Catalan public workers caught in referendum crossfire

Barcelona: Whose orders to follow. Civil servants in Catalonia may not know which way to turn if the Spanish region holds an independence referendum that Madrid deems illegal.
Carles Puigdemont, Catalonia’s fiercely secessionist president, announced Friday that he would go ahead with a vote on October 1 despite Madrid’s opposition, drawing a sharp rebuke from Spain’s central government — and concern from public workers.
They will be called upon to organise a referendum which the Constitutional Court has ruled is unlawful, by carrying out such steps as opening schools to serve as polling stations, or policing the 7.5-million-strong region in Spain’s northeast.
As a result, they may be forced into a delicate position — having to choose between obeying their immediate superiors and facing possible sanctions for disobeying Spanish law, or sticking by the Constitution.
“Many have called us, concerned,” said Joan Escanilla, president of the Catalan branch of Spain’s CSIF civil servants union, which has close to 9,000 members in the region out of a total of 300,000 public workers.
“The problem that we civil servants have is that we’re in the middle of the railway tracks, and we’re going to be hit by one train or another.”
In Catalonia, like in the rest of Spain, civil servants are first and foremost under obligation to respect Spain’s Constitution. If they disobey orders by their Catalan bosses, they could face disciplinary sanctions.
But if they obey, they will go against Spanish law and will therefore face sanctions, which may even entail losing their jobs. Josep Miquel Milagros, an agent in Catalonia’s Mossos d’Esquadra police force, summed up the situation: “I’m pro-independence but I’m not going to risk my salary.”
The 17,000-strong Mossos d’Esquadra force is under the control of the regional government but is also bound to respect Spanish law.
“We could find ourselves between a rock and a hard space,” says Milagros, who is also spokesman for the USPAC police union. “As police officers, we have to obey the law, we have no other choice.” Exactly how Catalonia is going to go against Madrid and organise a referendum deemed illegal by the courts remains unclear.
In a bid to circumvent all the legal and practical challenges in organising such a vote, the regional government has drafted a law seeking to extract Catalonia from Spain’s legal system.
 — AFP