Hundreds of prison system workers in Brazil have reportedly occupied the country’s Justice Ministry building in protest at pension reforms proposed by the government of President Michel Temer.
The workers, who hailed from several Brazilian states, managed to shut down the ministry building in the capital, Brasilia, on Tuesday afternoon after taking up positions there, according to local and social media.
“We have just occupied the Justice Ministry,” said Fabio Cesar Ferreira, the head of the Sao Paulo corrections union branch. “And we’re going to be here until lawmakers take us out of their bill.”
Demonstrators initially crowded the ministry’s main hall to talk to lawmakers. They were, however, disappointed after waiting for hours in vain.
“We are in a horrible daily routine inside and outside the jails and prisons, in a degrading, unhealthy, and unsafe workplace. How can we be included in the same rules as all of Brazil’s workers?” Ferreira further said.
The measures being protested would end special pensions for workers at prisons, which are often controlled by criminal gangs and are occasionally the site of violence.
Brazil has the fourth largest prison population in the world after Russia, China, and the United States.
President Temer’s government has proposed controversial measures to curb pension costs, including raising the retirement age to 65 for men and 62 for women, up from the current 60 and 55.
The government, which has been firmly pushing its economic reforms, is also pressing for plans to liberalize labor laws and has succeeded in getting the congress to pass a 20-year freeze on spending increases.
The unpopular austerity measures have sparked protests across the country.
Late last month, unions organized a general strike that they said was a success with the participation of millions of workers in key sectors like auto-making, petroleum, education, and banking. The strikes hit all of Brazil’s 26 states and the Federal District, with protests that turned violent in several cities, particularly in Sao Paulo.