Spain to splash out €1.2 million on free mobiles for MPs

The Spanish government has approved the purchase of 825 state-of-the-art mobile phones and other tech gadgets for its Members of Parliament in the midst of a cost of living crisis in the country.

Spain to splash out €1.2 million on free mobiles for MPs
When 350 Ministers of the Spanish Parliament received free mobiles, tablets and home internet in 2016, only five of them refused the handout. (Photo by Pierre-Philippe MARCOU / AFP)

As millions of Spaniards struggle with rising energy, food and fuel prices among other spiralling living costs, the Spanish government has given the green light to splurge €1.23 million of taxpayers’ money on mobile phones, tablets and laptops for its 350 MPs.

The 825 next-generation mobile phones include 550 iPhones and 275 Samsung devices with internal storage of up to 512GB and 6-inch OLED screens, all of which will be insured and include technical assistance as part of the deal.

Although it has not been officially confirmed, the Apple devices are likely to be iPhone 13s, which currently have a high street value of between €900 and €1,800 in Spain.

Lower House employees, parliamentary advisors and other civil servants working in El Congreso de los Diputados (the Spanish Parliament) are also set to receive a free mobile.

The parliamentary tech upgrade, published in Spain’s State Bulletin (BOE) on Wednesday September 7th, has been deemed necessary as mobiles are “elements of assistance to parliamentary duties” and the last free devices MPs were given were iPhone 8s that don’t reportedly have the necessary capabilities for current security standards, nor can they have the latest iOS and Android software installed.

Members of Parliament belonging to centre-right party Ciudadanos will not accept the free mobiles, according to their leader Inés Arrimadas.

“It’s madness that in the midst of the crisis Spain is undergoing, the Spanish Parliament will spend more than a million euros to give all MPs the most expensive mobile phones on the market,” Arrimadas tweeted, calling on the Lower House to “rectify” its decision.

When 350 Members of the Spanish Parliament received free mobiles, tablets and home internet in 2016, only five of them turned down the handout.

According to the latest data available on Spain’s Transparency Portal, Spanish Members of Parliament receive on average a base salary of €3,050 gross per month for their parliamentary work, which doesn’t include earnings they receive for their other political work.

MPs also have the right to claim financial aid, exemptions and expenses for their parliamentary duties, and depending on the Spanish region for which they carry out their duties, they can claim additional compensation.

Therefore, Spanish MPs have gross annual salaries of between €55,803 and €70,143 for their parliamentary jobs, twice or almost three times as high as the average gross annual salary of workers in Spain, which in 2022 stands at around €24,000.

READ ALSO: Is Spain as corrupt as it was a decade ago?

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EXPLAINED: What is Spain’s anti-trafficking law?

The Spanish government has passed a draft bill that seeks to beef up the fight against human trafficking and exploitation, addressing everything from prostitution to arranged marriages and organ trafficking.

EXPLAINED: What is Spain’s anti-trafficking law?

On November 29th, Spain’s Council of Ministers approved a draft law aimed at tackling human trafficking.

The law, known as la ley de trata (or anti-trafficking law) will bolster measures against sexual exploitation, forced and arranged marriages, slavery, forced labour, organ and tissue removal, and situations where vulnerable people are forced to engage in criminal activity.

Spain’s Justice Minister, Pilar Llop, said that the law will protect “people who suffer a lot in our country and also in other countries around the world,” strengthening the fight against trafficking mafias and organised crime groups to “break the business chain that is generated using human beings as commodities.”

The law will, among other things, create a national plan for the prevention of trafficking, protection and privacy protocols, a compensation fund for victims, social, health and financial support, and increase awareness of the problem at the educational level.

A particular focus of the legislation will be on minors, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees – groups thought to be most vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.

Prostitution in Spain

Many cases of human trafficking in Spain result in sexual exploitation, but there exists no single law that deals directly with prostitution in Spain. Prostitution was decriminalised in 1995, though its related activities, such as pimping, trafficking, and sexual exploitation are still illegal.

READ ALSO: What’s the law on prostitution in Spain?

Although the clandestine nature of the sex work makes accurate data hard to find, according to a 2011 UN report, Spain is the third biggest centre for prostitution in the world, behind only Thailand and Puerto Rico.

In 2016, UNAIDS estimated that over 70,000 prostitutes were working in Spain, but some estimates put that number as high 350,000.

It is believed that 80 percent of them are foreigners, with many reportedly coming from Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Morocco and eastern Europe.

If the draft law is finally approved, its sexual exploitation clauses would include prison sentences of up to eight years for procurers such as pimps or madams.

Customers of prostitutes that have been forced to be sexual workers could also face fines and prison sentences of between six months and four years.

The Spanish government wants prostitution banned in its current form in Spain.

Forced labour

Clearly, the ley de trata will hope to combat some of the sexual exploitation of women in Spain, but the anti-trafficking legislation is more far-reaching than that and is also intended to tackle forced labour and slavery – two big but underreported problems in Spain.

According to the U.S State Department’s 2022 report on human trafficking in Spain, “labour trafficking is under-identified in Spain. Authorities report the pandemic increased worker vulnerabilities and contributed to the rise in labour trafficking in 2020 and 2021, especially in agriculture, domestic work, and cannabis cultivation in Catalonia.”

“In 2022, Ukrainian refugees, predominantly women and children fleeing Russia’s war against Ukraine, are vulnerable to trafficking. Labour traffickers continue to exploit men and women from Eastern Europe and South and East Asia, particularly Pakistan, in the textile, construction, industrial, beauty, elder care facilities, and retail sectors.”

It should be said, however, that the report also notes that “the government of Spain fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” and kept it in its Tier 1 of nations.

What does Spain’s anti-trafficking law include?

  • National Trafficking Plan

The law will create a protocol to coordinate the immediate referral of trafficked persons to specialised services, which will be overseen by a National Rapporteur on Trafficking and Exploitation of Human Beings run through Spain’s Interior Ministry, according to the Spanish government website.

The rapporteur will oversee anti-trafficking policy and represent Spain in the international arena, a role considered crucial as human trafficking is often a cross border, international problem.

  • Education

According to Article 7 of the law, efforts will also be made to improve educational awareness of the problems of trafficking and exploitation with a focus on human rights, sexual education, and democratic values.

  • Social, labour, and health support

A ‘Social and Labour Insertion Plan’ will be created for victims of trafficking and exploitation that provides social, health and employment support for victims.

This could include housing access, physical, psychological and sexual health support, employment opportunities, and financial assistance for victims and their family members.

  • Tightening labour market regulation

As trafficked and exploited people are so often brought in from abroad (and often dependent on the traffickers themselves for housing, food, money and so on) the regulation of migrant worker recruitment will be tightened through beefed up surveillance and labour standards.

  • Compensation fund

A compensation fund – the Fund for the Compensation of Victims of Trafficking and Exploitation (FIVTE) – will also be created, and will be taken from state budgets, as well as money or goods confiscated from convicted traffickers.

  • Protection and privacy

The anti-trafficking law will also provide protection services and maintain the victim’s right to privacy, protect their identity, access to free legal advice and even offer a living income.

According to Article 36 of the bill, victims trafficked from abroad will have the right to voluntary and assisted return to their country of origin. If they were brought illegally into Spain and don’t have official documentation, the Spanish government will issue them with the appropriate papers needed for travel as well as provide them with the option of residency.