Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
Revised labor standards came into effect in April 2017. The legislation was designed to modernize labor relations, strengthen unions, and facilitate labor agreements. The law provides for the rights of workers, with some limitations, to form and join independent unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. The law also prohibits antiunion practices and requires either back pay or reinstatement for workers fired for union activity.
Police, military personnel, and civil servants working for the judiciary are prohibited from joining unions. Union leaders are restricted from being candidates or members of congress. The Directorate of Labor has broad powers to monitor unions’ financial accounts and financial transactions. The law prohibits public employees from striking, although they nevertheless frequently did. While employees in the private sector have the right to strike, the law places some restrictions on this right. For example, an absolute majority of workers must approve strikes. The law also prohibits employees of 101 private-sector companies, largely providers of services such as water and electricity, from striking, and it stipulates compulsory arbitration to resolve disputes in these companies. In addition workers employed by companies or corporations whose stoppage would cause serious damage to the health, economy, or security of the country do not have the right to strike. In a change from the previous labor code, employers may not dismiss or replace employees involved in a strike. Unions must provide emergency personnel to fulfill the company’s “minimum services.” Those include the protection of tangible assets and of the company’s facilities, accident prevention, service of the population’s basic needs, ensuring the supply of essential public services, and ensuring the prevention of environmental and sanitary damages.
The labor reform extended unions’ rights to information, requiring large companies to disclose annual reports including balance sheets, statements of earnings, and audited financial statements. Large companies must provide any public information required by the Superintendence of Securities and Insurances within 30 days following the date when the information becomes available. Smaller companies must provide information necessary for the purposes of preparing the collective bargaining process.
While the law prior to the labor reform provided for collective bargaining rights only at the company level, the reform extends such rights to intercompany unions, provided they represent workers at employers having 50 or more employees and falling within the same economic rubric or activity. Intercompany unions for workers at micro or small businesses (i.e., with fewer than 50 workers) are permitted to bargain collectively only when the individual employers all agree to negotiate under such terms. The law does not provide for collective bargaining rights for workers in public institutions or in a private institution that receives more than 50 percent of its funding from the state in either of the preceding two years or whose budget is dependent upon the Defense Ministry. It also does not provide for collective bargaining in companies whose employees are prohibited from striking, such as in health care, law enforcement, and public utilities. Whereas the previous labor code excluded collective bargaining rights for temporary workers or those employed solely for specific tasks, such as in agriculture, construction, ports, or the arts and entertainment sector, the recently revised labor standards eliminate these exclusions, extending bargaining rights to apprentices and short-term employees. Executives, such as managers and assistant managers, are prohibited from collective bargaining.
The government generally enforced labor laws effectively. Nevertheless, the Labor Directorate under the Ministry of Labor commented on the need for more inspectors and noted financial penalties did not always deter companies from repeating offenses. Companies are generally subject to sanctions for violations to the labor code, according to the severity of each case. Companies may receive “special sanctions” for infractions, which include antiunion practices. NGOs reported cases in labor tribunals took on average three months to resolve. Cases involving fundamental rights of the worker often took closer to six months. NGOs continued to report it was difficult for courts to sanction companies and order remedies in favor of workers for various reasons, including if a company’s assets were in a different name or the juridical entity could not be located.
Freedom of association was generally respected. Employers sometimes did not respect the right to collective bargaining. Despite being prohibited by law, public-sector strikes occurred throughout the year. According to Freedom House, IndustriALL Global Union, and the International Trade Union Confederation, antiunion practices, including a threat of violence, continued to occur. NGOs and unions reported companies sought to inhibit the formation of unions and avoid triggering collective bargaining rights, especially among seasonal agricultural workers, by using subcontracts and temporary contracts as well as obtaining several fiscal registration or tax identification numbers when increasing the size of the workforce.
The revised labor code provides that the labor court can require workers to resume work upon a determination that a strike, by its nature, timing, or duration, causes serious risk to health, national security, and the supply of goods or services to the population, or to the national economy. Generally, a back-to-work order should apply only where a prolonged strike in a vital sector of the economy might cause a situation endangering the public’s safety or health, and where applied to a specific category of workers.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. In general the government effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties of five to 15 years’ imprisonment for violations were sufficiently stringent to deter violations. NGOs reported many government officials responsible for identifying and assisting victims had limited resources and expertise to identify victims of labor trafficking. In addition, judges often suspended or commuted sentences. The government worked to prevent and combat forced labor through its antitrafficking interagency taskforce of government agencies, which included international organizations and local NGOs. The task force developed and adopted a 2015-18 national action plan.
Labor trafficking continued to occur. Some foreign citizens were subjected to forced labor in the mining, agriculture, domestic service, and hospitality sectors. Some children were forcibly employed in the drug trade (see section 7.c.).
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 country conforms to international standards, which dictate the minimum age for employment or work should be no less than 15 years. The law sets the minimum age for employment at 18, although it provides that children between 15 and 18 may work with the express permission of their parents or guardians as long as they attend school. They may perform only light work that does not require hard physical labor or constitute a threat to health or the child’s development.
Ministry of Labor inspectors effectively enforced regulations in the formal economy but did not inspect or enforce such regulations in the informal economy. Infractions included contracting a minor under 18 without the authorization of the minor’s legal representative, failure to register a minor’s contract with the ministry, and contracting a minor under age 15 for activities not permitted by law. Penalties and inspections were not generally seen as sufficient to deter grave violations that mostly occurred clandestinely or in the informal economy.
The government devoted considerable resources and oversight to child labor policies. With accredited NGOs, SENAME operated programs to protect children in vulnerable situations. SENAME, in coordination with labor inspectors, identified and assisted children in abusive or dangerous situations. SENAME continued to work with international institutions, such as the International Labor Organization, and with other ministries to conduct training on identifying and preventing the worst forms of child labor. SENAME also implemented public education programs to raise awareness and worked with the International Labor Organization to operate rehabilitation programs for children withdrawn from child labor.
Multisector government agencies continued to participate in the National Advisory Committee to Eradicate Child Labor. The committee met regularly throughout the year and brought together civil society organizations and government agencies in a coordinated effort to raise awareness, provide services to victims, and protect victims’ rights. The Worst Forms of Child Labor Task Force, a separate entity, maintained a registry of cases and developed a multisector protocol for the identification, registration, and care of children and adolescents who are victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The government also created a technical secretariat to design and implement the Third Action Plan against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents for the 2017-19 period. The government also published a guide to coordinate interagency efforts to address trafficking in persons. In 2015 SENAME worked with the National Tourism Service (SERNATUR) to include strict norms in hotel certification procedures for preventing the commercial sexual exploitation of children. This included special training for SERNATUR staff charged with assessing and certifying hotels.
Child labor continued to be a problem in the informal economy and agriculture, primarily in rural areas. Higher numbers of violations occurred in the construction, industrial manufacturing, hotels and restaurants, and agriculture sectors.
In urban areas it was common to find boys carrying loads in agricultural loading docks and assisting in construction activities, while girls sold goods on the streets and worked as domestic servants. Children worked in the production of ceramics and books and in the repair of shoes and garments. In rural areas children were involved in caring for farm animals as well as harvesting, collecting, and selling crops, such as wheat. The use of children in illicit activities, which included the production and trafficking of narcotics, continued to be a problem. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also continued to be a problem (see section 6, Children).
The law and regulations prohibit employment discrimination based on race, sex, age, civil status, union affiliation, religion, political opinion, nationality, national extraction, social origin, disability, language, sexual orientation, or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, refugee or stateless status, ethnicity or social status. The government and employers do not discriminate on the basis of refugee, stateless status or ethnicity, but workers must have a work permit or be citizens to hold contracted jobs. The law also provides civil legal remedies to victims of employment discrimination based on race, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic situation, language, ideology or political opinion, religion or belief, association or participation in union organizations or lack thereof, gender, sexual orientation, gender identification, marriage status, age, affiliation, personal appearance, and sickness or physical disability. In June 2017 Congress passed a law to address matters related to persons with disabilities. For all public agencies and for private employers with 100 or more employees, the law requires a 1 percent quota of jobs reserved for persons with disabilities.
The government effectively enforced applicable laws and regulations prohibiting employment discrimination. Authorities generally enforced the law in cases of sexual harassment, and there was no evidence of police or judicial reluctance to act. Companies may receive “special sanctions” for infractions such as denying maternity leave. Such penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.
Nevertheless, discrimination in employment and occupation continued to occur. Persons with disabilities often faced discrimination in hiring; they constituted approximately 7.6 percent of the working-age population but only 0.5 percent of the workforce. Indigenous persons continued to experience societal discrimination in employment. Statistics regarding rates of discrimination faced by different groups were not available.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
As of November, the national minimum wage exceeded the poverty level. The law sets the legal workweek at six days or 45 hours. The maximum workday is 10 hours (including two hours of overtime pay), but the law provides exemptions for hours of work restrictions for some categories of workers, such as managers; administrators; employees of fishing boats; restaurant, club, and hotel workers; drivers; airplane crews; telecommuters or employees who work outside of the office; and professional athletes. The law mandates at least one 24-hour rest period during the workweek, except for workers at high altitudes, who may exchange a work-free day each week for several consecutive work-free days every two weeks. Annual leave for full-time workers is 15 workdays, and workers with more than 10 years of service are eligible for an additional day of annual leave for every three years worked. Overtime is considered to be any time worked beyond the 45-hour workweek, and workers are due time-and-a-half pay for any overtime performed.
The law establishes occupational safety and health standards, which are applicable to all sectors. Special safety and health norms exist for specific sectors, such as mining and diving. The National Service for Geology and Mines is further mandated to regulate and inspect the mining industry. The law does not regulate the informal sector. By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.
The Labor Directorate under the Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing minimum wage and other labor laws and regulations, and it did so effectively in the formal economy. The Ministries of Health and Labor administered and effectively enforced occupational safety and health standards. The law establishes fines for noncompliance with labor regulations, including for employers who compel workers to work in excess of 10 hours a day or do not provide adequate rest days. Companies may receive “special sanctions” for infractions such as causing irreversible injuries to an employee. An estimated 25 percent of the labor force worked in the informal sector, according to a 2015 Rand report. Workers in the informal economy were not effectively protected in regard to wages or safety.
The Labor Directorate employed labor inspectors during the year. Both the Labor Directorate and NGOs reported the number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce labor laws throughout the country, particularly in remote areas. NGOs commented inspectors and labor tribunal judges needed more training and that a lack of information and economic means generated an inequality between parties in cases before the tribunals. Fines were not considered to have a deterrent effect with larger employers. The Labor Directorate worked preventively with small and medium-sized businesses to assist in their compliance with labor laws.
Minimum wage violations were most common in the real estate and retail sectors. The sectors with the most infractions in safety and health standards were construction, retail, industrial manufacturing, and commerce. The service sector suffered the most accidents during the year. Immigrant workers in the agricultural sector were the group most likely to be subject to exploitative working conditions.