54.1. Short description
Employment policies in Spain have long included temporary employment schemes for the unemployed, usually run by local authorities. The idea that offering a chance of working for some time is better than just claiming benefits has a long tradition, based on the idea that it is better for the dignity of those involved, and that being active should help people to keep both their work habits and work ethic. While most temporary employment programmes are aimed at the registered unemployed, some of them have been targeted at people with a high risk of social exclusion and claimants of minimum income (social assistance) benefits. Such is the case of the so-called empleo social protegido (protected social employment) in Navarra since the 1980s. The usefulness of the scheme for participants has been questioned for some time now (Laparra et al. 1989; Pérez Eransus, 2005) for while it offers the chance of receiving a higher income and of being active, the content of the work itself (usually menial tasks in local public works) does not seem to offer much in the field of personal and professional development for people with serious social problems.
Since the 1980s the idea has developed that it would be possible to set up adapted enterprises that could combine being competitive in the market and being able to employ people with lower productivity due to different causes (disabilities, social or health problems). One strand of such development was aimed at people with disabilities, and it got legal recognition in the mid-1980s, under the concept of special employment centres (centros especiales de empleo, or CEEs), market oriented enterprises that obtain public subsidies (on wages, social security contributions and some other costs) to compensate the lower productivity of workers with disabilities. The development of the other strand was much slower, as it tried to extend a similar model to people with social (exclusion) problems.
In Navarra there were two pioneers in this field. Traperos de Emaús, a group linked to the Emmaüs international movement that has become a foundation, and Gaztelan, a youth employment project that evolved into a foundation that develops programmes to help labour market integration.
The legal status and public support of these initiatives has gone through three main phases:
- a. Prior to 1999, these projects had no specific legal status (other than being private associations or foundations) and received limited public support, basically to help with investments or to compensate for losses. In the two main cases, but especially in the case of Traperos de Emaús, public contracts to provide services (selective waste collection and home help services) did have a significant role. Since there were no social clauses in the tendering process, niche specialisation and harsh cost containment were key to access to such contracts.
- b. In 1999/2000 the regional government created a register of social and labour market integration centres (centros de incorporación sociolaboral or CISs) and establishes a system of subsidies for such centres, generally based on the model of the CEEs for people with disabilities. This allowed the consolidation of the existing projects and the birth of several others (some eleven by 2010 with 400–600 employees).
- c. The third phase should see these centres increase their chances of obtaining public service contracts and, possibly as a result, decrease their need for direct subsidising. The 2006 Navarra Public Contracts Act established the possibility of reserving up to a maximum of 20 per cent of public contracts to CEEs, CISs and other enterprises “participating in labour market integration programmes”. In 2009 the act was amended twice at the request of social enterprise associations and the unanimous vote of the regional parliament. It turned the possibility of reserving a minimum of 6 per cent of public contracts for these enterprises into an obligation, and includes the possibility of including social criteria to decide in tenders. Although the effect has been limited so far, there are indications of a stronger commitment of the regional government, under strong cost containment pressures.
54.2. Conceptions and ways of addressing users
The main difference in the ways of addressing users in the CISs lies in the fact that “users” are actually “workers”. People get paid not for what they lack (a job, income) but for what they do, whatever the limits they may have to do it efficiently. This addresses directly an explicit demand of most users (“we want to work”) in a way that they are able to comply with and that is intended to help them develop their capabilities. This also has effects on the self-esteem and dignity of users.
This position of users helps to develop, at least in some of the CISs, a less formalised approach to work with users.
I believe that today everything [in social work] has become very technical and practitioners talk about “integrations”, “roadmaps” and so on and so forth… We don’t speak that way and we don’t have “roadmaps”. Of course we take in people and we have information about them, because a morning working together on the truck gives you more information than any interview. It’s a bit difficult when we have to report on our work, because the data they ask for have little to do with what we actually do. I see there’s a clear difference in the flexibility of language and the ways of understanding.
Then come the ways of doing social work, the work of “accompaniment”. We’ve always defined a “side-by-side” method of working. First, when we take somebody in, confidence and trust play a key role; the person has to feel comfortable, that is, we don’t start by asking “who was your father”, and so on. Of course we ask “what’s your name”, but we don’t ask where do you come from, so there’s a space that opens itself up we prefer people to express themselves the way they wish, to have them feel comfortable, because when you feel comfortable you express yourself freely and then the troubles and hardships of people show up and we can start to work, not in a hierarchic way but horizontally…
(José María García, Traperos de Emaús)
At least in one of the cases (Traperos de Emaús) the idea of participants being “helpers” rather than “helped” users seems to be important. The social enterprise has always thought in terms of living on what others discard and helping others, be it by giving a hand to other projects, by providing a public service (rather than depending on subsidies) or by contributing to projects in developing countries. “Breaking the trend of simply responding to problems has given us a strong root, that may be one of our innovative elements, that of acting as an organisation for helping others rather than helping our participants”.
Although this discourse might be specific to Traperos de Emaús, the process of moving from a discretionary subsidy model towards one based on opening up a market for the products of their work and obtaining contracts to provide public services or public works is consistent with the idea of “depending on our own effort”.
54.3. Internal organisation and modes of working
Modes of organisation differ amongst these enterprises. Some stick to a rather conventional form of organisation (adapted in some respects). But at the other end, Traperos de Emaús has tried to innovate its internal organisation, to be able to manage a medium sized enterprise (over 200 employees) in a way that is both efficient and democratic and enabling for its members.
In 2005–6 we open a debate to rethink our organisation: what organisation do we want and is possible. Out of that debate we designed the “mandala trapero”. All work areas have a coordinator who belongs to what we call the central coordination group, that elects the trustees of the foundation (for two years) and the director (every year). So we have a group of about fourteen people who coordinate the process, and a second group we call the creation and evaluation group. This group is made up of about fifteen people with a certain degree of homogeneity in their understanding and their ways of expression who evaluate the main decisions we make and how our work is consistent with our principles, such as solidarity, for instance. There are some transversal elements, such as the right to information and to participation for everybody, and the quest for consensus in a hierarchical structure.
This organisational innovation effort is connected to the idea of building a sort of working community that helps the development of its members and is efficient (gets the job done) at the same time. Gaztelan has set up different kinds of structures in its projects, some of which have become cooperatives, some associations and some ordinary enterprises.
54.4. Interaction with the local welfare system
Both the development of the CISs as such and the establishment of the social clauses for public contracts set up a kind of relationship between TSOs and government that differs from the usual one. The usual relationship is based on applying for specific subsidising for activities from different government bodies (local, regional, etc.). There is neither an organised system nor clear rules of assignment of public subsidies, so they rely heavily in the interest that a specific activity may arise in a certain government body.
The setting up of the CIS system meant that at least there are clear rules as to which projects get an accreditation as a CIS, and what kind and amount of subsidies may be expected (directly related to wage costs, social security contributions and investments). They are still discretionary (there’s no entitlement to get those subsidies just because you develop the activity) but rules are much clearer and the yearly agreement process allows for reasonable expectations (at least to keep activity levels).
The new model of relying more on public contracts (which Traperos de Emaús has had for three decades now) moves the relationship one step further, since funding is obtained for providing a service or a product, giving the enterprise more independence and making it more accountable as well.
The government of Navarra wants to reduce the role of subsidies to the CISs and enhancing reliance on their own activity, and I think that’s great for us. (…) We get paid for what we do, for our work…
We’ve always told the government (at least I can speak for us): we don’t want property, we don’t want to accumulate assets, we want a right of usage. We want things to be owned by the government, because they have the duty to control social organisations. Over the years, we’ve actually built up assets for about four million euros, and it comes mostly from public money. What if we go crazy? We’ve told them that. So we want to have a correct relationship with the government, but not more intense than necessary. We want to be free to say our word, but without unnecessary aggressiveness. That’s another key element of our style.