Caring for dependents without papers: 24 hours of work for one euro an hour
Workers exploited by the company
Workers exploited by the company “Asistencia Castroverde” in Castroverde (Lugo), who forced them to work in abusive conditions for not having documentation under the threat of denouncing them to the authorities so that they could be extradited Óscar Corral 06/09/22OSCAR CORRAL

Work as an intern 24 hours, from Monday to Sunday. Caring for dependents without having professional training and even with symptoms of covid. Work simultaneously as a caregiver, a domestic worker and, if necessary, a farm laborer. Charge for it a pittance in envelopes with bills that are collected in a bar. And the most important thing: put up with it without anyone finding out that you are an undocumented immigrant. That has been the day-to-day life of dozens of foreign women in Galicia for years, according to the testimonies and phone taps included in a judicial investigation that has uncovered the double life of Asistencia Castroverde, SL, also awarded the help service until last year in the home that is co-financed by the Xunta and the town councils. The main accused, owner of the firm, boasts in the wiretaps of having “almost 80 inmates”, “all foreigners”. The exact number of victims has not yet been determined, but the company had only about 30 employees registered with Social Security.

Cecilia had no trouble finding this agency for elderly caretakers when she arrived in Lugo in 2019 without a work permit. This Colombian woman with an assumed name, a witness in the case, took to the streets desperate for income to survive. At the door of a store, a woman gave him the phone number of three companies. Two of them rejected her for not having papers, but for the third of hers, her job vulnerability was not a problem. “I have a job for you in a house. But don’t say you don’t have papers,” warned Montse LG, the owner of Asistencia Castroverde and the main person under investigation, Cecilia told this newspaper.

To avoid suspicion, Montse LG ordered Cecilia to tell the family that she had been working in Galicia for some time. And, to lend credibility to the story, she made him learn several names of towns where she had never been. “Immediately a lady called me to take care of her sick mother: ‘Can you now? I’ll pick you up at seven”, Cecilia remembers him saying. The woman who had hired Asistencia Castroverde was stunned by her working conditions: 800 euros a month for working without a day off a week. “That family let me take days off and paid me separately,” says the witness in the case. The client ended up finding out that she did not have the correct documentation, but then she did not file a complaint because Cecilia begged her to do so. In another house, however, they had no qualms about seeing her collapse: she worked 15 days in a row, including Christmas and New Year’s Eve, taking care of an elderly woman with whom she slept in order to attend to her 24 hours a day: “The worst December of my life”.

Facade of the company's headquarters in Castroverde.
Facade of the company’s headquarters in Castroverde.

María, also an assumed name, started working for the company two days after setting foot in Spain. She found out about it through word of mouth among irregular immigrants. “She did not pay holidays or vacations and if you missed a day she took 50 euros from your salary even though she paid you 25 per day,” she explains. The person in charge of Castroverde Assistance has declined to give her version to EL PAÍS.

Stories like that of Cecilia and María follow one another in the six volumes of the summary. The head of the court of instruction number 3 of Lugo has not yet specified the crimes, but the reports of the Civil Guard point to an alleged labor exploitation in which Montse LG “made use of the image” of her company in front of her clients, that provided services to Administrations. In addition to her, there are four investigated: SEL, her daughter; TPM, owner of a bar where the victims collected the envelopes with their remuneration; AYBV, which recruited undocumented workers and handed out payments; and JCV, accused of distributing the salaries from the gas station that he runs.

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Among the victims there are families from Colombia, Honduras or Nicaragua. The vast majority are women and cared for dependents in hospitals and homes. About thirty have received free legal advice from the NGO Aliad Ultreia and some of them have managed to regularize their situation in Spain thanks to the efforts of the Civil Guard of Lugo, according to the association. “This company exploited entire families and for many years. At least one of the women had been working for her for four years,” says Waldir Sinisterra, a lawyer in the case, who has requested to include in the summary a list of the subsidies received by the firm because “they were misused.”

Sinisterra maintains that the Xunta and the municipalities “never corroborated with the beneficiaries of the dependency aid the conditions of service and the situation of the hired personnel”: “She [por Montse L. G.] It presents to the Administrations a list of people who are surely legally contracted, but are not the ones who provide the service. The company was overwhelmed”, maintains Sinisterra. The Ministry of Social Policy responds that its inspectors only verify compliance with the regulations in care (hours and tasks), but the employment situation “is the responsibility of the Labor Inspectorate,” it says. The last control, which ended without sanctions, dates from 2021, with the judicial investigation already advanced.

Without leaving home

Cecilia assures that she has had colleagues who took care of two dependents for 800 euros a month when the family paid the company 1,900 euros. Another of hers spent six months in a house in a village in Ourense: “Her son charged her envelopes because they wouldn’t let her go out.” The investigator of the case has collected the testimonies of women who ate leftovers, were not allowed to shower or were forced to take care of the cattle. During the investigation, families have testified that they maintain that they were unaware that the caregivers did not have a work permit. The telephone punctures reveal how the main accused instructed the workers to hide this information: “You cannot say that you have been here a month, because they send you home whistling,” he reproaches one of the victims in December 2019.

In the middle of last year, Asistencia Castroverde entered into bankruptcy proceedings and is now in the liquidation phase, according to the Mercantile Registry. The premises with chipped walls from which the investigated company operated is at the entrance to the municipality of Castroverde, 35 kilometers from Lugo. Until just a few days ago, the claim could still be read on the ground floor window: “Help for the elderly. Assistance check request. hospital care”. Montse LG is known in the town and works as a caretaker at the public hospital in Lugo, where she attracted clients. Assistance Castroverde was awarded the municipal home help service for six years and, in a region that was particularly old, many neighbors in trouble came to it for having dependent relatives in their care.

The mayor of Castroverde, the socialist Xosé María Arias, never received complaints or detected any problems. With an average of 20-30 assistants, the firm managed a program co-financed by the City Council and the Xunta. “All the workers were legal and I know it because they were successfully subrogated to the new winner when Asistencia Castroverde filed for bankruptcy,” explains the councilor. Every month the social services carried out a follow-up, he adds, in which he had to provide invoices and contracts: “And it was sent to the Xunta.”

Not all the victims have wanted to denounce, for fear of being deported. “There are more elderly care companies doing the same because those jobs are the ones that work the most for those who don’t have a work permit,” warns Cecilia. “Individuals are afraid to hire us, companies are not.”

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