Elevator Operator and Other Useless Professions You’ll Only Find in Brazil

Elevator man in BrazilBrazil is full of useless professions. Without going too far, the lift porters (cabineiros de elevador), as they are called by the Brazilian labor legislation, the elevator operators. For decades, poor devils are paid a paltry salary to go up and down on buildings, inside cramped boxes, performing this complex activity, which requires a very personal qualification: pressing numbered buttons.

In an interview to the TV program Roda Viva, Italian sociologist Domenico di Masi couldn’t believe it: if all you want is to give a salary to someone, give it then and send the young guy to walk, have fun. Or to attend a university. Why lock him in a box to do something so useless?

But this is not the only useless profession in this land of ours… I don’t know if the reader is aware, but car caretakers are already recognized by law. Under the threat of getting your car scratched or vandalized, an organized rabble of bums extorts a significant kickback any time you park in a public place… and the profession has been created.

The same goes for journalists. The profession is more than recognized, is regulated. In all Western democracies, journalist is someone who gets most of their earnings from journalism. Except in this amazing country, where the only ones who can exercise the profession are those with a scrap of paper from a school of journalism.

The infamous law was created by the junta of generals who took the power in 1969. The Left usually so angry when it comes to challenge acts gestated by the military regime, keep quiet when dealing with the interest groups device.

Protection of market only strengthens the guild. Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. The regulation of journalism generates thousands of jobs in academia. Teachers who often never stepped in a newsroom teach journalism, earning with this much more than the journalist and without having to face the market moods.

Not to mention labor lay judges (juízes classistas), another typical Brazilian excrescence, an inheritance from president Getúlio Vargas era. Without any professional qualification or course or contest, any illiterate person could perform the duties of judge in the Labor Court.

All he needed was to be appointed by a friendly union. If there were no friendly union to help the illiterate, he would create the union himself and then make his own appointment. He would get paid the same as a literate judge, who had gone to law school and passed his bar test and would retire with full pay after five years in office.

Court judges had to work 35 years before being able to retire, if he was a man, and 30 years if a female. After decades of unchallenged parasitism, the labor lay judges had their days numbered. But they will remain as a blemish in the chronicle of our things.

Anyway, there is still an excrescence of the corporate state of the 1930s, the so-called constitutional fifth (quinto constitucional) route of access to the courts not by competition, but by political interference, based on the choice of the powerful of the time.

While these useless and corrupt professions in their origins proliferate, congressmen have just killed a craft most needed by the families, that one of maid. A Proposed Amendment to the Constitution (PEC No. 66/2012) extends the rights of domestic workers and guarantees them rights similar to those from private sector workers: work week of 44 hours, the right to overtime, additional pay for night work, Social Security, family allowance and childcare benefits.

Maids, who until now had an informal and often friendly relationship with their bosses, from now on will have to punch in and out and will be taking a position on the other side of the ring.

The newspapers are hailing the new law as a breakthrough that put us on a par with Europe, where maids are the privilege of affluent people. They also compare the new law to the liberation from slavery. They seem to ignore the fact that many of these contemporary slaves, particularly here in São Paulo, receive much more than a high-school teacher.

Yes, Brazil has enthusiastically entered the First World. There are an estimated seven million domestic workers in Brazil, 97% of them women. The profession was quite informal, but it existed. With the new law, it tends to disappear in the medium and long term. The legislature acted as the tailor who wants to find the ideal suit that fits everyone and finds he cannot fit anyone.

As Alberto Moravia noted, in his essay “Reason as an End” there is only one guaranteed solution for anyone with a headache: Cut the head and the pain will go away. It is a logical solution. But it is not human.

The new law has its logic. But it will cause unemployment to a lot of maids. Or make them day laborers. What’s better, an unregistered job or being registered without having a job? The best person to answer this question is the unemployed one.

Interestingly, the journalists who praise the new law seem to ignore that, at their side, there are thousands of colleagues working as what is euphemistically called fixed freelancers (frila fixo).

That is, the journalist pretends that every day is a new assignment, while working every day like other registered journalists. Without being hired. This situation can go on for years.

In my days at the Folha de S. Paulo daily newspaper, I saw colleagues writing headlines about Indians who lived as slaves for working without a formal contract. They thought the enslavers should be denounced to the UN.

They could see far. They couldn’t see, however, colleagues who were living in the same condition at their side. They were too close to them.

Janer Cristaldo – he holds a Ph.D. from University of Paris, Sorbonne – is an author, translator, lawyer, philosopher and journalist and lives in São Paulo. His e-mail address is janercr@terra.com.br.

Translated from the Portuguese by Arlindo Silva.

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