The president at IT workers union for the state of São Paulo Sindpd Antonio Neto talks to IT Decisions at the company’s headquarters about a strike aimed to obtain increased salaries and benefits for sector professionals.
In this interview, you will find:
- Why the strike has been announced and the difficulties faced by the union so far;
- The union’s take on the potentially negative perception from IT buyers abroad;
- Comments about boycotts to the union issued by IT firms based in Sao Paulo;
- The hesitation from employees around taking part in the strike;
- The negotiation and strike agenda for the coming week.
As the chief of São Paulo IT workers union Sindpd, Antonio Neto is facing a tough battle but remains unabated as he presses ahead with his plan to get what he wants from employers.
Sindpd is currently embroiled in a battle with Seprosp, the union representing the companies employing the technology professionals, for better pay and benefits for staff. The Labour Public Ministry has called the two unions into a formal audience today (18/03) to try and agree on some common ground. Meanwhile, Sindpd temporarily suspended the strike, which was due to start today.
According to Sindpd, there has been an advance in the negotiations with Seprosp, but a second round of discussions will take place on Tuesday (22/03) to finalize the discussions. If the conversations lead to a dead-end, the workers will go on strike and the matter will be taken to court.
Neto’s argument is that, since IT firms in Brazil have posted average growth of about 30% in 2010 and the booming Brazilian economy promises a continued bonanza for these firms, they should share the success with their employees.
According to the union boss, there are no specific regulations for the IT workers in Brazilian labor laws, so having a union representing the class is essential to demand “what is right” on behalf of its 40,000-strong member base, the largest concentration of IT staff in the country. He cites the example of the reduction of working week from 44 to 40 hours, the result of another bargaining round with Seprosp last year.
“[In Brazil] we don’t have rules that will make companies increase employees’ salaries, so a union is needed to make that happen and negotiate it. In this case, they [the employers] want to only cover the inflation, but we know that they made a lot of money this year and that will earn more, so they can pay more,” Neto told IT Decisions.
“When you introduce some rules like meal vouchers or a minimum wage for [IT staff], you create some equal rules for the market. If you don’t do that, informal workers get more space in the market and employers pay less,” he added.
“Look at the money involved in M&A [transactions involving IT companies] and the resources they are putting into expanding their businesses. The workers have made that money for them and that should be recognized.”
Neto pointed out that the proposal for the 40-hour working journey was agreed in January last year, so the demands for a 11.9% linear pay increase and benefits such as meal vouchers, profit sharing plans and additional two months’ leave on top of the existing six-month maternity leave period are all part of a new agreement and should be treated separately.
The Sindpd chief believes that the increases should be mandatory across the industry, regardless of the company’s size and actual success in terms of profits, adding that the average Brazilian IT professional get paid a lot less then their counterparts elsewhere.
“I believe that [the pay increases] have to be valid for everyone. The salary levels in Brazil are too small compared to other countries – even at a moment when the Real is overvalued. Professionals in other countries doing exactly the same kind of work in other countries earn a lot more than Brazilians do,” Neto said.
The union is demanding pay increases according to the positive perfomance of companies so far, but will it accept a decrease in case the good times end?
“Let’s wait for that to happen. In 2009, GDP growth in Brazil was negative, but even then we saw good growth in the IT sector. When a good relationship and benefits for the workers are in place, I have no problem discussing things in the event of a crisis,” said Neto.
“We did that in the past, we discussed what we could be done between companies, employees and the trade union movement to save jobs. But since the companies are experiencing growth, they have to share it.”
Perception from buyers
Is Neto worried that his actions may be doing a disservice to the Brazilian IT industry as a whole, which is looking to gain more exposure abroad, by scaring off potential buyers with a unionized workforce?
“I do believe it works the other way round. I have some agreements with international companies who deal directly with us, not under the bargaining under Seprosp,” said the union boss.
“In fact, we are trying to do this in a responsible manner: we have published articles on the newspapers to inform companies of our intentions and have been open to dicussions every step of the way,” he added.
Neto mentioned that decision-makers at companies buying IT services from Brazil must be aware of certain working practices that some may adopt to avoid benefits or taxation, such as forming cooperatives and employing informal workers – which according to Brasscom’s estimates, represent about 300,000 people out of an overall workforce of 500,000 people across the country.
“The decision makers also have to be responsible as someone who contracts the work. There is a debate around ethics going on as part of the agenda too and that is crucial to us,” he said.
The union leader mentioned the case of one of the main Brazilian IT systems companies, which had to go through a process of “conduct adjustment” and formalize workers in order to undergo a merger operation. He also commented that he has seen companies in the verge of being acquired that were unable to go ahead with the deal due to irregularities concerning their workers.
“I am part of the [government’s] Forum for Social Development and we look into things like ensuring that the production chain in areas such as meat production comply with standards around how they treat workers – and I am bringing this into the IT sector,” Neto said.
“Decision makers must know what is happening at the bottom of the food chain. Employing professionals illegally is a crime here in Brazil and one can go to jail for that,” he added.
According to Neto, what is really hampering progress in terms of getting more technology work from international buyers is the competition from other countries such as Argentina and Colombia, where incentives for foreign businesses are much more favourable.
The stumbling blocks
Sindpd is not getting what it wants so far and, according to Neto, several companies have tried to boycott the union’s actions – for example, some firms have allegedly started the working day two hours earlier than normal, so workers could finish early, thus missing out on the union protests.
Neto also mentioned that a large Brazilian IT services firm organized an all expenses paid barbeque last weekend, so that workers would not attend the general assembly where the majority voted for a strike.
The Sindpd president is mildly annoyed by the boycotts – the workers themselves inform the union about such attempts to divert staff attention from the strike via the union’s website and social networking tools – but also thinks that such behavior from the companies is “quite normal.”
As a counter-reaction, however, Sindpd is now using the surprise element to organize its actions – sometimes, protests are put together and happen within hours, with at least a couple of hundred IT professionals turning up.
Neto refused to give estimates about how many professionals would join in the strike, but if the plans for a “technology blackout” go ahead, the Sindpd president has “high expectations” that a significant share of its member base will support the action.
“I have no illusion that we will stop the IT companies across the whole state, but I am very confident that we will have support of our members because they support our demands, which are completely fair and that is we are trying to discuss,” said Neto.
“We will try to reach an agreement again, but if [Seprosp] is not offering more, the court will determine what will be the percentage of the increase. It is like that in Brazil – you exhaust all the options in terms of negotiation and when there is nothing else you can do, the tribunal will provide a figure,” he said.
“Normally, what they [Seprosp] is offering would be the bare minimum we would get in case of a court settlement.”
In Brazil, when a professional is employed for over a year, typically the termination of the contract is only valid when ratified by the union. Sindpd said it would reject all contract terminations taking place over the strike period, to encourage workers to participate in the protests.
“[IT workers] are cautious about the fact they may be “marked” by their bosses if they go on strike, but what I have been saying to them is that this market is in ascending, not descending. There is no such thing as an army of jobless IT professionals – they are important and their employers must value that,” said Neto.
Image by Sindpd.