Congressional approval, at the beginning of the month, of new rules for food and meal vouchers further intensified the market for worker benefits, which amount to about R$150 billion annually. With disagreements over the approved rules, the companies responsible for operating the service and restaurants are lobbying the government behind the scenes and publicly.
Market giants estimate that the changes could cause problems for the sector’s security and operation. Companies looking to advance in this sector see MP as an opportunity to increase competition.
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The Provisional Measure (MP), which has already been approved by the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, is in the Planalto Palace for analysis by President Jair Bolsonaro and has opened a war in the Strip. On the other hand, there are giants like Sodexo, Alelo, Ticket and VR, which dominate 90% of the market. On the other hand, the delivery sector giant iFood.
Ease of transportation
The text brings a series of changes. It defines free portability from May 2023, i.e. the worker will choose the voucher he wants to use. It also requires, from next year, interoperability of certified networks – a restaurant that accepts one brand will be obligated to accept all other brands, as is already the case with a credit card.
Large companies that administer benefits are defending their veto on these two points, through the Brazilian Association of Employee Benefits Companies (ABBT). The entity states that with the current closed-network model, there is control over which businesses are able to accept coupons, while checking the quality of meals and prohibiting the use of coupons to purchase alcoholic beverages or cigarettes, for example.
Entity Against Portability: “The procedure, which may seem simple at first, creates difficulties and can make it impossible for employers to grant the advantage, who will have to manage dozens of different operators internally to pay the benefit,” it said in a note.
iFood, in turn, advocates agreeing to these two points, even if they are the target of future regulation. Both devices are essential for iFood benefits, a vertical coupon that the company wants to take off.
“We advocate maintaining portability, because it takes the focus away from the employer and puts the worker at the center of public policy. The worker will have the right to choose. He will choose the best product, the best product,” said Lucas Petioni, iFood’s legal director.
In the way portability is put in place, it can burden businesses, if there is no subsequent regulation, says Marcelo Sina, labor attorney, partner at Mosello Lima Advocacia.
“Today my employer is in touch with a company that manages food stamps. If I had several companies that I could interact with, the team would be overburdened. I might need more people, more systems,” he said, noting that regulation could solve the point. “Businesses must participate in the approved network, which will make the life of the worker much easier.”
The MP also prohibits a practice that has come to be known in the benefits market as “discounting.” Large coupon providers charge the approved restaurant a fee – about 6% of the value of the meal – and, at the same time, give the employer a discount that can be up to 4%, depending on the contract. This practice, according to the MP, should continue to apply in current contracts through May.
The discount end should primarily favor startups with flexible benefit cards, such as Cashew, Flash, and Swile, and make them more competitive with larger companies in the market. Startups charge a 2% fee from the restaurant, but do not offer a discount to the contractor.
“The discount is bad for the chip. The government has a benefits program (Workers’ Food Program, PAT) that benefits businesses and workers. We have to have autonomy,” says Giulio Brito, Swile’s general manager.
Kaju said he considers MP to be positive for the market, “especially as it prohibits anti-competitive practices such as rebates and deferred payments.”
The Brazilian Association of Bars and Restaurants (Abrasel) defends the ban on portability to avoid what it sees as a disguised “discount” through promotions and cashback (refund). “The discount will buy the employers, and the cashback will buy the worker. The bill will be with us and with the consumer,” says the association.
Withdrawal after 60 days
The representative also allows the worker to withdraw the unused balance after 60 days. This section’s refusal request is a consensus among companies. But only 1% to 2% of workers have a two-month backlog. Plus, with the cost of living rising, the voucher balance runs out on average 13 days. In 2019, it lasted 18 days.
“In my view, there is a legal obstacle to that, which is the Criminal Code Act, which states that sums, even if ordinarily paid, for food are not part of an employee’s pay base, as long as they are not paid in cash,” says Mateus Quintiliano, of Velloza. Advogados Associados, withdrawals in cash may incur a fee.”
MP rules apply to companies inside or outside the PAT, which offer tax incentives based on amounts distributed to employees – the food allowance outside of the PAT is important because it removes the risk of this benefit being considered a salary. The measure states that food stamp must be used exclusively to pay for meals and purchase food items.
“It has often happened that this benefit has been transferred to supplement the person’s salary or for other reasons not related to the nature of the benefit,” explains Jose Roberto Kovac, Partner at Covac Sociedade de Advogados.
What does the prime minister say?
Transfer between cards
The representative allows the worker to choose the benefits card he wants to work with. Today, the contract is closed directly between the employer and the company providing the benefits. The portability should be free and valid from May 2023. However, it is not clear how this will happen in practice – whether the company will sign several contracts or whether a clearinghouse will be established.
Supported network sharing
Today, most companies in this sector operate in the so-called closed arrangements, when only the card is accepted in their authorized network. A restaurant, for example, needs agreements with more than one card. MP, however, defines interoperability between cards. Thus, the organization accepts all tickets even with an agreement with only one of them.
No discounts and prepayment
MP prohibits ticket providers from giving discounts to service contractors. Today’s company can rent vouchers worth 100 thousand RRL, but pay less – the difference is compensated by charging for restaurants and supermarkets. Employers will also not be able to get an extended period to repay loans to workers. It must be prepaid.
Organizing the home office
The deputy still organizes remote work (the famous home office). It allows the eventual adoption of a hybrid model and production working scheme, without time control. Remote work can also be applied to apprentices and trainees. The presence of the worker in the work environment to perform specific tasks, even if in a habitual manner, does not detract from working remotely.
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