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Guaranteeing Rights for Domestic Workers in Argentina and Brazil

Argentina's congress as well as Brazil's are considering legislation offering greater protections for domestic workers. (Image: No Shadows)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Around 14 million women work as domestic workers in Latin America, the International Labor Organization estimates. The vast majority of Latin Americans in domestic jobs are women; in Uruguay, for example, 99 percent of them are female. But in many cases, domestic workers lack employment papers or rights enjoyed by those employed in the formal job market. Legislatures in Argentina and Brazil aim to change this scenario by passing laws that guarantee labor rights for domestic workers.

The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) estimates that there are 6.9 million domestic workers in Brazil, 93 percent of whom are women. In 2009, IBGE estimated that nearly 20 percent of women in Brazil’s economically active population are employed as domestic workers. But only 38 percent of domestic workers have a social security card giving them access to some rights for formal workers, such as social security and paid vacation. This means that about 5 million domestic workers are unable to access such protections.

In the coming days, Brazil’s Senate will consider a constitutional amendment to provide full employment protections for domestic workers, guaranteeing them the same rights as those employed in the formal job market. The amendment passed a first vote in the Chamber of Deputies in November. The amendment would give domestic workers the right to pensions, unemployment insurance, a maximum 44-hour work week, overtime, and the minimum wage, among other benefits.

Argentina’s Congress is also considering a bill to guarantee protections for domestic workers. In Argentina, there are an estimated 1.14 million female domestic workers, accounting for over 15 percent of women between 14 and 49 years old. Around 83 percent of these women lack formal work registration. The bill would limit the work week to 48 hours and guarantees overtime, sick leave, and compensation for those fired for unjust cause, such as pregnancy. The Senate approved the bill in late November.