Belo Monte workers go again on strike

Working conditions motivated once again a standstill in the construction site of the Belo Monte dam. The strike was suppressed with the help of the National Force. When Tairone Cardoso […]

Working conditions motivated once again a standstill in the construction site of the Belo Monte dam. The strike was suppressed with the help of the National Force.

When Tairone Cardoso (Bahia,, 44 years), knew about the possibility to go working on the construction site of the Belo Monte dam, earlier this year, he was thrilled: “They said they pay well,  about  R$ 1,800, I should also receive  a food basket worth R$ 400 and extra payment for hours worked on Saturdays and Sundays.” But the reality in the construction site, in Altamira, state of Pará, was quite different. “I worked during the entire carnival and only received R$  800. “

Tairone was one of the 200 workers that left the construction site on April 10 and went camping in the church of Altamira as a form of protest.  Appalled by the working conditions in the greatest work in progress in Brazil, workers of two stonemasons, Pimental and Belo Monte, went on strike involving some 5,000 workers.

The Belo Monte Construction Consortium (CCBM), formed by the contractors Andrade Gutierrez, Camargo Correa, Odebrecht, amongst others, refused to negotiate with the workers, arguing that the strike happened without the support of the Union of Workers of Heavy Construction Para (Sintrapav). Despite the CCMB did not recognize, the strike lasted a week.

Workers from other regions of Pará and other states such as Maranhão and Tocantins also went on strike. Most of them started working less than a year ago and claimed to have been cheated by the construction consortiums. One of the main reasons for the strike concerned the so-called additional confinement, a gain of 40% of the salary for workers who stay housed within the construction site. A promise that the consortiums made but not accomplished.

Workers who are housed in the city of Altamira have an additional 20% for the bus travel time to the construction site. The go and return trip can consume up to four hours daily. The newly hired workers who live on the site do not receive this additional; they are deprived of living in the city and can only leave the site twice a week.

Another item on the agenda of the strikers concerns their travelling back to their hometowns in order to visit their families. After last year’s strike, older workers got the right to go every three months, but for the new ones, the interval is six months.

The strikers also required the end of the system 5 to 1 or working 5 consecutive days and having 1 free. In this system the days worked on weekends are not recognized as overtime.

These points amongst others, in total 35, were organized by the Union of Light Construction Altamira and the Conlutas, trade union linked to PSTU, who sought to influence workers and supported the event.

This support was not easy. Two militants were arrested inside the construction site and received an interdiction to re-enter, such as the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB) and the Xingu Forever Alive Movement received, who since March 14 are forbidden to enter any area under the control of the dam construction companies.

 Three leaders of the strike movement were kept in private jail by security guards of CCBM and ROTAM. They were removed from the construction site at dawn on April 11 and released on the Transamazon highway, 300 km from Altamira.

“They forced us to enter the car. Said I was guilty and caused a loss of R$ 1,5 million for the company ” said by telephone one of the workers, known as Bethlehem. Along with the security guards was a man who introduced himself as bailiff but without showing identification.

Bethlehem told he suffered from psychological violence. “They said I was a direct threat and that they only would let us free when the strike ended” denounced.

In the days of the strike, the construction site became, in words of the workers, almost a battlefield, with the presence of the Military Police, private security and the National Force. The workers’ action, however, was peaceful, with no damage to the belongings of the company, unlike the previous shutdown that occurred in November last year.

Presence of the National Force

Since the end of March, the National Force is installed inside the Belo Monte construction site with authorization of the Ministry of Justice. They are expected to stay for 90 days, extendable. Their presence started after the occupation of the site by groups of indigenous and riverside people claiming their rights. The justification of the use of the National Force is to prevent further demonstrations that might hinder the progress of the construction work.

In day-to-day live the workers suffer from the presence of the National Force. “It felt like we work in a prison. The vigilance is 24 hours a day, we even take lunch under the observation of armed men “said striker Alexandre Lobato, 24 years old.” The worst occurred when we return from our days off. If someone had been drinking, he was treated as a villain, cursed vagabond, sometimes physically assaulted. “

Strikers complained that during the strike, the National Force blocked access to the construction site and forced the rebelling workers to give in their ID cards so they could be fired. Even workers who had no relationship with the movement had their documents confiscated.

The role of the National Force was redefined the last month. Previously, it could act as an auxiliary military police in exceptional situations. After publication of the decree 7.957/2013 in the Official Gazette on March 12, the National Force is authorized to act nationwide, no longer only when requested by the state governments, but also by request of the Ministers of State, aiming to “increase administrative efficiency in environmental actions with preventive or repressive character.”

Since then, the National Force had been used to ensure the progress of the great works of dams in the Amazon. Besides Belo Monte, a force of 250 men was assigned to ensure the impact studies in the Hydroelectric Complex of Tapajos, western Pará. The situation aroused the indignation of the riverside people and Mundurukú Indians, whose territories will be affected if the dams were constructed.

Moreover, the sending of troops to serve in the plants Jirau and Santo Antonio on the Madeira River in Rondônia was authorized, where 24,000 workers in two plants went on strike for nine days in recent weeks.

Works in full swing and constraints delayed

During the strike at least 800 workers were dismissed according an estimate of the Construction Union Altamira. Most of the fired worked less than a year, like Delson dos Santos, 28, who worked only one month and 15 days when the strike began.

Participating in demonstrations, he denounced the working conditions he experienced: “The supervisors forced us to continue working under heavy rain fall. Rain does not kill, they said. During these periods, we did not see a single safety technician. I saw a colleague getting an electric shock and another almost die because the seatbelt failed “.

Currently there are about 22 thousand workers working at the construction of Belo Monte. With the peak of the project later this year, that figure is expected to reach 28,000.

The speed of the construction of the dam is quite different from the velocity of the so called constraints that the Norte Energia consortium must comply.

In early April, federal prosecutors started a lawsuit to force the company to carry out sanitation works for the municipality of Altamira as planned compensations. The agency asks that IBAMA suspends the license of the hydroelectric plant like required under Brazilian law due to the delay in these works.

The company should have built a system of drinking water and 261 kilometers of sewer system in 2011. But these works have not yet left the drawing board. Since the beginning of the construction of Belo Monte, the city of Altamira saw its population increase from 100,000 inhabitants to 150,000.

For the affected populations, crumbs

Norte Energia announced this month their plan about the resettlement of 7,970 families in the city of Altamira. All will have to leave their homes. Most reside in the flooded areas of the city, in stilt houses.

The company wants to build resettlement on the outskirts of the city of Altamira, away from the river. One of them on top of a garbage dump. Moreover, the houses will only size 63 square meters and the company no longer offer a choice of 63, 69 and 78 square meters. The houses will be built with concrete walls which do not allow reforms and are suspicion of suitability due to the climate of the region.

 The company’s intention is to complete the resettlement until June 2014 paving the way for start filling of the lake, which should cover an area of ??516 square kilometers, and start works of “urban regeneration”, which are, according to the social movements nothing more than the expulsion of the poorest away from the city center. “Nobody asked for the dam to be constructed here and get out of our homes. We want to be treated with a minimum of respect and participate in the decision about our own lives; contrary to what is happening now “says Eliane Moreira, 32, hit by the dam and member of the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB).

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| Publicado 21/12/2023 por Coletivo de Comunicação MAB PI

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