Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for freedom of association for all workers (except members of the military, military police, and firefighters), the right to bargain collectively with some restrictions, and the right to strike. The law limits organizing at the enterprise level. By law the armed forces, military police, and firefighters may not strike. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, including the dismissal of employees who are candidates for, or holders of, union leadership positions, and it requires employers to reinstate workers fired for union activity.
New unions must register with the Ministry of Economy, which accepts the registration unless objections are filed by other unions. The law stipulates certain restrictions, such as unicidade (in essence, one union per occupational category per city), which limits freedom of association by prohibiting multiple, competing unions of the same professional category in a single geographical area. Unions that represent workers in the same geographical area and professional category may contest registration.
The law stipulates a strike may be ruled “disruptive” by the labor court, and the union may be subjected to legal penalties if the strike violates certain conditions, such as if the union fails to maintain essential services during a strike, notify employers at least 48 hours before the beginning of a walkout, or end a strike after a labor court decision. Employers may not hire substitute workers during a legal strike or fire workers for strike-related activity, provided the strike is not ruled abusive.
The law obliges a union to negotiate on behalf of all registered workers in the professional category and geographical area it represents, regardless of whether an employee pays voluntary membership dues. The law permits the government to reject clauses of collective bargaining agreements that conflict with government policy. A 2017 law includes new collective bargaining rights, such as the ability to negotiate a flexible hourly schedule and work remotely.
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected. Collective bargaining was widespread in establishments in the private sector. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits “slave labor,” defined as “reducing someone to a condition analogous to slavery,” including subjecting someone to forced labor, debt bondage, exhausting work hours, and labor performed in degrading working conditions.
Many individuals in slave labor, as defined by the country’s law, were victims of human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation. The government took actions to enforce the law, although forced labor occurred in a number of states. Violations of forced labor laws are punishable by up to eight years in prison, but this was often not sufficient to deter violations. The law also provides penalties for various crimes related to forced labor, such as illegal recruiting or transporting workers or imposing onerous debt burdens as a condition of employment. Every six months the Ministry of Economy published a “dirty list” of companies found to have employed forced labor. The list is used by public and private banks to conduct risk assessments, and inclusion on the list prevents companies from receiving loans from state-owned financial institutions. The Labor Prosecutor’s Office, in partnership with the International Labor Organization (ILO), maintained an online platform that identified hotspots for forced labor. In July the Labor Prosecutor’s Office announced it would start publishing a dirty list of individuals and corporate entities convicted of trafficking in persons and slave labor.
The National Commission to Eradicate Slave Labor was created to coordinate government efforts to combat forced and exploitative labor and provide a forum for input from civil society actors. The commission was eliminated by presidential decree in April and recreated in June. The commission faced new limitations, including two-hour meeting durations that may be extended only in case representatives need to vote. In prior years the commission included 10 representatives from government agencies or ministries and 10 representatives of civil society groups and the private sector, but the commission’s composition was changed to include representatives from the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights; Ministry of Justice and Public Security; Ministry of Economy; Ministry of Civil Rights; and four representatives from civil society and private organizations.
The Ministry of Economy’s Mobile Labor Inspection Unit teams conducted impromptu inspections of properties where forced labor was suspected or reported, using teams composed of labor inspectors, labor prosecutors from the Federal Labor Prosecutor’s Office, and federal police officers. Mobile teams levied fines on landowners who used forced labor and required employers to provide back pay and benefits to workers before returning the workers to their municipalities of origin. Labor inspectors and prosecutors, however, could apply only civil penalties; consequently, many cases were not criminally prosecuted.
Forced labor, including forced child labor, was reported in jobs such as clearing forests to provide cattle pastureland, logging, producing charcoal, raising livestock, and other agricultural activities. Forced labor often involved young men drawn from the less-developed northeastern states–Maranhao, Piaui, Tocantins, and Ceara–and the central state of Goias to work in the northern and central-western regions of the country. In addition, there were reports of forced labor in the construction industry. News outlets reported cases that amounted to forced labor in production of carnauba wax. Cases of forced labor were also reported in the garment industry in the city of Sao Paulo; the victims were often from neighboring countries, particularly Bolivia, Peru, and Paraguay, while others came from Haiti, South Korea, and China.
Media reported in July that children working in cashew nut processing plants in Rio Grande do Norte suffered acid burns on their hands and lost fingers. In 2018 labor inspectors identified 1,745 cases involving slave labor and issued administrative penalties to 100 employers. Authorities in the state of Alagoas found 87 persons, including 13 children, working in degrading conditions. In December 2018 labor inspectors identified 54 persons, including four minors, working in slavery-like conditions on a soybean farm in Baixa Grande do Ribeiro, Piaui State.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law outlaws all of the worst forms of child labor. Prohibitions against child trafficking for forced labor exploitation require the use of threats, violence, coercion, fraud, or abuse to be established for the crime of child trafficking, which does not meet international standards. The minimum working age is 16, and apprenticeships may begin at age 14. The law bars all minors younger than 18 from work that constitutes a physical strain or occurs in unhealthy, dangerous, or morally harmful conditions. Hazardous work includes an extensive list of activities within 13 occupational categories, including domestic service, garbage scavenging, and fertilizer production. The law requires parental permission for minors to work as apprentices.
The Ministry of Economy’s Special Mobile Inspection Group is responsible for inspecting worksites to enforce child labor laws. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Most inspections of children in the workplace were driven by complaints brought by workers, teachers, unions, NGOs, and media. Due to legal restrictions, labor inspectors remained unable to enter private homes and farms, where much of the child labor allegedly occurred. The government did not effectively enforce the law.
The Special Mobile Inspection Group removed 27 children from child labor in the first six months of the year, which approached the total removed in all of the 2018 inspections against slavery-like work in the country. In one operation in Minas Gerais, inspectors found a 16-year-old boy who weighed less than 90 pounds and was carrying five bags of fresh coffee a day from coffee plantations on a sloping terrain high in a mountainous region. Each bag can weigh as much as 175 pounds. During the operation, inspectors issued 78 infractions to the companies, which were required to pay fines of R$15,860 ($3,970) in back wages and R$14,600 ($3,650) for individual moral damages to minors removed from the situation.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, disability, religion, political opinion, natural origin or citizenship, age, language, and sexual orientation or gender identity. Discrimination against individuals who are HIV positive or suffer from other communicable diseases is also prohibited. The government generally enforced the laws and regulations, although discrimination in employment occurred with respect to Afro-Brazilians, women, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, and transgender individuals. The Ministry of Economy implemented rules to integrate promotion of racial equality in its programs, including requiring race be included in data for programs financed by the ministry. According to the ILO, women not only earned less than men but also had difficulties entering the workplace: 78 percent of men held paid jobs, compared with 56 percent of women. Although the law prohibits gender discrimination in pay, professional training, and career advancement, the law was not enforced, and discrimination existed.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The law provides for a minimum wage. The minimum wage was greater than the official poverty income level. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), however, in 2016 the per capita income of approximately 40 percent of workers was below the minimum wage. IBGE data also indicated 6.8 percent of workers (12.9 million) were considered “extremely poor” or earning less than R$70 ($17.50) per month. The Ministry of Economy verified enforcement of minimum wage laws as part of regular labor inspections. Penalties alone were not sufficient to deter violations.
The law limits the workweek to 44 hours and specifies a weekly rest period of 24 consecutive hours, preferably on Sundays. The law also provides for paid annual vacation, prohibits excessive compulsory overtime, limits overtime to two hours per workday, and stipulates that hours worked above the monthly limit must be compensated with at least time-and-a-half pay; these provisions generally were enforced for all groups of workers in the formal sector. The constitution also provides for the right of domestic employees to work a maximum of eight hours of per day, a maximum of 44 hours’ work per week, a minimum wage, a lunch break, social security, and severance pay.
The Ministry of Economy sets occupational, health, and safety standards that are consistent with internationally recognized norms, although unsafe working conditions were prevalent throughout the country, especially in construction. The law requires employers to establish internal committees for accident prevention in workplaces. It also provides for the protection of employees from being fired for their committee activities. Workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, although those in forced labor situations without access to transportation were particularly vulnerable to situations that endangered their health and safety.
The Ministry of Economy addressed problems related to acceptable conditions of work such as long workdays and unsafe or unhygienic work conditions. Penalties for violations include fines that vary widely depending on the nature of the violation. Fines were generally enforced and were sometimes sufficient to deter violations. The National Labor Inspection School held various training sessions for labor inspectors throughout the year. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to deter violations.
According to the IBGE, in 2018, 33.3 million persons were employed in the formal sector (excluding domestic workers). The IBGE also reported 11.5 million persons were working in the informal economy and 23.8 million were self-employed.