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, 40 percent of all eligible union members must vote in favor of the strike action, and ballots require at least a 50 percent turnout to be valid and 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 legal steps in organizing the strike.
The government generally enforced the law. Remedies were limited in situations where workers faced reprisal for union activity, and ITUC stated that the law does not provide “adequate means of protection against antiunion discrimination.” Penalties range from employers paying compensation to reinstatement and were commensurate with those for similar violations. Inspection was sufficient to enforce compliance. The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy funded the Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service (ACAS), which works to help employees and employers better adhere to collective bargaining and other workplace laws and to improve workplace relationships. If ACAS is not able to settle a dispute, a claim can be brought to the Employment Tribunal.
The government and employers routinely respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The law allows any workplace with more than 21 workers to organize into a collective bargaining unit if 50 percent of workers agree and the employer accepts the terms. 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 de-recognition of in-house company unions or to protect individual workers seeking to do so. The effect has been that some in-house company unions operate with a membership less than the majority of workers.
Trade union membership levels rose for three consecutive years since 2016, driven by the increase in female members and public-sector workers. According to the ONS, approximately 6.44 million employees were trade union members in 2019. Membership levels were below the 1979 peak of more than 13 million.
The law prohibits all forms of forced and compulsory labor.
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 ($47.5 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 forced 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.
The government effectively enforced the law. Resources and inspections were generally adequate, and penalties were sufficiently stringent compared with other sentences for serious crimes.
Forced labor occurred in the UK involving 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. Forced labor was normally more prevalent among men, women, and children of the most vulnerable minorities or socially excluded groups. The majority of victims were British nationals including minors or young adults forced by criminal gangs to sell drugs.
Albania and Vietnam were the most likely foreign countries of origin for forced labor. Most labor 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 vulnerable and 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 subsistence charges. Forced labor was the most common form of exploitation reported in the UK, followed by sexual exploitation. 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 there were no reported cases of forced labor during the year. The government effectively enforced the law. Expatriate workers are required to obtain a work permit based on the type of work and the expected length of time of employment in Bermuda. The law requires employers to repatriate work-permit holders. Failure to do so has been a migrant complaint. 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, threatening the status of their permit. Penalties for forced labor were generally commensurate with those for similar crimes.
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 law prohibits 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, depending on local bylaws. Children younger than age 18 are prohibited from working in hazardous environments. 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 commensurate with equally severe crimes.
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 commensurate with those for similar crimes, and inspection was sufficient to enforce compliance. The government effectively enforced the law. The Bermuda Police Service reported no cases of child labor or exploitation of children during the year.
No cases of child labor were reported in overseas British territories, but gaps in the law made children vulnerable. 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, allowing children to engage in work deemed hazardous.
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.
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.
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. 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. Women were paid less than men, and persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring, access to the workplace, and training. Ethnic minorities faced difficulty in hiring and attaining promotion, as well as discrimination in the work place.
The law requires equal pay for equal work. 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 pay 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 deadline for pay-gap reporting was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2019 the finance sector had the highest pay gap of all sectors, with the average woman earning 35.6 percent less than the average man.
In Northern Ireland the law prohibits discrimination in employment or occupation regarding age, disability, gender or gender reassignment, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy and maternity, race, sex, sexual orientation, religion or political affiliation. The Northern Ireland Equality Commission assisted with 15 cases of disability discrimination throughout the year, 12 cases of gender discrimination, and 10 cases of race discrimination in the workplace. Gender discrimination cases included complaints from women that their employment had been unfairly terminated due to reasons related to their pregnancy. Race discrimination cases included instances of harassment at the workplace. Teachers applying to work in religious schools, however, are not protected from discrimination on religious grounds. 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.
In Scotland the law prohibits discrimination on the basis of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. The Scottish government introduced a plan in March 2019 to address the gender pay gap, estimated at 5.7 percent in 2018. 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 minimum wage for workers age 25 or older, known as the National Living Wage, is above the poverty level.
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 effectively enforced the wage and hour laws. Penalties were generally commensurate with those for similar violations and inspections were sufficient to enforce compliance. Although criminal enforcement is available, most minimum wage noncompliance is pursued via civil enforcement through the courts.
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 is responsible for identifying unsafe situations, and not the worker, and inspectors had the authority to conduct unannounced inspections, levy fines, and initiate criminal proceedings. 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.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, beginning in March the government advised citizens to work from home if possible. Employers of “essential workers,” such as hospital staff, grocery store workers, and public works departments, were required to make arrangements to work safely. In July the government allowed anyone unable to work from home to return to their place of work, as long as their employer had put in place sufficient safety measures. The government issued “COVID-secure” workplace guidance for different sectors of the economy. Employers that fail to meet these standards can be reported to the local authority or the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), an arm of the Department for Work and Pensions, which can require employers to take additional steps where appropriate. Certain businesses, such as theaters and live music venues, have been ordered to close to reduce the spread of coronavirus COVID-19, contributing to a steep rise in unemployment.
The HSE effectively enforced occupational health and safety laws in all sectors including the informal economy. The fines for violations were commensurate with those for similar laws. 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. The International Labor Organization expressed concern that the number of HSE inspectors decreased in recent years, noting that the number of cases brought by the HSE had also declined.
From April 10 to October 17, there were 11,278 disease notifications of COVID-19 in workers where occupational exposure was suspected, including 162 death notifications.
Figures for April 2019 to March 2020 revealed 111 persons were fatally injured at work. An estimated 581,000 workers sustained a nonfatal injury at work according to self-reports in 2018-19. A total of 69,208 industrial injuries were reported in 2018-19 in the UK. The HSE and COPFS prosecuted 394 cases with at least one conviction secured in 364 of these cases, a conviction rate of 92 percent. Across all enforcing bodies, 11,040 notices were issued. The HSE and COPFS prosecutions led to fines totaling 54.5 million pounds ($71.9 million) compared with the 71.6 million pounds ($94.5 million) in 2017-18.
Bermuda’s legislation does not provide a minimum or living wage, and efforts to introduce one have not progressed. The Bermuda Department of Labour and Training enforces any contractually agreed wage, hours and safety and health standards. Regulations enforced by the department extensively cover the safety of the work environment, 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 commensurate with those for similar violations.