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Brazil

Section 7. Worker Rights

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a minimum wage. The minimum wage was greater than the official poverty income level. According to 2016 Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) data, however, the per capita income of approximately 40 percent of workers was below the minimum wage. IBGE data also revealed 6.8 percent of workers (12.9 million) were considered “extremely poor” or earning less than 70 reais ($18.40) per month. The Ministry of Labor verified enforcement of minimum wage laws as part of regular labor inspections. Penalties alone were not sufficient to deter violations.

The law limits the workweek to 44 hours and specifies a weekly rest period of 24 consecutive hours, preferably on Sundays. The law also provides for paid annual vacation, prohibits excessive compulsory overtime, limits overtime to two hours per workday, and stipulates that hours worked above the monthly limit must be compensated with at least time-and-a-half pay; these provisions generally were enforced for all groups of workers in the formal sector. The constitution also provides for the right of domestic employees to work a maximum of eight hours of per day, a maximum of 44 hours’ work per week, a minimum wage, a lunch break, social security, and severance pay.

The Ministry of Labor sets occupational, health, and safety standards that are consistent with internationally recognized norms, although unsafe working conditions were prevalent throughout the country, especially in construction. The law requires employers to establish internal committees for accident prevention in workplaces. It also provides for the protection of employees from being fired for their committee activities. Workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, although those in forced labor situations without access to transportation were particularly vulnerable to situations that endangered their health and safety.

In March the regional labor court in Sao Paulo upheld the conviction of M5 Industria e Comercio, owner of the M.Officer brand, under the state’s antislavery law for dumping. The court found M5 had been contracting its production out to firms that hired immigrant persons, who were forced to work beyond the legal maximum number of hours and in unsafe conditions. The court also confirmed the fine of six million reais ($1.6 million).

The Ministry of Labor addressed problems related to acceptable conditions of work such as long workdays and unsafe or unhygienic work conditions. Penalties for violations include fines that vary widely depending on the nature of the violation; the fines were generally enforced and were sometimes sufficient to deter violations. The National Labor Inspection School held various training sessions for labor inspectors throughout the year. The Ministry of Labor reported the number of labor inspectors (2,367) in the country was insufficient to enforce full compliance nationwide. Inspections continued to take place despite reduced funding, leading to fewer inspectors and inspections.

According to the IBGE, 33.3 million persons were employed in the formal sector as of May 2017. The IBGE also reported 22.9 million persons were working in the informal economy, an increase of 5 percent, compared with 2016.

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – China

Section 7. Worker Rights

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage, but the law generally requires local and provincial governments to set their own minimum wage rates for both the formal and informal sectors according to standards promulgated by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security. By law employees are limited to working eight hours a day and 40 hours per week; work beyond this standard is considered overtime. It also prohibits overtime work in excess of three hours per day or 36 hours per month and mandates premium pay for overtime work.

During the year the government established a new Ministry of Emergency Management that incorporated parts of the former State Administration for Work Safety; the ministry sets and enforces occupational health and safety regulations. The law requires employers to provide free health checkups for employees working in hazardous conditions and to inform them of the results. The law also provides workers the right to report violations or remove themselves from workplace situations that could endanger their health without jeopardy to their employment.

Regulations state labor and social security bureaus at or above the county level are responsible for enforcement of labor laws. Companies that violate occupational, safety, and health regulations face various penalties, including suspension of business operations or rescission of business certificates and licenses.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not adequate to deter violations and were seldom enforced. The number of inspectors was insufficient to monitor working conditions and did not operate in the informal sector. Although the country’s worker safety record improved over the past seven years, there were a number of workplace accidents during the year. Media and NGO reports attributed them to a lack of safety checks, weak enforcement of laws and regulations, ineffective supervision, and inadequate emergency responses.

Nonpayment of wages remained a problem in many areas. Governments at various levels continued efforts to prevent arrears and to recover payment of unpaid wages and insurance contributions.

Unpaid wages have been an acute problem in the construction sector for decades due to the prevalence of hiring subcontracted low-wage migrant workers. This informal hiring scheme made rural laborers susceptible to delayed payment or nonpayment for their work, prompting them to join in collective action. Workers occasionally took drastic measures to demand payment. In July the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security claimed it had helped more than one million workers recover a total of 10.88 billion yuan ($1.62 billion) in unpaid wages owed in the first half of the year. According to the Guangzhou Court, for example, from 2015 to 2017 the city’s courts tried 111 criminal cases for wage arrears disputes involving 4,880 victims and 30.62 million yuan ($4.4 million) in wages. The court reported 116 persons were convicted for malintent refusal to pay their employees’ wages.

Companies continued to relocate or close on short notice, often leaving employees without adequate recourse for due compensation.

Workers in the informal sector often lacked coverage under labor contracts, and even with contracts, migrant workers in particular had less access to benefits, especially social insurance. Workers in the informal sector worked longer hours and earned less than comparable workers in the formal sector. In June truck drivers in multiple cities protested stagnant pay and poor working conditions (also see section 7.a.).

Without providing exact numbers, the Ministry of Emergency Management announced in July the number of workplace accidents fell. The ministry also reported while accident and death rates in most sectors were declining, in the construction sector these rates had steadily increased since 2016, making the sector the one with the highest number of accidents and deaths of any industrial and commercial sector for the last nine years. In January, May, and July, media reported more than 100 former construction workers affected by pneumoconiosis from Hunan made three trips to Shenzhen to petition for long overdue compensation for the occupational illness they contracted while working in the city during the 1990s.

According to several official documents published during the year, occupational diseases were prevalent. Patients came from many industries, including coal, chemical engineering, and nonferrous metals.

Although there were fewer news reports on coal mine accidents during the year, the coal mining industry remained extremely deadly. According to the Ministry of Emergency Management, there were 219 coal mine accidents in 2017, causing 375 deaths, which represented a drop of 12 percent and 28.7 percent year-on-year, respectively. On May 9, five persons died when methane gas exploded in a coal mine in central Hunan Province. On August 6, a coal mine gas explosion in Guiyang Province killed 13 miners. In October a coal mine collapse in Shandong Province left 21 dead.

Work accidents also remained widespread in other industries. On June 5, for example, 11 persons were killed and nine injured in an iron mine blast in Liaoning Province. On August 12, a chemical plant blast in Sichuan Province killed 19 and injured 12.

READ A SECTION: CHINA (ABOVE) | TIBET | HONG KONG MACAU

Germany

Section 7. Worker Rights

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The nationwide statutory minimum wage is 8.84 euros ($10.17) per hour, which represents 47 percent of the median hourly wage for full-time employees in the country, hence below the internationally defined “at-risk-of poverty threshold,” which is two-thirds of the national median wage. The minimum wage does not apply to persons under 18, long-term unemployed persons during their first six months in a new job, or apprentices undergoing vocational training, regardless of age. Sectors setting their own higher minimum wages through collective bargaining, included construction, the electrical trades, painting, scaffolding, roofing, financial services, forestry and gardening, stonemasonry and chimney sweeping, cleaning services, nursing care, meat processing, the vocational training industry, special mining services, and temporary employment agencies.

The government effectively enforced the laws and monitored the compliance with the statutory and sector-wide minimum wages and hours of work through the Customs Office’s Financial Control Illicit Work Unit (FKS). The FKS conducted checks on 52,000 companies in 2017 and initiated 5,442 criminal proceedings. Employees may sue companies if employers fail to comply with the Minimum Wage Act, and courts may sentence employers who violate the provisions to pay a substantial fine.

Federal regulations set the standard workday at eight hours, with a maximum of 10 hours, and limit the average workweek to 48 hours. For the 78 percent of employees who are directly or indirectly affected by collective bargaining agreements, the average agreed working week under current agreements is 37.7 hours. According to the Federal Statistical Office, the actual average workweek of full-time employees was 41.7 hours in 2016. The law requires a break after no more than six hours of work, stipulates regular breaks totaling at least 30 minutes, and sets a minimum of 24 days of paid annual leave in addition to official holidays. Provisions for overtime, holiday, and weekend pay varied, depending upon the applicable collective bargaining agreement. Such agreements or individual contracts prohibited excessive compulsory overtime and protected workers against arbitrary employer requests.

Extensive laws and regulations govern occupational safety and health. A comprehensive system of worker insurance carriers enforced safety requirements in the workplace.

The Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and its state-level counterparts monitored and enforced occupational safety and health standards through a network of government bodies, including the Federal Agency for Occupational Safety and Health. At the local level, professional and trade associations–self-governing public corporations with delegates representing both employers and unions–as well as work councils oversaw worker safety. The number of inspectors was sufficient to ensure compliance.

While the number of work accidents continued to decline among full-time employees, workplace fatalities increased to 451 in 2017, up from 425 in 2016. Most accidents occurred in the construction, transportation, postal logistics, wood, and metalworking industries.

Italy

Section 7. Worker Rights

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law does not provide for a minimum wage. Instead, collective bargaining contracts negotiated between unions and employers set minimum wage levels for different sectors of the economy. In 2017 the government set the official poverty line at 1,085 euros ($1,248) per month for a family of two.

Unless limited by a collective bargaining agreement, the law sets maximum overtime hours in industrial firms at no more than 80 hours per quarter and 250 hours annually. The law prohibits compulsory overtime and provides for paid annual holidays. It requires rest periods of one day per week and 11 hours per day. The law sets basic health and safety standards and guidelines for compensation for on-the-job injuries.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Policies is responsible for enforcement and, with regular union input, effectively enforced standards in the formal sector of the economy. Labor standards were only partially enforced in the informal sector, which employed an estimated 16 percent of the country’s workers.

Resources, inspections, and remediation were generally adequate to ensure compliance in the formal sector only. Penalties for violations include incarceration and fines but were not sufficient to deter all violations.

In 2017, the most recent year for which data was available, labor inspectors and Carabinieri officers inspected 160,347 companies (including agricultural companies), identifying 252,659 individual workers whose terms of employment were in violation of labor laws. Of these, 48,073 were undeclared (off the books); and 1,227 were irregular migrants. Inspectors found 12,800 violations of regulations on working hours and suspended approximately 6,932 companies for the specific violation of employing over 20 percent of their workers without a formal contract. The number of companies found to be in violation remained roughly in line with 2016 (7,013).

Informal workers were often exploited and underpaid, worked in unhygienic conditions, or were exposed to safety hazards. According to the main labor confederation, the CGIL, such practices occurred in the service, construction, and agricultural sectors.

In 2016 an independent research center, the Association of Artisans and Small Businesses of Mestre, estimated that there were 3.1 million irregular workers in the country, of whom 40 percent were based in southern regions. Some areas of Calabria, Puglia, Campania, and Sicily reported significant numbers of informal foreign workers living and working in substandard or unsafe conditions. This data was still considered reliable.

Japan

Section 7. Worker Rights

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage ranged from 737 to 958 yen ($6.50 to $8.50) per hour, depending on the prefecture. The poverty line was 1.22 million yen ($10,900) per year.

The law provides for a 40-hour workweek for most industries and, with exceptions, limits the number of overtime hours permitted in a fixed period. It mandates premium pay of no less than 25 percent for more than eight hours of work in a day, up to 45 overtime hours per month. For overtime of between 45 and 60 hours per month, the law requires companies to “make efforts” to furnish premium pay greater than 25 percent. It mandates premium pay of at least 50 percent for overtime that exceeds 60 hours a month.

The June Workstyle Reform Package Bills included the first-ever legal cap on overtime work and established penalties, including fines and imprisonment, for violations. These provisions come into force in April 2019 for large companies and in April 2020 for small- and medium-sized companies. In principle, overtime work will be permitted only up to 45 hours per month and 360 hours per year. Even in the case of special and temporary circumstances, it must be limited to less than 720 hours per year and 100 hours per month (including holiday work), and the average hours of overtime work over a period of more than two months must be less than 80 hours (including holiday work). The reform package bills also included provisions to introduce the Highly Professional System (the Japanese version of a white-collar exemption), which would eliminate the requirement to pay any overtime (including premium pay for holiday work or late-night work) for a small number of highly skilled professionals earning an annual salary of more than approximately 10 million yen ($89,400).

The government sets industrial safety and health (ISH) standards. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The MHLW is responsible for enforcing laws and regulations governing wages, hours, and safety and health standards in most industries. The National Personnel Authority covers government officials. The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry covers ISH standards for mining, and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism is responsible for ISH standards in the maritime industry.

The Minimum Wage Law provides for a fine for employers who fail to pay a minimum wage, regardless of the number of employees involved or the duration of the violation. Other labor laws such as the Industrial Safety and Health Standards Law and the Labor Standards Law also provide for fines for employers who fail to comply with the laws. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. In October 2017 a Tokyo court fined a major advertising agency 500,000 yen ($4,460) for failing to prevent excessive overtime worked by its employees. This court decision followed the Tokyo Labor Bureau’s ruling in 2016 that determined that the 2015 death of a young woman was a case of karoshi (death by overwork), after records showed the employee booked 130 hours of overtime in one month and slept just 10 hours per week. This finding against a major advertising agency brought renewed attention to the severe consequences of overwork and led to legislative changes to limit overtime work. Labor unions continued to criticize the government for failing to enforce the law regarding maximum working hours, and workers, including those in government jobs, routinely exceeded the hours outlined in the law.

In general the government effectively enforced applicable ISH law and regulations in all sectors. Penalties for ISH violations included fines and imprisonment and were generally sufficient to deter violations. While inspectors have the authority to suspend unsafe operations immediately in cases of flagrant safety violations, in lesser cases they may provide nonbinding shidou (guidance). MHLW officials frequently stated that their resources were inadequate to oversee more than 4.3 million firms.

Nonregular workers (which include part-time workers, fixed-term contract workers, and dispatch workers) made up approximately 37 percent of the labor force in 2017. They worked for lower wages and often with less job security and fewer benefits than career workers. Some nonregular workers qualified for various benefits, including insurance, pension, and training. Observers reported a rise in four- or five-year contracts and the termination of contracts shortly before the five-year mark, when employees may ask their employer to make them permanent. Workers in academic positions, such as researchers, technical workers, and teachers in universities, were eligible for 10-year contracts.

Reports of abuses in the TITP were common, including injuries due to unsafe equipment and insufficient training, nonpayment of wages and overtime compensation, excessive and often spurious salary deductions, forced repatriation, and substandard living conditions (also see section 7.b.). In addition, observers alleged that a conflict of interest existed, since the inspectors who oversee the TITP working conditions were employed by two ministries that are members of the interagency group administering the TITP. Some inspectors appeared reluctant to conduct investigations that could cast a negative light on a government program that business owners favored.

There were also reports of informal employment of foreign asylum seekers on provisional release from detention who did not have work permits. Such workers were vulnerable to mistreatment and did not have access to standard labor protections or oversight.

Falls, road traffic accidents, and injuries caused by heavy machinery were the most common causes of workplace fatalities. The MHLW also continued to receive applications from family members seeking the ministry’s recognition of a deceased individual as a karoshi victim.

Mexico

Section 7. Worker Rights

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The general minimum wage was below the official poverty line. Most formal-sector workers received between one and three times the minimum wage. The tripartite National Minimum Wage Commission, whose labor representatives largely represented protection unions and their interests, is responsible for establishing minimum salaries but continued to block increases that kept pace with inflation.

The law sets six eight-hour days and 48 hours per week as the legal workweek. Any work over eight hours in a day is considered overtime, for which a worker is to receive double pay. After accumulating nine hours of overtime in a week, a worker earns triple the hourly wage. The law prohibits compulsory overtime. The law provides for eight paid public holidays and one week of paid annual leave after completing one year of work. The law requires employers to observe occupational safety and health regulations, issued jointly by the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare and the Institute for Social Security. Legally mandated joint management and labor committees set standards and are responsible for overseeing workplace standards in plants and offices. Individual employees or unions may complain directly to inspectors or safety and health officials. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing labor laws and inspecting workplaces. Neither the number of labor inspections nor the penalties for violations of labor law were sufficient to secure compliance with labor law. For example, in June, seven workers disappeared at a mine in Chihuahua when a dam holding liquid waste collapsed. Through its DECLARALAB self-evaluation tool, the ministry provided technical assistance to almost 4,000 registered workplaces to help them meet occupational safety and health regulations.

According to labor rights NGOs, employers in all sectors sometimes used the illegal “hours bank” approach–requiring long hours when the workload is heavy and cutting hours when it is light–to avoid compensating workers for overtime. This was a common practice in the maquiladora sector, in which employers forced workers to take leave at low moments in the production cycle and obliged them to work in peak seasons, including the Christmas holiday period, without the corresponding triple pay mandated by law for voluntary overtime on national holidays. Additionally, many companies evaded taxes and social security payments by employing workers informally or by submitting falsified payroll records to the Mexican Social Security Institute. INEGI estimated 57 percent of the workforce was engaged in the informal economy during the year.

Observers from grassroots labor rights groups, international NGOs, and multi-national apparel brands reported that employers in export-oriented supply chains were increasingly using hiring methods that lessened job security. For example, manufacturers commonly hired workers on one- to three-month contracts, and then waited a period of days before rehiring them on another short-term contract, to avoid paying severance and to prevent workers from accruing seniority. This practice violates federal labor law and restricts worker’s rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Observers noted it also increased the likelihood of work-related illness and injury. Outsourcing practices made it difficult for workers to identify their legally registered employer, limiting their ability to seek redress of labor grievances.

Private recruitment agencies and individual recruiters violated the rights of temporary migrant workers recruited in the country to work abroad, primarily in the United States. Although the law requires these agencies to be registered, they often were unregistered. There were also reports that registered agencies defrauded workers with impunity. Some temporary migrant workers were regularly charged illegal recruitment fees. The Labor Ministry’s registry was outdated, inaccurate, and limited in scope. Although the government did not actively monitor or control the recruitment process, it reportedly was responsive in addressing complaints.

The situation of agricultural workers remained particularly precarious, with similar patterns of exploitation throughout the sector. Labor recruiters enticed families to work during harvests with verbal promises of decent wages and a good standard of living. Rather than pay them daily wages once a week, as mandated by law, day laborers had to meet certain harvest quotas to receive the promised wage. Wages may be illegally withheld until the end of the harvest to ensure the workers do not leave, and civil society organizations alleged workers were prohibited from leaving by threats of violence or by nonpayment of wages. Workers had to buy food and other items at the company store at high markups, at times leaving them with no money at the end of the harvest after settling debts. Civil society groups reported families living in inhuman conditions, with inadequate and cramped housing, no access to clean water or bathrooms, insufficient food, and without medical care. With no access to schools or childcare, many workers brought their children to work in the fields.

News reports indicated there were poor working conditions in some maquiladoras. These included low wages, contentious labor management, long work hours, unjustified dismissals, a lack of social security benefits, unsafe workplaces, and no freedom of association. Many women working in the industry reported suffering some form of abuse. Most maquiladoras hired employees through outsourcing with few social benefits.

INDEX, the association of more than 250 factories in Ciudad Juarez, signed an agreement in March to prevent and eradicate violence against women with the Chihuahua Institute of Women and the National Commission.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future