Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The government routinely respected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and protects employees from unfair dismissal while striking, provided the union has complied with the legal requirements governing such industrial action.
The law allows strikes to proceed only when at least 50 percent of workers who participate in a secret ballot support it. For “important public services,” defined as health services, education for those younger than 17, fire services, transport services, nuclear decommissioning and the management of radioactive waste and spent fuel, and border security, an additional threshold of support by 40 percent of all eligible union members must be met for strike action to be legal.
The law does not cover workers in the armed forces, public sector security services, police forces, and freelance or temporary work. According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the right to strike in the UK is “limited” due to prohibitions against political and solidarity strikes, lengthy procedures for calling strikes, and the ability of employers to seek injunctions against unions before a strike has begun if the union does not observe all proper steps in organizing the strike.
The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Remedies were limited in situations where workers faced reprisal for union activity, and the ITUC stated that the law does not provide “adequate means of protection against antiunion discrimination,” and noted that legal protections against unfair labor practices only exist within the framework of organizing a recognition ballot. Penalties range from employers paying compensation to reinstatement and were sufficient to deter violations.
The government and employers routinely respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Unions and management typically negotiated collective “agreements,” which were less formal and not legally enforceable. The terms of the agreement could, however, be incorporated into an individual work contract with legal standing.
The law does not allow independent trade unions to apply for derecognition of in-house company unions or to protect individual workers seeking to do so.
Various labor NGOs advocated for worker’s rights freely within the UK and acted independently from trade unions. NGOs advocated for improvements in paid family leave, a minimum or living wage, and worker safety among other problems.
According to the ONS, approximately 6.2 million employees were trade union members in 2017. The level of overall union members increased by 19,000 (0.3 percent) from 2016. Membership levels were below the 1979 peak of more than 13 million.
The law prohibits forced and compulsory labor, but such practices occurred despite effective government enforcement. Resources and inspections were generally adequate, and penalties were sufficiently stringent compared to other sentences for serious crimes.
The law permits punishment of up to life imprisonment for all trafficking and slavery offenses, including sexual exploitation, labor exploitation, and forced servitude. Firms with a global turnover of 36 million pounds ($45.7 million) that supply goods or services in the UK must by law publish an annual statement setting out what steps they are taking to ensure that slave labor is not being used in their operations and supply chain. Foreign companies and subsidiaries that “carry on a business” in the UK also have to comply with this law. The law allows courts to impose reparation orders on convicted exploiters and prevention orders to ensure that those who pose a risk of committing modern slavery offenses cannot work in relevant fields, such as with children.
Forced labor in the UK involved both foreign and domestic workers, mainly in sectors characterized by low-skilled, low-paid manual labor and heavy use of flexible, temporary workers. Those who experienced forced labor practices tended to be poor, living on insecure and subsistence incomes and in substandard accommodations. Victims of forced labor included men, women, and children. Forced labor was normally more prevalent among the most vulnerable, minorities or socially excluded groups. The majority of victims were British nationals. Albania, Nigeria, Vietnam, Romania, and Poland were the most likely foreign countries of origin. Most migrants entered the UK legally. Many migrants used informal brokers to plan their journey and find work and accommodation in the UK, enabling the brokers to exploit the migrants through high fees and to channel them into forced labor situations. Many with limited English were trapped in poverty through a combination of debts, flexible employment, and constrained opportunities. Migrants were forced to share rooms with strangers in overcrowded houses, and often the work was just sufficient to cover rent and other charges. Sexual exploitation was the most common form of modern slavery reported in the UK, followed by labor exploitation, forced criminal exploitation, and domestic servitude. Migrant workers were subject to forced labor in agriculture (especially in marijuana cultivation), construction, food processing, service industries (especially nail salons), and on fishing boats. Women employed as domestic workers were particularly vulnerable to forced labor.
In Bermuda the Department of Immigration and the Director of Public Prosecutions confirmed there were no cases of forced labor during the year, although historically there were some cases of forced labor, mostly involving migrant men in the construction sector and women in domestic service. Penalties for forced labor were generally adequate to deter violations. The law requires employers to repatriate work-permit holders. Failure to do so had been a migrant complaint. The cases of worker exploitation largely consisted of employers requiring workers to work longer hours or to perform work outside the scope of their work permit. The government effectively enforced the law.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law does prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. UK law prohibits the employment of children younger than 13 with exceptions for sports, modeling, and paid performances, which may require a child performance license. The law prohibits those younger than 16 from working in an industrial enterprise, including transportation or street trading. Children’s work hours are strictly limited and may not interfere with school attendance. Different legislation governs the employment of persons younger than 16, and, while some laws are common across the UK, local bylaws vary. If local bylaws so require, children between the ages of 13 and 16 must apply for a work permit from a local authority. The local authority’s education and welfare services have primary responsibility for oversight and enforcement of the permits.
The Department for Education has primary regulatory responsibility for child labor, although local authorities generally handled enforcement. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
In Bermuda children younger than 13 may perform light work of an agricultural, horticultural, or domestic character if the parent or guardian is the employer. Schoolchildren may not work during school hours or more than two hours on school days. No child younger than 15 may work in any industrial undertaking, other than light work, or on any vessel, other than a vessel where only family members work. Children younger than 18 may not work at night, except that those ages 16 to 18 may work until midnight; employers must arrange for safe transport home for girls between ages 16 and 18 working until midnight. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The BPS reported no cases of child labor or exploitation of children during the year.
The government of Saint Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha passed a bill to restrict child labor and improved services for vulnerable children. The governments of Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), Montserrat, and St. Helena-Ascension-Tristan da Cunha have not developed a list of hazardous occupations prohibited for children. On Anguilla the minimum age for labor is 12 and for hazardous work 14.
There are legislative gaps in the prohibition of trafficking in children for labor exploitation and the use of children for commercial sexual exploitation on the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) and St. Helena-Ascension-Tristan da Cunha. While criminal laws prohibit trafficking in children for sexual exploitation, they do not address trafficking in children for labor exploitation. Laws do not exist in Monserrat regarding the use of children in drug trafficking and other illicit activities. Traffickers subjected children to commercial sexual exploitation in Turks and Caicos. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties are not sufficient to deter violations.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings for information on UK territories.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination in employment or occupation regarding race, color, sex, religion or belief, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, being pregnant or on maternity leave, age, language, or HIV or other communicable disease status. Legal protection extends to others who are associated with someone who has a protected characteristic or who have complained about discrimination or supported someone else’s claim. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, gender, and sexual orientation and gender identity. Complainants faced higher fees in discrimination cases than in other types of claims made to employment tribunals or the Employment Appeals Tribunal.
The law requires equal pay for equal work. The law requires employers to publish gender pay gap data annually. The government enacted mandatory gender pay reporting, aimed at closing the gender pay gap, a separate concept from the equal pay principle. Businesses with more than 250 employees are required to measure, and then report, on how they pay men and women. This affected 8,000 businesses employing approximately 11 million persons. The gap has narrowed over the long term for low earners but has remained largely consistent over time for high earners. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is charged with enforcing pay gap reporting requirements.
The finance sector has the highest pay gap of all sectors, with the average woman earning 35.6 percent less than the average man.
In Northern Ireland all employers have a responsibility to provide equal opportunity for all applicants and employees. Discrimination based on religion or political affiliation is illegal. Employers must register with the Northern Ireland Equality Commission if they employ more than 10 persons. Registered employers are required to submit annual reports to the Commission on the religious composition of their workforce.
The Scottish government introduced a plan in March 2019 to address the gender pay gap. This plan set a goal of reducing the gender pay gap by 2021 and includes 50 actions to provide resources and support for working women and mothers. The pay gap in Scotland also decreased from 6.6 percent in 2017 to 5.7 percent in 2018.
During the year the Glasgow City Council settled a 12-year equal pay dispute with thousands of female council workers. The settlement followed a strike of more than 8,000 current and former employees in Glasgow.
The minimum wage for workers age 25 or older, known as the National Living Wage, is above the poverty level.
Although criminal enforcement is available, most minimum wage noncompliance is pursued via civil enforcement. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.
The law limits the workweek to an average of 48 hours, normally averaged over a 17-week period. The law does not prohibit compulsory overtime, but it limits overtime to the 48-hour workweek restriction. The 48-hour workweek regulations do not apply to senior managers and others who can exercise control over their own hours of work. There are also exceptions for the armed forces, emergency services, police, domestic workers, sea and air transportation workers, and fishermen. The law allows workers to opt out of the 48-hour limit, although there are exceptions for airline staff, delivery drivers, security guards, and workers on ships or boats.
The government set appropriate and current occupational safety and health standards. The law stipulates that employers may not place the health and safety of employees at risk. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is responsible for identifying unsafe situations, and not the worker. By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.
The HSE, an arm of the Department for Work and Pensions, effectively enforced occupational health and safety laws in all sectors including the informal economy. The fine for violations was sufficient to deter violations. The HSE conducted workplace inspections and may initiate criminal proceedings. HSE inspectors also advise employers on how to comply with the law. Employers may be ordered to make improvements, either through an improvement notice, which allows time for the recipient to comply, or a prohibition notice, which prohibits an activity until remedial action has been taken. The HSE issued notices to companies and individuals for breaches of health and safety law. The notice may involve one or more instances when the recipient failed to comply with health and safety law, each of which was called a “breach.” The HSE prosecuted recipients for noncompliance with a notice while the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) prosecuted similar cases in Scotland.
Figures for 2017-18 show that the HSE and COPFS prosecuted 517 cases with at least one conviction secured in 493 of these cases, a conviction rate of 95 percent. Across all enforcing bodies, 11,522 notices were issued. HSE and COPFS prosecutions led to fines totaling 72.6 million pounds ($92.2 million) compared with the 38.3 million pounds ($48.7 million) in 2015-16.
According to the HSE’s annual report, 147 workers were killed at work in 2017-18. An estimated 555,000 workers sustained a nonfatal injury at work according to self-reports in 2017-18. A total of 71,062 industrial injuries were reported in 2017-18 in the UK.
Bermuda’s legislation does not provide a minimum or living wage; however, in July the Bermuda government introduced a Wage Commission tasked with gathering information to establish new guidelines. The proposal to introduce a living wage was introduced in the House of Assembly in July 2018 to ensure all workers could afford food, housing, clothes, medical care, and education. The Bermuda Department of Labor and Training enforces any contractually agreed wage. Regulations enforced by the department extensively cover the safety of the work environment and occupational safety and health standards and are current and appropriate for the main industries. By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides that all private- and public-sector workers (except members of the armed forces) have the right to form and join unions of their choice, and it provides for collective bargaining and the right to strike. The law, however, places several restrictions on these rights, and the former Maduro regime deployed a variety of mechanisms to undercut the rights of independent workers and unions. Minimum membership requirements for unions differ based on the type of union. Forming a company union requires a minimum of 20 workers; forming a professional, industrial, or sectoral union in one jurisdiction requires 40 workers in the same field; and forming a regional or national union requires 150 workers. Ten persons may form an employee association, a parallel type of representation the former regime endorsed and openly supported.
The law prohibits “any act of discrimination or interference contrary to the exercise” of workers’ right to unionize. The law requires all unions to provide the Ministry of Labor a membership roster that includes the full name, home address, telephone number, and national identification number for each union member. The ministry reviews the registration and determines whether the union fulfilled all requirements. Unions must submit their registration application by December 31 of the year the union forms; if not received by the ministry or if the ministry considers the registration unsatisfactory, the union is denied the ability to exist legally. The law also requires the presence of labor inspectors to witness and legitimize unions’ decisions before the Ministry of Labor. The International Labor Organization (ILO) raised concerns about the ministry’s refusal to register trade union organizations.
By law employers may negotiate a collective contract only with the union that represents the majority of its workers. Minority organizations may not jointly negotiate in cases where no union represents an absolute majority. The law also restricts unions’ ability to administer their activities. For example, the CNE has the authority to administer internal elections of labor unions, federations, and confederations. By law elections must be held at least every three years. If CNE-administered and -certified elections are not held within this period, the law prohibits union leaders from representing workers in negotiations or engaging in anything beyond administrative tasks. The ILO repeatedly found cases of interference by the CNE in trade union elections, and since 1999 it has called for delinking the CNE from the union election process.
The law recognizes the right of all public- and private-sector workers to strike, subject to conditions established by law. By law workers participating in legal strikes receive immunity from prosecution, and their time in service may not be reduced by the time engaged in a strike. The law requires that employers reincorporate striking workers and provides for prison terms sufficient to deter violations for employers who fail to do so. Replacement workers are not permitted during legal strikes. The law prohibits striking workers from paralyzing the production or provision of essential public goods and services, but it defines “essential services” more broadly than ILO standards. The ILO called on the government to amend the law to exclude from the definition of “essential services” activities “that are not essential in the strict sense of the term…so that in no event may criminal sanctions be imposed in cases of peaceful strikes.”
The minister of labor may order public- or private-sector strikers back to work and submit their disputes to arbitration if a strike “puts in immediate danger the lives or security of all or part of the population.” Other legal provisions establish criminal penalties for exercising the right to strike in certain circumstances. For example, the law prohibits specified actions and makes punishable with five to 10 years in prison anyone who “organizes, supports, or instigates the realization of activities within security zones that are intended to disturb or affect the organization and functioning of military installations, public services, industries and basic [i.e., mining] enterprises, or the socioeconomic life of the country.” The law also provides for prison terms sufficient to deter violations for those who restrict the distribution of goods and for “those…who develop or carry out actions or omissions that impede, either directly or indirectly, the production, manufacture, import, storing, transport, distribution, and commercialization of goods.” There was no information on whether penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
The former Maduro regime restricted the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining through administrative and legal mechanisms. The former regime did not effectively enforce the law.
The ILO raised concerns about violence against trade union members and intimidation by the former regime of the Associations of Commerce and Production of Venezuela. In 2018 ILO member countries voted to establish an ILO Commission of Inquiry against Venezuela to investigate longstanding complaints first lodged in 2015 of labor rights violations of ILO Conventions No. 26, 87, and 144, which pertain to minimum-wage fixing, freedom of association and protection of the right to organize, and tripartite consultation, respectively. In October the commission issued its report to the director general, noting that the former regime had repeatedly committed violations of international conventions on minimum wage, freedom of association and the right to organize, and labor standards. It also called for “the immediate release of any employer or trade unionist who may be in prison as a result of carrying out the legitimate activities of their workers’ or employers’ organization.”
Organized labor activists continued to report that the annual requirement to provide the Ministry of Labor a membership roster was onerous and infringed on freedom of association. They alleged the ministry removed member names from the rosters for political purposes, particularly if members were not registered to vote with the CNE. Labor leaders also criticized the laborious and costly administrative process of requesting CNE approval for elections and subsequent delays in the CNE’s recognition of such union processes. In addition, there reportedly was a high turnover of Ministry of Labor contractors, resulting in a lack of timely follow-through on union processes. Labor unions in both the private and public sectors noted long delays in obtaining CNE concurrence to hold elections and in receiving certification of the election results, which hindered unions’ ability to bargain collectively.
The former Maduro regime continued to support many “parallel” unions, which sought to dilute the membership and effectiveness of traditional independent unions. The former regime excluded from consideration other, independent union federations, including the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, General Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, Confederation of Autonomous Unions of Venezuela, and National Union of Workers.
The former regime continued to refuse to adjudicate or otherwise resolve the cases of 19,000 employees of the state oil company (PDVSA) who were fired during and after the 2002-03 strike. The Ministry of Labor continued to deny registration to the National Union of Oil, Gas, Petrochemical, and Refinery Workers.
The concept of striking, demonized since the 2002 national security law, was used periodically as a political tool to accuse regime opponents of coup plotting or other destabilizing activities. Some companies, especially in the public sector, had multiple unions with varying degrees of allegiance to the ruling party’s version of the “socialist revolution,” which could trigger interunion conflict and strife.
NGOs reported the former regime continued harassment of unions by prosecuting union members in military courts. Ruben Gonzalez, secretary general of miners’ union Sintraferrominera, was arrested in November 2018 after participating in a protest for collective bargaining rights and salary increases. In August a military tribunal sentenced Gonzalez to five years and nine months in prison for “outrage” to the armed forces and the GNB. Union leaders described Gonzalez’s arrest as part of the former regime’s efforts to eliminate the union and install a more pliant, parallel union while a new collective agreement is negotiated.
The law prohibits some forms of forced or compulsory labor but does not provide criminal penalties for certain forms of forced labor. The law prohibits human trafficking by organized crime groups through its law on organized crime, which prescribes penalties sufficient to deter violations for the human trafficking of adults carried out by a member of an organized-crime group of three or more individuals. The organized-crime law, however, fails to prohibit trafficking by any individual not affiliated with such a group. Prosecutors may employ other statutes to prosecute such individuals. The law increases penalties for child trafficking with the purpose of forced labor. There was no comprehensive information available regarding the former regime’s enforcement of the law. The labor group Autonomous Front in Defense of Employment, Wages, and Unions (FADESS) reported that public-sector worker agreements included provisions requiring service in the armed forces’ reserves.
There were reports of children and adults subjected to human trafficking with the purpose of forced labor, particularly in the informal economic sector and in domestic servitude (see section 7.c.). According to FADESS, more than 60,000 Cubans worked in the former Maduro regime social programs (such as the Mission Inside the Barrio) in exchange for the regime’s provision of oil resources to the Cuban government. FADESS noted Cubans worked in the Ministries of Education, Registrar, Notary, Telecommunications, and Security. FADESS also cited that the G-2 Cuban security unit was present in the armed forces and in state enterprises. Some Cuban medical personnel who participated in the social program Mission Inside the Barrio described indicators of forced labor, including underpayment of wages, mandatory long hours, limitations on movement, forced political indoctrination, and threats of retaliatory actions against workers and their families if they left the program. The Cuban government acknowledged that it withheld the passports of Cuban medical personnel in the country.
The law does not sufficiently prohibit the trafficking of boys and requires proof of the use of deception, coercion, force, violence, threats, abduction, or other fraudulent means to carry out the offense of trafficking of girls, including for commercial sexual exploitation.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum employment age at 14. Children younger than 14 may work only if granted special permission by the National Institute for Minors or the Ministry of Labor. Such permission may not be granted to minors who are younger than the legal age for work in hazardous occupations that risk their life or health or could damage their intellectual or moral development. According to the ILO, the former Maduro regime had not made publicly available the list of specific types of work considered hazardous. Children ages 14 to 18 may not work without permission of their legal guardians or in occupations expressly prohibited by law, and they may work no more than six hours per day or 30 hours per week. Minors younger than 18 may not work outside the normal workday.
Anyone employing children younger than eight is subject to a prison term that is sufficient to deter violations. Employers must notify authorities if they hire a minor as a domestic worker. The former regime did not effectively enforce the law.
No information was available on whether or how many employers were sanctioned for violations. The former regime continued to provide services to vulnerable children, including street children, working children, and children at risk of working. There was no independent accounting of the effectiveness of these and other former regime-supported programs.
Most child laborers worked in the agricultural sector, street vending, domestic service, or in small and medium-size businesses, most frequently in family-run operations. There continued to be isolated reports of children exploited in domestic servitude, mining, forced begging, and commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6), many of whom could be victims of trafficking. A study by Cecodap found that child laborers composed up to 45 percent of those working in mines.
Some doctors participating in Cuba’s overseas medical program showed indicators of forced labor. These indicators included withholding of doctors’ travel documents and pay; restricting participants’ movement; using “minders” to conduct surveillance of participants outside of work; threatening to revoke medical licenses; and retaliating against family members by imposing criminal penalties, exile, and family separation if participants left the program or did not return to Cuba as directed by government supervisors. Authorities did not investigate allegations of forced labor in the program. Additionally, doctors who deserted the program reported Cuban “minders” coerced them to indoctrinate the population into supporting the former Maduro regime and falsify records to bolster the number of individuals assisted.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The constitution prohibits employment discrimination of every citizen. The law prohibits discrimination based on age, race, sex, social condition, creed, marital status, union affiliation, political views, nationality, disability, or any condition that could be used to lessen the principle of equality before the law. No law specifically prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV/AIDS status. Media and NGOs, such as PROVEA and the Human Rights Center at the Andres Bello Catholic University, reported the regime had a very limited capacity to address complaints and enforce the law in some cases and lacked political will in some cases of active discrimination based on political motivations.
NGOs reported public employees faced discrimination for their political beliefs or activities. According to Aula Abierta, 4,876 public servants were dismissed from their jobs for political reasons in 2018. In April SEBIN detained two employees of the Central Bank of Venezuela for participating in a meeting of public workers with Interim President Guaido, according to PROVEA.
The former Maduro regime raised the national minimum wage, but it remained below the poverty line. Labor experts noted the unilateral nature of the decision contravened ILO Convention No. 26 requiring the government to consult with employers and workers prior to enacting wage increases. Legislators noted the decree violated the law, since it supplanted collective bargaining agreements. Union leaders from the petroleum, health, telecommunications, and electricity sectors highlighted that the wage-raise decree did not include wage adjustments to keep up with hyperinflation and thus remained insufficient to afford the basic food basket. It also violated the law by nullifying previously signed collective bargaining agreements, including wage tables that scaled salaries to account for seniority and merit pay.
The trade union of the industrial sector (CONINDUSTRIA) stated that only 2,500 of the 15,000 industries existing in 2000 remained as of June.
The law sets the workweek at 40 hours (35 hours for a night shift). The law establishes separate limits for “shift workers,” who may not work more than an average of 42 hours per week during an eight-week period, with overtime capped at 100 hours annually. Managers are prohibited from obligating employees to work additional time, and workers have the right to two consecutive days off each week. Overtime is paid at a 50 percent surcharge if a labor inspector approves the overtime in advance and at a 100 percent surcharge if an inspector does not give advance permission. The law establishes that, after completing one year with an employer, a worker has a right to 15 days of paid vacation annually. A worker has the right to an additional day for every additional year of service, for a maximum of 15 additional days annually.
The law provides for secure, hygienic, and adequate working conditions. Workplaces must maintain “protection for the health and life of the workers against all dangerous working conditions.” The law obligates employers to pay workers specified amounts for workplace injuries or occupational illnesses, ranging from two times the daily salary for missed workdays to several years’ salary for permanent injuries. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Penalties for violations of wage and hour and occupational safety and health laws were not sufficient to deter violations.
The law covers all workers, including temporary, occasional, and domestic workers. There was reportedly some enforcement by the Ministry of Labor of minimum wage rates and hours of work provisions in the formal sector, but 40 percent of the population worked in the informal sector, where labor law and protections generally were not enforced. The former regime did not enforce legal protections on safety in the public sector. According to PROVEA, while the National Institute for Prevention, Health, and Labor Security required many private businesses to correct dangerous labor conditions, the former regime did not enforce such standards in a similar manner in state enterprises and entities. There was no publicly available information regarding the number of inspectors or the frequency of inspections to implement health and safety, minimum wage, or hours of work provisions. Ministry inspectors seldom closed unsafe job sites. There was no information on whether penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
Official statistics regarding workplace deaths and injuries were not publicly available.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The constitution affords the right to associate and the right to demonstrate but limits the exercise of these rights, including by preventing workers from organizing or joining independent unions of their choice. While workers may choose whether to join a union and at which level (local or “grassroots,” provincial, or national), the law requires every union to be under the legal purview and control of the country’s only trade union confederation, the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL), a CPV-run organization. Only citizens may form or join labor unions.
The law gives the VGCL exclusive authority to recognize unions and confers on VGCL upper-level trade unions the responsibility to establish workplace unions. The law stipulates the VGCL answers directly to the CPV’s VFF, which does not protect trade unions from government interference in or control over union activity.
The law also limits freedom of association by not allowing trade unions full autonomy in administering their affairs. The law confers on the VGCL ownership of all trade-union property and gives it the right to represent lower-level unions. By law trade union leaders and officials are not elected by union members but are appointed.
The law requires that, if a workplace trade union does not exist, the next level “trade union” must perform the tasks of a grassroots union, even where workers have not so requested or have voluntarily elected not to organize. For nonunionized workers to organize a strike, they must request the strike “be organized and led by the upper-level trade union,” and if nonunionized workers wish to bargain collectively, the upper-level VGCL union must represent them.
The law stipulates trade unions have the right and responsibility to organize and lead strikes. The law also establishes substantive and procedural restrictions on strikes. Strikes that do not arise from a collective labor dispute or do not adhere to the process outlined by law are illegal. The law forbids strikes over “rights-based” disputes. This includes strikes arising out of economic and social policy measures that are not a part of a collective negotiation process, as they are both outside the law’s definition of protected “interest-based” strikes.
The law prohibits strikes by workers in businesses that serve the public or that the government considers essential to the national economy, defense, public health, and public order. “Essential services” include electricity production; post and telecommunications; and maritime and air transportation, navigation, public works, and oil and gas production. The law also grants the prime minister the right to suspend a strike considered detrimental to the national economy or public safety.
The law prohibits strikes at the sector- or industry-level and prohibits workers and unions from calling for strikes in support of multiemployer contracts.
The law states the executive committee of a trade union may issue a decision to go on strike only when at least 50 percent of workers support it.
Laws stipulate an extensive and cumbersome process of mediation and arbitration before a lawful strike may occur. Unions or workers’ representatives may either appeal decisions of provincial arbitration councils to provincial people’s courts or strike. The law stipulates strikers may not be paid wages while they are not at work. The law prohibits retribution against strikers. By law individuals participating in strikes declared illegal by a people’s court and found to have caused damage to their employer are liable for damages.
The laws include provisions that prohibit antiunion discrimination and, nominally, interference in union activities while imposing administrative sanctions and fines for violations. The laws do not distinguish between workers and managers, however, and fail to prohibit employers’ agents, such as managers who represent the interests of the employer, from participating or interfering in union activity. Penalties were not adequate to deter violations.
According to the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA), there were 67 strikes in the first half of 2019. Most of them occurred in southern provinces. Approximately 82 percent of the strikes occurred in foreign direct-investment companies (mainly Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese, and Chinese companies). The strikers sought higher wages, better social insurance, and better meals between shifts. None of the strikes followed the authorized conciliation and arbitration process and thus authorities considered them illegal “wildcat” strikes. The government, however, took no action against the strikers and, on occasion, actively mediated agreements in the workers’ favor. In some cases the government imposed heavy fines on employers, especially of foreign-owned companies, that engaged in illegal practices that led to strikes.
Because it is illegal to establish or seek to establish independent labor unions, there were no domestic NGOs involved in labor organizing. Local, unregistered labor NGOs, however, supported efforts to raise awareness of worker rights and occupational safety and health issues and to support internal and external migrant workers. Multiple international labor NGOs collaborated with the VGCL to train VGCL-affiliated union representatives in labor organizing, collective bargaining, and other trade union issues. The International Labor Organization (ILO)-International Finance Corporation (IFC) Better Work project reported management interference in trade union activities was a significant issue in garment factories.
Labor activists and representatives of independent (non-VGCL) worker organizations faced antiunion discrimination. Independent labor activists seeking to form unions separate from the VGCL or inform workers of their labor rights sometimes faced government harassment. In February 2018 a court convicted and sentenced peaceful labor and environmental activist Hoang Duc Binh to 14 years’ imprisonment under vague articles of the penal code. Binh, arrested in 2017, advocated for compensation for fishermen affected by a 2016 toxic waste spill and posted critical online content about the government’s response to the spill (see section 1.d.). In addition, authorities continued to use foreign travel prohibitions against labor activists, including the chairwoman of the independent Viet Labor Movement, Do Thi Minh Hanh (also see section 2.d.).
The constitution and law prohibit forced or compulsory labor. The labor code’s definition of forced labor, however, does not explicitly include debt bondage. In January penal code amendments entered into effect that criminalized all forms of labor trafficking of adults and children younger than 16. The penalties were not sufficient to deter violations; in fact, the law does not provide any penalty for violating provisions prohibiting forced labor. NGOs continued to report the occurrence of forced labor of men, women, and children within the country (see also section 7.c.).
Labor recruitment firms, most affiliated with state-owned enterprises, and unlicensed brokers reportedly charged workers seeking overseas employment higher fees than the law allows, and they did so with impunity. Those workers incurred high debts and were thus more vulnerable to forced labor, including debt bondage.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The newly ratified labor code establishes that only people age 18 or older are eligible to work. However, other laws address conditions for employment of children under the age 18. The constitution prohibits “the employment of persons below the minimum working age,” generally 13, with exceptions set by the Labor Ministry. The law prohibits children under 18 from working heavy, hazardous, and dangerous jobs.
Illegal child labor was reported in labor-intensive sectors such as garments and textiles, construction, agriculture, and some manufacturing. Local media also reported children working as beggars in gangs whose leaders abused the children and took most of the children’s income. Some children started work as young as 12, and nearly 55 percent of child workers did not attend school.
In the garment sector, children as young as six and up to 18 reportedly produced garments in conditions of forced labor. The most recently available information from government raids, NGOs, and media reports during the year indicated this was most common in small, privately owned garment factories and informal workshops. Reports indicated these employers beat or threatened the children. In addition, there was evidence children as young as 12 were working while confined in government-run rehabilitation centers. Employers forced these children to sew garments without pay under threat of physical or other punishments.
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies. Government officials may fine and, in cases of criminal violations, prosecute employers who violate child labor laws. As part of the government’s 2016-20 National Plan of Action for Children and National Program for Child Protection, the government continued efforts to prevent child labor and specifically targeted children in rural areas, disadvantaged children, and children at risk of exposure to hazardous work conditions.
International and domestic NGOs noted successful partnerships with provincial governments to implement national-level policies combatting child labor.
Also see the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, race, disability, color, social class, marital status, belief, religion, HIV-status, and membership in a trade union or participation in trade union activities in employment, labor relationships, and work but not explicitly in all aspects of employment and occupation. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on political opinion, age, language, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
No laws prohibit employers from asking about family or marital status during job interviews.
The government did not effectively enforce employment discrimination laws but did take some action to address employment discrimination against persons with disabilities. Companies with a workforce composed of at least 51 percent employees with disabilities may qualify for special government-subsidized loans.
Discriminatory hiring practices existed, including discrimination related to gender, age, disability, and marital status. Women were expected to retire at age 60, compared with age 62 for men, affecting women’s ability to rise to managerial ranks and have higher incomes and pensions.
Women-led enterprises continued to have limited access to credit and international markets. Female workers earned, per year, an average of one month’s income less than male workers, with skilled female workers earning less than male workers with similar skills. Many women above the age of 35 found it difficult to find a job, and there were reports of women receiving termination letters at 35. The VGCL’s Institute of Workers and Trade Unions noted women older than 35 accounted for roughly half of all unemployed workers in the country.
Social and attitudinal barriers and limited accessibility of many workplaces remained problems in the employment of persons with disabilities.
The minimum wage varies by region. In all regions, the minimum wage exceeds the World Bank official poverty income level.
The law limits overtime to 50 percent of normal working hours per day, 30 hours per month, and 200 hours per year, but it provides for an exception in special cases, with a maximum of 300 overtime hours annually, subject to advance approval by the government after consultations with the VGCL and employer representatives.
The law provides for occupational safety and health standards, describes procedures for persons who are victims of labor accidents and occupational diseases, and delineates the responsibilities of organizations and individuals in the occupational safety and health fields. The law provides for the right of workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The law protects “labor subleasing,” a pattern of employment, and thus extends protection to part-time and domestic workers.
The Ministry of Labor is the principal labor authority, and it oversees the enforcement of labor law. The Labor Inspections Department is responsible for workplace inspections to confirm compliance with labor laws and occupational safety and health standards. Inspectors may use sanctions, fines, withdrawal of operating licenses or registrations, closures of enterprises, and mandatory training. Inspectors may take immediate measures where they have reason to believe there is an imminent and serious danger to the health or safety of workers, including temporarily suspending operations, although such measures were rare. The ministry acknowledged shortcomings in its labor inspection system and emphasized the number of labor inspectors countrywide was insufficient.
The government did not effectively enforce labor laws, particularly in the informal economy.
Credible reports, including from the ILO-IFC Better Work 2019 Annual Report, indicated factories exceeded legal overtime thresholds and did not meet legal requirements for rest days. The ILO-IFC report stated that, while a majority of factories in the program complied with the daily limit of four hours overtime, 77 percent still failed to meet monthly limits (30 hours) and 69 percent exceeded annual limits (300 hours). In addition, and due to the high prevalence of Sunday work, 40 percent of factories failed to provide at least four days of rest per month to all workers.
Migrant workers, including internal economic migrants, and uncontracted laborers were among the most vulnerable workers, and employers routinely subjected them to hazardous working conditions. Members of ethnic minority groups often worked in the informal economy and, according to the ILO, informal workers typically had low and irregular incomes, endured long working hours, and lacked protection by labor market institutions. Additionally, workers in the informal sector are only eligible to pay into a voluntary social insurance fund covering only retirement and survivors’ allowances. Workers in the formal sector and their employers contribute to a system that covers sickness, maternity, labor accidents, and occupational disease as well as retirement and survivors’ allowances.
On-the-job injuries due to poor health and safety conditions and inadequate employee training remained a problem. In 2018 the government reported 7,997 occupational accidents with 8,229 victims, including 972 fatal incidents with 1,038 deaths. Among the fatal incidents, 578 incidents involved contracted laborers, while 394 incidents involved uncontracted laborers.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. Statutory restrictions regulate these rights; the government has discretionary power to exclude certain categories of workers from unionizing, including prison staff, judges, court registrars, magistrates, and local court justices. The law also requires the registration of a trade union with the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, which may take up to six months. The ministry has the power to refuse official registration on arbitrary or ambiguous grounds.
No organization may be registered as a trade union unless its application to register is signed by not fewer than 50 supporters or such lesser number as may be prescribed by the minister of labor and social security, and, with some exceptions, no trade union may be registered if it claims to represent a class of employees already represented by an existing trade union. Unions may be deregistered under certain circumstances, but the law provides for notice, reconsideration, and right of appeal to an industrial relations court. During the year no trade union was deregistered or faced excessive restriction on registration.
The government, through the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, brokers labor disputes between employers and employees. The law provides the right of employees not to be prevented, dismissed, penalized, victimized, or discriminated against or deterred from exercising their rights conferred on them under the law, and it provides remedies for dismissals for union activities. Casualization and unjustifiable termination of employment contracts is illegal; the law defines a casual employee as an employee whose terms of employment contract provide for his or her payment at the end of each day and is engaged for a period of not more than six months. The law was not enforced effectively.
In cases involving the unjustified dismissal of employees, the ministry settles disputes through social dialogue, and any unresolved cases are sent to the Industrial Relations Court. Penalties are not sufficient to deter violations. The law also provides a platform for employers, workers, and government to dialogue on matters of mutual interest through the Tripartite Consultative Labor Council.
The law provides for collective bargaining. In certain cases, however, either party may refer a labor dispute to a court or for arbitration; the International Labor Organization (ILO) raised concerns the law did not require the consent of both parties involved in the dispute for arbitration. The law also allows for a maximum period of one year for a court to consider the complaint and issue its ruling. Collective agreements must be filed with the commissioner and approved by the minister before becoming binding on the signatory parties.
With the exception of workers engaged in a broadly defined range of essential services, the law provides for the right to strike if recourse to all legal options is first exhausted. The law defines essential services as any activity relating to the generation, supply, or distribution of electricity; the supply and distribution of water and sewage removal; fire departments; and the mining sector. Employees in the defense force and judiciary as well as police, prison, and ZSIS personnel are also considered essential. The process of exhausting the legal alternatives to a strike is lengthy. The law also requires a union to notify employers 10 days in advance of strike action and limits the maximum duration of a strike to 14 days. If the dispute remains unresolved, it is referred to the court. The government may stop a strike if the court finds it is not “in the public interest.” Workers who engage in illegal strikes may be dismissed by employers. An employee or trade union that takes part in a strike not authorized by a valid strike ballot is liable to a fine of up to 50,000 kwacha ($4,250) for a trade union or 20,000 kwacha ($1,700) for an employee.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union functions, and it provides for reinstatement and other remedies for workers fired for union activity. Except for workers in “essential services” and those in the above-mentioned categories, no other groups of workers are excluded from relevant legal protections. Administrative judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.
Government enforcement of laws providing for freedom of association and collective bargaining was not effective. Penalties for employers were not sufficient and could not be effectively enforced to deter violations. Other challenges that constrained effective enforcement included unaligned pieces of legislation, lack of financial capacity to implement programs, and lack of trained officers to enforce legislation.
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not always respected. Unions suffered from political interference and fracturing and were no longer seen as influential. Most unions chose to strike illegally, either to circumvent lengthy procedural requirements for approval or when other legal avenues were exhausted. Antiunion discrimination and retirements in national interest persisted during the year. For example, antiunion tendencies were prevalent among multinational companies and local employers, particularly in the agricultural, mining, and transport sectors. Disputes arising from such actions were often settled by workers’ representatives and employers, with the government acting as an arbiter. NGOs advocated for worker rights throughout the year without government restriction.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law authorizes the government to call upon citizens to perform labor in specific instances, such as during national emergencies or disasters. The government also may require citizens to perform labor associated with traditional, civil, or communal obligations.
A new employment code passed in April criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for violations range from a fine to a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years or both. Although penalties are sufficient to deter violations, the government did not effectively enforce the law.
While the government investigated cases involving a small number of victims, it did not investigate more-organized trafficking operations potentially involving forced labor in the mining, construction, and agricultural sectors. There were no reported prosecutions during the year.
Gangs of illegal miners called “jerabos” at times forced children into illegal mining and loading stolen copper ore onto trucks in Copperbelt Province. Women and children from rural areas continued to be exploited in urban domestic servitude and subjected to forced labor in the agricultural, textile, mining, and construction sectors, and other small businesses. While orphans and street children were the most vulnerable, children sent to live in urban areas were also vulnerable to forced labor.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor, but gaps hamper adequate protection of children. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than age 15 at any commercial, agricultural, or domestic worksite or engaging a child in the worst forms of child labor. The new employment code consolidates all child-related labor laws into a single legislation to provide clear regulations on the employment and education of children. Restrictions on child labor prohibit work that harms a child’s health and development or that prevents a child’s attendance at school; government regulations list 31 types of hazardous work prohibited to children and young persons. The law also prohibits the procurement or offering of a child for illicit activities. Although penalties are sufficient to deter violations, the government did not effectively enforce the law.
According to the ILO, child labor was prevalent, and the government did not effectively enforce the law outside of the industrial sector. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Secondary education is not compulsory, and children who are not enrolled are vulnerable to child labor.
While the labor commissioner effectively enforced minimum age requirements in the industrial sector, where there was little demand for child labor, the government seldom enforced minimum age standards in the informal sector, particularly in artisanal mining, agriculture, and domestic service. Although the government reported it had a National Child Labor Steering Committee, which oversaw child labor activities and was composed of government ministries, the Zambian Federation for Employers, the Zambia Congress for Trade Unions, civil society, and other stakeholders, the committee was not active during the year. The government collaborated with local and international organizations to implement programs combatting child labor. Because most child labor occurred in the agricultural sector, often on family farms or with the consent of families, inspectors from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security focused on counseling and educating families that employed children. In some cases such work also exposed children to hazardous conditions. Authorities did not refer any cases of child labor for prosecution during the year. Due to the scarcity of transportation, labor inspectors frequently found it difficult to conduct inspections in rural areas.
Child labor was a problem in agriculture, fisheries, domestic service, construction, farming, commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children), quarrying, mining, and other sectors where children younger than age 15 often were employed. According to UNICEF, there was a high prevalence of child labor, mostly in domestic and agricultural sectors and mainly in rural areas. UNICEF noted discrepancies between the right to education and child labor laws in the country.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings , and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The new employment code prohibits employment discrimination on several basis (for example, sex, disability) but does not specifically prohibit such discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Some NGOs warned the new law was likely to have a negative impact on women as potential employers would see hiring them as a financial risk, since the increased maternity leave allowance provides for up to 14 weeks with full pay. Various organizations had policies that protected individuals with HIV/AIDS. Although the new employment code provides for maternity leave, it requires a worker be continuously employed for two years before being eligible for such leave. The law prohibits termination or imposition of any other penalty or disadvantage to an employee due to pregnancy.
The government did not consistently enforce the law. There were reports of discrimination against minority groups. Undocumented migrant workers are not protected by the law and faced discrimination in wages and working conditions.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. LGBTI persons were at times dismissed from employment or not hired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Women’s wages lagged behind men’s, and training opportunities were less available for women. Women were much less likely to occupy managerial positions. Persons with disabilities faced significant societal discrimination in employment and education.
The law allows the Ministry of Labor and Social Security authority to set wages by sector; the category of employment determines the minimum wage and conditions of employment. The minimum wage categories, last revised in 2018, at the low end were slightly above World Bank poverty estimates for a lower-middle income country but lower than the Basic Needs Basket. The new employment code also provides sufficient penalties to deter violations, and the government made strides to improve enforcement. Nevertheless, compliance with the law remained a problem, the ILO reported.
Wage laws were not always effectively enforced, but the law prescribes penalties for violations of labor laws that are sufficient to deter violations. Every employer negotiates with employees their standard minimum wage. For unionized workers, wage scales and maximum workweek hours were established through collective bargaining. Almost all unionized workers received salaries considerably higher than the nonunionized minimum wage.
According to the law, the normal workweek should not exceed 48 hours. The standard workweek is 40 hours for office workers and 45 hours for factory workers. There are limits on excessive compulsory overtime, depending on the category of work. The law provides for overtime pay. Employers must pay employees who work more than 48 hours in one week (45 hours in some categories) for overtime hours at a rate of 1.5 times the hourly rate. Workers receive double the rate of their hourly pay for work done on a Sunday or public holiday. The law requires that workers earn two days of annual leave per month without limit.
The law regulates minimum occupational safety and health standards in industry. Both the Workers Compensation Fund Control Board (WCFCB) and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security stated that government occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were appropriate for the main industries. The law places on both workers and experts the duty to identify unsafe situations in a work environment. During the year the WCFCB conducted safety inspections in more than 102 employer sites and recorded 100 violations in OSH standards, mostly in the mining, construction, and agriculture sectors. These inspections generally showed a lack of compliance with procedures, nonprovision of personal protective equipment, and lack of pre- and postemployment medical examinations. According to the WCFCB, a risk assessment on dangerous work activities and pre-employment medical examinations of new employees–especially in Chinese-run mining operations–was nonexistent. The number of labor inspectors, moreover, was likely insufficient to enforce labor laws, including those covering children.
The work hour law and the safety and health standards were not effectively enforced in all sectors, including in the informal sector. Workers at some mines faced poor health and safety conditions and threats by managers if they tried to assert their rights. Miners developed serious lung disease, such as silicosis, due to poor ventilation and constant exposure to dust and chemicals.
The government engaged with mining companies and took some steps to improve working conditions in the mines. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively protect employees in these situations. Despite these legal protections, workers generally did not exercise the right to remove themselves from work situations that endangered their safety or health, and workers who protested working conditions often jeopardized their employment.
Violations of wage, overtime, or OSH standards were most common in the construction and mining sectors–particularly in Chinese-owned companies–and among domestic workers. Major industrial accidents during the year occurred in the mining, transport, agriculture, and commercial sectors. According to Zambia Central Statistical Office data published in June, approximately 31.6 percent of the labor force was employed in the formal sector, and approximately 68.4 percent was informally employed. The National Pension Scheme Authority implemented a program that extended social security to workers in the informal sector in five priority sectors: domestic workers, bus and taxi drivers, saw millers, marketers and traders, and small-scale farmers in the first phase of the project.
According to the WCFCB, the highest number of accidents occurred in the construction, agriculture, and mining sectors. The WCFCB reported that 36 of 392 accidents recorded during the year were fatal. Fatal industrial accidents included three workers who died on February 7 in an underground mine accident at Mopani Copper Mine (MCM) in Mufulira. The miners reportedly died of suffocation after inhaling smoke from a mine loader that caught fire after refueling. Preliminary investigations revealed the mine lacked safety features for miners operating underground. Two workers also died in another MCM accident on March 19, prompting the company to temporarily suspend production and investigate.