The ITUC affiliates in Brazil are the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT), the Confederação Nacional das Profissões Liberais (CNPL), the Força Sindical (FS) and the União Geral dos Trabalhadores Brasil (UGT).
Freedom of association / Right to organise
The law does not specifically protect workers from anti-union discrimination.
Barriers to the establishment of organisations:
- Excessive representativity or minimum number of members required for the establishment of a union
- The number of members required in order to establish a union in a particular territorial basis has to be of 1/3 of all workers of a specific category (Art. 515 (a) Labour Law).
- Absence of recourse to an independent body in the event of administrative refusal to register a trade union
- Unions can only appeal to the Ministry of Labour against refusal of registration (Article 575 Labour Law).
Restrictions on workers' right to form and join organisations of their own choosing:
- Single trade union system imposed by law and/or a system banning or limiting organising at a certain level (enterprise, industry and/or sector, regional and/or territorial, national)
- Only one union is permitted at each level, e.g. municipal, inter-municipal, state or federal (Art. 516 Labour Law).
Categories of workers prohibited or limited from forming or joining a union, or from holding a union office:
- Armed forces
- Other civil servants and public employees
- Fire fighters and various other state employees do not have the right to organise.
Right to collective bargaining
Restrictions on the scope of application and legal effectiveness of concluded collective agreements:
- Restrictions on the duration, scope of application or coverage of collective agreements
- Collective agreements may only have a maximum duration of two years, although they can be renewed with the approval of the union's general assembly (Articles 614 and 615 Labour Law).
Limitations or ban on collective bargaining in certain sectors:
- Armed forces
- Other civil servants and public employees
- Civil servants, including those not employed in the administration of the state, have no collective bargaining rights.
Right to strike
Undermining of the recourse to strike actions or their effectiveness:
- Possibility to replace workers during lawful strike actions
- An employer may replace workers during a lawful strike action in the event that the strike may cause irreparable damage to the machinery or goods of the company.
On 30 November 2013, hospitality sector workers in Curitiba took strike action in support of their demand for better pay and working conditions. According to the Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores em Turismo e Hospitalidade (CONTRATUH), employers responded with an injunction prohibiting the strikers from holding noisy demonstrations in the vicinity of the hotels or restaurants involved in the dispute.
In August 2013, the state-owned Saneamiento Básico del Estado de Sao Paulo (SABESP) made staff cuts, including the dismissal of 31 trade union leaders.
In July 2013, after the setting up of the Sindicato dos Trabalhadores em Empresas de Radiodifusão e Televisão de Campina Grande, Televisão Paraíba began a campaign to crush the union, dismissing and harassing trade union leaders.
In March 2013, workers at Veracel went on strike when the multinational forestry company refused to negotiate better salaries and working conditions at its plant in the extreme south of Bahía.
In November 2012, public health workers in the State of Santa Catarina went on strike for over 30 days to demand salary increases. An official order by the public prosecutor determined that industrial action could involve up to 70 per cent of workers and that pickets could only occur 200 metres away from workplaces and without the use of communication material such as banners or leaflets.
Udo Wahlbrink, President of the Sindicato dos Trabalhadores Rurais de Vilhena e Chupinguaia, in Rondonia, was threatened and shot at three times. Having received no protection from the justice system and the police, he decided to carry a gun, which was used an excuse to detain him and torture him for eight months in 2012.
According to the Pastoral Land Commission (CTP), there were 36 agrarian conflict-related murders in 2012, an increase of 24% on the 29 cases in 2011. In 2012, Rondonia state exceeded Pará state in the total number of murders related to land disputes, with nine cases, as opposed to two the previous year, an increase of 350%.
In July 2013, a strike by police officers in Roraima state was declared illegal by a labour court ruling.
The judge ruled that the trade union had complied with all the criteria to call a strike, but that the sector was considered an “essential service”.
In 2012, public servants working in education in Roraima were hit by a state court ruling that the strike must cease, failing which daily fines of R$100,000 (US$43,000) for the trade union, R$2,000 (US$860) for each trade union leader and R$200 (US$86) for each participant in the strike would be payable.
On 11 April 2013, Brazilian workers at the Santander Group delayed the opening of branches in protest against dismissals, job rotations, excessive targets and harassment and to press for better health, security and working conditions, as well as equal opportunities and the acknowledgement of retired workers.
This action was part of the National Day of Action during which a series of protests took place throughout the country, condemning certain banking practices that are damaging to banking workers and have repercussions on the levels of customer service.
In response, Santander brought a case claiming moral damages against the Sindicato dos Bancários e Financiários de São Paulo, Osasco e Região, the Federação dos Trabalhadores em Empresas de Crédito de São Paulo (FETEC/SP) and the Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores no Ramo Financeiro (CONTRAF), alleging that the actions of these organisations had caused “irreparable damage to Santander’s image (…) bordering on barbarity”, to quote the terms used in the legal action.
The bank employed the strategy of bringing an issue before the courts that should be addressed in the workplace. CONTRAF commented that this type of anti-trade union practice had been used by the financial institution in 2011 in an attempt to intimidate workers’ representatives.
In January 2013, Cicero Guedes, a leader of the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais sem Terra (MST) was ambushed and killed near a sugar cane industrial complex. A former sugar cane cutter, he was cycling home from a meeting to negotiate a solution to the disputes between rural families and the Usina Cambahyba, a complex of seven farms totalling 3,500 hectares.
In February 2012, the government of Bahia and Rio de Janeiro States refused to negotiate with striking police officers and fire fighters. Demonstrations were criminalised and several leaders were arrested. In Brazil, fire fighters and police officers are military personnel and as such are forbidden from organising in trade unions or engaging in industrial action.
On 21 October, the Sindicato Nacional dos Aeroportuários (SINA) led a 48-hour stoppage at Viracopos airport in the city of Campinas, around 100 km from Sao Paulo, in protest at the concession model chosen by the Brazilian government. Under the new model, ground operations, cargo handling, air navigation, fare control, specialised engineering and maintenance services will be contracted out to private companies, making employment conditions more precarious. The workers are still calling for their rights to be protected.
Municipal cemetery workers in charge of burials in the city of Sao Paulo, affiliated to the Sindicato dos Trabalhadores na Administração Pública e Autarquias do Município de São Paulo (Sindesp), went on strike on 30 August. The action went on for seven days. The workers were demanding a pay rise of 39%, given that their wages had not been reviewed since 1995.