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Court Rulings Set Stage for Debate on Labor Laws

Court Rulings Set Stage for Debate on Labor Laws

Many people believe that Brazil’s old labor laws should be updated to fit the modern economy. President Michel Temer is among those embracing labor reform. According to news reports, Temer has pledged to champion changes that would favor collective bargaining agreements over the old and restrictive labor laws in Brazil. But these changes, which initially encountered court support, might now be held up by a higher court ruling.

In September, the Supreme Court ruled that companies and unions can lawfully agree to expand the workday beyond the established hourly limits. But later, the Supreme Labor Court issued a contradictory ruling. In a case involving an agreement to change work hours, the labor court ruled that collective bargaining agreements do not take precedence over labor laws, Bloomberg BNA reported.

The court left open the possibility that a contractual agreement that contradicts the country’s statutory labor laws may be legal under certain circumstances. However, the court did not specify or define what circumstances would qualify for those exceptions. That level of detail might need to come from a different branch of government. Justice José Roberto Freire Pimenta said that the parameters for establishing the limits of collective bargaining should be set by Congress or the president, rather than by judges, Bloomberg BNA reported.

There has been movement at the legislative level for changes to the laws for temporary workers. Temer’s administration has proposed a law that would expand the workday for temporary workers from eight to 12 hours, according to teleSUR. In announcing the proposal, Ronaldo Nogueira de Oliveira, the Minister of Labor, said that the average 44-hour workweek would remain in place. Labor officials, however, are critical of that plan. Vagner Freitas of the Central Única labor union told teleSUR that the Temer government’s proposal will take away worker rights.

Many in the legal community see the labor court’s ruling as an affirmation of its traditional authority over labor matters. But that court’s decisions will not be the last word on these labor matters. Employers and labor advocates are both pressing for changes. The next moves on labor reform will come from lawmakers.

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