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Australia

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 unions and associate freely domestically and internationally, to bargain collectively and to conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

A union may represent an employee only if the employee is eligible to become a member of that union under the eligibility rules of that union. Union officials have the right to enter workplaces if they hold right-of-entry permits granted by the Fair Work Commission (FWC). Written notice is generally required to enter a workplace and should be provided no less than 24 hours and no more than 14 days before the proposed visit. Eligibility to enter premises is dependent on whether a union covers the work of a particular employee.

The law requires that employers act in “good faith” when a majority of employees want a collective agreement, although it places some restrictions on the scope of collective bargaining. Prohibited terms include requiring payment of a bargaining services fee, enabling an employee or employer to “opt out” of coverage of the agreement, and anything that breaches the law. Furthermore the law prohibits multi-enterprise agreements or “pattern bargaining,” although low-paid workers can apply for a “low-paid bargaining stream” to conduct multi-enterprise bargaining. When deciding whether to grant a low-paid authorization, the FWC looks at factors including the current terms and conditions of employment, the bargaining strength of employees, and whether employers and employees are bargaining for the first time. There is no definition of low-paid worker in the law; however, the explanatory memorandum to the Fair Work Act suggests that workers in the cleaning and childcare sectors are eligible. A bargaining agent may represent either side in the process. The law designates collective agreements as being between employers and employees directly; trade unions are the default representatives of their members but, with some exceptions, are not official parties to collective agreements.

The law restricts strikes to the period when unions are negotiating a new enterprise agreement and specifies that strikes must concern matters under negotiation, known as “protected action.” Protected action provides employers, employees, and unions with legal immunity from claims of losses incurred by industrial action. The deadline to file an unfair dismissal claim is 21 days, and the time to file a general protections claim is 21 days. Industrial action must be authorized by a secret ballot of employees; unions continued to raise concerns this requirement was unduly time consuming and expensive to implement. The law subjects strikers to penalties for taking industrial action during the life of an agreement and prohibits secondary action (e.g., a sympathy strike). The law permits the government to stop strikes judged to have “significant economic harm” to the employer or third parties. Some provinces have further restrictions. For example in New South Wales, the state government may cancel a union’s registration if the government makes a proclamation or calls a state of emergency concerning an essential service and the “industrial organization whose members are engaged in providing the essential service has, by its executive, members, or otherwise, engaged in activities which are contrary to the public interest.”

The government effectively enforced applicable laws, including federal, state, and territorial laws, regulations, and statutory instruments. Penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining protections include fines of up to A$10,800 ($8,100) for an individual and A$54,000 ($40,500) for a corporation and were generally sufficient to deter violations. The FWC is the national independent industrial relations management institution. Its functions include facilitating dispute resolution. If there is a dispute, the FWC convenes a conference between parties to facilitate a resolution. If the conference is unsuccessful, the parties may elect the FWC to arbitrate the dispute, or the applicant may pursue a ruling by a federal court. An applicant may also pursue a court ruling if one or both parties do not agree to participate in the FWC conference.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and collective bargaining.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

The government effectively enforced applicable labor laws, but did not obtain any successful prosecutions of criminal laws prohibiting forced labor. The law provides for sufficiently stringent penalties against forced labor commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes. Federal law includes specific prohibitions of forced labor and prescribed a maximum penalty of nine years’ imprisonment for the offense. The law prohibits exploiting migrant employees through forced labor or slavery, and prescribes a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment and various fines. The majority of forced labor cases, however, were addressed through civil law. In May 2015, following a media report of labor exploitation in the agricultural sector, the assistant immigration minister announced that the department was investigating the employment of Working Holiday visa holders by on-hire labor firms.

There were reports some foreign nationals who came to the country for temporary work were subjected to forced labor in such sectors as agriculture, cleaning, construction, hospitality, and domestic service.

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

There is no federally mandated minimum age of employment. The Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, and Western Australia established 15 years as the minimum age for work. Queensland established the minimum age as 13 years, and New South Wales, the Northern Territory, South Australia, and Tasmania have no established minimum age for work. With the exception of Victoria, all states and territories have established 18 years as the minimum age for hazardous work.

There are laws and regulations pertaining to hazardous work across sectors. For example under the 1994 Western Australia Mines Safety and Inspection Act an underground employee must not be younger than 18 years unless he or she is an apprentice or a cadet who is working underground to gain required experience in the course of training for a profession or trade; a person handling, charging or firing explosives must not be younger than 18 years; a person must be at least age 21 years to obtain a winding engine driver’s certificate. Victoria prohibits employment of a person younger than 15 years in door-to-door selling, in a fishing boat, on a building or construction site or in any other prohibited work; it prohibits the employment of children younger than 14 years in a mine and younger than 17 years from working underground in any mine.

Federal, state, and territorial governments effectively monitored and enforced laws, which varied among jurisdictions, governing the minimum age for leaving school and engaging in specified occupations. Penalties for violations of related laws included fines, and were sufficient to deter violations. For example in Western Australia penalties can be imposed on the employer and parent if they allow a child to: perform work that is not allowed or work outside the allowed hours for their age (maximum fine of A$24,000 ($18,000), or a maximum of A$120,000 ($90,000) for an incorporated employer); perform in an indecent or pornographic manner (maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment); continue to work after the Department for Child Protection and Family Support has issued a notice for the employment to cease because the work is harmful to the child (maximum imprisonment of three years and a maximum fine of A$36,000 ($27,000), or A$180,000 ($135,000) for an incorporated employer). The Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) actively sought to educate young workers about their rights and responsibilities.

State-imposed compulsory educational requirements, enforced by state educational authorities, effectively prevented most children from joining the workforce full time until they were 17 years old. Although some violations of these laws occurred, there was no indication of a child labor problem in any specific sector. There were some reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children).

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/  for information on the Australian territories of Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Island, and Norfolk Island.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Federal and state and territory laws provide for protections against employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases. The HRC reviews complaints of discrimination on the ground of HIV/AIDS status under the category of disability-related complaints.

The law requires organizations with 100 or more employees to establish a workplace program to remove barriers to women entering and advancing in their organization. The law also prohibits discrimination against employees based on family responsibilities, including breastfeeding, and requires equal pay for equal work. The government continued efforts to encourage persons under the Disability Support Pension (DSP) program to enter the workforce when they have a capacity to do so, including by requiring compulsory workforce activities for DSP recipients younger than 35 years who can work for more than eight hours per week.

The government effectively enforced laws prohibiting employment discrimination, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Under the law the maximum penalty for contravention of the unlawful discrimination protections is A$54,000 ($40,500) per contravention for a corporation and A$10,800 ($8,100) per contravention for an individual.

Employment discrimination against women, indigenous persons, and persons with disabilities occurred. According to the government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the full-time gender pay gap was 17.3 percent in March and has fluctuated between 15 percent and 19 percent for the past two decades.

Persons with disabilities also faced employment discrimination. In 2014-15, the latest year for which such data were available, the HRC received 742 complaints about disability discrimination, with 304 in the area of employment. Of the employment discrimination complaints brought to the FWO in 2012-15, 82.8 percent were not sustained.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Effective July 1, the FWC increased the national minimum wage for adults working full time (38 hours per week) by 2.4 percent to A$672.70 ($500), based on a minimum hourly rate of A$17.70 ($13.30). There was no official poverty-level income figure, but the minimum wage, combined with welfare payments, was intended to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. Above-minimum-wage classifications apply to certain trades and professions.

By law maximum weekly hours are 38 plus “reasonable” additional hours (determined according to the law, taking into account factors such as an employee’s health, family responsibilities, ability to claim overtime, pattern of hours in the industry, and amount of notice given). The law provides for paid annual holidays and premium pay for overtime. Industry standards or awards mandate rest periods and overtime pay. An employee may refuse to work overtime if the request is “unreasonable” considering the aforementioned factors.

Federal or state occupational health and safety laws apply to every workplace, including in the informal economy. New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, and the federal government have “harmonized” occupational health and safety laws with an aim to make it easier for workers and businesses to understand requirements across different states and territories. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. The law includes an antibullying provision that enables workers bullied at work to apply to the FWC for an order to stop the bullying. The law also enables workers who are pregnant to transfer to a safe job regardless of their time in employment.

The government effectively enforced laws related to minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health. The FWO provides employers and employees advice on their rights and has authority to investigate employers alleged to have exploited employees unlawfully. The ombudsperson also has authority to prosecute employers who do not meet their obligations to workers. FWO inspectors may enter work sites if they reasonably believe it is necessary to ensure compliance with the Fair Work Act. The number of FWO inspectors, 300, was sufficient to enforce compliance. Inspectors can order employers to compensate employees and sometimes assess fines. Between July 2014 and June 2015, the latest year for which such data was available, the FWO levied fines of more than A$22.3 million ($16.7 million) on behalf of 11,613 employees.

Workers exercised their right to a safe workplace and had recourse to state health and safety commissions, which investigate complaints and order remedial action. Each state and territory effectively enforced its occupational health and safety laws through dedicated bodies that have powers to obtain and initiate prosecutions, and unions used right-of-entry permits to investigate concerns. In New South Wales, for example, an individual can be sentenced a maximum of five years’ imprisonment and/or receive a maximum fine of A$300,000 ($225,000), and a business can be fined up to A$3 million ($2.25 million) for exposing an individual to serious injury or illness. In 2013 one worker was fatally injured and another worker suffered serious injuries when they were moving a cabinet from the back of a truck onto a forklift. After a SafeWork NSW investigation, the District Court convicted the employer in September 2015 and fined the employer A$225,000 ($169,000).

Most workers received higher compensation than the minimum hourly rate of A$17.70 ($13.30) through enterprise agreements or individual contracts. As of June the ABS reported approximately 3.74 million persons (31.3 percent of the workforce) were employed as part-time workers, of whom 68.5 percent were women. Temporary workers include both part-time and casual employees. Part-time employees have set hours and the same entitlements as full-time employees. Casual employees are employed on a daily or hourly wage basis. They do not receive paid annual or sick leave, but the law mandates they receive additional pay to compensate for this, which employers generally respected. Migrant worker visas require that employers respect employer contributions to retirement funds and provide bonds to cover health insurance, worker’s compensation insurance, unemployment insurance, and other benefits.

There continued to be reports employers underpaid seasonal farm workers, including international students and other international migrant workers. As of June 2015, the FWO had recovered A$254,924 ($191,000) for 870 workers as part of its “Harvest Trail” inquiry, a program to increase monitoring of the agriculture industry and help employers and employees working on the Harvest trail to understand their rights and obligations at work. For example the Ombudsperson ordered one labor recruitment firm to pay back wages to more than 100 seasonal workers in the fruit and vegetable industry that were underpaid.

There were reports some individuals under “457” employer-sponsored, skilled-worker visas received less pay than the market rate and used as less expensive substitutes for citizen workers. The government improved monitoring of “457” sponsors and information sharing among government agencies, particularly the Australian Tax Office. Employers must undertake “labor market testing” before attempting to sponsor “457” visas; government policy prohibits positions from being nominated under the “457” program when the market rate annual salary is less than A$53,900 ($40,400).

According to Safe Work Australia, the government agency responsible to develop and coordinate national workplace health and safety policy, a preliminary estimate was that 86 workers died while working, as of July 26. Of these 27 fatalities were in the transport, postal, and warehousing sector; 25 in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sector; and 10 in construction.

Bahrain

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and labor code recognize the right to form independent trade unions and the right to strike, with significant restrictions. The law does not provide for the right to collective bargaining.

The law prohibits trade unions in the public sector. Public-sector workers may join private-sector trade unions and professional associations, although these entities cannot bargain on their behalf. The law also prohibits members of the military services and domestic workers from joining unions. Foreign workers, who comprised approximately 60 percent of the workforce, may join unions if they work in a sector that allows unions, although the law reserves union leadership roles for citizens. The law prohibits unions from engaging in political activities and requires all trade unions to affiliate with one of the country’s two legal federations, the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) or the Bahrain Free Labor Union Federation (BFLUF).

The law specifies only a trade union can organize and declare legal strikes and imposes excessive requirements for legal strikes. The law prohibits strikes in 10 “vital” sectors–the scope of which exceeds international standards–including the oil, gas, education, telecommunications, transportation, and health sectors, as well as in pharmacies and bakeries. The law makes no distinction between “vital” and “nonvital” employees within these sectors. Workers must approve a strike with a simple majority by secret ballot and provide 15 days’ notification to the employer before conducting a strike.

A 2012 law significantly amended the labor code as it pertains to trade unions and federations. The law allows multiple trade union federations but prohibits multisector labor federations and bars individuals convicted of violating criminal laws that lead to trade union or executive council dissolution from holding union leadership posts. The amendment gives the minister of labor, rather than the unions, the right to select the federation to represent workers in national-level bargaining and international forums. In 2014 authorities amended the private-sector labor law, replacing “GFBTU” wherever it appeared in the legislation with the phrase “the appropriate federation designated by the minister of labor.” The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination, nor does it require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The government generally respected freedom of association for workers. Relations between the main federations and the Ministry of Labor were publicly contentious at times. The government sometimes interfered in GFBTU activities. The GFBTU alleged that the government intended the legal amendments allowing the minister of labor to select a representative union to undermine its position as the country’s representative labor federation.

Following a revision to the law, which provides for multiple trade union federations, in 2012 authorities established a second federation, BFLUF. The ministry had consistently designated the GFBTU as the country’s representative, but in 2015 it designated the BFLUF to represent the country before the Arab Labor Organization. Some workers and union affiliates complained union pluralism had resulted in company management interfering in union dues collection and workers’ chosen union affiliation and in management choosing to negotiate with the union they found most favorable–to the detriment of existing collective bargaining agreements and the legitimate voice of workers.

During the year the government made efforts to provide for the reinstatement of workers dismissed or suspended during the 2011 State of National Safety. It continued working with the tripartite committee, formed in 2011 and consisting of a representative from the Ministry of Labor, the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and GFBTU, to address dismissals and reinstatements as part of the government’s response to recommendations set forth in the 2011 BICI. In 2014, after signing a second tripartite agreement, the ILO dismissed the complaint filed in 2011. This agreement identified 165 cases to be resolved, and all parties reported positive progress on those reinstatements. Some reinstated workers, however, alleged some companies insisted they sign loyalty pledges and agreements to not strike, despite such requirements being illegal. Workers reported many cases of discrimination in hiring and promotion, including in the public sector. Some civil service employees, including in the Ministry of Education, reported authorities questioned them about their outside activities.

On July 17, hundreds of foreign construction workers went on strike over unpaid salaries. The Ministry of Labor and Social Development intervened and announced on July 24 that the situation had been resolved with the company providing its employees the money they were owed.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor except in national emergencies, and the government did not always enforce the law effectively. There were reports of forced labor in the construction and service sectors. The labor law covers foreign workers, except domestic workers, but enforcement was lax, and cases of debt bondage were common. There were also reports forced labor practices occurred among domestic workers and others working in the informal sector; labor laws did not protect most of these workers. In 2012 the government amended the labor law to provide domestic workers the right to see their terms of employment.

In many cases employers withheld passports, restricted movement, substituted contracts, or did not pay wages; some employers also threatened workers and subjected them to physical and sexual abuse. The Ministry of Labor reported complaints from domestic workers, mostly of unpaid wages. In 2013 the Ministry of Social Development took steps to fulfill its legal obligation under the trafficking in persons law to identify and protect foreign victims of trafficking, including by creating comprehensive guidelines and training government officials on the framework to protect trafficking victims.

Estimates of the proportion of migrant workers in the country under illegal “free visa” arrangements–a practice that can contribute to debt bondage–ranged from 10 to 25 percent. In numerous cases employers withheld salaries from foreign workers for months or years and refused to grant them permission to leave the country. Fear of deportation or employer retaliation prevented many foreign workers from complaining to authorities.

The Labor Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) took steps to reduce the vulnerability of foreign workers. It instituted procedures that allowed workers to change the employer associated with their visa either without permission from their old employer or without being in possession of their passport. LMRA threatened employers who withheld passports with criminal and administrative violations, and prohibited at-fault employers from hiring new workers.

On January 3, the LMRA announced that the amnesty from July through December 2015, aimed at allowing workers without work permits to legalize their presence in Bahrain or return home without being “blacklisted,” had succeeded in helping more than 40,000 workers. Of those who submitted documents, 30,000 opted to stay in Bahrain and found new employers to sponsor them, while 10,000 returned to their home countries.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt//.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment is 15 years, and the minimum age for hazardous work is 18. Children under 18 may not work in industries the Ministry of Health deemed hazardous or unhealthy, including construction, mining, and oil refining. Minors under the age of 18 may work no more than six hours a day–no more than four days consecutively–and may be present on the employment premises no more than seven hours a day. The Ministry of Labor made rare exceptions on a case-by-case basis for juveniles age 14 or 15, who had an urgent need to assist in providing financial support for their families. Child labor regulations do not apply to family-operated businesses in which the only other employees are family members.

A 2012 labor law requires that before the Labor Ministry makes a final decision on allowing a minor to work, the prospective employer must present documentation from the minor’s guardian giving the minor permission to work, proof the minor underwent a physical fitness examination to confirm suitability, and assurance from the employer the minor would not work in an environment the ministry deemed hazardous. Generally, the government effectively enforced the law.

There were some non-Bahraini children employed as domestic servants. Observers believed some Bahraini children worked in family-run businesses, but the practice did not appear widespread.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/ .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution provides for equality between men and women in political, social, cultural, and economic spheres without breaching the provisions of Islamic canon law. There are no specific protections regarding race, disability, language, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social status. The government lacked any specific implementing regulations or processes to identify proactively cases of discrimination or to address and seek remedy for any cases of which they might become aware.

The government took steps to promote women’s participation in the workforce, although women continued to face discrimination there, especially in fields traditionally dominated by men, including leadership positions. Women reported having to work harder than men to be recognized at work; they often faced hiring discrimination because of a perception they would become pregnant or their family lives would interfere with their work.

The Ministry of Social Development continued to fund the Disabled Services Center, which helped train and find work for Bahrainis with disabilities. It remained rare, however, for persons with disabilities to find employment in positions of responsibility. Many workplaces remained difficult to access for those needing assistance due to a lack of ramps, narrow doorways, and unpaved parking lots.

Many of the workers in the country were foreign workers. There are no provisions to provide for equality in the hiring process. It was common for employers to advertise positions for specific nationalities or languages without justifying why only persons from that specific nationality or language group would be acceptable. Even for blue-collar jobs, such as those in fast-food restaurants, it was common for employers to hire lower-level employees from one nationality and managerial staff from a second nationality.

Government institutions sometimes based their hiring decisions on a person’s nationality, often without regard to qualifications. Some Bahraini teachers complained authorities ignored them for public school teaching jobs because authorities hired foreign teachers instead. Well-qualified Bahrainis reported being paid less than certain foreign workers because those workers were of a preferred nationality.

Lack of transparency in hiring processes, especially for government positions, led to many complaints of discrimination based on sect or ethnicity. Human rights organizations reported managers sometimes did not hire qualified applicants because of the neighborhoods where they lived or their family names.

Shia reported unemployment in their communities was much higher than government estimates. Several international firms reported pressure not to promote Shia to positions of responsibility within their companies. Shia perceived that employers subjected them to different standards and that employers were more likely to fire them. Sunni citizens often received preference for employment in sensitive government positions, notably in the managerial ranks of the civil service and the military. Shia asserted they were unable to obtain government positions, especially in the security services, because of their religious affiliation. There were reports during the year that Shia were also discriminated against when they applied for medical positions at institutions associated with the military such as the Bahrain Defense Force and King Hamad hospitals.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national private-sector minimum wage. A standardized government pay scale covers public-sector workers, with a set minimum of 300 dinars ($810) per month. Citizens who earned less received a government stipend to offset the difference. There is no minimum wage for foreign workers in the public sector, although the government issued “guidelines” advising employers in the public and private sectors to pay a minimum of 150 dinars per month ($405). There was no official poverty level.

Subject to the provisions of the private-sector law, employers may not employ a worker for more than 48 hours per week. Employers may not employ Muslim workers during the month of Ramadan for more than six hours per day or 36 hours per week. The standard workday is eight hours, with a maximum of 10 hours allowed. Overtime rates are time-and-a-quarter during the day and time-and-a-half during the evening. It is mandatory for workers to receive 24 consecutive hours off per week, and the day set for weekly rest is Friday. If employers require a worker to work on a mandatory rest day, employers will pay the worker at time-and-a-half. A worker may not work on mandatory rest days for two consecutive weeks without personal written consent.

The Ministry of Labor sets occupational safety and health standards. The labor law and relevant protections apply to citizens and noncitizens alike, with the exception of domestic workers. The revised labor law improved the legal situation for many workers as it pertains to access to contracts and additional holidays, although it excludes domestic workers from the majority of protections.

The Labor Ministry is responsible for enforcing the labor law and mandating acceptable conditions of work. During the year the government employed 23 labor inspectors and eight safety inspectors. The ministry enforced occupational safety and health standards; it also used a team of eight engineers from multiple specialties primarily to investigate risks and standards at construction sites, which were the vast majority of worksites.

Several circumstances prompt inspections: a complaint made to the ministry, notification of a new worksite made to the ministry, a media article about a new worksite, or discovery of a new worksite by an inspector in an assigned geographic area.

Inspectors have the authority to levy fines and close worksites if employers do not improve conditions by specified deadlines. Penalties for violators range from 500 dinars ($1,350) to 1,000 dinars ($2,700) per violation or per worker affected, or both, as determined by a judge. A judge may also sentence violators to a minimum of three months in prison. For repeat violators the court may double the penalties. The ministry reported an unspecified number of violators were serving sentences related to labor condition violations during the year.

Despite the improvements, NGOs feared resources for enforcement of the laws remained inadequate for the number of worksites and workers, that many worksites would not be inspected, and that the regulations would not necessarily deter violations.

A ministerial decree prohibits outdoor work between noon and 4 p.m. during July and August because of heat conditions. Authorities enforced the ban among large firms but, according to local sources, violations were common among smaller businesses. After inspecting 10,053 work sites, the Ministry of Labor reported 106 violations with 235 workers as victims. Employers who violated the ban are subject to up to three-months in jail, and a fine of 1,000 dinars ($2,700) fine; however, no information was made public about which employers violated the law, or what fine they were accessed, if any.

The government and courts generally worked to rectify abuses brought to their attention. Workers could lodge complaints with the Ministry of Labor. The ministry reported it received 2,684 complaints in 2015, the last year information was available. Labor officials stated they resolved most cases through mediation. By law authorities who cannot settle complaints through arbitration must refer them to the court within 15 days. The vast majority of cases involving abused domestic workers did not reach the ministry or the public prosecutor.

In February the Ministry of Labor reported it had taken legal action against 112 labor accommodations since 2012 and that employers corrected 436 irregularities after inspections and warnings. In April 2015 the Ministry of Labor reported there were more than 3,000 registered labor camps housing more than 150,000 workers in the country. In 2015 the ministry inspected 1,300 accommodations and recorded 70 violations, but it did not make public its enforcement actions. Many workers lived in unregistered accommodations that ranged in quality from makeshift accommodations in parking garages, to apartments rented by employers from private owners, to family houses modified to accommodate many persons. Inspectors do not have the right to enter houses or apartment buildings not registered as work camps to inspect conditions. The Labor Ministry advised the Ministry of Works, Municipalities Affairs, and Urban Planning and the Ministry of Housing when it received complaints of poor conditions in such housing. The Migrant Workers Protection Society reported it visited unregistered camps and accommodations, including ones that were potentially dangerous, such as places with 35 persons sharing three rooms.

The government continued to conduct workers’ rights awareness campaigns. It published pamphlets on foreign resident workers’ rights in several languages, provided manuals on these rights to local diplomatic missions, and operated a telephone hotline for victims.

Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards were common in sectors employing foreign workers, such as construction, automotive repair, and domestic service. Unskilled foreign workers, mostly from South and Southeast Asia, constituted approximately 60 percent of the total workforce (76 percent of the private-sector workforce). These workers were also vulnerable to dangerous or exploitive working conditions. According to NGOs, workplace safety inspection and compliance were substandard.

Local sources reported that lack of awareness of terms of employment remained a problem. Some foreign workers arrived in the country at the invitation of an employer who sponsored their visas but then switched jobs. Some of these workers continued to pay a portion of their salaries to their former employer who continued to be legally responsible for their visas.

The labor law does not fully protect domestic workers, and this group was particularly vulnerable to exploitation. In 2012 the government amended the labor law to expand the rights of domestic employees, not covered under the previous law. The labor law requires domestic employees have an agreement with their employer with “clear contractual terms” and provides penalties for violators. The amendments, however, do not accord domestic employees many of the rights the law provides to other private-sector workers, including limits on daily and weekly working hours, and rest days.

There were credible reports employers forced many of the country’s 70,000 domestic workers, most of them women, to work from 12- to 16-hour days and surrender their identity documents to employers. Employers permitted very little time off; left them malnourished; and subjected them to verbal and physical abuse, including sexual molestation and rape. Reports of employers and recruitment agents beating or sexually abusing foreign women working in domestic positions were common. The press, embassies, and police received numerous reports of abuse.

The vast majority of cases involving abused domestic workers did not reach the Ministry of Labor or PPO for a variety of reasons. Most victims were too intimidated to sue their employers, although they had the right to do so. Some NGOs and activists reported that workers involved in a dispute with their employer were given the option to either leave the country or face jail time if the employer filed a counter-suit against them; in many cases the worker left the country, and the potentially abusive employer was able to bring in additional domestic workers with no repercussions. NGOs also reported the court system made it difficult for workers, who frequently did not have permanent home addresses in the country, to receive notices about their cases once they filed them. Additionally, if employees needing visa sponsorship filed a case against their employers, they were unable to request a transfer of their sponsorship to a new employer. If employees stayed in the country, they could work for other employers unofficially. Once they departed the country, however, they could not get a work visa with a new sponsor until authorities resolved the case with the previous employer.

During the year the MWPS shelter provided more than 150 female domestic workers with temporary housing and assistance with their cases. The majority of women in these cases sought assistance with unpaid wages and complaints of physical abuse. The MWPS continued to support victims who took their cases to court, but by law victims can receive only outstanding unpaid wages; no criminal damages are possible unless the victim has alleged a crime found in the criminal penal code has occurred, such as physical abuse or rape. While NGOs confirmed some cases were successful, compensation was meager. The government-run Dar al-Aman shelter moved to a new facility co-located with a branch of the LMRA and an office that runs a multilingual 24-hour help line for domestic workers who are abused.

The Ministry of Labor did not make public the number of deaths or injuries in workplace accidents. There were social media and press reports throughout the year, however, including the March 4 death of a cleaner on board a ship, and March 31 and November 9 reports on the deaths of two construction workers. Worker deaths generally were due to a combination of inadequate enforcement of standards, violations of standards, inadequate safety procedures, worker ignorance of those procedures, and inadequate safety standards for equipment. According to NGO sources, most accidents were in the construction sector, which employed more Bangladeshis and Pakistanis than other nationalities.

The MWPS noted suicide attempts were common among Indian workers but claimed the media underreported them.

Conditions in the many unregistered or illegal worker camps were often poor. Safety of accommodations and quality of life for workers were problems that continued to be a major concern at source-country embassies.

While some workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, the level of freedom workers enjoyed directly related to the type of work they do. Foreign laborers and domestic workers have the most difficulty removing themselves from dangerous situations and have the fewest protections from firing. Both sets of workers relied on employers not just for housing but also for food, clothing, and transportation. They were also the least equipped to file a complaint due to language barriers, level of education, and inability to produce a government-issued identification card, which many employers retain.

Costa Rica

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, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, and the government respected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Restrictions on the minimum number of employees (12) needed to form a union may have hampered freedom of association in small enterprises. The law permits foreign workers to join unions but prohibits them from holding positions of authority within the unions, except for foreign workers who are married to citizens of the country and have legally resided in the country for at least five years. Unions must register, and the law provides a deadline of 15 days for authorities to reply to a registration request.

The legislative assembly established a minimum of 50 percent of employees in an enterprise in support of a strike for it to be legal; however, this law had not been implemented as of the end the year, and the minimum remained 60 percent. The law restricts the right to strike of workers in services designated as essential by the government, including in sectors such as oil refineries and ports that are not recognized as essential services under international standards. On January 25, President Solis signed into law a new labor procedural code (Law No. 9343) intended to streamline labor procedures in the courts, including those related to antiunion discrimination, and to reform provisions regarding freedom of association and trade union freedom in the courts. The new law enters into force 18 months after its publication (July 2017).

The law requires employers to initiate the bargaining process with a trade union if more than one-third of the total workforce, including union and nonunion members, requests collective bargaining, but the law also permits direct bargaining agreements with nonunionized workers. The law also permits the formation of “solidarity associations,” which were often organized by employers and have legal status under the constitution. The law prohibits such associations from representing workers in collective bargaining negotiations or in any other way that assumes the functions or inhibits the formation of trade unions.

Although public-sector employees are permitted to bargain collectively, the Supreme Court held that some fringe benefits received by certain public employees were disproportionate and unreasonable, and it repealed sections of collective bargaining agreements between public-sector unions and government agencies, thus restricting this right in practice.

The government generally enforced applicable laws, although procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. The law establishes administrative sanctions (fines and fees) for infractions. The amount of fines and fees is determined by the severity of the infraction and based on the minimum wage. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations, since cases were resolved by a labor court through a lengthy process, not by the labor inspectorate. Labor inspectors are not allowed to impose fines directly because by law it is the exclusive competence of the judiciary. Concerns about slow proceedings in cases of antiunion discrimination continued to be a problem. The International Trade Union Confederation noted the reinstatement process for workers who were unfairly dismissed lasted approximately 2.5 years. Such delays in cases of antiunion discrimination were often due to numerous appeals.

Freedom of association and collective bargaining were generally respected. Labor unions asserted solidarity associations conducted negotiations, and employers sometimes required membership in a solidarity association as a condition for employment. Such associations, to the extent that they displaced trade unions, affected the independence of workers’ organizations from employers’ influence and infringed on the right to organize and bargain collectively. In recent years the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported an expansion of direct bargaining agreements between employers and nonunionized workers and noted its concern that the number of collective bargaining agreements in the private sector continued to be low when compared with a high number of direct agreements with nonunionized workers. The Labor Ministry conducted 10 working/mediation sessions to discuss complaints related to collective bargaining during the first six months of the year.

There were some instances of employers firing employees who attempted to unionize. The Ministry of Labor reported seven complaints of antiunion discrimination from January to July. There were reports some employers also preferred to use “flexible,” or short-term, contracts, making it difficult for workers to organize and collectively bargain. Migrant workers in agriculture frequently were hired on short-term contracts (five months) through intermediaries, faced antiunion discrimination and challenges in organizing, and were often more vulnerable to labor exploitation.

The ILO noted there were no trade unions operating in the country’s export-processing zones and identified the zones as a hostile environment for organizing. Labor unions asserted that efforts by workers in export-processing zones to organize were met with illegal employment termination, threats, and intimidation and that some employers maintained blacklists of workers identified as activists.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor in cases that involve movement of the victim. The law establishes criminal penalties for trafficking in persons crimes, including forced labor–when they involve movement–with sentences of between six and 10 years in prison. The penalty is increased to between eight and 16 years if the crime involves aggravating circumstances. The Trafficking in Persons Prosecutor’s Unit reported two investigations of trafficking in persons during the first six months of the year. One case was dismissed, and the second was under investigation. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.

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 child and adolescence code prohibits labor of all children under the age of 15 without exceptions; it supersedes the minimum working age of 12 established in the labor code, which by year’s end had not been amended to reflect this change. Adolescents between the ages of 15 and 18 may work a maximum of six hours daily and 36 hours weekly. The law prohibits night work and overtime for minors. The law prohibits children under the age of 18 from engaging in hazardous or unhealthy activities and specifies a list of hazardous occupations. The government generally enforced laws against child labor effectively in the formal sector but not in the informal sector.

Child labor occurred primarily in the informal economy, especially in the agricultural, commercial, and industrial sectors. The worst forms of child labor occurred in agriculture on small third-party farms in the formal sector and on family farms in the informal sector. In 2015 international organizations published an analysis of the government’s 2011 National Household Survey, which indicated 8.8 percent of child laborers, or approximately 1,400 children ages 5-14, worked in coffee and 13.8 percent were engaged in cattle raising, including dairy. More recent national surveys showed a 65 percent decrease in the number of children ages 12 to 17 working in agriculture from 2011 to 2015 but did not provide the number of children in child labor in coffee and cattle. Forced child labor reportedly occurred in some service sectors, such as construction, fishing, street vending, and domestic service, and some children were subject to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

While the Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing and taking administrative actions (fines and fees) against possible violations of, or lack of compliance with, child labor laws, the Prosecutor’s Office intervenes in cases regarding the worst forms of child labor. The amount of fines and fees is determined by the severity of the infraction and based on an equation derived from the minimum wage. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.

The government continued to implement programming to eliminate illegal child labor and the worst forms of child labor by providing individual assistance through visits, interviews, and inspections to schools and workplaces. During the first six months of the year, the Labor Ministry detected and removed from employment 315 minors, 42 under 15, in hazardous jobs, referring them to government agencies for inclusion in social programs. The ministry reported that in the overwhelming majority of cases employers received warnings, and in the 42 cases that involved minors under 15, two employers were fined and one was referred to a labor court.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor and List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/ .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The laws and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases status. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The Labor Ministry reported 27 cases of discrimination during the first six months of the year. The ministry began incorporating a gender equality perspective into labor inspections to identify areas of vulnerability.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to persons with disabilities and the LGBTI population. Discrimination against migrant workers occurred. With regard to discrimination in employment or occupation, the Ombudsman’s Office considered the most vulnerable sectors to be migrants, women with disabilities, Afro-descendants, and foreign domestic workers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The wage council of the Ministry of Labor sets the minimum wage scale for the public and private sectors twice a year. Monthly minimum wages for the private sector ranged from 172,610 colones ($314) for domestic workers to 619,204 colones ($1,126) for university graduates since January 1. According to INEC, in 2014 the poverty line was 105,976 colones ($193) in urban areas and 81,344 colones ($148) in rural areas. The national minimum wage applied to both Costa Rican and migrant workers. The law sets workday hours, overtime remuneration, days of rest, and annual vacation rights. Workers generally may work a maximum of eight hours a day or 48 hours weekly. All workers are entitled to one day of rest after six consecutive days of work and annual paid vacations. The law provides that workers be paid for overtime work at a rate 50 percent above their stipulated wage or salary. Although there is no statutory prohibition against compulsory overtime, the labor code stipulates the workday may not exceed 12 hours. Law 9095 covers labor exploitation as part of antitrafficking law and imposes penalties upon employers who exploit workers in conditions that are a “detriment to [a worker’s] fundamental human rights” but that may not rise to the level of forced labor.

The government maintains a dedicated authority to enforce occupational safety and health (OSH) standards. The Labor Ministry’s National Council of Occupational Health and Safety is a tripartite OSH regulatory authority with government, employer, and employee representation. According to labor organizations, the government did not enforce these standards effectively in either the formal or the informal sectors.

Workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. According to the Labor Ministry, this is a responsibility shared by the employer and employee. The law assigns responsibility to the employer, including granting OSH officers access to workplaces, but it also authorizes workers to seek assistance from appropriate authorities (OSH or labor inspectors) for noncompliance with OSH workplace standards, including risks at work.

The Ministry of Labor’s Inspection Directorate (DNI) is responsible for labor inspection, in collaboration with the Social Security Agency and the National Insurance Institute. The DNI employed 93 labor inspectors who investigated all types of labor violations. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. According to the Ministry of Labor, inspections occurred both in response to complaints and at the initiative of inspectors. The DNI stated it could visit any employer, formal or informal, and inspections are always unannounced.

The Labor Ministry generally addressed complaints by sending inspection teams to investigate and coordinate with each other on follow-up actions. Inspectors cannot fine or sanction employers who do not comply with labor laws; rather, they investigate and refer noncompliance results to labor courts. The process of fining companies or compelling employers to pay back wages or overtime could take years.

The Ministry of Labor generally enforced minimum wages effectively in the San Jose area but was not as effective in enforcing the minimum wage laws in rural areas, particularly where large numbers of migrants were employed, and in the large informal sector, which comprises 41 percent of employment. The ministry publicly recognized that many workers, including in the formal sector, received less than the minimum wage. During the first six months of the year, the ministry conducted 1,405 visits to priority cantons with low levels of development in an attempt to assess and address their situation through DNI intervention.

The government continued to implement the campaign for minimum wage compliance. According to the ministry, 33 percent of the economically active population in the nonagricultural sector was in the informal economy. The Ministry of Labor, through the National Program in Support of the Microenterprise, provided technical assistance and access to credit for informal microentrepreneurs to improve productive and labor conditions in the informal economy.

Observers expressed concern about exploitative working conditions in fisheries, small businesses, and agricultural activities. Unions also reported systematic violations of labor rights and provisions concerning working conditions, overtime, and wages in the export-processing zones. Labor unions reported overtime pay violations, such as nonpayment of wages and mandatory overtime, were common in the private sector and particularly in export-processing zones. There were reports agricultural workers, particularly migrant laborers in the pineapple industry, worked in unsafe conditions, including exposure to hazardous chemicals without proper training. The national insurance company reported 61,203 cases of workplace-related illnesses and injuries and 19 workplace fatalities from January to June.

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