The new domestic workers section of the LAB union in the Basque Country is a first, and the union told the Gig Economy Project that they are “attentive” to the growth of digital labour platforms seeking to ‘Uberise’ the sector
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On 30 March, International Domestic Workers’ Day, the Basque union LAB established a domestic workers section, which will immediately set about seeking the first collective bargaining agreement for domestic workers in the Basque Country.
A 2018 study found that there are 630,000 domestic workers in Spain, 4% of the active working age population. These workers, almost 90% of whom are women and with a disproportionate representation of ethnic minorities and migrants, have historically been denied even basic workers’ rights like the right to unemployment benefits if they are fired. In the pandemic, this left domestic workers as one of the only groups of workers in Spain which did not have access to any financial support, as they could not be furloughed nor receive unemployment benefit.
However, a European Court of Justice (ECJ) verdict in February, brought forward by a Galician domestic worker who had been refused unemployment benefit, found that Spain’s labour regime for domestic workers was discriminatory because it was sexist.
A 2011 reform had given domestic workers some rights, such as sick leave, but not unemployment benefit, angering domestic workers who had been campaign for the ratification of the ILO convention 189 on decent work for domestic workers. The Spanish Government argued at the ECJ that the exclusion of unemployment benefit was justified on the basis that the employer was not “a professional entrepreneur, but a head of the family”.
The Spanish Government has stated it now intends to legislate for a right to unemployment benefit, but LAB say domestic workers will still have no right to collective bargaining nor occupational health and safety rights.
Speaking at the announcement, Garbiñe Aranburu, LAB General Secretary, said that “as a society we cannot accept the violation of the rights of these workers. We need to regularise the situation of domestic workers, and we will continue to work for a decent collective agreement that LAB will regularise and dignify the situation of these workers.”
LAB has agreed to come to the negotiating table with various associations which hire domestic workers to come to an agreement in the Basque Autonomous Community, which is a regional government within the Spanish state and makes up part of the Basque territory. The union has also requested Confebask, the main Basque employers’ association, make up part of the negotiating table. In the Navarre region, which is also Basque and where LAB organise, the union will look to develop an agreement in the future.
Ane Escondrillas, member of the Social-Sanitary federation in LAB, told the Gig Economy Project that they want the collective agreement to include the regulation of “overnight stays, dismissals, hiring, wages, working hours, rest periods, leave, occupational health, provide protocols against sexual harassment and gender-based harassment and include sanctions for the employer” if they breach the rules.
Escondrillas added: “It is clear to LAB that in every home where a domestic and care worker is employed, it automatically becomes a work/employment centre, where there is an employer who is responsible for ensuring and guaranteeing decent working conditions for the worker and a responsibility of the public administrations and the Labour Inspectorate to effectively monitor the real conditions in which each working relationship is developed inside each home, sanctioning in the event of non-compliance, violations and infringements.”
She also called on the Basque Government to “show an unequivocal political and institutional commitment to the drafting of this agreement and not to maintain an equidistant position in the face of a possible blockage in the negotiations.”
The sector is currently undergoing profound changes, particularly with the emergence of platform care. In the past seven years, a plethora of care platforms have been established in Spain, including Cuideo, Cuidum, Aiudo and Depencare. Cuidum claims to have 220,000 professional care workers in its database, while Cuideo say they deliver services in 40,000 households across the Spanish state.
Like platforms in food delivery and private car hire, these platforms match domestic workers with potential clients and take a commission on every booking. The platform care workers are currently considered self-employed, and thus cannot access employment rights.
At the start of the pandemic, use of medium-to-long term platform care services in Spain grew by 160% from February to June 2020, according to one study. This ‘Uberisation’ of domestic work presents new challenges when it comes to union organisation and rights.
Escondrillas said LAB does not currently have platform care workers in the union as this new phenomenon is less developed in the Basque Country than other parts of the Spanish state, but that they do know of “some experiences in which we have seen the conflicts that arise” and are “attentive to the possibility of an exponential increase in domestic and care work” via digital labour platforms.
Initially, the Spanish Government’s regulation of platform work was supposed to include all platform workers, but the inclusion of care workers in the reform was successfully resisted by Nadia Calviño, deputy prime minister and minister for the economy. In the end, the reform only included food delivery couriers on digital labour platforms, which was why it was dubbed the “Rider’s Law”, a slimming down of the ambition of the reform which was criticised by grassroots groups at the time, including ’RidersXDerechos’.
The European Commission’s platform work directive, proposed in December, is inclusive of the whole of the platform economy, and an analysis of the proposals by the European Trade Union Confederation found that care workers for Cuideo met four out of five of the Commission’s criteria to be considered an employee with full labour rights. Just two out of five of the criteria are needed for a platform worker to be a considered an employee. Once the platform work directive is agreed to by the EU Council and ratified by the European Parliament, it is expected to be transposed into law in member-states by 2024 or 2025.
Asked about the right to employment status for platform care workers, Escondrillas said: “LAB will always defend that all workers must have guaranteed labour rights and that the way to achieve them is through collective bargaining and organisation.
“Both domestic workers who depend on these platforms and workers with private contracts with families, as well as workers who work without any kind of contract or protection (due to their high level of precariousness) must have the same labour rights as any other worker in the Basque Country.”
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