Venezuelans in Brazil suffer workplace exploitation

Venezuelan refugees gather to receive clothes distributed by volunteers at the Simon Bolivar square in the Brazilian city of Boa Vista

As Venezuelans flood into Brazil in search of work, money and food, alarm bells are ringing over cases of workplace exploitation.

Take the example of E., a 27-year-old woman with a university degree who was a journalist back home. Along with her husband she fled to Roraima state last year to escape Venezuela's crippling economic crisis.

After obtaining a temporary residence permit, she landed a job in January at a restaurant and was supposed to earn the minimum wage -- but was then told she would only earn the tips she made.

Two months later she is not even allowed to keep the tips; she works for food.

"I do not want to report them. At least now I have food to eat. I wish they would pay me, too," said E., who lives with four relatives.

"There are a lot of vulnerable people in the migratory wave, especially because of food insecurity," said Cleyton Abreu, coordinator of a Jesuit charity for migrants and refugees in the state capital Boa Vista.

International bodies have revealed cases of sexual harassment and violence on the job, verbal and physical violence, working conditions that border on slavery, sexual exploitation and signs of human trafficking.

Just like E., other Venezuelans in Boa Vista are not pleased with their workplace conditions but accept them because there is nothing else.

Jose Santaella, 58, was standing on a street corner asking people for work when a pickup truck stopped and offered him a job on a farm.

The initial deal called for him to get 600 reais ($190) per day, working from dawn to sunset. After the first month of work, a fifth of his wages were discounted to pay for food, which Santaella said was basically "beans, couscous and bones."

Santaella managed to flee and return to Boa Vista, where he shares a room with his daughter and 10 other people.

Would he go back to working on a farm?

"If they guaranteed they would pay me, yes. I need to help my family in Venezuela and here there is no work," he said.

"What else can I do?"