Saturday, July 24

“If I stop, you don’t walk”: the footwear dressers’ struggle to have their work recognized

The ‘made in Spain’ footwear brand is built on years of work by precarious, poorly paid, invisible women. The dressers in the Baix Vinalopó region, in the province of Alicante, have been demanding better working conditions for years, but after the months of the pandemic their situation has worsened. They went from not existing for society to being recognized for making masks and medical supplies during the months of confinement. Now these women are once again forgotten.

“If I stop, you don’t walk” read the t-shirts of the group of dressers that last Wednesday, June 23, brought about 50,000 signatures to the Ministry of Labor to claim their employment status. Most of them are middle-aged women who have spent much of their lives sitting in front of a sewing machine and who are in charge of the sewing, one of the initial parts in the shoe-making process that consists of the joining of its parts.

“It’s as if it never existed”

Dolores, 51, was one of those who changed their shoes for ‘masks’ in solidarity. Most had stopped working, they were confined and without any income, with nothing to do. Like many others, she has also been working at home all her life, receiving irregular payments and without any type of benefit: “I have been doing this since I was 15 years old and I have a year and a half of contributions. It’s as if it never existed”.

The worker explains that in all this time of the pandemic no one gave them “any option”, people cheered their work with the masks, but then they forgot about them. Dolores wonders when she will be able to retire, because with hardly any contributions, she predicts that she will be “up to seventy years old.” However, she recounts her experience with a laugh: “Two months ago I did a task for which they owed me more than 300 euros and they gave me 30, so I threw it into the container.”

At home work, dressers pay for electricity, needles, and machine repairs. They work for hours to get the job done in the shortest time possible, because if not, “they give the job to someone else.” She works the pair of shoes for 1.75 euros, but sometimes they pay her 1.5: “Then I see them in the shop window for 170 euros,” she adds with a laugh.

For her part, Paqui, 55, explains that she was working before the pandemic in a workshop: “You work 12, 13 or 14 hours a day, depending on the season and the job. If you ask them for a contract, they throw you out because there is another one waiting on the corner. If you want to work, you have to do it with their conditions ”.

After confinement, Paqui worked for two months, but he did it irregularly, so he could not collect unemployment, the only income he currently receives is pay for mistreatment: “When this ends, I will not have another income, because my son has to support me. Do you think that is life? ”.

Historical debt

Isabel Matute, president of the Association of Footwear Workers of Elche, assures that the situation of female dressers has worsened after the pandemic: “No one can imagine how badly we have had it with the pandemic. What has been to be more than a year without coverage of any kind because we do not have contracts, people have not been able to take advantage of ERTES, and the contracts that existed were part-time. ”

Matute speaks of a “historical debt” that these cities have with women and assures that “they have to pay it, either in the courts or in Luxembourg.” She, along with other members of the association, was in charge of send more than 45,000 signatures to Héctor Illueca, general director of Labor and Social Security Inspection, to whom they transmitted the situation of vulnerability in which they live.

At the meeting, Illueca promised to transfer the situation of the sideboards to Minister Yolanda Díaz, as well as to establish a “direct communication channel to be aware of their complaints regarding inspection.”

Submerged economy

Much of this type of work in some Alicante cities such as Elche, Elda or Petrer, corresponds to the submerged economy. According to Carmen Palomar, from the Workers’ Commissions, it is estimated that 25% of jobs related to footwear correspond to this type of economy.

Palomar explains that, with the pandemic, many companies in the sector chose not to send their workers to ERTE, but to strike, which was “detrimental to workers.” Likewise, it maintains that the region “has specialized” in this type of work, where some companies have subcontracted workshops and these, at the same time, other workshops, which even have “protocols to notify of inspections, such as stamps or sites for let the workers hide. ” For this reason, when the quality of footwear in the area is celebrated, “we should also look at what conditions it is manufactured”.

From the Valencian Association of Footwear Entrepreneurs, Avecal, they explain that the pandemic caused a fall in the 28.2% Industrial Production Index in footwear, “a historic drop” that led to the loss of “some 19,000 jobs.” According to email accounts, companies are in a situation of recovery, but are still “quite far from reaching the consumption figures” before the pandemic.

Regarding the irregular situation of the workers, the president of Avecal, Marián Cano, assures that they are “totally against any practice related to the underground economy”, since, in addition, “it supposes a practice of unfair competition” for the companies that they do comply with the legislation.

Recognition of years of experience

Fini Sánchez, president of the association of MAIA dressers, clarifies that a fundamental aspect for this situation to be improved is professional training, as well as creating a job bank and issuing official accreditations according to the years of experience worked.

As of September you can request the evaluations to obtain these accreditations. As Professor Joaquín Parejo, head of studies at the Sixto Marco Institute, the only one in the region that offers all professional footwear training, explains, the certificates “highlight the work of these women.”

The dressers have been in this situation for decades, but after more than a year of pandemic, they are clear that they do not want to go through the same thing again, they want to be heard and valued: “We will fight as far as we can, until the end. And if we don’t we see, at least that those who come behind do see it ”.

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