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2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Brazil

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2007
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Brazil, 9 June 2007, available at: [accessed 21 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 188,000,000
Capital: Brasilia
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Unilever renewed its moral harassment of striking workers, a practice outlawed by the courts when used by many other companies, by making excessive and disproportionate use of the military police for intimidating them. Teachers reported that they had been harassed owing their trade union activities.

Trade union rights in law

The central component of Brazilian labour legislation is the Compendium of Labour Laws (CLL) of 1943. It began as a codification of the laws of the "New State" of former leader Getulio Vargas, and includes articles introduced into the federal Constitution during the 1988 reform. The policy pursued since that time has been to revise individual articles or sections of the CLL to bring them in to line with prevailing political trends.

"Unicidade" and trade union tax: The Constitution and the Labour Code provide for union representation for all workers, except the military, uniformed police, fire fighters and various other state employees. The "unicidade" system stipulates that there can only be one trade union per economic or occupational category in each territorial area. This geographically based single union system means that some sectoral federations and national trade union centres are not legally recognised. Various federal laws, however, recognise the legitimacy of trade union confederations created since the early 1980s, while the Federal High Court has recognised only those national trade union structures set up under the framework system established in 1943.

By law, each worker must pay a compulsory fee equivalent to one day's pay. It is deducted from their pay in March and then distributed to the unions, federations and confederations. A portion (20% of the fee) also goes to an employment and wage fund at the Ministry of Labour. The funds are distributed in proportion to the number of workers legally represented (based on the obligatory single union system, not on the number of workers actually affiliated).

Collective bargaining – heavy constraints: Collective bargaining is only open to those unions that are legally registered with the Ministry of Labour. The courts interfere in collective bargaining by making rulings based on petitions from only one of the parties. Owing to the lack of effective arrangements for direct bargaining with unions in companies, there is an incredible number of pending court cases.

Right to strike: The 1988 Constitution established the right to strike without restrictions for all workers and state officials, apart from the police and the military. The Constitution does allow the right to strike in the public services, however the text makes the exercise of that right subject to a particular set of rules applying to the public sector that have so far not been defined, thus creating difficulties, in practice, for public servants wishing to exercise the right to strike. The private sector is governed by a law established in 1989, which protects the right to strike in a reasonable manner but contains a list of essential services with tighter restrictions than those allowed by the ILO.

Export processing zones (EPZs): The legislation covering export processing zones in Brazil does not provide for any alterations to the labour laws applying to workers not employed in an EPZ. In practice there is only one EPZ operating in Brazil and the unions there face similar problems to unions throughout the rest of the country.

Reforms in line with international standards: The Lula government announced its intention to reform the Brazilian Labour Code to bring it into line with international labour standards, notably ILO Convention 87. In July 2003, the government set up a tripartite National Labour Forum whose report, in 2004, set out a number of priorities, including the ratification of ILO Convention 87, a review of the system of financial support for trade unions (trade union tax), a new framework for trade union organisation and representation (to replace the unicidade), and stronger collective bargaining rights. The government drafted a bill based on the Forum's conclusions which it submitted to Congress. However, the set of conclusions submitted by the government to Congress in 2005 were all rejected and since then the government has not taken any steps to change the conditions under which trade unions operate.

Trade union rights in practice

In practice, some of the legal limitations on unions are ignored. At the same time, however, employers blatantly violate union rights.

The three main national centres, Força Sindical (FS), the Central Unica dos Trabalhadores (CUT) and the Confederaçao Geral dos Trabalhadores (CGT), are all recognised in practice, and take part in various official bodies. They want to see the law changed to bring it in line with reality. As it stands, the government could technically remove them from tripartite discussions. Proposals to this end are before Congress.

There has been an increase in tripartite consultations aimed at solving labour disputes and in the participation of trade union organisations in governmental bodies dealing with economic and social affairs.

The case of Volkswagen Brazil is a positive example of the effect of trade union action. Volkswagen had announced a restructuring of its operations in Brazil in May, involving the loss of 1,800 jobs, blaming it on the increase in the value of the Real and the rising cost of raw materials. After a six-day strike, Volkswagen cancelled the planned dismissals and agreed to start negotiations with the union, which ended in the workers accepting an agreement with the management.

Discrimination: The authorities have proved incapable of applying the anti-union discrimination laws. Trade unionists are frequently dismissed, in total violation of their trade union immunity. The courts operate very slowly, and are unable to deal with the two million or more complaints filed every year. Union officials estimate that 95 per cent of such cases take five to ten years to resolve, and a huge backlog has built up.

Violations in 2006

Despite denunciations of corruption, on 29 October Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was re-elected President until 2010, gaining 60% of the votes. The general situation has not improved, with rural violence and land disputes continuing and in August two leaders of the Landless Rural Workers' Movement, (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, MST), were murdered in Pernambuco. The year was also marked by prison revolts. According to official figures, the police assassinated 328 people in the State of Sao Paulo in the first half of the year. Most of those assassinations occurred in May when a criminal gang launched a series of attacks on the police, prison guards, buses, banks and public buildings.

Violation of teachers' trade union rights: The national teachers' confederation (Confederación Nacional de Trabajadores de la Enseñanza, CNTE) complained that teachers' trade union rights were being violated in Paraná. The state's Education Secretary had filed proceedings against seven leaders of the education workers' union in Paraná, alleging dereliction of duty and professional errors. They were also denied trade union leave and two of them had their wages suspended. Two of the teachers also had their pay suspended. The teachers facing proceedings are: José Lemos, Marlei Fernandes, Edílson de Paula, Maria do Carmo Mendes, Sérgio Marson, Élide Bueno and José Valdivino de Moraes.

Unilever uses military police to intimidate striking workers: On the morning of 8 December, around 20 vehicles turned up at a Unilever factory with some 60 military police, who brandished shotguns in a menacing manner, carried revolvers in their belts, and started filming trade unionists and workers who were arriving at the factory by bus. The day before, the 550 employees of the multinational, together with 130 from Sinimplast, a subcontracting firm, had voted at a meeting to start a strike aimed at blocking all production. Since September the company had been refusing to engage in negotiations on wages.

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