Rio de Janeiro Teacher’s Union wins increased wages, security, and professional autonomy, 2013

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Time Period:  
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
Rio de Janeiro
Location Description: 
The State of Rio de Janeiro and its capital city, Rio.
The State Union of Education Professionals of Rio de Janeiro demanded: a 19 percent readjustment in wages; expanded job security; more autonomy over classroom curricula; apportioning a third of school time to extracurricular activities; the direct election of school directors by teachers; and the decoupling of teacher’s wage to student’s performance. Municipal teachers in the City of Rio also demanded a wage increase.

In the summer of 2013, massive protests against the World Cup and public service cuts erupted across Brazil. Following this wave of protest, the State Union of Education Professional of Rio de Janeiro (SEPE-RJ), which represents both state teachers in Rio de Janeiro and municipal teachers in the city of Rio, launched a strike on 8 August 2013.

The Rio de Janeiro state government had proposed a Career, Position, and Salary Plan (PCCR) that offered job security to teachers who worked a minimum of 40 hours a week, which included only seven percent of all teaching staff. The PCCR also constrained teacher’s autonomy in choosing what to teach in the classroom, forcing teachers with specialized degrees to conform to generalized curriculum and potentially degrading the quality of learning.

The SEPE-RJ announced their strike in response to the PCCR and demanded: a 19 percent readjustment in wages; expanded job security; more autonomy over classroom curricula; apportioning a third of school time to extracurricular activities; the direct election of a school’s principal by the teachers; and the decoupling of teacher’s wage to student’s performance.

On 12 August 2013 teachers met with Rio de Janeiro State Governor Sérgio Cabral to negotiate. When the meeting failed to produce a resolution, teachers briefly occupied the governor’s official residence, the Guanabara Palace.

The following day, 13 August 2013, the teachers met with Deputy Mayor of Rio, Adilson Pires, but again failed to reach an agreement. The state teachers said they had been promised a meeting with Rio’s Mayor, Eduardo Paes, and the day after negotiations failed with Pires, 14 August 2013, the teachers led a mass march of 7,000 demonstrators to Paes’ office. When SEPE-RJ leaders called for the demonstration to end late in the day, some protestors remained and said they would only leave when Mayor Paes granted a meeting.

In the following days Rio’s City Hall released a statement threatening teachers with penalties if the strike continued. Municipal Secretary of Staff Pedro Carvalho also denounced the strike and stated that the city’s teachers had already received a wage increase of 6.75%.

The SEPE-RJ said that City Hall could not impose penalties before a judge decided on the legality of the strike. The union, joined by over a thousand supporters, responded to City Hall’s threat with a demonstration on 18 August 2013 and staged a mock funeral for State Governor Cabral by burying a faux coffin at the beach.

The next day, 19 August 2013, the penalties began: teachers would lose wages for every day of absence and teachers on probation would be fired.

Despite the new punishments, the SEPE-RJ decided to continue the strike the following day, 20 August 2013.

On 11 September 2013, teachers protested outside the Legislative Assembly of the State of Rio de Janeiro. Protests continued the following day, 12 September 2013, and SEPE-RJ directed the teachers to occupy the steps of the Assembly until deputy governor Luiz Fernando Pezao agreed to a meeting. Four days later, on 16 September 2013, the teachers occupying the Assembly steps voted to continue the strike.

In mid-September the Rio City Council proposed a new pay package that would increase wages for first to fifth grade teachers to the level of sixth to eighth grade teachers.

On 20 September 2013, municipal teachers in the city of Rio joined the SEPE-RJ strike, demanding a higher wage increase than proposed in the pay package.

On 25 September 2013, the Municipal Secretariat of Education announced that striking teachers would have wages deducted from their holiday pay.

A thousand teachers protested outside City Council the next day, 26 September 2013, and when the Council session to vote on the pay package began, three hundred demonstrators entered the gallery, disrupted the session, and occupied the council chambers. Supporters of the teachers occupying City Council in Rio led series of demonstrations on 28 September 2013 – police used pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters.

On 1 October 2013, a thousand teachers again stood outside City Council demanding that legislators refuse to vote on the (Career, Position, and Salary Plan) PCCR.

Police used tear gas and tasers to remove the protesters and end the teacher’s occupation. The Council, with the endorsement of Mayor Eduardo Paes, passed the PCCR.

On 8 October 2013, between ten and fifty thousand people, including striking bankers and members of a Black Bloc, joined the teacher’s march to City Hall. The march was peaceful until members of the Black Bloc began to smash banks, burn vehicles, and throw firebombs at the police.

That night, a Supreme Court judge sided with the SEPE-RJ and announced that the penalties imposed on the striking teachers infringed on the worker’s freedom of expression.

A week later, on 15 October 2013, between five and ten thousand people again joined the teacher’s in protest. Leaders of the SEPE-RJ said they welcomed the presence of Black Bloc “provided they follow our guidelines” and asserted that the violence had come from police infiltrators or “more radicalized groups.”

At the end of this protest, Justice Minister Luiz Fux of the Supreme Federal Court invited union leaders and government officials to a meeting on 22 October 2013.

At the end of the negotiation on 22 October 2013, Fux announced an agreement had been reached between SEPE-RJ and representatives of Mayor Paes and Governor Cabral. The agreement, conditional on the union stopping the strike, included: an 8% increase in the salary of teachers; the creation of a Working Group to review the workload and curriculum requirements for teachers; a removal of all penalties against striking workers and returning employment to all workers fired for striking; and the creation of a School Council to increase teacher’s political representation.

Two days after Fux announced this resolution, on 24 October 2013, the SEPE-RJ voted to ended the strike and accept the agreement: 1,085 voted in favor, 889 voted against. On 25 October 2013, the teachers returned to work.

Research Notes

This strike followed a wave of huge protests in the summer of 2013.

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Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Guido Girgenti, 16/02/2014