Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, but it does not provide for collective bargaining and prohibits strikes. The law prohibits employers from discriminating against workers in connection with union activities, but it does not provide for reinstatement for dismissal related to union activity.
By law, unions must register with the government under the same process as other organizations (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association). While the law permits the formation of trade union federations for most professions, it forbids affiliation with international labor organizations unless the minister of home affairs and the ministry’s Department of Labor consent. The law requires officers of trade unions to be “bona fide” (without explanation), which has been interpreted to allow broad discretion to reject officers and require that such officers have been employed in the trade for a minimum of two years. Unions are subject to laws limiting freedom of assembly (see section 2.b.).
Penalties for violating laws on unions and other organizations include fines, imprisonment, or both. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Data on government enforcement efforts was not available.
There were no active unions or worker organizations in the country. NGOs were involved in labor issues, such as wages, contracts, and working conditions. These NGOs largely operated openly in cooperation with relevant government agencies, but they reported avoiding confrontation with the government and engaged in self-censorship.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, although the government did not always effectively enforce the law, and forced labor occurred. Convictions for forced labor could lead to penalties, including fines, imprisonment, and caning–but most cases alleging forced labor were settled out of court. Penalties were seldom applied and thus did not deter violations.
The government did not investigate any cases of debt bondage or forced labor compelled by threats of deportation, although these practices continued to occur. The heads of Specialist Trafficking Units within the police department continued to meet regularly to coordinate antitrafficking policy and implement the national action plan to combat trafficking, including for forced labor.
Some of the approximately 100,000 foreign migrant workers in the country faced involuntary servitude, debt bondage, nonpayment of wages, passport confiscation, abusive employers, or confinement to the home. Although it is illegal for employers to withhold wages, some employers, notably of domestic and construction workers, did so to recoup labor broker or recruitment fees or to compel continued service.
For example, media reported that a group of 25 Bangladeshi workers complained to the Bangladesh High Commission’s local labor office that they had not been paid for over two months. There were approximately 20,000 Bangladeshi nationals working in the country, generally as laborers in the construction industry. Migrant workers engaged in construction or domestic work were particularly vulnerable to forced labor.
Foreign workers could take legal action against employers for nonpayment of wages. Such cases, usually settled outside of court, were often but not always successful.
Although the government forbade wage deductions by employers to repay in-country agencies or sponsors and mandated that employees receive their full salaries, many migrant workers arrived in debt bondage to actors outside the country. Although prohibited by law, retention of migrant workers’ travel documents by employers or agencies remained a common practice.
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
Various laws prohibit the employment of children younger than 16. Parental consent and approval by the Labor Commission are required in order for those younger than 18 to work. Female workers younger than 18 may not work at night or on offshore oil platforms. The Department of Labor, which is part of the Ministry of Home Affairs, effectively enforced child labor laws. Penalties for child labor violations include a fine, imprisonment, or both, and were sufficient to deter violations. There was no list of hazardous occupations prohibited for children.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. There is no law requiring equal pay for equal work. The law limits employment in certain government positions and the military based on ethnic origin (see section 6).
The law designates some professions as women’s professions, and men noted discrimination during hiring. Reflecting government policy, most public and many private employers showed hiring biases against foreign workers, particularly in key sectors such as oil and gas. Some LGBTI job applicants faced discrimination and were often asked directly about their sexual identity. Many foreign workers had their wages established based on national origin, with those from certain foreign countries experiencing lower wages than others.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The law does not set a minimum wage for the private sector. Wages were set by contract between the employee and employer, and were sometimes calculated based on national origin. Published reports calculated the average monthly compensation in the private sector to be BND 1,830 ($1,330) per worker.
The standard work week for most government agencies and many private companies is Monday through Thursday and Saturday. The law provides for overtime in excess of 48 hours per week. The law also stipulates an employee may not work more than 72 hours of overtime per month. Government regulations establish and identify occupational health and safety standards. Individuals were encouraged to report violations of health and safety standards, but the law does not explicitly protect the right to remove oneself from a hazardous workplace.
The Department of Labor inspected working conditions both on a routine basis and in response to complaints. The number of labor inspectors in the department was adequate to conduct mandated inspections and sufficient to enforce compliance. The government usually moved quickly to investigate allegations of labor law violations, and employers faced criminal and civil penalties, although the focus was primarily on undocumented foreign workers rather than worker protection. The department has the power to terminate the licenses of abusive employers and revoke their foreign labor quotas, and it did so occasionally.
Employers who violate laws regarding conditions of service, including pay, working hours, leave, and holidays, may be fined for a first offense and, for further offenses, fined, imprisoned, or both. Observers did not indicate whether the penalties for violations of wage, hour, and health and safety standards were sufficient to deter violations.
The commissioner of the Department of Labor is responsible for protecting workers’ rights. Foreign laborers (predominantly Filipinos, Malaysians, Indonesians, and Bangladeshis) dominated most low-wage professions, such as domestic, construction, maintenance, retail, and food service, in which violations of wage, overtime, and health and safety regulations most frequently occurred.
The government prosecuted employers who employed undocumented foreign workers or did not properly process workers’ documents. When grievances cannot be resolved, regulations require employers to pay for the repatriation of foreign workers and all outstanding wages.
Government enforcement in sectors employing low-skilled labor in small-scale construction or maintenance projects was inadequate. This was especially true for foreign laborers at construction sites, where complaints of wage arrears, inadequate safety, and poor, unsafe living conditions were reported. The government did not sufficiently enforce laws on working hours. The Department of Labor reported as of October they had mediated 16 cases of unpaid wages to a successful conclusion.
Many employed citizens received good salaries with numerous allowances, but complaints about low wages were common, especially in entry-level positions. The government found that local employees in the private sector had an average monthly compensation of BND 2,257 ($1,640), compared with BND 1,565 ($1,140) for foreign workers. Wages for employed foreign residents were wide ranging. Some foreign embassies negotiated agreements with the government covering minimum wage requirements for their nationals working in the country.
There were some reports of industrial accidents during the year, most commonly in the construction sector, the labor force of which is overwhelmingly foreign. According to local media reports, for example, three foreign workers died August 26 in an accident at the Temburong Bridge construction site, near Bandar. The Ministry of Development issued a press release August 27 stating the cause of the accident was under investigation and all construction work at the site had been temporarily halted. In addition, a Chinese national died on July 16 following an unspecified accident on Pulau Muara Besar–the island location of the petrochemical facility under construction.