By Gabriela Mello
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - A battle between Brazilian private college operator Estacio Participacoes SA and the country's professors arrived in the courts on Thursday, as unions and students protested against the company's recent move to fire over 1,000 teachers.
On Wednesday, newspaper O Estado de Sao Paulo reported that the company was planning to fire 1,200 of its 10,000 professors in December, as many are being paid above-market rates.
In response, the CSB, a Brazilian umbrella union, filed a motion in a court in capital Brasilia on Thursday demanding that the layoffs be halted. That motion was quashed by a judge.
Estacio declined to comment on the judicial proceedings, but emphasized that Brazilian law requires that it make any staffing cuts within a limited period of the calendar year.
"It's important to remember that Brazilian legislation requires that potential layoffs of professors occur only within a very restricted window," the company said in a statement.
Augusta Raeffray, a lawyer for the CSB, said by telephone that mass layoffs must be negotiated with union, which she said Estacio did not do.
She added that the company had already filed paperwork for 230 layoffs in the city of Sao Paulo, almost 100 in Ribeirao Preto and 50 in Belo Horizonte.
In Rio de Janeiro, where 33 of 93 Estacio units are located, the citywide teachers' union is planning a Friday protest and students are planning a Monday demonstration, union head Joao Paulo Camara Chaves said in a telephone conversation.
The body was also considering a teachers strike during the beginning of lessons next year, he added.
The layoffs and subsequent protests at Estacio have raised wider questions about the treatment of academic professionals in Brazil, where professors say salaries and contracts have become more precarious both in the private and public sector, especially as the state tightens its belt.
"Some state universities are paying professors' salaries in installments. Other private universities are using an intermittent or hourly pay schedule," said Jacob Paiva, director of Brazil's nationwide professors union, by phone.
Shares in Estacio fell 2 percent on Thursday to 30.71 reais ($9.33), their biggest intraday loss in over a week.
($1 = 3.29 reais)
(Reporting by Gram Slattery; Editing by Richard Chang)