Workers’ rights under threat in Brazil

Much has been said on the media about the need of a labor reform in Brazil to ‘’relieve’’ the contractors, to “flexibilize” the labor relations and thus generate more jobs. Social Security reform has been also defended as a means to protect the public coffers in view of a supposed increase in expenses caused by the growing life expectancy of the Brazilian population. In response to more people living longer lives, and in line with the characteristic capacity of capital to transform something originally positive into negative, the government aims to approve a series of measures by the second half of this year that will force the citizens to work more, with less stability, for longer and without any future guarantees.

The Social Security proposal reform presented by this government, which got to power by questionable means, establishes the minimum age of 65 years to retire, with 49 years of contributions to receive full pension and 25 years to partial. Under the new law, men, women, rural workers, civil servants, industry employees and tertiary sector’s workers would be equal.

However, such homogenization fails to ignore reality. Just as rural workers (such as a cane cutter) can not work for as many years as a civil servant or an economist – by the nature of his work – women work twice as much as men once they are also responsible for housework. It is also necessary to take into consideration factors such as different levels of development of the States in Brazil showed by IDH records or the life expectancy data that varies according to level of violence and access to goods and services such as basic sanitation, health and education .

According to research published by Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) in 2015, while Santa Catarina ( in the South) is the federation unit with the highest life expectancy at 78.7 years, in Maranhão ( in the Northeast) which is the last one on the list, the life expectancy is 70.3 years – in Alagoas, also located in the Northeast of Brazil, it falls to 66.5 years among men. That is, a man in Alagoas should not even have to pay his pension contributions because he will not be able to enjoy this so-called “right”.

As a part of the ongoing reforms, National Congress approved on the 22nd March a bill 4.302 / 1998 that allows the outsourcing of all the activities of a company. Among other measures, it increased the length of temporary contracts from 3 to 6 months – which could be even extended through negotiation between employer and employee – and regulated the fourth party services. The outsourcing company is authorized to subcontract other companies to perform contracting services, salaries’ payments and supervision of work.

The precarization of labor is once again the response given for an economic retraction by a political elite that represents private interests in a public sphere. The ongoing changes will benefit the employers not the employees, who are increasingly unprotected and with bargaining power even more weakened by the rising of unemployment in the country – 13% of the Brazilian population have no jobs, the equivalent of 26780.000 people

In the period of one year, the Brazilian labor market lost 1,134 million formal contract places. The total of contract jobs in the private sector shrank 3.3% in the quarter ending on February 2017, compared to the same period of the previous year, according to data of National Household Sample Survey – PNAD Continuous. On the other hand, employment without a formal contract in the private sector increased by 5.5%,            with 531 000 more employees.

Another factor that needs to be observed is that with the outsourcing and dismantling of the Consolidation of Labor Laws (CLT), the state will be collecting less money for the National Institute of Social Security (INSS). That is, neither the state will be raising more resources nor will the worker have his retirement covered. A prosperous field opens up for the private pension market.

This scenario of precarization goes along with a process of public sector’s annihilation. Just as the sense of public has been lost throughout history, we are losing access to spaces, goods and services hitherto considered universal because indispensable to life. In order to move forward on a more democratic path, it is necessary first of all to review Brazilian macroeconomic policy, hitherto oriented according to a neoliberal agenda centered on deregulation and privatization, currency stability, deregulation of labor relations, fiscal austerity and primary surplus. It needs to be reoriented from a perspective that no longer places under the back of the working class the weight of a development project that benefits a small elite or the so-called “national champions.”