In regard to the rights of the working people, Brazil has a Constitution which says that a minimum wage shall guarantee the basic needs of all workers and their families with housing, food, education, health, leisure, clothing, hygiene, transportation, and social security.
This minimal wage needs to be periodically adjusted, so as to keep the workers’ purchasing power. The minimum wage fixed by federal law is about US$ 90 per month. It is a ridiculous salary which certainly does not cover the basic needs required by law.
Yet, a research conducted by the IBGE National Household Survey revealed that 40 percent of all workers did not receive even such a miserable payment. The average salary is US$ 54, which is much below what the law determines.(1) As a result, at least 55 million Brazilian workers are surviving on half of a ridiculous minimum wage.
Whereas the Constitution of Brazil explicitly forbids any form of forced labour, the Brazilian Criminal Code punishes its organizers with no less than eight-year jail. However, many cases of forced labour have been reported in Brazil’s northern and central-western regions.
In these areas, the use of forced labour has involved, among others, the exploitation of children in activities related to agriculture and the raising of livestock.
Also, illegal immigrants from Bolivia, Peru, and Paraguay, are working in the city of São Paulo under a condition which has been described by the International Labor Organization (ILO) as ‘analogous to slavery’.(2)
The abolition of forced labour is hindered by failure to impose effective penalties, the impunity of those responsible, delays in judicial procedure, and the absence of coordination between the various governmental bodies.(3)
Only in the Amazon region, the ILO estimates that 25,000 people are working as slaves in a range of activities which varies from the clearing of jungle for ranchers to the production of pit iron for charcoal smelters.
According to the ILO, these labourers are treated ‘worse than animals’, living under plastic sheets with no sanitation, and eating from tin cans used to hold pesticides.
Their workday goes from dawn until dusk and gunmen are hired to ensure order and prevent anyone to escape.(4) It has been reported that politicians, including congressmen, are using this sort of labour on their ranches.(5)
In its Article 170, the Constitution of Brazil states that the economic order of this country will have as its main objective the ‘pursuit of full employment’.
In August 2003, more than 13 million workers were unemployed, and millions of others were unable to afford even a decent daily meal for themselves.
The situation was so bad that it seemed that the only available jobs were those offered by the federal government, at public agencies and companies, to members of the Workers’ Party (PT). They must give not less than 10 percent of the salary to the coffers of the Party.
In today’s Brazil, real interest rates are the world’s highest, the level of taxation is economically recessive, and bureaucratic rules and regulations are overwhelming at all levels of public administration. They have together acted as powerful obstacles to socio-economic development.
However, the PT federal administration is definitively not helping to solve the problem by raising even more the taxes and increasing government expenditures without benefiting the common citizen.
(1) Neves, Francesco; Five Million Kids Still Working in Brazil. Brazzil, Los Angeles, October, 2003. https://www.brazzil.com/content/view/1077/27/
(2) Brown, Paul; Shame of Slavery Blights Brazil’s Interior. The Guardian, London, 19 July 2004. http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1264080,00.html
(3) U.S. Department of State; 2004 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Brazil. Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour, February 25, 2004. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2003/27888.htm
(4) Kingstone, Steve; Brazil Slavery Damned by Report. BBC News. July 19, 2004. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3908271.stm
(5) Brown, Paul; Shame of Slavery Blights Brazil’s Interior. The Guardian, London, 19 July 2004. http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1264080,00.html
Augusto Zimmermann is a Brazilian Law Professor and PhD candidate for Monash University – Faculty of Law, in Australia. The topic of his research is the (un)rule of law and legal culture in Brazil. He holds a LL.B and a LL.M (Hons.) from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, and is the author of two well-known law books (“Teoria Geral do Federalismo Democrático” and “Curso de Direito Constitucional”). His email is: firstname.lastname@example.org