My Opinions on the Spanish Job Market

Martin just writes:

Hello Russell,

Being a US citizen as you are, I would like to ask you a question.

I was wondering if you found out or ever cared about, the reason why Spanish IT workforce is so badly paid as you can check looking through Webs like

And if you ever had a thought about that and are willing to share it with a stranger like me ( :-) ) or in an article at your Web Site.

Maybe you have never thought about it, but I get real envious whea I surf through or

Just a thought....

Best Regards and thanks for your time ....

Ooooh. I get lots of random emails - the more popular this blog is, the more I become like Dear Abbey - but this is definitely something I can sink my teeth into. Here's my reply which I started writing, but realized I was blogging in my email, so I decided to put it in its proper place and send a link ;-):

Hey Martin,

I've kinda blogged about this off and on over the past year... I'm quite convinced that Spain's whole employment market is artificially kept low. You don't need to look at the U.S. to compare, look at other E.U. countries like the UK or Germany. They make decent money up north also, and they're not anywhere near the size of the market that the U.S. is. The question is why do Spain's salaries compare so badly? In my mind there's various factors which lower the pay here legitimately, but there are a LOT of other non-legitimate reasons as well.

First, and foremost, there's a constant 10-15% unemployment here in Spain which amazes me. In the U.S. it seems BAD and it's only around 4%. That means that there's a lot more candidates out there for a given job and people willing to take whatever they're paid. Beyond anything else you look at, you have to start there.

That's only part of the problem.

I think that part of the blame is on the government - the laws make it too hard to fire someone here, and the unemployment benefits are huge. That makes companies more willing to hold on to workers, but to also pay them lower to compensate for the costs of keeping so many extra workers around and paying benefits. Also, look at vacation time. I get 10 days off a year at my new American job and being sick and taking vacation are counted the same. It's harsh, but it's the way of life in the US. With the minimum vacation time near one month a year here in Spain, that also affects wages as well.

But I was earning less than half of what I make now in the U.S. for a similar job in Spain. Why? This isn't India. There aren't a billion highly educated people here willing to earn $30 a month or anything. This is modern Western Europe. What on Earth can make salaries so low for such a highly-educated populace?


The Spanish LOVE bureacracy. They LOVE their three piece suits and their two hour lunches and they LOVE their fiefdoms and control. Man it's so macho here it hurts. I would have four - count them: 4 - different managers on my floor alone that I would report to here in Spain if I were working for the company I'm working with right now. FOUR different suits up the chain of command, all earning 150% what the guy below him earns. See those BMWs on the streets here in Spain? Those weren't paid for by programmers salaries. Those are "manager's salaries".

Here's a story that I may have told before here on this blog - and if so I'll make it shorter this time - when I started working at Terra back in 2000 for a whopping $45,000 a year (down from my $175,000 a year contracting gigs back in the U.S.), one of my coworkers got promoted 2 weeks after I arrived. One day he was coming in dressed in business casual, the next he arrives in a three piece suit and tie. Suddenly, he was a "manager". He had manager meetings and ate with other managers, definitely earned a manager's salary and stopped socializing completely with us "worker bees". If you're a programmer here in Spain, you're nothing. No respect. You're a worker bee and you do what you're told and how you're told to do it. Meetings are not give and take info-swapping sessions. Meetings are where your Boss tells you what you will be working on this week. And people just submit to it. It's amazing.

Thus, if you ask me, Spain needs both a freer market economy - make it easier for employees to be hired/fired, and cut back on the vacation time - as well as a fundamental change in attitudes of the employees themselves. But there's no incentive to do either - why rock the boat if you're a manager, right? Well, that's the problem...

This is the sort of anachronism here in Spain that drives us Anglos out of our fucking mind. 30 years ago just before Franco died (in the 70s), there was a large portion of dirt roads here in Spain, women were second class citizens, the telephone system was out of 50s and TVs were still something special. Fast foward 30 years and I'm writing all this stuff about my new GPRS mobile phone via my in-home DSL broadband connection from one of the most modern democracies on the planet. A LOT A LOT has changed and it's mind-bending to people like my in-laws who I'm sure deep-inside feel like those parents from that movie with Brendan Frasier about the Bomb Shelter. They just live in a state of constant shock.

But then, for as much that's changed there's this SHIT that just sticks around. The anachronisms: Smoking. Machismo. Bureaucracy. Low salaries. Stores that close for Three Hours during the middle of the day for lunch. And no decent Chinese food!!! These are all things that Spain needs to catch up, in my opinion and why, in general is what the problem is. (Well maybe not the lack of good Chinese food, but the other stuff). The Spanish, in my humble opinion, stick with what they know and don't rock the boat. Until they do, they'll continue getting paid like shit.

There you go. Remember, you asked. ;-)


A week later...

Hola a todos de BarraPunto! Han sido mas de 150 personas las que han leido este mensaje desde alli! Wow! Antes que te pongas super enfedado sobre mis opiniones (si no estas de acuerdo con ellas), por favor recuerda que no soy nadie especial y que esto es solamente mi opinion. Seguro que tienes otra. Reconozco que es dificil para algunas personas recibir criticas de su pais procedentes de un extrajero como yo. Pero he vivido aqui durante 3 a�os ya, mi mujer es espa�ola, mi hijo es espa�ol, tengo que trabajar aqui y vivir aqui y puedo tener opiniones validas de este pais como cualquiere otro residente. Trabajo con otros Americanos que han llegado literalmente "ayer" y ellos tienen opiniones tontas e ignorantes de verdad, pero mis opiniones estan mas pensadas. No digo que estan super-limpias de parcialidad Americana, pero son validas por lo menos.



< Previous         Next >