Since 1943, Brazilian labor legislation has had more than 500 changes in its articles. For experts, the 2017 reform was the one that most harmed workers. In the 1940s, there was a national and international context that demanded better regulation of work, it is true. But then-president Getúlio Vargas (1882-1945) also squandered populism when he presented the Consolidation of Labor Laws, known by the acronym CLT, on May 1, 1943, Labor Day.
Since then, more than 500 adjustments and modifications have been made to the catalog of 922 articles distributed in eight chapters. And, especially after the major reform carried out in 2017, under the Michel Temer government, specialists see the Brazilian labor legislation weakened.
“For 80 years, it was the biggest reform [da CLT]because it changed more than 100 devices”, evaluates the lawyer Fabíola Marques, professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP) and former president of the Association of Labor Lawyers of São Paulo. “It did not kill the CLT, but it brought many damage to workers, reducing protection, reducing rights and creating difficulties for employees to demand correct compliance with the law.”
She says that, “contrary to what was promised”, Temer’s reform “did not create new jobs, it did not strengthen unions or negotiation and, as if that were not enough, it brought risks to employees who, for not having their rights observed, are compelled to bring action to the judiciary”.
For lawyer Luiz Carlos Corrêa, professor at Escola Superior de Propaganda e Marketing (ESPM), among the negative impacts resulting from the 2017 reform is the expansion of “precariousness” and the worsening of “insertion in the labor market”: “The created are also in worse conditions. One of the arguments of those who defended the reform was the creation of more jobs, but we saw the opposite.”
In 2019, for the first time in history, Brazil was included in the list of the ten worst countries in the world for the working class, according to the Global Index of Rights released during the 108th International Labor Conference, an entity linked to the United Nations (UN) ). The same list includes countries such as Zimbabwe, Philippines, Kazakhstan, Bangladesh and Guatemala.
But it is not just criticism that weighs on the 2017 reform. Lawyer Tatiana Ferraz, a researcher at the University of São Paulo (USP), where she is part of the Study Group on Contemporary Labor Law, and professor at Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie, argues that the implemented changes were “necessary for adapting the labor legislation to the new typologies created in the last decades”.
She defends the need to create a code of its own for labor law. “Our legislator still insists on ‘patching’ the CLT, missing the opportunity to create a code, despite the fact that the labor reform has been the greatest to date in our system”, argues the professor. “This is the result of a conservative system still attached to protectionist roots, which are no longer justified by 100% of employees.”
Among all the “patches”, other adjustments stand out in addition to the reform of the Temer government. The 1946 Constitution, for example, transformed the Labor Court into a body of the judiciary, recognizing its autonomy. In 1966, the 13th salary was created. Three years later, there was regulation of paid weekly rest and work on Sundays and holidays. The 1988 Constitution established minimum rights for workers. The law that currently regulates strikes is from the following year.
More recently, in 2019, the so-called economic freedom law was instituted, which expanded the range of activities with permission to work on Sundays. “In addition, in the pandemic, Brazil had several provisional measures, some converted into law, allowing the adoption of measures to make some labor rights more flexible”, stresses Ferraz. “In 2022, we had a law […] with important changes for telecommuting and meal vouchers.”
Historical context and protectionism
Although there is no consensus, many experts see a fascist inspiration in the creation of the CLT. Not only because the Vargas government, the so-called Estado Novo, was a dictatorship, but because of the similarities with the Carta del Lavoro, published in Italy in 1927 by the fascist party of Benito Mussolini (1883-1945).
“The CLT was born in a context that had been going on since the 1930s, with the increase, not only in Brazil but throughout the world, of the need to guarantee labor rights”, says lawyer Maria Lucia Benhame, director-president of the São Paulo Association of Relations and Union Studies.
She explains that the government was concerned about “defending against communism” and “it is in this context that the CLT was born”, “by decree, not from a democratic discussion, from a parliament, but from a presidential decree based on the dictatorial letter” .
For the expert, the CLT was motivated by the interest “of state control over labor relations, based on the search for social peace”, in a logic in which “individual rights are granted in a governmental way by a populist dictator who had the blemish of be called ‘father of the poor'”.
Tatiana Ferraz points out that the legislation “was created in a context of a controlling State, which was evident in the creation of the single union”. “The objective was to create a single document that could bring workers’ rights in a clear and accessible way, in a context of economic acceleration, which generated an increase in the supply of jobs, but accentuated the terrible working conditions and social inequality.”
From then on, the national imagination was also created that Brazilian labor legislation was very protective and burdensome for employers. Which, compared to other countries, is not always a correct view.
Ferraz evaluates that the local labor legislation is “comprehensive, when compared to the United States […]which does not have a federal labor law”. “On the other hand, France has a labor code providing for a shorter working day than Brazil and protection against arbitrary dismissal.”
Fabiola Marques understands the protectionism of Brazilian labor legislation as a necessity, “because there is no equality of conditions between employee and employer”. “It depends: if we compare with China, [a lei brasileira] It’s much more protective. Compared to Germany, France and Spain, it is no longer beneficial.”
“Is important [salientar] that the problem of unemployment in the country is not due to labor legislation, but to social and economic factors”, defends Marques. “As long as there is no guarantee of education and income distribution in Brazil, employees will continue to be exploited. With or without protective legislation, since there is no inspection either.”