Brazil Labor Market

The proportion of Brazilians with formal employment increased over a number of years until 2014, but has since declined again. Between a third and a half of those who work do so outside the formal sector.

The recession that Brazil has undergone in recent years (see Financial overview) has led to more than doubling unemployment in just a few years to over 13 percent in 2017. After that, unemployment has started to decline, but it is largely due to the fact that formerly formally employed people began to support themselves in the informal sector.

As a result, they mostly miss out on social benefits such as sickness funds and pensions, and because more women than men work here, it hinders the discrimination that is already taking place against women in the form of lower wages. According to the UN, a woman gets two-thirds of what a man earns, even less if she is dark-skinned.

The proportion of employees in agriculture has steadily declined from almost 30 percent in 1990 to between 10 and 15 percent today, while a corresponding increase has occurred in the service sector. The proportion of employees in the industry has been fairly steady at or just over 20 percent.

Both child labor and forced labor and pure slave labor occur. The authorities launched a comprehensive campaign in 2003 with raids against large-scale farms and factories suspected of abuses. For a few years, tens of thousands of people were freed from slave-like working conditions, but that work has now stopped.

The constitution guarantees the right to organize trade unions and strike, with the exception of some professional groups such as military and police. The working week is 44 hours. Labor legislation is extensive but not always complied with. In 2017, the government also pushed through changes in labor law, despite widespread protests. Increased job security and easing of environmental protection rules were motivated by the fact that it should lead to more people getting jobs. The influence of trade unions also weakened and the opportunity for employees to turn to the labor court decreased.

  • COUNTRYAAH: List of key population facts of Brazil, covering most basic population data, religion statistics, and language profiles.

Brazil Population

Brazil, for the first time in 2019, is described by the international trade union organization IFS as one of the ten worst countries in the world for working people. The organization places it in a category where there are no guarantees of union rights at all, the lowest of five categories that measure union rights.

The largest central organization is Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT) which has close ties to the Labor Party, but there are several others.

Trade union involvement is particularly strong in the industrial metropolis of São Paulo.



12.2 percent (2019)

Youth Unemployment

27.8 percent (2019)



President Temer is prosecuted

December 20

The prosecutor is prosecuting President Temer and five other persons for corruption and money laundering. According to the indictments, Temer received bribes in May 2017 to issue a decree that gave companies benefits in the port sector. Temer was twice singled out by the state prosecutor twice in 2017 for corruption and conspiracy with organized crime, but in both cases, Congress refused to allow the judiciary to probe the charges as long as he sits on the presidential post. This time, Congress will not be able to act until Temer resigns at the turn of the year.


Rio’s governor is arrested

November 29th

The governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, Luiz Fernando Pezão is arrested by police, suspected of receiving bribes when he was deputy governor of Sérgio Cabral who is already in prison sentenced to several years in prison (see June 2017). Police are also conducting a raid at the headquarters of the state government. Pezão, who belongs to the MDB party, has been governor since 2014 but resigns at the turn of the year, when the newly elected Wilson Witzel takes office.

Brazil backs on climate conference

November 28

The government withdraws an offer to host the UN Climate Conference in 2019. The message comes just days before the 2018 conference, COP 24, starts in Poland. Brazil sets financial constraints as a reason for withdrawing from the host of COP 25. The incoming President Jair Bolsonaro wants Brazil to withdraw from the Paris agreement aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions (such as Donald Trump done with the US).

Criminal investigation against Lula and Dilma

November 24

A court is opening a lawsuit against former presidents Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, who are accused of receiving millions in bribes from the oil company Petrobras. Several other high ranking people in the Labor Party are also identified in the case originally presented by former Prosecutor Rodrigo Janot 2017. This is the first time that Dilma Rousseff has been formally charged with crime while Lula has been sentenced to prison and is under investigation in several other cases.

Bolsonaro: “Venezuelans must stay”

November 24

Acting President Jair Bolsonaro says his government will not send home the tens of thousands of Venezuelans who have recently applied to Brazil because of the collapse of their home country. According to Bolsonaro, Venezuelans are fleeing “a dictatorship supported by PT, Lula and Dilma”, citing the Brazilian Labor Party and its two former leaders. Over 100,000 Venezuelans are estimated to have traveled to Brazil in the past three years. A total of at least 2.3 million have left Venezuela.

Cuban medical program ends

November 16

The first of over 6,000 Cuban doctors in Brazil return to their home country, as a result of what the Havana government has called “contemptuous and threatening” statements by Jair Bolsonaro. The incoming president has criticized the Cuban medical effort and said, among other things, that a competency test should be introduced for the doctors. Bolsonaro has also said that Cuban doctors should be paid directly in Brazil, instead of paying money to the Cuban state. The statements have prompted Cuba to withdraw the effort. According to the Ministry of Health, nearly 20,000 Cuban doctors have worked in Brazil since the program was launched there in 2013.


Bolsonaro wins in the presidential election

October 28

Right-wing nationalist Jair Bolsonaro, candidate for the Social Liberal Party (PSL), wins in the second round of the presidential election with 55 percent versus 45 percent for Labor Party (PT) candidate Fernando Haddad. Of the other candidates, Ciro Gomes (PDT) receives 12.5 percent and Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB) 4.8 percent. The turnout is 80 percent. Twelve of the 27 governor posts go simultaneously to candidates who have allied with Bolsanaro, including in the three largest states of São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro. Several of the newly elected governors are relatively unknown politicians who in a short time gained support by riding on the Bolsonarova wave. Three of the twelve are members of PSL while the others belong to other parties. The Labor Party individually takes the most governor posts, four of them, all in poor northeastern Brazil.

Prosecution is again being sued against Temer

October 16

The federal police are demanding that the prosecutor bring charges against President Temer and ten other people, including Temer’s daughter, who is suspected of corruption, money laundering and blackmail. The police must also have requested that the accused get their assets frozen. According to the indictments, Temer received bribes in May 2017 to issue a decree that gave companies benefits in the port sector. If the State Prosecutor provides the clear sign for prosecution, Congress must instruct the Supreme Court to bring it. Temer was twice singled out by the state prosecutor twice in 2017 for corruption and conspiracy with organized crime, but in both cases, Congress refused to allow the judiciary to probe the charges as long as he sits on the presidential post.

Nothing crucial in the first round of elections

October 7

The first round of the presidential election ends as expected in the right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro receiving the most votes, but without coming up with the 50 percent that had been called for victory directly. Bolsanaro gets 46 percent of the vote and meets in the second round of the Labor Party’s Fernando Haddad, who gets 29 percent. Bolsonaro claims that he would have secured the victory had it not been for “problems” with the electronic voting system, but to specify what it meant. In the congressional elections, the Labor Party (PT) will be the largest in the MPs with barely a margin with 56 seats, followed by the Social Liberal Party (PSL) with 52 seats. In the Senate, the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB) gets the largest with 12 seats, followed by the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) with 8. In total, 30 and 21 parties are given seats in each chamber. The turnout is 79,


Mass demonstration against presidential candidate

September 29th

Hundreds of thousands of women around the country take part in demonstrations against presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, following a campaign organized on social media under the motto “EleNão” (not him). The protests are all aimed at Bolsonaro’s hostile statements and “fascism”. Bolsonaro, who is allowed to leave the hospital on the day the demonstrations are held (see September 6), has said in a statement that he does not accept any election results other than victory for himself.

Lula withdraws from the election

11 September

Imprisoned ex-president Lula da Silva withdraws from the presidential election, which means his vice presidential candidate Fernando Haddad becomes the Labor Party candidate for the presidential post. The message leaves Lula in a letter that a party member reads aloud to Lula’s supporters outside the prison where he is being held. The supporters have camped outside the prison ever since Lula was brought there in April. Haddad is a former Minister of Education, who is, however, little known outside of São Paulo, where he was mayor.

Presidential candidate cut

September 6

Presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro is cut in the abdomen during a campaign appearance in the state of Minas Gerais. Bolsonaro receives life-threatening injuries and is taken to hospital, but survives. Bolsonaro, who belongs far out on the right, ranks second in opinion polls, after imprisoned ex-president Lula da Silva. At the same time, Bolsonaro has upset many voters with racist and homophobic statements. He also works for the military dictatorship 1964–1985. The perpetrator is later found to suffer from mental illness.


Lula is turned off from the election

August 31st

The Supreme Electoral Court disqualifies Lula da Silva from running for president in October. After a lengthy debate, the judges with the vote numbers 6–1 decide to shut down the imprisoned ex-president. Until September 12, the Labor Party (PT) will appoint a replacement. But PT’s vice presidential candidate Fernando Haddad says the party intends to continue fighting for Lula’s right to stand. According to the latest opinion poll, Lula has the support of 39 percent of voters, while the second, Jair Bolsonaro, is only supported by half the share.

Worried about the border with Venezuela

August 19th

The government is in a crisis meeting and decides to send reinforcements to the city of Pacaraima in the north, where violence has taken place between locals and refugees who have searched across the border from Venezuela. Both soldiers and extrapolices are sent to the border area. Over the past three years, tens of thousands of Venezuelans have crossed the border, fleeing the economic, political and humanitarian crisis in their home country.

Ex-minister biased

August 13th

Former Finance Minister Guido Mantega is indicted for money laundering and other crimes. He is suspected to have received money from Odebrecht for having supported legislation that the construction giant demanded. This is the first time Mantega has been identified in the context of the big scandal surrounding the Petrobras oil company and companies such as Odebrecht. Mantega was Finance Minister under both Lula and Dilma Rousseff.


Popular right-wing extremist is running for president

July 22nd

Jair Bolsonaro announces that he will run for the Social Liberal Party (PSL) in the October presidential election. Bolsonaro has its voter base in Rio de Janeiro and is popular in social media. Some opinion polls show that the support is strong enough for him to move on to a second round of elections. The 63-year-old former Army officer Bolsonaro talks warmly about the former military dictatorship and badly about gays and women.

Oil magnate is sentenced to long prison sentence for corruption

July 3

Oil and mining magnate Eike Batista is sentenced to 30 years in prison for bribing the governor of Rio de Janeiro, Sérgio Cabral, in exchange for public service (see also January 2017). Since the corruption scandal broke, Batista has lost most of its wealth. Sérgio Cabral is already sentenced to prison (see June 2017).


The military is seen as a solution to strike chaos

30 May

Continued chaos due to the truck strike that has now been going on for just over a week means that more and more are advocating a military takeover. The army, as is often the case in social unrest, has been deployed to maintain order. The military escorts trucks that do not participate in the strike, past roadblocks and demonstrating groups. But now more and more people think that the military should take over the rule of the country as a whole. The calls prompt Supreme Court Chief Judge Carmen Lucia to make a statement: she says democracy is the “only legitimate way” to solve the country’s problems. However, the strike ends a few days later.

Reduced fuel price to stop strike

May 27th

President Temer decides to cut diesel prices to end a truck strike that has largely paralyzed the country for almost a week. Extensive road closures have led to a growing shortage of food and fuel. The new price should be valid for two months and then adjusted every month. The strike has continued despite the fact that Temer has threatened to deploy the army. The diesel price has almost doubled since 2016. It was then decided that the oil company Petrobras would set the prices themselves.

New charges against Lula

May 1

Prosecutors raise new bias against incarcerated former President Lula, as well as against the Labor Party’s current leader, Senator Gleisi Hoffmann, and two former ministers, Antonio Palocci and Paulo Bernardo. They are accused of receiving $ 40 million in exchange for political decisions that would benefit construction giant Odebrecht.


Ex-presidential candidate is prosecuted

April 17

Senator Aécio Neves, who was defeated by a small margin by Dilma Rousseff in the 2014 presidential election, faces trial for corruption and obstruction of justice. The message from the Supreme Court means that bribery is now directed at leading people in the country’s three largest parties. Neves belongs to the center-right party PSDB. Earlier, top names in both the Labor Party and the middle party PMDB have been designated.

60 “Lula” in Congress

April 11

Over 60 of the Labor Party congressmen formally add “Lula” to their names, in honor of the imprisoned ex-president. The party leader who goes in the name-change industry goes from here under the name Gleisi Lula Hoffmann in official congressional documents and on the electronic voting board. Some members who belong to the right-wing parties come with a deduction: they add the name of the judge who sent Lula, Sérgio Moro, to their own names.

Lula in prison

April 7

Ex-President Lula surrenders to police and flies by helicopter to a prison in Curitiba. This occurs after two dramatic days that began when the Supreme Court ruled that Lula must begin serving her sentence even though continued appeals are ongoing (see January 24, 2018). Lula entrenched himself in the metal worker ban’s building in São Paulo, along with supporters who did not want him to give up. In the end, Lula almost had to throw out to be able to surrender to the police. Lula continues to claim that he is innocent.


Rio politicians murdered on open street

14th of March

The murder of a council member in Rio de Janeiro, Marielle Franco, is causing great consternation throughout the country. Franco and even her driver are shot to death as they move from an event to support black women. Her press secretary is injured in the assault. Franco, who was black himself and lived in a gay relationship, ran a campaign against police brutality in Rio de Janeiro, and was known as a champion of women’s rights. Tens of thousands of people gather after the murder in Rio de Janeiro and other cities in protest of the murder and to show their participation.


No pension reform

February 20th

The government admits that the attempts have failed to bring about changes in the pension system, which has long been a central element of the government’s austerity policy. President Temer has lately hoped to get through cuts in pensions but is forced to realize that support is lacking in Congress. The issue is sensitive to the October elections and in addition, Temer himself has complicated the situation by his decision a few days earlier to deploy military in the fight against violence. Namely, a change in the pension system would require a constitutional change, and this cannot be implemented while military intervention is in progress.

The military is given responsibility for security in Rio de Janeiro

February 16th

President Temer places the army in charge of restoring security in the severely violent state of Rio de Janeiro. It is the first time since the end of the dictatorship in 1985 that the military has the ultimate responsibility for domestic security. The action follows the attention to violent expressions in connection with the ongoing carnival. Critics also point out that Temer may have reason to want to divert attention from the corruption allegations and attempts to push through a pension reform.


Lula is named presidential candidate

January 25

The Labor Party announces that Lula da Silva is the party’s candidate in the October presidential election, despite the verdict against him that was set the day before.

Stronger punishment for Lula

January 24th

The conviction against ex-president Lula da Silva is set in a higher court and the sentence is stepped up, to twelve years in prison (compare July 2017). At a mass meeting in São Paulo, Lula says he is innocent and plans to run in the October presidential election. Lula has remained at liberty while the verdict is appealed. A couple of weeks earlier, more than 170,000 people have written a call in support of his candidacy, “Election without Lula is cheating”. Among the signatories are four former presidents: Cristina Kirchner (Argentina), José Mujica (Uruguay), Rafael Correa (Ecuador) and Ernesto Samper (Colombia). The American director Oliver Stone is also one of the signatories.

Huge Petrobras settlement in the US

January 3rd

State oil giant Petrobras agrees to pay $ 2.95 billion in a group trial in the United States. The lawsuit has been brought by investors in the United States who believe they lost out on the big corruption scandal surrounding Petrobras.

Brazil Labor Market