SHARE
COPY LINK

LABOUR RIGHTS

EU rules Spain’s treatment of domestic workers is discriminatory

European Union judges on Thursday ruled that there is no valid reason for Spain not to offer domestic workers in the country the right to unemployment benefits as is the case for other contract employees. 

spain domestic workers rights
Many domestic workers in Spain are still not given work contracts by their employers. Photo: JOSEPH EID/AFP

The Court of Justice of the European Union on Thursday February 24th ruled that the Spanish system is discriminatory against its domestic workers, contrary to EU laws and indirectly sexist in that it particularly affects women.

“This exclusion entails a greater lack of social protection for domestic employees, which translates into a situation of social abandonment,” the high court statement published on Thursday reads.

Although the ruling is non-binding, it’s a win for domestic workers in Spain who for decades have been forgotten by authorities and usually forced to work in the underground economy.

The decision by the EU courts follows an appeal in 2019 by a domestic worker in Spain who wished to contribute taxes towards future unemployment benefits, only for the country’s Social Security agency to reject her request under the premise that Spanish law doesn’t allow it.

In 2011, Spain approved the current special regime for domestic workers, which recognised some labour rights such as access to sick leave but continued to deny other basic worker benefits such as unemployment payments.

Despite this, a third of the 536,100 domestics (mostly foreign women) who work in Spain are still not signed up to Spain’s social security system, according to the country’s 2021 Labour Force Survey. Two out of every three have earnings around the minimum wage bracket.

READ ALSO: What changed for families who have a domestic worker or cleaner in Spain in 2021

In February 2021, Spain’s Labour Ministry sent out around 45,000 letters to households with empleadas del hogar (domestic workers) warning them that they have to properly register their employees in Spain’s social security system and make the right contributions (cotizaciones), as well as ensuring they are paying them at least the minimum wage.

It’s not the first time the Court of Justice of the European Union calls out Spain’s labour laws as discriminatory as in 2012 they ruled that access to Spain’s more generous contributory pension system indirectly discriminated against women as there are a far higher number of women in part-time jobs in the country.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

WOMEN'S RIGHTS

Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Talk of abortion policy reform and proposed menstrual leave has dominated Spanish discourse this week, but it’s also dividing Spain’s coalition government.

Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Spain’s PSOE-fronted coalition government recently outlined proposals that have dominated public discourse in the country.

But the legislation, which would allow women over the age of 16 to get abortions without the permission of their parents and introduce ‘menstruation leave’ for those suffering serious period pains, has not only divided Spanish society but the government itself.

The proposals would make Spain a leader in the Western world, and the first European Union member state to introduce menstrual leave, and changes to abortion law would overturn a 2015 law passed by the conservative People’s Party that forced women aged 16 and 17 to obtain parental consent.

The wide-ranging bill would also end VAT on menstrual products, increase the free distribution of them in schools, and allow between three and five days of leave each month for women who experience particularly painful periods.

READ MORE: What are Spain’s abortion laws for foreign residents and visitors?

Menstrual leave

Ángela Rodríguez, the Secretary of State for Equality, told Spanish newspaper El Periódico in March that “it’s important to be clear about what a painful period is – we’re not talking about slight discomfort, but about serious symptoms such as diarrhoea, fever and bad headaches.”

“When there’s a problem that can’t be solved medically, we think it’s very sensible to have temporary sick leave,” she added.

Cabinet politics

The proposals are slated for approval in cabinet next week, and judging by reports in the Spanish media this week, it is far from reaching a consensus. It is believed the intra-cabinet tensions stem not from the changes to abortion and contraception accessibility, but rather the proposed menstrual leave.

The junior coalition partner in government, Podemos, largely supports the bill, but it is believed some in the PSOE ranks are more sceptical about the symbolism and employment effects of the proposed period pain policy.

Vice President and Minister of Economic Affairs, Nadia Calviño, said this week: “Let me repeat it very clearly: this government believes and is absolutely committed to gender equality and we will never adopt measures that may result in a stigmatisation of women.”

Yet Second Vice President and Minister of Labour, Yolanda Díaz, who is viewed as further to the left than President Pedro Sánchez and other PSOE cabinet ministers, is reportedly “absolutely in favour” of the measure to reform Spain’s “deeply masculinised” labour market.

Sources in the Spanish media have this week also reported that some PSOE cabinet ministers feel the proposed paid leave not only plays up to stereotypes of women, or stigmatises them, like Calviño says, but also places them at a disadvantage in the world of work.

Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, José Luis Escrivá, stated that while the government should seek to improve women’s employment protections, it should also seek to boost their participation in the labour market under “better conditions.”

In that vein, some feel menstrual leave could be used a form of of employment discrimination similarly to how pregnancy has been historically, and the policy would, in that sense, actually be more regressive than progressive in enshrining women’s workplace rights. 

READ MORE: Spain eyes free contraception for under-25’s

Trade unions

Trade unions are also sceptical of the menstrual leave legislation. Cristina Antoñanzas, deputy secretary of UGT, one of Spain’s largest trade unions, has echoed those in the cabinet who feel the proposals could “stigmatise women.” She added that “it does women a disservice.”

Public opinion

A survey run by INTIMINA found that 67 percent of Spanish women are in favour of regulating menstrual leave, but also that 75 percent fear it is “a double-edged sword” that could generate labor discrimination.

The survey also found that 88 percent of women who suffer from disabling and frequent period pain have gone to work despite it. Seventy-one percent admitted that they have normalised working with pain.

Cabinet showdown

The proposed menstrual leave policy will be debated in cabinet next week when the Council of Ministers debates and approves the broader abortion and contraception reforms. According to sources in the Spanish media, and many cabinet ministers themselves, it seems a consensus on menstruation leave is a long way off.




SHOW COMMENTS