Brazil: High Court OKs Labor Negotiations Without Unions

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By Ed Taylor

Sept. 1—In a precedent-setting decision, Brazil's highest labor court has ruled that workers and management can negotiate work agreements without the involvement of unions in situations where the local union has refused to bargain.

The fact that virtually every type of labor agreement in Brazil requires the approval of a union has created situations where employees of a company have approved an agreement that was later rejected by the local union for political reasons.

In a decision announced Aug. 26, Brazil's Superior Labor Court overturned a lower court decision that had rejected an agreement reached by Braskem S.A., Latin America's largest petrochemical firm, with its employees at a refinery in southern Brazil. Under that accord, the employees agreed to 12-hour shifts over a two-year period.

Responding to Braskem's argument that the local union had refused to take part in negotiations, the superior court ruled that under special conditions Brazil's consolidated labor laws (CLT) and the 1988 revision of the constitution permit collective bargaining without the participation of unions. According to the court, these special conditions include the refusal of the local union to negotiate coupled with an unsuccessful attempt to involve the confederation to which the local belongs in resolving the issue.

Dangerous Precedent?

Attorney Victor Russomano of Brasilia-based Russomano Advocacia represented Braskem in its appeal and told Bloomberg BNA via e-mail that the decision is a major victory for companies and sets an important precedent.

“It was made clear that the CLT permission for agreements without labor unions remains in effect under the new constitution,” Russomano said.

The representative of the labor union involved in the dispute, attorney Marthius Savio Cavalcante Lobato of the law firm Lobato Attorneys and Judicial Consulting in Brasilia, argued before the court that the union had not refused to negotiate but that it was impossible to reach an agreement.

Lobato called the superior court's ruling a dangerous precedent for workers in that it allows situations where they are not represented by unions.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ed Taylor in Rio de Janeiro at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Vollmar at rvollmar@bna.com

For More Information

For more information on Brazilian HR law and regulation, see the Brazil primer.

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