The future of work at the BRICS

brasilobserver - Jul 20 2015
Students and workers protesting in Cinelandia in Rio de Janeiro, against outsourcing bill (Photo: Tomaz Silva/Agência Brasil)

(Leia em Português)

The group needs to create alternatives and not to keep its countries as financial market hostages


By João Antonio Felício*

The BRICS are no longer a complete novelty in international relations. Since its emergence as an acronym formulated by the financial markets to the strategic creation of its Development Bank and a Contingent Reserves Agreement, this block has been consolidated progressively as an inevitable political reference in the current world order. It is increasingly important to know what they think and what they want for the BRICS. There is a great expectation around the next Presidential Summit of the block, which this year was scheduled for 10 July in Ufa, Russia.

Despite the heterogeneity of its members and the difficulties inherent to the construction of any intergovernmental mechanism, the BRICS have begun to position themselves together in multilateral forums – as they did recently in the International Labour Organization (ILO), defending that they have a leadership role in setting goals, targets and indicators related to decent work in the negotiations of the UN Post-2015 Development Agenda – and it can be said that the mere creation of the block has been the impetus to bilateral negotiations between member countries, although the higher flow remains everyone with China and vice versa.

Much is spoken on the weight of BRICS in relation to the size of its population (about 40% of all mankind) and the share of world GDP is produced in these five countries (around 25%). However, the employment situation in the countries of BRICS has received little attention from analysts and specialized media.

The economically active population of the BRICS represents an enormous productive potential, which today accounts for more than 1.5 billion working men and women on active duty, with relatively low average age. Except for South Africa (25.1%), unemployment levels in these countries are low by international standards, staying below 7% in all of them.

The design and implementation of public policies on education, employment and income that actually improve the labour market situation especially for young people, women and blacks, represent an important economic boost for each of the BRICS countries. Hence the immense importance of closer and more intense coordination between the labour ministries of the five countries, which allow advances in the field of labour rights and new opportunities for cooperation. The institutionalization of the BRICS Trade Union Forum as an official space of the BRICS, as is already the Business Forum, is of utmost importance and would be a sign of national governments that seeks to build a better model of labour integration in the bloc.

Unfortunately, in countries like Brazil, we have seen exactly the opposite: pressuring for higher profit margins, the private sector has been lobbying hard in Congress to approve a bill that, on the pretext of regulating 12 million outsourcing workers, intends to precarious the more than 40 million workers that currently have their rights guaranteed by the Consolidation of Labour Laws.

The Brazilian government itself has sent to Congress provisional measures that hinder the access of workers to benefit of unemployment insurance and other rights. It is clear that the formal and supported employment on a guaranteed labour rights ratio in the Constitution is one of the fundamental pillars of social development of a nation. When walking towards the expansion of outsourced labour market, Brazil goes against developed economies and international conventions of the ILO.

In fact, a number of ILO conventions has not been ratified by all the BRICS countries. Some of them are essential to the organization of workers and the guarantee of their rights, such as Convention 29 on abolition of forced or compulsory labour (China does not ratify) and Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and protect the right of association (Brazil, China and India do not ratify).

Overall, the expansion of informality and outsourcing needs to be tackled not only in Brazil but also in other member countries of the BRICS, especially in India and South Africa. The adoption of a social protection floor is urgent and place the work at the heart of development projects means fostering social well-being against the big capital well-being – which at least since the 2008 crisis has been constantly saved with public resources of the States. It also means prioritizing the real economy at the expense of neoliberal rentist casino that imprisons macroeconomic policies to the tripod of high interest rates, with low inflation and growth. Little will advance the creation of the Development Bank and the Reserve Agreement if the economic, employment and income of the BRICS remain hostages of the financial market.

In addition, these two newly created instruments should abolish once and for all, draconian practices such as cross-conditionality embedded in loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, cruelly imposed on governments in liquidity difficulties or seeking investments. Only through a distinct political and economic practice is that the BRICS have standing to dispute the hegemony of international politics with the now dominant nations.

What is at stake with the existence of the BRICS is the possibility of building a more autonomous path of national development and international integration, which is distinct from what is already in place, for example, in the G20, the OECD or the WTO. For this to be true, there’s a need to somehow rethink the current development model, not only in the field of economy and finance, but also in industry, technology, agriculture, energy, and the environment. Without that, the future of work at the BRICS will be privatized, outsourced and precarious.

Above all, we must recover the value of the rights, of what are public and the search for a collective project of society that promotes the agenda of decent work and not the rentist interests. In the current dispute in international relations, who different to BRICS to do it?


*João Antonio Felício is president of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), member of the CUT National Executive Direction and the Reflection Group on International Relations/GR-RI; This article was originally published in


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