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Interview: The hard job of maid travel

Myriam Barros is fighting for better working conditions in hotels in Spain. A conversation about the downsides of the tourism boom, about cleaning in the chord and grapschende guests.


Interview from Jochen Temsch

They are part of every holiday, but mostly remain invisible: the maids, who take care that everything is tidy in the hotel. In the industry itself, it is often less clean, as regards the working conditions at the lowest level of the hotel hierarchy. For the rights of cleaning staff in Spain, the organization "Las Kellys" is committed. The name is ambiguous. It derives from the Gaelic word for "warlike" and sounds similar to "las que limpian", Spanish for "those who cleanse". The president of "Las Kellys", 40-year-old Uruguayan Myriam Barros, was honored with the To Do Human Rights in Tourism Award at the International Tourism Exchange (ITB) in Berlin. The international prize is awarded by the Study Group for Tourism and Development and aims to raise awareness of human rights in the holiday business.

SZ: How dirty is your work?

Myriam Barros: I've been working as a chambermaid for five years with a hotel chain in the tourist center of Playa Blanca in Lanzarote. It is not so bad for me, better than any other cleaners who work on normal terms.

What does normal mean?

For example, that you only get contracts for a week, that you get discharged on pregnancy and fly out with illness.

Why do you have better conditions?

When I started, my working conditions were also miserable. But as President of the Las Kellys, I was satisfied with better contract terms in the hope of appeasing me. But instead of giving rest, I now demand good conditions for all.

Myriam Barros is President of the organization "Las Kellys", which works for the rights of cleaning ladies and chambermaids in hotels.

(Photo: Jochen Temsch)

For how many people do you speak?

We have about 3000 members. 99 percent are women, but we are also committed to the Valets, the men who collect the dirty laundry or empty trash cans. By the way, these days the hotels prefer women too – they are more easily exploited. Officially, there are 200,000 chambermaids in Spain. Unofficially, there are more, because many are hired as cleaning women, so can be paid even less and yet have to do the work of chambermaid.

What does a maid make?

It depends. We used to work at the hotels and negotiate directly with the directors. Today we can not see them anymore and they can steal their responsibility. Since the economic crisis and a reform of the labor market under the conservative government under Mariano Rajoy, most of us have outsourced to temporary employment agencies. They change the contracts and try to see how far they can go. They demand that we clean more and more rooms for the same amount of money or in less time, or cut wages with the same amount of work. We clean in the chord. For a room we have about eight to ten minutes time and get for 2.50 euros. Who is employed directly at a hotel, comes in the month on a merit of about 1200 euros, who is externalized, only to 800 euros.

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Is that enough for life?

Barely. It is always said that tourism creates jobs. I see that critically. Because there are often precarious, bad jobs, partly it is about modern slave labor. 80 million tourists come to Spain every year – we have little of their money. But since we look the hoteliers on the finger, they look a bit better, both in terms of exploitation and in sexual assaults of guests.

Are there many sexual harassment?

On the party islands of Ibiza and Majorca more than in Lanzarote, where rather a quieter form of tourism is offered and even booze are not seen as happy. Guests make lewd remarks or become palpable. When we hear that, we start immediately.

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