SWARM joins with the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) in denouncing the attempt by the Spanish Government to ban the sex worker union OTRAS (@OtrasSindicato). We call on sex worker organisations, trade unions, human rights and feminist organisations internationally to do the same.
As sex workers, we know that we will only win our rights through organising collectively as workers, including in recognised trade unions. That is the way workers in other industries have fought labour exploitation and improved the lives of their members. It is a bitter irony that a government which claims to be socialist and feminist has declared itself opposed to the efforts of sex workers to self-organise and fight for better conditions. Sex workers should be leading the conversation on the issues which affect us directly, not banned from the table.
The template letter of protest below has been drafted by ICRSE, to be sent to Mr Pedro Sanchez, Prime Minister of Spain. He has personally tweeted that OTRAS’ registration as a union will be revoked.
You can use this form on the Spanish Government website to send the letter: https://escribealpresidente.presidencia.gob.es/formulario
Or tweet at the Prime Minister: https://twitter.com/sanchezcastejon
For attention of:
Mr Pedro Sanchez, Prime Minister of Spain
Dear Mr Sanchez,
[ insert information about yourself or your organisation here ]
Sex workers in Spain, as in many countries in Europe and globally, are amongst the most marginalised and discriminated against members of society who experience high levels of violence and human rights violations. Whilst European governments may have different views on prostitution or sex work, we are deeply shocked to see that the new socialist government of Spain is seeking to ban the union of sex workers. To our knowledge, the only other country in the region which has refused sex workers’ right to self-organise is Russia. The attempt to invalidate the registration of the sex workers’ union brings shame to the Socialist government of Spain and constitutes a dangerous and harmful breach of human rights law.
The European Convention on Human Rights recognises, under Article 11, the fundamental right to form and to join trade unions, which makes unionisation an established right that applies across the Council of Europe. Spain has also ratified several international human rights treaties that further recognise the fundamental human right of workers to organise and unionise. Some examples include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which, under Article 22, states that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of [their] interests”. Article 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights establishes “the right of everyone to form trade unions...for the promotion and protection of [their] economic and social interests.” In addition, the International Labour Organisation’s Convention on the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948) further establishes the fundamental rights of workers to organise and notes in Article 4 that workers’ organisations “shall not be liable to be dissolved or suspended by administrative authority”, which is precisely what the Spanish government is attempting to do here. These actions are, therefore, in direct breach of European and international human rights law.
The Government’s actions are being justified on the basis that sex work is illegal in Spain but that is not an accurate description of the legal situation in Spain, where the selling of sexual services is not directly criminalised. Regardless of the specific legal situation, however, it is crucial that sex workers, a marginalised group of workers, who are often vulnerable to exploitation, be provided with the opportunity to organise and unionise to fight collectively for the protection of their rights and interests. The International Labour Organisation recognises sex workers as workers as confirmed in the drafting of its Recommendation 200 on HIV/AIDS and the world of work. It was noted that sex workers were absolutely included under the scope of this Recommendation, which applies to “all workers working under all forms or arrangements, and at all workplaces...including...the informal and formal economies” (para 2).
Supporting the organisation and unionisation of sex workers has been recognised by several United Nations agencies as a key element in the fight against HIV (see, for example, the Sex Worker Implementation Tool produced by the World Health Organisation, UNAIDS and UNFPA). These key UN agencies are joined by countless other human rights organisations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Lesbian and Gay Association Europe and Transgender Europe in calling for the recognition of sex work as work and the full decriminalisation of sex work. The importance of sex worker organising was recently evidenced in an extensive study by the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, which highlighted how sex worker unions and collectives were key in fighting against exploitation in the sex industry and ensuring that the human, economic, social, political, and labour rights of sex workers are recognised and respected by state and non-state actors.
In Spain sex work isn’t illegal, according to Art.188 of The Spanish penal code. Sex work is broader than “prostitution” and the majority of those modalities are perfectly legal and contribute to Spain’s GDP. However, due to the stigma that comes along with their labour, sex workers can’t find support in the existing Spanish labour unions when they suffer abusive working conditions. In fact states should provide better legal tools to workers in economic sectors that are more liable to vulnerability, like sex work or agriculture, such as for example the abuses suffered by Huelva’s seasonal workers in strawberry farms.
By this letter, we wholeheartedly condemn the recent public announcement from the Spanish Prime Minister to ‘annul’ the Labour Office approval of a sex workers’ union, OTRAS. We demand the recognition and support of OTRAS by the government, trade union congress and other Spanish institutions.