The Brazilian trade union movement has enjoyed something of a political revival since the electoral victory of the Workers' Party in 2002. Industrial unions are well established, and 20 to 25 percent of the formal workforce is unionized. While most unions are aligned with one or another political party, they tend to have more freedom from party control than those in most other Latin American countries.
Brazilian law recognizes the right of all workers – except members of the military, firefighters, and uniformed police – to unionize and strike. However, an "unicidade" or one-city restriction prohibits the formation of more than one union in a particular employment category within a given geographical area. Moreover, public workers' right to strike is subject to a set of poorly defined restrictions, limiting their ability to strike in practice. Collective bargaining is legally guaranteed in the formal sector, but it is effectively banned for public employees. Legislation to address that problem was still pending at the end of 2009. The government is legally empowered to reject clauses of labor agreements if they conflict with its economic or financial policy, drawing criticism from the International Labour Organization.
A system of special labor courts is charged with resolving workplace disputes on issues including retaliatory discharge, working conditions, salary disputes, and other grievances. Authorities do not consistently enforce laws protecting union members from discrimination. Furthermore, the labor court trials are slow and unwieldy, with cases lasting an average of six years. Employers are prohibited by law from firing workers for strike-related activity or hiring substitute workers during a legal strike. In practice, however, strike organizers are often fired with relative impunity due to the slow and ineffective legal system.
There has been an increase in union membership in recent years. However, intimidation and killings of rural union leaders continue, as does violent dispersal of demonstrations by the authorities.
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