Rescue of 82 workers on rice farms in Uruguaiana is the second largest in RS
The Public Labor Ministry (MPT) updated this Monday (13) the number of workers rescued at two rice farms in Uruguaiana on Friday (10). Initially, 56 workers had been rescued, all men and 10 of them teenagers. After analyzing the cases and collecting testimonies over the weekend, the MPT updated the number to 82 rescued, 11 of which were teenagers between 14 and 17 years old.
This was the second largest rescue of workers registered in Rio Grande do Sul, behind only the 207 found in Bento Gonçalves in February. Across the state, there are already 291 rescued this year, a number that is close to double the 156 rescued in 2022, which had already been a record.
The rescues were carried out in a joint operation carried out by the MPT, the Ministry of Labor and Employment and the Federal Police (PF) of Uruguaiana at the Santa Adelaide and São Joaquim ranches. A complaint reported the presence of young people on the property, working irregularly and without a formal contract. The mobile inspection group went to the location and found not only the teenagers, but also adult workers in a situation analogous to slavery. In all, 82 were rescued – 54 of them found in Santa Adelaide and 28 in São Joaquim.
The group was hired to cut the red rice, a weedy grass that proliferates alongside cultivated rice and causes losses to the crop. This handling was done with instruments that the workers themselves should provide, and many used only a kitchen serrated knife. In addition, pesticides were applied and, in both cases, it was done without any personal protective equipment. According to the reports, one of the minors suffered an accident with a machete and was unable to move two toes.
Also part of the workers’ attributions was the application of poison using the “chemical stick” method, in which two workers apply the pesticide using a perforated metal bar connected to cans of the product – a type of activity that requires individual protection equipment, which does not were provided.
In addition, workers often had to walk 50 minutes in full sun to reach the job site. The victims reported that they received R$100 a day, but the food and work tools were paid for by themselves. There was no access to clean water or refrigeration, and under these conditions food was constantly spoiling – leading many workers to go all day without eating. If any of them fell ill, their remuneration would be deducted. The testimonies taken over the weekend also speak of drug sales during the work.
All were from municipalities in the region, especially Itaqui, São Borja, Alegrete and Uruguaiana, recruited by a “gato”, a labor agent who operated on the western border of Rio Grande do Sul. The MPT and the Public Defender’s Office of the Union (DPU) negotiated the payment of three installments of unemployment insurance, severance pay, in addition to the due registration in the employment card of all. These amounts are still being regularized because many, especially among teenagers, did not have proper documentation (CPF and work card) or bank account. There were also issues of detailing the identification of rescued persons with very similar names. The MPT will then claim compensation payments for individual and collective moral damages.
The man was arrested red-handed, taken to a state prison and released after paying bail over the weekend.
Number of people rescued in Rio Grande do Sul in the last decade*
2023 – 290
2022 – 156
2021 – 76
2020 – 5
2019 – 2
2018 – 0
2017 – 6
2016 – 17
2015 – 32
2014 – 1
2013 – 44
* Data from the Regional Labor Management – Ministry of Labor and Employment