RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Strong opposition by leftist parties and organized labor is postponing social security reform in Brazil.
The protests were responsible for the government's failure to get a social security amendment through Congress in December. And with Congress now in holiday recess until January, a vote on social security reform won't be taken at least until the first quarter of 1996.
The government had been optimistic about getting its reform amendment out of committee and onto the floor of the Chamber of Deputies for the first of two lower-house votes in early December. (To become law, the amendment needs to be approved in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate by a three-fifths vote, taken twice in each house.)
The government's optimism was spurred by a compromise amendment proposal it had hammered out with legislators. But pressure from leftist committee legislators and strike-threatening labor federations - eager to preserve the existing "worker-friendly" social security legislation - forced the committee to suspend voting the amendment onto the floor Dec. 14 - one day before legislators adjourned for the congressional recess.
"Legislators on the committee were worried that voting a social security amendment onto the floor.....meant risking strikes and protests similar to those in Paris, set off by the French government's social security reform proposals," said Creston Portilho, a spokesman for the Association of Brazilian Pension Funds. "And those legislators weren't willing to take on that level of political responsibility."
Labor leaders and leftist legislators probably will not press for a change in eligibility requirements, the cornerstone of social security reform. That part of the proposal would curb government payouts by linking social security payments to age and the length of contributions, not to the number of years worked, as is currently the case.
Now, men are eligible for payments after 30 years of registered work and women are eligible in 25 years. Under the proposal, the government and committee legislators agreed that to be eligible for payments, men have to contribute for 35 years and be 55 years old; women have to contribute for 30 years and be 50 years old.
Representatives of the country's top two labor federations - Central Union dos Trabalhadores and the Comando Geral dos Trabalhadores - said they would push for changes that will increase the benefit ceiling.
As part of its compromise amendment proposal, the Brazilian government already has agreed not to reduce the benefit ceiling, currently 10 times the minimum wage.
The Brazilian government also agreed to demands by legislators that the social security reform go into effect two years after the law is passed.
The two-year delay will discourage a rash of anticipated retirements, whereby workers would trade smaller payouts for protection under existing social security law. The delay also will mean less strain on government coffers.
But no compromise could be reached on special social security eligibility advantages - lower years of contributions - for civil servants, elementary school teachers and rural workers. The government wants to eliminate special advantages for the three job categories.
The trade unions probably also will fight to maintain the eligibility advantages when negotiations with Congress resume in early 1996.