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Quality of female employment in the sugar and ethanol sector increases, but participation is still low

A study released by Cepea in July 2018 (in Portuguese) indicates relevant changes in the profile of workers of the sugar and ethanol sector from 2000 to 2016.


Due to several transformations of the sector, namely the deregulation in late 1990’s, the emergence of flex-fuel vehicles, the crisis and the process of mechanization, among other aspects, the number of employed people in the sector decreased significantly. On the other hand, there is a significant change in the profile of these workers, with more qualified jobs and higher salaries.


From 2008 to 2016, the number of employees in sugarcane crops decreased 45.7% and, at mills (industrial and administrative jobs), 5.1%. However, the average remuneration, in real terms, rose 39.7% at the field and 17.4% in the sugarcane agroindustry. On one hand, the number of people with less than 10 years of schooling working in the sector dropped 52% and, on the other, the number of workers with more than 10 years increased 22%.


In this scenario, it is important to highlight the gender matter, evaluating the representation of women in this sector and analyzing the contribution of the activity to reduce imbalances that still exist in the job market. Comparing 2000 to 2016, there had been a relative stability of the women participation in the sugarcane industry job market, maintaining between 7.6% and 8.8% in the period (the methodology used to identify workers is the same applied by a study released by Cepea, and it is the same database used by RAIS – Annual Social Information Report). Following the trend of employments in the sector, the number of women working in the chain soared from 2000 to 2008, when the sector expanded significantly, but decreased sharply from 2008 onwards, due to advances of mechanization. In 2016, from almost 795 thousand people working in the sector, roughly 70 thousand were women.


The stability of the low participation of women in the job market of the chain in the aggregated analysis, however, hides important dynamics that are verified when the disaggregated chain links are evaluated. Even in the period of decrease in the number of employments, from 2008 to 2016, there was an increase of women working in the industrial area and in administrative jobs (in the same period, the number of men in the same areas reduced). On the other hand, the decrease of female employment at the field (-60.3%) was more significant that verified for men (-44.4%), also from 2008 to 2016.


Due to this trend, the structure of female employment in the sugar and ethanol industry has changed, focusing more on industrial and administrative areas. The change of employment profile towards more qualified work (higher schooling levels), verified by a Cepea study for workers in general was even more significant when the female job market is evaluated. Between 2000 and 2016, the participation of women with up to 5 years of schooling working in the sector reduced 43.2 percentage points; for men, the decrease was 38.1 pp. In the same period, the participation of women with more than 13 years of schooling rose 11.8 pp and, considering men, 2.8 pp.


All these structural changes have resulted in real significant gains on the average salary received by women in the sugar and ethanol sector. From 2000 to 2008, the real gain was 26% and, between 2008 and 2016, 48%, which represents an important advance of the quality of jobs for women in the sector.


The trend of quality improvement of female employment is also verified in the agribusiness as a whole, but it was more intense in the sugar and ethanol sector. On the other hand, it is important to mention that the participation of women in the activity is still low compared to the average of agribusiness and to the average of the Brazilian job market (in 2015, the participation of women in agribusiness was roughly 28%, and in the Brazilian job market, 40%, considering both formal and informal markets), and did not present a significant evolution in the period.


Another aspect that can be highlighted is that, in spite of the quality improve and the increase of remuneration, there is still little information on female workers that left the activity, less qualified, and that had possibly had difficulties to relocate in the market. These evidences show that, even with improvements, there is still room for public policies and private initiative to reduce the imbalance and increase workers’ skills due to new realities of employment at the field.


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