Antonio Garamendi comes from a family with a long tradition of business in his native Basque Country, a region of Spain which has historically been one of the main motors of the country’s economy. He is the president of the CEOE, the Spanish Confederation of Business Organisations – the boss of the bosses, the head of the country’s employers.
In Mallorca for the Confederation of Balearic Business Associations annual gala event, he has been speaking about key issues for employers, not least salary negotiations being conducted against the background of inflation and emergence from two years of pandemic. In the Balearics, the main unions have been warning employers that they can expect a “hot winter” if satisfactory settlements are not reached, while President Armengol has called for “historic salary increases”, citing the good tourism season as justification for these.
He insists that the employers have never said that salaries shouldn’t be raised, but he also insists that they cannot sign up to linking salaries to the consumer price index, because the Bank of Spain and international organisations have warned that this would lead to a second round of inflation.
“It is being stated over and over that businesses have been making a fortune when this is not true. Last year, overall profits were down by 100,000 million euros; this year they will be 7,000 or 8,000 million lower. You just have to see how businesses’ energy costs have risen, and in no case can they be transferring that cost to their final prices. For the state there is something called a deficit, but for companies it’s called bankruptcy. There are a lot of political games being played. And it is not true that we have left the negotiating table, we are continuing the talking.”
In the Balearics, Garamendi says that tourism has suffered greatly over the past two years. “It seems that here we can forget that there are many people, especially small businesspeople, who are emerging from one crisis only to enter another.
“In the case of the Balearics, the economy has its low season. It should not be about what has happened this summer but about what has happened up to this point – two horrible years plus a short-term situation that in principle is not going to be good. No one is saying that wages shouldn’t rise, but they cannot be raised if they are not reviewed based on companies’ competitiveness.”
This summer, 35,000 people were unemployed over the best months. Companies complained that they could not find qualified labour. On this, and within the broad context of the Balearic economy’s competitiveness and productivity, Garamendi refers to an OECD report which points to 33% of people in Spain between the ages of 28 and 35 having no training. “There is a real problem with training, with aptitude. In Spain, there are sectors such as hospitality where 100,000 people are missing.”
He is critical of Spanish government tax on large fortunes. “It is a mistake not to think that these high incomes have investment capacity, which is what creates companies and wealth. It is absurd that there are confiscatory taxes because these are taxes on assets that have already been collected and Spain is the only country wanting to impose them. There are other solutions. For example, people who do not pay: the underground economy in Spain is twice the size as in the rest of Europe.”