mirrored in the lower figures for the shadow economic system in Austria or Germany.

Another component determining the measurement of an casual economy is which activities depend there as legal: Schneider famous that in the Netherlands, for illustration, the truth that prostitution or soft drug use are partly lawful or tolerated suggests this sort of things to do can be involved in the official, taxable financial state.

Like Spain, Italy has also benefited from the transition from dollars use to lender playing cards.

Italy’s very own info demonstrate it made constant development in cracking down on tax dodgers in between 2014 and 2019, its most latest details obtainable. More reducing tax evasion is one of the plans in Italy’s write-up-pandemic Recovery Program agreed with the European Commission in return for much more than 200 billion euros of EU money. Official data clearly show that some 18.5% of taxes in Italy ended up evaded in 2019.

“We have finished a good deal to control evasion but there is nonetheless a whole lot to be accomplished,” explained Alessandro Santoro, an economics professor who advises the Italian govt, saying decisive progress could be made by increasing the finance ministry’s databases and easing privacy security laws.

Back in Spain, a single space of the shadow economy stays deep-rooted: the employment of undocumented workers whose livelihoods are usually also precarious for them to challenge unscrupulous employers.

J.C., a 27-year-previous Colombian, entered Spain three a long time in the past and has moved from bar get the job done to a position in a manufacturing unit – but by no means securing the contract he requirements to turn into a legal resident.

“(My employer) advised me not this calendar year … He saves a whole lot of dollars by trying to keep me irregular. Possibly up coming yr.”

($1 = .9488 euros)

Reporting by Belén Carreño in Madrid and Gavin Jones in Rome Modifying by Mark John and Susan Fenton