Officially, “taifeiros” were hired for functions such as cooks or kitchen assistants, but many of them are used in other functions, or even humiliated
High-ranking officers of the Armed Forces enjoy privileges that cost R$ 35 million per year to the Brazilian taxpayers. There are the so-called “taifeiros” (“stewards”, in a rough translation) – members of the military who provide domestic services in the residence of general officers.
Officially, they were hired for functions such as cooks or kitchen assistants, but many of them are used in other functions, or even humiliated, being forced to cater to the entire family of commanders, wash cars, take care of dogs, or even prepare private parties for the wives and sons of officers.
There are currently 292 active “taifeiros” and 135 inactive ones, as well as 439 pensioners – a total contingent of 863 people. The Air Force is opposing the extinction of this controversial professional category; it currently has 292 “taifeiros” on duty and 135 in the reserve, as well as 352 pensioners, with a total cost of R$ 27.4 million per year. Their salary varies from R$ 2.8 thousand for a 2nd class “taifeiro” to R$ 3.4 thousand to a “master-taifeiro”. Among Air Force general officers are air-brigadiers, major-brigadiers, and brigadiers.
In the army, this category is in the process of being extinguished – there are currently only four active ones – but the salary of 104 inactive ones and 84 pensioners still has to be paid. The annual figure consists of R$ 7.5 million. The professional category was established by law in 1980 and gradually introduced in the Army on the following year after a ministerial order. Its gradual extinction was determined after 2007, when professional qualifications such as kitchen assistants, cooks, and pantrymen were regulated. Army general officers are army generals, division generals, and brigade generals.
The Navy claims it does not have in its ranks any “taifeiros”. However, in a public-interest civil action filed in 2008 to try to extinguish the profession of “taifeiro”, the Military Prosecution Office (MPM) requested the Navy Commands for information regarding the use of members of the military in domestic chores in residences of officers. After the answer of the Navy High Command, the MPM concluded that “there is no internal norm regulating this practice, but it does indeed happen.”
The Navy commander answered: “There are no specific internal norms on the employment of subordinate personnel in eminently domestic tasks in the residences of hierarchical superiors. Nonetheless, it should be clarified that the lack of specific norms is due to the following facts:”
And proceeded to inform that the members of the military who work at the official residences of their representatives are part of the work chart to which that residence is associated. These tasks are precisely the same as the one assigned to the members of the military stationed in their barracks. The Navy general officers are squad admirals, vice-admirals, and counter admirals.
“At any day or hour”
The roles of “taifeiros” are extremely specific. The Air Force claims these military men are responsible for specialized tasks, such as repairmen, cooks, barbers, and drivers within the military organizations. But they also add that official residences also have a representational aspect, “due to the character of the strategical and political attributions inherent to the positions occupied by general officers. Thus, there is eventually the need for an institutional relation with civil, military, ecclesiastical public authorities, as well as civil society leaders, including those from other countries.”
In the Army, these attributions are defined by Ministerial Ordinance No. 585/1988. The ordinance establishes that they should act within the facilities of members of the high command of these military organizations who hold a private position of general officer, or in the official residence of these commanders.
It is up to the “taifeiro” cook tasks such as the conservation of food produce, preparing meals, cleaning and tidying the facilities, utensils, as well as the whole kitchen material. The cook/pantryman also takes care of the pantry and dining halls, as well as tidying, cleaning and maintaining the rest of the facilities. He or she is also responsible for welcoming and providing service to guests whenever necessary.
But the ordinance also establishes that their weekly workload is extremely flexible, and has no fixed limit. Its 4th article says that, due to the peculiar nature of their tasks, “taifeiros” “are not limited to the mere fulfillment of the work hours of their military organization. Whenever their service is needed, they can be requested, at any day or hour.”
“Catering to the general’s family”
An internal document of the Ministry of Army, dated from September 1988, shows the concern with the stability of “taifeiros”. The document claims that, given the nature of the activity, “developed almost always along with members of the family of the general officer, a lack of affinity with any of them may characterize an inaptitude for the task and a consequent unworthiness of the function.”
The document then addresses the issue of workload, and suggests: “To the 4th article of the ordinance, after the expression ‘at any day or hour’, it may be added: ‘The weekly workload, however, may not exceed 60 hours, and a break which fully encompasses Saturdays or Sundays should be ensured.”
Statements obtained by the public-interest action filed by the MPM report abuses and deviations from these workers’ original duties. A cook “taifeiro” was punished in Bagé (RS) after he requested a transfer from a general’s residence to the ranch (barracks’ dining hall). Another one was forced to drive a housemaid to do cleaning work at a brigadier’s beach house in another city.
In Rio de Janeiro, one “taifeiro” claimed that in the Military Village of Barra da Tijuca there were eight houses destined to general officers of the Air Force, each one of them with two or three military cooks and cleaners. Brigadiers who lived outside the military village also had the right to use the service of “taifeiros” in their private residences.
These statements also report activities completely outside the legal norms, such as picking up relatives of these general officers at the airport, shopping in supermarkets, taking care of elderly people, children, and pets, and prepare parties for family members of these officers. Disagreements between “taifeiros” and officers’ wives, who were in charge of giving orders in the official residences, were commonplace.
In the next days, I will be addressing this issue, in a new post with surprising details of the statements given by “taifeiros” to the Military Prosecution Office.