Scribbler in Seville

Sign of the times?

I stumbled across a story on Twitter today, as you do, when searching around half-heartedly for an interesting topic for today’s blog post. It said “Spanish workers made to wear toilet sign”. I’m very disciplined (unusually so) in which links I click from tweets, partly due to an extreeemely slow computer, but this one had set the “perfect blog material!!!” sirens going off in my head. When I saw this photo, it confirmed my ideas. Ridiculous? Check. Economic situation/company abusing staff? Check. Women? Check.

The long and the short of it is this: at a fruit&veg packing company in Murcia, south-eastern Spain, women have to wear a big red sign round their neck which reads “ASEO” (“TOILET”) when they want to go to the loo.

The owners of the factory, El Ciruelo, made their female employees ask permission from a supervisor like schoolchildren (“Please, Miss, canigotoilet?”), put on the sign and then had only five minutes to visit the conveniences, including going through security controls. If they took longer, 30 minutes was taken from their pay (5.75 euros an hour). Talk about medieval – it reminds you of the Spanish Inquisition and witchcraft trials; or, in any case, implies it’s a criminal offence to have a pee. What’s more, it is also claimed that there were only three signs for 150 workers.

The women at the El Ciruelo factory apparently preferred to forego liquids than put up with such humiliation, so that they could last their 12-hour shifts without visiting the facilities. El Ciruelo (which means “The Plum”) supplies fruit to Tesco, among other stores.

The two women thanks to whose ballsiness we’ve come to hear about this extraordinary situation were, unsurprisingly, sacked (the company claimed they were dismissed because the fruit season had finished). They went to their union, the UGT (Union General de Trabajadores), who reported the company for “violating the women workers’ rights to intimacy”.

The company has countered that the women didn’t have to wear the signs round their necks; they held them in their hands, or in their pockets, and that the system was to avoid queuing, so that work positions weren’t left unattended (and needing a substitute worker) while women waiting to use an occupied cubicle.  They claim the system was only used temporarily while a system of lights indicating which toilets were engaged, like on an aeroplane, was being fitted. They deny any action amounted to “an attack on their dignity or which denigrated or discriminated against them”.

In any case, those women knew how to grab the media’s attention with that photo. The unions are now fighting it out, with one defending the woman, and two taking the company’s side.

But it raises some interesting questions about employer abuses; the women were (allegedly) made to work 12-hour shifts, with only a half-hour lunch break (unpaid). Many workers will put up with terrible conditions, because they’re so desperate for a job.

One newspaper mentioned that men’s loo breaks aren’t limited. Now why doesn’t that surprise me?

Today is day 11 in A Post A Day. Fellow blogger and post-a-dayer Digamama has a give-away in hers today – don’t miss it!

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