RIO DE JANEIRO — If the much-criticized but equally awaited Rio Summer Olympics have had one advantage, it's that they have shielded the Rio de Janeiro construction industry from the massive layoffs seen elsewhere in Brazil.
But as the August launch of the Games approches, so does the fear that some 35,000 workers are going to swiftly lose their jobs.
On top of an ongoing series of political scandals, the Brazilian economy has also been badly hit in recent months, and inflation is on the rise again. Thanks to the preparations for the Olympics however, the number of jobs lost in the building sector in the 12 months leading to November 2015 was much lower in Rio, with 4,491 compared to 28,213 in São Paulo.
This will all end soon, however, and as the works linked to the Games are completed, an estimated one-fifth of those working in construction and civil engineering will join the more than 9 million unemployed Brazilians across the country.
The Olympic village (Parque Olímpico da Barra) and the TransOlímpica bus line are among the 15 new sites where some 17,000 workers are putting the final touches. When they're completed however, the effect will be a real thump on Rio's working market, which has already lost close to 72,000 jobs in the 12 months to November.
"There's no new construction prospect that would allow for the creation of new jobs," says Nilton Duarte Costa, president of a Rio-based trade union in the civil engineering sector. He estimates that there will be more than 15,000 layoffs by May.
José Carlos Martins, president of the Brazilian Chamber of Construction Industry, says that the total will reach 35,000 once the Olympic Games are over. But that's not the only potential social issue. Martins fears that a large proportion of these workers migrated from other cities and other parts of the country, attracted by the then safe prospect of finding a job. "Some of them tend to stay in the city, even after the construction they were working on is completed and even if they fail to find another job there," Martins says.
Turn to trash
Gabriel da Conceição Santana, 21, is one of them. He came to Rio four years ago. And though he recently lost his job at the soon-to-be-finished Olympic Tennis Center, he doesn't want to go back to his home state of Bahia.
"We came out of a full employment period and have now entered one where unemployment is going through the roof," says Pedro Celestino, president of Clube de Engenharia, a group that brings together engineers and technicians from the Rio de Janeiro state.
Though he too estimates some 30,000 construction workers will soon lose their jobs, Celestino says he has a solution, by shifting these people in a program to improve public sanitation, a longstanding issue in Brazil. "It doesn't require a lot of investments but it does require a lot of workforce," he says.
Local authorities are planning to make up for the job losses with a program called "Em Frente Rio" (Rio Forward), which includes 10 projects on mobility, logistics, infrastructure and sanitation that will employ an estimated 38,300 people, with a total investment of 26.7 billion reais ($6.6 billion).
There one problem however: this plan will rely on investments from the private sector, where confidence may be lowest of all.