Sunday, 24 June 2012

Maria do Lourdes: we will defend our right to trade here in Rio

Maira is a leader of the newly formed Rio de Janeiro Street Vendors '  Forum

Maria do Lourdes lives in Tijuca district in Rio and works in a central square in the city, called Praça Buraco de Lume.  She is 38 years old and has worked all her life as a street vendor.  She lives with her husband, and two children (9 and 17 years old) and has one older child who has already left home.

She now works in a fixed stall in the square, which is owned by someone else who has rented it out to her.   She works there with her 19 year old son, making belts which she then sells. She has only been working there for the last 8 months. Before that, she has a small push cart which she wheeled around the central area of the city, but it was always a question of keeping an eye out for the municipal police in case they caught you and confiscated the goods.  She worked as a street vendor for 15 years. 
Maira now rents her own stall -after 15 years selling on the streets
She sellsbelts which she makes at the stall.

“Now I feel more established and the police don’t trouble me as much.  On a good day, I can make up to Br $ 300 (or about USD 150) but that does not include the costs of buying materials or my storage charges.  I have a deposit in a store near the square but I am charged for it.  But there are other days, when it is raining, for example, when I make hardly anything at all.  I work from about 9am to 5 or 6pm but then I go to class from 6:20 – 10:40pm as I am finishing my middle school education.  I am in the last year now.  Then I want to go on to study law and become a lawyer so I can defend the rights of street vendors.”

Maria is one of the leaders of the United Movement of Street Vendors (MUCA), which is affiliated to the United Workers Centre (CUT)- Rio.  She has been active in the campaign to defend street vendors’ licenses and to demand that the police end their repressive actions against them.
Maira speaks at a panel event organised by WIEGO
“MUCA meets once a month and we have been working with other street vendors’ associations in Copacabana and elsewhere to set up a municipal network of street vendors.  We know that here in Rio, with all the international events, such as Rio+20, the World Cup and the Olympics, there will be more and more repression against street vendors.

We have written a letter to the Mayor of Rio de Janeiro and on May 14th, one of the Councillors read out the letter in the Council Chamber.  We need to be more active politically to press for our demands.  We have also written an open letter to civil society which is reproduced below and which we distributed during the Rio+20 Peoples’ Summit and elsewhere.

Open Letter from the
Municipal Network of Informal Street Traders of Rio de Janeiro

The informal street traders of the Rio de Janeiro Municipality wish to publicly express our repudiation of the actions of the Municipal authorities who have violated our right to work and provide for the subsistence of our families.

We demand the implementation of the Law 1876 of 1992 which regulates informal trade.  We denounce the arbitrary actions of the Municipality, the lack of decent work and the lack of transparency in the execution of the 2009 official register of informal street traders

The official register
The 2009 official register (known as CUCA) opened the way to give trading licenses to street traders.  However, instead of verifying who was actually trading in the streets, the Municipality opened the census to all unemployed persons.  There were no clear criteria to give priority to those who could prove they had been trading on the streets for long periods of time. Moreover, many informal traders state that when they handed over documents to the register officials, proving the number of years they had been working as informal traders, they were rejected by the Municipal officials. The result of the register was that the majority of the long-term traders were left without a licence and had to continue working in a situation of irregularity.

The Municipality never published the criteria used to grant licenses or decide the numbers to be granted in each district. The total number of licenses is well below the number envisaged in the Law.

Many workers have taken part in training courses organised by the Municipal Secretary of Labour, have registered as Individual Micro Businesses (MEI) and have bought new standardised kiosks, on the basis of incentives and promises from the Secretary of Public Order (SEOP). But instead of finding their situation regularised, they have been chased off the streets and their goods confiscated.

The Legal Provisions for a Commission on Informal Street Traders not respected
The public authorities refuse to dialogue with representatives of the informal traders despite the Law 1876 of 1992 which provides for the setting up of a Municipal and district commissions comprising officials, civil society and informal traders.  Instead, all decisions are taken on a unilateral basis.

Application of Fines not in conformity with Law 1876 of 1992
The application of fines has not taken place according to the provisions of the Law 1876/92. Fines are handed out without the statutory prior notification (on two occasions), and without a government official personally explaining the irregularity.  The deadline to appeal against the fine is only 3 days which does not give enough time to obtain a legal defence.  Fines are

used as a means to revoke licenses, because after various fines, the worker is liable to lose his or her license.

Confiscation of Merchandise
The confiscation of merchandise is not carried out according to the Law 1876/92, which requires that a requisition note be issued so that the merchandise can be recovered later (on presentation of the proof of payment of a fine). Officials regularly ignore these requirements and are verbally abusive and often physically violent. Public authorities should not condone the abuse of office and use of violence.

Storage Areas
The Municipality does not provide legal storage areas where the traders can keep their equipment and merchandise and does not issue any storage permits. In this way, street traders again have to confront irregular and degrading conditions of work.

Impact of Mega-events on Informal Traders
Informal traders, who work in the areas used during the mega-events such as Rio +20, the World Cup, the Olympics and other events, are simply banned from the areas and are not given any satisfactory alternatives by the Municipality. We  do not have sufficient capital to remain without work and the Municipality should be sufficiently responsible to offer compensation, negotiated with representatives of the traders, or else to find ways to include the traders in these events, so that they too can benefit from the trading opportunities.

We have to conclude that the Municipality neither values informal street traders nor shows us the respect we deserve as honest workers who have the right to work in order to provide for our families.

We demand an end to these injustices. We are treated like criminals, when we are creating alternatives for our survival in a city which only can provide formal employment for under  60% of the total population of working age in the Metropolitan areas of Brazil.

We are honest and decent workers, and we demand the implementation of the law.  We demand the right to work and we demand the right to the democratic use of the city.


Angela  Rissi & Maria do Carmo  Santos                                                                        
Municipal Network of Rio de Janeiro Traders
5th June 2012                                                           

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