Female domestic workers in Paraguay make just a fraction of the minimum wage — and that's with a raise.
Pay increases for low-income workers have been a galvanizing issue in the United States, but in Paraguay, lawmakers have taken a more backwards approach with one of the country’s biggest groups of low-wage earners.
Paraguayan legislators recently approved legislation that would set domestic workers’ salaries at 60 percent of the national minimum wage. That means nannies, maids, housekeepers and cooks — a workforce that's mostly female — will earn around $250 a month, compared to the normal minimum wage of $405.
Paraguayan congressmen also set the minimum age for domestic workers at 16, despite calls from workers’ groups to raise it to 18.
“They did it without thinking that we’re people too, that we also have young daughters and sons, and that we also have the right to live decently,” several domestic worker unions said in a statement.
As backwards as the bill sounds, it's actually a step forward from Paraguay's previous labor law, which set domestic workers' salaries at 40 percent of the minimum wage.
Some lawmakers defended the decision to keep workers’ salaries low, arguing raising them would put a strain on employers. Others argued a bigger raise would be perceived as a “populist” measure.
But in a country where nearly one out of five women is employed as domestic workers, the law is a huge blow to the female workforce. According to official statistics published in 2012, 10 percent of domestic workers in Paraguay lives in extreme poverty.
The decision by Paraguayan lawmakers also goes against the trend in Latin America and the Caribbean — a region with one of the highest number of domestic workers in the world.
In 2013, Brazil passed a law granting unemployment benefits to domestic workers, cooks, gardeners and chauffeurs. The law also guarantees overtime pay and an 8-hour work day. Argentina enacted a similar law the same year.
In Paraguay, domestic workers’ groups said they would continue to press for better pay.
“We’re going to keep pushing,” the groups said in their statement. “One day, Paraguay is going to finally realize what’s fair.”