Resilience and Renewal: Labor unions, inspectors, prosecutors and the enforcement of labor laws in Brazil.
What happens to a country’s system of labor laws when its government embraces market-oriented reforms? In a twist on the prediction that labor regulations will be repealed, researchers find that laws remain in place but are not faithfully enforced, a phenomenon known as de facto flexibility. This article examines the case of Brazil to understand its near-opposite; namely, resilience and renewal in the enforcement of labor regulations. It finds that labor unions have combined the corporatist authority they gained under state control with the autonomy they acquired under democratization to devise new modes of action and to safeguard existing regulations. Meanwhile, labor inspectors and prosecutors rely on existing laws to combat precarious work conditions and promote formal employment relations, which strengthen the unions. This mutually supportive arrangement is neither perfect nor free of tension, but it shows how workers can be protected even when employers are subjected to global competition.