Household help harder to find in booming Brazil

Reported by AFP
Sunday, March 3, 2013

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Brazil's rising economic prosperity is transforming the lives of millions of domestic workers, who are abandoning jobs cooking and cleaning in homes to find other employment.

In this huge South American country, 6.1 million women are domestic helpers, representing about 15 percent of the country's female labor force, according to a 2011 survey by the country's National Statistics Bureau IBGE.

Domestic work today is the third main occupation for women. But just two years ago, it was the number one job, employing 6.7 million women, or 18 percent of the total female labor force in Brazil.

Jacinta Gois's story is fairly typical. Twenty years ago, she left the poverty of her native Salvador, capital of the northeastern state of Bahia, in search of work.

She arrived in Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic capital and the country's wealthiest city at the tender age of 17, with only a basic education.

"First, I worked as a full-time maid. But I left my employers when they began to mistreat me," the Afro-Brazilian woman told AFP.

"Now I work for five different households. It's harder but I earn more."

IBGE's Cimar Azevedo told the O Globo newspaper this week that domestic work was practically a default occupation for many poor women.

"These women are not born with the dream of becoming maids, but they have no training, no options on the labor market," Azevedo told the daily.

Working eight hours a day, five days a week in five different households, Gois earns $700, in a country where the minimum monthly wage is just $315. But she has no work contract, medical coverage or retirement benefits.

"Domestic work is generally very precarious," said Natalia Fontoura, a labor expert at the Applied Research Institute, or IPEA.

"It is done mostly by black women and is undeclared in 70 percent of cases, which means no maternity leave, no job security, no retirement benefits."

-- Demand for maids outstrips supply --

The harsh work conditions associated with domestic labor, combined with brighter prospects in other areas of employment, have led to an exodus from the field.

Over the past decade, more than 50 million Brazilians have moved out of poverty thanks to government social programs, and have joined a middle class that today represents 55 percent of the total population of 194 million.

"I was a maid, but I wanted to do something else," said 47-year-old Maria Rodrigues.

"Now I am an assistant cook in a hospital. I don't earn a lot more, but I am taking classes to become a nurse's aide."

Even those who stay in domestic work can expect better pay, as demand for home cooks and house cleaners is gradually outstripping supply.

"There is increasing demand for domestic help. Salaries are rising and the profession is slowly but increasingly being regulated," said Jose Pastore, a labor expert at the University of Sao Paulo.

Luciana Regan, who runs a training course for domestic workers noted that the maturing Brazilian economy is seeing changes to the structure of domestic help.

"It will become harder to find and more expensive," she added.

-- Legacy of Slavery --

Brazil, a nation where about half the population is of African descent, was the last country in the world to abolish slavery in 1888. Some say the reliance on domestic help stems directly from Brazil's slave history.

"The Brazilian elite is used to being served, and this is a legacy of slavery. These are things that cannot be dissociated," said Fontoura.

"Former slaves turned to domestic work, because as poor women this was a form of integration."

Fernando Barbosa Filho, of the private Getulio Vargas Foundation, said Brazil's booming labor market and a burgeoning service and unskilled trade sector, provides new opportunities for those disinclined to work as domestic workers.

"The stronger the labor market, the less interest workers there have in domestic work, and the more people will have to pay to keep their maids," he told O Globo.

Other workers are moving into better paid segments of the household help market.

Many maids are undergoing training to become babysitters or nannies, which have always had a higher status than household cooks and cleaners.

"The nanny has a heavier workload than a maid, but on average, she earns at least $1,260. The job is in high demand," said Nesci Vidal, who runs a recruitment agency in the field.

The Brazilian Senate currently is considering legislation to grant domestic workers health insurance and other benefits enjoyed by other workers.

"We cannot carry on with practices that date back to slavery," said lawmaker Benedita Silva of the ruling Workers Party.

16/04/2014 17:37Sydney, Australia. 16 April,2014
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