As in other countries [10
], most subcontracting firms from the construction sector in Spain are Small and Medium-Size Enterprises [13
], or they are formed solely of self-employed workers (Table 1
). Up until 2007, the uncontrolled development of construction in Spain, especially the construction of housing units [14
], had been provoking significant imbalances in labor relations and in production systems, through the employment of unskilled mass labor and the use of traditional technologies that had yet to modernize [15
], with neither investment in training and quality, nor in safety, innovation, and new technologies [16
One of the main problems arising from this working practice, which has impacted more than any other on Spanish society, is the unprecedented increase of occupational accidents in the construction sector, where the statistical records throughout the years of economic development have been particularly worrying [21
]. In fact, the production model, based on the subcontracting of additional activities that constitute the whole construction project, has produced a significant lack of control over processes and product quality, impacting on the business standing of subcontracting firms. The selection criteria in accordance with the lowest offer have left little room for investment both in the training of workers [22
] and in safety and risk-prevention in the workplace.
The Registry of Accredited Companies in the Construction Sector
In view of the worrying incidence rates in the construction sector in Spain, the Government and social agents, and both firms and workers, were in agreement with the enactment of Law 32/2006 [24
] and its inclusion in the regulations on Occupational Risk-Prevention, to facilitate the management of subcontracting in construction works, through a series of objective limitations on subcontracting chains [25
]. Subsequently, the Registry of Accredited Companies (REA) was designed and implemented through Royal Decree 1109/2007 [28
], of August 24th, from which the regulations of Law 32/2006 were developed. In that way, a direct relation was established between accident rates and non-compliance with the REA. Among the first twenty causes of fatal accidents we can see “Non-compliance with work procedures and instructions”, according to data from the National Institute of Safety and Health at Work, which represented 1.30% of accidents that occur in the sector, according to data from 2015 [29
Both registration with the REA and the Duty of Preventive Coordination of Business Activities are inherent obligations for firms that employ workers, as long as they are acting as either contractors or subcontractors of construction works, regardless of their public or private status.
The problem arises when the promoter of the works is a Public Administration and acts as a contractor, a very common circumstance in Spain, because the Autonomous Communities, the Provincial Councils, and the Municipal Councils have a staff of both white-collar and blue-collar public-sector employees. In addition, they plan and execute construction activities as contractors within the scope of their competences, whether regional, provincial, or local [30
]. In this context, part of the construction project is subcontracted to other firms, so that those public authorities become de facto
contractors, having the legal obligation, therefore, to register their details on the REA in the relevant Autonomous Region (Table 2
The purpose of this study is to ascertain the degree of compliance of the Public Administrations in their roles as contractors in construction activities with regard to the legal requirement to register with the REA, in the same way as any other firm, having neither prerogatives nor exceptions, simply because they form part of a Public Administration. Levels of compliance with the obligation to register will likewise be compared between Public Administrations and private construction sector firms in Spain.
As stated above, the Registro de Empresas Acreditadas
(REA) [Registry of Accredited Companies] is an administrative risk-prevention instrument of the Ministry of Employment and Social Security of the Government of Spain. It regulates levels of monitoring and administrative control of safety at work with the objective of guaranteeing that firms that operate in the construction sector in Spain comply with the requirements relating to capacity and quality in matters of Occupational Risk-Prevention (ORP), as contained in Royal Decree 1627/1997, of October 24th [31
], establishing minimum requirements on safety and health in construction works [32
This registry emerged as a consequence of the previously mentioned high incidence rate in the construction sector in Spain, especially during the so-called ‘real-estate bubble’ (1997–2006) and the subsequent economic and financial crisis (2007–2016), also known as the ‘economic slowdown’, establishing controls on risk prevention and employment in construction firms.
Weak controls over subcontracting represented a constraint on construction works and their productivity in Spain. The principal problem was the inexistence of limits in the subcontracting chain, which therefore exacerbated the precariousness of working conditions, especially with regard to training resources in risk-prevention and safety. This absence of control over the organizational system of the contracting chain accelerated the imperative need to demand compliance with acceptable quality and solvency requirements from subcontracting firms with the requirements on capacity and quality in matters concerning ORP.
Although the requirements demanded by the REA were already set down in the Spanish regulations [31
], the novelty arose when establishing the obligation to “accredit them through documentation with the contracting firm”, as well as with the Labor Authority. The Labor Inspectorate of the Ministry of Employment and Social Security may likewise request the documentation and the Certificate of Registration with the REA at any time.
As a guarantee, temporary updating of the register was introduced, because the entry on the REA is only valid over a period of three calendar years. Once that time has elapsed, the firms should renew their registration, providing the required documentation updated on the date of renewal.
Moreover, a series of requirements were established, as a sine qua non condition, so that firms could register and operate as contractors or subcontractors in construction activities in Spain.
Contracting and subcontracting firms must provide documentary evidence that they have an organizational structure, with the necessary human and material resources, and the required solvency, to be able to manage the contracted works and to complete them (Figure 1
). Likewise, they must assume the risk-prevention management of construction-related activities, in accordance with the obligations and responsibilities of entrepreneurial activity.
In addition to production-related, material, and human factors necessary for the development of the works, a training structure is required in matters concerning ORP (Figure 1
), providing evidence of the presence of professionals for training construction workers in the management of risks associated with their activities. This risk-prevention training should be accredited by an authorized body, such as an External Risk-Prevention Service or by the Labor Construction Foundation (a private sector organization launched in 1992 by entrepreneurs and construction unions) for the validation of safety and training courses in the construction sector.
It was moreover decided to limit the possibility of subcontracting from the Third Level (Figure 2
), so as to avoid excessive numbers of subcontracted firms, except under justified circumstances or in unforeseen situations, which would require the presence of a specialized firm for technical reasons.
Registration on the REA is not mandatory for self-employed workers with no salaried workers to their name, as they are not considered firms, in a strict and formal sense, for which reason they would not be allowed to subcontract the contracted works, as is shown in Figure 2
Finally, the new regulation establishes a limitation on subcontracting firms (employment agencies) that solely supply workers to construction works for contracted activities (the “intensive subcontractor” concept). It all means that the subcontracting chain stops whenever reference is to a self-employed or to an “intensive subcontractor”. In other words, under no circumstances at all can a self-employed or an “intensive subcontractor” in turn subcontract.
In all cases, the duty of control over compliance with the inscription on the REA corresponds to the contracting firms that form part of the subcontracting chain, which are expected to require evidence from subcontractors of the REA Registration Certificate issued by the Administration.