Under the farm owners’ rules, any machines not fully paid off by the end of the harvest were to remain on the farm and could be used by the same workers if they returned for the next harvest.
Brazil’s NR-31 legislation, which covers rural labor, stipulates that employers must provide work tools to their employees free of charge, including any fuel needed, according to a labor inspector interviewed by Repórter Brasil.
“Employers must provide work equipment. When employers make this abusive discount from wages, they reduce workers’ earnings,” said Jorge Ferreira dos Santos, head of the Coordination of Rural Employees of the State of Minas Gerais (Adere) and a member of the state board for the CUT labor federation.
“Farm owners’ logic is to profit as much as they can from the highest precariousness possible,” Ferreira said. He added that while charging workers to use harvesting machines is illegal, it’s growing increasingly common in southern Minas Gerais.
Wage deductions have a huge impact on seasonal workers, Ferreira said, because what they earn during the harvest months is often all they will get throughout the year. “They take it home and support their families until the next harvest,” he said.
Most of the coffee workers in southern Minas Gerais migrate there from the Jequitinhonha Valley and northern Minas Gerais, as well as from states in Brazil’s northeast, especially Bahia. Of the 32 workers found at the Pedreira farm, 23 came from Santa Maria do Salto municipality in the Jequitinhonha Valley.
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