“We were girls when we started work 50 years ago”

Half a century of working 12 hours a day, without a pension or social rights. This is the life of some 17,000 shiyars in Elche, women who work at home or in workshops making shoes for major Spanish brands. And this Tuesday they came to Brussels, invited by the anti-capitalist MEP Miguel Urban, to meet the European Commission and members of the European Parliament and convey their fight for a pension and decent work.

“We were girls when we started work more than 50 years ago. We were 12, 14 years old when we started in the factories. And today, five decades later, we are still in the same situation, in the same situation of insecure work, no contributions and a sunken industry,” explains Isabelle Matute, spokesperson for the Association of Buffets in Elche: “And now is when we have We have to retire soon, but it is not possible because there is no right to a pension, because they have not concluded the contracts that are required by the regulations, our agreement, neither in home work nor in the workshops where the production is outsourced.

In a sector that is fueled by the submerged economy and which in 2017 invoiced 2,200 million in the Valencian Community alone, confirms the association.

We are condemned to social exclusion,” laments Matute: “Nothing has been implemented, on paper the agreements are very good, the laws are very good, but we have no use for us if they are not implemented later, either politically or otherwise. The fact is that the various governments we have had so far have done absolutely nothing and we are completely defenseless, in the social exclusion that all women in this sector are condemned to.”

Matute explains that his association “continually receives complaints and there are convictions with businessmen sentenced to prison because it is a crime, it is a crime against the worker’s rights. But despite everything that is happening, there is no way to break the established system of illegal industry, probably because of the amount of millions of euros that are moving. The labor inspectorate goes to the workshops, they close them and the next week they open under a different name. And since the owners are insolvent, no matter how big the fine is, they won’t pay it and absolutely nothing will happen to them. They reopen the workshop and that’s it. It happens all the time.”

“Just so you understand, it’s the same model that’s used in Southeast Asia where there’s outsourcing of production,” adds Urban: “It’s not hiring the big brand directly, and that’s the key element. These people, the cobblers, the make-up artists, are subcontracted. They are those big brands that are invisible or affected by the taint of unworthy work to take our shoes off, but even when they systematically violate labor laws, both European and Spanish, in the end they have figures that are these , They take care not to pay even such fines.

“We collected 50,000 signatures in record time for recognition of the years worked by cobblers and workers,” recalls Matute, “we took it to the Minister of Labor who told us it was not her responsibility. So we took them to Inclusion and Social Security and it’s been almost a year to date, mr. [José Luis] Escriva did not bother to answer us”.

Urban explained that the European Commission has conveyed that “the only way to try, in quotes, for the Commission to investigate is to present a complaint to the Commission, which has to be an organization, in this case the association that they themselves set up . Then there is the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament, where it is required, once it appears, to have a mission with recommendations to the Government of Spain so that it can deal with this problem.

“We started working when we were 14 years old,” adds Matute: “40, 50 years of work and we can have installments for three years, six years in my case. And there are even colleagues who do not have a single quoted day and have spent their entire lives. And what’s more, they are separated women who only have what they earn. They should be retired, but they continue to work with little power, with all the diseases of our profession, and there are those who cannot even retire. And that’s why we’re so sick, because these are marathon days that can go from ten to 11 to 11, 12 hours a day. All this daily, even Saturday and Sunday, depends on the need to make this order”.

Are there cases of compañeras who have been convicted and there have been consequences against them? “Really,” says Matute: “Nothing came to light, I lost my job. And there are many colleagues, like me, who lost their jobs. We actually knew it was going to happen, but it was enough to put up with this situation and everyone talking about feminism when there’s such a serious problem against women.”

Matute recounts the ailments they suffer from: “There are countless: cervical problems, back problems, circulatory problems, carpal tunnel problems, pinched nerves. We have shoulder operations, knee problems, hip problems, psychological problems because of the abuse we are subjected to and because of the precarious situation we constantly live in”.

The colleague, Soledad Cano, points out: “I have been working since I was 13 years old, I have been working for 51 years and what I have contributed with 64 years is less than eight years and I will not have a pension of any kind.” And the diseases that we have are never recognized because you go to the doctor and the doctor says, “Ma’am, we’re going to discharge you. And what kind of work does he do?” And you can’t answer: “I don’t work for any company. I have a machine at home and work 12 hours a day, 365 days a year. Everyone knows that we work from home, that we work for very important brands.”

“I myself lost 36% of the peripheral vision in my left eye,” says Francisca Matute, “but it’s due to a thrombosis problem, because we spend so many hours sitting on the machine that we have serious problems with swelling of the legs.” and circulation.

And how much is paid per hour? “It costs €3 if you’re very lucky”; says Isabel Matute, “The last job I did was 1.50 an hour. They offer below what meets what the law incentivizes, so you have no choice but to work those ten, 11, or 12 hours to reach the minimum wage agreement.

Encarnación López explains: “I’ve been a tailor since I was 13, plus the internship I had before. At the age of 13 they bought me the machine and I started at home. I’ve been on the list for nine years, which I don’t think is long enough, and I’m 64 years old. And on top of that I have a herniated disc, I have bad cervical vertebrae, they dry out, they adjust, my knee hurts and my hips disqualify.

“We are used to, why would we say anything else, that everyone talks hypocritically about what matters to people’s rights. And in the background of this we have said that we will fight so that your face falls in shame because you are hypocrites because you say one thing and they do not do it. It only happens to us because we are women.

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