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Women & Economy

Immigrant Caregivers in Spain Hit Hard by Crisis

VALENCIA, Spain , Dec 3 2012 (IPS) - “It’s really painful to work and not get paid. And I can’t report them, because I don’t have documents, or a contract,” Rossana, one of the many immigrant women working as domestic employees and caregivers in Spain, told IPS.

Rossana *, 32, came to Spain in February 2011 from the Dominican Republic, where she has three children, ages 15, eight and four, who depend on the money she sends home.

She worked in the northeastern Spanish city of Barcelona for six months caring for an elderly woman until her death, when she was laid off without indemnification. Since then, “there’s been hardly any work, and undocumented immigrants like me aren’t hired for the few jobs that there are,” she said.

A seminar on “Women, Migration and Caregiving” was held by organisations of women immigrants on Thursday Nov. 29 in the eastern city of Valencia, to discuss situations like Rossana’s.

Many immigrant women in Spain care for the elderly, children, or other dependents. They also do the cleaning, ironing and cooking. In Spain, 65 percent of all household workers are immigrants, mainly from Latin America. In most cases, their remittances help support their families back home.

According to the latest National Employment Institute survey, 592,000 of the 667,000 domestics in Spain are women, and just under 400,000 are enrolled in the social security system.

“There are situations of abuse that verge on slavery,” Spanish economist Carmen Castro, an expert in public policies and gender equality who was a speaker at the seminar, told IPS.

“When you get a combination of woman, domestic worker and immigrant, the situation of vulnerability and precariousness is aggravated,” said Castro, whose presentation was called “What to do with caregiving: alternatives for another model of society”.

Rossana had been deceived before. Once she found a job over the internet, caring for an elderly man in a hospital every night for 10 days. But when her stint was up, they didn’t pay her. “There are many here who have gone through the same thing,” she said.

Some have had positive experiences, such as Nancy, a young Venezuelan woman who cared for a child for over a year and was granted legal residency status thanks to the efforts of Remedios, the boy’s mother.

Remedios, Nancy’s employer, told IPS how happy she was with her work as a nanny.

In 2011, some 50 Colombian immigrants and former immigrants created the Spanish-Colombian cooperative Coomigrar, to fight for greater recognition of the work of domestics and defend their rights.

For now, the organisation is working with women in the Colombian city of Pereira and the Spanish cities of Valencia and nearby Alicante. It was one of the groups that organised the seminar.

Coomigrar aims “to gain recognition for the work that women do, and improve their working conditions,” said Luisa Vidal, coordinator in Spain of the Colombian women’s group Sisma-Mujer, which is carrying out a project supported by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID).

Since July 2011, Coomigrar has been providing professional services in Colombia in caregiving for children, the elderly and other dependents, and for domestic work.

But in Spain, the focus of the group for the time being is awareness-raising on the rights of domestics, and making their role as agents of development more visible, while providing training for the group’s members.

“No society is sustainable without the work of caregivers,” political refugee Leonora Castaño, coordinator of Coomigrar, told IPS.

Castaño said that compared to other groups of workers, domestics in Spain are lagging in terms of respect for their labour rights, despite a new law that improved their situation.

The law, which went into effect at the start of 2012, is aimed at moving domestic workers out of the informal economy. Their working hours are now set at a maximum of 40 per week, and employers are legally bound to give them a written contract of employment, enrol them in social security, and make the corresponding payments.

But Vidal told IPS that “Many employers are still not hiring their domestic workers under contracts,” as required by the new law.

The legislation, seen as falling short by the participants in the seminar, failed to create more stringent rules for firing domestics, and did not extend the right to unemployment benefits to them.

But besides the requirement of a formal contract, the law establishes a minimum wage and increases severance pay from seven to 12 days of salary per year worked. It also requires that employers give 20 days notice of termination of employment. And it guarantees free public healthcare coverage as well as a retirement pension.

Spain is one of the European countries hit hardest by the global financial crisis. With a record high unemployment rate of 26 percent – the highest in Europe – amounting to six million people unemployed, social inequalities have deepened.

Many immigrant women who worked as caregivers and domestics in Spanish households have found themselves unemployed, and are returning to their home countries. “There are times when I say I want to go, but then I think I’ll just keep struggling,” Rossana said.

Coomigrar, which is becoming a source of assistance in the crisis, recently helped two Colombian women who returned to their hometowns to find jobs, Vidal said.

“The work done by those who care for people who others are unable to care for must be respected and valued,” psychologist Luz María Arias, a member of the Colombian cooperative who has lived in Spain for 12 years with her family, told IPS.

During the seminar, Arias said it was a positive thing that the term for domestics has gone from “servants to household workers.” She also said that there is greater awareness now, although “there are still people who take advantage.”

The new law refers to “household workers” and “family home services”.

But for Rossana and many others, only the terminology has changed – the conditions they face remain the same.

* Rossana and other sources who spoke to IPS asked to remain anonymous.

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  • nisha

    The tragedy for the migrant workers is that while there is an ever increasing demand for the care-givers and domestic workers in Europe and many other places, the immigration regimes are becoming tighter and social security measures are also on a decline. This is another sort of tripple whammy – the migrant workers leave their country under dire conditions, often get treated as criminals in the host country and are usually perceived as criminals by the people at large, and of course, with the cost-cutting they cannot expect their wages to go up t match the prevailing cost of living.

it starts with us novel