The scars of housework

Malika Ouchitachen he is 55 years old, but the bones of a 90-year-old person. That is what the doctors told him. She has been a domestic worker since she was 25 and she is exhausted from working. She is Arab philologist, feminist, anti-racist. A strong woman who is 1.55 meters tall and has a colossal speech. She left Morocco very young to fall into the cage of internship work. Her skeleton has been eaten away from so much cleaning with bleach, chlorine and anti-limescale in small bathrooms without windows. Doctors say so. But no one recognizes it as an occupational disease. Just common.

It is not all. A year ago she displaced two spinal discs while picking up an elderly person as she was going to fall in one of the houses where she worked. He has torn cartilage in his shoulder from wear and tear from working. His arm cannot practically move. His right hand is swollen and he can’t catch anything with it. The left also hurts, but less, and he does what he can with it. His day to day is diluted in nolotil, paracetamol and diazepam. None of this is recognized as a work-related illness or accident at work. The reason; Domestic and care workers are excluded from this luxurious right that the rest of the workers in Spain do enjoy.

Nor is it recognized Sonia Segura, who at 60 has stopped working because he can’t. She always wears a scarf around her neck so that her cervicals don’t kill her if they get cold, among many other ailments. She didn’t even recognize herself Elvira Jurado, who works in Home Help Services (SAD) of a city council and had to undergo surgery for rhizarthrosis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Common disease for them. Nothing work. One of the claims of the SAD is that cleaning hours be reduced (since it is not their job, but that of caring) and above all to have the possibility of retiring at 60 years of age. She is 65. Home help work, like that of domestic workers, is quite hard.

Carpal tunnel, rhizarthrosis, lumbar, cervical, muscular and also mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. That is the oral catalog of the diseases of care and domestic workers. Oral because there is no other. The group of caregivers is excluded from the occupational risk prevention law and does not have occupational diseases.

The key, as explained Adrian Todoliprofessor of Labor Law at the University of Valencia, is that the home is not considered a workplace. “The right to privacy in the home prevails over the rest, so it is extremely complicated for someone to enter these places to verify that the optimal working conditions exist and to be able to assess the occupational risks that actually exist,” he explains. This, as he recalls, can be changed with legal reform. But today women workers in these sectors (even hotel maids) are, as Malika says, “discriminated against by law”. With second class labor rights.

In fact, explains Todolí, a common illness entails less economic perception and negatively affects retirement. “And if in the end they end up having a permanent disability, it will also be less”, recalls the expert in labor law.

But the worked It’s not hard only for those 50 years old and aboveNot just for the body. “There have been cases of 20-year-old girls with hooked backs or hernias for trying to lift people from a low bed,” says Marcela Bahamón, spokesperson for the Intercultural Association of Home and Care Professionals (Aiphyc). Marcela, together with Malika and other women, carried out a work group with psychologists for these girls. “Many, especially the inmates, are going through depression and work on medication because they have no other choice, at 20 years old!” Bahamón denounces.

Malika worked 25 years as an intern, and also went through depressions that she has now learned to recognize. In fact, she has also worked with the help of medication. “I ask readers to put themselves in our shoes. Imagine doing that for a week, always seeing the same walls and not being able to leave. Eso in the end it burns you, even if they treat you well”, Malika denounces.

The SAD workers ask for recognition, more time to carry out their work and, above all, less cleaning hours, which, they remember, is not their job. They are home helpers who must care for the elderly and dependents. “We feel totally invisibles, but in a pandemic and now we are essential, because if you can go to work and lead your life, it is because you have a person at home who takes care of your father or mother who are unwell,” recalls Elvira.

Domestic workers simply ask to be workers at the same level as the rest. They have neither the right to unemployment nor recognized sick leave, and legally they can work 60 hours a week locked up in a house as an intern, with no one to check the working conditions. “Our sector is excluded from the occupational risk prevention law, it says so. It is then left to the good will of the employer, who is the one who puts in place the measures so that we do not have an accident. They are labor rights of the last century “That’s how clear Marcela Bahamón is.

Domestic and care workers they know their illnesses are caused by repetitive motion, but when they get to the mutual it is never like that. “There is always talk of a common disease and we are even told that we have caused this by cleaning at home. It is a cruel and sexist argument, and we cannot allege anything,” says Bahamón.

Malika receives a benefit of 18 euros a day, six for each of the three houses in which she worked. She is fighting for her handicap to be recognized. Sonia, who is also in no condition to work, receives nothing at all. When Elvira underwent surgery for rhizarthrosis, she was treated as a common disease, which means a much lower benefit than she was entitled to. It is the day to day for these workers when they reach the end of their working lives. They say they feel marginalized, discriminated against and forgotten. They work in the shadows. That for many people they are “the girl who cleans” (even if they don’t just clean). But they know that without them “the world does not move.” “Without the S women that we take care of everything would stop, many people could not leave their homes to work. We take care of the most vulnerable people in the pandemic and in return we have nothing,” Sonia denounces.

Bahamón specifies: “The work we do is very dignified, what is undignified are the working conditions that they leave us. It is an undignified legality for us that many people do not comply with, because the tools to monitor the employer have not been created. “. Malika, Elvira, Marcela and Sonia do not ask for anything that does not correspond to them. They claim rights like the rest.