Ecuador is a constitutional, multiparty republic with an elected president and unicameral legislature. On April 11, voters elected President Guillermo Lasso Mendoza from a center-right alliance among the Creating Opportunities Movement and the Social Christian Party and selected members of the National Assembly in elections that observers deemed free and fair.
The National Police maintains internal security and law enforcement and is under the authority of the Ministry of Government. The military is under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense and is responsible for external security. Police and military forces share responsibility for border enforcement, with the military also having limited domestic security responsibilities. The military may complement police operations to maintain and control public order when expressly mandated. Migration officers are civilians and report to the Ministry of Government. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture and abuse by police officers and prison guards; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; the existence of criminal libel laws; serious acts of government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women and children; and the use of child labor.
The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses and against those accused of corruption.
Members of criminal gangs operating in prisons committed acts of torture and killed their rivals during prison disturbances. The government investigated these crimes, and prosecutions were pending. There were incidents of violence and threats of violence against journalists by likely nongovernment actors. Members of society engaged in crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but laws restrict this right. Experts cautioned that restrictive provisions to journalistic work found in a 2013 communication law, reformed in 2019, technically remained in effect, although on May 24, President Lasso ordered the implementing regulations of that law no longer be applied.
On January 26, the National Assembly reformed the communication law, reversing provisions that previously characterized media and communications as a public service, not a right, and required all journalists to hold university degrees. Some other restrictive provisions found in other laws, such as punishing opinions as slander, which carries a prison term of six months to two years, remained in force but were not applied in practice. Journalists and NGOs said the media environment under the new administration seemed less restrictive than in the past, although replacement legislation was necessary to repeal the previous, more restrictive framework and institutionalize reforms to facilitate greater freedom of expression.
Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits citizens from using “discrediting expressions,” treated as a misdemeanor with a 15- to 30-day prison term. There were no reports the government invoked this law to restrict freedom of expression during the year.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The law limits media’s ability to provide election coverage during the official campaign period, with no coverage allowed in the 48 hours preceding a national election. A constitutional court ruling affirmed the right of the press to conduct interviews and file special reports on candidates and issues during the campaign period, but the ruling left in place restrictions on “direct or indirect” promotion of candidates or specific political views.
A presidential decree in May in effect eliminates the offense of inciting “financial panic,” which previously carried a penalty of imprisonment from five to seven years. It also eliminates mandates on time allocated for television and radio broadcast of messages and reports by the president and his cabinet, as well as provisions for the planned redistribution of broadcast frequencies between community media and private and public media. Indigenous political and community leaders were concerned that any future redistribution of broadcast frequencies, potentially in the open market, would reduce or eliminate access to free, public radio (in various native languages especially) in isolated areas inhabited by diverse indigenous populations.
The Agency for the Regulation and Control of Telecommunications (ARCOTEL) completed its competitive public tender to allocate 3,096 FM radio frequencies in November 2020. Media reported that between December 2020 and February, qualifying titles valid for 15 years were awarded to 340 participants. Fundamedios and other civil society groups continued to criticize the bidding process as lacking transparency and allowing two particular bidders to accumulate a disproportionate number of frequencies. These groups noted the potential agglomeration of radio frequencies under one domain threatened freedom of expression by inducing self-censorship among media outlets.
On January 12, ARCOTEL announced the start of separate public tenders for the concession of 2,347 additional FM radio and 3,016 broadcast television frequencies. On March 23, Fundamedios called on the government to further delay the bidding process, considering the proximity to the second round of presidential elections scheduled for April 11. The formal bidding process was pending as of October 27.
Violence and Harassment: On January 27, gunmen shot and killed popular television presenter Efrain Ruales Rios, allegedly for a string of social media posts critical of drug gangs reportedly linked to influential political families, especially that of former president Bucaram. Victor Gonzalez, the lead prosecutor investigating the Ruales killing, stated he started receiving death threats on July 6 after giving an interview in which he speculated on those allegedly responsible for Ruales’s death. Gonzalez added he had since received police protection. On November 26, a trial started against six persons accused in a conspiracy to murder Ruales.
Also on January 27, former president Bucaram, in an interview regarding the Ruales killing and in response to accusations about his family, issued death threats to several individuals, including national television journalist Dayanna Monroy, whose reporting he had criticized since October 2020. On February 3, then presidential spokesperson Caridad Vela stated the government rejected intimidation attempts against Monroy and other journalists and would offer police protection to Monroy.
On April 25, Blanca Moncada, a writer for the newspaper Diario Expreso, published an investigation critical of Guayaquil mayor Cynthia Viteri for perceived exorbitant city street cleaning expenditures. On April 28, a graphic circulated on digital platforms with Moncada’s photograph, describing her as an “Enemy of Guayaquil” and accusing her of being funded by “mafias” opposed to the local government. Moncada claimed to Fundamedios that a troll center from the Guayaquil mayor’s office was responsible for the graphic. On May 12, Moncada, writing for the same outlet, said Viteri justified supposed high salaries for public employees in the municipal government, with many of the highest-paying positions going to relatives of individuals also working in the municipality. Viteri responded to the claim of nepotism by stating she had never in public or private said such things and that Diario Expreso held a “political bias” against her administration.
Fundamedios condemned the National Police’s use of canines for crowd control during an August 11 incident in which independent photojournalist Juan Diego Montenegro was bit by a police dog while covering public protests in Quito. Montenegro claimed a police officer slackened the working dog’s leash to get within range to bite Montenegro.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were reports government officials tried to penalize those who published items critical of the government. Fundamedios reported eight potential censorship cases involving government officials as of September 9.
On January 12, the Pichincha Provincial Electoral Delegation ordered the immediate suspension of a political advertisement exclusively featuring former president Correa asking voters to support the Union for Hope (UNES) coalition linked to him. Under the constitution and in accordance with the terms of an April 2020 corruption conviction against him (see section 4), Correa had lost his political rights, so his likeness was prohibited from campaign materials for any political candidate or party. UNES presidential candidate Andres Arauz denounced the decision and alerted international observers to supposed censorship and arbitrary application of the law. The suspension was subsequently upheld, and election monitoring NGOs said Correa and the party flouted the restriction throughout the campaign period.
On September 2, unidentified individuals claiming to be agents from the Attorney General’s Office deleted photographs from La Posta digital outlet reporter Domenica Vivanco’s mobile telephone as she covered a story about a raid on offices tied to a construction company allegedly linked to favorable contracts with Quito mayor Jorge Yunda.
Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal offense under the law, with penalties of up to three years in prison, plus fines. The law assigns responsibility to media owners, who are liable for opinion pieces or statements by reporters or others, including readers, using their media platforms. Monitoring organizations reported the government did not use libel laws against journalists during the year.
The Law Against Digital Violence, approved by the National Assembly on July 9, expands the prohibition on expressions meant to “discredit or dishonor” another person to acts committed over digital mediums.
Nongovernmental Impact: Unknown persons conducted attacks against journalists throughout the year. Domestic and international media rights groups reported on a January 19 incident in which a gunman shot and wounded Sucumbios Province radio show host Marilu Capa in a Lago Agrio restaurant. Media reported an August 26 incident in which an individual on a bicycle threw and then remotely detonated an explosive object on the balcony of digital journalist Mario Pinto’s Machala home in El Oro Province, although nobody was injured. A previous, similar attempt on his home in December 2020 also resulted in no injuries. Pinto reported on crime in the city. Police were investigating both incidents, but no further developments were available as of December 1.
Stigmatization and hateful speech against journalists and media surged during the election campaign. According to journalists, phrases such as “corrupt press” and “sold-out press” were frequently replicated across broad sectors and on social media starting in January, particularly after former president Correa posted in response to damaging news stories about the Arauz presidential campaign or after publication of investigations into opaque public projects developed under the Correa administration. Investigations of corrupt practices by others (including former president Bucaram) also led to online insults and threats to journalists from the implicated individuals and their allies. NGOs and journalists reported the volume of threatening posts and overall feeling of stigmatization decreased significantly after the April 11 election of President Lasso.
Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, including for Members of the Online Media: The National Committee for the Protection of Journalists, a joint government-civil society committee formed in 2019, met periodically in response to prominent instances of attacks against journalists. Groups including Fundamedios criticized the committee, saying it lacked strategic vision and planning and often did not follow up on cases in an integrated manner. The groups expressed concern that the haphazard and reactionary government approach to attacks on journalists gave the impression they could be threatened and attacked with relative impunity.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights, although the government imposed some restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The government had declared and extended a broad state of emergency between March and September 2020 until a Constitutional Court decision in August 2020 prohibited the president from renewing the state of emergency using the same grounds as previous requests. The court ruled the state of emergency, which included de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association, “cannot be extended indefinitely” because the government needed to transition to a condition allowing “the enjoyment and exercise of constitutional rights threatened (under a state of emergency).”
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Public rallies require prior government permits, which authorities usually granted.
On May 5, the Constitutional Court ruled as unconstitutional Ministerial Agreement 179, issued in May 2020 by the minister of defense. The agreement governed a May 2020 protocol on the use of force formulated in response to state-sponsored visits by missions from the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which concluded state security forces used excessive force to contain the October 2019 antigovernment protests. The court reviewed the agreement in response to complaints by several human rights organizations that argued such a protocol was unconstitutional. The organizations claimed the constitution grants the power to re-establish public order only to police and not the armed forces; the armed forces’ role is limited solely to the protection of national sovereignty and territorial integrity; and the protocol, as written, posed a threat to the full exercise of human rights by providing the military wide latitude to intervene in future protests. The court declared in its ruling that armed forces’ involvement in controlling public order and citizen security must be “extraordinary, subordinate and complementary, regulated, and supervised.” In addition, armed forces’ involvement must be carried out within a declared state of exception, in strict adherence to the law and under orders of the president of the country. Legislation or subsequent regulations implementing the court’s ruling were pending as of December 1.
Freedom of Association
The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Civil society representatives noted that some policies enacted during the Correa administration remained in place and could enable the government to dissolve independent organizations for poorly defined reasons.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
f. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other vulnerable persons of concern. In addition, the human mobility law codifies protections granted to migrants in the constitution, advances the protection of refugees and asylum seekers, and establishes provisions such as equal treatment before the law for migrants, nonrefoulement, and noncriminalization of irregular migration.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Migrants and refugees, especially women and children, sometimes experienced sexual and gender-based violence. UN agencies and local NGOs reported refugee women and children were susceptible to violence and human trafficking, including forced labor, sex trafficking, and the forced recruitment of individuals into criminal activity, such as drug trafficking and robbery, on the northern border, particularly by organized-crime gangs that also operated in Colombia. Government authorities provided basic protection for vulnerable populations; however, continued inflows of migrants and refugees at irregular crossings amid continued border closures complicated the government’s ability to address and prevent abuses against migrants and refugees.
Access to Basic Services: The law provides for access to health care, education, and other services to all individuals irrespective of their migration status. Nonetheless, most Venezuelan migrant and refugee children remained out of the school system, according to official government statistics. According to NGOs, barriers to the enrollment and retention of refugee and migrant children in school included a lack of information about universal access to education; hidden costs of schooling such as uniforms; lack of classroom space; and, in some instances, xenophobic attitudes towards Venezuelans. According to UN agencies and NGOs, refugees encountered discrimination in employment and housing. Recognized refugees received national identification cards that facilitated access to education, employment, banking, and other public services. Refugees and migrants reported that in certain instances, employers did not recognize government-issued documents that establish their right to work.
Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement and offered naturalization to refugees but had recognized very small numbers of Venezuelan refugees. Discrimination and limited access to formal employment and housing affected refugees’ ability to assimilate into the local population.
Temporary Protection: The government implemented a special humanitarian visa process for Venezuelans from September 2019 to December 2020, which led to the issuance of more than 56,000 two-year humanitarian visas. To uphold President Lasso’s June commitment to launch a new regularization process for Venezuelan migrants, the government began designing a new regularization process.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government took steps to implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption throughout the year.
Corruption: The government launched or continued multiple investigations, judicial proceedings, and legislative audits of officials accused of corruption related to state contracts and commercial endeavors that reached the highest levels of government.
High-profile prosecutions and investigations of alleged public-health sector corruption during the COVID-19 crisis at the national, provincial, and municipal levels continued. On May 17, former Ecuadorian Institute of Social Security (IESS) board president Paul Granda was called to trial for charges of organized crime along with two former IESS hospital managers. Granda was also accused of alleged irregularities in medical supply acquisition contracts during the COVID-19 emergency. As of December 1, the date for proceedings remained pending.
Regarding the Sobornos (bribes) corruption scheme that illicitly financed former president Rafael Correa’s Alianza PAIS party in exchange for public contracts from 2012 to 2016, former vice president Jorge Glas was serving his eight-year sentence for involvement in the scheme, in addition to a six-year sentence in a separate case for an illicit association connected to Brazilian company Odebrecht. On August 18, Interpol denied a National Court of Justice request to issue a Red Notice for Correa, who was self-exiled in Belgium. The court stated it would continue to pursue the extradition of Correa and the other 14 defendants in the case, who were residing abroad.
On May 24, President Lasso issued Decree 4 on Governmental Ethical Behavior Standards that applies to all executive branch members. The decree includes a prohibition on remuneration of any nature to the spouses of the president and vice president; prohibits the nomination of executive branch officials’ relatives for other government positions; requires a preemptive declaration of conflicts of interest where they may exist; and prohibits the unofficial use of official aircraft, vehicles, and government property, among others.
Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were often cooperative and responsive to their views.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ombudsman’s Office is an administratively and financially independent body under the Transparency and Social Control branch of government focused on human rights. The Ombudsman’s Office regularly presented cases to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
On August 19, the National Court of Justice ruled against Ombudsman Freddy Carrion’s habeas corpus request. Carrion had been in pretrial detention since May 17 for alleged sexual assault. The National Assembly impeached and removed Carrion from office for nonfulfillment of duties on September 14. On October 20, the court found Carrion guilty of sexual abuse and sentenced him to three years in prison.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal and intimate partner rape and domestic violence. The government enforced the law, although victims were sometimes reluctant to report these crimes. Rape is punishable with penalties of up to 22 years in prison. The law includes spousal rape under crimes against sexual and reproductive integrity. The penalty for rape where death occurred is 22 to 26 years’ imprisonment. Domestic violence is punishable with penalties ranging from four days to seven years in prison and a substantial fine for “damages, pain, and suffering,” depending on the severity of the crime. Penalties for physical, psychological, and sexual violence were enforced.
The law provides reparation to victims of gender-based violence, while also advocating for the re-education of aggressors. The law defines rape, including spousal rape or incest, forced prostitution, sexual harassment, and other analogous practices, as forms of sexual violence. It also entitles victims to immediate protective measures designed to prevent or cease violence, such as police surveillance, placement in shelters, and awareness programs for the victim and family. These restorative measures were generally enforced.
According to human rights organizations, victims were generally reluctant to press domestic violence charges, and the court system was insufficiently staffed to deal with the caseload. On November 24, the Attorney General’s Office, in cooperation with the civil society-UN Spotlight Initiative reported 172 total femicides through November, compared with 118 in 2020 and 106 in 2019. On August 25, the Attorney General’s Office announced a 26-year prison sentence for a man from Morona Santiago Province for murdering his four-year-old stepdaughter in August 2020 in front of her mother, whom he threatened to harm if she intervened.
Due to a drop in the number of complaints filed in person with judicial authorities, the government expanded online legal services available to victims in April 2020. Nevertheless, barriers such as digital illiteracy, internet unavailability in rural areas, and lack of general familiarization with these technological resources continued to limit the ability of victims to obtain help.
Judges lacked specialized training for dealing with gender-based violence. Rights organizations also reported local protection-board officials at times discouraged victims from reporting their aggressors.
According to local experts, reporting rapes and other forms of violence continued to be a traumatic process, particularly for female minors. For example, a rape victim must file a complaint at the Public Prosecutor’s Office and submit to gynecological evaluations akin to rape kits administered by medical experts. Many individuals did not report cases of rape and sexual assault due to fear of retribution from the perpetrator and social stigma.
On February 10, the Attorney General’s Office announced a 12-year, seven-month prison sentence for a police officer in Tungurahua Province for raping a woman in September 2020 (see section 1.c.).
Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment and provides for penalties of one to five years in prison. The law defines sexual harassment and other analogous practices as forms of sexual violence and mandates that judges prohibit contact between the aggressor and the victim to prevent revictimization and intimidation, and the law was generally enforced. Despite the legal prohibition of sexual harassment and government implementation of the law, women’s rights organizations described a tendency not to report alleged harassment, and harassment remained common in public spaces.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Some women’s rights activists complained that a lack of comprehensive sex education limited individuals’ ability to manage their reproductive health and that ineffective distribution of birth control reduced access to contraception. Additionally, the Roman Catholic Church’s stance against contraceptive use and social stigma discouraged women from seeking family planning services.
A 2019 study found income status affected equity in sexual and reproductive health access and outcomes, with low income and rural individuals having significantly less access. UN agencies and CARE International reported migrant women faced limited access to, discrimination in, or both the provision of reproductive health services.
CARE International observed less access to sexual and reproductive health resources to survivors of sexual violence, and specifically, a lack of availability of emergency contraception as part of the clinical management of rape.
A February 2020 UNICEF-funded and Ministry of Health-supported teenage pregnancy report found that, although live birth rates for women ages 15 to 19 trended downward between 2009 and 2018 (the most recent year available for the report) from 88 live births per 1,000 women to 69), while live birth rates among girls ages 10 to 14 trended slightly upward, from 2.1 per 1,000 in 2007 to 2.8 in 2017. The report found the incidences of girls ages 10 to 14 having children were highest in coastal and Amazonian provinces, including Esmeraldas, Sucumbios, Orellana, and Morona Santiago. On August 17, Secretary of Human Rights Bernarda Ordonez stated 70 percent of girls ages 10 to 14 who become pregnant were most likely sexually violated. Ordonez added that many of these adolescents also suffered from sexually transmitted diseases, urinary tract infections, and other health complications.
Although the country’s maternal mortality rate had remained below 70 per 100,000 live births since 2012, media citing official national statistics indicated the rate increased from 37 to 57.6 between 2019 and 2020. According to local health experts, maternal mortality was 36 percent more likely among women in rural areas compared with those in urban areas, and women with primary or less education were three times more likely to suffer maternal death than those with at least a high school education. Further, indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian women were 69 and 50 percent more susceptible to maternal death, respectively, than their mestiza counterparts.
While the law prohibits discrimination against girls who become mothers, NGOs reported some faced discrimination and subsequently left school. A lack of resources also resulted in young mothers discontinuing their education to pursue work.
Discrimination: The constitution affords women the same legal status and rights as men. Nevertheless, discrimination against women was prevalent, particularly with respect to economic opportunities for older women and for those in the lower economic strata. Women continued to face wage disparities compared with men. NGOs said women also faced discrimination in housing access and some judicial proceedings, namely, in reporting and filing charges in cases of alleged sexual abuse.
UN agencies and NGOs reported female medical staff were discriminated against and subject to violence, including physical and verbal assaults, from their partners and family members for assisting COVID-19-infected patients. According to information collected by UN Women and CARE International, women outnumbered men in the first line of defense against COVID-19, in a medical field already two-thirds composed of women, making women far more susceptible to COVID-19 exposure.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The constitution declares the state to be plurinational and affirms the principle of nonviolence and nondiscrimination by recognizing the rights of indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian, and Montubio (an independent ethnic group of persons with a mixture of Afro-Ecuadorian, indigenous, and Spanish ancestry) communities. It also mandates affirmative action policies to provide for the representation of minorities. NGOs and civil society representatives said those provisions were not effectively enforced.
A 2019 report by the National Council for the Equality of Peoples and Nationalities reiterated that racism and discrimination continued against indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants despite government policies promoting equality. The report reiterated that ethnic minorities continued to struggle with education and job opportunities and often earned less in comparison with their nonindigenous counterparts. Less than 4 percent of the indigenous population entered higher education, according to the most recent census, carried out in 2010. The same agency reported racial minority groups had less access to managerial positions and other professional opportunities.
Afro-Ecuadorian citizens, who accounted for approximately 7 percent of the population according to the 2010 census, suffered pervasive discrimination, particularly regarding educational and economic opportunity. Afro-Ecuadorian organizations noted that, despite the absence of official discrimination, societal discrimination and stereotyping in media continued to result in barriers to employment, education, and housing. A National Gender Survey published in November 2019 found Afro-Ecuadorian women were particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence and harassment based on racial, gender, and sexual stereotypes. Late-night news show host Andres Carrion was criticized in social media as reinforcing negative gender and racial stereotypes after asking Afro-Ecuadorian Olympic gold medal-winning weightlifter Neisi Dajomes in an August 16 interview whether she “knew how to cook,” followed by whether she “knew how to wash dishes.”
There were isolated reports of restrictions placed on indigenous persons and their institutions in decisions affecting their property or way of life. Media reported the Pastaza Provincial Court partially accepted a habeas corpus request on July 16 for former Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) president Antonio Vargas Guatatuca. Vargas Guatatuca was originally convicted for land trafficking in 2018, with his sentence extended to three years and four months in 2019, all of which he had served doing community service. He was arrested on June 20 in Pastaza Province after an arrest warrant had been issued a few days prior to serve part of his time in jail. CONAIE argued Vargas Guatatuca’s detention was arbitrary and illegal, as international conventions to which Ecuador is a signatory state indigenous persons are subject to prison alternatives. The court ruled Vargas Guatatuca should serve 60 days in jail and 30 in his community, then continue serving out the rest of his sentence doing community service. On November 8, President Lasso issued an executive pardon exonerating Vargas Guatatuca of charges and cancelling the fines ordered in his convictions.
The law provides indigenous persons the same civil and political rights as other citizens. The constitution recognizes Kichwa and Shuar as “official languages of intercultural relations.” The constitution grants indigenous persons and communities the right to prior consultation, which is to participate in decisions on the exploitation of nonrenewable resources located on their lands that could affect their culture or environment, although indigenous peoples’ organizations noted public- and private-sector actors often ignored prior consultation. The constitution also allows indigenous persons to participate in the economic benefits natural resource extraction projects may bring and to receive compensation for any damages that result.
In the case of environmental damage, the law mandates immediate corrective government action and full restitution from the responsible company, although some indigenous organizations asserted a lack of consultation and remedial action. The law recognizes the rights of indigenous communities to hold property communally, although the titling process remained incomplete in parts of the country. The constitution prohibits mining in urban and protected areas and limits oil drilling in Yasuni National Park.
Although confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths among indigenous communities were lower than the national average, indigenous leaders and international organizations asserted indigenous communities, like other rural low-income communities, were particularly vulnerable to the pandemic’s environmental, medical, and economic effects. Precise information on COVID-19 vaccination rates among indigenous persons was not available as of September 18, but government authorities declared they prioritized vaccinating indigenous communities and publicized several instances of vaccine drives in indigenous communities that included military-assisted vaccine transport to remote areas. The government nonetheless faced logistical challenges due to transportable vaccine availability and the physical isolation of some communities.
Media and activist groups reported environmental and anti-illegal mining activist Andres Durazno was stabbed outside his home in Azuay Province on March 17, allegedly by a relative. Activist groups called on the attorney general to open an investigation, which had not begun as of October 28.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired through birth in the country, birth to an Ecuadorian mother or father abroad, or by naturalization. According to media reports, ethnic minority families and those with limited economic resources continued to show registration rates significantly lower than those of other groups. Government brigades occasionally traveled to remote rural areas to register families and persons with disabilities. While the law prohibits schools from requesting civil registration documents for children to enroll, some schools, mostly public schools, continued to require them. Other government services, including welfare payments and free primary health care, require some form of identification.
Education: The lack of schools in some areas specifically affected indigenous and refugee and migrant children, who must travel long distances to attend school.
Child Abuse: The law criminalizes child abuse and provides penalties of 30 days to 26 years in prison, depending on the severity of the abuse.
In 2020 Ana Cristina Vera, director of the local NGO Surkuna, estimated six of 10 rape aggressors were immediate relatives, with most underage victims younger than 14. In 2019 the Office of the Public Prosecutor stated approximately 60 percent of rape victims were children and adolescents.
In 2019 media reported that approximately 16 percent of the 7,977 sex-crime complaints tracked by the Ministry of Education between 2014 and May 2019 were directed against minors. Teachers or school staff were accused as perpetrators in 25 percent of all complaints.
Local NGOs and the government expressed concern regarding child abuse and infanticide during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Quito Rights Protection Council reported 10 suicides and seven cases of infanticide between March and May 2020. The council stated the infanticides in that span were allegedly committed by the victims’ immediate family members. Council vice president Sybel Martinez warned that a lack of precise statistics on violence against minors could fuel impunity. The Attorney General’s Office publicized progress on several intrafamilial violence cases throughout the year.
Bullying remained a problem in schools and increasingly occurred on social media. On April 10, reforms to the Intercultural Education Law took effect, aiming to prevent and combat digital sexual violence and strengthen the fight against cybercrimes by making online bullying punishable. The law obligates educators to investigate allegations of bullying, considering the victim’s best interests. Cases that may lead to school violence (defined as incidents that may lead to death, physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological harm), harassment, or discrimination are prioritized for reporting to higher authorities within 48 hours.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal marriage age is 18. There were reports of early and forced marriage in indigenous communities, particularly in instances in which girls became pregnant following an instance of rape. Indigenous leaders reported cases in which sexual aggressors compensated violence with payment or exchange of animals, but in some cases, victims were forced to marry their aggressors. CARE International reported the government did not respond effectively to these cases, especially in Kichwa and Shuar indigenous communities.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent is 14. The law prohibits sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography, with penalties of 22 to 26 years’ imprisonment. The penalty for human trafficking, including child sex trafficking, is 13 to 16 years in prison. Authorities did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. The criminal code requires proof of force, fraud, or coercion as essential elements of a trafficking crime, neglecting to recognize that anyone younger than age 18 is unable to provide such consent. Child sex trafficking remained a problem, despite government enforcement efforts.
On May 5, the Pichincha Provincial Court upheld the convictions and maximum prison sentences of 25 years and four months for five members of a criminal ring responsible for trafficking an estimated 100 teenage girls in Quito since at least 2018. The group recruited teenage girls from low-income neighborhoods to attend parties in an affluent Quito neighborhood. The case was related to a February 2020 conviction against one of the same defendants to a 34-year sentence for rape resulting in the death of a 15-year-old girl.
Displaced Children: Humanitarian organizations expressed concern that an increasing number of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children entered via irregular crossings after the government closed its borders in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. International organizations remained concerned unaccompanied children and adolescents were vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking by criminal groups.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
There is a small Jewish community, including an estimated 450 individuals in Quito, 40 individuals in Guayaquil, and 10 individuals elsewhere in the country. The Jewish community reported no attacks or aggressions as of September 28. Community members said that during the military escalation between Gaza and Israel in May, opinion articles in El Comercio and El Universo newspapers included comments they considered anti-Semitic. Members of the Jewish community condemned the statements, but the government did not comment on the statements.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The National Council on Disability Equality oversees government policies regarding persons with disabilities.
Although the law mandates access to buildings and promotes equal access to health, education, social security, employment, transport, and communications for persons with disabilities, the government did not fully enforce it. By law children with disabilities could attend specialized schools, but all educational establishments must accommodate students with disabilities. An educational policy NGO said nonspecialized institutions lacked the capacity and staff to accommodate the range of disabilities. The NGO said children with disabilities attended primary school at similar rates to other children, but they attended secondary education at lower rates due to a lack of access to quality support.
The law stipulates persons with disabilities have the right to health facilities and insurance coverage, job security, access and inclusion in education, and a program for scholarships and student loans. The law also requires that 4 percent of employees in all public and private enterprises with more than 25 employees be persons with disabilities, and it gives the Ombudsman’s Office responsibility for following up on alleged violations of the rights of persons with disabilities, stipulating a series of fines and punishments for lack of compliance. A March 15 media report noted that the Ministry of Labor recorded a 29 percent increase in job dismissal complaints from persons with disabilities between 2019 and 2020 (652 to 838). More broadly, the number of complaints nearly tripled between 2017 and 2020.
The law directs the electoral authorities to provide access to voting and to facilitate voting for persons with disabilities.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) activists reported that during the peaks of the COVID-19 pandemic in April and May 2020, officials at public and private hospitals blocked access to retroviral treatment and hormones to LGBTQI+ patients to focus resources on COVID-19 treatment. The sudden unavailability adversely affected LGBTQI+ individuals undergoing medical treatment.
The NGO Fundacion Ecuatoriana Equidad, a sexual health and LGBTQI+ advocacy group, said that despite a Constitutional Court order that the Ministry of Health improve the administration of HIV home treatment regimens for LGBTQI+ individuals and the Ministry of Health’s commitment to do so, treatment continued to be inadequate due to perceived poor management by the ministry.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
LGBTQI+ groups claimed police and prosecutors did not thoroughly investigate deaths of LGBTQI+ individuals, including when there was suspicion that the killing was motivated by anti-LGBTQI+ bias. On September 3, NGO Silueta X representatives said 14 members of the LGBTQI+ community had been killed in 2020 and seven more as of September 3 (including one alleged forced disappearance by unknown perpetrators). Fundacion Ecuatoriana Equidad cited police and prosecutors’ lax attitude and the lack of technical capacity and knowledge about the LGBTQI+ individuals to explain insufficient investigations into crimes committed against LGBTQI+ persons.
Regarding the May 2020 killing of Javier Viteri, on July 7, a municipal court in Arenillas convicted and sentenced the accused person, a military conscript, to 34 years and eight months in prison.
The constitution includes the principle of nondiscrimination and the right to decide one’s sexual orientation. The law also prohibits hate crimes, but LGBTQI+ activists asserted that since the legal codification of hate crimes in 2008, there had been no hate crime convictions for crimes directed at LGBTQI+ persons. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, LGBTQI+ persons continued to suffer discrimination from both public and private entities, particularly in education, employment, and access to health care. LGBTQI+ organizations reported transgender persons suffered more discrimination because they were more visible.
LGBTQI+ persons continued to report that the government sometimes denied their right of equal access to formal education. Despite the publication of a “Guide to Prevent and Combat Discrimination Based on Sexual Diversity and Gender Identity” by the Ministry of Education in 2019, Fundacion Ecuatoriana Equidad indicated the government had not comprehensively applied the guide’s provisions and not adapted relevant regulations to implement the guide. LGBTQI+ students, particularly transgender students, sometimes were discouraged from attending classes and were more susceptible to bullying in schools. Human rights activists argued the Ministry of Education and school administrators were slow to respond to complaints regarding overall harassment, discrimination, or abuse, particularly against LGBTQI+ persons. LGBTQI+ persons involved in the commercial sex trade reported abusive situations, extortion, and mistreatment by security forces.
The law prohibits changing gender on identity documents for LGBTQI+ persons younger than 18, even with parental consent. In 2019 an LGBTQI+ NGO reported a transgender minor was denied enrollment at 15 schools under her chosen name and gender in 2017. The minor’s parents subsequently filed a lawsuit requesting that officials allow her to change her name and gender on identity documents to end discrimination against her. In 2018 the Office of the Civil Registry allowed changes on her identity card. Fundacion Ecuatoriana Equidad reported the parents then filed an inquiry with the Constitutional Court to determine the age transgender underage individuals may change their identity information. A court decision on the inquiry remained pending as of September 28.
An LGBTQI+ organization reported the existence of clandestine private treatment centers confining LGBTQI+ persons against their will to “cure” or “dehomosexualize” them despite the illegality of such treatment. According to the organization, the Ministry of Public Health had some success in identifying and closing such institutions. Alternatively, LGBTQI+ organizations said relatives also took LGBTQI+ persons to neighboring countries, where clinics reportedly used violent treatments, including rape, to change LGBTQI+ persons’ sexual orientation.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law, with some exceptions, provides for the rights of workers to form and join trade unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits the dismissal of union members from the moment a union notifies the labor inspector of its general assembly until the formation of its first executive board, the first legal steps in forming a union. Employers are not required to reinstate workers fired for union activity but are required to pay compensation and fines to such workers. According to an October 17 El Comercio article, 3 percent of the total workforce was unionized, with the number of public and private unions registered by the Ministry of Labor decreasing by half since 2017. Labor unions and associations reported difficulties in registering unions in the Ministry of Labor due to excessive requirements and ministry staff shortages.
Companies that dismiss employees attempting to form a union or that dismiss union members exercising their rights face a fine of one year’s annual salary for everyone wrongfully dismissed. Individual workers still employed may take complaints against employers to the Labor Inspection Office. Individuals no longer employed may take their complaints to courts charged with protecting labor rights. Unions may also take complaints to a tripartite arbitration board established to hear these complaints. Despite the promise of receiving a mediator within 48 hours of issuing a complaint, these procedures often were subject to lengthy delays because the Ministry of Labor continued to be nonspecialized and understaffed to address all arbitration requests and appeals. Private-sector representatives alleged that boards exhibited conscious bias in favor of employees when they did convene.
All private employers with unionized employees are required to negotiate collectively when the union so requests. The law requires a minimum of 30 workers for the creation of an association, work committee, or labor union, and it does not allow foreign citizens to serve as trade union officers. In 2018 the Ministry of Labor authorized, through ministerial resolutions, eight new types of labor contracts, with specific provisions for the flower, palm, fishing, livestock, and construction sectors.
In May a provincial court ordered that the Ministry of Labor recognize the Trade Union Association of Agricultural Banana Workers and Peasants as a sector-wide union for banana workers and assigned monitoring to the Ombudsman’s Office. This decision followed recent requests by the International Labor Organization (ILO) to permit sector-wide union organizing in compliance with international labor standards. In September the Ombudsman’s Office submitted a report finding that the Ministry of Labor had not complied with the court order. Instead of appealing the decision, the ministry filed an extraordinary action for protection against the provincial court judges seeking the protection of the Constitutional Court for having to enforce the order. The Constitutional Court accepted the writ in September. The ministry had not complied with the court order as of October 28.
The law provides for the right of private-sector employees to strike on their own behalf and conduct three-day solidarity strikes or boycotts on the behalf of other industries. The law also establishes, however, that all collective labor disputes be referred to courts of conciliation and arbitration.
In most industries the law requires a 10-day “cooling-off” period from the time a strike is declared before it can take effect. In the case of the agriculture and hospitality industries, where workers are needed for “permanent care,” the law requires a 20-day “cooling-off” period from the day the strike is called, and workers may not take possession of a workplace. During this time workers and employers must agree on how many workers are needed to ensure a minimum level of service, and at least 20 percent of the workforce must continue to work to provide essential services. The law provides the employer may contract substitute personnel only when striking workers refuse to send the number of workers required to provide the minimum necessary services. Contracting substitute personnel is effectively impossible, however, as the law does not provide for time-limited, seasonal, hourly, or part-time contracts.
The law prohibits formation of unions and restricts the right to collective bargaining and striking of public-sector workers in “strategic sectors.” Such sectors include workers in the health, environmental sanitation, education, justice, firefighting, social security, electrical energy, drinking water and sewage, hydrocarbon production, fuel processing, transport and distribution, public transportation, and postal service and telecommunications sectors. Some of the sectors defined as strategic exceed the ILO standard for essential services. Workers in these sectors attempting to strike may face charges with penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment. The government effectively enforced the law on “strategic sectors.”
All unions in the public sector fall under the Confederation of Public Servants. Although most public-sector workers also maintained membership in labor-sector associations, the law does not allow such associations to bargain collectively or to strike. The law specifies that only the private sector may engage in collective bargaining.
Several unions, labor associations, and media outlets denounced the presence of military vehicles and alleged police harassment during strikes by employees of local explosives company Explocen since July 2020. The strike started after five employees allegedly were dismissed in June 2020 without due compensation. The military deployed vehicles to guard the entrance to Explocen’s facilities when the strike started, and officials stated the military presence was necessary because of the national state of emergency (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and highly dangerous nature of the materials stored and processed at the facility. Employees’ attorneys and unions denounced the protest’s “militarization.” On March 24, the strike and military presence ended when Explocen reached an agreement with workers. The Ombudsman’s Office and the Ministry of Labor supported the negotiations.
The government did not effectively enforce all applicable laws, but penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination. Employers did not always respect freedom of association and collective bargaining, and labor rights advocacy groups said that influential business interests tied to local officials sometimes used criminal proceedings to restrict workers’ right to unionize. Independent unions often had strong ties to political movements.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including all forms of labor exploitation; child labor; illegal adoption; servile marriage; and the sale of tissues, fluids, and genetic materials of living persons. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Limited resources, limited presence in parts of the country, and inadequate victim services hampered the effectiveness of police and prosecutors, trends that NGOs reported the COVID-19 pandemic had worsened. NGOs and media outlets continued to report that children were victims of human trafficking in forced criminality, particularly drug trafficking and robbery.
Reports of forced labor of children (see section 7.c.) and women persisted. Observers most frequently reported women as victims of domestic servitude. In 2020 police detained 22 suspected traffickers. Authorities prosecuted eight individuals in seven trafficking cases and convicted and sentenced eight traffickers. In 2020 the government identified 140 victims of human trafficking and aided 126.
Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorians, Venezuelan migrants, and Colombian refugees (see section 7.d.) were particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. Traffickers often recruited children from impoverished indigenous families under false promises of employment; these children were then forced to beg or to work as domestic servants, in sweatshops, or as street and commercial vendors within the country or in other South American countries. Ecuadorian men, women, and children were exploited in forced labor within the country’s borders, including in domestic servitude; forced begging; on banana, hemp, and palm plantations; street vending; mining; and other areas of the informal economy. According to the government, COVID-19 lockdown measures further pushed trafficking underground to occur on private properties, and in some cases even in mines or hidden locations near the country’s borders.
Men, women, and children were exploited in forced labor abroad, including in the United States and other South American countries, particularly Chile and Colombia. Traffickers used the country as a transit route for trafficking victims from Colombia, Venezuela, and the Caribbean to other South American countries and Europe.
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 the worst forms of child labor. It sets the minimum working age for minors at 15 for all types of labor and the maximum hours a minor may work at six hours per day, five days per week. The law requires employers of minors who have not completed elementary school to give them two additional hours off from work to complete studies. The law requires employers to pay minors the same wages received by adults for the same type of employment and prohibits minors younger than age 18 from working in “dangerous and unhealthy” conditions. A 2015 ministerial accord lists 27 economic activities that qualify as dangerous and unhealthy. Other illegal activities, including slavery, prostitution, pornography, and drug trafficking, are punishable. The law identifies work that is “likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of a child,” which includes work in mines, garbage dumps, slaughterhouses, livestock, fishing, textiles, logging, and domestic service, as well as in any work environment requiring exposure to toxic or dangerous substances, dust, dangerous machinery, or loud noises.
The law establishes penalties for violations of child labor laws, including fines and closure of the business. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. If an employer commits a second child labor violation, inspectors may close the business temporarily. The law authorizes labor inspectors to conduct inspections at factories, workshops, and any other location when they consider it appropriate or when an employer or worker requests an inspection.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Ministries of Labor and of Economic and Social Inclusion, Rights Protection Boards, and the Minors’ Tribunals are responsible for enforcing child labor laws.
A 2019 report by the governmental Intergenerational Equality Council indicated the provinces of Bolivar, Chimborazo, and Cotopaxi had the highest child labor rates for children between the ages of five and 14. Although the government conducted two surveys in 2017 that included some information on child labor, it had not conducted a nationwide child labor survey since 2012. Government, union, and civil society officials agreed that a lack of updated statistics hampered child labor eradication efforts.
Several labor organizations and NGOs reported that no reliable data concerning child labor in the formal employment sectors was available due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to these groups, even before the pandemic, the government-led austerity measures affected the Ministry of Labor’s child labor eradication program, and thus the number of government inspections decreased.
The government also did not effectively enforce child labor laws in the informal sector. Observers noted the COVID-19 pandemic most likely increased child labor in the informal sector, as NGO surveys and studies found an increase in children supporting family-run businesses who otherwise would attend school. The worsening national economic situation and nationwide school closures triggered by the pandemic further exacerbated this trend. The most common informal economic activity was cooking meals and selling them on the streets or delivering them to customers. According to CARE International, children in rural areas were most likely found working in family-owned farms or businesses, including banana and rose farms. Children were also subjected to gold mining and the production of bricks.
As COVID-19-induced nationwide school closures continued, some parents continued to take their children to agricultural fields while the parents worked. Labor organizations reported children were largely removed from the most heavy and dangerous work. For students who could not attend virtual classes due to internet connectivity problems, some communities organized community centers so these children could continue remote learning. Many children younger than 15 in urban areas worked informally to support themselves or to augment family income by peddling on the street, shining shoes, sorting garbage, or begging. According to the NGO Partners of the Americas, city governments took some children who worked on the street to attention centers where internet connections and computers provided an opportunity to resume online learning often unavailable in the home.
Local civil society organizations reported that children conducted domestic work, including paid household work. A July 2020 study by CARE International found that during the pandemic many female house cleaners took their children, mostly girls, to their place of employment to help with the mother’s household tasks, likely increasing child labor in domestic environments.
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 .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. The law prohibits employers from using discriminatory criteria in hiring, discriminating against unions, and retaliating against striking workers and their leaders. The government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations, but penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. An NGO reported that Ministry of Labor representatives were frequently unprepared for administrative cases regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity due to a lack of familiarity with LGBTQI+ issues.
Employment discrimination against women was prevalent, particularly with respect to economic opportunities for older women and for those in the lower economic strata. A study of average salary statistics reported in media on August 25 found that the average pay gap between men and women widened between February and July. While men’s reported average monthly salary increased from $301 to $350 (or 16 percent), women’s salary decreased from $259 to $248 (or 4 percent) in that span. Reasons the article cited for this reduction in average pay for women were reduced labor opportunities and workhour reductions, as women disproportionately worked in sectors (lodging, food service, and manufacturing) most adversely affected by the COVID-19-induced economic slowdown.
The National Institute for Statistics and Census (INEC) announced the unemployment rate in July was 7.1 percent for women and 3.8 percent for men, compared with 15.7 percent and 11.6 percent, respectively, in June 2020.
Afro-Ecuadorians continued to demand more opportunities in the workforce and complained that employers often profiled them based on their job application photographs and racial stereotypes. At the conclusion of a December 2019 official country visit, the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent expressed concern about reports of impunity and also human rights abuses and violations against farm workers, the majority of whom were Afro-descendants, at banana plantations owned by Japanese subsidiary company Furukawa Plantations C.A. The Working Group was also concerned by “the lack of access to justice for people of African descent” seeking reparations for injuries doing agricultural work and welcomed the Constitutional Court’s commitment to address the backlog of labor cases against agricultural employers. NGOs and labor leaders continued to note significant delays in processing these cases. Indigenous and LGBTQI+ individuals as well as persons with disabilities also experienced employment discrimination.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a minimum monthly wage, which was above the poverty income level.
The law limits the standard work period to 40 hours a week, eight hours a day, with two consecutive days of rest per week. Miners are limited to six hours a day and may only work one additional hour a day with premium pay. Premium pay is 1.5 times the basic salary for work done from 6 a.m. to midnight. Work done from midnight to 6 a.m. receives twice the basic salary, although workers whose standard shift is at night receive a premium of 25 percent instead. Premium pay also applies to work on weekends and holidays. Overtime is limited to no more than four hours a day and a total of 12 hours a week. Mandatory overtime is prohibited. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcement of wage and hour laws. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections. The ministry issues fines for wage and hour law violations. The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage and overtime laws, but penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.
Workers are entitled to a continuous 15-day annual vacation, including weekends, plus one extra day per year after five years of service. Different regulations regarding schedule and vacations apply to live-in domestic workers. The law mandates prison terms for employers who do not comply with the requirement of registering domestic workers with the Social Security Administration. INEC data showed the “adequate employment” rate – the proportion of the population working at least 40 hours per week and earning at or above the minimum salary of $400 per month – was at 33.5 percent through September, and the “underemployment rate” was at 22.7 percent.
A June 2020 law addressing COVID-19’s impact allows employers and employees to enter into force majeure agreements, although the dismissal of an employee is permitted only if the business ceased operations permanently. The law also permits employers to reduce working hours and salaries by up to 50 and 45 percent, respectively, by signing “emergency contracts” with their employees to prevent job losses. Citing government figures, media reported that as of April 20 companies had enrolled 81,309 workers under “emergency contracts,” with most of them being in the agriculture, livestock, manufacturing, and trade industries. Unions and labor organizations stated the law enabled precarious work conditions, reduced wages below the minimum wage, and allowed unfair dismissals without due compensation because of employers’ leverage over employees desperate to keep their jobs during the COVID-19 economic slowdown. Labor unions filed a lawsuit with the Constitutional Court in June challenging the provisions in the June 2020 law. A ruling by the Constitutional Court remained pending as of October 25.
Labor leaders and NGOs said there were no specific sectors with a concentration of alleged violations of wage, hour, or overtime laws. They reported the number of complaints against public and private companies in the service, tourism, agricultural, and manufacturing sectors, however, were rising because of perceived unfair dismissals mostly under “emergency contracts” as provided in the June 2020 law. They said that women and young workers were sometimes vulnerable to wage exploitation in the informal sector, and that domestic and service-sector workers sometimes had to accept less convenient conditions on hours worked, especially in the context of customer capacity and operating hour restrictions due to COVID-19. Efforts to combat forced labor were deficient. The government did not have labor inspectors solely dedicated to identifying forced labor, although they were trained to do so. The government’s 159 total reported labor inspectors through November 8 were below ILO standards for the country’s population and labor force size.
The June 2020 law facilitates and encourages teleworking options, including a worker’s right to “disconnect” from work duties for a minimum of 12 continuous hours in a 24-hour period. Ministry of Labor data through July 29 indicated more than 457,000 persons in the public and private sectors worked remotely.
Occupational Safety and Health: The law provides for the health and safety of workers and outlines occupational safety and health (OSH) standards, which are current and appropriate for the country’s main industries. These regulations and standards were not applied in the informal sector, which employed approximately 50 percent of the working population as of June. The number of inspectors was insufficient, and the government did not effectively enforce OSH laws.
Authorities may conduct labor inspections by appointment or after a worker complaint. If a worker requests an inspection and a Ministry of Labor inspector confirms a workplace hazard, the inspector then may close the workplace. Labor inspections generally occurred because of complaints, not as a preventive measure; inspectors could make unannounced visits. The COVID-19 pandemic impeded in situ inspections due to social distancing measures and budgetary constraints at the Ministry of Labor. In some cases violations were remedied, but other cases were subjected to legal challenges that delayed changes for months. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations and were often not enforced.
Some unions and labor associations alleged public- and private-sector employers sometimes failed to enforce biosecurity protocols and provide adequate protective equipment to prevent COVID-19 contagion.
The Ministry of Labor continued its enforcement reforms by increasing the number of workers protected by contracts, minimum wage standards, and registration for social security benefits.
Workers in the formal sector could generally remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. Labor representatives said that COVID-19 complicated these protections, however, as employees and their employers sometimes had a conflicting sense on the degree of risk involved in presenting themselves for work and the extent of protective measures at the workplace, while employees feared losing employment in an economic downturn.
On July 9, the Labor Ministry issued guidelines for the progressive return to work activities in the public and private sectors. The guidelines did not consider recent COVID-19 exposure or previous infection as justifiable cause for not returning to in-person work and included fines for noncompliance. On July 18, the National Federation of Public Servants expressed concern with the guidelines, arguing they prevented public-sector employees’ safe, progressive return to work. On July 22, the Pichincha Medical Association requested the city of Quito to postpone the official return to in-person work due to concerns regarding the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant in the capital, but the request was denied. COVID-19 infection rates declined in August due in large part to higher vaccination rates among the population.
Informal Sector: Most workers worked in the large informal sector and in rural areas. These workers received far fewer labor protections and were less likely to be able to remove themselves from dangerous health or safety situations without jeopardy to their employment. Informal sector workers were not covered by minimum wage laws or legally mandated benefits. OSH problems were more prevalent in the informal sector. The law singles out the health and safety of miners, but the government did not enforce safety rules in informal, often illegal, small-scale mines (frequently linked to local community leaders and organized crime), which made up the vast majority of enterprises in the mining sector. Migrants and refugees were particularly vulnerable to hazardous and exploitative working conditions. According to media and labor associations, local organizations reported complaints of Venezuelans receiving below the minimum wage, particularly in the informal sector.