Covid-19 exposes the tough reality of informal domestic labor

Covid-19 exposes the tough reality of informal domestic labor

New research by Instituto Locomotiva found that 39 percent of families have dismissed their housekeepers during the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving them without pay. The rate increases to 45 percent among upper-class families. On the other hand, 23 percent of households have kept their domestic employees working as normal, despite every state in Brazil having adopted some form of quarantine rules. 

Instituto Locomotiva’s chief executive officer Renato Meirelles told the BBC that domestic workers are left with unappealing choices: either to stay at home and lose the income they need to afford basic expenses; or expose themselves to the risk of Covid-19 infection — and even becoming transmission vectors in their own neighborhoods.

It is worth remembering that the first Covid-19 death in the state of Rio de Janeiro was 63-year-old Cleonice Gonçalves, a housekeeper who worked for a wealthy family in the upmarket Rio neighborhood of Leblon. State officials say Ms. Gonçalves contracted the virus from her employer, who had been holidaying in Italy and fell ill on return but allegedly refused to inform Ms. Gonçalves of the risk of contamination.

Mr. Meirelles says the pandemic is exposing the cruel reality of informal work, as domestic employees are clearly more exposed and have fewer means of social protection to rely upon. Also, while 48 percent of employers dismissed their semi-regular cleaning workers with pay, the ratio drops to 39 percent for housekeepers.