Rio de Janeiro, known for its Carnaval and soon to stage the 2014 World Cup and the Olympics in 2016, is experiencing serious, internal disorder. The public security sector, composed of the local city police, firefighters, and lifeguards, is threatening to go on strike on February 10, 2012, the eve of the most popular party in the world: Carnaval.
Events leading up to the proposed strike:
A year ago there was the beginning of a worker’s movement led by firefighters and lifeguards who wanted their starting salary raised and better working conditions.
Although these public guardians are considered “heroes” and enjoy the support of the city’s population, better working conditions were denied by the governor of Rio, Sergio Cabral, who has reacted negatively to all their demonstrations.
Cabral called these heroes “vandals” and in denying their requests for better pay and working conditions has only gained the disapproval of the city population and disdain from the media.
Not sure on how to deal with the unrest among the city’s workers, Rio’s Governor ordered the police to attack and disperse the firefighters when they demonstrated with their wives and children.
In a single demonstration, 439 protesters were carted off to prison. The demonstrators were charged with “desertion” because Brazilian firefighters are under military law.
After receiving overwhelming messages of support from artists and several other groups, all the firefighters were released as heroes, but their demands still remain unanswered by the Governor.
As the dissatisfaction of the firefighters built up, they decided to peacefully camp out in front of the Legislative House in Rio, in hopes that they would raise awareness among the members of parliament.
They also carried out more demonstrations in Rio, but still their issues are ignored by the governor.
Soon the police, who also suffer from extremely low wages, decided to support the protests of the firefighters. They joined forces, creating a single movement, nicknamed “Finally Together”.
The salary of firefighters and police officers in the city of Rio is the lowest in Brazil, although the State of Rio de Janeiro is the second largest tax collector in the Brazilian Federation.
The biggest complaint among firefighters and policemen is that they must work second jobs in order to have even a minimum subsistence for their families.
A starting police officer in Rio earns a salary of about US$ 630 a month, plus a small bonus. However they lose their bonuses when they take vacation, retire, or go on medical leave after being injured in the line of duty.
City police officers do not receive any kind of separate allowance for housing, transportation, health insurance, or childcare.
The State of Rio de Janeiro has the most police officers injured or killed in the line of duty in the entire country. During 2011, 128 police officers were shot and 59 lost their lives. Some of the surviving officers were crippled and unable to return to active duty.
On January 29, about 20,000 protesters from police officers, firefighters and lifeguards packed the Copacabana beachfront to alert the residents and media that if the governor does not address their issues, they will start a general strike on February 10th.
The movement “Finally Together” is a union of professionals from the public security sector, aimed at achieving improvements in their workplace and wages. The security and safety of the city population is best served when their public guardians are fairly compensated.
The upcoming Olympics and World Cup will be a disaster if the public security sector cannot count on a professional, motivated and adequately compensated security work force.
The city population has stood behind the demonstrations by the public security professionals, and has helped them to spread their issues through social networks.
On his side, governor Cabral keeps silent, preferring to believe that this movement is organized only as “political opposition” and that it will eventually disappear.
Will Rio be able to solve its internal crisis and promote security, not only before the Carnaval, but also in the upcoming events that put Brazil on the world’s stage?
Will Rio be able to offer quality public service, with prepared and motivated professionals? What kind of treatment can the city’s public guardians expect from their Governor?
Foreign visitors and citizens of Rio de Janeiro deserve to know the answers!
Renieri Pereira has been a Police Inspector in Rio de Janeiro since 2003
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