SAO PAULO – “I’ll take anything” is the phrase that’s been repeated many times among the thousands of Brazilians who got into a kilometer-long line in Sao Paulo to try and get off the unemployment rolls, with joblessness threatening to take root in this country and without any prospect of an improvement in the situation over the next few years.
Ranging from sales jobs and receptionist work to warehouse jobs, at a union headquarters in the heart of the capital of Sao Paulo state some 6,000 jobs in assorted areas are up for grabs through Friday with an average salary of 1,500 reais (about $400) per month.
Hope and anguish mix in strange ways among the thousands of jobless people who have come to try and secure employment at the “mutirao” (“mutual aid group” or “collective effort”), as these job distribution opportunities are known in Brazil.
The mutiraos are organized by unions and local governments.
The number of people attending the event has exceeded all expectations, a reflection of the grave reality of modern-day Brazil where, amid the economic recovery announced by the government after the deep 2015-2016 recession, millions of Brazilians have seen no real improvement in their daily lives or their work situations.
“I’ve been out of work for a year, living via intermittent jobs loading and unloading trucks. I’m a professional cook, I have good experience and I’m here looking for employment,” Bruno Coutinho, 42, told EFE, adding that he comes from Vitoria, about 1,000 km (620 mi.) from Sao Paulo.
Coutinho packed his bags and came to Sao Paulo four months ago seeking a “better opportunity.” He’s the first one in a lengthy line, which makes several turns at street corners and the end of which cannot be seen. He got into line at 9 am ... on Monday.
After about 24 hours in the queue, he’s hoping to get some kind of job in hotels or catering. If not, he’ll take anything. “I’ve got to work. I can’t keep going without working,” he said.
Brazil’s unemployment rate has been above 10 percent since February 2016, according to figures from the state-run Brazilian Geography and Statistics Institute (IBGE).
It reached its peak in March 2017 at 13.7 percent and from that point on it has been gradually declining, but it’s never gotten below double-digits.
In January, the rate stood at 12 percent, meaning that about 13 million Brazilians were out of work, and that has coincided with a noteworthy increase in off-the-books employment.
Behind the numbers are the worried faces, full of doubts, but many in the line are also hopeful.
Beatriz de Carvalho is 18 and comes from the interior of the northeastern state of Bahia, where she says there are few work opportunities.
She just finished high school and is looking for her first job, saying she’ll take “whatever comes up. I’ll take anything.”
Carlos Jesus Santos, a 60-year-old laborer, is in a more urgent situation. Nobody has hired him for the past four years.
“I’m wanting a chance. You’ve got to be confident. I want to leave here today with a job. It would be a joy for me, for my family and a very important thing in my life,” he told EFE while waiting his turn in the line.
However, the short and medium-term future doesn’t look optimistic, according to researcher Daniel Duque, with the economic studies center at the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV).
“Job creation is not continuing to heat up, and there are no prospects that it will. And the most optimistic projections don’t show us a scenario with unemployment in single digits in the next three years,” Duque said.
Amid the turmoil, Congress in 2017 approved a controversial labor reform law that opened the door to reducing the cost of labor. The text was proposed by the government of then-President Michel Temer, who recently was held under arrest on suspicion of corruption for four days, although he was released on Monday.
At the time, it was said that the reform would stimulate hiring, but so far the effect has been minimal, although Duque noted that those kinds of changes only start to be felt in the fifth year after the approval of such a law.
Ricardo Patah, the president of the UGT union, one of the organizers of the job distribution event, said that there are “five million unemployed people” who have simply decided to stop looking for work and he called upon the new rightist government of Jair Bolsonaro for concrete action.
“We have a government that is not getting along with Congress and it’s fundamental for certain policies to be implemented, like an industrial policy, and reforms like on taxes and reform of the state. It’s unsustainable to be in a Brazil where the number of unemployed is greater than in several neighboring countries.”