‘Let us keep our union’: Spanish sex workers demand equal labour rights

Spain's first sex workers union on Friday asked for "the same labour rights" for its members as other workers, criticising the Socialist government for wanting to get rid of it.

'Let us keep our union': Spanish sex workers demand equal labour rights
Photos: AFP

“Us sex workers deserve the same labour rights as the rest of Spanish society,” Conxa Borrell, head of the OTRAS union, told reporters in Barcelona.

The press briefing came a day after Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who wants to abolish prostitution altogether as does his executive, said the labour ministry had launched proceedings to challenge the union’s existence in court.

Borrell said this desire to abolish prostitution “hides moralism and visceral hate towards sex workers”.

She stressed that for fellow sex workers, getting labour rights such as a contract, fixed salary, sick or maternity leave, holidays or retirement was “an utopia”.

The existence of the union left Sanchez red-faced on Thursday as not only was it registered by his own labour ministry, but it was published in the official state gazette on August 4.

The news only came to light on Thursday.

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.

On Friday, government spokeswoman Isabel Celaa said “this government won’t in any way allow a sex workers union.”

Labour Minister Magdalena Valerio told reporters Thursday 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 (below) added this has been one of “the biggest” upsets in her life.



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.