Jamaica is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. In national elections in 2016, the Jamaica Labour Party led by Prime Minister Andrew Michael Holness won 32 of the 63 seats in the House of Representatives. The party gained an additional seat in an October 2017 by-election to increase its majority in parliament to 33-30. International and local election observers deemed the elections transparent, free, and fair but noted isolated incidents of violence leading up to and on election day. Observers deemed the by-election transparent, free, fair, and peaceful.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Human rights issues included reports of arbitrary and unlawful killings by government security forces; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention facilities; arbitrary detention; and corruption by officials. The law criminalizes consensual same-sex activity between men, but the government did not enforce the law during the year.
The government took some steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses. Nonetheless, there was a general sense that full and swift accountability for some officials alleged to have committed human rights abuses remained elusive.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the rights of workers to form or join independent unions and to bargain collectively. The law does not provide for the right to strike, although the constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Additionally, the law allows all workers to take part, at any appropriate time, in the activities of a trade union of which they are members. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT) to reinstate a worker if a dismissal is found to be unjustified. The law makes it a criminal offense to prevent or deter a worker from exercising the right to participate in trade union activities or to dismiss, penalize, or otherwise discriminate against a worker for exercising these rights.
There are aspects of the law that inhibit the ability to organize. The government defines 10 categories of services as “essential.” These include water, electricity, health, hospital, sanitation, transportation, firefighting, corrections, overseas telecommunication, and telephone services. Before workers in these categories can legally strike, they must take disputes to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security and allow the ministry to attempt to settle the dispute amicably. The International Labor Organization also raised concerns that this definition of essential services was too broad. Additionally, the government prohibited unionizing in export processing zones, which are industrial areas with special tax and trade incentives to attract foreign investment. This law heavily affected the bauxite industry, which employed thousands of workers.
The law mandates that in the case of any doubt or dispute as to whether workers may exercise bargaining rights, the labor minister must conduct a secret ballot requiring that a majority of workers vote. For unions that represent less than 30 percent of workers eligible to vote, the minister grants joint bargaining rights to two or more unions. The minister of labor may apply through the Supreme Court to curtail an industrial action such as a strike or lockout when the minister deems that industrial action to be harmful to national security or the national economy, or may have the potential to endanger the lives of a substantial number of persons. In such cases the minister refers industrial disputes to compulsory arbitration. The IDT hears cases when management and labor fail to reach agreement, including those involving nonunionized workers.
Although the government generally attempted to enforce the law, firms and other large employers were able to appeal and delay resolution of their cases for years. While cases are, by law, to be resolved within 21 days, the tribunal decided most cases in four to five months. Some took longer to resolve due to the complexity of the dispute or delays requested by involved parties. The IDT decisions are formal and binding unless challenged specifically on a point of law. Parties may apply for judicial review by the Supreme Court. Penalties were marginally sufficient to deter violations, but large firms such as those in the bauxite and construction industry used government influence to shape the court’s decisions.
The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Worker organizations operated without interference, although the government maintained the right to monitor their activities. While employers generally respected the law prohibiting antiunion discrimination, some labor unions reported that private-sector workers were fearful of management retaliation against unionization. It was not uncommon for private-sector employers to dismiss union workers and rehire them as contractors.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. A national task force on trafficking in persons consisting of government entities continued its governmental and public outreach to sensitize citizens to forced labor and trafficking violations. The law also prohibits the trafficking of children and penalizes perpetrators with a fine or imprisonment.
The country is a source and destination for adults and children subjected to forced labor. Foreign citizens were compelled into forced labor aboard foreign-flagged fishing vessels operating in the country’s waters. More commonly, foreign women were exploited for commercial sex in nightclubs or trafficked into domestic servitude. The penalty for forced labor is imprisonment, a fine, or both, and it was sufficiently stringent to deter violations. While the government investigated some suspected cases of forced labor, it often did not effectively enforce applicable laws.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and provides a minimum age of employment in all sectors. There are limitations on working hours. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties only marginally deterred violations.
The minimum age for general employment is 15, with strict prohibitions on employing children under age 13 in any type of work. The law permits children between ages 13 and 15 to engage in “light work.” While the labor ministry does not have an official definition for this status, it maintained a list of prescribed occupations applicable for those ages 13 to 15.
The government estimated that more than 24,400 children ages five to 14 years old were engaged in child labor. Government agencies did not inspect the informal sector, so the number was likely to be underreported. Children continued to work in farming, fishing, and in public markets. Children were employed as domestic servants in homes or for street work, such as peddling goods, services, begging, and garbage salvaging. In the worst forms of child labor, commercial sexual exploitation remained prevalent. Children were also victims of forced labor in domestic work. Violent gangs used children to courier drugs and weapons, as lookouts, and as armed gunmen.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
Laws and regulations do not prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. There were limited reports of cases filed for discrimination in employment or occupation during the year, but these instances were likely to be underreported. Women’s salaries lagged behind men’s, and persons with disabilities often lacked access to the workplace. Those who were subject to workplace discrimination had little confidence that legal recourse was available to them.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum wage was 7,000 JMD ($53) per week. According to the World Bank, this wage was above the estimate for the poverty income level. Most workers received more than the legal minimum wage, and some minimum-wage earners held two or more jobs.
The law provides for a standard 40-hour workweek and mandates at least one day of rest per week. Employers must compensate work in excess of 40 hours per week at overtime rates, a provision employers generally respected. The law also provides for paid annual holidays. The government did not universally apply the law that restricts workdays to 12 hours or less.
The Industrial Safety Division enforced industrial health and safety standards. It conducted inspections, investigated accidents, warned violators, and gave them a period in which to correct violations. If a violation was not corrected within the given time, the violator was taken to court. The law stipulates penalties and fines, and the minister of labor and social security has the authority to increase any monetary penalty. The government sets occupational safety and health standards, which were appropriate for the main industries in the country.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Insufficient staffing in the Ministries of Labor and Social Security, Finance and Public Service, and National Security contributed to difficulties in enforcing workplace regulations. Legal fines or imprisonment were marginally sufficient to deter violations, and the labor ministry gained compliance in the vast majority of cases by threatening legal action. The ability of defendants to appeal a case repeatedly in the court system mitigated the effectiveness of penalties. The law has no provisions that explicitly give workers the ability to remove themselves from hazardous conditions without jeopardy to employment.
Unofficial sources estimated that up to 40 percent of citizens worked in the informal sector, where the labor law applied. Most violations pertaining to acceptable conditions of work occurred in the informal sector.