For the original in Portuguese published in O Dia, click here.
Rio de Janeiro–Friday August 14, the Ministry of Labor in Rio de Janeiro (MPT-RJ) and the Ministry of Labor and Employment (MTE) rescued 11 workers in a situation analogous to slavery, all living in one house and one kitchenette, without sewage pipes, amongst rats and cockroaches. According to the investigation, the workers had come from other states to work for the contractor Brasil Global Serviços, that manages construction of the Ilha Pura (Pure Island) Project, a residential complex that will house the Olympic Village and serve as lodging for athletes and organizers. During the inspection conducted by the two agencies, the workers were found living in degrading conditions in lodgings provided by the company.
According to Valéria Correa, the state prosecutor responsible for the investigation, the workers were brought from their home states with the promise of room and board, and reimbursement for travel expenses. However, they were found living in a house and two kitchenette apartments in the Beira Rio community, without a stable structure and minimal conditions of hygiene. “There were cockroaches, rats and sewage in the residences. Many slept outside of the property, because of the extent of the filth,” said the state prosecutor.
The company Brasil Global has around 300 employees. According to information offered by company representatives in a meeting with the MPT-RJ, the company hires labor for the Ilha Pura Complex in Recreio, contracted by the construction company Odebrecht, in addition to construction projects in Barra da Tijuca, for Queiroz Galvão. Both companies are cited in the Operation Lava Jato corruption investigation. “We will also seek accountability from the other companies in the chain of production,” emphasized the state’s attorney.
The bricklayer Francis Silva (not his real name), 58, told how he came to live with 30 other workers in one of the homes paid for by the company. He left Santa Helena, in the state of Maranhão, attracted by the employment offer, but said that he wanted to return and find new work. “Considering the degrading lodging conditions and that there was a unilateral alteration of the contract when the company decided to stop paying the rent, the characteristic elements of working conditions analogous to slavery are present,” explained the state prosecutor.
With the rescue, the 11 workers–the majority from Maranhão, with others from Paraíba, Bahia and Espírito Santo–received all of their rights and entitlements as workers, in addition to reimbursement of expenses that should have been paid for by the contractor. As a result of the settlement signed with the MPT-RJ, the company paid approximately R$70,000 (US$20,103), in severance pay, which included vacations, overtime and payroll taxes. The company also agreed to temporarily accommodate the workers in a hotel, refund the costs of travel to Rio de Janeiro, bear the cost of return tickets to their home states, as well as any material items acquired by employees during their time in Rio.
Through the recognition of their labor rights, the workers will be able to receive unemployment insurance. By having worked in a situation recognized as analogous to slavery, they will receive the equivalent of the minimum wage as unemployment insurance for three months. With this, José Antônio (not his real name), 25, who along with his two brothers came from Turilândia, Maranhão, six months ago to work on the project, intends to return to his home city to reunite with his three sons and wife. “There isn’t a lot of opportunity for employment there, but I’d rather be there than here in these conditions. I’d prefer go back home and be close to my family,” he affirmed.
According to the state’s attorney for labor issues, Guadalupe Turos Couto, who will take over the case, the MPT-RJ will move to require the payment of individual and collective moral damages–as the company refused to pay administrative and legal fees–as well as an additional fine if the company returns to illegal work practices. In addition to work analogous to slavery, the company is being investigated for other labor irregularities such as the late payment of wages, the non-payment of severance pay and not allowing workers breaks during the workday.