RIO DE JANEIRO - Congress will begin voting on Brazil's social security reform amendment March 6, but the amendment is so highly contested its final shape still has not been brokered.
Leftist legislators, threatening to obstruct the amendment's passage, and strike-threatening labor unions were the first to oppose the reform, forcing the government in December, to negotiate with them in December before putting the amendment up for a vote in the Chamber of Deputies (Pensions & Investments, Dec. 25).
Those negotiations have slightly softened the amendment's impact on the average wage earner. But the country's top labor federation, the Central Labor Federation, which despite the negotiation gains feels betrayed by the government, and a wide spectrum of political parties still threaten to stall the March 6 vote.
Some 310 changes already have been proposed in a special committee that Chamber of Deputies President Luiz Eduardo Magalhaes recently dissolved because of its delays in voting the amendment out of committee. The committee's dissolution automatically pushed the amendment onto the floor.
But because the Chamber of Deputies must vote on each of the proposals before voting on the amendment as a whole, the vote could last for days.
The extent of the proposals also means the final shape of the social security amendment may differ substantially from the government's original reform proposal.
"Widespread disagreement over the government's social security amendment and Congress' right to modify it .*.*. means the government may be unpleasantly surprised by the final text that is voted on in the Chamber of Deputies," said Creston Portilho, a spokesman for the Association of Brazilian Pension Funds.
The government, in negotiations with Congress late last year, had agreed not to reduce the benefit ceiling from the current one of up to 10 times the minimum salary.
In its subsequent negotiations with the labor unions, the government also agreed to slightly weaken the cornerstone of its amendment - one that linked government social security payouts to age and length of contribution, not to the number of years worked. Currently, men of any age are eligible for payments after 30 years of registered work and women, after 25 years.
The government had proposed that to be eligible for payments, men would have to contribute for 35 years and be 55 years old, and women would have to contribute for 30 years and be 50 years old.
While the government refused to soften those requirements for public-sector wage earners, the labor unions forced the government to soften eligibility requirements for private-sector workers.
Although the current proposal doesn't change the length of contribution requirements for private sector workers, it does abolish the age requirement. The proposal also provides an early retirement clause for elementary and high school teachers, as well as for rural workers. The government had opposed such special pensions.
The 310 proposed changes are not its only impediment to quick passage. To become law, the amendment needs to pass in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate by a three-fifths vote, taken twice in each house. And, any Senate alteration must be approved by the lower house.
If the voting process isn't completed by May, the campaign for October's nationwide mayoral elections likely will deny both houses the necessary quorum to vote on the amendment. More than 120 of the 513 Chamber of Deputy legislators have announced plans to run for mayoral posts.