Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – What is it about the Brazilian collective bargaining system that drives people crazy? Let me count the ways. But only the most egregious, because, trust me, there are many more. The 1988 Constitution stated flat out that the right to strike was protected; it did deem illegal strikes which “abused” that right, but didn’t define such abuse.
The Curmudgeon, ever fearless, will define this abuse, because we are currently in the middle of two protracted strikes, both abusive, involving postal workers and bank workers. The former work for the government, the latter (mostly) work for private enterprise. So, what’s abusive? Let me count the ways.
First, we provide a primer for those unfamiliar with the system of payments in Brazil. As elsewhere, bills from public utilities (gas, water, electricity) and credit card statements are mailed to a commercial or residential location.
However, unlike other countries, Brazil does not include a self-addressed envelope asking you to pay by check and mail it back. Rather, the bill contains a barcoded statement, payable at a bank. In other words, the utilities and creditors don’t want to hear “the check is in the mail.”
Why not use checks? Let me count the ways. First, Brazil’s postal service has long been notoriously unreliable. Second, stamps cost money. Third, checks bounce. Fourth (and eco-friendly) stamps and envelopes destroy forests. The same reasoning applies to other payment obligations, e.g. school bills, condominium quotas, car licenses, tax payments–you get a bill to pay at a bank.
But, you protest, the bank workers are on strike! I can’t pay! Nice try, but it won’t work. First, lottery houses now accept payment (cash) for utility bills. Second, ATM machines in banks have barcode readers that allow you to pay by debit. Third, you should have put your utility bill on the direct debit plan, where they take the money out of your bank account every month, no muss, no fuss!
But, you protest, the postal workers are on strike! I haven’t even received the bill, so I can’t pay! Nice try, but it won’t work. The utilities and the creditors and the condominium and the authorities all say, just go online and print up a copy of the bill/statement/payment form.
That’s an option for some – those who have internet and a printer. 75.6 percent of the Brazilian population doesn’t have that access, so, hoof it, doofus! Find a bank that’s open! (Some still are).
This brings us back to the abuse. The bank and postal worker unions know large chunks of the Brazilian population depend upon them to pay their just debts when due—but the bank and postal workers couldn’t care less. They want a bigger paycheck each month, and the public be damned.
This “public be damned” attitude is, of course, immoral. It is exceeded only by the immorality of the banks and the postal service itself. The banks, including the government-owned banks whose profits make Morgan Stanley look second-rate, plead poverty and propose a 0.5 percent real wage increase; the bank workers propose 4.5 percent.
Everyone in this country knows they will settle on 2.5 percent, after the propaganda wars subside. The postal workers are worse, they went to the Supreme Labor Court, had a decision to gain a real two-something percent, and rejected it—because they know the federal postal service will only pay it next year or the year after, if ever.
The double whammy means you can’t win for losing. But once we’re all internauts, people won’t get bills made on paper, sent by post, nor pay them at banks: electronics will rule. And there will be about half as many bank and postal workers as before they went on strike. The Curmudgeon says, “It serves them right!” or, in Portuguese: “Bem feito!”
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, moved here thirty-plus years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)