SPAIN: Interview with Servicio Doméstico Activo – An opportunity to set a new course

Read our interview with Carol Elias from SEDOAC– Servicio Doméstico Activo, one of the seven laureates from the Civic Pride Awards of 2020.

The Pandemic has highlighted Spain’s healthcare crisis and how fragile its care system is. The pandemic further aggravated the working conditions of domestic workers. […] We managed to attract the interest of different media about the situation of domestic workers so that they were talking about it on a weekly basis raising awareness about the value of our work among the public. The pressure on the Government was effective, as it was possible to establish an extraordinary subsidy for domestic workers. More than 30,000 workers have requested it and we hope that they will soon start receiving it”Carol Elias, SEDOAC 

SEDOAC, the Active Domestic Service Association, was created in 2008 by domestic and care workers of different nationalities, to advocate for the full equality of their rights and for dignified working conditions of all domestic and care workers in Spain. During the lockdown, the association carried out a strong political advocacy campaign demanding measures to support domestic and care workers. 

Can you tell us about the Association for Active Domestic Service (SEDOAC)? When was it founded, who are its member and goals? 

At the beginning of 2005, some NGOs began to organise informative meetings about the regularisation of migrants. This led many migrant women to meet each other and to realise that most of them worked in the domestic sector, where they suffered many abuses, exploitation and above all, lack of recognition of rights in comparison to the rest of the workers in Spain. For this reason, they saw the need to organise and found an association in which they would fight together for that equality of rights that is so necessary to live a dignified life. This is how SEDOAC was born.  

Its members are women of different nationalities, especially from Latin America, between 25 and 60 years old, who work or have worked in the domestic and care sector. 

Our main objectives are:  

  • EMPOWERMENT: The empowerment of our members through information and training about their rights, working on their self-esteem and being a well-rounded person.
  • SENSITISATION: To make the wider society aware of the value of this work, which guarantees the sustainability of life itself.
  • NETWORKING: The construction of strategic alliances with other similar Associations or Organisations, in order to join forces to achieve our objectives.
  • POLITICAL IMPACT: We are convinced that it is necessary to reach the people who represent us and who have the power to make decisions in the State and in the different Public Institutions, in order to achieve the legislative and structural changes that guarantee equal rights to our sector as the rest of the workers in Spain, Europe and the world. 

What pushes you to get organised in Spain and what is it like to be an activist from Latin America in the country? 

In El Salvador, I worked as a lawyer in a women’s association that fought for the rights of women textile workers. There, I supported them in their struggle for rights. There I saw the importance of organising and fighting to live a life that is ‘worth living’. In 2009 I arrived in Spain, and despite having a degree in law and an Official Master’s Degree in Gender Equality from the Complutense University of Madrid, the only work I found was in the domestic sector. For 5 years I myself experienced labour exploitation, class discrimination and racism for being a migrant and a domestic worker. This motivated me to organise myself and look for an association where I could find support. I found this support when I joined the Latin American and Caribbean Women’s Network, an entity to which SEDOAC belonged since 2010. This is how I became part of SEDOAC in 2012. In 2014 I became its president. In SEDOAC I not only found support, but also friends and a reason not to give up and to fight tirelessly until all domestic workers obtain the rights that we deserve to do such an important job as caring for life. 

How has the pandemic impacted your community? 

The Pandemic has highlighted Spain’s healthcare crisis and how fragile its care system is. The pandemic further aggravated the working conditions of domestic workers. Many of those who worked part-time or full-time suffered reductions in their working hours. Others were dismissed without receiving fair compensation and without the possibility of finding another job that would allow them to obtain the income necessary to support their families in their countries of origin and to survive in Spain. Those who kept working suffered further exploitationthey were not provided with the necessary means to protect themselves against COVID-19 and to protect the people they were caring for. Those who worked as live-in domestic workers saw their workload increase as they had the whole family at home, and even had to perform tasks for which they were not hired. The worst thing was that many of them were forced by their employers not to go out to rest on weekends in their respective homes and to remain confined in the workplace. As a result, they could not go to take care of their own children, as they were threatened of dismissal if they left their workplace. They were forced to accept not seeing their families for more than 90 days. 

What strategies did SEDOAC put in place to leverage support for domestic workers? 

SEDOAC had a lot of presence in the different national and international media (radio, TV, written and digital press). We also carried out campaigns in the different social networks where we denounced the various situations of vulnerability to which domestic workers were exposed. We held workshops and online meetings with our members to talk about their situation and to inform them about their rights amid the pandemic. Above all, these meetings allowed them not to feel so lonely and to support each other.  

We coordinated with the associations of Domestic Workers all over Spain to make a strong advocacy effort so that our sector would be included among the measures that would help to alleviate the consequences of the tremendous economic crisis caused by the State of Alert. 

What impact have these actions had? 

We managed to attract the interest of different media about the situation of domestic workers so that they were talking about it on a weekly basis, raising awareness about the value of our work among the public. 

The pressure on the Government was effective, as it enabled the implementation of an extraordinary subsidy for domestic workers. More than 30,000 workers have requested it and we hope that they will soon start receiving it. 

We managed to make our members feel supported and informed, thus contributing to the process of empowering each one of them. 

Is there a desire to get organised also transnationally in Europe?  

Being able to organise ourselves with other domestic workers across Europe is a much-needed strategy, in order to achieve the structural changes that will lead to the dignified working conditions for our sector. Unfortunately, what we experience in Spain is also experienced by many migrant domestic workers throughout Europe. What prevents us from taking the step to coordinate transnationally is the lack of essential resources and means to carry out this work. We need to hire qualified personnel to support us and facilitate the communication effort (translation into and from Spanish), as well as to get the contacts of those other associations of domestic workers outside Spain. 

Do you think that the European Union can be an ally in your struggle? In what way? 

The European Union can be a great ally in our fight, since it can adopt public and legal policies that oblige the Member States to modify the regulatory framework that marginalises us and discriminates against the rights that the rest of the workers already enjoy. It can also make information available to us, but also training and human and economic resources to facilitate our fight for rights. 

What lessons can be learned from this initiative that can potentially inform a post-COVID-19 institutional and societal response? 

The struggle that we, civil society groups carry out is fundamental to achieve a more just society, but this struggle needs coalitions and strategic partners that can provide the necessary tools so that it does not last forever. The current post-COVID19 context is an opportunity to strengthen the struggle that we have already been carrying out and for governments to set a new course that will prevent the continuation of the modern slavery in which hundreds of thousands of domestic workers live. 

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Read the summary in Spanish