Alongside India, Brazil is one of the largest employers of domestic workers in the world. The sector has grown significantly in recent years and it employs 17% of the female working population, reaching 21% for Afro-Brazilian women. Many of them are internal migrants moving from peripheral regions to Rio de Janeiro and San Paulo.

A special law on domestic work has been in place since the 1972 (Law n. 5.859), introduced during the military dictatorship under Emílio Médice. Subsequently in 1988, with the promulgation of the new Brazilian constitution, labor rights of domestic workers have expanded – but have not  reached the same level as other workers. A remarkable advancement was made in 2012 with the passing of a constitutional reform which homologated domestic workers to other workers (PEC 478/10). The rapporteur of the reform was the Afro-Brazilian Senator Benedita da Silva, known to have formerly been a domestic worker herself. Notably, domestic workers have now the right to collective labor agreements, limited working hours and other protective measures.

It is important to consider that the trade union movement in Brazil has traditionally worked closely to feminist and black organizations, as well as from left-wing political parties. Domestic workers’ organisations have a long history in the country, gathering under the union Federação Nacional de Trabalhadoras Domésticas (FENATRAD) that belongs to the Central Unitaria de Trabalho (CUT). They are also part of important regional networks such as COLATRAHO (Confederación Latinoamericana de Trabajadoras del Hogar) and the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF).

In the years 2000s, domestic workers’ rights have been embraced by the Lula Da Silva and Dilma Rousseff’s governments within their larger plan to improve the conditions of racialised and working-class women. As an example, they have promoted education and alphabetization programs targeting domestic workers. The constitutional reform on 2012 was also central to Rousseff’s agenda.

Country-expert:  Thays Almeida Monticeli

Local workshop: 2 September 2017