More labour, social and health protections for migrant domestic workers


A study led in Lleida claims that working conditions are detrimental to their physical and psychosocial health

Colonial logic – based on servility and discriminatory practices towards migrants – harms the physical and psychosocial health of Latin American women working in the domestic sector in Spain. This is according to an analysis led by researchers from the University of Lleida (UdL) and the Institute of Biomedical Research of Lleida (IRBLleida), published in the International Journal of Environmental Research And Public Health.

The study also involved the universities of La Coruña, the Balearic Islands and Toronto (Canada). The experts call for laws and strategies for labour, social and health protection for these carers.

The team used data from four previous studies with 101 interviews with Latin American domestic workers in both urban and rural settings in Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, the Basque Country, Madrid, the Canary Islands and Galicia. They are between 20 and 52 years old and come from eleven countries: Colombia, Argentina, Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay, Dominican Republic, Peru, Cuba and Venezuela.

The researchers conclude that gender, the fact that they are racialised migrants and working conditions have negatively affected the participants’ health. “The dominant colonial logic in Spain leads them to a low social status and precarious occupations”, explains Erica Briones, lecturer at the Faculty of Nursing and Physiotherapy at the UdL and member of the Health, Education and Culture Studies Group (GESEC) at the UdL and the Health Care Research Group (GRECS) at IRBLleida. “Dehumanisation is combined with the naturalisation that all forms of care work are women’s work,” she adds.

The study recalls that in Spain, the jobs available to immigrants are mainly in agriculture, services, construction and domestic work, often on an interim basis. “These jobs are seen as unattractive for Spanish citizens, since most of them are poorly paid, precarious and/or form part of the informal economy”, the study states. In the case of Latin American women, 31.4% of available employment is in the domestic sector.

Domestic workers perform cleaning, cooking, emotional support, personal and intimate hygiene, as well as specific health care tasks, such as dressing wounds, giving injections or handling devices to mobilise people with disabilities, without receiving any training. Often, the forms of abuse included explicit forms of violence. Participants have also reported attempted sexual abuse by male employers.

“We believe that the level of exploitation experienced by these women is unique because of the aggressive effects of migration, the fact that they are racialised and worse working conditions due to gender as social determinants of health,” Briones stresses. Among the effects detected are pain, fatigue, sleep deprivation, skin irritations, poor nutrition, anxiety and depression, stress, frustration and isolation.

As for the strategies adopted to manage the negative impact of these conditions on health, domestic workers emphasise that respect and integration into the family have a buffering effect. Some think about quitting the job or returning to their home countries, while others bet on negotiating with the employer.

Press release: Press UdL

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