Working in Brazil
by Danilo Nogueira
he most fascinating branch of Brazilian legal language, I believe, is the terminology of labor law. Brazilian labor law is based on the on the Consolidação das Leis do Trabalho (Consolidation of Labor Laws), a long piece of legislation enacted by Getulio Vargas through a Decree Law Decree-Law dated May 1, 1943. CLT has been variously amended and added to and also supplemented by several unconsolidated laws, decree laws, decrees, regulations and what not. However the whole is often loosely referred to as the CLT, or a Consolidação.
The language of labor law trickled down to the factory floor through layers of unsophisticated incomprehension. There and elsewhere, it was further modified by euphemistic usage. Incomprehension and euphemistic usage have combined to create a jargon that may escape many a good translator.
For instance, take recebeu o fundo. That of course, means received the fund, or, perhaps, redeemed the deposit in the fund, or may be withdrew the balance of the fund. Or does it? No, it does not. Let me explain. Under the original CLT, workers were entitled to an indenização (termination pay) equal to one months salary for each year worked, unless termination was for good cause. So, foi indenizado means received termination pay, in other words, was fired. Because employees dismissed are also entitled to aviso prévio (termination notice), recebeu o aviso is another euphemism for was fired. Employees are required to work for their money during the aviso prévio¸ but employers usually think it more convenient to give dismissed employees one months pay and tell them to go home. This is receber o aviso [prévio] indenizado (receive one months pay in lieu of termination notice).
Also, CLT provided that after 10 years in the service of the same company, an employee acquired estabilidade (stability, job tenure). The actual provisions regarding estabilidade are a bit too complex for discussion here, but they amounted to the fact that a tenured employee was entitled to indenização em dobro (double termination pay). As a consequence, workers were systematically fired on reaching their ninth year. This was referred as foi indenizado por causa da estabildade (was terminated to avoid tenure) and was not considered embarrassing.
In some cases, the workers merely used termination pay to take a vacation and do something usefulsuch as put up a down payment for a new homeand were hired again by the same employer a few months later. Others simply found a new job. Others still, could find no job. To protect those, the Fundo de Garantia de Tempo de ServiçoFGTS (Length of Service Guarantee Fund) was created. Basically, under the FGTS employers deposit 1/12 of the workers pay in a restricted bank account, the balance of which was released to the worker if and when such worker was fired without good cause. So, recebeu o fundo means withdrew the balance of the FGTS account, or, in short, is a euphemism for plain was fired.
For some time, translators explained FGTS as a kind of Severance Pay Fund administered by the Federal Government, and that seemed good enough. Later on, another law allowed workers to withdraw their FGTS balance to finance a home under a government-sponsored housing program. This is referred to as sacar o fundo, or usar o fundonot to be confused with receber o fundo. This move may have been in the best interests of all concerned, but entirely spoiled Severance Pay Fund as a translation. Shame.
In the beginning, workers were allowed to opt between the FGTS system and the traditional severance pay system. Many of them decided not to opt for FGTS, mainly because they wanted to be fired when the time came. Those were referred to as não optantes, often translated as non-optants, which is one of those translations that mean absolutely nothing to the reader. However, the shortest possible solution I have been able to figure out is workers who decided not to join the FGTS system. It is very cumbersome and does not mean much unless the context explains what that FGTS thing is all about. Employers were required to book a provisão para não-optantes to cover the liability toward those employees. Now, all workers are members of the FGTS system and the não-optante is no longer.
Under the FGTS system, it made very little difference whether a company fired an employee or not: severance pay had already been deposited every month, anyway. FGTS thus increased rotatividade de mão-de-obra (labor turnover) rather than reducing it. To counteract this undesired trend, employers are now required to make an additional payment equivalent to 40% of all previous payments made into the employees account every time they want to fire someone. This is informally referred to a multa do FGTS (FGTS fine), although the word multa does not appear in the law.
Of course, may employers fail to recolher o fundo (make deposits in the FGTS account). Many of them do not even register their employees as such. Registration involves making an entry in a pocketsize booklet that all workers must have. This is now officially known as Carteira de Trabalho e Previdência SocialCTPS, formerly as Carteira Profissional or, colloquially, a carteira. Factory workers usually carry their carteira with them at all times, because it is believed that they will get a better deal from the police if they can show they are working persons, not vagrants. The higher the pay, the better the clothes and the lower the chance of someone carrying a profissonal in his/her pocket/purse. The police supposedly does not bother with well-dressed persons. So, not carrying your carteira with you is a status symbol.
To have a carteira assinada, means to be registered as an employee and the certainty of certain direitos (rights, entitlements). Workers tend to think about their rights when they are very angry with their employees. Quero meus direitos often is jargon for if you are not satisfied then fire meand give me my termination pay. To which the employer may retort vá procurar os seus direitos, meaning I am firing you for good cause and if you want your termination you will have to file a grievanceand win.
That is exactly what the worker will do. He will reclamar na justiça (file a grievance). Labor courts (justiça do trabalho) are a separate branch of the Brazilian judiciary, governed by a separate set of rules similar to those applicable to civil courts. The system is reminiscent of that of the fascist Carta del Lavoro, on which the CLT is based. The lower court is a Junta de Conciliação e JulgamentoJCJ (Labor Grievance Settlement and Trial Board) consisting of two juízes classistas (lay judges representing workers and employers, respectively) and one juiz togado (full judge) . The system has been under heavy criticism for a long time, because it is claimed juízes classistas are neither independent nor sufficiently competent to perform their duties.
Often the parties reach an agreement under JCJ guidance or accept a JCJ decision. On other occasions, one of the parties may appeal to the Tribunal Regional do TrabalhoTRT (Regional Court of Appeals), which is more like an ordinary court of law. Those who are not satisfied with a TRT decision may appeal to the Tribunal Superior do TrabalhoTST (Court of Labor Appeals) and even to the Supremo Tribunal FederalSTF (Supreme Court) . Some lawyers like to refer to STF as the pretório excelso, a funny expression that often befuddles translators and need not befuddle you should you come across it.
A grievance brought to a JCJ is technically referred to as a dissídio. It may be deemed individual or coletivo depending on whether it is filed by a single person or a group. A dissídio coletivo often is based on a reivindicação por aumento de salário (claim for a pay increase). The claim is heard very much in the manner of any ordinary grievance and usually is brought up to the TRT or TST, where some kind of raise is granted. This, is the aumento concedido em razão do dissídio coletivo (the increase granted as a settlement to the grievance) . However, it is often referred to as o dissídio in which case it may be translated by the annual pay increase.
Salário, by the way, is another problem word, because it looks so much like salary, but means wages more often than not. The salário mínimo actually is the minimum wage, as most will agree. Earning the minimum wage is considered embarrassing, so, in normal conversation, it is always referred to o salário, dropping the mínimo, which seems to be the awkward part.
Other words related to labor relations are also felt to be awkward and perhaps not politically correct. For instance:
If you get a job (emprego), you are employed (empregado) , right? Well, legally, yes. Your employers will be your empregador and the two of you will be bound by a vínculo empregatício (employment relationship). Those are acceptable words. But, somehow, empregado does not seem to be acceptable any longer.
So, if you get a job, the union will say you are a trabalhador (worker). You will probably say you trabalha na... (work at...). You will refer to your job as o serviço or a firma. Emprego, empregado will never be used. Not even by empregadas [domésticas], the people we used to call maids. The funny side that for a long time, our empregadas fought for the right to be considered legal empregadas (employees) of whoever hired them and to be treated as such, with carteira assinada, direitos and all that. However, as soon as they were finally granted that well-deserved right, all of a sudden empregada became politically incorrect. Now they are identified as auxiliares domésticas, a senhora que trabalha lá em casa, or even secretárias do lar.
Secretária is another tricky word. Do not call anyone a secretary lightly. Secretariado is a profissão regulamentada (regulated profession), such as accountancy, medicine or engineering. The only people who can rightly call themselves secretários or secretárias (there are very few male secretaries) are those who have a curso superior de secretariado (B.A. in what? Secretarianship?) or were already working as secretárias when the law was promulgated. The thousands of people who work as secretaries but are not secretárias must be registered as assistentes administrativas. Many of those assistentes administrativas hold a B.A. in translation. By the way, many translators struggle for the regulamentação to prevent non-translators, such as secretaries, from doing translators work. It is a funny world.
But, I must not stray, as I am often wont. Back to work, so to say. A customer will never refer to you as an empregado da Empresa X. You will be a funcionário of the company. Funcionário is someone who has a specific function and that seems to be a lot better than merely holding a job. People who lose their jobs are entitled to seguro desemprego (unemployment insurance), resulting in another euphemism: está recebendo o seguro (is collecting [unemployment] insurance), once more avoiding the dreaded word desemprego. By the way, a worker who está no seguro, or ficou no seguro is some unfortunate being who suffered a work accident and is receiving workmans compensation, not someone who was fired.
After so much work, anyone is entitled to a vacation. In Brazil, you will be entitled to a full months paid vacation a year. In addition, according to the Constitution, you will be entitled to a vacation bonus equivalent to one third of a months pay. Why this should be in the Constitution, I will not even try to explain. But because it is in the constitution, it is referred to as terço constitucional. You translate that any old way you like. I will offer no suggestions. I have already explained what it means and you should see that as a challenge.
Terminated employees are entitled to receiving their vacation pay and bonus due to them as part of the verba rescisória¸ which is still known by its old name of indenização¸ or os direitos, and is tantamount to termination pay, but we already know that. They are also entitled to férias proporcionais, meaning pro-rata payments. Let me explain: a years work entitles you to one months vacation, that is férias vencidas. If you work a year and a month, you are entitled to a full month and 1/12 months vacation. That is férias vencidas e proporcionais. The period during which you acquire the right to a vacation is the período aquisitivo, which I prefer not to translate as acquisitive period because that sound too much like a buying binge. You will probably have to do with some sleight of word involving pro-rata, vested vacation rights, vesting period and the like. Good luck.
Férias vencidas e proporcionais, plus aviso prévio, FGTS com multa and God knows what else, can make up quite a lot of money. In these times of rising unemployment, many people are using their termination pay to open a franchised shop, a move that is making our shopping centers a nest of amateur merchants. Those would do well by reading something on bankruptcy I wrote for a previous issue of the Translation Journal. May come in handy. One never knows.
Once more, I must add a disclaimer to my article, lest someone claim that I am dispensing advice on matters outside my field of professional competence. I am neither a lawyer nor an accountant and, the sole purpose of my article is to provide my colleagues with information I believe they will consider helpful. Much of the information is accurate, but of a very general type and should never be used as the basis for a business deal. If you intend to business in Brazil, by all means talk to a lawyer or to an accountant. Translators should stick to their translations.