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Ineradicable social inequalities : the precarious formalisation of work in the sugarcane plantations of Alagoas, Northeast Brazil (1990s-2010s)

(2023)
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Promoter
(UGent)
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Abstract
This dissertation examines the growth of formal employment in the sugarcane agro-industry of Alagoas, Northeast Brazil, between the 1990s and the 2010s. This study adopts a critical perspective that departs from statistical approaches and instead delves deeper into the social and historical context of the emergence of the formal labour market in the plantation-dominated region of Alagoas. The guiding research question is: Does the shift from informal to formal jobs mean that better and more secure jobs are created for workers? The aim of this study is to unpack the restructuring of the labour market and explain why and how formalisation has brought new forms of precarity and social inequalities. The study uses a qualitative approach based on oral-history, in-depth and semi-structured interviews, workplace ethnography and photography to create new primary sources on the formalisation of jobs. The analysis shed light on the emerging patterns of employment, the institutional mechanisms that reproduce these patterns through documents, the dynamics of coercion and resistance in the workplace, and the reproduction of a diverse rural proletariat beyond formal precarious wage work. It is demonstrated that job formalisation actualised old forms of social control previously based on informality and other systems of labour immobilisation and exploitation. The findings point to the precarity associated with workers having jobs ‘for life’ characterised by seasonality and work intensification. The expansion of formal employment has been used to raise work effort and reproduce a specific form of workforce who is seasonally discarded by this labour market, experiencing recurrent unemployment, and perpetually dependent on unemployment benefits and accident benefits for these workers are continuously exposed to occupational hazards and joblessness. Moreover, the workers’ documents, the carteiras de trabalhom became ambiguous instruments. While these documents promoted labour and social rights, they were instrumentalised to allow employers greater control and immobilisation of the workforce. Labour control was reinforced by unofficial modifications to work cards and the arbitrariness of managers, who used punishments, threats and coercive measures to extract labour and control workers. The disregard for human and labour rights indicates that coercion remains a resilient feature in the exploitation of workers on the plantations. The workers' reactions to the intensification of exploitation play a crucial role in the formalisation of work. Looking at work histories, the period of job formalisation expands beyond formal wage labour and shows the interplay of visible (formal, paid) and invisible (informal, unpaid) forms of work that constitute the rural proletariat in the Zona da Mata of Alagoas. These different forms of proletarianisation point to different patterns of precarity and labour exploitation. For most workers, formalisation has led to permanently temporary employment. Other workers have experienced long periods of informality and very short periods of formalisation. Still other workers have never really had access to formal contracts and have worked under informal conditions their entire working lives. Women form the unpaid segment of the rural proletariat who perform reproductive labour and whose indispensable work is made invisible. Others have had to escape gruelling working conditions by refusing formal jobs in order to survive or in search of upward mobility and a better future. Finally, this study concludes that formalizing jobs has not been sufficient to promote decent work and decent living conditions, as the extension of social and labour rights on plantations is accompanied by life-threatening work intensification, socio-economic insecurities, repression and coercion. There is an urgent need to move away from formalised precarious wage labour on sugarcane plantations and to expand autonomous forms of work that combat landlessness and labour exploitation. The peasant perspective and the strengthening of agrarian reform is proposed as a viable option to promote sustainable production relations that are more centred on human flourishing, and oriented towards agroecology, food sovereignty, biodiversity conservation and the symbiotic interaction between humans and nature that can create a good life in the Zona da Mata of Alagoas.
Dit proefschrift onderzoekt de groei van formele werkgelegenheid in de suikerriet agro-industrie van Alagoas, Noordoost Brazilië, tussen de jaren 1990 en 2010. Deze studie hanteert een kritisch perspectief dat afwijkt van statistische benaderingen en in plaats daarvan dieper ingaat op de sociale en historische context van de opkomst van de formele arbeidsmarkt in de door plantages gedomineerde regio Alagoas. De leidende onderzoeksvraag is: Betekent de verschuiving van informele naar formele arbeid dat er betere en zekerdere banen worden gecreëerd voor werknemers? Het doel van dit onderzoek is om de herstructurering van de arbeidsmarkt uit te pakken en uit te leggen waarom en hoe formalisering nieuwe vormen van precariteit en sociale ongelijkheid met zich mee heeft gebracht. Het onderzoek maakt gebruik van een kwalitatieve benadering op basis van oral history, diepte- en semigestructureerde interviews, etnografie van de werkplek en fotografie om nieuwe primaire bronnen over de formalisering van arbeid te creëren. De analyse werpt licht op de opkomende arbeidspatronen, de institutionele mechanismen die deze patronen via documenten reproduceren, de dynamiek van dwang en verzet op de werkplek en de reproductie van een divers plattelandsproletariaat buiten het formele precaire loonwerk. Er wordt aangetoond dat de formalisering van arbeid oude vormen van sociale controle actualiseert die voorheen gebaseerd waren op informaliteit en andere systemen van arbeidsimmobilisatie en uitbuiting. De bevindingen wijzen op het precaire karakter van werk 'voor het leven' die gekenmerkt worden door seizoensgebondenheid en intensivering van het werk. De uitbreiding van formele werkgelegenheid is gebruikt om de arbeidsinspanning te verhogen en een specifieke vorm van arbeidskrachten te reproduceren die seizoensgebonden door deze arbeidsmarkt wordt afgedankt, terugkerende werkloosheid ervaart en voortdurend afhankelijk is van werkloosheidsuitkeringen en ongevallenuitkeringen omdat deze werknemers voortdurend worden blootgesteld aan beroepsrisico’s en werkloosheid. Bovendien werden de documenten van de arbeiders, de carteiras de trabalho, dubbelzinnige instrumenten. Hoewel deze documenten arbeids- en sociale rechten promootten, werden ze gebruikt om werkgevers meer controle en immobilisatie van de beroepsbevolking te geven. De controle op de arbeid werd versterkt door onofficiële wijzigingen aan de werkkaarten en de despotisme van managers, die straffen, bedreigingen en dwangmaatregelen gebruikten om arbeid af te dwingen en de arbeiders onder controle te houden. Het negeren van mensen- en arbeidsrechten geeft aan dat dwang een veerkrachtig kenmerk blijft van de uitbuiting van arbeiders op de plantages. De reacties van de arbeiders op de intensivering van de uitbuiting spelen een cruciale rol in de formalisering van het werk. Als we kijken naar de werkgeschiedenis, dan zien we dat de periode van werkformalisering verder gaat dan formele loonarbeid en het samenspel laat zien van zichtbare (formele, betaalde) en onzichtbare (informele, onbetaalde) vormen van werk die het rurale proletariaat vormen in de Zona da Mata van Alagoas. Deze verschillende vormen van proletarisering wijzen op verschillende patronen van precariteit en arbeidsuitbuiting. Voor de meeste arbeiders heeft formalisering geleid tot permanent tijdelijk werk. Andere arbeiders hebben lange periodes van informaliteit en zeer korte periodes van formalisering gekend. Weer andere arbeiders hebben nooit echt toegang gehad tot formele contracten en hebben hun hele werkende leven onder informele omstandigheden gewerkt. Vrouwen vormen het onbetaalde segment van het plattelandsproletariaat dat reproductieve arbeid verricht en wiens onmisbare werk onzichtbaar wordt gemaakt. Anderen moesten ontsnappen aan de slopende arbeidsomstandigheden door formele werk te weigeren om te overleven of op zoek naar opwaartse mobiliteit en een betere toekomst. Tot slot concludeert dit onderzoek dat het formaliseren van het werk niet voldoende is geweest om fatsoenlijk werk en fatsoenlijke leefomstandigheden te bevorderen, aangezien de uitbreiding van sociale en arbeidsrechten op plantages gepaard gaat met levensbedreigende werkintensivering, sociaaleconomische onzekerheden, onderdrukking en dwang. Er is dringend behoefte om af te stappen van geformaliseerde onzekere loonarbeid op suikerrietplantages en om autonome vormen van werk uit te breiden die landloosheid en uitbuiting van arbeid tegengaan. Het boerenperspectief en de versterking van agrarische hervormingen worden voorgesteld als een haalbare optie om duurzame productierelaties te bevorderen die meer gericht zijn op menselijke bloei, en die gericht zijn op agro-ecologie, voedselsoevereiniteit, behoud van biodiversiteit en de symbiotische interactie tussen mens en natuur die een goed leven kan creëren in de Zona da Mata van Alagoas.
Esta dissertação examina o crescimento do emprego formal na agroindústria canavieira em Alagoas, Nordeste do Brasil, entre as décadas de 1990 e 2010. Este estudo adota uma perspectiva crítica que se afasta das abordagens estatísticas e, em vez disso, aprofunda-se no contexto social e histórico do formação do mercado de trabalho formal na região canavieira de Alagoas. A pergunta que norteia a pesquisa é: A mudança de empregos informais para formais significa que empregos melhores e mais seguros são criados para os trabalhadores? O objetivo deste estudo é explorar a reestruturação do mercado de trabalho e explicar por que e como a formalização trouxe novas formas de precariedade e desigualdades sociais. O estudo usa uma abordagem qualitativa baseada em história oral, entrevistas aprofundadas e semiestruturadas, etnografia do local de trabalho e fotografia para criar novas fontes primárias sobre a formalização dos empregos. A análise lançou luz sobre os padrões emergentes de emprego, os mecanismos institucionais que reproduzem esses padrões por meio de documentos, a dinâmica de coerção e resistência no local de trabalho e a reprodução de um proletariado rural diversificado para além do trabalho assalariado formal e precário. É demonstrado que a formalização do emprego atualizou formas de controle social anteriormente baseadas na informalidade e em outros sistemas de imobilização e exploração do trabalho. Os achados apontam para a precariedade associada ao fato de os trabalhadores terem empregos "para a vida toda", caracterizados pela sazonalidade e pela intensificação do trabalho. A expansão do emprego formal tem sido usada para aumentar o esforço de trabalho e reproduzir uma forma específica de força de trabalho que é sazonalmente descartada por esse mercado de trabalho, experimentando desemprego recorrente e perpetuamente dependente de benefícios de desemprego e de acidentes, pois esses trabalhadores estão continuamente expostos a riscos ocupacionais e ao desemprego. Além disso, os documentos dos trabalhadores, as carteiras de trabalho, tornaram-se instrumentos ambíguos. Embora esses documentos promovam os direitos trabalhistas e sociais, eles foram instrumentalizados para permitir aos empregadores maior controle e imobilização da força de trabalho. O controle do trabalho foi reforçado por modificações não oficiais nas carteiras de trabalho e pelo despotismo gerencial, que usa punições, ameaças e medidas coercitivas para extrair mais-trabalho e controlar os trabalhadores. O desrespeito aos direitos humanos e trabalhistas indica que a coerção continua a ser uma característica resiliente na exploração dos trabalhadores nas plantações. As lutas dos trabalhadores em resposta à intensificação da exploração também desempenharam um papel crucial na formalização do trabalho. Analisando as histórias de trabalho, o período de formalização do emprego se expande para além do trabalho assalariado formal e mostra a interação de formas de trabalho visíveis (formais, remuneradas) e invisíveis (informais, não remuneradas) que constituem o proletariado rural na Zona da Mata de Alagoas. Essas diferentes formas de proletarização apontam para diferentes padrões de precariedade e exploração do trabalho. Para a maioria dos trabalhadores, a formalização levou a um emprego permanentemente temporário. Outros trabalhadores passaram por longos períodos de informalidade e períodos muito curtos de formalização. Outros trabalhadores, ainda, nunca tiveram acesso a contratos formais e trabalharam em condições informais durante toda a sua vida profissional. As mulheres formam o segmento não remunerado do proletariado rural que realiza o trabalho reprodutivo e cujo trabalho indispensável é invisibilizado. Outros trabalhadores recusaram empregos formais em condições de trabalho degradantes para poder sobreviver ou em busca de mobilidade ascendente e um futuro melhor. Por fim, este estudo conclui que a formalização dos empregos não foi suficiente para promover o trabalho decente e condições de vida decentes, pois a extensão dos direitos sociais e trabalhistas nos canaviais é acompanhada pela intensificação do trabalho que põe em risco a vida, inseguranças socioeconômicas, repressão e coerção. O estudo propõe o rompimento com o trabalho assalariado precário formalizado nos canaviais e defende a expansão de formas autônomas de trabalho que combatam a falta de terra e a exploração do trabalho. A perspectiva camponesa e o fortalecimento da reforma agrária é proposta como uma opção viável para promover relações de produção sustentáveis que sejam mais centradas no florescimento humano e orientadas para a agroecologia, a soberania alimentar, a conservação da biodiversidade e a interação simbiótica entre os seres humanos e a natureza que podem criar uma vida boa na Zona da Mata de Alagoas.
Keywords
rural workers, Brazil, sugarcane plantations, precarious work, job formalisation, sugarcane workers, Alagoas, workforce documents, carteiras de trabalho, oral history, qualitative research, workplace ethnography, visual sociology, sociology of work, informal workers, reproductive labour, Global South

Citation

Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:

MLA
Souza Queiroz, Allan. Ineradicable Social Inequalities : The Precarious Formalisation of Work in the Sugarcane Plantations of Alagoas, Northeast Brazil (1990s-2010s). Ghent University. Faculty of Political and Social Sciences, 2023.
APA
Souza Queiroz, A. (2023). Ineradicable social inequalities : the precarious formalisation of work in the sugarcane plantations of Alagoas, Northeast Brazil (1990s-2010s). Ghent University. Faculty of Political and Social Sciences, Ghent, Belgium.
Chicago author-date
Souza Queiroz, Allan. 2023. “Ineradicable Social Inequalities : The Precarious Formalisation of Work in the Sugarcane Plantations of Alagoas, Northeast Brazil (1990s-2010s).” Ghent, Belgium: Ghent University. Faculty of Political and Social Sciences.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Souza Queiroz, Allan. 2023. “Ineradicable Social Inequalities : The Precarious Formalisation of Work in the Sugarcane Plantations of Alagoas, Northeast Brazil (1990s-2010s).” Ghent, Belgium: Ghent University. Faculty of Political and Social Sciences.
Vancouver
1.
Souza Queiroz A. Ineradicable social inequalities : the precarious formalisation of work in the sugarcane plantations of Alagoas, Northeast Brazil (1990s-2010s). [Ghent, Belgium]: Ghent University. Faculty of Political and Social Sciences; 2023.
IEEE
[1]
A. Souza Queiroz, “Ineradicable social inequalities : the precarious formalisation of work in the sugarcane plantations of Alagoas, Northeast Brazil (1990s-2010s),” Ghent University. Faculty of Political and Social Sciences, Ghent, Belgium, 2023.
@phdthesis{01HGXH2DN3ENW50Y9760N0DTEG,
  abstract     = {{This dissertation examines the growth of formal employment in the sugarcane agro-industry of Alagoas, Northeast Brazil, between the 1990s and the 2010s. This study adopts a critical perspective that departs from statistical approaches and instead delves deeper into the social and historical context of the emergence of the formal labour market in the plantation-dominated region of Alagoas. The guiding research question is: Does the shift from informal to formal jobs mean that better and more secure jobs are created for workers? The aim of this study is to unpack the restructuring of the labour market and explain why and how formalisation has brought new forms of precarity and social inequalities. The study uses a qualitative approach based on oral-history, in-depth and semi-structured interviews, workplace ethnography and photography to create new primary sources on the formalisation of jobs. The analysis shed light on the emerging patterns of employment, the institutional mechanisms that reproduce these patterns through documents, the dynamics of coercion and resistance in the workplace, and the reproduction of a diverse rural proletariat beyond formal precarious wage work. 
It is demonstrated that job formalisation actualised old forms of social control previously based on informality and other systems of labour immobilisation and exploitation. The findings point to the precarity associated with workers having jobs ‘for life’ characterised by seasonality and work intensification. The expansion of formal employment has been used to raise work effort and reproduce a specific form of workforce who is seasonally discarded by this labour market, experiencing recurrent unemployment, and perpetually dependent on unemployment benefits and accident benefits for these workers are continuously exposed to occupational hazards and joblessness. Moreover, the workers’ documents, the carteiras de trabalhom became ambiguous instruments. While these documents promoted labour and social rights, they were instrumentalised to allow employers greater control and immobilisation of the workforce. Labour control was reinforced by unofficial modifications to work cards and the arbitrariness of managers, who used punishments, threats and coercive measures to extract labour and control workers. The disregard for human and labour rights indicates that coercion remains a resilient feature in the exploitation of workers on the plantations. The workers' reactions to the intensification of exploitation play a crucial role in the formalisation of work. Looking at work histories, the period of job formalisation expands beyond formal wage labour and shows the interplay of visible (formal, paid) and invisible (informal, unpaid) forms of work that constitute the rural proletariat in the Zona da Mata of Alagoas. These different forms of proletarianisation point to different patterns of precarity and labour exploitation. For most workers, formalisation has led to permanently temporary employment. Other workers have experienced long periods of informality and very short periods of formalisation. Still other workers have never really had access to formal contracts and have worked under informal conditions their entire working lives. Women form the unpaid segment of the rural proletariat who perform reproductive labour and whose indispensable work is made invisible. Others have had to escape gruelling working conditions by refusing formal jobs in order to survive or in search of upward mobility and a better future. Finally, this study concludes that formalizing jobs has not been sufficient to promote decent work and decent living conditions, as the extension of social and labour rights on plantations is accompanied by life-threatening work intensification, socio-economic insecurities, repression and coercion. There is an urgent need to move away from formalised precarious wage labour on sugarcane plantations and to expand autonomous forms of work that combat landlessness and labour exploitation. The peasant perspective and the strengthening of agrarian reform is proposed as a viable option to promote sustainable production relations that are more centred on human flourishing, and oriented towards agroecology, food sovereignty, biodiversity conservation and the symbiotic interaction between humans and nature that can create a good life in the Zona da Mata of Alagoas.}},
  author       = {{Souza Queiroz, Allan}},
  keywords     = {{rural workers,Brazil,sugarcane plantations,precarious work,job formalisation,sugarcane workers,Alagoas,workforce documents,carteiras de trabalho,oral history,qualitative research,workplace ethnography,visual sociology,sociology of work,informal workers,reproductive labour,Global South}},
  language     = {{eng}},
  pages        = {{V, 262}},
  publisher    = {{Ghent University. Faculty of Political and Social Sciences}},
  school       = {{Ghent University}},
  title        = {{Ineradicable social inequalities : the precarious formalisation of work in the sugarcane plantations of Alagoas, Northeast Brazil (1990s-2010s)}},
  year         = {{2023}},
}