Everyone (men and women) arrive and leave at the same time, after eight hours of manual labor. There is a lot of work ahead, now that Christmas is coming. They prepare the boxes that will end up on supermarket shelves filled with cucumbers, tomatoes or watermelons. We are talking about kilos and kilos of fruits and vegetables. There are 350 female packers employed by a marketer of agricultural products based in El Ejido, Almería, Acrena SAT, and they have just won a battle against labor discrimination based on sex. A judge has ruled that the company they work for will have to pay them exactly the same salary as that of the 50 men who are also employed in the warehouse. The ruling considers that the tasks carried out by those in both job descriptions are "practically" identical, even if they are not called the same.
The definition on paper of the work carried out by the men describes it as a task that requires a "predominantly muscular effort." But the reality is that, since the transport of the batches has been mechanized with self-propelled trucks, the effort made is not far superior to that carried out in packaging. The women, however, were paid 27 cents less per hour (6.77 and 6.50 Euro, respectively). The difference is 4.2%, far from the 13% average wage gap in Spain, according to data from FEDEA, but it is not just a matter of money.
"We are paid about 25 to 30 Euro less per month, which is not so much. What bothers us is not being treated in the same way, when we make as much effort as they do and we endure more stress and psychological pressure," says Rocío Viciana, Acrena worker and delegate of CSIF, the union that has stood behind the women throughout the judicial process.
The ruling describes how the female packers first carry the merchandise to the pallets, then some prepare the boxes for the subsequent packaging. They are the ones who carry the watermelons in order to place them in the boxes. "In a working day, a packer may carry up to 4,000 kilos of watermelons, as well as cucumber boxes that weigh up to 18 kilos," says the ruling of the Social Court no 1 of Almería.
When a man is absent, his tasks are taken over by a female packer. Both are responsible for cleaning the facilities. Magistrate Diego Zafra ruled that, "in practice, women actually carry out more tasks than the men. And not only is that greater effort not rewarded financially, but they are actually getting paid less than the men."
Change in the agreement
The denounced company argued that the salaries it pays are those stipulated in the current agreement, which applies to the handling and packaging of fruits, vegetables and flowers of Almeria. This agreement establishes different salaries for the two categories, although the ruling recalls that, before applying the agreement, the company itself had already accepted to pay the same salary to its entire staff between 2012 and mid-2016, until it went back on that decision.
The ruling forces them to match the salaries paid since last November, although Acrena SAT has appealed it, according to CSIF. The representatives of the company have refused to speak with this newspaper. The union believes that this new ruling will mark the negotiation of the new agreement for the sector, whose validity expired on August 21, and which affects 26,000 employees in Almería, of which more than 20,000 are women employed in packaging.