Ho­tel maids in Spain rebel against low salaries

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Spain is en­joy­ing a surge in visi­tors, but ho­tel maids are not reap­ing the re­wards and are re­belling against their low salaries, which can be as lit­tle as two eu­ros to clean a room. The coun­try, which wel­comed over 68 mil­lion for­eign tourists last year - its third con­sec­u­tive year of record num­bers - em­ploys around 100,000 ho­tel maids, ac­cord­ing to union es­ti­mates. Over the past two years more and more maids have been chal­leng­ing their con­tracts in courts and com­ing out in the press with tales of ex­ploita­tion in the world’s third most vis­ited coun­try.

Pepita Gar­cia Lu­pi­anez, who has worked for 40 years in the sea­side re­sort of Tor­re­moli­nos on the Costa del Sol, is one of the lead­ers of the fight de­spite en­joy­ing bet­ter con­di­tions than most. She had a full-time con­tract and earns 1,300 eu­ros ($1,400) per month, far above the min­i­mum wage of €764.40. “I am al­most ashamed when I meet with col­leagues em­ployed by sub­con­trac­tors who have con­tracts of four to six hours and work in re­al­ity eight or ten hours,” said Lu­pi­anez, 59, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive with Spain’s big­gest union, Comi­siones Obr­eras (CCOO). “Their em­ploy­ers tells them: ‘Un­til you have fin­ished, you can’t leave!’”.

Lu­pi­anez took part in a protest in the south­ern city of Malaga Thurs­day against a re­form of Spain’s labour code in 2012 which maids say has led to lower salaries. The re­form made fir­ing work­ers eas­ier and cheaper and weak­ened col­lec­tive bargaining agree­ments. Out­sourc­ing of clean­ing to less ex­pen­sive firms has since be­come wide­spread. “In numer­ous ho­tels di­rectly-hired staff have been re­placed” by em­ploy­ees of ser­vice firms, said Ernest Canada, the au­thor of a book on ho­tel maids. Maids who work for such firms are not gov­erned by the col­lec­tive la­bor agree­ment for house­keep­ing staff, but the one for the clean­ing sec­tor, and are paid up to 40 per­cent less than their peers, ac­cord­ing to the CCOO.

400 rooms per month

“We say: ‘Enough ex­ploita­tion!’, said Carolina Martin, a 46-year-old maid in the south­west­ern city of Seville who has filed a com­plaint against her pre­vi­ous em­ployer. “I earned just 700 eu­ros to clean 400 rooms per month, they gave us more or less two eu­ros per room we cleaned,” she said. She now works 30 hours a week at a four star ho­tel in Seville, earn­ing €618 a month. The sched­ule leaves her in “con­stant stress” with no time to go to the bath­room dur­ing her shifts, she said.

The maids of­ten win their le­gal bat­tles. Of the 58 col­lec­tive agree­ments which have been con­tested since May 2015, 46 have been an­nulled, ac­cord­ing to Spain’s two largest unions, CCOO and the UGT. Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy’s con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment de­fends its re­form of the labour code, cred­it­ing it with a drop in Spain’s job­less rate to be­low 20 per­cent from a record high 27 per­cent in 2013.

Spain’s ho­tel and re­tail sec­tor ac­counted for nearly half of all jobs cre­ated this year, ac­cord­ing to a study by Adecco, the world’s big­gest temp agency. But most new jobs are tem­po­rary. One in three Spa­niards is em­ployed on a fixedterm con­tract and the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund on Tues­day iden­ti­fied this large pro­por­tion of short-term con­tracts as a weak­ness. It urged Spain to in­crease in­cen­tives for em­ploy­ers to award staff per­ma­nent con­tracts in a pre­lim­i­nary an­nual re­view of Spain’s econ­omy.

Change ho­tel star rank­ing

Maids on short-term con­tracts are be­com­ing more and more com­mon at ho­tels at PortAven­tura, one of the largest theme parks in Europe, near the north­east­ern city of Tar­rag­ona, said Es­ther Ro­driguez, a maid who works there on a per­ma­nent con­tract. They are “young girls, some­times from Morocco, Sene­gal, Nige­ria, who earn 300 eu­ros less than us,” the 54-year-old said. The pres­i­dent of AC Ho­tels by Mar­riott, An­to­nio Cata­lan, made head­lines last month when he pub­licly crit­i­cized the la­bor law re­form and its im­pact on ho­tel maids.

“To­day I can fire some­one by pay­ing them com­pen­sa­tion equiv­a­lent to 20 days’ pay for each year worked and then start to out­source. This is what those who ex­ploit maids do,” he told a busi­ness fo­rum. The Span­ish ho­tel fed­er­a­tion de­clined to com­ment on the is­sue. Some maids are dis­tribut­ing fliers to ho­tel clients to ex­plain their plight. “It’s the best way to put pres­sure on ho­tel own­ers,” said An­gela, 54, who was fired from a big ho­tel chain for re­fus­ing to be out­sourced. She is lob­by­ing to en­sure staff work­ing con­di­tions are taken into ac­count when award­ing a ho­tel star rank­ing, along with cri­te­ria such as bed size.


Span­ish ho­tel maid Pepita Gar­cia Lu­pi­anez holds union flags as she takes part in a protest against a re­form of Spain’s la­bor code in 2012, which maids say has led to lower salaries, in Malaga on Dec 15, 2016.

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