With the pandemic kicking many around the globe out of their workplaces, some have appeared to be especially vulnerable with the advent of quarantines and lockdowns, and Spanish escort workers with ambiguous legal status and hardly any prospects for rising clientele are no exception.
“The club owners in Spain, those who could, just threw all the girls into the streets", one of the struggling workers, Evelyn Rochel, who is the only one to have given her real name, shared with AFP.
The 35-year-old Colombian resides in a Madrid hostess club and pays 2,100 euros per month for what she calls "the right to work" as a prostitute, rather than rent.
She says among the 15 women originally side-by-side with her, most have left.
Rochel, who last year fought in Madrid courts for her right to be regarded as a full-fledged employee, was allowed to stay, but made to feel as if it was "a humanitarian gesture, and not the right of an employee who deserves somewhere to live", as the activist put it.
Rochel is also a member of OTRAS, the unofficial union of Spanish sex workers set up in 2018 to defend their status in a country where prostitution is neither legal nor illegal.
The crisis has exposed what she says is a "shocking" paradox in the employee-employer relationship.
"It can't be that the big club owners, as businessmen, can legally furlough the waitresses, the cleaners, and everyone else with a contract but throw the prostitutes onto the street, those who can't get help because they're not recognised as employees", she lamented adding her fellow workers are currently plying their trade “on the sly” if they manage to get clients online, by secretly meeting them at home despite the obvious risks.
Although admitting it shouldn’t be like this, this is what she is considering as well, as “you've got to be able to feed your kids".
A colleague of hers, who presented herself as Alenca, said she had arrived in Madrid in October after fleeing violence against transgender people in her native Mexico.
With her accounts completely in the red in April, her estate agency showed her the door, but she luckily received legal help from OTRAS which also provides food packages.
Before the epidemic erupted, she had started providing “erotic” massages, but then shifted to webcam work.
"I don't like it, I feel really exposed", she says citing people who can in theory covertly record their sessions - something she wouldn’t like to get out, as she one day hopes to change her lifestyle.
For Beyonce, a 34-year-old Ecuadorian trans woman, a normal work routine is all about standing on a street in the Villaverde industrial zone, Madrid's red-light district, and getting into clients' cars. However, even before 14 March, the day the state of emergency was declared in Spain, her clientele had largely dried up due to fears of the novel virus.
Beyonce, who also chose to conceal her real name, believes the most essential issue is lack of recognition of workers like her:
"As sex workers, we're part of society and we need to work to look after our kids. But right now, we're only recognised as victims, not as workers nor even as prostitutes", she said, in a nod to the large numbers of foreigners caught up in sex-trafficking networks.
Being utterly cash-strapped for now, she's looking forward for the day she can go back to work, admitting though she doesn’t know how to keep this in line with self-distancing rules.
Many economists have warned that lockdown measures around the world will accelerate job losses, and the trend is already showing up in skyrocketing unemployment numbers across the globe.
In the US, the world’s largest economy, more than 26 million jobs were lost over the last five weeks. The country’s unemployment rate of 4.4% in March, even before the peak of the crisis, was the highest since August 2017, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics.
The US is not the only one dealing with rising unemployment. Australia and South Korea also registered an uptick in respective rates, with economists warning that the situation could become worse.
The World Trade Organisation, in its latest forecast this month that outlined two paths, said global trade volume could plummet by 12.9% or 31.9% this year — depending on the trajectory of the global economy.
“Under both scenarios, all regions will suffer double-digit declines in exports and imports in 2020", the WTO noted.