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Brazilian judges refusing to pitch in with Covid-19 effort

. Apr 08, 2020
Brazilian judges refusing to pitch in with Covid-19 effort São Paulo State Court. Photo: Antônio Carreta/TJSP

As Covid-19 forces countries down the path to a recession, leaders around the world have taken a cut in their own wages. Isolation measures have been touted as the best way to slow down the spread of the virus, but they mean halting the in-person economy. With the fight against the coronavirus often being compared to a “war effort,” politicians in Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile, just to name a few, have decided to make this gesture to show they are ready to pitch in.

In Brazil, the lower house announced a BRL 150-million budget cut while the pandemic lasts. This consists of taxpayer money that would usually be spent on airline tickets, hotel accommodation, among other perks lawmakers enjoy, and will go to the anti-Covid-19 effort, whether it be to fund field hospitals, healthcare equipment, or provide financial relief to Brazilians. Economy Minister Paulo Guedes also floated the idea of freezing all federal public servants’ salaries for two years.

Yet,

despite the dreadful economic scenario ahead for the country, one group of public officials have clung on to their privileges: members of Brazil&#8217;s justice system.</p> <p>While workers are facing wage cuts of up to 70 percent — only to be partially compensated by the government — 24 judges in the northeastern state of Ceará decided to <a href="https://oglobo.globo.com/brasil/toffoli-suspende-pagamento-de-adicional-de-home-office-juizes-do-ceara-1-24341574">grant themselves a 15-percent salary bonus</a> for working from home. The benefit was canceled by the National Justice Council, which operates as a watchdog for the court system.</p> <p>But that&#8217;s only a tiny fraction of what one of the most insular classes in Brazil receives.</p> <p>Judges in Brazil have the right to 60 days of paid vacation throughout the year, on top of 30 days between December and late January during which courts operate on an on-call system. Over the past 30 months, judges have received a whopping BRL 1.3 billion in compensation for unclaimed days off. In São Paulo state courts, judges pocketed BRL 345 million —&nbsp;meaning that each has gotten almost an extra annual wage.</p> <p>The real amount of this remuneration is expected to be even higher, but Brazilian courts are especially opaque when it comes to disclosing their budgets.</p> <h2>Brazil&#8217;s judges a caste of privileged people&nbsp;</h2> <p>In 2015, during a talk show, the then-head of the São Paulo state court system José Roberto Naline argued that the notion judges are in a privileged situation is a &#8220;misconception,&#8221; even though their minimum salary is BRL 27,500 —&nbsp;or 27 times the minimum wage. A rookie judge in Brazil earns three times as much as their German counterparts —&nbsp;combined, members of the bench cost around 1.4 percent of the GDP.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Judges have to pay for their health insurance, to buy suits … you can&#8217;t always go to Miami to buy a new suit,” he said.&nbsp;</p> <p>According to political scientist Rodrigo Augusto Prando from Mackenzie University in São Paulo, high-ranked authorities should try and eliminate their image of being from an insular class, showing that they are also bearing the costs of suspending daily life during the pandemic. “When we talk about cutting politicians&#8217; wages, from city councilors to the president, it has a symbolic meaning. In a moment of crisis, with a recession ahead, such moves bring people closer to their authorities,” he told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.</p> <p>“Members of the judiciary don&#8217;t just have a guaranteed good salary, but also enormous stability,&#8221; says Mr. Prando. Even for judges who are caught selling verdicts, the worst punishment they can suffer is forced retirement, with full pay. &#8220;They enjoy security like no private worker does, especially amid a pandemic. And people see them as a sort of aristocracy.&#8221;</p> <h2>Latin America eyes wage reduction&nbsp;</h2> <p>In Uruguay, newly-empowered President Luis Lacalle Pou announced on March 26 that he and all cabinet ministers and lawmakers would be paid 20 percent less during the coronavirus crisis. The amount would be destined to a “Coronavirus Fund.” The measure reaches those who earn more than UYU 80,000 a month, which is less than BRL 10,000. In Brazil, a single city councilor can cost taxpayers up to BRL 18,000 in salaries.</p> <p>Argentina and Paraguay pulled similar moves. In the former, the opposition wing of the Junto Por el Cambio party asked President Alberto Fernández to cut 30 percent of all salaries of high-ranking authorities, including Mr. Fernández himself and all members of Congress. Instead of creating a political crisis, House Speaker Sergio Massa asked for a 40-percent cut. Paraguayan authorities announced last week that they would make <a href="https://www.aa.com.tr/en/americas/paraguay-to-cut-public-sector-wages-over-covid-19/1785779">cuts to the wages of government officials</a> and civil servants who earned over five times the minimum wage, freeing up USD 52 million.&nbsp;</p> <p>In Chile, after facing calls for his resignation amid <a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2019/10/23/crisis-chile-repeat-2013-brazil-warning-future/">a wave of protests late in 2019</a>, President Sebastián Piñera was expected to push for a similar measure after Finance Minister Ignacio Briones asked the entire cabinet to take pay cuts, but the proposal has not yet gone ahead.

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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