A Filipino domestic worker in Brazil claims she had to eat dog food in order to survive because her employer didn’t provide enough food.
The 40-year-old worker, who goes by the pseudonym Maria, told the BBC she arrived in Sao Paulo, Brazil, from Philippines in order to find work and earn a living.
She had previously worked in Dubai and Hong Kong but Brazil attracted her because of a 2013 legislation that gave domestic workers the same rights as others workers. The legislation also included an 8-hour working days with lunch breaks and a minimum wage.
However, all her expectations were shattered when she started working for a family of five in a wealthy neighborhood of the city. She was mistreated by her employers, was made to work for 15 hours a day and would, at times, go without eating food for days.
Her responsibilities included helping a mother of three in all household chores: looking after her three children, washing clothes, cleaning a large apartment that had four bedrooms and a large dining room, putting the children to bed and walking the family dog.
On top of the chores, the employer at all times kept a really close eye at whatever Maria did. She also complained if Maria didn’t wash a glass properly or iron enough clothes and made her do the task again for hours.
The worker was also forced to do the 15-hour job every day for weeks without a single day off.
At one point, Maria thought of taking her own life. However, the thought of her mother and daughters — who suffer from cardiac disease — at home depending on her for money kept her going.
One morning, as Maria was preparing food for the dog, she suddenly felt faint because she hadn’t eaten for two days. She then kept half of the cooked meat aside for herself and decided to eat it.
“I didn’t have [any other] choice to survive. My world was spinning. I was crying. I had heard that Brazil was nice,” she told the BBC.
Maria was never alone in the house and even if she was all, the doors were locked so she couldn’t escape. However, one morning while everyone else was asleep, she decided to run away.
Luckily, the main door of the house was unlocked and she fled with her belongings in hope for a better future.
Maria now works for a new employer and is happy there. She added that she feels “free” in the new household.
The incident is an example of modern-day slavery.
Millions of Filipinos leave their country in hopes for a better future. They turn to South Asian countries and at times also go to the Middle East to work as domestic helpers.
However, the treatment of these workers by their employers has long been an issue and an area of concern.
Since 2012, more than 250 workers from the Philippines have come to Brazil for work. Brazilians also prefer hiring them because they are affluent in English and are well-trained.
"I think these families started hiring these workers to exploit them. They couldn't find [Brazilians] that would be at their disposal... The changes in legislation empowered housemaids and they weren't accepting certain working conditions anymore,” said Livia Ferreira, an inspector at Brazil's Labor Ministry.
She added, “Their working conditions were very different from what they had been promised. They were kept in forced labor and had exhausting routines.”
Thumbnail credits: Reuters, Vivek Prakash