There is no national private sector minimum wage. A standardized government pay scale covers public sector workers, with a set minimum of 300 dinars ($800) pay per month. Citizens who earned less received a government stipend to offset the difference. There is no minimum wage for foreign workers in the public sector, although the government issued “guidelines” advising employers in the public and private sector to pay a minimum of 150 dinars per month ($400). There was no official poverty level.
Subject to the provisions of the new private sector law, a worker may not be employed for more than 48 hours per week. Muslim workers may not be employed during the month of Ramadan for more than six hours per day, or 36 hours per week. The standard workday is eight hours, with a maximum of 10 hours worked. Overtime rates are time-and-a-quarter during the day and time-and-a-half during the evening. It is mandatory for workers to be given 24 consecutive hours off per week, and the day set for weekly rest is Friday. If a worker is required to work on a mandatory rest day, the worker will be paid at time-and-a-half. A worker may not work on mandatory rest days for two weeks in a row without personal written consent.
The Ministry of Labor sets occupational safety and health standards. The labor law and relevant protections apply to citizens and noncitizens alike, with the exception of domestic workers. Labor Law 36 improved the legal situation for many workers as it pertains to access to contracts and additional holidays, although it exempts domestic workers from the majority of protections.
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing the labor law and mandating acceptable conditions of work. During the year the ministry employed 24 labor inspectors. The ministry enforced occupational safety and health standards; it also used a team of six engineers from multiple specialties primarily to investigate risks and standards at construction sites, which make up the vast majority of worksites.
Inspections were triggered by a complaint made to the ministry; notification of a new worksite made to the ministry; a news article about a new worksite; or when an inspector discovered a new worksite in an assigned geographic area.
Inspectors had the authority to levy fines and close worksites if employers did not improve conditions by specified deadlines. The new law significantly raised the penalties for violators to a range between 500 dinars ($1,) to 1,000 dinars ($2,) per violation and/or per worker affected, as determined by a judge. Additionally, a judge may also sentence violators to jail, with a minimum of three months in prison. For repeat violators, the penalties may be doubled. The ministry reported an unspecified number of violators were serving sentences related to labor condition violations during the year.
Despite the improvements, however, NGOs feared that resources for enforcement of the laws remained inadequate for the number of worksites and workers, that many worksites would not be inspected, and that the regulations would not necessarily deter violations.
For example, an existing ministerial decree prohibits outdoor work between noon and 4 p.m. during July and August. The ban was enforced among large firms, but according to local sources, violations were common among smaller businesses. The Ministry of Labor reported 99 percent of inspected companies were in compliance with the summer outdoor work ban during the year, significantly increased from 2007, when only 85 percent of companies were in compliance.
The government and the courts generally worked to rectify abuses brought to their attention. Workers could lodge complaints with the Ministry of Labor. The ministry reported that it received 2,266 complaints, including joint complaints, brought during the year by 542 female and 2,217 male workers. Labor officials stated they were able to resolve most cases through mediation. The public prosecutor took the remaining cases for investigation. By law complaints that cannot be settled through arbitration must be referred to the court within 15 days. However, the vast majority of cases involving abused domestic workers did not reach the Ministry of Labor or the public prosecutor.
During the year inspectors visited 821 labor camps to verify that workers’ accommodations met required safety and hygiene standards. It reported violations were found in 328 camps; 80 establishments received final warnings, 172 received a written warning, 159 received verbal warnings, and in 82 establishments, no violations were found.
Limited access to private homes and the limited number of inspectors impeded full enforcement of standards, particularly in the informal sector and among domestic servants. Ministry of Labor inspectors are authorized to inspect only premises that have a commercial registration and could not inspect private homes, where most domestic workers lived and worked, or unregistered “private” camps, where many unskilled foreign laborers lived and where conditions were the worst. The Ministry of Labor advised the Ministry of Municipalities and the Ministry of Housing when it received complaints of poor conditions in such housing.
The government continued to conduct workers’ rights awareness campaigns. It published pamphlets on foreign resident workers’ rights in several languages, provided manuals on these rights to local diplomatic missions, and operated a telephone hotline for victims. Additionally, the Ministry of Labor held several meetings in conjunction with relevant diplomatic missions to bring together workers and discuss issues in their native languages, and provide materials that explained their rights for both the formal and informal economy. In November the ministry held an Occupational Safety and Health Conference that brought together key stakeholders, including employers, to explain the laws and work to improve safety standards.
Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards were common in sectors employing foreign migrant workers, such as construction, automotive repair, and domestic service. Unskilled foreign workers, mostly from South and Southeast Asia, were approximately 60 percent of the total workforce (76 percent of the private sector workforce). These workers were also vulnerable to dangerous or exploitive working conditions. According to NGOs workplace safety inspection and compliance were substandard.
A 2009 study by the country’s Labor Market Regulatory Authority found (and local sources still confirmed) that 65 percent of foreign workers had not seen their employment contract and that 89 percent were unaware of their terms of employment. Some foreign workers arrived in the country under the sponsorship of an employer and then switched jobs while continuing to pay a fee to their original sponsor, which made it difficult to monitor and control their employment. Some employers illegally charged workers exorbitant fees to remain in the country and work for other employers.
The labor law does not protect domestic workers, and this group was particularly vulnerable to exploitation. In July the government made an additional amendment to the labor law that expanded the rights of domestic employees, who had not been covered under the previous law. Labor Law 36 requires domestic employees to be employed under “clear contractual terms” and provides for penalties for violators. However, the amendments do not accord domestic employees all of the rights that Law 36 implemented for other private sector workers, including limits on daily and weekly working hours and weekly days off.
There were credible reports that many of the country’s 70,000 domestic workers, most of them women, were forced to work 12- to 16-hour days, had to give their identity documents to employers, had little time off, were malnourished, and were subject to verbal and physical abuse, including sexual molestation and rape. Reports of employers and recruitment agents beating or sexually abusing foreign women working in domestic positions were common. Numerous instances were reported in the press and to embassies and police. The Ministry of Labor reported it received three complaints from domestic workers per month, and ministry officials stated they were able to resolve most cases through mediation. It also reported it conducted eight inspections of private homes during the year following complaints by domestic workers, although it was unclear what, if any, action was taken following the inspections.
The vast majority of cases involving abused domestic workers did not reach the Ministry of Labor or the public prosecutor for a variety of reasons. Most victims were too intimidated to sue their employers, although they had the right to do so. NGOs also reported that the court system made it difficult for workers (who frequently did not have home addresses) to receive notices about their cases once they have filed them. Although victims may assign power of attorney to someone in the country to permit the victim to return home, most did not use this option due to financial constraints prohibiting employees from working for a new sponsor until the case with the previous sponsor is resolved.
During the year the Migrant Workers Protection Society shelter assisted 124 female domestic workers with temporary housing requirements and assistance with their cases. The Migrant Workers Protection Society continued to support victims who took their cases to court, but by law victims can receive only outstanding unpaid wages--no criminal damages are possible unless the victim has filed a case of a crime found in the criminal penal code, such as physical abuse or rape. NGOs confirmed that while some cases were successful, compensation was meager.
During the year there were at least five workplace deaths owing to a combination of inadequate enforcement of standards, blatant violations of standards, inadequate safety procedures, worker ignorance of those procedures, and inadequate safety standards for equipment. According to NGO sources, most accidents were in the construction sector, which employed more Bangladeshis and Pakistanis than other nationalities. Exact figures were not available. In March a Pakistani man died after a fall into a four-meter (approximately 12 feet) trench at a construction site; according to local contacts, the victim was a so-called free visa worker.
In July international media reported 26 Indian workers committed suicide between January and July. Many were subjects of a “travel ban” placed by a local construction company, which accused the workers of not fulfilling their contracts; the ban was in effect from 2010 until July but was then resolved. Local contacts report that suicides, particularly by Indian workers, remained a problem, and the total for the year exceeded 40. Local contacts confirmed that employers used travel bans as a threat, but no new cases were reported or alleged during the year.
Conditions in the many unregistered or illegal worker camps were often poor. In May, 10 Bangladeshi workers died of carbon monoxide poisoning after a fire at an unregistered labor camp. Safety of accommodations and quality of life for workers were problems that continued to be a major concern at source country embassies. According to local contacts, the number of complaints about living conditions continued to rise during the year.