Reducing Work to 40 Hours a Week in Brazil Without Lowering Wages Is Smart and Fair

Brazilian workers To transform the unequal and unjust structures of our society was always one of the objectives of the MST (Movimento Sem Terra – Landless Movement), in order to build a sovereign nation and win a dignified life for the workers. It is for that reason that we have dedicated our energies to bringing about an effective agrarian reform that would democratize access to land and ensure food production.

But over the course of our 25 years, we have also joined the ranks of those who fight to defend and expand rights of workers. An important part of this fight is the campaign to reduce working hours to 40 hours, without reduction of salary.

Just like agrarian reform, the reduction of the working day is a historic goal which could rapidly stimulate economic development. More than 2.2 million new jobs could be created. With a halt or limitation on overtime, another 1.2 million vacancies would appear. In other words, at least 3.4 million people could exercise their right to work.

Our country has one of the greatest disparities between rich and poor in the world. Brazil is one of the world's 10 largest economies, but rates only 75th in quality of life, according to the Human Development Index.

Worse still, we are judged the seventh worst society on the planet in terms of social equality. To reduce the working day and to increase the minimum wage and overtime pay are fundamental steps towards reducing that inequality.

But just as important as new jobs are the vital social advances that provide freedom from exploitation. With a shorter working day, workers would have more time with their families, more time for study, recreation, and culture. Work must be a way to produce wealth, to allow people to improve their lives, and not a root of exploitation and oppression.

Data from the Intersyndical Department of Statistics and Socioeconomic Studies (DIEESE) show that the reduction of the working day would mean an increase in production costs of only 1.99%. But big business has allied itself to the political right, and is doing everything it can to hinder the adoption of this change.

Because of this, we joined more than 40 thousand workers, from diverse unions and social movements, who participated of the sixth Workers' March, which took place on Wednesday the 11th, on Brasí­lia's Esplanada dos Ministérios.

On this march, we also called for the use of sub-salt oil field resources to fund health, education, and the fight against poverty; and for the collection of updated productivity figures and the achievement of agrarian reform; and we condemned the criminalization of social movements by the media, by conservative factions of the judiciary, and by Ruralist politicians.

We hope that the march will accelerate the ratification of a constitutional amendment (PEC 231/95) which was proposed in the National Congress 14 years ago, which aims to reduce the weekly working day from 44 to 40 hours, without reduction of salary, and increase weekday overtime from 50% to 75%.

The proposal was already approved by a special commission in the Chamber, but it needs to be voted and approved in the plenary assembly of the Chamber and the Senate.

Certainly this fight will have to go beyond the streets. To get this vital social project taken out of the drawer, we have to increase pressure on politicians and organize marches, demonstrations and strikes in every state.

We believe that the reduction of the working day is a fundamental part of the broader social project to guarantee a dignified life to the Brazilian people.

National Secretariat of the MST (Landless Workers Movement)

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