“This guy’s supposed to fill in his home address before signing and paying” becomes “You are required to complete the details of your habitual place of residence prior to executing your signature and furnishing the payment.”
But the fact is this is more than just a laughing matter. I calculate I spend at least 2 weeks a year embroiled in bureaucratic work when I could be working for the economy. Multiply this by several millions of working citizens and you get a mind-boggling amount of man-hours lost to the economy. Not to mention the fact that a job in the Spanish civil service is practically a job for life, no matter how badly you do it (I have had my bank account embargoed 3 times for the same mistakes made by functionaries, amid numerous other horror stories). A friend once broke open the champagne on hearing she had passed her oposiciones (civil service entrance exams), saying “I’ll never have to work again!” Another I bumped into in the market nonchalantly doing her shopping during working hours. I know of only one civil servant who decided to leave his job and go back to the private sector – he got bored and pestered his boss to give him something to do other than meeting me for 2-hour coffee breaks, but his boss had nothing more to offer him. I think you get the picture.This situation has given rise to the figure of the gestor – someone you pay to do the paperwork which in other countries presumably gets done by the civil service. Not that you’ll fare much better; I have got through 3 in as many years. The first handed in my papers late (so I lost my right to dole), the second charged me the earth for doing chores a monkey like myself could do, and the last one continued to charge my bank monthly after I had stopped employing him. Such sloppiness (or dishonesty) leads some to simply ignore the law and work around it, and it is depressing to see that they often do better as a result (if only in terms of their sanity), at least in the short term. I have attended translators’ seminars where gestores have been invited to answer questions, only to find that they simply don’t know the answer as they are not accustomed to dealing with cross-border issues that are the translator’s daily bread and butter. For example: “What exchange rate should I apply when paying VAT across European countries? The one at the time of billing the client or the one at the time of payment to the tax office?” Nobody seems to know, even those who work at the tax office whose job it is to know.
Nevertheless, I must point out that many Spanish people do indeed work hard and put in long, unpaid overtime. But it seems to me that one reason for this is that they are paying for a large part of the population that seems to be doing relatively little. Here in Valencia recently, civil servants in the justice department were caught on film “signing on” for work with a fingerprint scan, then promptly going home and returning at 5 pm to “sign out” again. To date, no action has been taken regarding this.There has also been a general strike against labour reforms and tinkering with pensions in response to the world economic recession, with the usual media attention on fringe pickets seeking public sympathy by burning tyres, blocking traffic and shouting at people. Months earlier there was already a strike against wage cuts by civil servants – natch – ironically perhaps the only Spanish social group where few fear for their job in these hard times, not to mention the usual summer threats from air-traffic controllers unsure whether to accept € 200,000 a year and an unprecedented strike by judges. In Valencia, the public transport workers usually strike around Fallas time to the delight of Valencians and tourists alike. They have recently taken to do doing so around the Formula 1 weekend to see if they can scupper the local economy that pays their wages in summer too.
Forecasts say that by 2050 only half of Spain’s population will be of working age, a common phenomenon in industrialized countries. Let’s hope they’re not all in the civil service. Many unemployed people seem to see this as the only way back to employment, which is not surprising when disproportionate social security payments for the newly self-employed deter any budding entrepreneurs such as freelance translators. Spain is also on its way to having the EU’s oldest population. Yet the strikes indicate that people in general seem to be unwilling to face the necessary and inevitable changes that demographics have thrust upon us with a public sector creaking under the weight of the population’s age. Many translators are considering private pension schemes, though the current economic climate does not bode well for either public or private institutions.As a self-employed translator creating wealth for the state (which I have nothing against) but with no dole, pathetic health insurance, no union and the crummiest foreseeable public pension, I feel I have the right at least to feel annoyed when I see some – by no means all – civil servants providing a poor, ill-informed service when we are all paying for it. Surely our tax and social security obligations can be handled more efficiently, or even automatically?