Migrant Women Workers against Labour Exploitation in Southern Spain in Times of COVID-19

Referencia: Zaptsi, A., Garrido, R., Aceros, J. C. & Agüero, A. (2021). Migrant women workers against labour exploitation in Southern Spain in times of COVID-19. In F. Staiano & G. Ciliberto (Eds.), Labour migration in the time of COVID-19: inequalities and perspectives for change. Roma: Cnr Edizioni. ISBN 978-88-8080-348-5.

Resumen: Labour exploitation is a serious violation of human rights. Although it is considered to be associated with capitalism, it is regarded, however, as an inherent risk to the actual predominant economic system due to the constant drive for efficiency and profitability through cost reduction. According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, many workers experience severe forms of exploitation in Europe. This risk is experienced with greater intensity by those populations that, due to various reasons, exhibit a greater level of socioeconomic vulnerability. This is the case of migrant women in Spain and, particularly, in Andalusia.

The agricultural and construction sectors have always been drawing numerous migrants in the country since they offer low-cost labour in comparison to the national workforce. Even though Spain attracts significant immigration from its former colonies—Morocco, Equatorial Guinea, the Philippines, and Latin America—most migrants come from Europe and especially Eastern Europe.

Specifically, the Southern Spanish region of Andalusia is of great importance, which is known to be the gateway from Africa and, also, an attractive place for many migrants because of the high demand for jobs in agriculture and services. This autonomous community is traditionally an agricultural area where also the service sector (i.e., tourism and retail sales) is thriving.

An important part of the migrant population in Spain is made up of people who come in search of a job that will allow them to achieve better living standards. However, they often end up performing tasks that require poor skills and are associated with precariousness, job insecurity and low-paid wages. Many migrants who are settled in Southern Andalusia suffer the social implications of precarious work, such as poor access to services and facilities, higher discrimination and isolation.

This situation is more alarming for women, who tend to experience higher levels of overqualification, unemployment or seasonal work, and present more possibilities to get involve in elementary occupations (i.e., cleaners, housekeepers, or agricultural workers) where their rights are frequently violated. However, there are still few studies that explain the migratory dynamics of women and the predictors of their well-being and integration, especially in transit or border countries such as Spain. In this line, according to Garrido and Cubero, it is necessary to point out the social inequities that make migrant women vulnerable, but also to identify their strengths and encourage them to engage in social participation and take action towards change.

This paper aims to address systemic gender inequalities, focusing on the situation of migrant women in Andalusia in three sectors of economic activity that are particularly prone to exploitation: agricultural workers, hotel maids, and domestic and caregiving workers. In the following pages, this work will present the MICAELA Project, its objectives and its main results. This project was developed in times of COVID-19, which is why it is also pointed out how the pandemic has hardened the conditions in which these women work and survive in our host society. Finally, the main conclusions and recommendations derived from the Project MICAELA are discussed.

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