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Economy, Labor

military coup, female employment, social legislation, metal workers, legal recognition

In 2000 the labor force in Brazil was 79.7 million people, of whom 36 percent were women. Unemployment was estimated at 9.6 percent in 1999, but that figure may be imprecise, due to the number of people holding part-time jobs or working in unreported employment, particularly in the cities. Urban-based employment surpasses agricultural-based employment, with much of its growth in service jobs rather than manufacturing. Expansion of the service sector has been especially important for female employment; 70 percent of women work in services, as opposed to 40 percent of men.

The government first granted legal recognition to labor organizations in 1907. In 1931 President Getulio Vargas created a government-supervised trade union structure. Strikes were forbidden, but labor courts assessed workers’ grievances. The Vargas government also instituted social legislation that was advanced for its time, regulating hours of work and establishing a minimum wage, worker training, and health care. By 1944 there were 800 unions, with over 500,000 members. During the 1950s labor became more militant, and there was pressure for a central labor organization and moves to unionize rural labor.

Following the 1964 military coup, the government purged the leadership of unions and placed many unions under direct government control. However, continued union activism at the factory level and strikes organized by workers were factors in ending the military regime. Unions reemerged following the return of civilian rule in 1985, and central labor organizations were legalized. During the 1990s the number of unions grew into the thousands and included factory and rural workers, employers, and professionals. In addition to umbrella organizations such as the Central Union of Workers and the General Confederation of Workers, both formed in 1983, there are unions for specific industries, such as metal workers, and for sectors of the economy, such as commerce, transport, and education.

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