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CUPE researcher Cheryl Stadnichuck is in Brazil studying for her master’s degree at the Global Labour University, one of four set up around the world. Her is her report on May Day events in the South American country.

“During May Day week, Brazil’s newspapers were filled with jubilation over the recent ‘investment grade’ given to Brazil by Standard and Poors. It is another positive sign of a growing economy and confidence in this middle-income country’s ability to attract foreign investment.

“Although the standard economic indicators have never been better for Brazil (consistently high GDP growth, increase in new jobs in the formal sector, expanding exports, etc.) the good news bubble is burst with the reality of persistent poverty and inequality in Brazil. Brazil has one of the highest levels of income disparity in the world.

“The CUT, Brazil’s largest trade union central, says now is the time to share the economic wealth in the country. They have launched a campaign to reduce the work week from 44 to 40 hours, without a reduction in pay. The reduced work week was a major rallying call at May Day events throughout the country.

“Using data from the economic research institute DIEESE, the CUT points out that reducing the work week would create almost 2.3 million new jobs in the economy, helping to address high levels of unemployment and informal work. Wages represent less than 10 per cent of the total costs of production, which means employers can easily absorb the additional wage costs of a reduced workweek. The CUT also argues that a reduced work week will increase productivity, give workers more time to upgrade their skills and allow them to spend quality time with family.

The last time the work week was reduced was in 1988, when the new constitution enshrined a 44-hour work week, down from 48 hours.

In addition to the reduced work week, Brazilian trade unions are pressuring Congress to vote in favour of a bill recently signed by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to ratify ILO Conventions 151 and 158.

Convention 151 gives public sector workers the right to collectively bargain and 158 prevents employers from dismissing workers without just cause.