The health of hundreds of thousands of meat plant workers in Brazil is at risk due to an industry-backed plan to reduce breaks given to employees, workers rights groups in the country say.
Amid a pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 350,000 Brazilians, President Jair Bolsonaro’s government, parliament, and meat industry have been pushing for a review of the laws and regulations that protect workers at the Brazilian plants. sacrifice.
The new rules under discussion would limit the regular breaks given to workers who endure cold temperatures, which labor specialists say helps reduce the potential for injury.
“It is inconceivable that during the worst health crisis in history, when slaughterhouse workers were classified as essential and continued to work normally to guarantee the supply of food to society, they were eliminated from any rights related to health and safety in work, ”he said. Lincoln Cordeiro, who works for the Labor Prosecutor’s Office, a federal agency in Brazil, independent of the government.
The 20 minute breaks every hour and 40 minutes allow for “thermal recovery” from low temperatures. The proposed changes would mean that these breaks would only be granted to employees subject to temperatures below 4 ° C or loads moving between locations with a 10 ° C difference in temperature. This would cover around 5% of plant workers of meat, says Cordeiro.
“There are studies showing that continuous work in a cold environment impairs muscles and neuronal function,” Cordeiro said. “Exposure to cold air also causes inflammatory changes and worsening of the respiratory system.”
The revision of labor standards in meat plants comes at a time when doubts are being raised in Europe about the sustainability of Brazilian meat exports, worth a record $ 17 billion in 2020.
Under Bolsonaro, illegal deforestation in sensitive biomes has skyrocketed. A vast expanse of Amazon rainforest seven times the size of Greater London was deforested between August 2019 and July last year.
“The business sector has lobbied the government, arguing that the current rules are causing harm,” said Célio Elias, leader of the Democratic Federation of Food Industry Workers in Santa Catarina, a major poultry-producing state. “[But] If worker protection is undermined, we will see large numbers of people injured and maimed. We have no doubts about it. “
There were almost 23,000 accidents at meat slaughter plants in Brazil in 2019, according to the Statistical Yearbook of Work Accidents, an average of 62 a day.
In addition to the proposed changes to the country’s labor code, the Bolsonaro government announced plans to revise federal rules (known as NR36) that cover the minimum distance between workers and the use of adequate furniture to avoid accidents, as well as times of break.
The Brazilian Association of Animal Protein (ABPA), which represents the country’s poultry and pork industries, said the proposed changes to Brazil’s labor code would “align them with international rules” and give workers a more flexible model of breaks. than not forcing them to leave the premises.
Both ABPA and the Ministry of Economy Ministry of Labor said the changes to NR36 were designed to “simplify, harmonize and reduce bureaucracy.” The ABPA added in a statement that the revision of NR36 was necessary “due to advances in production technologies” and that “the work is essentially guided by the constant improvement of the health and safety conditions of all workers.”
The Brazilian Association of Meat Export Industries (Abiec), which includes cattle slaughterhouses, did not comment on the proposed changes to the labor code or NR36.
Carlos Juliano Barros is an investigative reporter for Repórter Brasil
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