Minimum wage for nurses: Will Bolsonaro veto the law passed by Congress?

Workers and parliamentarians are advocating for funding of a proposal of increasing nurses’ rights and against a possible veto of the president

May 13, 2022 by Cristiane Sampaio
Nurses in Fortaleza, Ceará protest against the poor management of the pandemic by the Bolsonaro government. Photo: Marília Quinderé / Mídia Ninja

After a minimum wage for nurses was approved in the Brazilian Parliament last Wednesday, May 4, nurses began to mobilize in order to prevent President Jair Bolsonaro vetoing the proposal and delaying the implementation. The behavior of some members of parliament during the vote suggested that the project could face barriers after reaching the President’s Office, who is already arguing that it does not have the funds necessary to implement the plan.

According to a report approved by the parliamentarians, the minimum wage should come into effect on the same day when the law is published. The goal of the nurses is to make the measure effective in the labor market as soon as possible.

The draft bill n. 2.564, introduced in 2020, establishes a minimum wage of 4750 reais (approx 925 USD) for nurses. It also sets the minimum wage for nursing technicians at 70% of this value, and at 50% for nursing assistants and midwives.

“Nurses are exhausted. Every time we manage to take a step forward, the government and its representatives in the National Congress manage to put in place new obstacles,” says the president of the National Federation of Nurses (FNE), Shirley Morales.

Her statement refers to the controversies that surrounded the budget needed to implement the plan, a topic that dominated the debates in the National Congress.

The discussion was also influenced by the pressure of the private health sector, which interlinked with lobbying against the measure by mayors and governors.

If Bolsonaro vetoes the proposal, it will return to the Congress for further evaluation by congressmen and senators.

Controversies in the House

Government Leader in the Chamber of Deputies, Ricardo Barros (Progressistas), called on his peers to vote against the bill, underlining the already well-known opposition of the federal government to the proposal. Planalto Palace – the President’s Office – argues that there is no budgetary space to accommodate salary increases in the public healthcare system.

“We do want to vote on the project, but we also want to be able to make the payments. So I hope that by the end of this vote, we will find a solution that identifies the source of the budget for this bill, so everyone present can be certain that it was in fact a victory,” shouted Barros during the vote in the plenary.

Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, the president’s son, was among the 12 representatives who voted against the bill. In spite of that, the bill was approved by a large majority, with 449 votes in favor.

“It was a demonstration of insensitivity towards the nurses. The congressmen who voted against made very explicit statements to highlight their opposition. In general, when they do that, it is to lay the ground for a veto by the president, so at this moment the most important thing is to mobilize in favor of the bill,” said Alexandre Padilha (Workers’ Party), the bill’s rapporteur.

Costs

Negotiations about the financing of the nurses’ minimum wage continued in parallel to the discussion in Congress. One round of negotiations that took place just ahead of the vote pointed out a couple of ways to make the plan viable.

One of the outlined approaches would consist of an agreement on the financing of the bill being made in Congress before sending the text to the President for sanctioning, which could facilitate the approval.

Senators also presented a Proposed Constitutional Amendment (PEC) to provide legal support for the agenda. The PEC would include the new minimum wage in the Constitution, a move that would reduce the space for stalling of the implementation on the basis of lack of constitutional grounding. The groups mobilizing around the minimum wage platform are now looking to accelerate the approval of this proposal, which has to pass through two rounds of voting in the legislative houses of Congress.

Members of the Parliament are still discussing other possibilities for funding the minimum wage. “What is being discussed is the importance of having a funding source for the minimum wage. One part of the parliamentarians voted for the bill with the expectation that there are means to make it possible. It is a debate that will continue in the House. And, of course, anything that leads to more resources for health is good,” says Padilha.

“There is no defined proposal, but the minimum wage is feasible. It represents less than 5% of the total budget for the Unified Health System (SUS). If we take in consideration the budget spent by states, municipalities and the Santas Casas, it represents less than 3% of the entire SUS budget. And it represents less than 4% of the billing of health plans,” said the former Minister of Health.

Underfinancing and Expenditure Ceiling

The leader of the Workers’ Party in the Chamber, Reginaldo Lopes, sees the position of the minimum wage critics as ‘absurd’. In line with the argumentation presented by the rapporteur, he says that the private and public sectors would absorb the new budget demand easily.

“With so much money in the budget, there should be no difficulty in making the minimum wage happen from the point of view of the municipalities, the states, the Union itself. Difficulties would arise in the case of the 1700 philanthropic hospitals, but not because of the minimum wage itself,” he notes.

The Workers’ Party representative also addressed a problem of underfunding of health initiated by the government of Michel Temer through the fiscal adjustment program that became known as the Expenditure Ceiling. “And the Bolsonaro government has been continuing this policy, worsening this abyss that has opened up in front of the future of the country,” criticized Lopes.

Lopes rejected the idea that the implementation of the nurses’ minimum wage should depend on new revenues. “This makes no sense. The revenue is the Federation’s general budget. Of course, you need to preserve the relations of the subnational entities, increase transfers, and so on, but you can’t use this argument to say ‘If I allow the minimum wage for a group of workers, I will need to create a new tax to pay for it,'” Lopes said.

For the Workers’ Party parliamentary, the implementation of the minimum wage for nurses is going to happen, not least because of the support it has already won. “Victory has already come and the opposition will remain vigilant to finalise this process as soon as possible,” he concluded.

This article first appeared in Portuguese on Brasil de Fato.

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