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El Salvador

Section 7. Worker Rights

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage; the minimum wage is determined by sector. In January a major minimum wage increase went into effect that included increases of nearly 40 percent for apparel assembly workers and more than 100 percent for workers in coffee and sugar harvesting. After the increase, the minimum daily wage was $10 for retail, service, and industrial employees; $9.84 for apparel assembly workers; and $3.94 for agricultural workers. The government reported that the poverty income level was $179.67 per month in urban areas and $126.97 per month in rural areas.

The law sets a maximum normal workweek of 44 hours, limited to no more than six days and to no more than eight hours per day, but allows overtime, which is to be paid at a rate of double the usual hourly wage. The law mandates that full-time employees receive pay for an eight-hour day of rest in addition to the 44-hour normal workweek. The law provides that employers must pay double-time for work on designated annual holidays, a Christmas bonus based on the time of service of the employee, and 15 days of paid annual leave. The law prohibits compulsory overtime. The law states that domestic employees, such as maids and gardeners, are obligated to work on holidays if their employer makes this request, but they are entitled to double pay in these instances. The government did not adequately enforce these laws.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for setting workplace safety standards, and the law establishes a tripartite committee to review the standards. The law requires employers to take steps to meet health and safety requirements in the workplace, including providing proper equipment and training and a violence-free environment. Employers who violate most labor laws could receive a default fine of no more than $57 for each violation. For serious infractions, employers could be fined up to an amount equivalent to 28 minimum monthly wage salaries. While the laws were appropriate for the main industries, a lack of compliance inspectors led to poor enforcement. These penalties were also insufficient to deter violations, and some companies reportedly found it more cost effective to pay the fines than to comply with the law. The law promotes occupational safety awareness, training, and worker participation in occupational health and safety matters.

As of August 30, the Attorney General’s Office reported 818 complaints against employers for not paying pension quotas to the pension administration companies and that it filed judicial charges against 124 employers. The courts dismissed charges in 63 cases and suggested alternative solutions in 55 cases.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing the law. The government proved more effective in enforcing the minimum wage law in the formal sector than in the informal sector. Unions reported that the ministry failed to enforce the law for subcontracted workers hired for public reconstruction contracts. The government provided its inspectors updated training in both occupational safety and labor standards. As of September, the ministry conducted 20,134 inspections, of which 22 percent were inspections to follow-up with prior investigations. As of August, the ministry’s inspectors had levied $1.34 million dollars in fines against businesses for violations of the labor law, although this did not account for fines for withholding fees, child labor, and forced labor. Most fines were levied against businesses in the services and commercial sectors.

Allegations of corruption among labor inspectors continued. The ministry received complaints regarding failure to pay overtime, minimum wage violations, unpaid salaries, and cases of employers illegally withholding benefits (including social security and pension funds) from workers.

Reports of overtime and wage violations existed in several sectors. According to the ministry, employers in the agriculture sector did not generally grant annual bonuses, vacation days, or days of rest. Women in domestic service and the industrial manufacturing for export industry, particularly in the export processing zones, faced exploitation, mistreatment, verbal abuse, threats, sexual harassment, and generally poor work conditions. Workers in the construction industry and domestic service reportedly fell subject to violations of wage, hour, and safety laws. According to the Organization for Salvadoran Women for Peace (ORMUSA), apparel companies violated women’s rights through occupational health violations and unpaid overtime. There were reports of occupational safety and health violations in other sectors, including reports that a very large percentage of buildings were out of compliance with safety standards set by the General Law on Risk Protection. The government proved ineffective in pursuing such violations.

In June the labor union SITRAFOS complained that the Solidary Fund for Health (FOSALUD) was sending health workers to violent areas, despite warnings about such places. According to SITRAFOS representatives, the lives of health workers were at risk in several areas where they were threatened by gang members. The union noted staff was being sent to dangerous places without police protection.

In some cases the country’s high crime rate negatively affected acceptable conditions of work as well as workers’ psychological and physical health. Some workers, such as bus drivers, bill collectors, messengers, and teachers in high-risk areas, reported being subject to extortion and death threats.

As of June, the Ministry of Labor reported 3,938 workplace accidents. The sectors registering the highest levels of incidents included: 2,032 accidents in the services sector, 1,320 in the industrial sector, 241 in the government sector, and 37 in the agricultural sector. The ministry did not report any deaths from workplace-related accidents.

Workers can legally remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities lacked the ability to protect employees in this situation effectively.

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