Spain maids protest low pay

By Emmanuelle Michel, Laurence Boutreux — 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, employs 100,000 hotel maids, according to union estimates. 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 per month, far above the minimum wage of 764.40 euros.
“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).
Lupianez took part in a protest in the southern city of Malaga 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. 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 labour agreement for housekeeping staff, but the one for the cleaning sector, and are paid up to 40 per cent less than their peers, according to the CCOO.
“We say: ‘Enough exploitation!’, said Carolina Martin, a 46-year-old maid in the southwestern city of Seville.
“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 euros 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 per cent from a record high 27 per cent 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. — AFP