President Quim Torra said today that the Catalan government is “working to give companies and workers a sense of security and rebuild Catalonia’s productive fabric, which is based largely on SMEs and self-employed workers”. To achieve these goals, the government has adopted a series of measures aimed at mitigating the effects of the coronavirus outbreak on the trade sector.
This was the president’s message to representatives of the sector in a videoconference held today in which the Minister of Business and Knowledge, Àngels Chacón, also took part. The sector, which includes wholesale and retail trade as well as vehicle sales, accounts for 15% of jobs in Catalonia and generates 16% of GDP.
The president recognised that the situation is serious and that the weeks ahead will be difficult but said that the Catalan government is committed to looking out for workers. He stressed the importance of ensuring that employees can stay home “with assurances” and that those who must work are provided with appropriate personal protective equipment.
Torra acknowledged that the trade sector is among the hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak. Nearly 54% of commercial establishments cannot open; 45% of employees cannot work, and a total of 48,000 establishments are closed. This situation has led to losses of €1.05bn in 15 days in the retail sector alone, where 99.8% of companies are microenterprises or SMEs.
“We share your concern about the future of your businesses and your employees,” the president told the sector representatives, passing on the Catalan government’s “solidarity and support”.
The Minister of Business and Knowledge acknowledged that “the situation of the trade sector is critical” and said the priorities for the sector were liquidity and a moratorium on payment of taxes and social security contributions by companies and the self-employed. “We haven’t seen any move in that direction by the Spanish government, and that’s a death sentence for many SMEs and microenterprises in the sector,” she said.
€13.8 million boost to line of loans and increase to €9 million for trade-sector grants
To mitigate the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, the Catalan government is working to bolster a line of loans for small trade-sector businesses with an additional €13.8 million.
In addition, grants provided annually by the Consortium for Trade, Crafts and Fashion (CCAM) of the Ministry of Business and Knowledge will be increased to €9 million in 2020 and reoriented towards softening the impact of the current crisis and helping self-employed workers and small businesses in the sector.
Cutting red tape for temporary lay-offs
The trade-sector representatives expressed their support for the steps that the Catalan government has been calling on the central government to take since the outset of the crisis; namely, suspension of tax payments and social security contributions by companies and the self-employed and measures to improve liquidity for companies.
They also called for steps to be taken to speed up processing of temporary lay-off plans. On this point, the president said he had issued instructions today to streamline the process. Finally, the trade-sector representatives urged the government to work on an action plan to revitalise the trade sector and related businesses after the coronavirus crisis has been overcome.
On average, businesses in the sector, together with services and restaurants, have seen a 90% drop in turnover.
In total, companies in Catalonia have filed 51,340 labour force adjustment plans to date, raising the number of unemployed to 400,000 (double the figure before the coronavirus outbreak).