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Argentina

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes; the government generally respected these rights. The law prohibits discrimination against unions and protects workers from dismissal, suspension, and changes in labor conditions. It also prohibits military and law enforcement personnel from forming and joining unions. The government effectively enforced the law. Complaints of unfair labor practices can be brought before the judiciary. Violations of the law may result in a fine being imposed on the employer or the relevant employers’ association, where appropriate. Penalties for violations were sufficient to deter violations. There were cases of significant delays or appeals in the collective bargaining process.

The law allows unions to register without prior authorization, and registered trade union organizations may engage in certain activities to represent their members, including petitioning the government and employers. The law grants official trade union status to only one union deemed the “most representative,” defined by law as the union that has the highest average proportion of dues-paying members to number of workers represented, per industrial sector within a specific geographical region. Only unions with such official recognition receive trade union immunity from employer reprisals against their officials, are permitted to deduct union dues directly from wages, and may bargain collectively with recourse to conciliation and arbitration. The most representative union bargains on behalf of all workers in a given sector, and collective agreements cover both union members and nonmembers in the sector. The law requires the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security to ratify collective bargaining agreements. The Argentine Workers Central (CTA Autonoma) Observatory of Social Rights claimed a decrease in the Labor Ministry’s ratifications of bargaining agreements in 2017. The International Labor Organization (ILO) requested that the government improve procedures to register trade unions and grant trade union status.

In 2015 officers from the Buenos Aires provincial police attempted to unionize. The national Labor, Employment, and Social Security Ministry, whose status the government changed in September from an independent ministry to a secretariat within the Ministry of Production and Labor, rejected the police petition. The officers appealed the ministry’s decision, but the Supreme Court affirmed the ministry’s decision in April 2017, ruling the Buenos Aires provincial police did not have the right to form a union under the country’s constitution and applicable laws.

The CTA Autonoma and other labor groups not affiliated with the General Confederation of Labor continued to contend that the legal recognition of only one union per sector conflicted with international standards, namely ILO Convention No. 87, and prevented these unions from obtaining full legal standing. In 2013 the Supreme Court reaffirmed the need for more than one official union per sector and for amendments to the legislation. The ILO urged the government to bring the legislation into conformity with international labor standards.

Civil servants and workers in essential services may strike only after a compulsory 15-day conciliation process, and they are subject to the condition that unspecified “minimum services” be maintained. Once the conciliation term expires, civil servants and workers in essential services must give five days’ notice to the administrative authority and the public agency which they intend to strike. If “minimum services” are not previously defined in a collective bargaining agreement, all parties then negotiate which minimum services will continue to be provided and a schedule for their provision. The public agency, in turn, must provide clients two days’ notice of the impending strike.

Workers exercised freedom of association. Employers generally respected the right to bargain collectively and to strike. The CTA Autonoma claimed a decrease in the Labor Ministry’s ratifications of bargaining agreements in 2017.

Belgium

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

For companies with more than 50 employees, the law provides workers the right to form and join independent unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. Workers exercised these rights, and citizen and noncitizen workers enjoyed the same rights. Work council elections are mandatory in enterprises with more than 100 employees, and safety and health committee elections are mandatory in companies with more than 50 employees. Employers sometimes sought judicial recourse against associations attempting to prevent workers who did not want to strike from entering the employer’s premises.

The law provides for the right to strike for all public and private sector workers except the military. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union functions, and the government protected this right. Trade union representatives cannot be fired for performing their duties and are protected against being fined by their employers; they are also entitled to regular severance payments.

The government generally enforced applicable laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. Penalties were generally not sufficient to deter violations, as employers often paid fines rather than reinstate workers fired for union activity. At the same time, fines on workers for strike or collective bargaining actions often resulted in breaking strike movements. Administrative or judicial procedures related to trade unions were not longer than other court cases.

Freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively were inconsistently respected by employers. Worker organizations were generally free to function outside of government control. Unions complained that judicial intervention in collective disputes undermined collective bargaining rights.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not provide for freedom of association, and workers are not free to organize or join unions of their own choosing. The All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) is the only union recognized under the law. Independent unions are illegal, and the law does not protect the right to strike. The law allows for collective wage bargaining for workers in all types of enterprises. The law further provides for industrial sector-wide or regional collective contracts, and enterprise-level collective contracts were generally compulsory throughout the country. Regulations require the government-controlled union to gather input from workers prior to consultation with management and to submit collective contracts to workers or their congress for approval. There is no legal obligation for employers to negotiate or to bargain in good faith, and some employers refused to do so.

The law provides for legal protections against discrimination against the officially sanctioned union and specifies union representatives may not be transferred or terminated by enterprise management during their term of office. The law provides for the reinstatement of workers dismissed for official union activity as well as for other penalties for enterprises that engage in antiunion activities. The law does not protect workers who request or take part in collective negotiations with their employers independent of the officially recognized union. In several cases reported during the year, workers attempting to do so faced reprisals including forced resignation, firing, and detention.

All union activity must be approved by and organized under the ACFTU, a CCP organ chaired by a member of the Politburo. The ACFTU and its provincial and local branches continued to establish new constituent unions and add new members, especially among migrant workers, in large, multinational enterprises. The law gives the ACFTU financial and administrative control over constituent unions empowered to represent employees in negotiating and signing collective contracts with enterprises and public institutions. The law does not mandate the ACFTU to represent the interests of workers in disputes.

The ACFTU and the CCP used a variety of mechanisms to influence the selection of trade union representatives. Although the law states trade union officers at each level should be elected, ACFTU-affiliated unions appointed most factory-level officers, often in coordination with employers. Official union leaders were often drawn from the ranks of management. Direct election by workers of union leaders continued to be rare, occurred only at the enterprise level, and was subject to supervision by higher levels of the union or the CCP. In enterprises where direct election of union officers took place, regional ACFTU officers and local CCP authorities retained control over the selection and approval of candidates. Even in these cases, workers and NGOs expressed concern about the credibility of elections.

The law does not expressly prohibit work stoppages and does not prohibit workers from striking spontaneously. Although authorities appeared more tolerant of strikes protesting unpaid or underpaid wages, reports of police crackdowns on strikes continued throughout the year. For example, on May 27, police in Lu’an, Anhui Province, suppressed a group of teachers calling for wage parity with local civil servants, as mandated in the 1994 Teachers Law. Wage-related issues constituted 82 percent of the 6,694 strikes and collective protests recorded during 2015-17 by the Hong Kong-based labor rights NGO China Labor Bulletin.

In cases where local authorities cracked down on strikes, they sometimes charged leaders with vague criminal offenses, such as “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” “gathering a crowd to disturb public order,” or “damaging production operations,” or detained them without any charges. The only legally specified roles for the ACFTU in strikes are to participate in investigations and to assist the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security in resolving disputes.

Enforcement was generally insufficient to deter wide-scale violations. Labor inspectors lacked authority and resources to compel employers to correct violations. While the law outlines general procedures for resolving disputes, procedures were lengthy and subject to delays. Local authorities in some areas actively sought to limit efforts by independent civil society organizations and legal practitioners. Some areas maintained informal quotas on the number of cases allowed to proceed beyond mediation to arbitration or the courts. Some local government authorities took steps to increase mediation or arbitration. For example, on March 6, the Maoming Municipal Intermediate Court and Maoming Municipal Trade Union jointly established the Labor Arbitration and Mediation Coordination Office to facilitate better communication and ease tensions in labor disputes. An official from the local People’s Congress noted the increasing number of arbitrations, lengthy legal proceedings, and high litigation costs were not helpful in constructing positive and harmonious labor-capital relations.

Despite the appearances of a strong labor movement and relatively high levels of union registration, genuine freedom of association and worker representation did not exist. The ACFTU constituent unions were generally ineffective in representing and protecting the rights and interests of workers. Workers generally did not view the ACFTU as an advocate, especially migrant workers who had the least interaction with union officials.

China Labor Bulletin reported workers throughout the country engaged in wildcat strikes, work stoppages, and other protest actions and claimed the workers’ actions were indicative of the ACFTU’s inability to prevent violations and resolve disputes. Media reported a number of protests at factories in the southern part of the country.

The government increasingly targeted labor activists, students, and others advocating for worker rights during the year. For example, beginning in July and continuing through the end of the year, the government detained multiple workers, students, NGO representatives, lawyers, and others in response to demonstrations and online posts in support of workers attempting to form a union at Jasic Technology, a manufacturer of industrial welding equipment in Shenzhen. Workers at the factory reportedly tried to establish a trade union in response to complaints of low pay and poor working conditions. Although the lead organizers of the union reportedly received some information and assistance to set up an enterprise-level union from the local ACFTU branch, company management subsequently set up an enterprise union, selected management representatives to serve as union leaders, and fired the workers who had attempted to organize a union. Following protests by the workers in July, the lead organizers were reportedly physically attacked, inciting protests in Shenzhen and elsewhere. Guangdong labor activists, the Maoist organization Wu-You-Zhi-Xiang, leftist university students, and Hong Kong trade unions supported the protests.

Shenzhen police reportedly detained approximately 30 workers and representatives from the Dagongzhe Worker’s Center for their alleged connection with the Jasic protests. Several of the worker activists were charged with “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order.” Authorities also reportedly raided the offices of “Pioneers of the Times” and a Beijing-based publisher “Red Reference,” and criminally detained a staff member of “Red Reference.” On August 24, authorities in Guangdong, Beijing, and other parts of the country detained multiple workers and students from Peking, Renmin, and Nanjing Universities who had been supporting the workers. In early November the government detained nine student organizers and factory workers in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen and three activists in Wuhan. The government also detained two local ACFTU officials in Shenzhen in November. Authorities detained and questioned additional students in December.

Despite restrictions on worker action, joint action across provinces took place in several other sectors. For example, on May 1, a strike by crane drivers in the construction industry spread nationwide as operators demanded pay raises in a number of cities, including Yulin and Chongzuo in Guangxi, and Xiamen, Fujian Province. In June protests by truck drivers over stagnant pay, high fuel costs, and arbitrary fines took place at various locations in Shandong, Sichuan, Chongqing, Anhui, Guizhou, Jiangxi, Hubei, Henan, and Zhejiang Provinces, as well as in the Shanghai Special Municipality.

Coordinated efforts by governments at the central, provincial, and local levels, including harassment, detention, and the imposition of travel restrictions on labor rights defenders and restrictions on funding sources for NGOs, disrupted labor rights advocacy. Labor activist and 1989 prodemocracy movement veteran Liu Shaoming remained in custody after the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court sentenced him to four and one-half years’ imprisonment in 2017 for “inciting subversion of state power.”

France

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and labor law provide workers the right to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. The law provides for the right to bargain collectively and allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. Workers, except those in certain essential services such as police and the armed forces, have the right to strike unless the strike threatens public safety. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and forbids removing a candidate from a recruitment procedure for asking about union membership or trade union activities. The Ministry of Labor treats such discrimination as a criminal offense and prosecutes cases of discrimination by both individuals and companies.

Individuals violating the law may be subject to punishment ranging from three years’ imprisonment and a 45,000 euro ($51,800) fine to up to five years imprisonment and a 75,000 euro ($86,200) fine if the discrimination occurs in a venue open to the public. Companies violating the law may be subject to punishment ranging from a minimum fine of 225,000 euros ($259,000) to a maximum fine of 375,000 euros ($431,000) if the discrimination takes place in a venue open to the public. These penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations, although union representatives noted antiunion discrimination occasionally occurred, particularly in small companies.

Public-sector workers must declare their intention to strike at least 48 hours before the strike commences. In addition, a notification of intent to strike is permissible only after negotiations between trade unions and employers have broken down. Workers are not entitled to receive pay while striking. Wages, however, may be paid retroactively. Health-care workers are required to provide a minimum level of service during strikes. In the public transportation (buses, metro) and rail sectors, the law requires the continuity of public services at minimum service levels during strikes. This minimum service level is defined through collective bargaining between the employer and labor unions for each transportation system. For road transportation strikes, the law on minimum service provides for wages to be calculated proportionally to time worked while striking. Transportation users must also receive clear and reliable information on the services that would be available in the event of a disruption. Authorities effectively enforced laws and regulations, including those prohibiting retaliation against strikers.

Workers freely exercised their rights to form and join unions and choose their employee representatives, conduct union activities, and bargain collectively. Workers’ organizations stressed their independence vis-a-vis political parties. Some of their leaders, however, did not conceal their political affiliations. Union representatives noted that antiunion discrimination occasionally occurred, particularly in small companies.

United Kingdom

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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 there has been a ballot turnout of at least 50 percent. For “important public services,” defined as health services, education for those younger than the age of 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 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, although advocacy problems often overlapped. NGOs advocated for improvements in paid family leave, a minimum/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.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future