New regulation improves rights of domestic workers

A new regulation covering working conditions for domestic staff in Spain entered into force on 1 January 2012. It affects approximately 700,000 workers, most of whom are women. The new regulation puts household workers on the same level as normal employees in many respects, such as wages and working time. It also offers workers greater social protection by including them in the social security system. The unions have been positive about these measures.

Main features of the sector

A new regulation to protect workers employed in private households was established by Royal Decree 1620/2011 (in Spanish, 228Kb PDF), signed in November 2011. The Decree establishes that there are two issues peculiar to the sector of household workers which have historically justified specific and separate regulation.

First, the environment in which the work takes place is the household, an environment associated with personal intimacy and the family. Second, the labour relationship between the householder and the worker is one based primarily on trust, which is not necessarily an element of other working relationships.

As far as the workforce supply is concerned, the most striking characteristic of the sector is the predominance of women who, according the Spanish Labour Force Survey (second quarter, 2011), make up 91% of all wage earners. Second, attention must be drawn to the high proportion of foreign workers in the sector.

Terms of the new regulation

The new regulation was enacted by the previous ruling political party, the Socialist Party (PSOE). Its aim is to modify the legal regime of this special labour relationship by maintaining any differences that are still justified, while eliminating differences that do not meet any reasonable criteria. Significant changes have been made to employment contract requirements, wages and working conditions to protect domestic workers.

Employment contract

The key change is the requirement for a written contract of employment once a working relationship has lasted for more than four weeks. Furthermore, the general causality principles applied to fixed-term contracts have been extended to household workers.

Wages

The Minimum Interprofessional Wage, fixed annually by the government at €641.40 in 2012, will now apply to household workers and must be paid in currency rather than in kind. Householders will be allowed to make some deductions from wages for accommodation or maintenance although these may be no more than 30% of the agreed wage. The remainder, paid in currency, must amount to no less than the Minimum Interprofessional Wage. Previously, employers could make deductions of up to 45%, even if this left a worker with less money actually paid to them than required by the Minimum Interprofessional Wage.

Working time

The statutory maximum working week of 40 hours will apply to domestic workers as will the statutory minimum length of rest between working days of 12 hours – previously 10 hours for household workers.

Dismissal

  • the case of dismissal, the most important change is the increase of compensation that an employer must pay from eight days per year worked to 12 days per year worked. Employers will also be obliged to give at least 20 days’ notice of termination of employment to an employee who has worked for them for more than a year. If the employee has been hired for less than a year, they must be given at least seven days’ notice. However, the new regulation has not extended the dismissal restrictions applied to the normal employment relationship. Accordingly, the labour relationship can still be terminated by means of a disclaimer issued by the employer. The permanence of this criterion is justified in the new law attending to the special relationship based on trust which prevails in this labour relationship.

Social protection

The new regulation offers greater social protection to household workers by including them in the social security system by means of a special regime. This means that from now on employers will have to pay social security contributions for common contingencies from their first working hour. In addition, household workers are now entitled to receive sickness benefit from the ninth day of sick leave. Formerly, sickness allowance was not paid until 29 days after an employee had taken sick leave.

Unemployment benefit

The regulation of unemployment benefits has been postponed, although an expert group will be convened to evaluate the viability of establishing an unemployment social protection system for household workers.

Views of the social partners

The social partners regard the new regulation as a historical achievement that fundamentally improves the rights of household workers. Bearing in mind the importance of these changes, one of the most representative unions, the General Workers’ Union (UGT), has distributed two guides to inform household workers of their new working conditions (in Spanish, 1.9Mb PDF) and social security rights (in Spanish, 1.2Mb PDF).

Pablo Sanz de Miguel, CIREM Foundation

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