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.

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ERTE: Spain extends pandemic furlough scheme until March

The Spanish government approved Tuesday an agreement with unions and business groups to extend its furlough scheme for workers affected by the Covid pandemic until the end of March.

ERTE: Spain extends pandemic furlough scheme until March

The costly ERTE scheme, which was first introduced in April 2020 and has
since been extended several times, had been due to end on February 28th.

It provides furloughed workers with 70 percent of their base salary for the
first six months, before dropping to 50 percent for the following months.

“The extension will occur automatically, and the companies and workers
concerned will not have to take any steps,” the government said in a statement.

The number of furloughed workers in Spain stands at about 104,000, down
from a peak of 3.4 million in 2020 during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Workers in sectors such as tourism and transportation have been particularly hard hit by lockdowns and travel restrictions.

The scheme has contributed to Spain’s soaring debt. The Spanish government’s debt as a percentage of its gross domestic product rose to 118.7 percent in 2021 from 95 percent in 2019.