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Brazil's Domestic Servants Get Work Equality

A landmark reform means families may have to do their own laundry
Brazil's Domestic Servants Get Work Equality
Photograph by Ailton de Freitas/Agencia o Globo

Just after Easter, Brazil’s congress approved a constitutional amendment granting domestic servants an eight-hour workday, overtime pay, and other rights enjoyed by the rest of the workforce. For millions of maids, the law is a milestone comparable to Brazil’s 19th-century abolition of slavery. For the families that rely on low-cost domestic help, it means a budget squeeze that could force them to cook and clean for themselves. The law is spreading concern among middle- and upper-class families that the cost of employing a maid or nanny will spike again, after almost doubling since 2006.

Daniela Batista, a business executive in São Paulo, says she may fire the nanny who has cared for her children for two years to avoid paying the additional 800 reais ($400) a month she says it will now cost her in overtime pay alone. Currently she pays 1,800 reais a month for 12 hours of service, five days a week, but she may have to hunt for someone who’ll work for less. “For me, working fewer hours isn’t an option, nor for anyone else I know,” says Batista, who is chief financial officer of Simpress, a printing services provider.