All day, every day, from Monday through Saturday, fixing meals, cleaning house, washing and ironing, in addition to looking after the children of the house, in exchange for a monthly minimum wage and the right to a vacation and a year-end bonus.
That is how the Brazilian law defines the work of domestic servants. Nevertheless, only 544 thousand of the approximately 1.6 domestic servants in the country’s six major metropolitan areas hold formal jobs, with signed working papers. .
The profile of domestic servants in Brazil may be found in a special supplement published today, April 26, by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE).
The study shows that this category represents 8.1% of the employed population in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Porto Alegre, Salvador, Belo Horizonte, and Recife and that women form the majority of the category.
17.5% of all working women in the six areas are cleaning women, day laborers, babysitters, cooks, laundresses, maids, or companions of the sick and elderly.
The study demonstrates that, in the last four years, more and more people have been looking for this kind of work, especially in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, where the salaries are higher.
The educational level of domestic servants remains low. Not even 10% attend school, and only 36% were able to finish fundamental school. The study also reveals that a substantial percentage (37.3%) are heads of households and that blacks still constitute the majority of the profession.
Creusa Maria Oliveira, president of the National Federation of Domestic Servants, said that the biggest challenge to gaining respect for the rights of the category is to get the domestic servants themselves to demand that their employers obey the law. According to Oliveira, many domestic servants ending up settling for less for fear of losing their jobs.
"We want our rights to be the same as those of ordinary workers, but to achieve this we must mobilize a greater number of domestic servants, which is very difficult, since many can’t even read.
"So, we are engaged in preparing the groundwork, in squares where babysitters take children, as well as in open-air markets and supermarkets. We attempt to restore domestic workers’ self-esteem and at the same time orient them to seek out their labor union and demand their employers to sign their working papers," she added.
Oliveira acknowledged that many domestic servants prefer to hold informal jobs and work as day laborers in different residences in order to make more money.
"This occurs principally in the big cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, where they manage to double their monthly earnings."
Jussara Maria de Oliveira, aged 35, has worked for families since she was 16 and never with signed working papers.
As she puts it: "The employers say that it is very expensive to [hire someone and] sign their papers; in return, they give me money for bus fare and a basic food basket. So it’s best to keep things this way."
The IBGE study also showed that domestic servants earn only 35% of what ordinary workers are paid and that nearly 30% of the category still receives less than the minimum wage.