The Las Kellys movement started in the summer of 2014. Having read an article about hotel cleaners, friends Eulalia (Lali) and Ana contacted the journalist who’d written the piece, Ernest Cañada, and offered to share their own experiences as cleaners. Ernest was keen to hear more, so for the first interview they brought together 20 women, all cleaners from the Lloret de Mar region. They proceeded to share their stories, talking about the working conditions they’d experienced across properties of all sizes. Everyone mentioned the same challenges, issues of exploitation and extreme work demands which were the same in five star hotels and small-scale pensions. When Ernest asked the group what could be done to improve the situation, Lali proposed the establishment of a support group, a place where women could come together, talk freely and find support. They started that very evening, creating a Facebook group which took its name from the title of the newspaper article and the internet trend of shortening words – the ‘Las Kellys’ group was born.
They began adding friends and colleagues, and to their surprise, the group took off, growing rapidly and quickly becoming a platform for hotel cleaners to share their work experiences. Months after the formation of the group, Ernest Cañada got in touch again and floated the idea of a book based on the collection of stories and experiences shared among the Las Kellys members. The publication won Las Kellys quite a bit of fame, and the group was contacted by numerous newspapers and media outlets.
After appearing on the news in March 2016, political parties as well as unions clamoured to support Las Kellys and give the women ‘a voice’. The mainstream support meant greater recognition of the valuable yet woefully underpaid work hotel cleaners provide in one of the country’s most important economic sectors. All this meant Las Kellys went from a loose network of women who communicated via Facebook and Skype, to a national organisation which today consists of nine formally constituted local associations and one large union body overseeing them.
Since that summer of 2014, the work for Las Kellys has been non-stop, as the scope of the organisation has grown along with their membership. No longer is their narrative confined to wages, they have also drawn attention to the wide range of ailments cleaning staff suffer from due to their demanding work.
To put it into context, during the summer season hotel cleaners tackle, on average, between 20 to 25 rooms with around 60-70 beds, in addition to cleaning floors, furniture, terraces and communal spaces. Chronic ailments are no rarity, and their prevalence was known to unions for decades, yet union leaders and women alike never called for action as this was simply seen as part of the job. Only now, with social networks providing an accessible platform, is it becoming clear that hotel cleaners suffer from a range of serious health issues. These go beyond physical ailments, and also include anxiety and depression due to the high-pressure environment in which many work. The Las Kellys network has expanded to allow women to reach out and connect, sharing their worries and challenges and – importantly – finding support. Much progress has already been made, but so much work still needs to be done.
You can listen to a panel discussion Eulalia recently took part in on this link [Spanish].