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Authorities Expose Modern Day Slavery at São Paulo Airport

09/26/2013 - 09h01

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CLARA ROMAN
FROM SÃO PAULO

A government inspection of construction projects at Guarulhos International Airport in Greater São Paulo has discovered 111 workers living in degrading conditions considered tantamount to slavery. The workers were living in accommodation run by the construction firm OAS.

According to inquiries made by the authorities, the workers were part of a backup team recruited to work on the construction of a new terminal at the airport, which is run by the company GRU Airport.

They were brought to São Paulo from the northeastern states of Bahia, Pernambuco, Piauí and Maranhão, on the understanding that they would earn a salary of R$1400 (US$ 629) a month. Among the group were six Pankaruru Indians native to the northeast region.

The traffickers who brought the workers to São Paulo were representatives of OAS, though the exact number of people involved in the network is still under investigation.

The workers had to pay R$300 (US$ 135) for transport, as well as a fee of R$100 (US$ 45) to R$300 to the trafficker. However, at the time of their discovery in Guarulhos they had been waiting for nearly a month to be assigned to a project.

The investigation came about following a denunciation by the Union of Civil Construction Workers for Guarulhos and the surrounding region, which has subsequently taken care of the rescued workers.

'I was shocked to see men crying, saying they had called the company, which confirmed the existence of the job vacancies. They said they had used family savings to come to São Paulo,' says Patricia Therezinha de Toledo, a judge at the Regional Labor Tribunal for São Paulo.

According to public prosecutor Cristiane Nogueira, there are judicial actions underway against OAS as a result of irregularities at construction projects in several other states, including at the Grêmio Arena in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul.

The Public Ministry of Labor has filed an injunction against OAS, requesting a fine of up to R$141,000 (US$ 63,334) relating to 25 counts of misconduct. This injunction will last for 30 days and will be followed by a civil action.

The Regional Labor Tribunal has also filed a provisional injunction requesting that assets belonging to OAS and GRU Airport worth R$15 million (USD $6.7 million) be frozen.

The workers have already each received an average of R$6000 (US$ 2695) in compensation, and have returned to their home states. They are also entitled to three payments of unemployment benefit, and will be given priority in social programs such as the Bolsa Família.

According to regional labor superintendent Luiz Antônio Medeiros, the rush to invest in mega projects before next year's World Cup stimulates this type of exploitation. As a result, the authorities will step up their inspections, including at the Itaquerão, the stadium in São Paulo due to host the tournament's opening match.

Translated by TOM GATEHOUSE

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