For the 1,200 employees who work on the Palmas Alta campus in Seville, where some of Abengoa’s subsidiaries are based, this is not another week. The news of the request for bankruptcy by the group’s council leaves his job future in the air, which had been hanging by a thread for five years with the news of chained rescue plans. However, few dare to verbalize their anguish and those who lend themselves to speak, always on the condition of anonymity, share the boredom of five years of uncertainty and regret for what they consider a contempt for talent.
“Right now I don’t know what will happen, the feeling is that what matters the least is us, the workers, the true capital of Abengoa, and that everything is a shareholders’ war. Let’s see what happens next week ”, explains an employee. A shareholders’ meeting is scheduled for March 4, in which there should be a change in the presidency of the board. “This group has talent, a great human team, the crisis of the company has hurt us when it comes to opting for projects in an increasingly competitive market, but we continue to be at the forefront,” he laments.
Since the first major restructuring plan was presented in 2015, Abengoa’s workforce has witnessed a drain in the form of several ERTE (temporary layoffs) and ERE (collective layoffs) that has wiped out around 11,000 jobs. Of the 24,000 employees in 2014, it has risen to 13,500, 2,550 in Spain, of which 80% work in Andalusia. “In the good times there was hardly any supervision of the work groups, there were many scholarship holders, all of them eager and well trained. With the crisis came the freezing of wages, the absence of internal promotion and the necessary training in our sector was greatly reduced ”, explains another worker. “Personally I am tired, they have been many agonizing years and now the expectations are not at all promising,” he says about his future.
In these five years, the good training and prestige of having worked at Abengoa allowed many of the employees who were laid off or who left the group’s ship before the shipwreck to find work in companies in the sector or to form their own companies. Now the market has changed and some do not see their job expectations so clear and less in the middle of the pandemic. “It is not so clear to me that there are so many offers and less here in Seville or Andalusia,” he explains.
A dream job
Abengoa was an anomaly in the business wasteland of Andalusia. For young engineers or recently graduated economists, going to work at one of the group’s companies was a dream prize, especially if one looked at the wasteland of opportunities offered by the Andalusian labor market. This explains a large part of the conformity of some workers who work at Abengoa compensated for the marathon days or the draconian working conditions imposed by the company’s management, to the point that the Palmas Altas complex was called Palmatraz, making a pun with Alcatraz jail.
“We could not leave the venue to eat, to have to consume there, you could not sign in at the time of departure, but it was almost mandatory to work overtime and holidays and long weekends were well priced. It was a despotism ”, recognizes Carlos Vázquez, who was president of the works council of Abeinsa BD, a defunct subsidiary of Abengoa. “In recent years we managed to make these rules more flexible, but it cost us several complaints to the labor authority for breach of the Workers’ Statute,” he recalls.
Vázquez explains that until the first pre-contest was presented in 2016, there was no union presence at Abengoa. “We began to organize clandestinely to form works councils using our personal emails,” he recalls. “In Abengoa there was no union tradition because, as most are senior graduates, they believe that they are in the elite and that they do not have to fight for their rights,” he reasons. He was present at several of the meetings on the rescue plans and had meetings with members of the central and regional government and the Seville City Council to seek just solutions for the workers.
“At first, Abengoa management was bothered by our presence and even fired several union representatives; then when they saw that we had little experience they saw that we were the useful fool. We negotiated long-term ERTEs that later became EREs against which we could not sue for having signed them ”, he laments. Vázquez started working at Abengoa in 2000 and left in the summer of 2019 “due to personal and professional exhaustion”. Now he runs his own company.
For Vázquez, in this “process towards the liquidation” of Abengoa it has become clear that in the group the least concern has been the worker. Those who continue to be agree. “A lot has been invested in innovation and development and a lot has also had to be sold; there is a lot of talent, but a lot has also escaped and nobody has done anything to retain it ”, laments the employee.