By Invisíveis Goiânia
For those who only pay attention to high politics and the news, what is happening in reaction to the global pandemic in Brazil appears like insanity driven by crazy politicians and businessmen. A huge majority has been in favor of the quarantine since the beginning, about 73% of the population. The percentage gets even higher in the poorest parts the population: 96% of the population in favelas defend quarantine and 76% of unemployed people and workers under precarious conditions defend quarantine, even without guaranteed income. Workers and poor people in Brazil are quite aware of the value of their own lives and of the fact that no one but themselves will be able to guarantee their livelihood. Yet, we are experiencing a huge surge in infections, the death rates are doubling every five days, and streets are starting to become crowded. Why? Is it because poor people are ignorant and do not believe in the pandemic, as some people would urge to think? That is not the case. The Brazilian working class is struggling with a desperate day-to-day fight, trying to protect themselves and their loved ones from economic and psychological coercion without any support from the unions and the political left. For instance, a project offering an emergency relief fund for poor people of R$600,00 was celebrated by the left as a major victory at the beginning of April, but by the end of April there are at least 45 million workers who did not receive it yet. 5 million workers cannot even register to try and get it because they do not have smartphones to make the application. The other forty million are having to expose themselves to infection in long lines at the banks. They have to wait to see if they will be able to register to get a chance to get the benefit, but this is often held up due to bureaucratic problems, such as not having an “active” social security registry.
The minimum wage in Brazil is R$1036,00. There are no debates of any further relief funds. If there were any health, safety, and security measures in the hospitals, workplaces, commerce and anywhere, it was because of these desperate yet very conscious struggles of people trying their very best to live and preserve lives. Our small collective of workers chose to translate and reproduce this saga of struggles in a call centre in Goiânia, because we believe it to be representative of a reality lived by many workers in our country – they are being deprived of information, given contradictory instructions, and poor equipment. At the end of the day, if anything survives, it will be due to their struggle, not because of any enlightenment of their managers. We hope that by sharing their voices and thoughts, workers and people of other countries will be able to hear another call from them – not just those ones when they offera service or chargethe payment of a bill, but their call tobe able to breathe freely, like all workers and human beings should be able to do. This text also represents a form of political and theoretical practice that we believe is important to be shared and discussed. These texts were produced over a month of repeated collective discussion of day-to-day battles and shared pain, angst, and joy over the small victories obtained every day. It took these workers immense courage and resilience inside the call center to keep contacting us and exposing what was happening, even under threat. The courage of these workers was an inspiration to us and – we hope – may be an inspiration to others as well.
The Call of Death Saga: The Unwavering Struggle of Atento’s Call Centre’s Workers For Their Lives in Goiânia
As of the 20th March we are receiving desperate workers complaints about the situation at Atento’s call centre, which provides services to companies such as “Vivo”, “BMG”, “Oi” and “Enel.” The situation is dramatic. Ever since COVID-19 cases increased, call centre operators are being fired and disappearing from their workstations: “I realised that this week the number of employees has been decreasing every day, without warning or explanation”, a worker denounces. “Since the coronavirus issue started I realised that people were disappearing, I was talking to my colleagues “guys, it’s disappearing’”, said another worker. The method for dismissing workers without having to pay for rights is cruel: “They are giving a four-day suspension for breaking two minutes, because with three suspensions it is just cause”. In this inhumane condition, mass layoffs are happening: “I heard the testimony of an employee today, saying that 150 people will be fired immediately, among them newbies who had started at the job three days ago, people in training and hired workers”. In addition, those who stay are obliged to accept a work schedule on alternate days, without the right to a food allowance on break days.
For workers in risk groups at the company, there is no urgency in discussing home working. It does not apply to workers with relatives at risk: “If you have a family, they don’t consider it. It only applies also for those who have a personal computer and internet”. These workers are left to fend for themselves because even after a court order for the workplace to be sanitized and ventilated, the cleaning conditions at the stations remained terrible: “They say that they are cleaning several times, but even hair came out of the key boards, which, by the way, were not cleaned”. There is also no hand sanitizer available and workers cannot wear masks: “They say they have [70% alcohol gel] hand sanitizer, however it’s also a lie. They’re putting cleaning alcohol on them. Today the union gave a bottle of about 20 or 30ml in half for each one. But it was alcohol mixed with water… Ah! They banned the use of masks for saying that it covers the face and the company does not accept it”.
Workers also report that it was only after an inspection that banned workstations due to poor hygiene conditions that the proper hand sanitizer began to appear. But they still continue to demand that the workers have the necessary equipment to work at home: “Because they are asking again who has a PC or notebook, but they say that it must be an 20MB internet or over… Then the people stayed silent and I asked: ‘and who does not have?’”. The company is silent, but workers know that those without the equipment will continue to work, taking all the risks working in terrible working conditions. Instead of hiring more cleaners, the company just overloaded the existing cleaners, who are not in the least able to do all the work. With a lying attitude, the company is concerned with taking photos that do not represent reality at all: “Today I also saw people taking pictures of the cleaning ladies (who are visibly overloaded by the way). Pictures of them cleaning tables and smiling. They made us tap the keyboard and wiped the tables only”.
The guidance for sick workers is just to be silent: “There have been cases of employees being sick with the symptoms of coronavirus and all they said was to ‘be quiet’ and hope to get better.” This is pushing workers to the limit of mental exhaustion. They live with the fear of contracting the disease, infecting family members at risk, and/or losing their job. The result is desperate workers: “Dude, people are freaking out. There are people feeling sick and the staff [managers] inducing them to focus. I’m rubbish, I can’t think now, I’m freaking out. I’ve been crying all day and colleagues are already quitting”.
Faced with this absurd situation of inhumanity, workers demand a total and immediate interruption of activities: “Our claim is to stop! Because the recommendation was to avoid any kind of crowding and we spent 6 to more than 8 hours a day in a closed environment, with air conditioning and countless people. Not to mention that the vast majority depends on public transport, which is still crowded today and requires us to have direct physical contact with several people.” The company replies to the workers that their lives are worthless: “Their argument at first was that we didn’t have to stop, because the service was over the phone and meant no risk to customers”. And the risk to workers?
Initially what seemed like a distant threat, on the other side of the planet, ended up knocking on our doors. As a student of higher education, I was caught by the rumors of teachers who came back from a trip from Europe with the suspicion of contamination. The terror began to spread quickly and wefeared for our safety and the safety of our family and friends.