A Family Cut From the Public Payroll Contemplates a New Way of Life

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

AS in many third-world countries, Brazil's government has long played an informal welfare role. People with few real qualifications got jobs through relatives or political connections in return for votes or other favors. Bosses created special job categories and bonuses to get around salary ceilings; underpaid workers sold cosmetics and clothes at the office. Some had two jobs, showing up only at one. Foreign funds meant to build schools went to hire more people.

Fed by the patronage needs of successive regimes, the Bras'ilia bureaucracy has become a world unto itself, hard to crack.

Now, the cutbacks mean changing a whole way of life.

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In 1962, Werner de Oliveira's parents came to the new Brazilian capital, attracted to the bare hinterland by a government-owned apartment and federal jobs. They eventually had five children.

Since administrative reform secretary Joao Santana took up his fiscal machete, Werner's mother has lost her job at the mines and energy department because she was in a specially created, unprotected job category. His father lost his job as a doctor in the federal anti-malaria program, and Werner himself was laid off from a data bank position in the labor ministry. Werner's sister worked at a collections firm that lived off the checks used to pay for the goods public servants sold on the job. But she was laid off, too, because the firings are cutting into sales. And the family is losing the rent-free apartment because it went with his father's job.

Werner, 25, tried selling books to supplement the family income, and now has an unpaid job at the federal workers' union. There, he helps run the computer using what he learned in programming courses he has taken. About the injustices being done to dedicated public servants, he speaks easily and loudly. But when the conversation turns to Werner's future, his voice gets a bit sadder and softer.

``My parents are thinking of leaving Bras'ilia to go to the interior of [the state of] Goi`as,'' he confesses. ``We have a small piece of land there. My father could work as a doctor, my mother could open a school. We would plant mamona [used to make linseed oil]. I would take care of the farm.''

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