Coronavirus fuels surge in complaints about working conditions in Brazil

by Fabio Teixeira | @ffctt | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 31 March 2020 18:02 GMT

A nurse wears a protective face mask at the North Wing Regional Hospital (HRAN), after reports of the coronavirus in Brasilia, Brazil March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

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Some of the complaints include those from healthcare workers who are being denied protective gear

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By Fabio Teixeira

RIO DE JANEIRO, March 31 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The coronavirus pandemic has fueled a surge in complaints about working conditions in Brazil ranging from a lack of social distancing at a call center to health workers being denied protective gear, the Labor Prosecutor's Office said on Tuesday.

More than 2,400 labor complaints relating to the virus were registered across Brazil in March, including calls about companies such as telemarketers that had flouted orders from state governors instructing non-essential businesses to close.

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Workers can register complaints online, via a hotline, or through an app that allows users to submit evidence of abuses.

"The number of complaints is about the double of what we would get (each month)," said labor prosecutor Carlos Andrade, referring to Sao Paulo state where the majority of cases concerning the coronavirus this month have been registered.

"We have a number of non-essential businesses that have not suspended their activities, and many essential ones that are not taking precautionary measures," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In Brazil, the outbreak has so far resulted in 4,579 confirmed cases and 159 deaths.

President Jair Bolsonaro said on Monday that there could be no more quarantine measures imposed on the country than those already in place to combat the coronavirus because jobs were being destroyed and the poor were suffering disproportionately.

The rise in complaints meant prosecutors were not engaging in lengthy legal battles but warning firms to address violations and either adopt safety measures or shut up shop, Andrade said.

Labor prosecutors can send health inspectors to investigate suspected offenders, and a team of officials this month shut down a large call center in Sao Paulo following a complaint that workers were not being kept apart and surfaces were not cleaned.

Andrade said more than half of the labor complaints came from health professionals who were being made to work without proper safety gear such as masks, gloves and hand sanitizer.

In such cases, prosecutors have recommended that health centers adopt precautionary measures - such as social distancing and washing equipment and surfaces regularly - Andrade said.

The lack of personal protective equipment (PPEs) is a major issue for Brazil's fragile health care system, and the government said this week that 200 million pieces of safety equipment would be arriving from China next month.

"There is a chronic shortage of personal protective equipment", Andrade said.

(Reporting by Fabio Teixeira @ffctt; Editing by Kieran Guilbert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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