In a bid to control work in the digital age, Brazil has introduced a new law requiring companies to pay overtime to employees who make or receive work phone calls or e-mails outside office hours.
The measure, which follows Volkswagen’s move to block after-hours e-mails to its unionized German staff, is generating fierce debate in a country that is seeking to boost productivity as its industries face increasing competition from cheap imports.
“The human resources departments of large companies will have to be very concerned with this law,” said Daniel Santiago Faria, country manager for Brazil at specialist recruitment firm Marks Sattin. He said making and receiving phone calls out of hours was a way of life in Brazil’s financial and industrial capital. “When it comes to Sao Paulo, people are very involved in their jobs. They are stuck in traffic until they get home and they never turn off their BlackBerrys. They dedicate more hours to work.”
Latin America’s largest economy was ranked 138th out of 183 countries for the difficulty of employing workers in the World Bank’s 2010 Doing Business report.
Companies complain that the cost of employing a worker is almost double base salary because of additional mandatory taxes, benefits and contributions.
Companies also live in fear of lawsuits from workers, some of whom exploit the country’s labyrinthine labour laws and sympathetic courts to file claims against former employers.
On the other hand, employees in Brazil’s big cities are often forced to work long hours, made worse by gruelling commutes through congested traffic.
“It’s just going to be one more thing to slow down the labour ministry,” said Claudia Sakuraba, owner of Carnaval Store, a costume shop in Sao Paulo with four employees. “It’s going to be one more impediment that stops us from hiring more people. The law protects the employees but I think it’s going a bit too far now.”
She said it was also unclear how the new regulation would work. Brazilian media reports said workers receiving after-hours e-mails or phone calls would be paid at a normal rate plus between 50 per cent and 100 per cent, depending on the hour or whether it was the weekend.