By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – A new bill introduced in Congress in 2013 which should give domestic workers more rights and benefits, such as an eight-hours work day, pay of overtime and unemployment insurance, is further delayed, making the lives of people working in this sector ever more difficult.

Domestic workers, with Congressional Representatives, rally in Congress for approval of bill for more benefits, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Domestic workers, with Congressional Representatives, rally in Congress for approval of bill for more benefits, photo by Jose Cruz/Agencia Brasil.

Two years ago, Meliane Silva, housekeeper to a couple and two children in São Paulo looked forward to finally buying a modest house for her and her three boys. Her hopes had been raised due to the promises of the new bill.

“With all the gains, I thought I would be able to finally get a little place of my own and never again have to pay rent,” she told The Rio Times. “I just didn’t know how long these things in Brasília take,” she said disappointedly.

The additional benefits and rights Silva had been hoping for included eight-hour work days and at most 44 hours work weeks, payment of overtime, extra for nighttime work, severance pay fund (FGTS), unemployment insurance; child allowance (Salário-família); day care and preschool assistance and preschool, accident insurance and compensation in case of dismissal without legal cause.

The bill, introduced in 2013, remained on hold at the Chamber of Deputies until April 2015, when it was voted by Congressional Representatives and then received the approval of the Senate after some alterations. The bill now waits for the sanction of President Dilma Rousseff.

Meanwhile employers as well as domestic workers began to try to adapt to the new rules before they became requirements. Silva says that many of her friends were dismissed or turned into daily workers, working for different families a few times a week.

Brazil has the largest number of domestic workers in the world, topping the list with 7.2 million, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Brazil has the largest number of domestic workers in the world, photo by Universo Produção/Flickr Creative Commons License.

“These new benefits scared many employers, who just couldn’t pay for the extra hours, days, etc. The economy isn’t doing so well for the rich or for the poor,” she explains. Families, especially from the middle class, who once regarded domestic workers as cheap, reliable help around the house, started to cut back, afraid of the rising costs.

“Many of us were on 24-hour calls. I spent more time with my employers’ kids than I did with mine,” she says.

Silva herself was laid-off and turned to cleaning houses on a daily basis for families who once had a monthly domestic worker on call. “I receive more now per day than I did before, but don’t have any of the benefits of having a contract-position,” she says.

She also admits that taking care of one family was better than each day being in a new house. “There I was almost part of the family. Now I’m just a worker who comes in once a week to clean the kitchen, vacuum the living room and wash the clothes,” she says. As for her dream of owning a house, Silva says it will take more time than she predicted, but is confident she will eventually purchase something so she no longer has to pay rent.

Before the 2013 bill, domestic workers’ rights included minimum wage payments, social security payments (divided between worker and employer), one day per week of rest, 13th salary, annual paid vacation with an additional 33 percent in wages, maternity leave (paid by the government) as well as paternity leave.

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