Ensuring Labor Rights for Domestic Workers

April 27 marks National Domestic Workers’ Day in Brazil, yet domestic workers continue to grapple with informality in formal employment and conditions akin to slavery. Despite being vital contributors to households, they often remain invisible, facing precarious conditions exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority, predominantly Black women over 46 years old, earn less than a minimum wage per month, according to the National Household Sample Survey (Pnad). In response, the federal government has been actively working to ensure rights, social protection, and decent work for this workforce.

The Coordination National of Domestic and Care Work Inspection (Conadom), under the Ministry of Labor and Employment (MTE), aims to safeguard the fundamental labor rights of domestic workers. Recently established, this coordination has conducted inspection actions focused on domestic work in residences, residential condominiums, and clubs, to ensure compliance with the labor rights of this category.

Minister of MTE, Luiz Marinho, highlights the growing reports of domestic workers enduring conditions akin to slavery. He emphasizes the need for societal engagement to eradicate this exploitation, particularly concerning the misconception that domestic workers are considered “family” despite working long hours. Such situations, often involving Black women, have seen an increase in awareness and reporting by neighbors.

Through denunciations and inspections, authorities have uncovered instances of slavery-like conditions in domestic work. Among the 248 entries in the Employers Register, known as the “Dirty List,” 43 cases involved domestic work. The recent update of the list highlighted domestic work as the leading category, followed by coffee cultivation, cattle farming, and charcoal production.

Additionally, MTE’s participation in the Interministerial Working Group (GTI-Cuidados) aims to collectively develop a National Care Policy and a proposal for the National Care Plan. The launch of the Women’s Thousand Project – Domestic Work and Care will provide professional training for domestic workers in several municipalities, addressing the need for skills enhancement in this sector.

Despite legislative efforts, informal employment remains pervasive. Of the 6.08 million domestic workers in Brazil, only around 1.4 million are formally employed. This informality not only undermines workers’ rights but also exacerbates vulnerability, especially for Black women over 46 years old, who earn less than a minimum wage.

The decrease in domestic work since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the precariousness of the sector. However, the rise in informal employment, particularly among day laborers, presents ongoing challenges in ensuring decent work for all.

The Ministry of Labor and Employment’s permanent campaign for Decent Domestic Work aims to raise awareness among employers and society at large. Through various channels, including direct engagement, media outreach, and social media, the campaign seeks to reinforce the importance of respecting domestic workers’ rights.

Looking ahead, MTE’s ongoing efforts, alongside civil society engagement, are crucial in addressing the systemic challenges facing domestic workers in Brazil. By prioritizing decent work, social protection, and rights enforcement, Brazil can move towards a more equitable and inclusive society for all its citizens.

In conclusion, while progress has been made, there remains much to be done to ensure the rights and dignity of domestic workers in Brazil. As we commemorate National Domestic Workers’ Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to supporting and advocating for the rights of these essential workers.