Six years ago, on May 12, 2016, Brazil’s Senate approved the opening of impeachment proceedings against the then-President Dilma Rousseff (Workers Party). The session started on the previous day and lasted for 20 hours. On the morning of May 12, the coup was endorsed by senators, and the president was removed from office (in principle, temporarily).
Promising to unlock the economy and generate jobs, Michel Temer (Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement, also known as PMDB) became president. It marked the beginning of an era of destruction of labor rights that made the population poor and more vulnerable to the crisis to come.
During the Senate voting in May 2016, those parliamentarians who supported impeachment were enthusiastic. “Today, we fulfilled our role of building a better country”, said Zezé Perrella (PMDB). Magno Malta (Liberal Party) elaborated further: “We are facing a feverish body that will recover its health”.
But some warned about the dangers of it. Among opposing senators, Randolfe Rodrigues (Sustainability Network Party, also known as Rede) said that the “measures announced for the future” were actually “a leap into the past”. Heard or read today, the words of Senator Telmário Mota (Republican Party of Social Order, also known as PROS) seem even prophetic: “The greater damage will be to the population”.
In 2022, inflation, a fall in labor income and unemployment make Brazil a livable country only for wealthy individuals. This scenario is possible thanks to many measures that could only exist without Dilma in the presidency.
The origin of sequential rises in fuel prices
The 2016 impeachment resulted from the dissatisfaction of part of the economic and political elite (the latter, due to Dilma’s talks with Congress), which demanded more drastic cuts in public spending and labor costs. That is the assessment of experts heard by Brasil de Fato.
The "Bridge to the Future" document, by the PMDB (currently the MDB, Brazilian Democratic Movement), materialized Temer's pact with the aforesaid interests in October 2015. The first measure, in December 2016, was the approval of Constitutional Amendment 95, which froze investments in areas such as health and education for the following 20 years.
Under Temer, in October 2016, Petrobras began to calculate fuel prices based on the international market and pass on price rises to consumers more frequently. It was the implementation of the so-called Import Parity Price or IPP.
IPP is one of the main causes of the skyrocketing prices of basic items such as cooking gas and food, which corrodes workers’ wages. According to experts, expensive fuel directly influences a hike in prices of other economy segments and produces a general rise in prices.
Its effects can be seen in the data recently released by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE, in Portuguese). Accumulated inflation over the last 12 months is 11.3%. It is the highest figure in 27 years and one of the highest since the launching of the Real Plan (Plano Real, in Portuguese), a series of measures taken in the 1990s by the Brazilian government to stabilize the country’s economy.
Jobless and rightless workers
In March 2017, Congress approved “unrestricted outsourcing”, even when it comes to the core business of companies in question. It was the sign of the labor reform, which passed Congress in record time and came into force in July of the same year.
More than 200 changes in legislation have been introduced, according to the Permanent Forum to Defend the Rights of Workers Threatened with Outsourcing. In the Consolidated Labor Laws alone, there were 130 changes. None of them expanded workers' rights before their employers.
Having fewer rights, informal and self-employed workers, which became the majority group in 2017, were affected and, today, depend on emergency aid, which, in its turn, does not cover even half of the cost of a basic-needs grocery package.
The so-called “intermittent labor”, provided for by the labor reform, radicalized this situation. In this modality, the worker is available to the company to work when it needs to.
According to data from the General Registry of Employed and Unemployed Workers (Caged, in Portuguese), the intermittent labor contracts, which were among the main bets of Temer's economic team to generate jobs, accounted for 19% of new formal jobs in Brazil in 2019.
In 2019, 25% of the intermittent labor contracts had no labor hour, consequently, the worker wasn’t paid.
The end of the Ministry of Labor, disinvestment in regulatory bodies and extinction of mandatory union dues disrupted the organization of workers, making difficult an organized reaction against the measures.
The “arranged over the legislated” also came into force, just as part of the business sector wanted since the 1990s. In other words, the result of the negotiation between employer and employee, in evidently unequal conditions, can override the law.
To top it off, then came the welfare reform. In 2018, an electoral year, Temer failed to approve it. The task was handed to current President Jair Bolsonaro (Liberal Party), which did so in 2019, approving a law already approved by Congress. It had more favorable rules for the military, Bolsonaro’s supporters base.
Between February 2019 and February this year, the price of basic-needs grocery packages jumped by 48.3%. During this period, the price increased from about R$ 482,40 (U$ 93,95) to R$ 715,65 (U$ 139,37). The hike is twice as high as the accumulated inflation, 21.5%, checked by the National Broad Consumer Price Index (IPCA, in Portuguese), measured by IBGE.
Transportation and food contributed to about 72% of IPCA in March, confirming that inflation is too high for poor people, which take public transport and spend almost all their salary buying food. With skyrocketing prices, cooking gas increased by 6.6% only in March.
More than half of the Brazilian population deals with some level of food insecurity: 116 million people. At least 19 million people are starving, a situation worsened by the pandemic and economic crisis in the country. The data were collected at the end of 2021, according to a survey by the Brazilian Research Network on Food and Nutrition Sovereignty and Security (Rede Penssan, in Portuguese).
Edited by: Felipe Mendes