The return of the left to power, with the PT in the Presidency, gave new impetus to an old claim of social movements linked to land: the seizure, by the public power, of rural properties where there would be work “analogous to slavery”, for later allocation to agrarian reform.
Since 2014, the measure has been provided for in the Constitution, but has never been applied in practice due to lack of regulation. A law must be created to define the conditions that characterize this offense and the stages of the process by which the Justice can expropriate the lands.
But, the problem is that, without this regulation, there are no objective parameters to define what work analogous to slavery is. In theory, a possible negative consequence of adopting the practice without enacting the law would be to frame any case as work analogous to slavery with the aim of making the land change hands. Critics of the measure say it puts private property in Brazil at risk.
On the 9th, the Federal Public Defender’s Office (DPU) filed a lawsuit with the Federal Supreme Court (STF) asking the Court itself to authorize the Judiciary to begin the expropriations. The idea is to give it a “little way”: use another law that allows for the measure if the land is used for the cultivation of plants that serve for the production of drugs, such as marijuana, for example.
Days later, on Tuesday (14), the PSOL reinforced the request, but within another action, filed by the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) in September of last year, with the same objective.
Within the scope of Congress, a bill by senators Rogério Carvalho (PT-SE) and Paulo Paim (PT-RS) has been in progress in the Senate since 2021, proposing more detailed rules, providing for hypotheses of work analogous to slavery and the judicial procedure for taking the land.
In the Chamber, a very similar proposal was presented this Tuesday (14) by federal deputy Reginete Bispo (PT-RS). The two propositions have not yet started to move forward: they do not have a rapporteur, who collects suggestions and negotiates their progress, nor were they distributed to the thematic commissions, where they undergo further discussion for possible adjustments.
Case of wineries in RS reignites debate on “slavery”
The topic also gained momentum this March due to several cases that came to light. Three wineries in Bento Gonçalves (RS), denounced for work similar to slavery, opted to pay R$ 7 million in compensation for collective moral damages, in addition to severance pay for outsourced workers. The victims were mostly from Bahia. According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the workers would be subjected to physical aggression, exhaustive working hours and would not receive wages.
In Uruguaiana (RS), an operation by the Labor Prosecutor’s Office, together with the Federal Police, found 56 workers on two rice farms who worked with chemical pesticides without protective equipment and, according to the agency, had strenuous hours. The agency argued that they would have been forced to walk daily for 50 minutes under the sun to reach the crop. They would also use their own tools, eat supposedly spoiled food and have their pay cut if they fell ill. None of them had a formal contract; ten were adolescents aged between 14 and 17 years.
In Bom Jardim de Minas (MG), three workers were found on a site “in a situation of extreme poverty” by auditors from the Ministry of Labor. They earned from R$400 to R$500 a month, they only had rice and beans to eat, they had to pay R$1 per egg. Two were brothers and had worked on the property since 2015, purchasing a 200-meter lot for R$12,000, without documents. The owner of the site made an agreement to pay compensation.
All these cases have given impulse to the left to start a movement in favor of expropriations, either in Congress or in the STF. Representatives and entities linked to agro, however, have not yet reacted. There are no manifestations of the segment in the projects pending in the Legislative or in the actions presented to the Supreme Court.
The biggest problem with the DPU’s action is the lack of parameters to identify what would be work analogous to slavery. The body does not present which practices would indicate such a condition. The PGR, author of the oldest action, also does not bring these definitions.
The two bodies want the STF to make an appeal to Congress to approve the regulation, but until that happens, they want the law, in force since 1991, to be applied, which expropriates, without compensation, land for growing plants used for production. of drugs.
This law basically defines the judicial procedure, with quick deadlines for the decision. Once the complaint is received, the judge must summon the accused and appoint an expert within five days. The expertise has to be ready in eight days. Within ten days, the accused must contest the complaint, including with their own expertise. Within 15 days of the contestation, the judge sets the judgment. The seizure of the land, however, is only effective after the final and unappealable decision, that is, when the resources are exhausted, with the maintenance of the expropriation decision, in all instances.
What do the bills pending in Congress say?
The proposals being discussed in Congress provide for a similar rite, but advance to define what characterizes work analogous to slavery. The PT senators’ project considers work analogous to slavery under the following conditions:
- forced labor, exacted under threat of punishment, with the use of coercion or with restriction of personal freedom;
- geographic isolation or the restriction of the use of any means of transport by the worker, in order to retain him at the workplace;
- maintenance of ostensive surveillance in the workplace or the appropriation of documents or personal objects of the worker, in order to retain him in the place;
- restriction, by any means, of the movement of the worker due to a debt contracted with the employer or agent;
- subjection to an exhausting journey, that is, one that, due to its intensity or non-eventual extrapolation, harms social and family life, causes physical and mental overload incompatible with the psychophysiological capacity of the worker, exposing him to a high risk to health or work accident; or
- submission to degrading working conditions.
Such concepts are based on what the Penal Code says, when typifying what the crime of slavery is: “reducing someone to a condition analogous to that of a slave, either subjecting him to forced labor or exhausting workdays, or subjecting him to degrading conditions of work, or restricting, by any means, their locomotion due to a debt contracted with the employer or agent”.
The crime is also committed by an employer who “restricts the use of any means of transport by the worker”, or “maintains ostensive surveillance in the workplace or takes possession of documents or personal objects”, with the purpose of “retaining him in the workplace”. workplace”.
The definition of “degrading working conditions”, in turn, raises controversy, as it is more open. In the Senate project, they would be configured if at least three of these situations accumulate: lack of potable water, bathroom, place for meals and food storage, in addition to accommodation, when necessary; payment below the minimum wage or with alcohol or drugs; lack of safety and health risk assessment; and physical or psychological aggression, or sexual harassment, perpetrated by a hierarchical superior.
Deputy Reginete Bispo’s project, in the Chamber, has more streamlined definitions, but very close to what the senators propose. Their project did little in the Senate, largely due to pressure from the previous government, from former President Jair Bolsonaro, who is closer and more sympathetic to agriculture than the current President of the Republic.
The current president of the Agricultural Parliamentary Front (FPA), deputy Pedro Lupion (PP-PR), says that the left’s pretension to regulate the issue is cause for concern, especially during the Lula government.
“We cannot have another battlefront against agro. It is not for a specific issue of wineries in Rio Grande do Sul that the entire agribusiness will be condemned. This issue of expropriation has been discussed for a long time, we have already had to save the right to property several times against interpretations by the Judiciary and the Public Ministry. We have technical staff at the FPA prepared for this”, says the deputy.
“The government has already demonstrated its opposition to agriculture, in the most diverse sectors, including its ineptitude to contain MST invasions. This has caused enormous concern in the sector. And, therefore, we are going to try to move forward with the themes in the Chamber to curb this”, he completes.
In May 2021, the same month the Senate proposal was presented, Bolsonaro stated that the regulation would not come out during his government. “We must, yes, review constitutional amendment 81 of 2014, which made the issue of private property vulnerable. It is an amendment that has not yet been regulated and, certainly, will not be regulated by our government, because we need to change what was done in 2014, making vulnerable, I repeat, the issue of private property”, said the former president, during participation in the opening ceremony of the 86th edition of ExpoZebu, in Minas Gerais.
In the same speech, he praised the end of invasions of rural properties by the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) at that time and the cut of public funds for NGOs linked to them. Bolsonaro also defended the reduction of environmental fines on producers and said that conflicts with indigenous people would have been reduced by the government’s incentive for them to also produce.
For PSOL, however, the problem has worsened in recent years due to the weakening of inspection carried out by the previous government. The Union Public Defender cites data: approximately 60,000 workers found in a regime similar to slavery since 1995, with 2,575 in 2022, the highest number since 2013. The expropriation of land, defends the agency, in addition to promoting justice, would serve as an example to prevent the practice, due to the gravity of the punishment.
The rapporteur for the actions in the STF is Minister Luiz Fux, who, so far, has not dealt with either case.