Special employment centres

Charity is something from the past; quality is what they sell nowadays

  • Is the Gureak or KateaLegaia (KL) workers' world known to the general public? Do people know about their work? Their conditions and contribution? There are nearly 7,000 worker involved in Gipuzkoa. We spoke with Iñigo Oyarzabal from Gureak and Pablo Nuñez, the managing director of KL, as well as with several trades unions representatives at both companies.

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Gureak was founded in 1975 in Gipuzkoa, its mission being to create work opportunities for disabled people, giving priority to people with mental disabilities. Iñigo Oyarzabal is Gureak's managing director: "The key to our work is diversity and sustainability in order to create and manage jobs. Gureak makes a profit, and that is all invested back into the company; our company's objective is not making profits.” This is their guarantee for keeping stable jobs: "We work for the people who most need our support" in Oyarzabal’s words.

  Gureak is based in Donostia, and it head offices are impressive: management, administration and marketing are housed there. There are also two workshops for 700 workers. There are 5,500 workers altogether in Gipuzkoa. One of the biggest companies in the province, it took its first steps in the industrial area, bringing the workplace closer to home. Now they have an industrial workshop in each area of the province. Gureak's logo reflects its name well, and its circular shape is a distinguishing brand throughout the province. In has opened up in new areas since 1987: marketing, services and Itinerary.   

Careers in different spheres

Gureak has set up its own workshops and developed technology: “We work in the industrial assembly area, and people with mental and other types of disabilities are an integrated part of our workforce. Gureak buys materials and manufactures whole products: plastic, cables and electronics. It sells part of the integral concept of production. So we compete with cutting-edge sectors such as the automobile sector. For instance, Volkswagen's current Passats and Golfs have Gureak cabling in their lights. 

Hostelry, petrol stations, gardening, industrial cleaning and coffee machines (vending) are other services areas the company is involved with. Gureak's services area took a huge leap in 1990: "We got workers out from our four walls and made the public aware of them; it was an incredible change. We have diversified our work and created different positions depending on different people's disabilities.

The first area of activity outside the workshops was marketing in the 1980's. They took charge of saving banks' communications programmes back then: printing customers' statements, putting letters into envelopes, sending database treatments… "That market has changed completely since then, and Gureak has taken advantage to renovate and adapt to the new situation and develop online marketing and contact centres to provide new work opportunities for people with disabilities".

“Who are our customers? People. And for people to have jobs there is no alternative but to pave the way for them. We have given this new area a special name: Itinerary. When somebody asks for work it's up to us to explore all avenues. They are our internal customers: workers and people." They pay as much attention to this area as to the other three, which is what makes Itinerary so important. Itinerary is Gureak's key for orientation, training and adaptation, and it guarantees people' careers."

Group composition and model

In order to work in a special employment centre, people have to be recognised as having 33% disability. The provincial government examines physical, intellectual, sensory and sight impairments. There are 1,495 people with mental disabilities in Gureak. 1,357 with physical disabilities. 1,026 with mental illnesses. 901 with sensory disabilities. 358 with no disabilities. They have certificates in order to be able to work at Gureak: "We keep their certificates and take each person's disabilities into account from the start. As we work in diversified areas, each person has more opportunities, depending on their disabilities and desires, to get jobs in different areas. The move from industry to services was huge, and marketing helped us there. Gureak has been learning things all along the way."   

Public perception

After the 2007 crisis a mistaken public perception about special employment centres seemed to take force: "People started talking about unfair competition. But Gureak was not other Gipuzkoa companies' problem: the problem was that they weren't selling. We are very clear about the criteria we follow. Do we get given help? Yes. But we give more than just the direct taxes we pay back to society. In fact, anybody can set up a centre like this, anybody can take the positive discrimination route and give disabled people employment."

Iñigo Oyarzabal (Gureak):
“The key to our work is diversity and sustainability in order to create and manage jobs, those are at the centre of our development”

Oyarzabal goes on to say: "Another distorting fact is that these people should be working in normal positions, in normal companies. We work for that to happen: last year 47 people were given jobs in normal companies, but we're always at a disadvantage there. We want to move our workers over to usual jobs in conformity with the transition set out by law. But disabled people go on needing help. Gureak's aim is to guarantee employment development: going from occupational jobs to employment, going up in professional category. Normal companies should provide the same support we do." 

Employment quality

Who decides on the quality of employment? "Each person decides on that", Gureak's manager says. "There are people who feel safe and happy in our workshops, and they have no desire to move over to services or ordinary employment. They want to stay in their workshops, and that's their personal decision. Everybody must have that option, including people who have a disability. Which is why Gureak's Itinerary is so important. When somebody joins Gureak he or she goes on some courses, works in the industrial area, can then go on to gardening if they like. Working on their career is the key. Every day we show that people who have disabilities' development and the competitive market can be protected at the same time. 'Charity' is something from the past. Otherwise we wouldn't be making parts for Audi cars. We, too, do our work in line with the quality of services and competitiveness in the market: otherwise, we wouldn't last." 

Do we know what Gureak is?

"People have come to our head offices and been astonished: 'Well, I didn't imagine it to be like this!' they say. Which is why, they say, they do a lot of work explaining their project to the people of Gipuzkoa. Still a great stigma 40 years ago, people with Down syndrome used to be hidden at home; nowadays, those people play their particular role in the local economy. A huge leap forward has been taken, firstly for those people themselves, and, in general, for society as a whole. To give an idea of that: 1% of Gipuzkoa's working population gets up in the mornings to go and work in something organized by Gureak: "This change is a result of work which has been carried out in the private enterprise area in conjunction with local public authorities. This has become our own, Basque model for inclusivity. It is a model all over Europe, and it explains how the unemployment rate for disabled people in the Basque Autonomous Community has been reduced by half (in the Basque Autonomous Community, 15.9%; in the Spanish state as a whole, 31%).

KateaLegaia (KL) company: 925 workers

KL's head offices are in Hernani, and it has 12 different workshops in different parts of the province. It was founded 30 years ago: there were local, independent initiatives, connected with personal projects, with town councils and parishes, and, in particular, with physical disabilities. Pablo Nuñez is KL's managing director: "At first Katea and Legaia were two different groups. Which shows that they were set up in from town to town and from the bottom up. Over time, they became one. It objective is the inclusion of people excluded from the world of work, the ones who need it most. In fact, finding work opportunities for people who are at risk, and offering them quality work, is no mean task. However, the company's strong points are the following: "We are a non-profit organization, we reinvest everything for the future, and the workers own it. That is our distinguishing feature, and it is also the company's greatest guarantee for sustainability."

605 of the 940 workers are shareholders or stakeholders in some form. They have the right to take their investment back. KL works mostly in industry. It is becoming increasingly strong. Its customers include the highest level companies. They offer an integral service throughout Gipuzkoa: "As well as giving employment to 940 people, we work on training, orientation and placement along the route to inclusion. Employment with us as in ordinary posts. Right now we're following up on 50 people who do not work in our company, but we give them training to help with their integration”, Pablo Nuñez says.

There are 900 disabled people. Amongst them, 334 have severe disabilities, particularly people with mental disabilities. There are only 40 people without disability certificates; 96% of people do have them. Such a high percentage is unusual in such a large company. 

  80% of KL's income is from work done for customers. 20% is from grants. "We measure very carefully what we give back as a result of those grants. In 2010, KL gave back 3.33 Euros in taxes and pensions for every Euro it received in grants. KL is a cutting-edge company. It works towards weaving the province's sustainable industrial fabric, and is known for its social values and firm cohesion.” 

Gureak and KL: They have learned to work together

Gureak and KL are companies which have been formed by transforming relationships between people. Atzegi –Gureak's precursor– started working in local areas on mental disabilities: "The two companies have the same mission: Although we work separately, we know how to come together locally because our global decisions, general perspective and decisions are as one, so we have a good relationship in terms of achieving our aims."

Pablo Nuñez (KL): "The company's success is down to collaboration between the private and public sectors, the Basque Autonomous Community's public administration and institutions and the company sector"

The 2007 crisis seriously affected KL. Until 2008 nobody mentioned the crisis, but our invoicing went down by 30%. "The fact that KL belonged to everybody helped. We took measures, without making drastic cuts, with some job cuts which affected everybody. Without going under, and by suffering, and the dignity and solidarity with which we got through that situation, we were not given any special 'help'. We took some difficult decisions, decisions with serious consequences. That's what makes us different from other companies. We share our criteria and take decisions together, making profits but using them to the best advantage, we show who we are, that is our strength in these hard times, it's our key.”

Pablo Nuñez says that the company's success is down to collaboration between the private and public sectors, the Basque Autonomous Community's public administration and institutions and the company sector: "We have brought together what used to be individual workshops, and that has made us strong. We became aware of this by examining the industrial network, but ordinary companies have also seen how we work. Thanks to that, the Basque inclusion model has brought us up to the European ratio, and we've shown that it is possible to achieve that rate of employment and social cohesion.

This article was translated by 11itzulpen.

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