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By Ana Mano

SAO PAULO, Brazil, Weds. June 3, 2020 (Reuters) – Meatpacker JBS SA is being sued for alleged violation of indigenous workers’ rights after firing 40 members of the Kaingang tribe from a plant in southern Brazil, according to a court document.

The suit filed on June 1 by the labor prosecutor’s office alleged that JBS discriminated against these workers as the novel coronavirus pandemic escalated in the country.

JBS shares fell 1.37% in late-afternoon trading, after rising as much as 1% at the open.

“They were dismissed in a critical period, when the return to the labor market is unlikely until the pandemic is controlled,” Labor Prosecutor Edson Rodrigues Junior said.

The goal of the prosecutor’s office is to force JBS to re-hire the indigenous workers. The prosecutor is also seeking at least 10 million reais ($1.9 million) in fines and damages.

A decision is pending.

The dismissed employees of the Kaingang tribe commuted from the Serrinha indigenous land, where there were at least two confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, according to the court filing.

JBS confirmed dismissing 40 indigenous workers from its Seara chicken-slaughtering plant, but said the decision came after the company discontinued a bus service that brought the workers to the plant every day.

JBS gave no reason for discontinuing the bus service, and denied any discrimination.

Fernanda Kaingang, a lawyer representing the dismissed workers, told Reuters by telephone the two people sick with COVID-19 in the Serrinha indigenous land did not work for JBS, but for another meatpacker in the area.

The lawyer said the dismissed JBS workers earned a net 1,200 reais ($230.10) per month and were “surprised” when they learned they had been fired.

At least one fired indigenous worker was a pregnant woman, the lawsuit and the lawyer said. JBS denied this, adding all women employees in such a condition were placed on leave.

JBS noted the dismissed workers were paid in full what they were entitled to, and added that the plant in the town of Seara employs 3,700 people, including 200 from indigenous communities in surrounding areas.

The indigenous workers at the plant were preemptively placed on leave as required by law to protect them amid the pandemic, JBS said.

The company said the workers fired on May 6 traveled 300 kilometers (186.4 miles) every day to get to the plant on transportation arranged by the company.

($1 = 5.2597 reais)

(Reporting by Ana Mano; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Bernadette Baum)

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