“Black women take care of white women’s children when no one else is there”: Creuza de Oliveira, president of the domestics union, talks about the importance of Brazil’s new maid law

Creuza Oliveira is president of the national domestics union
Creuza Oliveira is president of the national domestics union

Note from BW of Brazil: This blog has covered the maid/employer relationship extensively as momentum for the new domestics law continued to grow in anticipation of its passage in what was called “an historic day” in Brazil’s history. Describing the magnitude of this new law, the Bloomberg website put it this way: “For millions of maids, the law is a milestone being compared to Brazil’s 19th-century abolition of slavery. For the families that rely on domestics, it’s a budget squeeze that could force them to cook and clean for themselves.”  The site continued: “While hailed by lawmakers as historic, the law is spreading concern among middle and upper-class families that the cost of employing a maid or nanny will spike after almost doubling since 2006.” 

In an example of how many in the middle and upper classes were reacting to the law’s future repercussions, the popular news  magazine VEJA (somewhat similar to the American magazine, TIME), published a photo of a middle/upper class white male washing dishes with a caption that read, “Você amanhã”, meaning “You tomorrow”, referring to the privileged classes soon after the passing of the new domestics law. 

"You tomorrow". Veja magazine cover in the last week of March, a week before the law was scheduled to take effect
“You tomorrow”. Veja magazine cover in the last week of March, a week before the law was scheduled to take effect

Wow! What a shame! A law passes that gives domestics rights that they should have had all along and the privileged classes are none too pleased about it! In continuing coverage of this historic law, below check out an interview with a woman who has been on the front line of the battle to bring these new rights to household servants for years. 

In an interview with Portal da Igualdade, Creuza Maria Oliveira, president of Fenatrad (Federação Nacional dos Trabalhadores Domésticos or National Federation of Domestic Workers), talks a little about her history, experience as a domestic worker, talks about the proposed constitutional amendment that expands workers’ rights of the professional segment of the SEPPIR partnership with the Federation. The Senate vote on March 26th was the last step to the final approval of the so-called PEC (Proposta de Emenda à Constituição or Proposed Amendment to the Constitution) of the Domestics, effecting rights and duties for both employers and employees.

According Creuza Oliveira, SEPPIR was and is a great partner of Fenatrad

Interview – Creuza Maria Oliveira – President of the Federação Nacional de Trabalhadores Domésticos (Fenatrad or National Federation of Domestic Workers)

Creuza Maria Oliveira is 54 years old. She was born in Bahia and for ten years has chaired the National Federation of Domestic Workers (FENATRAD). She began working as a maid at the age of ten. She experienced the exploitation of child labor, physical and psychological violence and being out of school until adolescence (16), when she began to study, but still didn’t finish high school. In the 1980’s, went on to fight not only for the improvement of her own condition, but for all women, especially black women like herself, and that are the majority in domestic work.

For Creuza, other women who are not domestics are fighting for equal wages to that of men and haven’t won this equality. “And we, domestic workers, are fighting for equal rights of men and women who work in other areas,” she said.

Tuesday, March 26, went down in history as the day in which the Senate approved, in its second round, the Proposed Constitutional Amendment 66, known as PEC das Domésticas, which extends to the category all the rights of other workers, she visited the Secretaria de Políticas de Promoção da Igualdade Racial (SEPPIR or the Secretariat for Policies to Promote Racial Equality) and granted the following interview.

According to Creuza, the approval is a matter of reparation to the category that has for more than 500 years contributed to the economy of Brazil. “I contributed to Brazilian homes and did not have the same rights as other workers,” she says. She says the time has come. “If it’s not today, it will be tomorrow. Congress can no longer as regress. If we believe in a dream and fight for it, it is because we do believe in its implementation,” she said, predicting the outcome of the vote.

Seppir – Talk about the achievements of domestic workers as an organized category.

Creuza – We’ve had important achievements. Practically 80 years of trade union organization of the category. The first was created in 1930. Since then, we’ve had important advances. The category is hard to organize; it’s dispersed, because each one is in an apartment, in a house. It’s a category consisting of women, black women, in their majority. And we have this difficulty of organization to mobilize. We always say that domestic work is one of the oldest professions in the world, but it is a job that is not yet recognized by society. We’ve been trying to show that it has social value. A social value that is priceless, it’s not palpable like other categories that people value, that they say makes a profit in the business for the bosses. But we do the work that is caring, careful. There are women who are taking care of the children of other women. And, by the way, black women, taking care of the children of white women, when there’s no one to care (for them); lacking daycare, lacking full time school. These women leave their homes, at 5 am, returning at night. And she doesn’t know who her child was with, if he/she was in the classroom, it he/she had class…And people don’t see this as important work, which has made its contribution to the Brazilian and world economy. We are part of the Brazilian working class. Other women who are not domestics are fighting for equal wages to that of men and still have not yet achieved this. They’re earning this bit by bit. And we, domestic workers are fighting for equal rights of men and women who work in other areas. The achievement that deserves mention is the issue of trade union organization. If we had not been organized in the union movement, with our categories, with all the difficulties, not with the visibility we should (have), despite the eight million who work in the category, we would not have advanced. In the world, according to the ILO, Brazil stands out as the country with the most unionized domestic workers. And that’s where the category has had more progress, more achievements, so this is positive.

Maid tends to her employer's child on a beach in Rio de Janeiro
Maid tends to her employer’s child on a beach in Rio de Janeiro

Seppir – How was this category organized in Brazil?

Creuza – There are about 35 to 40 unions, linked or not to FENATRAD. Most are in the Southeast, but also in all the other (areas). In some regions, the unions are more strengthened and others are now emerging. Especially because the majority is chaired and coordinated by women and it is very difficult for women to be in this role of organizing unions. Historically it is men who are heads of large trade unions. The only one chaired or coordinated by women is the domestic workers really because they have few men and those men don’t want to accept that they are domestics.

Seppir – And FENATRAD?

Creuza – It’s organized. The executive secretary is in Bahia, but it has representation in all of Brazil. We have between 28 and 30 unions. I have been the president since 2003. It was a very important time to give visibility, taking advantage of the moment of the Federal Government, which was when Lula took office as President of the Republic, where FENATRAD as spokesman of this category began bringing demands to the federal government, having SEPPIR as a partner.

Seppir – Speak of the partnership.

Creuza – Seppir was and is a great partner over the years of organizing FENATRAD, a partner of this level brings visibility, debating the issue of domestic work because it has to do with the racial question of black women. Other partners in the federal government are the Ministry of Education, Labor and Employment, the Department of Human Rights and the Presidency of the Republic.

Seppir – And on PEC 66, what does it represent?

Creuza – Since 2010 the PEC was in Congress. It was approved in the first instance in late 2012, in the House. Then it went to the Senate in the first instance and then the second. We understand that this approval is a matter of the reparation to this category that for more than 500 years contributed to the economy of Brazil, contributed to Brazilian homes and doesn’t have the same rights as other workers. We understand that it is a matter of justice having the same rights as other workers.

Seppir – Does it change the working scenario?

Creuza – No. In fact, we can’t make a prediction of something that did not happen. What happened is that the project was approved. Every time that they increase the rights of the category they say there will be unemployment; they make threats and employers continue hiring. If employers can not hire, they don’t hire. It’s not our problem. Then they will do the job sharing tasks with family members. What can’t continue is one side being benefited and the other being harmed. And on the other side are the workers, the women, the heads of households, that remain in this (line of) work. Sometimes the employer prefers to change cars every year instead of paying a living wage to a worker.

Seppir – Could informality (informal work) increase from now?

Creuza – Informality exists. It’s not now with the new rights that this will happen. The right of a carteira assinada (formal work contract) has existed for 40 years, however, of 8 million workers, not even 2 million have a carteira assinada. The bosses don’t have a habit of respecting rights. What is lacking is enforcement. As there is no supervision within the workplace household, it’s very loose and the employer doesn’t sign it. Who is harmed by this? It’s the employee who reaches age 60 without having sufficient contribution time to retire. So this issue of informality will not increase or decrease because of this expansion of rights.

Source: ÁfricasBloomberg

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About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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