Trinidad and Tobago
The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is a parliamentary democracy governed by a prime minister and a bicameral legislature. The island of Tobago’s House of Assembly has some administrative autonomy over local matters. In the 2015 elections, which observers considered generally free and fair, the opposition People’s National Movement, led by Keith Rowley, defeated the ruling People’s Partnership, led by Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
The Ministry of National Security oversees three major divisions: police, immigration, and defense. Police maintain internal security. The defense force, which includes the coast guard, is responsible for external security but also has certain domestic security responsibilities. The coast guard is the main authority responsible for maritime border security in places where there are no official ports of entry. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included: serious acts of corruption and laws criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although those laws were not enforced and their constitutionality was being litigated.
The government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, but impunity persisted.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Freedom of Expression: The Sedition Act defines seditious intent as an intention to bring contempt and hatred to the government; to raise disaffection among inhabitants of Trinidad and Tobago; to engender or promote feelings of hostility against any class of citizens of Trinidad and Tobago distinguished by race, color, religion, or profession; or to promote violence against a particular group.
The government charged Watson Duke, president of the Public Services Association, a labor union, with sedition in August. The charges stemmed from Duke’s statement at a press conference that his union members were willing to die if the government came to take their jobs. Some commentators expressed concern that Duke was targeted for his frequent criticism of the government, and they criticized the Sedition Act as an outdated colonial law. After the incident the government expressed willingness to update the law, but it did not drop the charges against Duke. Duke was free on bail awaiting trial.
Violence and Harassment: The government charged a police constable and the chief executive officer of A&V Oil Gas Limited with assaulting Trinidad Guardian photographer Kristian De Silva. The case was dismissed in September but later refiled by the director of public prosecutions. As of November the matter was pending.
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.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
f. Protection of Refugees
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government agreed to let the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) conduct refugee status determinations. Thousands of UNHCR’s determinations affirmed refugee status. A positive determination by UNHCR, however, did not confer recognition by the government of an individual as a refugee or otherwise affect the person’s legal status in the country.
Durable Solutions: The government collaborated with UNHCR to facilitate transit of a few refugees to countries that had offered them resettlement.
Temporary Protection: In response to a large influx of Venezuelans, the government conducted a one-off registration exercise in June and agreed to allow registrants to reside, work, and access emergency health services in the country for one year from their date of registration. Approximately 16,500 Venezuelans registered with the government. Registration was unavailable to those who arrived after or who failed to register during the June exercise. Refugee children could not access public education, however, even if they were registered.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were reports of government corruption during the year.
Corruption: Corruption remained a problem at many levels of government. Senior police officials acknowledged that officers participated in corrupt and illegal activities, often accepting bribes to facilitate drug, weapons, and human smuggling, as well as human trafficking.
Opaque public procurement processes continued to be of concern. There were continued allegations that some politicians and ministers had close relationships with gang leaders and facilitated procurement and contracting of road, bridge, and construction projects to companies owned and operated by criminal enterprises.
During the year high-profile corruption cases were initiated against current and former officials from each of the two main political parties. On May 2, police arrested former attorney general Anand Ramlogan and Senator Gerald Ramdeen. Prosecutors charged both with conspiring to engage in money laundering, corruption, and misbehavior in public office. On August 12, prosecutors charged Minister of Public Administration and Member of Parliament Marlene McDonald with seven criminal charges: three charges of misbehavior in public office, three charges of conspiracy to defraud the state, and one charge of money laundering.
Financial Disclosure: The law mandates that senior public officials disclose their assets, income, and liabilities to the Integrity Commission, which monitors, verifies, and publishes disclosures. The commission publishes a list annually of officials who failed to file by the deadline. The law provides criminal penalties for failure to comply, but there were no prosecutions.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding 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 often were cooperative and responsive to their views.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman investigates citizens’ complaints concerning the administrative decisions of government agencies. Where there is evidence of a breach of duty, misconduct, or criminal offense, the ombudsman may refer the matter to the appropriate authority. The ombudsman has a quasi-autonomous status within the government and publishes a comprehensive annual report. Both the public and the government had confidence in the integrity and reliability of the Office of the Ombudsman and the ombudsman’s annual report.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of most workers, including those in state-owned enterprises, to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, but with some limitations. A union must have the support of an absolute majority of workers to obtain bargaining rights. Employees providing essential services do not have the right to strike; these employees negotiate with the government’s chief personnel officer to resolve labor disputes. The law stipulates that only strikes over unresolved labor disputes may take place, and that authorities may prohibit strikes at the request of one party unless the strike is called by a union representing a majority of the workers. The minister of labor may petition the court to curtail any strike he deems harmful to national interests.
The law prohibits employers from discriminating against workers due to union membership and mandates reinstatement of workers illegally dismissed for union activities.
The law’s definition of a worker excludes domestic workers (house cleaners, chauffeurs, and gardeners), but domestic workers had an established trade union that advocated for their rights.
The government effectively enforced applicable laws, although there was little information on specific penalties or on whether the penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
A union must have the support of an absolute majority of workers to obtain bargaining rights. This requirement limits the right of collective bargaining. Furthermore, collective agreement negotiations are subject to mandatory mediation and must cover a minimum of three years, making it almost impossible for such agreements to include workers on short-term contracts. According to the National Trade Union Center, the requirement that all negotiations go through the Public Sector Negotiation Committee, rather than through the individual government agency or government-owned industry, provided a further restriction that added significant delays. Some unions claimed the government undermined the collective bargaining process by pressuring the committee to offer raises of no more than 5 percent over three years.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government enforced the law effectively, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
In June police officers from Trinidad’s Countertrafficking Unit rescued two Chinese nationals forced to work at a Chaguanas factory against their will. A businessman brought the couple to the country and told them they would be employed as chefs at a popular Chinese restaurant. After the couple arrived, their passports were taken away and they were forced to work in the factory.
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 sets the minimum age for employment at 16. Children ages 14 to 16 may work in activities in which only family members are employed or that the minister of education has approved as vocational or technical training. The law prohibits children younger than age 18 from working between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. except in a family enterprise. There is no separate minimum age for working in hazardous activities.
The government was generally effective in enforcing child labor laws, and the penalties were sufficient to deter violations, but there were anecdotal reports of children working in agriculture, as domestic workers, or involved in commercial sexual exploitation as a result of human trafficking.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of political opinion, sexual orientation, gender identity, language, age, disability, and HIV status or other communicable disease. The government generally enforced the law effectively, but discrimination in employment occurred with respect to disability, and women’s pay lagged behind men’s, especially in the private sector.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The national minimum wage was greater than the official poverty income level.
Workers in the informal economy reported wages above the national minimum wage but reported other areas of labor laws, including limits on the number of hours worked, were not enforced.
The Ministry of Labor and Small Enterprise Development is responsible for enforcing labor laws related to minimum wage and acceptable conditions of work. The Occupational Safety and Health Agency enforced occupational safety and health and regulations. Resources, inspections, and penalties appeared adequate to deter violations. The law provides a range of fines and terms of imprisonment for violations of the law, but despite these penalties, a number of violations occurred.
Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards are appropriate for the main industries in the country. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remained with OSH experts and not the worker. The law gives workers the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities generally protected this right. According to government statistics, there were 81 critical accidents and 10 fatalities in the workplace between 2017 and 2018.
The law establishes a 40-hour workweek, a daily period for lunch or rest, and premium pay for overtime. The law does not prohibit excessive or compulsory overtime. The law provides for paid leave, with the amount of leave varying according to length of service. Workers in the informal economy reported wages above the national minimum wage but reported other areas of labor laws, including the number of hours worked, were not enforced.
Domestic workers, most of whom worked as maids and nannies, are covered by labor laws.