The Kingdom of Spain is a parliamentary democracy headed by a constitutional monarch. The country has a bicameral parliament, the General Courts or National Assembly, consisting of the Congress of Deputies (lower house) and the Senate (upper house). The head of the largest political party or coalition usually is named to head the government as president of the Council of Ministers, the equivalent of prime minister. Observers considered national elections held on April 28 and November 10 to be free and fair.
Police forces include the national police and the paramilitary Civil Guard, both of which handle migration and border enforcement under the authority of the national Ministry of the Interior, as well as regional police under the authority of the Catalan and the Basque Country regional governments. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
There were no reports of significant human rights abuses during the year.
The government generally took steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses. In some instances officials engaged in corruption and created the impression of impunity.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits, subject to judicial oversight, actions including public speeches and the publication of documents that the government interprets as celebrating or supporting terrorism. The law provides for imprisonment from one to four years for persons who provoke discrimination, hatred, or violence against groups or associations on the basis of ideology, religion or belief, family status, membership in an ethnic group or race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, illness, or disability.
The law penalizes the downloading of illegal content and the use of unauthorized websites, violent protests, insulting a security officer, recording and disseminating images of police, and participating in unauthorized protests outside government buildings. The NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF) called the law a threat to press freedom, while the Professional Association of the Judiciary considered it contrary to freedom of speech and information. The Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) challenged the law in the Constitutional Court, where a decision remained pending.
Violence and Harassment: The RSF and other press freedom organizations stated that the country’s restrictive press law and its enforcement impose censorship and self-censorship on journalists.
On September 11 and October 1, unknown persons assaulted television journalists covering demonstrations for Catalan independence in Barcelona. The perpetrators were not identified or apprehended. The RSF stated approximately 50 such abuses occurred in Catalonia in 2018 and 2019.
On October 15, the International Press Institute called upon authorities to ensure an end to police attacks on journalists covering protests following the ruling of the Supreme Courte jailing leaders of the Catalan independence movement.
On November 6, Harlem Desir, the representative for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe for Freedom of the Media condemned the posters that radical proindependence groups hung in Barcelona, calling six Spanish journalists “information terrorists,” including their names and the media they work for, and telling them “to stay in Madrid.” The Journalists Association of Catalonia and the Union of Journalists of Catalonia have also condemned the actions.
The Barcelona Hate Crimes Prosecutor’s 2018 report continued to document an increase in the number of hate crimes beginning in October 2017, mostly attributable to political beliefs related to the Catalan independence movement. In Barcelona Province, 40.5 percent of 412 registered cases represented hate speech and discrimination against those holding differing political views. Police reports confirmed an increase in cases of political discrimination in Catalonia. Attacks, which ranged from insults to physical assaults, increased from 121 in 2017 to 326 in 2018.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
f. Protection of Refugees
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The report of the SPT stated that, in the Aluche migrant center in Madrid, men were subject to physical and psychological abuse. Detainees of both sexes in Aluche were given only one change of clothes, while detainees in other visited centers received more than one change of clothes.
In its 2018 report on migrant centers in Ceuta and Melilla, the National Ombudsman noted the deterioration of housing facilities and the inadequacy of rooms for mothers with small children.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
Refoulement: Local NGOs and UNHCR reported several cases of migrant refoulement by Spanish authorities in the enclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla. In February the UN Committee on the Rights of a Child criticized the government for the refoulement of a 15-year-old Malian boy who tried to enter the country in Melilla in 2014. The committee stated the government failed to render the youth any assistance, to consider the basis of his request, and to consider the possibility of injury the boy might receive from Moroccan authorities upon his return.
Spain and Morocco signed an agreement in February to permit the Spanish Maritime Safety Agency to operate from Moroccan ports and to return irregular migrants it rescues off the Moroccan coast to shore in Morocco rather than to Spain.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country has bilateral return agreements with Morocco and Algeria. Authorities review asylum petitions individually, and there is an established appeals process available to rejected petitioners. The law permits any foreigner in the country who is a victim of gender-based violence or of trafficking in persons to file a complaint at a police station without fear of deportation, even if that individual is in the country illegally. Although potential asylum seekers were able to exercise effectively their right to petition authorities, some NGOs, such as the Spanish Commission for Refugees (CEAR), and the NGO Accem, as well as UNHCR alleged that several migration reception centers lacked sufficient legal assistance for asylum seekers. The NGOs reported that getting an appointment to request asylum could take months. CEAR reported the government granted refugee status to 575 individuals in 2018. This number did not include refugees accepted from Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Lebanon, as part of the EU relocation and resettlement plan.
According to the Ministry of the Interior, by August 13, 18,018 persons arrived in the country irregularly via the Mediterranean Sea or land border crossing points in Ceuta and Melilla bordering Morocco, 39-percent fewer than during the same period in 2018.
In September, CEAR criticized the government’s failure to protect Honduran, Guatemalan, and Salvadoran nationals. According to CEAR, the government during the year to that date approved only 15 requests of the nearly 320 asylum requests it reviewed. In 2018, 4,860 persons sought international protection in the country, with the majority filed by Hondurans (2,410) and Salvadorans (2,275). In the first six months of 2019, these numbers nearly doubled (3,212 Hondurans and 2,527 Salvadorans).
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: Under EU law the country considers all other countries in the Schengen area, the EU, and the United States to be safe countries of origin.
Access to Basic Services: In Ceuta and Melilla, according to UNHCR, asylum seekers could wait up to several months in some cases before being transferred to the care of NGOs in mainland Spain. Migrants from countries without a return agreement and those who demonstrated eligibility for international protection were provided housing and basic care as part of a government-sponsored reception program managed by various NGOs.
Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for relocation and resettlement and provided assistance through NGOs such as CEAR and Accem. UNHCR noted the country’s system for integrating refugees, especially vulnerable families, minors, and survivors of gender-based violence and trafficking in persons, needed improvement.
The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of failed asylum seekers and migrants to their homes or the country they came from.
Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals whose applications for asylum were pending review, or who did not qualify as refugees and asylees. CEAR reported that in 2018 the government granted temporary international protection to 2,320 individuals. As of July, the government had granted humanitarian protection to approximately 7,700 Venezuelan citizens, which allows them one-year residency permit that can be extended to two years.
There was an unprecedented increase in the number of unaccompanied minor migrants arriving to the country. As of September, 1,700 new minors arrived in Catalonia to raise the total of minors under the protection of the regional authorities to 4,269. The regional government struggled to provide accommodation for the youths, some of whom had to sleep in police stations. The relocation of these youths to centers in Catalan towns sparked protests. In March a man armed with a machete entered a building in Canet de Mar where 50 unaccompanied minors were housed. Protests occurred in Rubi and Castelldefels, where a group of 25 hooded attackers broke into the youth center, damaging property and throwing stones at the youths and their teachers. In July there were protests against unaccompanied minors in El Masnou after one of them was accused of attempting to rape a girl. The protesters tried to attack the center housing the unaccompanied minors, leaving six persons injured, including four of the youths. There have also been counterprotests condemning the protesters against the unaccompanied minors as racists.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Prosecutions and convictions for corruption were rare compared to the complaints filed, mainly because of the extensive system of legal appeals.
Corruption: Corruption was a problem in the country. In 2018 courts issued 63 corruption-related rulings, of which 40 were completely or partially condemnatory and 23 acquittals. During the first half of the year, courts issued 50 corruption-related rulings, of which 37 were completely or partially condemnatory. As of January, 90 persons were in prison for corruption charges. The main continuing corruption cases involved members of center-right Popular Party, retired police inspector Jose Manuel Villarejo, former managing director of the International Monetary Fund Rodrigo Rato, and Socialist Party former officials in the Andalusian regional government.
On June 25, the Group of States against Corruption of the Council of Europe removed the country from the list of countries that applied the requirements to fight corruption in an unsatisfactory manner.
On November 19, the Provincial Court of Seville sentenced 19 officials accused of abuse of power or misuse of 680 million euros ($748 million) in public funds between 2000 and 2009. The judges ruled that the defendants were involved in illicit payouts using funding earmarked to assist the unemployed. The accused include two former Andalusian regional leaders from the PSOE and several regional PSOE officials, with some receiving six to eight years in prison and all barred from holding public office for eight to 19 years.
Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws and are required to publish their income and assets on publicly available websites each year. There are administrative sanctions for noncompliance.
A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were often cooperative and responsive to their views.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The national ombudsman serves to protect and defend basic rights and public freedom on behalf of citizens. The ombudsman was generally effective, independent, and had the public’s trust. The ombudsman’s position has been vacant since 2014 and is filled on an acting basis by the first deputy assessor.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law allows most workers, including foreign and migrant workers, to form and join independent unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. Military personnel and national police forces do not have the right to join generalist unions. Judges, magistrates, and prosecutors may join only bar associations.
The law provides for collective bargaining, including for all workers, part-time and full-time, in the public sector except military personnel, and the government effectively enforced the applicable laws. Public sector collective bargaining includes salaries and employment levels, but the government retained the right to set the levels if negotiations failed. The government has the unilateral power to annul, modify, or extend the content and scope of collective agreements in the public sector, and all collective bargaining agreements must be registered with the government.
The constitution and law provide for the right to strike, and workers exercised this right by conducting legal strikes. The law prohibits strikers from disrupting or seeking to disrupt harmonious relationship among citizens, disturbing public order, causing damage to persons or property, blocking roads or public spaces, or preventing authorities or bodies from performing their duties freely. Any striking union must respect minimum service requirements negotiated with the respective employer. Law and regulations prohibit retaliation against strikers, antiunion discrimination, and discrimination based on union activity, and these laws were effectively enforced. According to the law, if an employer violates union rights, including the right to conduct legal strikes, or dismisses an employee for participation in a union, the employer could face imprisonment from six months to two years or a fine if the employer does not reinstate the employee. These penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
Workers freely organized and joined unions of their choice. The government generally did not interfere in union functioning. Collective bargaining agreements covered approximately 80 percent of the workforce in the public and private sectors at the end of the year. On occasion employers used the minimum service requirements to undermine planned strikes and ensure services in critical areas such as transportation or health services.
Although the law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers against workers and union organizers, unions contended that employers practiced discrimination in many cases by refusing to renew the temporary contracts of workers engaging in union organizing. There were also antiunion dismissals and interference in the activities of trade unions and collective bargaining in the public sector.
According to a 2019 report by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), companies routinely accede to individual agreements with employees to avoid collective bargaining with unions. The ITUC also criticized government restrictions on the right to strike, with unions reporting that more than 300 workers have been charged under the criminal code that regulates participation in strikes based on minimum service requirements.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor including by children.
The government effectively enforced the law. It maintained strong prevention efforts, although the efforts focused more on forced prostitution than other types of forced labor. The government had an insufficient number of inspectors to enforce the law effectively. The government did not implement new forced labor awareness campaigns. Penalties were sufficiently stringent to deter violations.
There were cases of employers subjecting migrant men and women to forced labor in domestic service, agriculture, construction, and the service industry. Unaccompanied children remained particularly vulnerable to labor exploitation and forced begging.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, as defined by international standards. The statutory minimum age for the employment of children is 16. The law also prohibits those younger than 18 from employment at night, overtime work, or employment in sectors considered hazardous, such as the agricultural, mining, and construction sectors. Laws and policies provide for protection of children from exploitation in the workplace, and these laws generally were enforced.
The Ministry of Employment, Migration, and Social Security has primary responsibility for enforcement of the minimum age law, and it enforced the law effectively in industries and the service sector.
The ministry did not effectively enforce the law on small farms and in family-owned businesses, where child labor persisted. The government effectively enforced laws prohibiting child labor in the special economic zones. In 2017, the most recent year for which data were available, the Ministry of Employment, Migration, and Social Security detected 20 violations of child labor laws that involved 24 minors between ages 16 and 18, and 19 violations involving 37 minors under 16 years old. The fines amounted to more than 250,000 euros ($275,000). In 2017 there were 13 violations related to the safety and health of working minors, involving 18 minors, with penalties of more than 150,000 euros ($165,000). The penalties for violating child labor laws were sufficient to deter violations.
There were reports that criminals subjected children to trafficking in the sex trade and forced solicitation, as well as pornography. Police databases do not automatically register foreign children intercepted at the borders, making them vulnerable to exploitation, including forced begging and commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation and the government effectively enforced the law, although discrimination in employment and occupation still occurred with respect to race and ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. The government requires companies with more than 50 workers to reserve 2 percent of their jobs for persons with disabilities.
According to Eurostat, female workers earned 14.9-percent less per hour than their male counterparts. Gross salary, according to Eurostat, was 20 percent lower.
On International Women’s Day on March 8, hundreds of thousands of women and men demonstrated in most cities to call attention to gender-based violence, wage gaps, and sexual harassment.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The law provides for a national minimum wage, which barely met the poverty level in 2018.
The Ministry of Employment, Migration, and Social Security effectively enforced minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards in the formal economy but not in the informal economy.
The law provides for a 40-hour workweek, with an unbroken rest period of 36 hours after each 40 hours worked. The law restricts overtime to 80 hours per year unless a collective bargaining agreement establishes a different level. Pay is required for overtime and must be equal to or greater than regular pay.
The National Institute of Safety and Health in the Ministry of Employment, Migration, and Social Security has technical responsibility for developing occupational safety and health standards. The law protects workers who remove themselves from situations that could endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
The Inspectorate of Labor has responsibility for enforcing the law on occupational safety and health standards through inspections and legal action if inspectors find infractions. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law. The penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Unions criticized the government for devoting insufficient resources to inspection and enforcement. The most common workplace violations included occupational safety standards in the construction sector and infractions of wages and social security benefits on workers in the informal economy. In June 2018 Funcas (Fundacion de Cajas de Ahorros) estimated that the informal economy was between 18.5 and 24.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
In 2018 the Ministry of Labor, Migration, and Social Security recorded 617,488 workplace accidents, of which authorities considered 3,992 as serious but nonfatal. There were 557 fatal accidents, 15 more than in 2017.
Through July the Ministry of Labor, Migration, and Social Security recorded 310,130 workplace accidents, of which 292 were fatal accidents, 74 fewer more than the same period in 2018.