Coronavirus in Latin America: domestic workers would be relegated to the closet

Coronavirus en Amérique latine: les employées de maison reléguées au placard

They have certainly the habit of being grateful. But with the epidemic raging in Latin America, many domestic workers find themselves without work, in an extreme precariousness.

“My employers are excused but they told me that I could not work for them. Yet I hope to return soon to work from home, ” says Carmen Hernandez, 59 years of age.

Carmen works in this field for more than 20 years, and his case is far from isolated in a region where social inequalities are glaring, and where 18 million people, of which 93% are women, earn their living engaged in domestic work, according to the economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

Most of them being employees under a verbal agreement only, their vulnerability has proven to be even greater in the context of the epidemic of COVID-19.

In fact, seven used from home in ten are unemployed or have lost hours of work due to new constraints on the health, including quarantine, according to ECLAC.

In Brazil, for example, of the 4.9 million jobs lost between February and April, 727 000 are employees of the house.

A critical situation in a sector where salaries are already very low.

In Latin America, the income of domestic workers are less than half compared to the average of workers in other professional sectors, in spite of the efforts of some countries to regulate their activity, according to ECLAC.

Before the crisis, Carmen the Mexican cleaning five houses a week. Without a job since may, she has high hopes of one day recover his full time work.

But standardization seems to be still distant. The new coronavirus continues to rage in the region where the 2.28 million people were infected with about 105 000 deaths.


The pandemic has also highlighted the discrimination suffered by domestic workers in Latin America, where the profession is up to 14.3% of female employment.

In Brazil, with six million of these employees, mostly black women coming from poor neighborhoods, many have been forced to continue working, the risk of contagion in public transport.

One of the first victims – of the approximately 55 000 deaths in Brazil – has been a woman of 63 who was working in a chic neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro. It had been contaminated by his employer, who was returning from a vacation in Italy.

Another case has shocked Brazilians : the death of a five year old boy, son of a housemaid, in a luxury building in the city of Recife, who fell from the ninth floor of the apartment her mother cleans up.”

He had accompanied the work, because she didn’t know anyone to do that to keep and that it helped her in walking the dog of his employer.

In Argentina, the case of a business man from Tandil who hid his employee into the trunk of his car to enter in a neighborhood private, thus violating the quarantine, also the headlines.

In this country, half of the 1.4 million domestic workers do not have social security.

In Peru, approximately 60 employees were contaminated during the first three months of a health emergency. “The crisis has exacerbated vulnerabilities and inequalities existing in the household,” explains Vinicius Pinheiro, regional director of the international Labour Organization (ILO).

Cuaron, a special sensitivity

The dramatic situation of domestic workers raises, however, initiatives to protect them.

In Mexico, with 2.3 million women of the household, Alfonso Cuaron, award-winning filmmaker and oscar winner, is supporting a campaign to encourage employers to continue to pay the salaries of cleaning women after childbirth.

Cuaron displays a special sensitivity vis-à-vis these women of which he paints the portrait in his film Roma (2018), dedicated to Liboria Rodriguez, the employee who raised him when he was a child.

A group of brazilian children has also launched the manifesto ” for the life of our mothers “, and called to pay the women of the household during the quarantine.

The governments of Brazil and Argentina now provide emergency grants. But in some countries, the informality of the profession prevents access to aid.

75-year old Elena Mendoza, who worked for an American couple in Mexico city, does not perceive or salary, quarantine, or government assistance. Not more than of gratitude.

“I learned by washers of cars that my employers had gone to New York. I think that in the rush, they didn’t warned “, said the old woman.

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