Brazil: Supreme Court Eases Restrictions on Working Hours

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By Ed Taylor

Sept. 19—A ruling by Brazil's supreme court has opened the door for flexibility in setting working hours for company employees.

On Sept. 14, the court declared constitutional a 2009 law setting 12-hour shifts for firefighters with total weekly hours not to exceed 36. Federal prosecutors had argued that the law, although approved by unions, violated Brazil's constitution which sets the workday at a maximum of eight hours and the workweek at 44 hours.

While the court stated that the law established special conditions only for one specific job category, it added that this type of agreement between management and labor can be used to expand the daily hours for other job categories without violating the constitution, setting a major precedent in the minds of labor attorneys.

Speaking for the court's majority, Minister Edson Fachin said that the 2009 law does not violate the constitution because the weekly hours did not surpass 44 and there was no damage to the health of the workers.

According to attorney Eliane Gago Ribeiro of the law firm DGCGT Advogados, 12-hour shifts followed by rest periods of 36 hours are used by several job categories including hospital staff and security personnel.

Labor Reform

Attorney Andre Villac Polinesio of the firm Peixoto & Cury Advogados told Bloomberg BNA via e-mail Sept. 15 that the court's ruing is in line with the labor reform proposal now being prepared by Brazil's new government, which took office in May promising a major overhaul of the country's antiquated and highly bureaucratic labor legislation.

On Sept. 8, Labor Minister Ronaldo Nogueira said that the government's reform will permit the negotiation of daily working hours provided the weekly total does not exceed 44 hours plus a four-hour overtime ceiling.

Formalizing this option, Nogueira said, will make it possible to protect workday agreements from being overturned later by labor court judges, a frequent occurrence today. Nogueira added that the reform will stress the right of management and unions to reach agreements that do not follow labor legislation.

Basic labor rights will be maintained under the new law, Nogueira said, but several other areas will be opened to negotiations between management and labor, including the sensitive subject of outsourcing, a practice opposed by powerful union confederations.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ed Taylor in Rio de Janeiro at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Vollmar at

For More Information

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

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