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Brazil Foreign Ministry Workers Launch First Indefinite Strike

Brazil's Foreign Ministry workers protest in 2012. | Photo: Facebook / Sinditamaraty Brazil's Foreign Ministry workers protest in 2012. | Photo: Facebook / Sinditamaraty
BRAZILIA, August 23, 2016 - Workers from Brazil’s Foreign Ministry entered the second day of the union's first indefinite strike Tuesday for higher wages and to protest the intransigence of “interim” Foreign Minister Jose Serra in the face of the union’s demands.

The strike kicked off Monday at 12:00 p.m. local time in Brasilia after over 1,300 workers of the National Union of Public Servants of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, known as Sinditamaraty, voted earlier this month to greenlight the labor stoppage, union statements indicated.

According to the Sinditamaraty, the staff will maintain a 30 percent capacity to cover what are deemed essential services, including passport issuing and consular assistance, to ensure there is not a total disruption of public services in the ministry.

Wage talks have long languished after the union proposed a 27.9 percent wage hike early last year to bring salaries in line with similar positions in other public services. The union argues that even that increase wouldn’t cover wage losses since 2008, which has hit lowest-rank workers the hardest at over 30 percent losses. Workers have also raised complaints in recent months over delays in the payment of their housing allowances, the Brazilian newspaper O Globo reported.

“Valuing the institutions means valuing the workers,” said Sinditamaraty President Suellen Paz in a statement. “The workers' view is that the lack of political will to solve problems devalues the institution as a whole.”

Workers rallied outside the Foreign Ministry building in Brasilia Tuesday, with plans to continue demonstrations on Wednesday. The union has also announced a social media campaign aimed at increasing pressure for talks on acting Foreign Minister Jose Serra, appointed by unelected “interim” President Michel Temer.

Foreign Ministry laborers outside of Brazil are also organizing actions.

The strike committee raised concern on Tuesday over reports received by the union that interns in the ministry had been “compelled” after the launch of the strike to act as scabs and cover the duties of the workers who walked off the job. In a statement, union leaders urged the ministry to respect labor laws and the parameters of the government’s internship program.

Despite marking an historic job action for Sinditamaraty, the strike has received scant coverage in Brazilian media.

The strike comes just days before the Brazilian Senate will launch a trial Thursday against suspended President Dilma Rousseff, the final step in the impeachment process that could permanently remove her from office with a two-third Senate majority as early as next Tuesday.

If Rousseff is ultimately ousted, Temer and his all-male Cabinet will be installed for the rest of her term until 2018. Both Temer and Foreign Minister Jose Serra have been embroiled in massive corruption charges, accused of accepting millions of dollars in corporate kickbacks as part of the Petrobras state oil scandal.

A plea bargain deal recently revealed that Serra received over US$7 million from a slush fund of the construction company Odebrecht to finance his unsuccessful 2010 presidential campaign against Rousseff. Serra also unsuccessfully ran for president against Rousseff’s predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in 2002.

Serra has also come under fire for making promises to multinational oil corporations, according to WikiLeaks cables, saying that he could easily push for privatization of the state oil industry and change laws to open up Brazil’s significant offshore oil reserves to foreign exploration and drilling.

Last modified onTuesday, 23 August 2016 20:46

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