Spanish court won’t allow first sex workers union because it ‘legalises pimping’

Spain's National Court has ruled against the creation of the first sex workers union that left the feminist Socialist government red in the face on discovering its own administration had approved it.

Spanish court won't allow first sex workers union because it 'legalises pimping'
Photos: AFP

The court, which deals with major cases, announced Wednesday it had cancelled the statutes of the “Organisation of Sex Workers”, which was registered by the labour ministry and published in the official  gazette on August 4th.

It ruled that a union cannot defend members who carry out “activities that by nature don't come with a valid work contract”.   

It added that giving the green light to such a union would equate to “admitting that pimping… is a legal activity”.   

The OTRAS union, which promises to defend the rights of people in the industry, had argued it doesn't only represent prostitutes but also pornographic film actors or phone sex operators.

But the court said that not excluding prostitutes meant it was illegal.   


OTRAS said it would appeal against the court's ruling and hold its first congress on Saturday in Barcelona to finalise its structure.   

“In the 19th century, there were no unions in hotels, in mining or industry,” OTRAS secretary general Concha Borrell told a news conference.

Spain's fiercely anti-prostitution Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez had been left red in the face in August when news of the approval of the union emerged.   

Sex work is tolerated in Spain — neither illegal nor regulated — but Sanchez came to power in June with a strongly feminist agenda promising to fight the exploitation of women.

The labour ministry had promptly launched proceedings to challenge the union's existence in court.

Labour Minister Magdalena Valerio told reporters at the time she was shocked by the fact such a union had been approved by her ministry's labour directorate general.

“As a minister and member of a feminist government, I would never have given the OK for this to be published in the official state gazette,” she said.   

Valerio added this has been one of “the biggest” upsets in her life.

READ ALSO: Spanish town to post fines to prostitute clients’ homes 


Spain’s top court reinstates first sex workers’ union

Spanish sex workers have the right to form their own union, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, overturning an earlier court decision ordering the dissolution of Spain's first such labour organisation.

Spain's top court reinstates first sex workers' union
Photo: Oscar del Pozo/AFP

Known as OTRAS (or “the Sex Workers’ Organisation”), the union was discretely set up in August 2018 but was closed three months later by order of the National Court following an appeal by the government of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

But following an appeal, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of OTRAS, saying that its statutes, which had triggered the initial legal challenge, were “in line with the law” and that sex workers “have the fundamental right to freedom of association and the right to form a union”.

In its November 2018 ruling, the National Court had argued that allowing the union to exist amounted to “recognising the act of procurement as lawful”.


Contacted by AFP, the union did not wish to comment.

When it was founded, OTRAS received the green light from the labour ministry and its statutes were publicly registered in the official gazette the day before the government went into a summer recess.

But three weeks later, the government — which portrays itself as “feminist and in favour of the abolition of prostitution” according to Sanchez’s Twitter feed at the time — started legal moves against it.

In Spain, prostitution is neither legal nor illegal but it is tolerated.

Although it is not recognised as employment, there is a large number of licensed brothels throughout the country.