Listen to this story
A Brazilian couple has been convicted of keeping a domestic worker in conditions of slavery for over three decades. The Labor Court of São Paulo ordered the defendants to pay R$800,000 ($158,2000 USD) in back wages and severance payments, as well as compensation for individual and collective moral damage.
The maid did not receive a salary or vacation time throughout the entirety of her employment.
The judge recognized the employment relationship between the elderly woman and the couple from January 1989 to July 2022 as a maid with a monthly salary of R$1,284 (minimum wage at the time of termination $250 USD).
The case was filed by the Public Ministry of Labor after a complaint from the Specialized Reference Center for Social Assistance. In their defense, the couple claimed that they had maintained family ties with the maid and provided her with a welcoming family environment. This is a common sentiment in Brazilian society to justify the oppression of workers.
This case highlights the continued exploitation of domestic workers, particularly in countries like Brazil, where domestic work is often associated with low pay, long hours, and a lack of basic labor rights. Domestic work is also characterized by high levels of informality and precariousness, which often makes it difficult for domestic workers to seek legal recourse for abuses.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the majority of domestic workers worldwide are women, many of whom are migrants or belong to minority and marginalized communities. In Brazil, domestic workers are primarily women of color. Furthermore, employers in Brazil are often middle-class or upper-class families, making it difficult for domestic workers to advocate for their rights.
Several activists and human rights organizations have been advocating for the rights of domestic workers. The International Domestic Workers Federation, for example, has been advocating for domestic workers’ rights and working conditions since 2013. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also recognized the importance of improving working conditions for domestic workers, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected domestic workers.
The United Nations has also emphasized the importance of protecting the rights of domestic workers. In 2011, the UN adopted the Convention on Domestic Workers, which provides guidelines for the protection of domestic workers’ rights, including the right to fair wages, rest periods and access to social security.
This conviction has been welcomed by human rights organizations and activists who have been fighting for domestic workers’ rights in Brazil. Creuza Oliveira, president of the National Federation of Domestic Workers (FENATRAD), stated, “This ruling is a victory for all domestic workers who suffer exploitation and mistreatment. We will continue fighting until all domestic workers have their rights guaranteed.”