After a negotiation process that resulted in an agreement
described as “historic” by the parties involved, the
Federation of Rural Laborers of the State of São Paulo (FERAESP)
participated in a meeting with President Lula.
with Elio Neves, president of the Federation, to learn the
details of the agreement and the meeting with Lula.
-Tell us the reason you met with President Lula.
-On Monday, May 4, we met with President Lula to
inform him of the outcome of a process that began last year
with a Dialogue Table that was set up by the Presidency of
the Republic to discuss the situation of Brazil’s
The table was formed by a government delegation with
representatives from several Ministries, and delegations of
National Confederation of Agriculture Workers (CONTAG)
and FERAESP representatives. Management was also
present at the table, through representatives of São Paulo’s
Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA) and the
National Sugar-Alcohol Forum.
meetings held over the second half of last year and
throughout 2009, we presented the President with a document
containing a proposal for a national agreement to adapt and
incorporate best business practices in the industry’s
treatment of sugarcane cutters across Brazil.
-What was the President’s reaction?
-He’s going to study the document with his team of advisors,
and if they agree with the contents, a solemn ceremony will
be held at the end of May, organized by the President, to
announce this agreement to the people of Brazil.
-What are the main points in the agreement?
most important item is that the
refineries have undertaken to hire all sugarcane cutters
directly, and to register them with the Social Security
Agency, promising to no longer resort to the outsourcing
agents commonly known as “cats,” who refinery owners have
been using until now to avoid their social responsibilities.
This is a significant gain for workers, because our struggle
has traditionally been marked by enormous efforts to remove
the middleman from labor contracting, as middlemen have
always been highly responsibly for increasing labor
instability. In the case of seasonal and migrant workers,
employers have assumed the obligation of hiring sugarcane
cutters directly at their place of origin, and to hire them
in coordination with the National Employment Service (SINE),
wherever this service is available.
Employers have also assumed the obligation of providing
workers with roundtrip transportation to and from their
housing and eating facilities.
Another very important point is that
commissions or prizes based on work volume, which benefited
workers who gather the product on the fields, have been
eliminated. We think that this will go a long way towards
helping to eliminate long workdays, the so-called “exaustão,”
and other deplorable situations that are caused by the
pressures suffered by workers in their workplace.
This document also creates a Permanent Committee to evaluate
and negotiate the agreement’s implementation process. In
all, 16 items were negotiated, covering a range of issues,
from health to safety to food, transportation, etc.
-It’s a huge success for workers!
very significant, because as far back as 2002 FERAESP
had presented UNICA with a list of demands containing
all of these items that are now being fully incorporated in
this agreement. Several of these demands had already been
achieved here in São
Paulo, through strikes and mobilizations, but now they will
be applied nationwide.
should be noted that in these negotiations FERAESP worked
side by side with CONTAG to defend sugarcane cutters
throughout the country.
When this commitment is signed and becomes final, it will be
a historic moment for Brazil because for the first
time ever the work of the sugarcane cutters will have been
debated and considered at the level of the Presidency of the
-What was the scope of these negotiations?
-They covered all of the country’s refineries, which are
more than 400 in total and directly employ some 850 thousand
-Where is the agreement now?
-It’s being studied by the Presidency of the Republic’s
Legal Advisors, and once they’re finished studying it, it
will be submitted to the President for his signature.
-Was this the first time FERAESP and CONTAG joined forces?
-In this kind of action, yes, it was the first time. From
that perspective it is also a historic event, because
despite of our differences in terms of political and labor
views, we worked very well together, and this spirit of
unity was decisive in achieving a successful outcome in the
process of negotiation.
I would also like to underline that the IUF, through
its Latin American Regional Office, contributed from the
start to the negotiations, because even before FERAESP
joined the IUF, during the period in which it was
considering its affiliation, the IUF helped us see
how useful market tools can be in worker-employer
The IUF worked extremely well with the National
Confederation of Agriculture Workers (CONTAC) and
FERAESP, organizing seminars here in São Paulo, giving
us the possibility of participating in activities in
Mexico, in the international sugar seminar in Germany,
and in other events in Buenos Aires. These contacts with
fellow workers from other regions in the world enabled
FERAESP to devise this policy directly. The exchange and
participation made possible by the IUF were
instrumental in the early stages of the process that
culminated in this agreement.
Lastly, I would like to stress the significance of the
international campaign conducted by the IUF to
denounce the working conditions of Brazil’s sugarcane
cutters, a reality that we hope will now begin to change.