Spain's safety net frays as care workers go unpaid
By Paul Day
PUERTOLLANO, Spain, March 5 - Mercedes Garcia, the director of a residency for severely mentally disabled adults, has a crisis in her kitchen.
Two caterers have been supplying and preparing food for the centre's 46 patients for free for almost a year; the other 18 recently decided they'd had it and refused to provide further service without payment up front.
The residency has been running on fumes for months because the local government, squeezed by austerity measures to combat the euro zone debt crisis, has not paid its share of expenses.
"All of the residents here will need 24-hour care from cradle to grave, but our carers can't continue their own lives if we don't pay them," an exhausted-looking Garcia told Reuters in February. Her caregivers earn 800 euros a month, just above minimum wage and not enough to tide them over when their paycheques are delayed.
One caregiver ran out in tears in the middle of a reporter's visit, after three months without pay.
Similar crises are playing out all across Spain: street cleaners, nurses, teachers and job trainers are struggling to get by as cash-strapped local authorities withhold wages.
Garcia told Reuters she is hopeful the money to pay the centre's 81 workers will start to flow again soon, but she has not been given a straight answer on the financial future from officials in Spain's central Castilla-La Mancha region, where her institution is located.
The local government denies funding has been definitively cut, and the public-private Fuente Agria Foundation for the mentally disabled, which shoulders some of the centre's cost, has been told repeatedly the money is on its way. But as each deadline passes without funds, the situation grows increasingly desperate. Continued...