Every year some two million labor disputes wind their way through the Brazilian labor justice system which is parallel to the regular legal system and consists of 1,200 labor courts around the country.
According to Luciano Athayde, president of the National Association of Labor Justice Judges (“Magistrados”), there is a relation between the high number of cases and non-compliance with the laws that regulate relations between employer and employee.
Precarious situations exist in spite of Brazil being a signatory to over a dozen international labor conventions under the ILO (International Labor Organization), observes Athayde.
“This is not a lack of principles. The problem is that international norms are just not enough. The challenge is to make the law effective,” declared Athayde, speaking at the International Forum on Social Rights at the Superior Labor Court (“Tribunal Superior do Trabalho – TST”).
“The country just does not comply with the law. Brazil still struggles to make social rights a reality,” says Luciano Chaves, a labor court judge in Rio Grande do Norte, as he recalls a recent case involving a cowhand who herded cattle but was not paid – not any money.
Living with his grandfather and father in a “regime of servitude,” his “salary” consisted of one-sixth of the calves that were born in the herd – and nothing else.
An example of an ineffective law, says Luciano Athayde, is Convention 111 of the ILO, which was ratified by Brazil in 1964. It deals with discrimination in the workplace.
Data from the 2008 Household Survey (“Pesquisa Nacional de Amostra Domiciliar – PNAD/2008”) show that the Brazilian labor market treats different groups differently; for example, men and women, blacks and whites, and other groups.
Thus, the PNAD/2008 found that women earned 70,3% of what men made to do the same job; blacks got only 55.2% of what whites doing similar tasks received. The survey also found that black workers with the same educational level as white colleagues got 33% less pay.
Even at the highest levels discrimination was found. For example, black women with post graduate studies got 40% less pay than white women with similar educational levels.
Otávio Brito Lopes, a chief labor court prosecutor, says that “Brazil specializes in indirect discrimination.” The labor market strives to be politically correct, he says, while the statistics show that there is discrimination across the board, from hiring to promoting to firing, in all categories: gender and race.
Prejudice based on stereotypes is rampant. As the discrimination is undeclared, it is hard to prove in court. Another problem is cultural: the widespread and deeply rooted belief that Brazil is a racially harmonious nation. “Facing up to discrimination is not easy. We have to journey deep inside ourselves and confront our demons,” says the prosecutor.
Last year the Labor Prosecutor Office (“Procuradoria Geral do Trabalho”) lost five cases against big domestic banks in spite of proving empirically through data furnished by the banks themselves that there was discrimination.
“On one hand,” explains an exasperated Brito Lopes, “salaries paid to women and blacks were less than those paid to white doing the same work. On the other hand, white men got more promotions.”