The recent Royal Decree Law nº 10/2020, of March 29th orders the suspension of companies and non-essential works as a consequence of the declaration of the state of alarm issued on March 14th, an order that certainly affects both the economy and society in a global way.
This suspension will last 11 days, from March 30th to April 9th, both inclusive, establishing that March 30th is considered a day of adaptation to enable the closure of all non-essential activities that shall be suspended in the following days. During this period the remuneration of the employees will be secured by means of the “recoverable paid leave”, as approved by the Government on March 29th.
The problem is that the classification of activities which are considered essential and those which are not has caused controversy the first day of the shutdown. Consequently, the Government issued the Order SND/307/2020, of March 30th, which establishes the imperative criteria for application of the Royal Decree-Law 10/2020, of March 29th, and the model of statement of responsibility which allows the necessary journeys between the worker’s residence and the workplace, which supplements the RDL but without clarifying all the questions and doubts arising from the very same RDL.
Let us recall that the Royal Decree law 463/2020, of March 14th, by means of which the state of alarm was declared in order to manage the health crisis situation caused by COVID-19, states that the supply of the population must be guaranteed at all times, by facilitating and ensuring the transport of goods throughout the national territory. On this basis, it should be noted that land transport companies and those companies related to maritime and air traffic pursuing or enabling this aim (without being this a limiting list), as well as the facilities providing these services shall guarantee their activity throughout the whole period of the state of alarm. In fact, Mrs. María José Rallo, the Secretary General for Transport, declared that transport is obviously included within the essential activities, and State Ports has initiated an information campaign to emphasize the functioning of the state port system to guarantee the distribution of essential items and goods during the COVID-19 crisis.
Abiding to the sixth point of the annex of the RDL nº 10/2020, states: “The recoverable paid leave regulated by this royal decree-law is not applicable to the following employees: 6. Those who carry out transport services, both for people and goods, which continue to be carried out since the declaration of the state of alarm, as well as those who must ensure the maintenance of the means used for this purpose, under the protection of the regulations approved by the competent authority and the competent authorities delegated since the declaration of the state of alarm”.
Similarly, article 4 of the RDL 10/2020 specifies what shall be understood as the minimum indispensable activity: “The companies that must apply the recoverable paid leave regulated in this article may, if necessary, establish the minimum number of staff or work shifts that are strictly indispensable in order to maintain the essential activity. This activity and this minimum number of staff or shifts shall be based on the activity carried out during an ordinary weekend or on public holidays”.
Therefore, in accordance with the sixth point of the annex of the RDL nº 10/2020 (which regulates the non-application of the paid leaves regulated in the present Royal Decree-Law) the port services are considered essential services (art. 18 of the Royal Decree, of March 14th), being some of them even mandatory for the vessels when in ports. Moreover, we must understand that all the State Ports of General Interest are strategic infrastructures by their very definition, some of them also being critical infrastructures. All of them are guarantors of operation of services that are defined as essential and must therefore continue to operate, guaranteeing supply by facilitating the flow of goods in them.
The same interpretation shall be applicable to the companies that provide their services there:
– The commercial procurement service.
– The commercial supply service.
– The ship agency service.
– The commercial inter-port transport service.
– Port handling operations (dockers, etc.).
– The port passenger service.
– Mooring and unmooring service.
– The port towing service.
– The port consignment service.
– General services provided directly by the Port Authority or indirectly by third parties.
– The rest of the commercial activities related to the port activities, such as freight forwarders, customs agents, damage commissioners, container depots, etc.
With regard to road transport of goods, it is also asserted as essential and its workers can continue with their activity under the new exceptions to the compliance with driving and rest times implemented between March 29th and April 12th, both inclusive (Resolution of March 26th, 2020, of the Directorate General for Land Transport), and with the acceleration of driving facilitated by the so called cross-border “green lanes”.
We should point out that transport activities remain fully operative as long as these are related to other essential economic activities (distribution of food and healthcare products, among others). What is more, the RLD n. 10/2020 is only applicable to the salaried employees, which means that the self-employed remain active except for those performing services for companies that were, on March 14th, classifies as no-essential and remain closed: restaurants and hospitality companies, sports companies, among others.