Cava firm Freixenet to furlough 80% of its workers in Catalonia due to drought

<span>The El Penedés area had been hit hard in 2023, said Freixenet.</span><span>Photograph: Horizons WWP/TRVL/Alamy</span>
The El Penedés area had been hit hard in 2023, said Freixenet.Photograph: Horizons WWP/TRVL/Alamy

The Spanish-German cava giant Freixenet, known for its distinctive black glass bottles of sparkling wine, is to furlough 80% of its workers in Catalonia as the north-eastern Spanish region struggles with a drought that has lasted more than three years and severely affected grape production.

In a statement released this week, Freixenet said the temporary layoff – which will apply to as many as 615 of the 778 people it employs in Catalonia – would begin in May.

“The measure, which has been implemented in the interests of responsibility, aims to guarantee the operation of the business and to maintain employability in order to deal with external factors and the force majeure caused by the serious drought,” the company said.

“The furlough, caused by force majeure, is an exceptional measure that has been taken in the current context of a crisis that had been brought about by a lack of raw materials because of the harsh drought that has affected the sector since 2021 – and which hit the El Penedès area particularly hard in 2023.”

Freixenet added that the furlough plan, which has been put before the regional government and workers’ groups, “will vary according to the season and the evolution of the causes that have made it necessary”.

The effects of the climate emergency have become increasingly apparent across Spain over recent years, bringing deadly wildfires, affecting the production of traditional items such as olive oil and wine, and leading to the drying up of over-exploited wetlands in the south.

In May last year, the Spanish government approved an unprecedented €2.2bn (£1.9bn) plan to help farmers and consumers cope with the enduring drought. Among its provisions were €1.4bn of funds from the environment ministry to tackle the drought and increase the availability of water, and €784m from the agriculture ministry to help farmers maintain production and avoid food shortages.

The environment secretary, Teresa Ribera, said at the time: “Spain is a country that is used to periods of drought but there’s no doubt that, as a consequence of the climate change we’re experiencing, we’re seeing far more frequent and intense events and phenomena.”

Agriculture accounts for 79% of water use in Spain, residential use for 15%, industry for 5.8% and leisure 0.4%, according to figures from the environment ministry.

In Catalonia, which is now in its fourth successive year of drought, the regional government has declared a state of emergency and introduced a series of limits on water consumption that will affect 6 million people. The restrictions – which were triggered after reserves fell below 16% – include a limit of 200 litres per inhabitant per day, an end to beach showers, and a ban on public or private events that use water suitable for human consumption, such as temporary ice rinks, foam parties or water games.

Stipulations that had initially banned the filling of private and municipal freshwater swimming pools will be relaxed if the pool in question is judged to be in use as a public “climate shelter”.