Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides that public and private sector workers may establish and join labor unions of their choice without prior authorization or excessive requirements. Civil servants and maritime workers have separate labor codes. Essential workers, including police, military, and firefighters, may not form unions. The maritime code does not specifically provide the right to form unions.
The law generally allows for union activities and provides most workers the right to strike, including workers in Export Processing Zones (EPZs). Authorities prohibit strikes, however, if there is a possibility of “disruption of public order” or if the strike would endanger the life, safety, or health of the population. Workers must first exhaust conciliation, mediation, and compulsory arbitration remedies, which may take eight months to two and one-half years. Magistrates and workers in “essential services” (not defined by law) have a recognized but more restricted right to strike. The law requires them to maintain a basic level of service and to give prior notice to their employer. The labor code also provides for a fine, imprisonment, or both for the “instigators and leaders of illegal strikes.”
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers. In the event of antiunion activity, unions or their members may file suit against the employer in civil court. The law does not accord civil servants and other public sector employees legal protection against antiunion discrimination and interference.
The law provides workers in the private sector, except seafarers, the right to bargain collectively. Public sector employees not engaged in the administration of the state, such as teachers hired under the auspices of donor organizations or parent associations in public schools, do not have the right to bargain collectively. Authorities did not always enforce applicable laws, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Larger international firms, such as in the telecommunications and banking sectors, more readily exercised and respected collective bargaining rights. These rights, however, were reportedly more difficult to exercise in EPZs and smaller local companies. Union representatives reported workers in such companies often were reluctant to make demands due to fear of reprisal.
The government was inconsistent in its respect for freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. The law requires that unions operate independently of the government and political parties. Union representatives indicated employers increasingly attempted to dissuade or influence unions, which often prevented workers from organizing or criticizing poor working conditions. Unions reported that many employers hindered their employees’ ability to form or join labor unions through intimidation and threats of dismissal for professional misconduct. Due to pervasive corruption, labor inspectors, bribed by some employers, usually approved dismissal of union leaders. As a result, workers were reluctant to join or lead unions.
Strikes occurred throughout the year, including by public school and university teachers, staff of some municipalities, and national company employees. There were no reports of official sanctions taken against any labor leaders.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced labor, with penalties that were sufficient to deter violations. Trafficking in children was a significant problem in the informal sector. Forced labor also persisted in dina judgments (see section 1.d.). In some communities, local dinas imposed forced labor to resolve conflicts or pay debt. These arrangements persisted because authorities did not effectively enforce the law. The legal definition of trafficking includes forced labor.
The government has a national service requirement law, under which all men are required to perform two years of military service or other work, which the ILO criticized as a potential means of mobilizing compulsory labor for economic development. The national service requirement, however, was not enforced, because those wishing to enlist exceeded the available spaces and funding.
Union representatives charged that working conditions in some garment factories were akin to forced labor. Setting production targets instead of paying overtime allowances became a general practice among EPZ companies. Workers were assigned higher targets each time they reached the previous goals, obliging them to work more hours to avoid sanctions like salary withholding or even dismissal for low performance. The media and union representatives reported additional abuses perpetrated in call centers run by offshore companies and reported that managers required employees to work overtime beyond legal limits.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law establishes a legal minimum working age of 16, with various restrictions. The law also regulates working conditions of children, defines the worst forms of child labor, identifies penalties for employers, and establishes the institutional framework for implementation. The law allows children to work a maximum of eight hours per day and 40 hours per week with no overtime and prohibits persons younger than 18 from working at night or where there is an imminent danger to health, safety, or morals. The law prohibits hazardous occupations and activities for children. The law requires working children to undergo a semiannual medical checkup performed by the company’s doctor or an authorized doctor at the expense of the employer.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Civil Services, Administrative Reform, Labor, and Social Laws is responsible for enforcing child labor laws.
Child labor was a widespread problem. Centers operated by NGOs in Antananarivo, Antsirabe, and Toamasina cared for children who were victims of human trafficking and forced labor. Children in rural areas worked mostly in agriculture, fishing, and livestock herding, while those in urban areas worked in domestic labor, transport of goods by rickshaw, petty trading, stone quarrying, artisanal mining for gemstones such as sapphires, in bars, and as beggars. Children also worked in the vanilla sector, salt production, mining, deep-sea diving, and the shrimp industry. Some children were victims of human trafficking, which included child sex trafficking and forced labor. The results of the 2018 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey indicated 47 percent of children were involved in child labor, including 36 percent of those between five and 11 years old. In addition, 32 percent of children between ages five and 17 worked in dangerous environments or occupations.
Labor laws prohibit workplace discrimination based on race, gender, religion, political opinion, origin, or disability. A special decree on HIV in the workplace bans discrimination based on serology status. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or language. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Discrimination remained a problem. Employers subjected persons with disabilities and LGBTI individuals to hiring discrimination. Stateless persons had difficulty accessing employment, and refugees and asylum seekers were barred from employment. Members of some evangelical churches reported limited access to employment if their Sabbath was not on Sunday.
In rural areas, where most of the population engaged in subsistence farming, traditional social structures tended to favor entrenched gender roles, leading to a pattern of discrimination against women. While there was little discrimination in access to employment and credit, women often did not receive equal pay for substantially similar work. The law does not permit women to work in positions that might endanger their health, safety, or morals. According to the labor and social protection codes, such positions included night shifts in the manufacturing sector and certain positions in the mining, metallurgy, and chemical industries, and this was generally respected in the formal sectors.
The government raised the minimum wage to an amount slightly above the poverty level as defined by the World Bank. The standard workweek was 40 hours in nonagricultural and service industries and 42.5 hours in the agricultural sector.
The law limits workers to 20 hours of overtime per week and requires two and one-half days of paid annual leave per month. The law requires overtime pay, generally for more than 40 hours work in one week, but the exact circumstances requiring such pay are unclear. If the hours worked exceed the legal limits for working hours (2,200 hours per year in agriculture and 173.33 hours per month in other sectors), employers are legally required to pay overtime in accordance with a labor council decree that also denotes the required amount of overtime pay.
The government sets occupational safety and health standards for workers and workplaces, but the labor code does not define penalties for noncompliance, and only requires an inspection before a company may open. Workers, including foreign or migrant workers, have an explicit right to leave a dangerous workplace without jeopardizing their employment as long as they inform their supervisors. Employers did not always respect this right. Labor activists noted that standards, dating to the country’s independence in some cases, were severely outdated, particularly regarding health and occupational hazards and classification of professional positions. There was no enforcement in the large informal sector, which was estimated to comprise as much as 85 percent of the work force.
The Ministry of Civil Services’ Department of Administrative Reform, Labor, and Social Laws is responsible for enforcing minimum wage and working conditions but did not effectively enforce the law. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to monitor conditions outside of the capital. Apart from the insufficient number of inspections, authorities reportedly took no other action during the year to prevent violations and improve working conditions. There were no prosecutions, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.
Violations of wage, overtime, or occupational safety and health standards were common in the informal sector and in domestic work, where many worked long hours for less than minimum wage. Although most employees knew the legal minimum wage, high unemployment and widespread poverty led workers to accept lower wages.
Media and union representatives reported that employees of offshore companies operating in customer service and online commerce generally worked in harsh conditions. These employees were subjected to long working hours including night shifts, weekends, and holidays, generally with no appropriate allowances such as overtime pay. Representatives reported many of them were frequently sick or gave up their jobs within a few days as a result.