Paid work in prisons, below the minimum

The payroll of inmates working in Spanish prisons reflects salaries between 200 and 300 euros per month, on average; and the hourly wage is between 3.2 and 4.5 euros for a basic operator, below the minimum interprofessional wage, set at 1,000 euros. And yet, there is much more demand than supply for labor in prisons, explains Valentín Aguilar, lawyer for the Andalusian Association for Human Rights (APDHA).

For inmates, paid work in prisons is a path to freedom. Not only because of the money that can be made by filling idle hours, but because in many prisons this is considered a requirement for parole. For it, one in five people imprisoned in prisons in Spain work in remunerated activities inside prisons.

In June, for example, there were 11,375 inmates employed in productive workshops out of the 55,097 inmates in prisons nationwide, according to correctional facilities’ response to various requests for information via Transparency.

Most of the detainees who work do so in their own service or production workshops, such as laundry, bakery, stewardship, while another group collaborates with outside companies, according to reports by the Autonomous Body for Prison Labor and Employment Training (OATPFE). , the Directorate of Penitentiary Establishments in charge of prison work.

The latter are the most questioned by organizations and trade unions, which have been pointing out for years the advantages that these companies obtain by obtaining cheap labor and without having to pay social security contributions, which are the charge of the OATPFE.

Although the law sets the minimum wage as a parameter for inmate wages, it is rarely enforced. “They are considered cheap labour,” sums up Aguilar.

Prison work: earning less than the interprofessional minimum wage without all labor rights

Five years ago, some organizations launched the #EsclavasEnPrisión campaign, with which they sought to obtain better conditions for the prisoners who worked in the Zuera prison, in Zaragoza, which they considered “exploited by Zara and El Corte English”. They denounced that the prisoners sewed for Zara Home or El Corte Inglés for 0.75 cents an hour.

Shortly before, another APDHA report questioned the working conditions of paid work in prisons and the violations that exist in article 25 of the Constitution, which stipulates that prisoners have “the right to paid work and corresponding social security benefits. Today, after the minimum wage has increased four times in the past three years, “the situation remains the same,” says Aguilar. “There are no more resources and they are trying to distribute them among as many prisoners as possible, but more funding is needed.”

In June, the average floor for prison officers was 300 euros per month. Although with great differences between prisons like Ocaña II, in Toledo, where average salaries amount to 464 euros, and Brieva, in Ávila, in which they drop to 179 euros per month, according to data from penitentiary establishments .

Image courtesy of APDHA

Royal Decree 782/2001, which regulates the special labor relationship of convicts, establishes that the remuneration “will take as reference the interprofessional minimum wage in force at all times”, but it does not require compliance with this minimum, but leaves the door likely to be fixed “in proportion to the number of hours actually worked and the performance achieved”.

“It is not at all clear with current case law that the administration must respect the minimum wage. What the standard says is that it will be taken as a reference and that everyone considers it as they wish. This is the only case in which there is no clear minimum wage, even this could contravene the regulations of the European directive”, explains the APDHA lawyer.

180 companies collaborate with prisons to employ prisoners

Penitentiary establishments maintain collaboration agreements with 181 companies, although the establishment attached to the Ministry of the Interior is the only employer of prisoners.

External companies grant jobs directly to the OATPFE, which appears as the employer, although the income they receive from these companies does not appear broken down in their annual accounts. “It’s also a way of guaranteeing that they won’t have any problems, which in labor law would be a kind of illegal transfer. The company assumes no direct responsibility.

There are also no unions, a historic demand, although the law recognizes other labor rights such as vacation or weekly rest. In addition, the rule states that inmates have the right to have their work and attendance assessed for the award of prison benefits. This conditions that there are many who want to work, despite the fact that the remuneration is well below the minimum.

Aguilar considers that prison labor is still seen as treatment, while it is also a working relationship. “You see the participation of outside companies, in which it is very clear that there is an economic interest, and the same thing happens with the administration, the prisoners continue to be used as good labor market.”

How is paid work organized in prisons?

The majority of inmates who work in prisons are engaged in maintenance work or basic services for the prisons themselves, such as laundry, food distribution, hairdressing or cleaning common areas in workshops on duty.

In 2020, the last year with complete data, an average of 11,539 inmates worked in productive workshops. Of these, 8,994 did so in service workshops, 2,346 with external companies and 199 in own production workshops.


Valentín Aguilar Villuendas, from the prison area of ​​the Andalusian Association for Human Rights (APDHA)

General conditions of collaboration, OATPFE

2020 State Entity Report on Prison Labor and Training for Employment

General report on prison establishments

Royal Decree 782/2001

Work in prison Practical guide on the labor rights of prisoners, Andalusian Pro-Human Rights Association

Work of convicts in penitentiary establishments, Ministry of Labor

Work in European prisons, Generalitat de Catalunya

Minimum Interprofessional Wage, Ministry of Labor

Statistical yearbook of the Ministry of the Interior

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