My name is Doralice. I am 27 years old and as every Brazilian I came to Belgium looking for better living conditions for my family. I have two daughters. They are with my mother in Brazil.
I arrived in Belgium at 13/08/2006 and as everybody I wanted to start working as soon as possible. On my first day, I went to the church and I went there for several days. One day, a friend told me at the church that he knew a woman who was looking for someone to work for her. My friend organized a meeting and I went there. Everything went well and I was so happy because the lady wanted me to start already on Monday 11/09/2006.
On that day, I went there very early. A person was responsible to explain me everything during one week. At that time, I though everything was perfect. My employer was very kind, and she spoke Spanish. However, I was wrong. She turned out not to be kind at all.
Ms Francesca Lima and her husband have a very beautiful and big house (4 bathrooms, a good kitchen, a lot of useful objects and many that are not very useful). She had a lot of decoration in silver including a very nice cutlery. She always said it was a very precious and expensive object. I knew the house very well with all the details. I also had a personal alarm code. They also told me another code because sometimes the alarm could start and in this case the company would call and I had to tell them the second code. Thus, they would know that I worked there.
In that house, I lived and worked for almost one year as a domestic worker. I worked the whole week and I was free only Saturday after 1 pm and Sunday. However, I worked several times until late because my employer liked to have the house full of guests. My employer gave several parties and I worked all day to prepare everything. I did not have time even to eat.
My employer was very demanding. She always complained. Even if I did everything well she complained in a very impolite way. However, everybody enjoyed what I cooked. I had to prepare several courses: several first courses (salads, snacks, cold dishes), two or three main courses and several deserts. After the dinner, she obliged me to wash the majority of the dish by hand. She did not want me to use the dishwasher. When I had to prepare a party, I did not even have time to eat. I ate something while I was cooking. Sometimes, we had two or three dinners per week with guests but on special occasions such as Easter, we had parties every day.
When we had more than 10 people, my employer contracted a waiter or someone to help. He arrived around 8 p.m when I had already prepared everything. He got 100 euros per party and I got 20 euros. For big parties, a friend of mine (also Brazilian) who worked for her daughter, used to come to help. She worked several times without receiving any payment. Once I asked her why she did not paid my friend. So she gave me 10 euros to give to my friend.
Once, my friend Nora came to help for a dinner for 22 people. We worked all day until 1 p.m. My employer complained and treated us badly as usual. The next day when I was cleaning the silver cutlery, she noticed that one spoon was missing. She called everybody to try to find the spoon. I was afraid that she would accuse me to have stolen the spoon. Later I found the spoon at the dishwasher. So, she smiled and thanked me (but in fact she was thinking that I had stolen the spoon).
The work was very hard because I worked more than 12, 13 hours a day. I was sad and depressed because as an intern you live the problems of the family.
Several times my employer said things that hurt me. Some things I forgot, others I will always remember for example once when I opened a pack of biscuits. She went to my room, woke me up, shouted at me and said that I could not open any packs of food. I could only eat what was already open. She was dreadful!
She always gave me a lot of work and some work that was not necessary to do such as watering the garden. She had an automatic system but she insisted that I had to do it manually.
I was always ready and in duty. During her dinner, I had to stand there waiting for her orders. Many times she put me in difficult situations, asking me to do things that were not part of my job: for instance I had to take her breakfast to her room and there she took her shirt of and asked me to rub cream on her back and give her a massage. I did not like that but she asked me to do it and I had no choice. When her hairdresser came, I had to wash her hair.
Once I had to help Luciano, a Peruvian who worked in the house every Friday. I helped him with a machine and I started to feel a big pain in my arm. The pain was very strong but I had to continue to work. However, the pain was so strong that I had to show it to Ms Francesca. She gave me some medicines. I had pain for more than 20 days. So she decided to take me to a doctor. He told me that I had to rest during 15 days. She told the doctor that I couldn’t rest because she needed me to work for her. For the next 20 days the pain was growing. I told her that I could not sleep because the pain was very strong. She did not comment, she only gave me more and more medicines.
Ms Francesca decided to travel for 15 day and I had to stay at home to take care of the house. She told me that during this period I would have some time to rest but in fact I had to work to keep the house clean.
I decided to go to a doctor at the clinic and he told me that I had tendonitis and I had to do a treatment. She said OK, but only after the wedding ceremony of her son. I showed her the medical report and she told me, “only after the 9th of September”. I told her that I was really sick and I could find someone to work in my place. She said that she could find another person to substitute me herself. I continued to work and she did not find anyone. Later, my friend went to work in my place.
I started to do the treatment. It was really painful. The doctor was very good but I really had a lot of pain. The doctor gave me several injections and I had a severe pain in my back. What could I do? I knew that the injections would help me. After the medical appointments, I went home, I could not do anything. I could not pick up a glass of water.
During 3 nights I could not sleep because of the pain.
I did 3 sessions during 45 days. The doctor told me that I should continue but I told him that I could not because I had to return to work. That day, Ms Francesca called me. She knew that I could not come back but even with my arm immobilized I went to work to help to prepare the meals because I did not have money and I needed to eat. I worked 9 days helping my friend who was substituting me at Ms Francesca’s home. My friend decided not to work there anymore because it was a lot of work. Ms Francesca was complaining that she was eating simple things like an egg or a biscuit and my friend was not willing to put cream on her back and massage her.
I did not finish the treatment because it was very expensive and only now I received my card from the CPAS. Now I have to work because I have two daughters in Brazil, I am not married and my mother is sick. Even knowing that I cannot work here, I had to take the risk because I cannot allow my family to starve at home.
I would like to know who could help me. I suffered and I am still suffering with pain. I am a migrant, I am here illegally but I am a human being and I did not deserve to suffer. I would like to receive payment for the hours that I worked and the days that I was sick. I would like to file a complaint against Ms Francesca for bad treatment and physical damages. After reading everything that I wrote, do you think that I have some rights?
How Doralice's story ended:
OR.C.A. tried to negociate with the employer about payment for overtime hours and the days she was sick. The employer refused a settlement and proved to be very arrogant. Then, Doralice wrote down her story with every possible detail (left out of the story above), and we sent it to the labour inspection. An inspector confronted Ms Francesca's husband with all the details and he had to confess that Doralice worked for them: however, he did not want to confess the overtime hours and said Doralice only start work in January 2007, not in September 2006.
Despite that, the inspector discovered many irregularities in the payments to Doralice. She calculated that the employer still had to pay about 5000 euro plus social security contributions and taxes. To avoid a court case (with probable fines for irregular employment), the employer paid in the end.