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 of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. It provides for the right to strike but requires an eight-day notification period and a declaration of the reason for the strike and its duration. Civil servants must provide 15 days’ notice. The law includes a mandatory conciliation process for resolving labor disputes with recourse to the courts. Unions have the right to bargain collectively.
The law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination by employers in hiring practices or other employment functions. Worker organizations are independent of the government and political parties. There are no laws protecting strikers from retribution. The law does not cover workers in the informal sector. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Penalties for violations, including ordering employers to pay indemnities and damages to the employee, were sufficient to deter violations but were seldom applied. Labor disputes may be brought to the attention of the Labor Tribunal.
Workers exercised their labor rights, and strikes occurred in the public sector (education, workers at the port of Anjouan, health, and road transport). There were no reports of retribution against strikers. Common problems included failure to pay salaries regularly or on time, mostly in the government sector, and unfair and abusive dismissal practices, such as dismissing employees without giving proper notice or paying the required severance pay. There were reported incidents of antiunion discrimination during the year.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, with certain exceptions for military service, community service, and during accidents, fires, and disasters. During times of national emergency, the government’s civil protection unit may compel persons to assist in disaster recovery efforts if it is unable to obtain sufficient voluntary assistance. The labor code prohibits forced child labor, with specific antitrafficking provisions.
The government did not consistently enforce the law. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Financial penalties, however, for those who violated the law served as an effective deterrent. Penalties for conviction include from one to six months in prison, a fine of from 50,000 to 200,000 Comorian francs ($119 to $478) for those who abuse their authority to compel someone to work for them or for someone else, or both imprisonment and a fine. Penalties for conviction of trafficking a minor are 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 30 million Comorian francs ($71,600). The government did not make tangible efforts to prosecute traffickers and protect victims.
There were no reported cases of adult forced labor.
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 establishes 15 as the minimum age for employment, with a minimum age for hazardous work of 18.
Labor inspectors were responsible for monitoring all potential violations of labor law and did not focus only on child labor cases. Regulations permit light apprentice work by children younger than age 15 if it does not hinder the child’s schooling or physical or moral development. The labor code, however, does not specify the conditions under which light work may be conducted or limit the number of hours for light work, as defined by international child labor standards. In accordance with the labor code, labor inspectors may require the medical examination of a child by an accredited physician to determine if the work assigned to a child is beyond his or her physical capacity. Children may not be kept in employment deemed beyond their capacity. If suitable work cannot be assigned, the contract must be nullified and all indemnities paid to the employee. The labor code also identifies hazardous work where child labor is prohibited, including the worst forms of child labor. Child labor infractions are punishable by fines and imprisonment. The government did not enforce the law. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but it did not do so actively or effectively. Penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations. In addition child labor laws and regulations do not provide children working in unpaid or noncontractual work the same protections as children working in contractual employment. Children worked in subsistence farming, fishing, and extracting and selling marine sand. Children worked in growing subsistence food crops such as manioc and beans and in the cultivation of cash crops such as vanilla, cloves, and ylang-ylang (a flower used to make perfume). Some children worked under forced labor conditions, primarily in domestic service and family-based agriculture and fishing. Additionally, some Quranic schools arranged for indigent students to receive lessons in exchange for labor that sometimes was forced. Some families placed their children in the homes of wealthier families where they worked in exchange for food, shelter, or educational opportunities.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The preamble to the constitution provides for equality regardless of sex, origin, religion, or race. Article 2 of the labor law forbids employers from discriminating on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national ancestry or social origin, or actual or presumed state of health (such as HIV/AIDS). The law does not address sexual orientation. In rural areas women tended to be relegated to certain types of work, and the UN Development Program reported women were underrepresented in leadership roles. There were no official reports of discrimination, however.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
A committee called the Labor Collective–consisting of representatives of unions, employers, and the Ministry of Labor–met periodically regarding an enforceable national minimum wage, as the existing minimum wage of 55,000 Comorian francs ($131) per month is only a guideline. The law provides for a 40-hour workweek, except in the agriculture sector, where the maximum hours of work is set at 2,400 per year (equivalent to 46 hours per week). The minimum weekly rest period is set at 24 consecutive hours. The law provides for paid annual leave accumulated at the rate of 2.5 days per month of service. There are no provisions to prohibit compulsory overtime; overtime is determined through collective bargaining. Negotiations with the banking and pharmacy sectors, however, did not yield a collective bargaining agreement. There are no sectors or groups of workers excluded from these laws within the formal sector, but the law does not apply to the informal sector, estimated to include 73 percent of workers. The official estimate for the poverty income level (as of 2014) is 25,341 Comorian francs ($60) per month, less than prevailing minimum wages.
The government, especially the Ministries of Finance and Labor, sets wages in the large public sector and imposes a minimum wage in the small, formal private sector. Although the unions, national government, and local governments did not enforce the minimum wage law and workweek standards, unions had adequate influence to negotiate minimum wage rates for different skill levels for unionized jobs. These provisions applied to all workers, regardless of sector or country of origin. Unions promoted this de facto minimum wage via their ability to strike against employers.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. There were four labor inspectors (two on Grande Comore and one each on Anjouan and Moheli), but they did not have enough resources to perform their duties. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance.
The labor code includes a chapter on occupational safety and health requirements, but these were seldom enforced. Fishing was considered the most hazardous work. Mostly self-employed, fishermen worked from often unsafe canoes. There was no credible datum on the number of occupational accidents. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this regard.