The lack of housing and precariousness fuel the shortage of workers in the tourism sector in the Balearic Islands

While a week ago the alarms went off after the landing in Mallorca of more than a thousand rental cars – the Balearic Islands have the highest ratio of vehicles per person, 909.5 per 10,000 inhabitants – in anticipation of a high season with a massive arrival of tourists to the archipelago, hotels and other businesses such as restaurants do not have everything with them. Turned into one of the sectors hardest hit by the COVID pandemic, the tourism industry welcomes its long-awaited recovery with optimism, but with the stumbling block of not being able to cover one hundred percent of its workforce and the fear that, with this, the reactivation look slowed down.

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) already warned at the beginning of the year: in Spain, the available labor supply cannot meet the required demand. In fact, according to data from the international organization, already in the second half of 2021 the shortage of employees rose to 93,000, equivalent to one in eleven jobs, a situation that, above all, is evident in the areas accommodation and food and beverage services. Throughout 2022, with the focus on the next season, the WTTC forecast is not rosy either: the labor market is expected to remain tight, with an average shortage of 16,000 workers.

In its tourism outlook report for January this year, the Alliance for Tourism Excellence (Exceltur) also alluded to the "worrisome" difficulty in finding trained workers in the territories where the pandemic has lasted the longest. And it is that, as the tourist lobby points out, a part of the segment of workers with greater job opportunities has chosen to recycle to other sectors of activity less affected than tourism by the stoppage of activity.

In the Balearic Islands, where some 10,000 companies in the tourism sector employ some 130,000 workers -according to CCOO data-, the lack of labor, especially qualified, has begun to be felt in hotel establishments far from the main population centers, where the Housing supply is scarce and rents skyrocket even before the arrival of summer. "There is a lack of housing for the workers who come every year. With the boom in vacation rentals, almost all the housing that owners used to rent to workers is now rented by tourists. The landlord is much more profitable," he says, in statements to elDiario.es, the secretary of the Federation of Services, Mobility and Consumption (FeSMC) of UGT Baleares, José García Relucio.

It is not a new situation in the Balearic archipelago, which for years has been experiencing a growing escalation in housing prices, motivated, among other causes, by the strength of holiday rentals. The prohibitive figures around which the rental market moves, mainly in the Pitiusas (Ibiza and Menorca), with prices of up to 700 and 800 euros per room, keep potential hotel workers away from the islands, mainly waiters and cooks. Residents do not have it easier: according to the recent study 'Relationship of salaries and rental housing in 2021', published by Fotocasa and Infojobs, the average Balearic citizen had to dedicate 49% of his gross monthly salary (1,965 euros) to rent payment for their home, the price of which stood at 11.98 euros per square metre.

García Relucio is blunt: "Unimaginable barbarities are seen. With an average salary, what do you have left to eat? We are talking about poor workers, people who have work but do not even make it to the end of the month."

The union representative points out that this is a problem that is accentuated, above all, in hotels, restaurants, cafeterias and nightlife located in areas where access to housing is impossible. "As in western movies, the law does not come there. There is much more freedom when it comes to breaking the agreement and exploiting the workers." Not in vain, he points out that, in this sense, Easter "was a disaster: abuse in hiring, overtime without compensation, fewer days off than the corresponding ones, much more workload... I don't even want to imagine what could happen in July and August".

As he points out, these are less visible circumstances in towns such as Palma, Playa de Palma, Calvià or Alcúdia given that "people have a home" there or it is less difficult to find one. Aside from this, he stresses that "conditions are very important: if you tell a worker 'I'm going to give you a contract for a maximum of six months, from May to October, and as soon as I can I'll take days off, today you stay longer and in the end I neither pay you for the hours nor do I give you compensatory breaks', they end up refusing to come from the peninsula because 70% of the salary goes to rent".

Regarding this, the general secretary of the Federation of CCOO Services of the Balearic Islands, Silvia Montejano, points out that already in 2021, due to the pandemic and the fact that the tourist season was shorter, many of the workers who usually moved to the archipelago opted for stay in their places of origin since they had found employment "in other sectors that compensate them more", such as construction or commerce, which during the pandemic continued to have activity "while tourism was stopped". A situation that is not different from that of 2022, with the aggravating circumstance that this problem began to be detected at Easter.

"In summer, the high seasonality that we suffer in the Balearic Islands means that workloads are very high. What happens? Companies do not say: 'We are going to take on fewer clients and attend to a lower volume of work'. On the islands, in the strong summer months, this always happens, the templates are never well dimensioned, but this year the problem has already been seen at Easter and we are concerned that this overload of work will also occur in the peak months", Montejano confides .

In these circumstances, the union representative predicts that "it will be difficult to have enough workers this year to cope with the volume of activity that is expected in the summer" and asserts that, in a scenario like the current one, "there is only room for foresight and respect for labor regulations and their compliance and responsibility to deal with the tourist season", which is expected to reach levels of arrivals similar to those of 2019, the year in which up to 16.45 million tourists visited the Balearic Islands and a historical record was registered in expenditure, with 16,510 million euros.

The hoteliers, for their part, affirm that this is a situation that is being experienced throughout Spain, not only in the Balearic Islands and not exclusively in the tourism sector and, specifically, in the hotel sector. In the case of the islands, they admit that this year the shortage of workers has increased due to the fact that during the last two years "there has not been such an important call" for employees, especially those from the peninsula, due to the pandemic. As pointed out by the Hotel Business Federation of Mallorca (FEHM), "housing is heavily penalized", a phenomenon that, they point out, is also affecting other workers such as police and health workers, mainly in Ibiza.

One of the main hotel chains based in Mallorca, RIU, points out that the lack of manpower to cover the needs of the tourist season "deep down is an old problem that perhaps is now being noticed a little more". However, it specifies that, in its case, since all its establishments are located in Playa de Palma, one of the main tourist centers of Mallorca and a favorite destination for German visitors, also located between two important enclaves such as Palma and Llucmajor, "with much residential offer", the company is not being affected by the lack of employees.

And it is that, as RIU points out, the hoteliers and restaurateurs who "have it more difficult" are those whose establishments are located in areas where "rents are very expensive, there is little supply of housing and distances do not allow you to come and go And the smaller the island, the worse, as is the case with Formentera." To alleviate this problem, the chain chaired by Luis and Carmen Riu has more than 200 places available in Pitiusa Menor for employees in blocks where department heads have a private apartment and the rest of the workers share a house.

Company sources assure that the shortage of employees is not being faced as a new crisis and recall, in fact, that 2021 was especially affected by these circumstances: "Last year it was very difficult to complete the kitchen teams. They are profiles defendants who end up going to the highest bidder".

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