BWI builds network of unionists in Brazilian home builder MRV Engineering

11 December 2017 10:04


MRV Engineering is a massive Brazilian-based construction company that was founded in 1979. The company operates in 148 Brazilian cities, relying on the daily work of almost 19,000 direct employees. Many of the construction projects executed as part of the important national housing programme ‘My House, My Life’ are built by workers at MRV.

Trade unionists from 15 different organizations that represent workers at MRV participated in a first meeting in the southern city of Porto Alegre at the end of November. This initiative was taken to get trade unionists that represent workers at this company into the same room. It was the first ‘social dialogue’ meeting organized with MRV and focused on the southern region of the country. The meeting was a success.

More than the usual exchange of collective agreement clauses and benefits, unionists were able to develop a more systematic understanding of company operations, policies and trends. This allows union representatives to be much more strategic as they develop coordinated plans. Networking meetings like this are extremely important in Brazil where trade unions are structurally limited to acting in single cities.

Union representatives noted the consistency with which MRV has modified its company strategy in recent years. After finding itself at risk of being added to the ‘dirty list’ of companies that keep workers in conditions analogous to slavery, the company has made specific and extensive modifications to working and contracting practices around the country.

Importantly, significant reductions in outsourcing and sub-contracting have been made. While construction projects in some cities continue to rely on these widespread methods which consistently worsen conditions workers in the sector, the company has made progress in the implementation of a broad policy to reduce outsourcing. This trend is expanding at the company level at the exact moment that legal changes are being made at the national level in order to allow companies to dramatically expand outsourcing and contracting out. Union representatives were told by MRV managers that corporate strategy to reduce outsourcing would continue despite the legal changes.

Some inconsistencies in the application of corporate policies were highlighted by trade unionists. Specifically, access to construction sites for trade unionists, meal and lodging provision and worker participation in occupational health and safety committees were highlighted as key areas to develop joint work. These issues were all received by national representatives of MRV. The president of the construction workers union in Porto Alegre, Gelson Santana noted that, “despite notable improvements in working conditions and contracting practices in recent years, unions must remain vigilant and prepared to shut down construction sites in order to resolve problems when necessary.”

After a joint technical visit to a local construction site, MRV managers presented some of the social work that it has developed including literacy courses and specific career development courses for women. This kind of education work is one component of the strategy to directly hire and develop workers inside the company rather than rely on outsourcing.

Given MRV´s position in the construction sector and its potential, BWI and its affiliated unions have a great interest in establishing a permanent process of ongoing social dialogue at national level. The meetings in Porto Alegre served as a successful regional pilot. Plans are already being developed for a larger, national meeting in 2018