By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Rio’s public security forces, the Polícia Civil, Polícia Militar and Bombeiros (Firefighters) are threatening to go on strike during the 2012 Carnival period if demands over increased wages and better working conditions are not met. On Sunday morning, organizers estimated thousands turned out to demonstrate in front of the Copacabana Palace Hotel, protesting against what unions say are the lowest wages for firefighters and police officers in the country.
Their proposed strike is due to begin on February 10th – just seven days before the start of this year’s official Carnival celebrations.
Sunday’s action happened in spite of a notice issued on Friday by Rio’s State Governor, Sérgio Cabral, announcing an increase in remuneration for civil and military police officers, firefighters and prison staff, amounting to a claimed total rise of 39.4 percent over the two year period between 2012 and 2013.
According to the Jornal do Brasil, the current monthly wage for a military police officers ranges from R$1,277 to R$1,471. A first to third sergeant can receive between R$1,723 and R$2,087 per month, and higher ranking officers can earn up to R$6,122.
Cabral has promised increases totaling 11.55 percent for January and February this year. For 2013 he has pledged a total rise of 26.54 percent, including 10.15 percent in February, and 13.84 percent in October next year.
According to the note divulged by the State Government, the increases will be effective on both wages and pensions, and will benefit around 119,673 people including serving and non-serving officers, and retirees, but protestors argue that this is not enough.
Speaking to the Jornal do Brasil, Corporal Gurgel, said, “With this … adjustment, it is as if we will have received a ten percent adjustment this year, another ten percent in 2013, and the same percentage in 2014. Allowing for inflation of six percent per year, it is the same as receiving an adjustment only four percent per year.”
Sergio Pina, a member of Rio’s Civil Police Workers Union (Sindpol RJ), told the Rio Times, “This is the country of World Cup 2014 and the next Olympic Games. Firefighters and police officers [earn] … approximately R$1,000 per month… The world must know that Dilma, our President, spends billions to host these events, while their leading security personnel have been forced to seek second jobs due to low salaries.”
He also warned that the success of the police pacification units (UPPs) could be undermined if the wage dispute is not resolved.
However, in a statement to the press, Governor Sérgio Cabral pointed out that, “Between January 2007 and October 2013, these workers will have received a cumulative readjustment of 100 percent, without taking into account bonuses and benefits.”
One Rio resident commented, “[Carnival] is obviously a strong point of leverage for the unions, and without any security at all, it would be a very dangerous thing. However, I don’t think the federal government would let that happen. If it comes to it, they’ll send the army in.”
In June of 2011 the Rio Firefighters went on a prolonged strike which led to clashes with police forces. Again in October both postal workers and bank workers also went on strike in an effort to effect wages.