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2022 | OriginalPaper | Buchkapitel

11. Supermarket Workers: Discovered and Uncovered During Covid-19 Pandemic

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Abstract

The aim of this paper is to understand how the pandemic crisis of COVID-19 confirms and aggravates precarious living and working conditions of supermarket employees in Brazil. On one hand, the set of studies in different countries and research conducted at Walmart in Brazil highlight the precariousness of the work that accompanied the processes of supermarketization and internationalization of retail. On the other hand, social inequality and Brazilian labour market conditions limit the prospects of these workers for better employment. The paper draws on qualitative research evidence from the field of research at Walmart Brazilian Stores, semi-structured interviews with workers and union leaders, national administrative data and based on secondary data from media material. Despite increased publicity for the importance of these workers and the precarious working conditions to which they are subjected, this article argues that recognition as an essential activity of supermarket workers in the context of the pandemic has been accompanied by further degradation of working conditions and greater exposure to the risks of their lives and their families.
Fußnoten
1
As working conditions I am considering: (a) the salary and other types of remuneration (as profit-sharing, bonus etc.); (b) working hours; (c) ways of hiring; (d) occupational injuries or illnesses; (e) labour outsourcing; (f) benefits and incentive programs offered by the company; (g) complaints of harassment; (h) turnover and mobility; (i) work organization and managerial practices (related to the hierarchy, duties, levels of autonomy, skill requirements, training, engagement with the corporate ideology etc.).
 
2
There, I saw some wrong things, but who am I to say something? I am a number for the company. […] This is complicated because you work in a company, so you usually think:—‘This company will grow, as they say, we will grow together', but it is not like this. You are still there and when you have a problem, as what happened to me, you are put aside (Rute, cashier and salesperson).
 
3
We know that it is an American company, it is a company that aims mainly labour, a lot of work. So, it has its advantages, but it has some disadvantages because the company sees the employee not as a person, but as a machine. Do you know what I mean? (Rosana, cashier).
 
4
When it was a family business, the owner, he came into the company, came to meet the employees, called us by name. He treated everyone with a certain degree of respect, you know, with respect for being a citizen, with a respect for being a worker. When this company got to the point of being sold to a foreign company, they started to scrap the stores, they started to reduce the number of employees, they had another vision: the vision of profit, profit, profits … It is wild capitalism. […] The speech is very beautiful … but [the company] has a definition of what a person should be. The person is a role. […] The person is the vision of what? It's money, it's profit. […] So … little by little it was changing, changing, changing … and today we are that: we are just what the company needs. And what does the company need? The company needs a person who makes a profit (Lucas).
 
5
One of the most significant changes allowed by the Brazilian labour reform of 2017 was to generalize legal permission to outsource in all kinds of occupations that was restricted to non-essential activities.
 
6
In this sense, Braga goes along with (Standing 2011, 2014) in the purpose of analyze the “precariat” as “a group of people who are deprived of any work-related guarantees, subjected to uncertain income, and without a collective identity that is rooted in a labour world”. Despite that, Braga follows a Marxist agenda and conceive this group as an expression of the metamorphosis of working class. His argument is also focused on the Global South and particularly in Brazil (Braga 2016).
 
8
“Coronavírus: Bolsonaro inclui salão, barbearia e academia como ‘atividades essenciais'” (Bolsonaro includes hair salons, barber shops and gyms as ‘essential activities'), May 11, 2020. Available in: https://​g1.​globo.​com/​politica/​noticia/​2020/​05/​11/​coronavirus-bolsonaro-inclui-salao-barbearia-e-academia-como-atividades-essenciais.​ghtml.
 
9
This debate was presented and deepened in the report “Emprego, trabalho e renda para garantir o direito à vida” (Employment, work and income in order to guarantee the right to life) prepared together with other members of the Working Group “Mundos do trabalho”, CESIT.
 
10
The Emergency Income Assistance Program was established by law 13.982 of April 2nd, 2020. The program is oriented to informal workers, individual microentrepreneurs (MEI), self-employed and unemployed. It lasts 3 months, with a monthly benefit of R$600.00, which does not reach 58% of the minimum wage. In addition to a late and insufficient measure, so far around 39 million people have claimed the benefit and had their claim denied. At the beginning of May, 6 million people were still awaiting analysis and 12.4 million would need to reapply. By that time 50.52 million people had received the first part of the aid. It is estimated that about 97 million people fit the program's requirements. An additional serious problem is that a significant portion of the payment is being made at the state bank's agencies in person. Hence, thousands of people have been crowded at the bank doors for hours, in huge queues, exposed to the risk of virus contamination.
 
11
Gonçalves, Juliana. Coronavírus: ‘tem gente que tosse em cima da gente’, conta caixa do supermercado carioca Mundial. (Coronavirus: ‘There are people who cough over us’ said a cashier from the Mundial supermarket chain in Rio de Janeiro), April 14, 2020.
 
12
The media has publicized cases as in Florianópolis and Vila Velha cities where the sanitary surveillance department order the closure of supermarket stores after a significant number of employees have been contaminated by Covid-19 virus. Read more in: “Supermercado em Florianópolis é fechado para desinfecção após funcionários contraírem Covid-19”, April 8, 2020. Available in: https://​g1.​globo.​com/​sc/​santa-catarina/​noticia/​2020/​04/​08/​supermercado-em-florianopolis-e-fechado-para-desinfeccao-apos-funcionarios-contrairem-covid-19.​ghtml; “Com funcionários com Covid-19, supermercado é interditado em Vila Velha”, Abril 28, 2020. Available in: https://​www.​agazeta.​com.​br/​es/​economia/​com-funcionarios-com-coronavirus-supermercado-e-interditado-em-vila-velha-0420.
 
13
“Caixa de supermercado que estava grávida e urinou na roupa por estar impedida de ir ao banheiro deve ser indenizada” (Supermarket cashier who was pregnant and urinated on clothes for being prevented from going to the bathroom should becompensated), 10 April, 2019. https://​www.​trt4.​jus.​br/​portais/​trt4/​modulos/​noticias/​226188.
 
15
What can, and is causing, consequences is really the psychological issue. Because the complaints are very similar. “We are exposed here!” So, in my view, it is the psychological pressure. Today, if we go to get the statistics on the work leave due to occupational illness, commerce is one of the sectors that have the highest numbers. Why? Why depression? Because of the pressure that companies put on workers, mainly to reach goals. So in my view, the consequences during the period of this pandemic and after that are the pressure of workers on themselves. When they leave their houses and think: “Look, I'm really going to work in the supermarket, as a cashier, and I can, at any time, be positive for covid-19". So, it's about the person's psychic self-charge. The person is already really nervous. The second point, this is not going to stop right now. After we get past this problem, I believe that the difficulty will appear with much higher volume. Why? Because things will be more relaxed, social life will come back (…) I am not a psychologist, but I think it will be more or less like the loss of a loved one, when people become traumatized and then sink in. So, I think that after the crisis there will be much more sick leave caused by mental health problems, especially in the supermarket sector, due to diseases that will find these people's bodies weakened and will attack. I believe that this picture will appear a lot (Union Lider from São Paulo).
 
16
Important part of these evidences are gathered in the report published by CEPEDISA and CONECTAS (2021).
 
17
Real numbers are probably higher given evidence of underreporting in the lack of systematic testing and of a national source of reliable data.
 
18
To access the international manifest in different languages: https://​democratizingwor​k.​org/​.
 
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Metadaten
Titel
Supermarket Workers: Discovered and Uncovered During Covid-19 Pandemic
verfasst von
Patrícia Rocha Lemos
Copyright-Jahr
2022
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-93228-2_11

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