Workers Can be Fired Without Just Cause in Brazil
TRNN REPLAY: During a 2009 strike of Canadian Nickel miners, Brazilian
trade unions came to Canada to express solidarity and spoke about
conditions for workers in Brazil.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Hi. I’m Paul Jay in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, for The Real News Network. I’m at Vale Inco, the world’s largest nickel mine. Behind me, these trucks are filled with ore, with precious metals. Vale Inco has been on strike by members of the United Steelworkers for nine weeks. Vale Inco wants to get these trucks into that smelter. It’s not a meaningful amount of ore, but they’re trying to establish the legal precedent that they can break through the picket lines. But this is really part of a much bigger struggle, really a global struggle. It’s clear to all these workers, if they can’t coordinate their fight against Vale internationally, they’re not going to have much strength. Today in Sudbury, leaders of international unions from around the world came to express their solidarity.
LEO GERARD: No contract, no peace. Vale Inco came to Sudbury and promised all kinds of things. In the 30 months that they were here, they made $4.2 billion—with a "B"—of profit. During that period of time, they extracted the wealth from our community and moved it offshore. The wealth we create in Sudbury flies right over Toronto and Ottawa and goes to bankers in Japan and in New York and in Great Britain and in Germany—and, yes, in Brazil, too. And the workers in Brazil, the workers in Brazil get treated like chattel. When you hear their spokesmen say that Vale wants a unified business model all around the globe, the unified business model they’re talking about is what our friends in Brazil are struggling to change. I got an answer for them: the best business model that they should follow is the one we brought to Sudbury to get us a decent pension, decent wages, decent health and safety, and gives our members rights on the job. That’s the model they ought to follow; that’s the model that will bring them success. In the 1970s, while we were struggling to establish decent standards and we had to have a strike almost every negotiations to get some dignity, they then called for the nationalization of Inco. I think it’s time that we called for it again. These resources belong to us. These resources belong to us. As we get ourselves run over in Sudbury, that workers all around the world will get run over, because this is the strongest mining local in the world. We have the best collective agreement in mining in the world.
SHARAN BURROW, PRESIDENT, INT’L TRADE UNION CONFEDERATION: You are standing up for yourselves, for your children, for your community. But you know what? You’re standing up to one of the biggest corporate bullies around the world. And so that means you’re standing up for all of us. And we say congratulations.
MANFRED WARDA, GEN. SECRETARY, INT’L FED. OF CHEMICAL, ENERGY, MINE, AND GEN. WORKERS’ UNIONS: I’m proud to convey to you a message of solidarity from 20 million workers that are represented by our affiliates worldwide.
JYRKI RAINA, GEN. SECRETARY, INT’L METALWORKERS’ FEDERATION: The company’s collective bargaining offer in July was about corporate greed and a race to the bottom. You, you were determined to say no. And today the world’s metalworkers stand together with you. We say no.
NAPOLEON GOMEZ URUTIA, GEN. SECRETARY, NAT’L UNION OF MINEWORKERS, MEXICO: I’m here to express the solidarity of the mine, metal, and the steelworkers union in Mexico. You are not alone! You have the solidarity of all the workers and trade unionists from all over the world.
JORGE CAMPOS, GENERAL SECRETARY, SINDIMINA (BRAZILIAN MINEWORKERS) (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): This company, Vale, that became an international company is trying to take away the rights of the workers. But the solidarity and the struggle of the workers is going to defeat this attempt to break us!
EDWARDO PINTO, PRESIDENT, STEFEM (BRAZILIAN RAILWAY WORKERS) (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): In Brazil, we used to have wonderful benefits. But we lost our benefits when the company was privatized. We lost 20 percent in overtime pay, we lost subsidies for education and for health care, and we lost the most important benefit that today you are fighting for, which is your pension fund.
ARTUR HENRIQUE DA SILVA SANTOS, PRESIDENT, BRAZIL’S CENTRAL UNICA DOS TRABALHADORES (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): You are not alone.
SANTOS (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): I want to tell you that we in Brazil are going to mobilize the workers and the communities to make sure that Vale doesn’t send strikebreakers and scabs to Sudbury.
JAY: What percentage of Vale does the Brazilian government own? And how much leverage does the Brazilian government have with Vale?
SANTOS: In the past government, when Fernando Henrique Cardoza was president, Vale was privatized in 1997. Today the owners of the company are really investors and bankers, bankers from the United States, bankers from Japan, bankers from Brazil, bankers from England, and pension funds. The government of Brazil in itself has about 10 percent of the shares of the company. But the government has asked for help for the company from Brazilian national development banks. Brazil has some nationalized banks. So that’s why our position is that these state-owned banks should only be able to invest in the company if there is a counterpoint, if there’s an addition of defense of the rights of the workers to have jobs and income.
JAY: You signed a solidarity agreement today. What does that mean practically?
SANTOS: In practice, we signed an agreement that goes beyond just the exchange of solidarity. We’re going to do actions together around the world in places where Vale is, and we’re going to say that if Vale wants to do one business model around the world, it should be the best business model for workers as well and not the worst.
JAY: Have there been actual attempts to bring Brazilian miners to Canada? And what are you going to do about it?
SANTOS: We’re not going to be able to prevent the company from bringing supervisors and directors here to Canada. But we can, in fact, and will do assemblies and educate Brazilian workers about what’s going on and encourage them not to accept any kind of proposal from the company to come to Canada and take the jobs of Canadian workers who are on strike, fighting for their rights.
REPORTER: Could this happen in Brazil, where most of the workers at a Vale operation go on strike and shut down the operations indefinitely until they get a mutually acceptable agreement?
SANTOS: Unfortunately, in Brazil, our legislation is different. In Brazil we have a labor court that has the right to make decisions when there’s a conflict between workers and companies, and this labor court in 90 percent of the cases rules on the side of the company and forces the workers to return to work, which means that the strike has to end. This is the kind of model that we don’t want around the world.
REPORTER: Is it the case, as we’re hearing, that workers in Brazil are routinely replaced every three years, so that they—you know, for no cause?
SANTOS: Brazil does not have a law that protects against firings without just cause. So that you have an idea, last year in Brazil we had 16.5 million new jobs created, new workers hired, but we had 15 million workers who were fired. Eighty percent of these workers have between one and three years on the job. This high rotation of workers in Brazil allows companies to fire a worker who earns $1,000 a month to hire another one who earns $500 a month. And it’s not only the workers that suffer with this fall in their income, but so do community businesses and communities in general suffer with the fall of income.
GERARD: If I can interject, that’s the model they’re trying to bring to Sudbury, and they’re trying to bring that model through the collective bargaining process, as opposed to the legislative process, because they know that legislatively it could never be accomplished. And when they say they want a unified business model across all their units, this is the model they’re talking about.
REPORTER: What do you think about the idea of nationalizing, you know, certain resources?
SANTOS: We defend that natural resources should belong to the country where they are.
REPORTER: So does that mean you would disagree with what happened here in Canada, with Vale Inco buying, taking over a large mining company?
SANTOS: We in Brazil were against the privatization of this company, Vale, in 1997, as we’re against the privatization of companies anyplace in the world. Unfortunately, around the world, neoliberal policies were implemented that reduced the important role of governments, of states, and make multinational companies more important than countries.
TRANSLATOR: And make multinational companies more important than countries,—
SANTOS: [another language]
TRANSLATOR: —which puts the resources in the hands of very few people around the world.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.