A richer Brazil grants its maids daycare, overtime

Wed Mar 27, 2013 4:28pm EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Brad Haynes

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - After decades as second-class citizens under Brazil's constitution, maids and caretakers have finally won an equal seat at the table.

A constitutional amendment that Congress passed late Tuesday will remove a clause treating domestic servants as a distinct category of worker - a striking reminder of how an economic boom over the past decade has chipped away at Brazil's vast inequalities.

"We are finally burying the slave quarters," Senator Antonio Carlos Valadares told his colleagues from the floor of the chamber before they unanimously approved the amendment.

Brazil was the last Western country to abolish slavery, in 1888, and the constitution drafted 100 years later reinforced the notion of a unique relationship between families and their servants, who were overwhelmingly female and darker skinned.

An economic boom over the past decade has begun to change that, driving up maids' wages and forcing families to be more flexible with their expectations - or go without the help.

Now, under the amended constitution, maids can expect the same rights as other Brazilian workers - ranging from employer-paid daycare to overtime wages on workdays longer than eight hours. Even workers in union bastions such as Detroit do not enjoy such guarantees under recent United Auto Workers contracts, which were renegotiated as car makers faced bankruptcy.

The timing of the move has raised some eyebrows, especially since the economy has cooled considerably over the past two years. Brazilian newspapers have been full of speculation that many people will fire their maids rather than give them the extra benefits, and the new law could potentially push more workers into the informal sector.

It's also unclear how the new constitutional guarantees will translate into practice in a country where even well-established industries are rife with informal employment and arrangements that skirt the letter of the law.   Continued...