1709444024 Travel to the mining regions with the highest pensions in

Travel to the mining regions with the highest pensions in Spain | Business

On his last day in the mine, a stone “the size of a tombstone” fell on Ángel Gutiérrez (61 years old). He broke several ribs and two vertebrae. “I'm lucky to be here, I thought I was going to die. The last thing I did in the mine was retreat on a stretcher.” His brother Felipe (58) also narrowly escaped dying underground. “I only had one car left to load and a coastal car fell on top of me.” [roca de grandes dimensiones] in the leg. “It broke it, it turned me upside down.” An uncle and a cousin of theirs, also miners, died at work. He and his brother, now retired, remember the worst part of their job, the majority of which were in Villablino, León. This danger, coupled with the strength of unions in the sector and the glamor of the activity during part of the 20th century, was rewarded with above-average salaries. The contributions from these payrolls result in the highest state pensions in Spain today.

The average pension in Villablino is 1,935 euros, making it the third highest of the country's 8,000 municipalities. It follows a pattern: The nine locations with the highest average pensions are related to mining. Three come from Teruel, four from Asturias and two from León, including Villablino, where everything is reminiscent of mines that closed years ago.

The photos of Villablino's bars, the monument that dominates the square, the symbols of picks and hammers… “We know where we come from, the key is to know where we are going,” says mayor Mario Rivas. The consideration is appropriate because income data shows that the present no longer has anything to do with the past: the average income is 1,130 euros per person. Arsenio Pérez, a 55-year-old retired miner, beams as he remembers the 1980s and early 1990s: “It was impressive. Car drives away, car that was here. The bars are only closed for cleaning, they are open every day…”

This economic turmoil explains today's pensions: if only miners' pensions are taken into account (58% of the mining regime's benefits go to men), the national average rises to 2,802, close to the peak (3,175). “We will go from those with the best pensions to those with the worst. We have transformed an industrial monoculture for tourism, services and livestock, usually through self-employment,” laments Rivas. “I have a child who has to go. He got his job as a welder, but he can’t find anything,” laments Pablo Ménguez.

At 45, he is a retired miner. “In 1997 I was one of the last people to enter the mine. They asked me what I would do if it closed.” One of the many architects of people like Pablo having the right to retire so soon is Anatolio Díez from Leon, Secretary General of the UGT Federation of Pensioners and Pensioner. There are, he explains, two reasons that justify allowing miners to retire long before they turn 65. One of them is the reduction coefficients, which work every two years as if the miner had worked three (for the most difficult categories, others contribute). less time). “This is due to the dangerousness and great physical strain of the job.” And that’s not the only one, there are also coefficients for police officers, among other things,” says Díez. The government is negotiating with unions and employers to extend this policy to other high-mortality occupations.

Castle of a disused mine near Villablino, Leon.  February 6, 2024. (Manu Brabo)Castle of a disused mine near Villablino, Leon. February 6, 2024. (Manu Brabo)Manu Brabo

This peculiarity of the miners' pension cannot be traced back to a negotiation like the current one: it was introduced at the end of the 1960s, i.e. during the Franco dictatorship. Even back then, it was recognized that a miner's career should be much shorter. In the 1990s, the power plants negotiated with both the PSOE and the PP about the closure of almost all wells, and Díez took part in these discussions. “It was a demand from Europe and the government was determined to do it. I would definitely close. At least we have achieved that this was not done through layoffs, as in the UK with Margaret Thatcher, but through early retirements.” These early withdrawals had (and still have) costs for social security, which, according to the UGT union member, differed between both parties times accepted. “The most important thing was to close, whatever the cost. “Since we couldn’t avoid it, we defended the rights of workers.”

“That was the panacea,” continues Ángel Gutiérrez, “to be able to retire early at around 40.” For the valley, however, “it was ruin”: “The early retirements were not for free, but in exchange for the closure of a sector ; in return for not knowing what will become of our children,” concludes the Leonese mayor.

Travel to the mining regions with the highest pensions in

concerns about them

An hour and a half from Villablino, in the other major mining basin, is Riosa. This Asturian city has the ninth highest average pension in Spain (1,891). The road that connects it to the main road is curvy, but not as curvy as the one that leads to Angliru. The most famous climb in Spanish cycling is located in its urban area. “There,” says the mayor of Riosa, Roberto Álvarez (61), from the television summit, pointing to the horizon, “was one of the wells in which hundreds of people were employed; “In this terrain it is very difficult for another industry to establish itself.” He is a socialist and was a miner, like his counterpart from Villablino and like his friend Felipe Martínez (65 years old).

“It wasn’t my calling, but I adapted like everyone else. Things got even worse after an accident in which three colleagues died. Since then, every noise put me on alert. Early retirement did me a big favor… The mine is dust, humidity, noise, a lot of physical work and, on top of that, danger,” says Martínez. He regrets the “envy” and even “hatred” that some people have against her because of her early retirement. “My brother in Oviedo didn’t say he worked in the mine. Or they asked him and he remained silent so as not to have to endure what they would tell him, as he knew.”

While Martínez tells his brother's story, Gilberto López (63) shakes his head. “I am very proud to have been a miner. I will never give up who I am. I don't care if they badmouth me. And he insists: “We have the same retirement as every worker in this country.” We calculated the cost based on our offer, which, like any other industry, was high. The average for these towns might be higher because we were all miners here.”

(Right left) José Antonio Rubio, José Manuel Peris, José Antonio Cerra, Angel Luis Vazquez, Efrén Pontón and Roberto Mallada, retired coal workers, in front of the Barredo Fountain Tower in Mieres, Asturias.  & February 2024. (Manu Brabo)(Right left) José Antonio Rubio, José Manuel Peris, José Antonio Cerra, Angel Luis Vazquez, Efrén Pontón and Roberto Mallada, retired coal workers, in front of the Barredo Fountain Tower in Mieres, Asturias. & February 2024. (Manu Brabo)Manu Brabo

This last remark from López gets to the heart of why average pensions in these mountainous communities are so high. It is not usual for there to be so many former employees from one industry at one location, and well-paid ones at that. Large factories, with salaries comparable to those in mining, are usually located in well-connected areas where activities are diversified. For example, in the highly industrialized Vigo, the average pension is 1,305 euros. The rest of the economy is declining on average.

It is a phenomenon that will dilute the data of mining communities: high pensions will gradually be exhausted. In 2000, according to the first available figure, there were 75,300 pensions from the mining regime in Spain, 22% more than today: 59,000. This is a counter-cyclical development compared to other pensions, which have increased by 82% over the same period due to the aging of the population. If the rate of decline over the last five years continues, in about three decades there will be fewer than half as many mining retirees as there are today.

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If wages were so high, why did some people choose not to work in the mine? “Because she was always seen very poorly. Many miners didn't want their children to work there because it was so dangerous. There was a time when anyone who wanted to participate, whether they had any training or not, chose not to because of their bad reputation. Then things got complicated,” recalls Efrén Pontón, 71 years old. He was the leader of the CC OO in the Caudal region, a mining area par excellence, whose capital is Mieres. “So we didn’t know there would be early retirements that we didn’t choose, and we went into the mine anyway.”

His colleague Roberto Mallada (59 years old) was responsible for union actions at Hunosa, the state-owned mining company. “My father died in 1977 when he was in his early 50s and suffering from third-degree silicosis. [enfermedad pulmonar por respirar polvo que contenga sílice]. That put many people off. Afterwards, security conditions improved significantly, but the distress remained.”

Mallada speaks to EL PAÍS very close to the Barredo fountain, an old mine integrated into Mieres. “There have been a lot of protests here to improve things. We fought constantly,” remembers José Antonio Cerra (67 years old). He doesn't see the same drive in young people, but he understands the reason: “I've talked to Guaje about it many times and maybe he's right. He tells me: “Dad, there is no longer Hunosa”, where we were thousands of people united. There are now small, private companies that will fire you if you complain. Today the word companion no longer exists. You no longer have a future here.”

Efrén Pontón in front of the entrance to an old mine in Mieres, Asturias.  & February 2024. (Manu Brabo)Efrén Pontón in front of the entrance to an old mine in Mieres, Asturias. & February 2024. (Manu Brabo)Manu Brabo

This devaluation of the activity has reduced the population of these communities. Villablino has half as many inhabitants as in the 90s (from 15,628 to 7,845), Riosa has lost 1,000 of the then 2,774 inhabitants and Mieres has lost about 17,000, leaving the current figure at 36,195. If you travel back in time, the data is even more impressive: in 1960, 70,871 people lived in the mining capital. “From my window you can see five apartments for sale, and they have God's apartment for sale,” says Ángel Luis Vázquez (69 years old).

Minor benefits for women

The mayor of Mieres, Manuel Ángel Álvarez, says that some of these retired or pre-retired neighbors have returned to their places of origin (hence there are some coal mining retirees in provinces without such activities) and others have moved to the big cities. Asturias, like Oviedo or Gijón. “There were many who helped their children a lot with pay, and in some cases also with training for a career that they were unable to pursue. Many of these young people have worked in other areas. In other cases, these pensions helped start a business. In my case, my father helped me start a fishmonger’s business.”

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The leader of Izquierda Unida, like the rest of the mayors, recognizes the key role of these benefits in the region's economy, but provides an important nuance. “The average can often be deceiving. Not everything that appears is gold. “Here we have thousands of widows with small payments.” The statistics prove her right: women connected to the mining regime, practically all of them on the basis of widow's pensions (33.5% of the total), receive an average gross pension of 1,324 euros. This means that the global average in mining remains at 2,193 euros, while pensioners earn an average of 2,802 euros. Historically, it is an extremely masculinized sector: in terms of old-age pensions, they are at 99%.

One of these women with a mining widow's pension is Carmen Sánchez, 68 years old. “I get about 1,100 euros,” says this Asturian woman, whose husband, a retired miner, recently died of natural causes. “I would live better with a higher pension, but I manage,” he explains as he walks near Requexu de Mieres Square. He is accompanied by his daughter Silvia, who is visiting. He is 35 years old, lives in Madrid, works in marketing and has a “good salary”. “I want to go back, life is very good here. “I'm looking for a company that allows me to telework every day.” If it succeeds and takes root, in the future the area will receive a new high pension, like that received by retired miners.

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