Euro Zone Crisis

Crisis zone where Spanish villagers enter lottery to win a job

Televised raffle organised by mayor, offering temporary work to the unemployed, is grim sign of devastating economic slump gripping Spain

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 3:04am

The day Spaniard Josi Antonio Pirez Zembrana, 32, won the lottery, he did not jump for joy.

He was pleased, of course. But around him were so many people from his village of Alameda in southern Spain who could have used the prize too.

What did he win? Two months of work selling admission tickets to the municipal pool.

"What am I going to do with the money?" said Pirez, sitting behind a flimsy folding table at the pool entrance. "What I am going to do is not spend all of it and keep some of it for the hard times that will come after."

With the unemployment rate in Alameda close to 50 per cent, the mayor, Juan Lorenzo Pineda Clavermas, has taken a novel approach to hiring for many of the municipality's jobs.

What am I going to do with the money? What I am going to do is not spend all of it and keep some of it for the hard times that will come after

Once a month, he draws folded bits of paper from a plastic container to decide who will get work. The event is public and covered by local television so everyone can see there is no cheating. The increasing popularity of Alameda's job lottery is one small sign of just how dire things remain in Spain.

When Pineda was elected in 2008, Spain's economic crisis was just beginning and a job lottery, usually for one-month stints, seemed to him as good a way as any to distribute jobs fairly when they came open. Such a system, he said, would also be a clear sign that his administration would be without corruption.

The first time Pineda did the raffle, there were about 30 names in the hopper for a handful of cleaning jobs lasting one month.

Now, after nearly six years of recession, there are about 500 people on the list of hopefuls for the same number of jobs.

Those who attend the raffles sit silently in stiff-backed chairs in a room at the modest town hall.

Pineda says when he looks up from the slips of paper, he always sees two kinds of faces. "The first is the face of anxiety, which you see on the people who really need jobs," he said. "The other is the face of incredulity when someone realises they have a job."

Sometimes, a winner shouts out. But mostly, Pineda said, there is no overt celebration.

People are far too conscious of the pain around them for any of that. Conducting the lottery has not turned out to be a particularly pleasant task for him, either.

"There is no pleasure in it because you know it's not enough," he said. "There are far too few happy faces." The village raffled about 35 jobs last year. In some cases, like lifeguarding jobs, the applicants had to show they were qualified. Pineda also inherited about 20 full-time employees unaffected by the lottery policy.

At the pool, Pirez's friend Josi del Pozo, 33, pulled up a chair to keep him company. Once a plasterer, del Pozo has not had any construction work in three years. Del Pozo does not even expect his friend to buy the next round at the local bar. He understands that everybody has troubles these days.

"Before," he said, "people were generous. But now when it comes time to pay, everyone rushes to the bathroom."

Pirez dreads the end of the month, when his job will end. Nodding at other workers, he said: "Then we will be back to the routine of doing nothing." But Pineda is trying to create even more jobs, so he can raffle them.

Alameda has rented farmland and is growing garlic and asparagus, hoping to turn the crops into a profitable business. He has also begun developing a stretch of land on the outskirts of town, which he hopes might become a small industrial park.

"If any madman wants to start a business in this climate," he said jokingly, "we will be ready, and the ground will be cheap."