Justice suspends review of NR 36

Meatpacking sector, champion in work-related accidents, defends end of breaks
Foto: Divulgação

Associate Judge Pedro Luis Vicentin Foltran, of the Regional Labor Court of the 10th Region, met the request made by the Public Ministry of Labor (MPT) and suspended the revision procedures of Regulatory Norm 36 (NR 36), which establishes minimum parameters for health and safety at work in meatpacking plants.

The MPT stresses that the decision to suspend the NR 36 reform does not harm the sector, because there is a norm in force, with obligations already assimilated by the companies and known by the workers. Moreover, the judicial decision, which prevents the hurried processing of a harmful norm protects the health and life of workers, maintains legal certainty and the competitive environment at healthy levels.

According to Foltran, the process has instigated debates among health professionals and union entities “because of the short deadlines granted that make it impossible for unions and interested parties to participate effectively, hindering adequate social dialogue in the process of reformulating the norm”.

For the Associate Judge, there is no way to ignore that the discussion may involve the rights of indigenous populations, immigrants and unions, and it is necessary to ascertain the facts presented by the MPT, moreover the revision process of NR 36 should be suspended.

The MPT action points to two serious violations: absence of prior consultation with indigenous populations and inconsistency of the Regulatory Impact Analysis report, Government study that would justify the need for revision.

The judicial decision establishes a daily fine of R$ 50 thousand, in case of non-compliance.

Labor Prosecutors Márcia Kamei, Luciano Leivas, Sandro Sardá, Leomar Daroncho, Lincoln Cordeiro, Cristiano Paixão, Sebastião Caixeta, Joaquim Nascimento and Marici Coelho sign the lawsuit.

90 work accidents per day and up to 90 movements per minute

The meat packing sector, which employs about 550 thousand workers, is the industrial activity that generates most work accidents in Brazil, being marked by excessive rhythm in a cold environment, with exhausting workdays and a great deal of effort, in environments with low air concentrations, in addition to the risk of ammonia leakage and accidents with amputations and death.

Workers in meatpacking plants can perform up to 90 movements per minute, when the medical recommendation is that the limit to avoid illness should be three times lower.

Official data indicate that in 2019 there were 23,320 work-related accidents in meatpacking plants, resulting in 90 accidents per working day. Between 2016 and 2020, 85,123 typical accidents and occupational illnesses were recorded in the industry, with 64 deaths. The real data are more serious, as the Ministry of Labor and Social Security admits that there is 320% underreporting in the sector.

Companies defend the end of breaks

In 2013, due to the high number of employees injured at work, NR 36 was published, containing minimum health and safety parameters in the meatpacking sector. The norm had the consensus of the government, companies, and workers.

One of the most important measures in the reduction of work accidents and occupational diseases contained in NR 36 was the provision for psychophysiological recovery breaks of 60 minutes a day, distributed in six ten-minute breaks or three 20-minute breaks.

In October 2021, the Federal Government began work on changing NR 36. The companies in the sector began to defend the end of psychophysiological breaks, which would be adopted only when defined by ergonomic studies prepared by the companies themselves.

According to the coordinators of the MPT’s National Project for Adequacy of Meatpacking plants, “the companies’ proposal will imply the suppression of breaks, the most important health protection measure in Brazilian meatpacking plants, which will result in the return of a legion of injured employees, a situation that existed before the enactment of NR”.

Lack of consultation with indigenous people violates ILO Convention 169

Brazilian meatpacking plants employ thousands of indigenous people. By 2020, it is estimated that more than 10,000 have worked in meatpacking plants throughout the country.

Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO) ensures prior consultation with indigenous people, through its representative institutions, every time legislative or administrative measures are discussed that are likely to affect them directly.

According to the Federal Constitution and the precedents of the Federal Supreme Court (STF), the principles of prevention and precaution, as well as social dialogue, must be observed when it comes to protecting the health of indigenous people.

The prosecutors of the MPT warn that the “Ministry of Labor and Social Security has ignored and solemnly disregards its obligations towards the indigenous populations, permeating the process of revision of NR 36 with insanable formal vices, violating the right to participation in the formulation and execution of preventive health actions that should be aimed at the indigenous populations, fundamental right assured by the 1988 Constitution and by ILO Convention 169”.

The prosecutors criticize the procedure and the lack of debate necessary for revision of the norm, which was to be done by mid-March 2022.

For the MPT representatives, the NR 36 technical study does not even mention the impacts on indigenous people and immigrants who work in the sector and the accident data analyzed refer to a very short period, from 2016 to 2019, fact that hampers the analysis, because NR 36 dates from 2013.

Illness in meatpacking plants

An epidemiological survey conducted by the MPT proved the high level of illnesses in meatpacking plants, with significant incidence during pregnancy and maternity, besides musculoskeletal and mental disorders, even in the validity of the current NR 36.

Epidemiological analysis conducted by MPT

Year                                                           2016        2017          2018        2019     Average      Total

disorders                                                2.890      2.459       2.634       2.775        2.690       10.758 
6.820     5.780        6.191       5.846        6.159       24.637  
Maternal disorders
related to                                              1.497     1.284      1.335       1.318         1.359          5.434

For Labor Prosecutors, the framework of illnesses affecting the rights to maternity, health and decent work, provided for in Article 6th of the Federal Constitution, tends to be worsened with the revision of the NR 36, as proposed by the Federal Government.