Spain finally begins to settle a historic debt to domestic cleaners and carers

“Today, we, domestic workers, are organized in such a way that this has been one of the most powerful struggles waged in Spain.”

On October 1, thanks to a law enacted in early September, Spain will finally include the category of domestic cleaners and carers into the protections of national labor and welfare law. This comes after, and during, decades of women worker organizing. This comes six months after the European Court of Justice found Spain guilty of violation of European Union laws concerning unemployment benefits. This comes eleven years after Spain passed two laws that were meant to formalize and regularize domestic workers’ status and conditions. In its judgement, the European Court noted the obvious, that 95% of domestic workers in Spain (as elsewhere) are women, and so the discrimination against domestic workers bears more heavily on women. Additionally, Spain’s domestic workers are disproportionately immigrant workers. According to the Workers’ Commission, Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras, or CCOO, close to 600,000 women work as domestic workers in Spain. Of that number, 44% are migrant or foreign. While many come from other EU countries, many also come from outside the European Union, especially Romania, Morocco, Italy, Colombia, and Venezuela. It is expected that the new law will affect around 373,000 women workers. That means it will not affect close to 200,000 women workers, who are `undeclared’, meaning working without a contract.

First, this is a major victory. Women workers individually and collectively, and especially women workers organizations, have lobbied locally, nationally and at international platforms, such as the ILO, to be incorporated into the recognized formal labor sector. Equally, they have lobbied and organized to be recognized. Spanish women workers have long argued that the exploitation of and discrimination against domestic workers works to impede progress and equality for all women in Spain and beyond.

At the same time, why does a leftist government, such as that of Spain, have to be hauled into court in order to do the right thing? When the legislation was passed, Labor Minister Yolanda Diaz noted that the government was “settling a historic debt with domestic workers”. The new law is indeed a major step forward. It means domestic workers can claim unemployment benefits, employers must contribute to unemployment insurance, employers can no longer dismiss a domestic worker without just cause and due process, domestic workers qualify for health insurance and other healthcare protections, and, finally, domestic workers qualify for access to training to improve their professional qualifications. These are all important, major improvements, produced, again, by decades of concerted struggle on the part of women workers.

But does it settle the debt? No, not by a long shot. First, and again, almost half the women who work in people’s homes, providing essential services, work without a contract. They are not covered by this legislation. Second, the debtor does not get to declare the debt paid. When the women workers’ movement declares the debt paid, then it’s paid. Who pays for those women across the decades who’ve struggle and continue to struggle in Spain, as elsewhere, for dignity, equality, power, well-being? As Amalia Caballero, a domestic worker from Ecuador, noted, “There’s still a long way to go.”

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Capire)