Labour unions protest Brazil President Temer’s economic reforms

Workers rage against Temer’s agenda for changing labour and pensions laws, holding nationwide demonstrations in the Latin American country.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A member of Brazil's Homeless Workers Movement (MTST) protests against President Michel Temer's proposal to reform Brazil's social security system, during the general strike in Eldorado do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil. June 30, 2017.

Labour unions on Friday held a nationwide strike in Brazil to protest against legislative changes on labour and pension law that are central to the economic reform agenda of President Michel Temer.

Subway and bus services shut down in the capital Brasilia while demonstrations blocked roads and snarled traffic in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro as union activists took to the streets.

The unions are angry over Temer’s labour reform bill as it reduces their power over workplaces by cutting mandatory dues and allowing companies and employees to negotiate contract terms more freely.

They also oppose Temer’s pension overhaul proposal as it would make Brazilians work more years before retiring.

Demonstrators prepare a burning barricade during a protest against President Michel Temer's proposal reform of Brazil's social security system in the general strike in Sao Paulo, Brazil, June 30, 2017. (Reuters)

Economists and investors see pension reform as the only way for Brazil to shore up its finances in the long run without resorting to tax hikes. 

Brazil's largest oil workers federation said in an emailed statement that Friday's work stoppage would continue for an indefinite period and that all 10 refineries where it represents workers were affected.

Executives at state-controlled oil company Petróleo Brasileiro SA acknowledged that the job action had a limited impact at oil refineries. But they said exploration and production activity, along with logistics, carried on as normal.

The bill has already been approved by the lower house of Congress and will likely pass the Senate within a few weeks.

Protests were smaller than in a nationwide strike two months ago.

Riot police clash with demonstrators at a protest against President Michel Temer's proposal reform of Brazil's social security system during a general strike in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 30, 2017. (Reuters)

Corruption investigation

Protests came after Brazil was riveted this week by a corruption charge filed against President Temer by the country's top prosecutor.

Temer, who replaced impeached leftist President Dilma Rousseff last year, was charged with graft on Monday by Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot after executives of the world's biggest meatpacker, JBS SA, accused him of taking millions in bribes.

He has denied any wrongdoing and resisted repeated calls to resign.

The charge, the first ever levelled against a sitting president in Brazil, marked a milestone in a three-year probe by investigators that has revealed stunning levels of corruption in Latin America's largest country.

Temer, one-third of his cabinet, four past presidents and dozens of lawmakers are either on trial, facing charges or under investigation for corruption.

Over 90 people have been found guilty so far.

The lower house of Congress is preparing to vote on whether he should face a trial in the Supreme Court, which would prompt his removal from office for at least 180 days.

Other criminal charges against Temer are widely expected to be filed by Janot, and a ruling on Friday by Supreme Court Judge Edson Fachin appeared to come in anticipation of that.

Fachin said each and every charge against the president would have to be investigated separately, meaning that Temer could potentially face more than one trial before the court.