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LABOUR RIGHTS

‘A long way to go’: Spain’s domestics fight to end discrimination

For years, Aracely Sánchez went to work without counting her hours, always fearful she could lose her job from one day to the next.

'A long way to go': Spain's domestics fight to end discrimination
The Spanish government recently announced it would extend labour benefits to hundreds of thousands of domestic workers, but tens of thousands more will still fall between the cracks. (Photo by Rodrigo ARANGUA / AFP)

“They would always ask me to do more and more and more, as if I were a machine,” she told AFP of her employers at a house in Madrid.

Within a collective of domestic workers, this 39-year-old Mexican has been trying to assert her basic rights to have time off every week, to be paid for working overtime and to have unemployment cover.

But given the precarious nature of this type of work in Spain, it is a challenge.

“There are employers who are very humane and who respect us, but there are many who try to take advantage of the situation,” she explained.

“They say: if the job doesn’t suit you, there are plenty more where you came from.”

According to the Workers Commission union (CCOO), nearly 600,000 women serve as domestic staff in Spain where taking them on for housework, cooking or childcare is widespread.

Of that number, nearly 200,000 are undeclared, working in the black economy without an employment contract.

“Many of them come from Latin America and they don’t have papers and find themselves in a very vulnerable situation,” said Mari Cruz Vicente, the CCOO’s head of activism and employment.

‘Exposing violations’

Following a ruling by the EU’s Court of Justice (CJEU) and pressure from the unions, the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez adopted a reform this month aiming at ending the “discrimination” suffered by these workers.

READ ALSO: The new rules for hiring a domestic worker in Spain

Under the changes, dubbed by the government as “settling a historic debt”, domestic workers are now entitled to claim unemployment benefits and cannot be dismissed without justification.

They will also be covered by healthcare “protection” and be able to access training to improve their “professional opportunities” and job conditions.

“This is a very important step forward,” said Vicente, while stressing the need to step up efforts to register those who are working without a contract and don’t benefit from the reform.

“This reform was very necessary,” said Constanza Cisneros of the Jeanneth Beltrán observatory which specialises in domestic workers’ rights.

“Spain was very behind. Every day we have people coming to us whose rights have been violated. We have to end such practices now,” she said.

“Such situations have to be exposed.”

SPAIN-DOMESTIC-WORKERS

Around 200,000 domestic workers who are working in the black economy without an employment contract will not benefit from Spain’s new labour reform. (Photo by Ezequiel BECERRA / AFP)

‘Not seen as people’

Mexican home help Sánchez has often experienced such abuses in more than two decades of employment.

In 2001, she arrived in Madrid to take up full-time employment caring for an elderly person for €350 a month.

She then spent the next 15 years working in short-term jobs, almost always without a contract, despite the fact she had a valid residency permit.

“When I said I wanted a contract, they never called me back. They didn’t want to pay contributions,” she said, describing her work as “undervalued” with domestic staff seen as “labourers” and not “as people”.

Amalia Caballero, a domestic worker from Ecuador, has had a very similar experience.

“We often finish very late, or they change our hours at the last minute assuming we’ll just fall in line. But we also have a life that we need to sort out,” said Caballero, 60.

She also talks about the “humiliations” often endured by those who live with their employers.

“One time, one of my bosses asked me why I showered every day. It was clear he thought (the hot water) was costing him too much money,” she told AFP.

But will such attitudes change with the reform?

“There’s still a long way to go,” she sighed, saying many domestic staff “have completed their studies” back home and even hold a degree.

“People need to recognise that,” she said.

Cisneros agreed.

“Our work needs to command greater respect, not least because it’s so necessary. Without staff to pick up the children, run the household and look after elderly people, what would families do?”

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SPAIN AND THE US

Spain and the US to exchange more language assistants in bilingualism push    

The governments of Spain and the United States have agreed to recruit more English and Spanish-language assistants from each other’s countries as a means of bolstering bilingual education in the two nations.

Spain and the US to exchange more language assistants in bilingualism push    

Spain’s Education Minister Pilar Alegría and US ambassador to Spain Julissa Reynoso met on Wednesday to sign a memorandum of understanding which will reinforce educational cooperation between the two countries. 

The agreement had been previously signed by Miguel Cardona, the United States Secretary of Education, who tweeted: “This week, alongside [Spanish] Ambassador [Santiago] Cabañas, I signed a memorandum supporting the study of Spanish language & culture in the US, and the study of English in Spain”.

It is in fact a renewal of a memorandum between the United States and Spain which has facilitated mobility of both conversation assistants and students between the two countries in recent years.

The aim of this newest memorandum of understanding is to further strengthen student and teacher exchange programmes and promote bilingual and multicultural teaching in both educational systems.

No exact details have yet been given about how many extra language assistants will be given grants to join the programme. 

Several teacher recruitment sources suggest the current number of North American language assistants (including Canadians) heading to Spain every year is between 2,000 and 2,500. 

The Spanish government has stated that in 2023, this figure will be around 4,500, which represents a considerable increase in the number of US and Canadian citizens who can apply through the NALCAP programme, which stands for North American Language and Culture Assistants in Spain. 

According to Spain’s Foreign Ministry, the following requirements must be met by US candidates in order to participate in the programme:

  • Be a U.S. citizen and have a valid passport
  • Have earned a bachelor’s degree or be currently enrolled as a sophomore, junior or a senior in a bachelor’s programme. Applicants may also have an associate degree or be a community college student in their last semester.
  • Have a native-like level of English
  • Be in good physical and mental health
  • Have a clean background check
  • Be aged 18 – 60.
  • Have at least basic knowledge of Spanish (recommended)

NALCAP recipients receive a monthly stipend of €700 to €1,000 as well as Spanish medical insurance.

Application dates for 2023 are usually announced in late November. See more information on the NALPAC programme for US nationals here

According to The Fulbright Program, one of several US cultural exchange programmes that organises the recruitment of US nationals for Spain: “English Teaching Assistants assist teaching staff at the early childhood, elementary, middle school, high school, vocational and/or university level for up to 16 hours per week, with an additional two hours for planning & coordination meetings. Responsibilities include assistant-teaching, in English, subjects such as social studies, science and technology, art, physical education, and English language.”

READ MORE: The pros and cons of being an English language assistant in Spain

There are also currently more than 1,000 Spanish teachers working as visiting teachers in the United States, Spain’s Moncloa government has said, without adding yet how many more will be recruited in 2023.

Additionally, more than 1,000 North American students now take part in the Spanish Language and Culture Groups managed by the Spanish Education Ministry’s Overseas Education Action (or Acción Educativa Exterior, AEE).  

Canadian applicants can find out more about working as language assistants in Spain by visiting the NALCAP Canada website.

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