Lula government and platform labor in Brazil

Posted on 14.12.2022
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. at a rally in Grajau
Wagner Vilas / Shutterstock

By Rafael Grohmann, Rodrigo Carelli, Julice Salvagni, Jonas Valente, Roseli Figaro e Claudia Nociolini Rebechi

Digital labor platforms emerged in Brazil in 2014, growing in number and expanding in many different sectors in the following years. In that time, there was a process of deconstruction of labor law and social security that culminated in the 2017 Labor Reform, led by President Michel Temer and Congressman Rodrigo Maia. Such productive restructuring was another favorable nod to the financial elite since the 2016 coup in the country.

Considered by researchers in the field the most significant of all the reforms since the implementation of the Consolidation of Labor Laws (CLT) – the main labor law in Brazil, the result of this legal change was the generalized precarization of working conditions in Brazil, undoing the direction of labor protection hard won by social and union movements in the previous 50 years.

Regarding digital platforms, these are agents that deepen modes of workers exploitation, purposely orchestrated in the Brazilian political scenario from 2016 onwards, converging with a global productive transformation. Thus, this is a growing and continuous platformization of labor, which have been gradually consolidating the withdrawal of labor rights, condemning workers to days characterized by informality. Contextualizing, currently Brazil already has more than 1.5 million and a half couriers and drivers, according to IPEA data from 2022.

But platform labor goes far beyond these two categories. It involves housework and care services, annotating and training data for artificial intelligence systems in microwork platforms, freelance tasks in various areas, and work in areas such as health and education. These platforms can be location-based (such as shipping or delivery) or they can be performed from anywhere remotely (web-based).

In all these situations, the work is characterized by the absence of guarantees or responsibilities on the part of the contractor. The Fairwork project, coordinated by the University of Oxford and the WZB Berlin Social Center and present in almost 40 countries, analyzes basic parameters of fair work in digital platforms and has highlighted the poor working conditions in these places. The initiative analyzes the situation of these work relations according to five principles: pay, conditions, contracts, management and representation. Brazil unfortunately has one of the worst indicators in the world in terms of fair work in digital platforms. In the report published in 2022, on a scale from 0 to 10 of basic indicators of decent work, none of the platforms evaluated obtained a score above two.

The growth of this model as an alternative for millions of Brazilians, especially after the pandemic, and the scenario of still terrible working conditions poses the challenge of implementing public policies aimed at these workers in Brazil. President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva reaffirmed during the campaign his commitment to decent work conditions at the core of this political program, highlighting that workers on digital platforms need rights. He also stated that he would call all parties to talk, including universities, and that he would adopt the process of reviewing the labor reform that took place in Spain as a model. Regarding platform labor, we hope that the process of precariousness, deepened by the labor reform, will also be reversed in relation to these workers, as promised in the campaign. We list here some points that we suggest should be taken into account in the future Lula government in relation to this topic:

  1. We recommend adopting a regulatory model for digital labor platforms that is inclusive, not exclusive, with a protective and imposing bias, also because platform labor crosses different sectors. The Spanish model is really inspiring, even if it faces strong resistance from the business sector, because in addition to including workers in the world of law, applying the presumption of existence of the employment relationship, it obliges companies to inform the unions of algorithmic management related to the conditions of employment. job. On the contrary, legislative models such as the Chilean one that create new categories of workers with fewer rights, and that make the employment relationship optional, must be discarded, as they offend the Brazilian Constitution, which in its art. 7 presents the minimum rights of “workers”, in addition to being typical of the model of labor regulation that we need to overcome, as demonstrated by the attempts to create legislation that simulate a contractual situation of rights.
  2. The Spanish model of multisectoral social dialogue should also be privileged, as opposed to the top-down model imposed in Chile by a law enacted the day before the end of Sebastian Piñera’s term. Thus, dialogues with all parties involved are necessary: ​​workers, policy makers, unions, platforms and researchers. However, it is necessary to take the same measure as in Spain, carrying out a firm conduction of the process by a person from the labor field, like the Minister of Labor Yolanda Díaz, always bearing in mind the inclusion, not the exclusion, of workers.
  3. In addition to ensuring the labor rights provided for in the legislation for these workers, it is also necessary to guarantee new rights related to the specificity of the activity on platforms, as is the case in the world. Among the contemporary aspects, we highlight the transparency in the management methods and automated systems employed in it (such as algorithms), as well as in the evaluation systems of these workers. Considering the massive and centralized dimension of these platforms, conditions must be established for clear channels of communication and conflict resolution between workers and managers. Although Brazil has recently passed its General Data Protection Law, the surveillance of these workers raises the question of specific protection rules aimed at them. Guidelines to avoid unpaid work within these relationships should also be considered. These workers must have guaranteed forms of free association, including considering aspects of inter-sectoral organization or diverse territorialities.
  4. Brazil needs again to consider promoting the solidarity economy, platform cooperativism, and the role of the State in promoting public policies for alternative work arrangements. In addition to a strong solidarity economy secretariat, an inter ministerial effort is needed to build a Brazilian program on platform cooperativism, articulating decent work, digital sovereignty, intercooperation, fighting inequalities and encouraging local production and consumption circuits. This means that the State must have the role of promoting “bottom-up” initiatives, not with the creation of a “cooperative Uber for each city”, but an integrating program, involving local and regional projects in different sectors. It should also promote incentive and incubation lines for cooperative platforms. In addition, there is a concern that cooperatives are not instrumentalized, in the outsourcing process, for the continuation of exclusionary practices, as the country has seen in “fake cooperatives” in the past. From this, a new regulation for Brazilian cooperativism should be debated.
  5. We cannot lose sight of disputes over instances of collective representation of workers in contexts of digital platforms. In this regard, the multiple challenges posed in the organization of union policies in the context of platforming and the attempt to lobby companies for a “new unionism” are at stake. In this regard, it is necessary to guarantee broad freedoms of organization for workers, as well as the formulation of non-disjunctive legislation, that is, that does not harm the desire for union and cooperation between instances of collective representation. In addition, it is necessary to advance the right of workers in relation to their data.
  6. Last but not least, it is pertinent to emphasize that the regulation of platform labor is a need also linked to national sovereignty. Contemporary legislation, inclusive and attentive to the transformations of capitalism, requires a broad effort towards a development project capable of waving for autonomy and resources for science and technological innovation. Decent work in Brazil requires a participatory and inclusive national project for a sovereign and sustainable economy. The issues raised here are up for debate around the world. After approval of laws in countries such as Spain and Chile, several nations are advancing with proposals on the subject, such as the European directive and bills in different places, such as in Latin American neighbors and international guidelines, such as within the scope of the International Labor Organization (ILO).

This agenda, which was already important in the electoral campaign, will certainly be one of the topics discussed by the next government at the Executive and Legislative levels next year. The way in which the country will conduct the debate can be both an opportunity to be at the forefront in public policies for working through platforms and a slip to embark on the path of deepening historical inequalities in Brazil.