Combating precarious work and promoting the creation of decent jobs are the main objectives of a partnership launched this Wednesday (20) by the presidents of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT), and the United States, Joe Biden, in New York.
The unprecedented initiative, called the Partnership for the Rights of Workers, and formalized in parallel with the UN General Assembly, will be made possible in collaboration with union partners from both countries and the International Labor Organization (ILO), in addition to other possible countries .
The presidents had a bilateral meeting before the partnership was formalized and expressed their expectations regarding it.
It was a relaxed chat full of mutual praise, in which Biden highlighted the fact that the two largest democracies in the Western Hemisphere are defending human rights.
Lula stated, referring to Biden’s recent speeches, that he had never seen an American president “speak so much and so well about workers”. And she said that this perception was endorsed by trade unionists who “said that you are the president who most defends their rights”. She also stated that work is precarious and salaries are degraded, so this partnership will be important for Brazil, the United States and the world.
The Brazilian president described the meeting as “the rebirth of a new era in relations between the United States and Brazil”, qualifying it as a sovereign relationship, between equals.
At that point, Biden broke the protocol, which provided for only one speech for each president, apologized for that and reported something he used to hear from his father: “Joe, the job involves much more than a salary. It involves dignity, it involves looking into a child’s eyes and being able to say, ‘Everything’s going to be okay, kid’.”
Then, the US president said that, in the world of work, if one gets along, everyone gets along. He also stated that when unions work well, everyone benefits. And, addressing the Brazilian, he concluded: “That’s why I’m really excited to work with you.”
Then, at the formal launch of the partnership, Biden declared that “we need to empower workers” and Lula expressed his desire to create a “new milestone in the relationship between capital and labor”, a “more civilized” milestone. She again praised an excerpt from Biden’s speech (at his inauguration) when he stated that “America’s wealth was not made by businesspeople, it was made by workers”. And she confirmed this reasoning: “This is the purest truth”.
Brazil and the USA intend, with this partnership, to work on five of the challenges they consider most urgent faced by workers around the world:
1. protect the rights of workers, as described in the fundamental ILO conventions, empowering workers, ending exploitation at work, including forced labor and child labor;
2. promotion of safe, healthy and decent work, and accountability in public and private investment;
3. promote worker-centered approaches to digital and clean energy transitions;
4. take advantage of technology for the benefit of all;
and 5. combat discrimination in the workplace, especially for women, LGBTQIA+ people, and marginalized racial and ethnic groups.
The idea is to promote collaboration between governments and union partners to advance these issues over the next year, envisioning a common agenda to discuss with other countries in the G20 and at COP 28, COP 30 and beyond.
The initiative comes at a time of labor unrest around the world, in several aspects, with emphasis on the strike in the automotive industry in the United States and the controversies surrounding the proposal to formalize transport app workers in several countries.
In the automotive industry, the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, which represents workers in the sector, began an unprecedented strike five days ago involving the country’s three main automakers: General Motors (GM), Ford and Stellantis, founded in 2019. of the union of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot Citroën.
The movement, which made almost 13,000 employees cross their arms at three factories, came after automakers reported record profits. The union demands increased wages and benefits, such as a four-day work week and an expanded retirement plan. Some benefits were lost more than a decade ago when companies came to the brink of bankruptcy in the wake of the great financial crisis of 2008.
During the meeting with Biden, Lula even commented that the Brazilian Labor Minister, Luiz Marinho, had a meeting with the American strikers the day before.
During the presidential campaign, Biden promised to be “the most pro-union president in US history”, according to visiting professor at Harvard University Law School, João Renda Leal Fernandes. Among the proposals are paid sick leave and parental leave, as well as an increase in the minimum wage to US$15 per hour. For twelve years, the value has been US$7.25 at the federal level.
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To formalize or not?
The issue of app drivers is different, because they are a huge contingent of self-employed workers who, over time and the spread of this professional activity, began to realize that they were subject to a high workload, full of obligations and charges, but without any employment relationship or labor rights.
A study linked to the University of Oxford published in March last year showed that Uber, iFood, 99, Rappi, UberEats and GetNinjas were unable to prove minimum standards of decent work. Between 2016 and 2021 alone, according to the Institute for Applied Economic Research (Ipea), the number of workers in the app delivery sector grew 979.8% in the country.
Also in 2022, the British newspaper The Guardian published a report with evidence that Uber directors had violated laws, exploited violence against drivers and pressured the American, German and French governments during its global expansion.
In Brazil, a Working Group created by the federal government seeks to regulate work via app. At the end of August, workers’ representatives rejected proposals presented by the companies and said they could carry out a national strike on September 29th for motorcyclists, drivers, motorcycle taxi drivers and cyclists if negotiations do not advance.
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On the 14th, the 4th Labor Court of São Paulo ordered Uber to recognize the employment relationship of all its drivers. The company must register all drivers with a work permit within six months, under penalty of a daily fine of R$100,000 for each unregistered driver.
A report published this Wednesday (20) in Fortune informs that a European Union proposal to regulate the formalization of application workers is in the final stage of negotiation. If approved, companies like Uber and Deliveroo will have to offer a minimum wage and benefits, such as parental leave, social security and others, as if they were full-time formal employees. According to the company, the initiative, if approved, could reduce the number of job vacancies and cause the suspension of activities in hundreds of cities.
Formalized by the ILO in 1999, the concept of decent work refers to productive and quality work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity, fundamental for overcoming poverty, reducing social inequalities, ensuring governance democracy and sustainable development. This is a central concept for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) defined by the United Nations, mentioned by Lula and other leaders who spoke at the opening of the General Assembly, this Tuesday (19).
Editing: Thales Schmidt