Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers, including those in export processing zones (EPZs), to form and join unions of their choice and to bargain collectively. For the union to be recognized as a bargaining agent, it needs to represent a simple majority of the employees in a firm eligible to join the union. This provision extends to public and private sector employees. Members of the armed forces, prisons service, and police are not allowed to form or join trade unions.
The law permits the government to deny workers the right to strike under certain conditions. For example the government prohibits members of the military, police, prison guards, and the National Youth Service from striking. Civil servants are permitted to strike following a seven-day notice period. A bureau of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection typically referred disputes to mediation, fact-finding, or binding arbitration at the Employment and Labour Relations Court, a body of up to 12 judges that has exclusive jurisdiction to handle employment and labor matters and that operates in urban areas, including Nairobi, Mombasa, Nyeri, Nakuru, Kisumu, and Kericho. The Employment and Labour Relations Court also has subregistries in Meru, Bungoma, Eldoret, Malindi, Machakos, and Garissa.
By law workers who provide essential services, interpreted as “a service the interruption of which would probably endanger the life of a person or health of the population,” may not strike. Any trade dispute in a service listed as essential or declared an essential service may be adjudicated by the Employment and Labour Relations Court.
Strikes must concern terms of employment, and sympathy strikes are prohibited.
The law permits workers in collective bargaining disputes to strike if they have exhausted formal conciliation procedures and have given seven days’ notice to the government and the employer. Conciliation is not compulsory in individual employment matters. Security forces may not bargain collectively but have an internal board that reviews salaries. Informal workers may establish associations, or even unions, to negotiate wages and conditions matching the government’s minimum wage guidelines and advocate for better working conditions and representation in the Employment and Labour Relations Court. The bill of rights in the constitution allows trade unions to undertake their activities without government interference, and the government generally respected this right.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. The Employment and Labour Relations Court can order reinstatement and damages in the form of back pay for employees wrongfully dismissed for union activities. Labor laws apply to all groups of workers.
The government enforced the decisions of the Employment and Labour Relations Court inconsistently. Many employers did not comply with reinstatement orders, and some workers accepted payment in lieu of reinstatement. In several cases employers successfully appealed the Employment and Labour Relations Court’s decisions to a branch of the High Court. The enforcement mechanisms of the Employment and Labour Relations Court remained weak, and its case backlog raised concerns about the long delays and lack of efficacy of the court.
The Employment and Labour Relations Court received many cases arising from the implementation of new labor laws. The parties filed most cases directly without referral to the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection for conciliation. The court was running a significant backlog.
The chief justice designated all county courts presided over by senior resident Magistrates and higher-ranking judges as special courts to hear employment and labor cases. Providing adequate facilities outside of Nairobi was challenging, but observers cited the ability of workers to submit labor-related cases throughout the country as a positive step. In 2016 the Judiciary finalized the Employment and Labor Relations (Procedure) Rules. The significant changes introduced in the new court procedure rules provide parties access to file pleadings directly in electronic form, new pretrial procedures, and alternative dispute resolution. The rules also set a 30-day time limit for the court to submit a report on disagreements over collective bargaining agreements filed.
The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively, although enforcement was inconsistent. The government expressed its support for union rights mandated in the constitution.
Airport workers at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport also went on strike in March to protest potential restructuring of the airport. Six striking workers were injured during clashes with police, and 10 members of the Kenya Aviation Workers Union, including its secretary-general, were arrested. After negotiation, the union agreed to end the strike in exchange for release of the arrested union officials and an agreement not to fire striking workers.
Migrant workers often lacked formal organization and consequently missed the benefits of collective bargaining. Similarly, domestic workers and others who operated in private settings were vulnerable to exclusion from legal protections, although domestic workers’ unions exist to protect their interests.
The government deployed labor attaches to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to regulate and coordinate contracts of migrant workers from the country and promote overseas job opportunities. The Ministry of East African Community and Regional Development also helped domestic workers understand the terms and conditions of their work agreements. The government operationalized a 2017 bilateral agreement with Saudi Arabia in January after revetting recruitment agencies in Riyadh. The government has additional bilateral agreements with Qatar and UAE. The ministry has a directorate to regulate the conduct of labor agents for local migrant workers, including requiring the posting of a 500,000 shilling ($4,910) performance-guarantee bond for each worker.
The misuse of internships and other forms of transitional employment threatened the survival of trade unions, with employers often not hiring employees after an internship ends. State agencies increasingly outsourced jobs to the private sector, and in the private sector, casual workers were employed on short-term contracts. This shift contributed to declining numbers in trade unions. In July the Public Service Commission introduced a plan to place civil servants on three-year employment contracts and eliminate permanent and pensionable terms, but a worker’s union obtained a court order to halt the policy shift. NGOs and trade unionists reported replacement of permanent positions by casual or contract labor, especially in the EPZs, the Port of Mombasa, and in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. In some cases employers staffed permanent jobs with rotating contract workers. This practice occurred at the management level as well, where employers hired individuals as management trainees and kept them in these positions for the maximum permitted period of three years. Instead of converting such trainees to permanent staff, employers replaced them with new trainees at the end of three years.
Workers exercised the right to strike. The health sector witnessed industrial strikes by county government health professionals to protest delayed salary payments. The strikes occurred intermittently in various counties, since under the 2010 constitution each county manages its own health system as part of the devolution of resources and services from the national government. According to the Kenya County Government Workers Union, during the year 21 counties had delayed salary payments. The strikes affected delivery of services in counties like Meru and Embu, but negotiations averted some threatened strikes.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children. The country made moderate advances to prevent or eliminate forced labor.
The government did not effectively enforce the law, and forced labor occurred, including forced child labor (see section 7.c.). Certain legal provisions, including the penal code and the Public Order Act, impose compulsory prison labor. Resources, inspections, and remediation were not adequate to prevent forced labor, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Violations included debt bondage, trafficking of workers, and compulsion of persons, even family members, to work as domestic servants. Domestic workers from Uganda, herders from Ethiopia, and others from Somalia, South Sudan, and Burundi were subjected to forced labor in the country; however, this trend was reportedly decreasing.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The government prohibits most, but not all, of the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for work (other than apprenticeships) is 16, and the minimum age for hazardous work is 18. These protections, however, only extend to children engaged under formal employment agreements and do not extend to those children working informally. The ministry published a list of specific jobs considered hazardous that would constitute the worst forms of child labor. This list includes but is not limited to scavenging, carrying stones and rocks, metalwork, working with machinery, mining and stone crushing. The law explicitly prohibits forced labor, trafficking, and other practices similar to slavery; child soldiering; prostitution; the use, procuring, or offering of a child for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances; and the use by an adult for illegal activities (such as drug trafficking) of any child up to age 18. The law applies equally to girls and boys. The International Labor Organization (ILO) identified gaps in the law with regards to children working as cadets at sea.
The law allows children ages 13 to 16 to engage in industrial undertakings when participating in apprenticeships. Industrial undertakings are defined under law to include work in mines, quarries, factories, construction, demolition, and transportation, which are legally categorized as hazardous work.
The law provides for penalties for any person who employs, engages, or uses a child in an industrial undertaking in violation of the law. Fines in the formal sector were generally enough to deter violations. Employment of children in the formal industrial wage sector in violation of the Employment Act was rare. The law does not prohibit child labor for children employed outside the scope of a contractual agreement. Child labor in the informal sector was widespread, but the government did not effectively monitor or control it.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection enforces child labor laws, but enforcement remained inconsistent. Supplementary programs, such as the ILO-initiated Community Child Labor monitoring program, helped provide additional resources to combat child labor. These programs identified children who were working illegally, removed them from hazardous work conditions, and referred them to appropriate service providers. The government also worked closely with the Central Organization of Trade Unions, and the Federation of Kenyan Employers to eliminate child labor.
In support of child protection, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection launched a national online database system in 2017. The Child Protection Information Management System collects, aggregates and reports on child protection data that informs policy decisions and budgeting for orphans and vulnerable children. The web-based system allows for an aggregate format of data to be made available to all the child protection stakeholders. In 2017, two new child rescue centers were established in Siaya and Kakamega counties, bringing the total number of these centers to eight. Child rescue centers remove child laborers from the workplace, rehabilitate them, and provide counseling and life-skills training.
The government continued to implement the National Safety Net Program for Results, a project that seeks to establish an effective national safety net program for poor and vulnerable households, and the Decent Work Country Program, a project designed to advance economic opportunities. Under these programs, the government pays households sheltering orphans or other vulnerable children to deter the children from dropping out of school and engaging in forced labor. For example there were some cases reported in the western part of the country of girls dropping out of secondary school and engaging in sex work in order to afford basic supplies.
Many children worked on family plots or in family units on tea, coffee, sugar, sisal, tobacco, and rice plantations, as well as in the production of khat. Children worked in mining, including in abandoned gold mines, small quarries, and sand mines. Children also worked in the fishing industry. In urban areas businesses employed children in hawking, scavenging, carrying loads, fetching and selling water, selling food, and forced begging (that puts children at risk of being involved in criminal acts). Children often worked long hours as domestic servants in private homes for little or no pay, and there were reports of physical and sexual abuse of child domestic servants. Parents sometimes initiated forced or compulsory child labor, such as in agricultural labor and domestic service, but also including commercial sexual exploitation.
Most of the trafficking of children within the country appeared related to domestic labor, with migrant children trafficked from rural to urban areas.
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 law prohibits discrimination on race, sex, ethnicity, religion, and several other criteria, but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Several regulatory statutes explicitly prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities; provide a legal framework for a requirement for the public and private sectors to reserve 5 percent of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities; tax relief and incentives for such persons and their organizations; and reserves 30 percent of public-procurement tenders for women, youth, and persons with disabilities.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred, although the law mandates nondiscrimination based on gender in hiring. The average monthly income of women was approximately two-thirds that of men. Women had difficulty working in nontraditional fields, received slower promotions, and were more likely to be dismissed. According to a World Bank report, both men and women experienced sexual harassment in job recruitment, but women more commonly reported it. Women who tried to establish their own informal businesses were subjected to discrimination and harassment. One study of women street vendors in Nairobi found harassment was the main mode of interaction between street vendors and authorities. The study noted demands for bribes by police amounting to 3 to 8 percent of a vendor’s income as well as sexual abuse were common.
In an audit of hiring practices released in 2016, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission accused many county governors of appointing and employing disproportionate numbers of the dominant tribe in their county. According to the commission, 15 of the 47 counties failed to include a single person from a minority tribe either on the county’s public service board or as county executive committee members. For example, all 10 of West Pokot’s committee members were Pokots. These problems were aggravated by the devolution of fiscal and administrative responsibility to county governments. Other counties, for example, Nairobi City County, were notable for apportioning roles inclusively. Observers also noted patterns of preferential hiring during police recruitment exercises (see section 1.d.).
In both private business and in the public sector, members of nearly all ethnic groups commonly discriminated in favor of other members of the same group.
The law provides protection for persons with disabilities against employment discrimination, although many employers still discriminated against persons with disabilities during hiring processes (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities). Due to societal discrimination, there were very limited employment opportunities for persons with albinism. There are no legal employment protections for LGBTI persons, who remained vulnerable to discrimination in the workplace. Discrimination against migrant workers also occurred.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Regulation of wages is part of the Labor Institutions Act, and the government established basic minimum wages by occupation and location, setting minimum standards for monthly, daily, and hourly work in each category. The minimum wage for all occupations exceeded the World Bank poverty rate.
The law limits the normal workweek to 52 hours (60 hours for night workers); some categories of workers had lower limits. It specifically excludes agricultural workers from such limitations. It entitles an employee in the nonagricultural sector to one rest day per week and 21 days of combined annual and sick leave. The law also requires total hours worked (regular time plus overtime) in any two-week period not exceed 120 hours (144 hours for night workers), and provides premium pay for overtime.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Authorities reported workweek and overtime violations. Workers in some enterprises, particularly in the EPZs and those in road construction, claimed employers forced them to work extra hours without overtime pay to meet production targets. Hotel industry workers were usually paid the minimum statutory wage, but employees worked long hours without compensation. Additionally, employers often did not provide nighttime transport, leaving workers vulnerable to assault, robbery, and sexual harassment.
The law details environmental, health, and safety standards. The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection’s Directorate of Occupational Health and Safety Services has the authority to inspect factories and work sites, but employed an insufficient number of labor inspectors to conduct regular inspections. Fines generally were insufficient to deter violations.
The directorate’s health and safety inspectors can issue notices against employers for practices or activities that involve a risk of serious personal injury. Employers may appeal such notices to the Factories Appeals Court, a body of four members, one of whom must be a High Court judge. The law stipulates factories employing 20 or more persons have an internal health and safety committee with representation from workers. According to the government, many of the largest factories had health and safety committees.
The law provides for labor inspections to prevent labor disputes, accidents, and conflicts and to protect workers from occupational hazards and disease by ensuring compliance with labor laws. The government paid low salaries to labor inspectors and did not provide vehicles, fuel, or other resources, making it very difficult for labor inspectors to do their work effectively and leaving them vulnerable to bribes and other forms of corruption.
The law provides social protections for workers employed in the formal and informal sectors. Informal workers organized into associations, cooperatives, and, in some cases, unions. All local employers, including those in the informal sector, are required to contribute to the National Hospital Insurance Fund and the National Social Security Fund; these provide health insurance and pensions.
Workers, including foreigners and immigrants, have the legal right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection did not effectively enforce these regulations, and workers were reluctant to remove themselves from working conditions that endangered their health or safety due to the risk of losing their jobs. In November a harvester lost an eye in an accident on a tea plantation. The Kenya Federation of Employers provided training and auditing of workplaces for health and safety practices.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law allows all workers, except members of police, armed forces, and foreign and migrant workers, to form and join independent unions of their choice at local and national levels and provides for the right to conduct legal strikes and to bargain collectively. Other provisions and laws severely restrict or excessively regulate these rights. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.
Prior authorization or approval by authorities is required before a union may be recognized. The public prosecutor must authorize all trade unions before they enjoy legal status. The public prosecutor may provisionally suspend a trade union at the request of the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization if ministry officials believe the union has not complied with the law. The law also provides that authorities may initiate legal proceedings against union leaders who undermine public order or make false statements. This law, in effect, authorizes administrative authorities to dissolve, suspend, or deregister trade union organizations by unilateral decision.
Noncitizens do not have the right to become trade union officials unless they have worked in the country and in the profession represented by the trade union for at least five years. Labor unions must obtain government authorization in order to hold labor elections. Despite previous promises by the government to do so, it has not authorized union elections since 2014. The government has promised to restore union elections on multiple occasions since suspending them in 2014 but has not yet done so.
Bargaining collectively at the national level requires previous authorization or approval by the president, who decides how collective bargaining is organized. No such authorization is required for collective bargaining at the company level. The minister of labor, public service, and modernization of the administration may call for bargaining among employers, employees, labor unions, and the government. In addition the ministry is entitled to take part in the preparation of collective agreements. The law provides that the meeting must occur 15 days following a statement of nonagreement between parties.
The law provides for the right to strike, except for those working in services deemed essential. Aggrieved parties must follow complex procedures before conducting a strike action. If negotiations between workers and employers fail to produce an agreement, the case is referred to the Court of Arbitration. If the court fails to broker a mutually satisfactory agreement, workers may have to wait up to four additional months from the time of the decision before they can legally strike. The government may also dissolve a union for what it considers an illegal or politically motivated strike. The law prohibits workers from holding sit-ins or blocking nonstriking workers from entering work premises. Workers must provide advance notice of at least 10 working days to the Ministry of Labor, Public Service, and Modernization of the Administration for any strike.
The government did not enforce the law effectively and did not provide adequate resources for inspections. While authorities seldom punished violators, on several occasions the government ordered the reinstatement of workers who were wrongfully terminated or directed companies to improve employee benefits and services. While antiunion discrimination is illegal, national human rights groups and unions reported authorities did not actively investigate alleged antiunion practices in some private firms.
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not fully respected, although unions exercised their right to organize workers during the year. Collective bargaining at the company level, however, was rare. Longshoremen of the Autonomous Port of Nouakchott observed a general strike in July 2018. On June 14, longshoremen occupied the central market of Nouakchott to claim the full implementation of the agreements reached during the strike the previous year. According to the Mauritanian Workers’ Free Confederation, the authorities dismissed thousands of longshoremen without giving them their rights, adding that the walkout came in response to the “arbitrary policies and decisions” taken against the carriers.
Registration and strike procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Labor ministry officials routinely issued notices calling on all parties to negotiate. Such notices legally restrict workers from striking for a period of four months. Workers and unions organized several strikes and, in an improvement over previous years, authorities only occasionally employed force to disperse them.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children. It also criminalizes the practice of slavery, which includes forced labor and child labor, and imposes penalties, both on government officials who do not take action in response to reported cases and on those who benefit from contracting forced labor. The constitution and the Law on the Criminalization of Slavery and Punishing Slave Practices makes the offense “a crime against humanity.” The antislavery law grants civil society organizations the right to file complaints in court on behalf of victims as civil parties; however, many civil society organizations reported difficulty in filing complaints on behalf of victims. The law also provides free legal assistance for victims and refers to their right to compensation. Although the government continues to take some actions towards ending the practice of slavery, including increased engagement with civil society groups after the change of administration, efforts to enforce the antislavery law were considered inadequate.
Tadamoun, the government agency charged with combating the “vestiges” of slavery, received 750 million ouguiyas ($21 million) of public funding to underwrite infrastructure and educational programs to improve opportunities, primarily for the benefit of the Haratine community. Some national and international NGOs accused Tadamoun of corrupt practices, of not effectively targeting its funding to the Haratine community, and of doing little to facilitate the prosecution of slavery cases in the country.
On November 28, President Ghazouani announced the creation of a new institution to replace Tadamoun and intensify government efforts to combat slavery and address the social and economic conditions that have left many citizens vulnerable to forced labor. The General Delegation for National Solidarity and the Fight against Exclusion, or Taazour, has a larger budget, a broader mandate, and greater authorities than Tadamoun, with its head holding the rank of minister and reporting directly to the presidency. With a budget of 20 billion ouguiyas ($55 million) over the next five years, Taazour is mandated to implement projects designed to improve living conditions and provide skills to members of historically marginalized communities. The institution has the authority to coordinate projects of other government agencies in order to maximize their impact. Taazour retains Tadamoun’s prior authority to file criminal cases on behalf of victims of forced labor or exploitation.
Other than Tadamoun/Taazour, the only entities that can legally file criminal cases on behalf of former slaves are registered human rights associations that have been legally operating for five years. The government continued to prevent the registration of certain antislavery organizations and associations that work for the promotion and protection of the Haratine community; these include former slave groups that would have been able to submit complaints once their five-year probationary period had expired.
The Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA), one of the most active organizations fighting slavery in the country, has been prevented from registering since its creation in 2008. The government’s previous refusal to register IRA and other human rights NGOs who could have helped to file complaints on behalf of slavery victims was a contributing factor to the underutilization of the three Specialized Antislavery Courts.
In October the Nema Antislavery Court convicted five individuals across three separate cases of practicing slavery in violation of the 2007 antislavery law. The perpetrators, who are believed to reside in northern Mali, were convicted in absentia, with warrants issued for their rendition and arrest. The victims were each granted five million ouguiyas ($140,000) in financial compensation as well as provided with civil registration documents, and the convicted perpetrators were sentenced to between five and 15 years in prison.
In March 2018 the Nouadhibou Antislavery Court adjudicated its first two slavery cases by convicting and sentencing three slaveholders. A woman was convicted of enslaving three sisters in Nouadhibou and was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. The woman was released two months later due to her age and health. In April 2018 the Nouakchott Antislavery Court sentenced two defendants in two separate cases to one year in prison and a fine of 25,275 ouguiyas ($702) for the crimes of libel and slavery. The third case, in which the defendant was accused of slavery, was postponed pending a decision of the Nouakchott appeals court. The Supreme Court ultimately dismissed the case and closed the file.
Slavery and slavery-like practices, which typically flowed from ancestral master-slave relationships and involved both adults and children, continued throughout the year. Although reliable data on the total number of slaves does not exist, local and international experts agreed hereditary slavery and slavery-like conditions continued to affect a substantial portion of the population in both rural and urban settings. Enslaved persons suffered from traditional chattel slavery, including forced labor and forced sexual exploitation. Human rights groups reported that masters coerced persons in slavery and slave-like relationships to deny to human rights activists that such exploitative relationships existed.
In 2015 the government asked the International Labor Organization (ILO) for a program to assess the scope of forced labor in the country. Among other activities, the Bridge Project supports research in the country on recruitment mechanisms and employment conditions to help identify different types of employment that may involve slavery or slavery-like practices. In January the Ministry of Labor accelerated work on the Bridge Project after several months of delay and was on schedule to complete the project in September 2020.
Former slaves and their descendants remained in a dependent status vis-a-vis their former slave masters due to a variety of factors, to include cultural tradition, a lack of marketable skills, poverty, and persistent drought. Some former slaves and descendants of slaves were forced to revert to a de facto slave status by working for their former masters in exchange for some combination of lodging, food, and medical care. Some former slaves reportedly continued to work for their former masters or others under exploitative conditions to retain access to land that they traditionally farmed. Although the law provides for distribution of land to the landless, including to former slaves, authorities rarely enforced the law.
Former slaves in subservient circumstances were also vulnerable to mistreatment. Women with children faced particular difficulties. Because they were particularly vulnerable and lacked the resources to live independently from their former masters, they could be compelled to remain in a condition of servitude, performing domestic duties, tending fields, or herding animals without remuneration.
Some former slaves were coerced into continuing to work for their former masters, who relied on adherence to religious teachings and a fear of divine punishment to keep these individuals enslaved. Former slaves were often subjected to social discrimination and limited to performing manual labor in markets, ports, and airports.
Slavery, forced labor, and de facto slavery were more prevalent in areas where educational levels were generally low or a barter economy still prevailed, and prevalent to a lesser degree in urban centers, including Nouakchott. The practices commonly occurred where there was a need for workers to herd livestock, tend fields, and do other manual or household labor. Nevertheless, such practices also occurred in urban centers where young children, often girls, were retained as unpaid domestic servants (see section 7.c.).
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The General Child Protection Code, enacted in June 2018, forbids some, but not all of, the worst forms of child labor. The labor code sets the minimum age for employment at 16. Nevertheless, it allows children as young as 12 to be employed in most forms of family enterprise with authorization from the Ministry of Labor, Public Service, and Modernization of the Administration, as long as the work does not affect the child’s health, exceed two hours per day, or occur during school hours or holidays. The labor code states employed children between ages 14 and 16 should receive 70 percent of the minimum wage and those who are 17 and 18 should receive 90 percent of the minimum wage. Children should not work more than eight hours a day, should be given one or several one-hour breaks, and may not work at night. Children working in unpaid, temporary, or noncontractual work do not have the same protections under the child labor laws and regulations as do children working in contractual employment.
The Ministry of Labor, Public Service, and Modernization of the Administration authorized children as young as 13 to do work in a variety of areas, resulting in children doing hazardous work by government authorization in the areas of agriculture, fishing, construction, and garbage removal. Additionally, the government does not legally prohibit all forms of hazardous work as defined by international law.
The General Child Protection Code increases the penalties associated with violations of child labor laws and criminalizes commercial sexual exploitation of children and forced begging. It also increases the prison term for trafficking children. The penalties were generally insufficiently enforced to deter violations. The law does not prohibit hazardous occupations and activities in all relevant child labor sectors, including domestic work and agriculture. The law prohibits the use of children for illicit activities, such as the production and trafficking of drugs.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Existing mechanisms for exchanging information among agencies or assessing the effectiveness of child labor laws were not active during the year. There was no specific mechanism for submitting complaints, other than to labor inspectors or the Special Police Brigade for Minors. NGOs were the only organizations that handled cases of child victims, referred them to the Special Police Brigade for Minors, and pressured the government to adjudicate the cases or integrate the victims in social centers or schools during the year.
The CNDH’s 2016 annual report, which had the most recent numbers available, stated that 26 percent of children between ages of 15 and 17 worked. The report indicated the proportion of children between ages of 12 and 14 who performed some work was up to 22 percent. The report also stressed that exploitation of girls was more frequent in domestic work.
An unknown number of talibes (religious students), nearly all from the Halpulaar community, begged in the streets and gave the proceeds to their religious teachers as payment for religious instruction. There were reliable reports that some marabouts (religious teachers) forced their talibes to beg for more than 12 hours a day and provided them with insufficient food and shelter. The government continued a program to reduce the number of talibes and cooperated with NGOs to provide talibes with basic medical and nutritional care.
Child labor in the informal sector was common and a significant problem, particularly within poorer urban areas. Several reports suggested girls as young as age seven, mainly from remote regions, were forced to work as unpaid domestic servants in wealthy urban homes. Young children in the countryside were commonly engaged in cattle and goat herding, cultivation of subsistence crops, fishing, and other agricultural labor in support of their families. Young children in urban areas often drove donkey carts, delivered water and building materials, and were very active in garbage collection. Street gang leaders occasionally forced children to steal, beg, and sell drugs. In keeping with longstanding tradition, many children also served apprenticeships in small-scale industries, such as metalworking, carpentry, vehicle repair, masonry, and the informal sector.
The government continued to operate seven Centers for Protection and Social Integration of Children in Difficult Situations: one in each of the regions of Kiffa, Nouadhibou, Aleg, and Rosso, and three in Nouakchott. During the year these centers hosted 614 children.
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 law prohibits discrimination based on race, disability, religion, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, social origin, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, or language, but the government often did not enforce the law. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race and language. For example, in conformity with long-standing practice, the advancement of both Haratines and sub-Saharans in the armed services remained limited.
The law provides that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work. The two largest employers, the civil service and the state mining company, observed this law; most employers in the private sector reportedly did not. In the modern wage sector, women also received family benefits, including three months of paid maternity leave. Women faced widespread employment discrimination, because employers usually preferred to hire men, with women overrepresented in low-paying positions (see section 6).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The law provides for a national minimum wage that is more than the most recent estimate for the poverty income level. The law provides that the standard legal nonagricultural workweek must not exceed either 40 hours or six days unless there is overtime compensation, which is to be paid at rates graduated according to the number of supplemental hours worked. Domestic workers and certain other categories could work 56 hours per week. The law provides that all employees must be given at least one 24-hour rest period per week. There are no legal provisions regarding compulsory overtime.
The government sets health and safety standards, and in principle workers have the right to remove themselves from hazardous conditions without risking loss of employment; however, this was rarely applied. The law applies to all workers in the formal economy, and the labor code applies to all formal workers regardless of nationality. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.
The Labor Office of the Ministry of Labor, Public Service, and Modernization of the Administration is responsible for enforcing labor laws but did not do so effectively. The ILO reported that a significant pay gap between staff in the labor inspectorate and staff in other government inspection departments who receive better remuneration (such as tax inspectors or education inspectors) led to attrition of personnel. The number of labor inspectors, however, was sufficient for the labor force. The ILO also reported that the labor inspectorate was subject to undue influence by employers and the government, thereby reducing the effectiveness of inspection activity.
The majority of the working population labored in the informal sector, primarily in subsistence agriculture and animal husbandry. According to the General Confederation of Mauritanian Workers (CGTM), only 25 percent of workers filled positions accorded regular pay.
Despite the law, labor unions pointed to conditions approaching forced labor in several sectors, including the food processing industry. In these sectors workers did not have contracts or receive pay stubs. Their salaries were below the official minimum wage, and they worked in unfavorable conditions. They occasionally did not receive pay for several months.
Working conditions in the fishing industry were similarly difficult. Commercial fishermen reportedly often exceeded 40 hours of work per week without receiving overtime pay. Additionally, some factory workers employed by fish-processing plants and boat manufacturers did not receive contracts guaranteeing the terms of their employment. Government inspections of fishing vessels, processing plants, and boat factories remained rare.
Violations of minimum wage or overtime laws were frequent in many sectors but more common in the informal economy, which includes domestic service, street vending, artisanal fishing, garbage collection, bus fare collection, donkey-cart driving, apprenticeship, auto repair, and other similar types of employment. According to the CGTM, the National Agency of Social Security registered 187 workplace fatalities or injuries during the year, comparable with previous years.