The law does not set a minimum wage for the private sector. Wages were set by contract between the employee and employer, and were sometimes calculated based on national origin. Published reports calculated the average monthly compensation in the private sector to be BND 1,830 ($1,330) per worker. In the public sector, which employed the majority of citizens, salaries followed a scale determined by job, responsibility, qualifications, and time in service. There was no established poverty line.
The standard workweek for most government agencies and many private companies is Monday through Thursday and Saturday, with Friday and Sunday off, allowing for two rest periods of 24 hours each week. The law provides for paid annual holidays, overtime for work in excess of 48 hours per week, and double time for work performed on legal holidays. The law also stipulates an employee may not work more than 72 hours of overtime per month. Government regulations establish occupational health and safety standards. Individuals were encouraged to report violations of health and safety standards, but the law does not explicitly protect the right to remove oneself from a hazardous workplace.
Immigration law allows prison sentences and caning for foreign workers who overstay their work permits, for workers who fall into irregular status due to their employers’ negligence, for illegal immigrants seeking work, and for foreign workers employed by companies other than their initial sponsor. The government enforced this law with regular immigration sweeps. There were reports of foreigner workers being deported in lieu of caning/imprisonment.
The Department of Labor inspected working conditions both on a routine basis and in response to complaints. There were approximately 40 labor inspectors in the Labor Department, which was adequate to conduct mandated inspections. The government usually moved quickly to investigate allegations of labor law violations, and employers faced criminal and civil penalties, although the focus was primarily on illegal workers rather than worker protection. The Labor Department has the power to terminate the licenses of abusive employers and revoke their foreign labor quotas, and it did so occasionally.
The commissioner of the Department of Labor is responsible for protecting foreign workers’ rights. Foreign laborers (predominantly Filipinos, Malaysians, Indonesians, and Bangladeshis) dominated most low-wage professions, such as domestic workers, construction, maintenance, retail, and restaurants.
The government prosecuted employers who employed illegal immigrants or did not properly process workers’ documents. When grievances could not be resolved, regulations require employers to pay for the repatriation of the foreign workers and all outstanding wages. Although the practice is illegal, some employers held employee passports and restricted employee activities during non-work hours, particularly for low-skilled workers and household staff (see section 7.b.).
Most reported violations of labor law not involving foreign workers’ status were resolved through government mediation by the Department of Labor. The majority of abuse cases were settled out of court through agreements under which the employer paid financial compensation to the worker. Employers who violate laws regarding conditions of service, including pay, working hours, leave, and holidays, may be fined BND 800 ($580) for a first offense and for further offenses BND 1,600 ($1,160), imprisoned for one year, or both. Observers did not indicate whether the penalties for violations of wage, hour, and health and safety standards were sufficient to deter violations.
The government sought to enforce labor, health, and safety regulations effectively. Enforcement in sectors employing low-skilled labor, such as construction or maintenance, however, was weak. This was especially the case for foreign laborers at construction sites, where wage arrears and inadequate safety and living conditions were reported. Laws regarding working hours were frequently not observed for either citizen or foreign workers.
Many employed citizens commanded good salaries with numerous allowances, but complaints about low wages were common, especially in entry-level positions. The government found that local employees in the private sector had an average monthly compensation rate of BND 2,257 ($1,640), compared with BND 1,565 ($1,140) for foreign workers. Wages for employed foreign residents were wide ranging. Some foreign embassies negotiated agreements with the Brunei government covering minimum wage requirement for their nationals working in the country.