SAO PAULO – As the discussion over the retirement reform proposed by President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration continues, one in every four retirees needs to work to survive in Brazil.
Brazil’s Congress is considering a bill that will raise the requirements to obtain a retirement pension and theoretically save about $265 billion over 10 years.
Ivan, Rosilda and Manuel are oblivious to the intense debate, since it will not solve any of their problems.
They are among the many retirees who must still work to augment their retirement checks, which in 65 percent of the cases do not exceed the minimum monthly wage of 998 reais ($260).
Ivan Ferreira is 59 years old and retired after working what the law requires to be allowed to get retirement benefits – 35 years for men and 30 for women. However, she has been selling coffee and homemade bread from a vendor’s cart in Sao Paulo Plaza for almost a year.
“My wife lost her job and set up a coffee and bread stand on the street, I started helping her and started working on the streets to round out my salary, because the pension is not enough,” Ferreira told EFE.
Every day, they arrive at the square before 6 am, work until midday and then spend the rest of the afternoon cooking the batch of food they will sell the next day.
“I would like to stop working, be at home, resting, walking, traveling, enjoying my family,” Ferreira said.
Like Ferreira, 21 percent of Brazil’s retirees are still working and almost half of them (47 percent) do so only to be able to pay their bills, according to a survey by the National Business Leaders Confederation and the Credit Protection Service.
Oswaldo Almeida, 63, retired seven years ago and is looking for a job as a truck driver but says he’ll take whatever comes up.
Almeida, who lives with his wife, one of his daughters and two grandsons, says it is unfair that he had to work all his life for a pension payment of $260 a month, while a former government employee is given around 26,800 reais (about $7,000).
Bolsonaro and Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said that their pension reform, which sets the minimum retirement age at 62 for women and 65 for men, will do away with the “privileges” but if the bill is not approved Brazil “will go bankrupt.”
The president of the National Retirees Union, Joao Batista, said that this premise is a “big lie” and that the current government is a “bad administration” because historically pensions have been used “for politics.”
Batista says that there are two types of retirees, those who are financially supported by their families and those who still provide part of their households’ income.
“Here in Brazil, if one wants to live with dignity, they have to buy a (private) health plan, and old men can’t find one for less than 500-600 reais ($130-$155). A reasonable plan costs more than 1,000 reais ($260) a month. For someone who receives the lowest retirement payment, the entire pension goes (to the health plan),” he said.
Bolsonaro has focused almost completely during his first 100 days in office on getting this bill, which makes no mention of an increase in the minimum retirement payment, approved.
Rosilda Alves, 52, says she lives on a “tight” budget because the death benefit she receives is only a little above the minimum, and that forces her to also work as a seamstress.
Her partner has been unemployed for three years and is now a temporary construction worker in a country with an annual per capita income of 32,747 reais (about $8,500), a figure that hides an overwhelming pay inequality.
In Rio de Janeiro, 82-year-old Manuel Robalino sells potatoes, tomatoes and legumes and calls the Brazilian retirement system “a failure.”
“I have been retired since 1987 and the pension is lower every year. Soon I will be getting the minimum,” Robalino said.
Robalino said he does not know if Bolsonaro’s bill “benefits or hurts” taxpayers but he is sure that the future will be “harder” for them.
“The government has a shortfall, and they want to repair it. They want to reduce it, but I don’t know if they will,” he said.