Topic 4 The basics of the country’s labour market and the risks of Labour Exploitation – how to identify and report labour exploitation

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  • Among the working population there are groups and/or persons vulnerable to labour exploitation, especially workers of foreign origin.
  • In terms of labour and social security rights, resident foreign workers have the same rights as the rest of the Spanish population.
  • Irregular employment and labour exploitation has consequences for its direct victims and for society as a whole: the limitation of labour rights or the infringement of basic fundamental human rights in the most serious cases, the lack of participation of the victims in society, tax fraud, and the calling into question of social cohesion and the system of labour relations.

Article 311. The following shall be punished with prison sentences of six months to six years and a fine of six to twelve months:

  1. Those who, by means of deceit or abuse of a situation of need, impose working or Social Security conditions on the workers in their service which prejudice, suppress or restrict the rights they have recognised by legal provisions, collective agreements or individual contract.
  2. Those who simultaneously employ a number of workers without notifying their registration with the corresponding Social Security scheme or, where applicable, without having obtained the corresponding work authorisation, provided that the number of workers affected is at least:

a) twenty-five per cent, in companies or workplaces employing more than one hundred workers.

b) fifty percent, in companies or workplaces employing more than ten workers and no more than one hundred.

c) all of them, in companies or workplaces employing more than five and no more than ten workers.

  1. Those who, in the event of the transfer of companies, with knowledge of the procedures described in the previous sections, maintain the aforementioned conditions imposed by another.
  2. If the conduct described in the previous sections is carried out with violence or intimidation, the higher penalties shall be imposed.

Severe labour exploitation of foreign workers is commonplace, but often goes unnoticed. Exploitation occurs in many economic sectors and affects diverse groups of workers, such as Romanian potato pickers in Hungary, women from sub-Saharan countries exploited as au pairs in France, Portuguese men hired for road construction in the Netherlands, North Korean men working as unskilled labourers in a Polish shipyard, and fruit pickers in southern Greece from Bangladesh and Pakistan. What these people have in common is that they are paid €1 or much less per hour, work 12 hours or more a day for six or seven days a week, suffer harsh housing conditions and are denied holiday or sick leave entitlements.

Wide global economic disparities and increased global mobility encourage severe labour exploitation. Driven by the economic situation in their home country, an increasing number of people are working abroad, often willing to accept working conditions far below local standards, but preferable to the poverty and unemployment of those fleeing. Relocation to another country usually creates or increases situations of social and economic vulnerability. Social isolation due to unfamiliarity with the local language, lack of contact with others outside the workplace, and lack of knowledge of local laws or where to go for help increase the risk of exploitation.

Spain, together with Portugal, Germany, France, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Poland and Croatia are the thirteen EU countries where national experts have perceived that serious cases of labour exploitation occur “most frequently”.

The main economic sectors where labour exploitation predominates are agriculture, forestry and fishing, hotel and food service activities and domestic work.

In the case of undocumented migrants, this is an important risk factor in Spain.

To begin with, we must know how to differentiate between labour exploitation and slavery, as sometimes we tend to associate both concepts. Labour exploitation has not disappeared from the world as many believe, but it is a very common practice that many people suffer from on a daily basis in our country. Labour exploitation is more associated with precariousness.

  • Very low or no salary (in some cases, it may even be withheld in whole or in part by the employer).
  • Long working hours, with no or few breaks (this can include forced overtime, which can also be including forced overtime that is not paid according to the law).
  • Workers live in the same place where they work, and in poor conditions.
  • Lack of hygiene in the workplace and insufficient food.
  • Withholding of IDs, documents, passports and papers.
  • Indebtedness to the boss.
  • Inability to communicate with family and friends.
  • Permanent risk to their health or life.
  • Constant threats, excessive fines or sanctions.
  • Conditions agreed upon and not respected

Any person who has knowledge of facts that could constitute an infringement in matters within the competence of the ITSS (labour, occupational health and safety, social security, employment, etc.) may request the services of the Labour and Social Security Inspectorate.

For these purposes, infringements in the social order are considered to be the actions and omissions of the responsible parties (natural or legal persons and communities of goods) classified and sanctioned in the social order regulations.

Infringements are classified as minor, serious and very serious and are sanctioned at the proposal of the Labour Inspectorate, following the appropriate proceedings and in accordance with the special administrative procedure established by law (Royal D. 928/1998).

Presentation in person: At the offices of the Provincial Labour and Social Security Inspectorates, as well as at the registers of the other bodies of the State Administration and the Autonomous Communities, as well as local administrations, provided that the corresponding agreement exists.

 Comunitat Valenciana:

  • VALÈNCIA/ VALENCIA: C/ Uruguay, 13 (1º), 46007

963 16 82 00 – 963 16 82 69

  • ALACANT/ ALICANTE: C/ Pintor Lorenzo Casanova, 6, 03003

965 13 47 41 – 965 92 09 86     

  • CASTELLÓ/ CASTELLÓN: Avda. Doctor Clará 40, 12002

964 25 00 02 – 964 20 73 77   

Telematic presentation: Through the Electronic Headquarters of the Ministry of Labour and Social Economy, provided that the complainant has the DNIe or an advanced electronic signature based on an electronic certificate recognised by the @firma platform.

The procedure will be carried out by accessing the MITES Electronic Headquarters, through the Ministry’s website, at the following address: