Spain’s anti-prostitution PM riled as ministry green-lights sex workers’ union

Spain's fiercely anti-prostitution Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was left red in the face Thursday after it emerged a sex workers union was approved by his own administration.

Spain's anti-prostitution PM riled as ministry green-lights sex workers' union
Photos: AFP

Sex work is tolerated in Spain — neither illegal nor regulated — but Sanchez came to power in June with a strongly feminist agenda promising to fight the exploitation of women.

“Prostitution in Spain isn't legal and this government won't support any organisation that includes this illicit activity,” he tweeted from Colombia, where he stopped off on a Latin America tour.

He added the labour ministry had launched proceedings to challenge in court the existence of the “Organisation of Sex Workers”, which promises to defend the rights of people in the industry.

News that the union has been registered by the ministry's labour directorate general has embarrassed Sanchez.

Not only was it approved, but it was published in the official state gazette (BOE) on August 4.

The BOE said the union has its headquarters in Barcelona and has a nationwide remit.

In a statement, Spain's labour ministry said the government “cannot allow for prostitution to be validated under the subterfuge of a 'union' of sex workers”.

Labour Minister Magdalena Valerio told reporters she was shocked by the fact such a union had been approved.

“As a minister and member of a feminist government, I would never have given the OK for this to be published in the official state gazette,” she said.

Valerio added this has been one of “the biggest” upsets in her life.

Prostitution is legal and regulated in several countries in Europe, including the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria and Germany.

SEE ALSO: Spanish town to post fines to prostitute clients’ homes


Spain’s top court reinstates first sex workers’ union

Spanish sex workers have the right to form their own union, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, overturning an earlier court decision ordering the dissolution of Spain's first such labour organisation.

Spain's top court reinstates first sex workers' union
Photo: Oscar del Pozo/AFP

Known as OTRAS (or “the Sex Workers’ Organisation”), the union was discretely set up in August 2018 but was closed three months later by order of the National Court following an appeal by the government of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

But following an appeal, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of OTRAS, saying that its statutes, which had triggered the initial legal challenge, were “in line with the law” and that sex workers “have the fundamental right to freedom of association and the right to form a union”.

In its November 2018 ruling, the National Court had argued that allowing the union to exist amounted to “recognising the act of procurement as lawful”.


Contacted by AFP, the union did not wish to comment.

When it was founded, OTRAS received the green light from the labour ministry and its statutes were publicly registered in the official gazette the day before the government went into a summer recess.

But three weeks later, the government — which portrays itself as “feminist and in favour of the abolition of prostitution” according to Sanchez’s Twitter feed at the time — started legal moves against it.

In Spain, prostitution is neither legal nor illegal but it is tolerated.

Although it is not recognised as employment, there is a large number of licensed brothels throughout the country.