The death of a Romanian worker on an illegal Madrid building site reveals conditions of “semi-slavery” in Spanish construction
A 50-year-old Romanian man was crushed to death by the lift he was working on, in a construction accident in Madrid on August 28. His death means that, in the Comunidad de Madrid alone, a total of 106 workers have died on building sites so far this year.
Closer inspection has revealed that the victim and a dozen other Romanian and Polish workers were suffering under “conditions of semi-slavery,” according to Marisa Rufino from Spain’s general workers’ union, the UGT.
All the workers, only two of whom speak any Spanish, lived on the construction site itself – sleeping by night on mattresses on the floor of the basement level. They had no labour contracts, and no safety measures were in place to protect them while they carried out building work.
Jesús Caldera, Spain’s employment minister, expressed his concern over the most recent death and announced the opening of an “immediate investigation” into the fatal accident, as well as the reportedly “subhuman” conditions in which the immigrants lived and worked.
In Madrid only one building inspector is employed for every 14,068 construction workers, which is why the illegal site on which the Romanian died managed to evade closure. The site was run by Marian Cojocea, who allegedly operated without obtaining building licenses; a simple visit from an inspector could have ordered Cojocea to close down his construction site.
The UGT has also called for local police to be more active in targeting illegal construction: “Can they not simply walk onto the sites and ask for the building licenses?” asked Rufino in response to the revelation that the fatality occurred on an unlicensed site.
Construction deaths and exploited immigrants emerge as symptoms of the sinister underbelly of Spain’s voracious building boom. Progress in concrete belies the dangerous conditions that workers face each day in a highly under-regulated sector.