Occupation authorities announced the labor laws of Ukraine would not be in effect after 2016 and that only the laws of the Russian Federation would apply.
Occupation authorities imposed the labor laws and regulations of the Russian Federation on Crimean workers, limited worker rights, and created barriers to the exercise of freedom of association, collective bargaining, and the ability to strike. Trade unions are formally protected under Russian law but limited in practice. As in both Ukraine and Russia, employers were often able to engage in antiunion discrimination and violate collective bargaining rights. Pro-Russian authorities threatened to nationalize property owned by Ukrainian labor unions in Crimea. Ukrainians who did not accept Russian citizenship faced job discrimination in all sectors of the economy. Only holders of Russian national identification cards were allowed to work in “government” and municipal positions. Labor activists believed that unions were threatened in Crimea to accept “government” policy without question and faced considerable restrictions on advocating for their members.
Although no official data were available, experts estimated there was growing participation in the underground economy in Crimea.
The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join trade unions. Workers have the legal right to strike and to bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination.
Parliament may impose restrictions on the right of association based on security, public order, or morality grounds. The Ministry of Manpower also has broad powers to refuse to register a union or to cancel a union’s registration. Refusal may occur when a trade union already exists in an industry or occupation. Laws and regulations restrict freedom of association by requiring any group of 10 or more persons to register with the government. The law also restricts the right of uniformed personnel and government employees to organize, although the president may grant exemptions. Foreigners and those with criminal convictions generally may not hold union office or become employees of unions, but the ministry may grant exemptions.
The law requires the majority of affected unionized workers to vote in favor of a strike by secret ballot, as opposed to the majority of those participating in the vote. Workers in “essential services” are required to give 14 days’ notice to an employer before striking, and there is a prohibition on strikes by workers in the water, gas, and electricity sectors.
The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination.
Unions were unable to carry out their work without interference from the government. The law limits how unions may spend their funds, prohibiting, for example, payments to political parties, or the use of funds for political purposes.
Almost all unions were affiliated with the National Trade Union Congress (hereafter trade union congress), an umbrella organization with a close relationship with the government and the ruling PAP. Trade union congress policy prohibited union members who supported opposition parties from holding office in its affiliated unions.
Collective bargaining was a routine part of labor-management relations in the private sector. Because nearly all unions were its affiliates, the trade union congress had almost exclusive authority to exercise collective bargaining power on behalf of employees. Union members may not reject collective agreements negotiated between their union representatives and an employer. Although transfers and layoffs are excluded from the scope of collective bargaining, employers consulted with unions on both matters. In July the trade union congress threatened to strike over concerns Eagle Services Asia, an aircraft maintenance and repair company, was not following the correct process for retrenchment. The company and union were able to agree on the retrenchment process, and the strike was averted.
Foreign workers constituted approximately 15 percent of union members. Labor NGOs also filled an important function by providing support for migrant workers, including legal aid and medical care, especially for those in the informal sector and during the COVID-19 outbreak in migrant workers’ dormitories.
The law does not define “forced labor,” but the government has accepted as law the definition found in International Labor Organization Convention 29. Under the law, destitute persons can be compelled to work.
The government enforced the law, although it was more likely to prosecute employers for less serious charges than domestic servitude or bonded labor. Penalties included prison terms and fines, which were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The government increased investigations of forced labor allegations in 2019 and imposed fines on some employment agencies for illegal practices. In January the Ministry of Manpower charged the director of San Tong Engineering Pte Ltd for illegal employment of migrant workers and failing to pay salaries and other charges. In view of the number of low-paid foreign workers in the country, however, outside observers believed that many cases of abuse were undetected.
Practices indicative of forced labor, including withholding of wages and passports, occurred. Migrant workers in low-wage and unskilled sectors such as domestic work, hospitality, and construction were vulnerable to labor exploitation. Several NGOs reported that migrant workers did not receive their salary during the country’s COVID-19 lockdown in spite of government efforts to require construction sector employers to make monthly declarations on the payment of salaries to their foreign workers. The Ministry of Manpower acknowledged that some employers were unable to pay salaries owed due to financial difficulties but also indicated the ministry would work with them to provide for salary payment.
The law caps the fees payable by foreign domestic workers to employment agencies in the country at one month’s salary per year of the employment contract, not to exceed two months’ salary, irrespective of the duration of the contract. Observers noted that unscrupulous agencies in migrant workers’ countries of origin could charge exorbitant fees.
Some observers also noted that the country’s employer sponsorship system made legal migrant workers vulnerable to forced labor because there are limited circumstances in which they may change employers without the consent of their employer.
The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits employment of children younger than age 13. A child age 13 or older may engage in light, nonindustrial work, subject to medical clearance. Exceptions include work in family enterprises; a child 13 or older may only work in an industrial undertaking that employs members of his or her family. Ministry of Manpower regulations prohibit night employment of children and restrict industrial work for children between ages 15 and 16. Children younger than 15 may not work on commercial vessels, with moving machinery, on live electrical apparatus lacking effective insulation, or in any underground job, and normally they are prohibited from employment in the industrial sector.
The Ministry of Manpower effectively enforced these laws and regulations. Employers who violated laws related to child labor were subject to fines, imprisonment, or both. Penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Government officials asserted that child labor was not a significant problem.
The incidence of children in formal employment was low, although some children worked in family enterprises.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The constitution provides for equality in employment. No specific antidiscrimination legislation exists, although some statutes prohibit certain forms of discrimination. For example, employers may not dismiss female employees during pregnancy or maternity leave, and employers may not dismiss employees solely due to age, gender, race, religion, nationality, marital status, family responsibilities, disability, or medical condition.
In addition, the Ministry of Manpower’s Fair Consideration Framework requires all companies to comply with the Guidelines of the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (guidelines) which cover procedures from recruitment to dismissal so that all employment practices are open, merit based, and nondiscriminatory. These guidelines call for eliminating language referring to age, race, gender, religion, nationality, marital status, family responsibilities, and disability in employment advertisements. Employers are required to provide explanations for putting requirements such as specific language skills in the job advertisement. Penalties for violation of government guidelines are at the discretion of the Ministry of Manpower. There were no similar government guidelines with respect to political opinion, sexual orientation, or HIV or other communicable disease status. The Fair Consideration Framework was updated in January further to prevent workplace discrimination. Personnel involved in making false declaration on fair hiring may now be prosecuted and penalties were increased. Companies found guilty of discrimination may not hire foreigners for at least 12 months, and also may not renew work passes of existing foreign workers. In March, for example, the Ministry of Manpower fined Ti2 Logistics Pte Ltd for making false declarations to hire a foreigner in preference to citizens. In June the Ministry of Manpower introduced new license conditions on all employment agencies requiring them to comply with the guidelines.
The government effectively enforced the guidelines. Penalties were not commensurate to those for other laws related to civil rights but had a deterrent effect.
The guidelines prohibit questions on family status during a job interview. The government supported flexible work policies, although no laws mandate it, and subsidized childcare.
The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices received and investigated complaints of employment discrimination. In August the Ministry of Manpower announced that it had placed 47 companies on a watch list for engaging in discriminatory hiring practices. According to Ministry of Manpower statistics, reported cases of workplace discrimination based on age, race, and gender decreased from 240 in 2016 to 125 in 2019. In March the government barred five companies from hiring or renewing the work passes of foreign employees for age-related discriminatory hiring, the most common discrimination-based complaint received.
The Council for Board Diversity reported that as of December 2019, women’s representation on boards of the largest 100 companies listed on the Singapore Exchange was 16.2 percent, while women filled 25.1 percent of positions on statutory boards, and 27.8 percent of those on registered NGOs and charities, an increase in all industries compared to June 2019 data. In January the government reported that the adjusted gender pay gap had narrowed to 6 percent from 8.8 percent in 2002 but that occupational segregation continued.
Some ethnic Malays and Indians reported that discrimination limited their employment and promotion opportunities. Malays were prohibited from holding certain sensitive national security positions in the military.
The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices investigated a July allegation of workplace discrimination at a local shopping center. Employees at the shopping center reportedly told a part-time promoter to remove her hijab while working. After public pressure, the shopping center announced that it would standardize its practice to allow all employees to wear religious headgear while working.
There were also some reports of discrimination based on disability, pregnancy, and sexual orientation or gender identity. Pregnancy is a breach of the standard work permit conditions for foreign workers, and the government cancels work permits and requires repatriation of foreign domestic workers who become pregnant.
The law does not specify a national minimum wage for all sectors. The government, in consultation with unions and employers, has a progressive wage model, which sets wage floors and skills requirements for specific positions in cleaning, landscaping, elevator maintenance, and security services sectors. Employers must follow these pay scales as a requirement to obtain a business license. Most such wages were below the unofficial poverty line determined by the National University of Singapore’s Social Service Research Center. The government did not have an official poverty line.
The law sets the standard legal workweek at 44 hours, and requires employers to apply for an overtime exception from the Ministry of Manpower for employees to work more than 72 hours of overtime per month. Workplace protection, including paid sick leave, mandatory annual leave, and protection against wrongful dismissal, is available to all private sector employees except domestic workers and seafarers who are covered under separate laws. Foreign domestic workers must receive one rest day per week. The law also mandates benefits for part-time employees, defined as those working 35 hours per week or less. The government effectively enforced wage floor and overtime laws; penalties were lower than those for similar crimes, such as fraud.
The law establishes a framework for workplaces to comply with occupational safety and health standards, and regular inspections enforced the standards. Officials encouraged workers to report situations that endanger health or safety to the Ministry of Manpower and the law provides employees with the right to terminate employment without notice if the individual is threatened by a danger not agreed to in the contract. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.
The Ministry of Manpower effectively enforced laws and regulations establishing working conditions and comprehensive occupational safety and health regulations. The government took action against employers for workplace violations, including for nonpayment of salaries, serious safety violations, and abuse or mistreatment of foreign domestic workers. Penalties for violating these regulations–fines and stop-work orders–were commensurate with those for similar crimes. The number of inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance.
The majority of foreign domestic workers, mainly from the Philippines and Indonesia, worked under clearly outlined contracts. Any employer of a foreign domestic worker or a member of the employer’s family, if convicted of certain offenses against the worker, such as causing hurt or insulting the modesty of the worker, is liable to a maximum penalty of one and one-half times the mandated penalty when the victim is not a domestic worker. Nevertheless, there were reports of employers abusing or mistreating such workers (see section 7.b.). Throughout the year, the government investigated and sentenced several employers for abuse of their foreign domestic workers. In August a woman was sentenced to 21 months in jail and her husband to four months’ imprisonment for repeatedly abusing their domestic helper.
The Ministry of Manpower continued to promote training to reduce the frequency of job-related accidents in high-risk sectors such as construction, and authorities provided tax incentives to firms that introduced hazard control measures. Workplace fatalities in 2019 were the lowest since 2004, when statistics first became publicly available, with 39 recorded deaths (1.1 per 100,000 workers). Nonfatal injuries increased by 5 percent to 629 cases (18.1 per 100,000 workers). In 2019 the government issued 58 stop-work orders for workplace safety violations with an average duration of six weeks and fined almost 1,000 companies a total of S$1,426,000 ($1,045,000). The government also enforced requirements for employers to provide one rest day per week or compensation for foreign domestic workers.
In September a court sentenced Tan Wee Meng and Lee Chung Ling to two and three months’ imprisonment, respectively, for negligence that endangered the safety of workers and resulted in the death of a Bangladeshi worker in 2017. The government also issued fines and penalties and closed businesses for noncompliance by employees with temporary COVID-19 safe distancing measures.
The Work Injury Compensation Act took effect in September. This law incentivizes companies to prevent workplace injuries by permitting employers with better safety records to pay lower insurance premiums, expedites the benefit claim process for workers, and increases the size of benefit payouts to injured workers.
The Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management, which includes the Ministry of Manpower, unions, and the employers’ federation, offers advice and mediation services to help employees and employers to manage employment disputes. The Alliance provided free advisory services to both foreign and local workers who experienced problems with employers; it provided mediation services for a fee. The ministry operated a hotline for foreign domestic workers.
Most foreign workers were concentrated in low-wage, low-skill jobs in construction, shipbuilding, services, and domestic work and were often required to work long hours. Living conditions for those workers were criticized after COVID-19 infections in purpose-built dormitories housing approximately 323,000 migrant workers accounted for more than 94 percent of the country’s total infections as of October 1. Public health experts and NGOs stated COVID-19 spread was accelerated by poor hygiene standards and the limited living space allocated to individuals in these dormitories. In response, the government used temporary COVID-19 legislation to declare dormitories with high infection rates as isolation areas, required workers to quarantine, and surged resources and support teams to dormitories. Freedom of movement for these migrant workers was restricted for more than six months during the pandemic and remained significantly more limited and controlled than for the rest of the population. In September the court fined Shaun Pang Tong Heng after he pleaded guilty to wrongful confinement of three of his Indian workers in an 11-foot by 14-foot room for 42 days during the country’s lockdown.
In June the Ministries of Manpower and National Development released a joint statement with short-, medium-, and long-term arrangements to improve living standards within dormitories and the Ministry of Manpower established a new division to support migrant workers and dormitory operations. NGOs advocated for structural changes to the work permit employment system in order to reduce the financial vulnerability and potential for exploitation of such workers.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, conduct strikes within strict limits, and bargain collectively, but certain limitations apply to public officials and teachers.
The law recognizes workers’ right to strike; workers in essential services are required to provide “minimum service” during strikes to protect the public interest. Essential services are defined by law to include railroads, air transport, communications, water supply, and hospitals. The trade union law prohibits the use of replacement workers to conduct general business disrupted by strikes, but in essential services employers may hire replacements for up to 50 percent of striking workers.
By law parties involved in a “labor dispute” must first undergo third-party mediation through the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) or seek a labor-management settlement before registering to strike. Strikes initiated following this period are legal if they obtain majority support from union membership. The law narrowly defines “labor dispute,” which makes strikes on many issues falling under managerial control, such as downsizing and layoffs, illegal. Strikes not specifically pertaining to labor conditions, wages, benefits, or working hours are illegal. Stakeholders noted strike procedures were overly burdensome. Participating in strikes deemed to be illegal may result in imprisonment or a fine for the organizers and participants, depending on the offense.
Laws banning education workers from engaging in certain political activities, such as joining a political party or openly endorsing a political party or candidate, also constrained unions’ abilities to advocate for their positions. The law also prohibits dismissed workers from remaining in unions.
The law permits workers to file complaints of unfair labor practices against employers who interfere with union organizing or who discriminate against union members. The NLRC may require employers to reinstate workers fired for union activities. The law prohibits retribution against workers who strike legally. Labor organizations asserted that the inability of full-time labor-union officials to receive wages and the onerous registration requirements for individuals involved in collective bargaining effectively limited legal protections against unfair labor practices. In June a law took effect that allows employers to assist labor unions with operational expenses. Labor-union activists viewed the law as a step forward because previously employers were prohibited from providing such assistance.
The government generally enforced legislation related to freedom of association, collective bargaining, and collective action, including legal strikes, and the penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. In addition an employer may be penalized for noncompliance with a labor relations commission order to reinstate a worker. The law sets penalties in the form of fines or imprisonment against employers who refuse unions’ legitimate requests for bargaining. In December 2019, 26 Samsung Electronics executives were found guilty of union busting by planning and executing a scheme to break up the Samsung Electronics Service Union. The Seoul Central District Court sentenced Samsung vice president Kang Kyung-hoon to 18 months in prison, and other senior executives also faced imprisonment. The court determined that the executives had masterminded a plan of intimidation intended to thwart unionization in the company and its subcontractors.
Labor organizations generally operated without government interference.
Undocumented foreign workers faced difficulties participating in union activities due to fear of exposing themselves to arrest and deportation. “Dispatched workers” (those on temporary contracts) faced increased risk of nonrenewal of their work contract if they joined unions or engaged in industrial disputes.
The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government generally enforced the law effectively but did not consistently identify cases of forced labor; penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
NGOs continued to report that some migrant workers were subject to forced labor, particularly those who had incurred thousands of dollars in debt for payment of recruitment fees, making them vulnerable to debt bondage. Some migrant workers in the agriculture, livestock, and fishing industries faced conditions indicative of forced labor, including deceptive recruiting practices, confiscation of passports, and nonpayment of wages.
NGOs reported harsh conditions for migrant seafarers, many of whom worked more than 18 hours per day. Migrant seafarers, primarily from Southeast Asia, were physically or verbally abused by Korean captains and other crew and were forced to work even when sick. According to NGOs, deep-sea fishing vessels depended heavily on migrant seafarers; 73.3 percent of workers on Korean deep-sea vessels in 2018 were migrants.
The government continued investigations of working conditions for foreign sailors. From May to June, the coast guard conducted enforcement operations for human rights violations against migrant workers in the fisheries industry. Similar operations in 2019 resulted in the arrest by maritime police of 94 individuals for suspected human rights or worker rights abuses. Stakeholders reported that such enforcement activities were limited by jurisdictional disputes between the Ministry of Employment and Labor and the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries.
The government also investigated instances of abuse, including forced labor, against workers with intellectual disabilities in the fisheries industry.
The law prohibits employing minors younger than age 15 without an authorization certificate from the Ministry of Employment and Labor, and the government generally enforced the law. Authorities issued few such certificates for full-time employment because education is compulsory through the end of middle school. Children ages 15 to 18 may work with the consent of at least one parent or guardian. Employers in industries considered harmful or hazardous to a minor’s morals or health may not hire them and face fines or imprisonment for violations. The maximum penalty for child labor, two years’ imprisonment, was not commensurate with that for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, which is penalized by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Through September the government reported no violations of child labor laws.
There were some reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children.).
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination in employment or occupation on the basis of gender, nationality, social status, religion, or disability. No law explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of language or HIV or other communicable disease status. The penalties for employment discrimination were commensurate with laws related to similar violations. The law prohibits companies with more than 30 employees from asking job applicants about family members, place of origin, marital status, age, or property ownership.
The law provides for equal pay for equal work. The government inconsistently enforced the law, and discrimination occurred with respect to gender. The gender pay gap was 32.5 percent in 2019. Workers’ rights groups attributed the gap to women’s childcare and household responsibilities. A higher percentage of women filled lower-paying, low-skilled, contract jobs, and women often faced difficulties returning to the workforce after childbirth. Legal restrictions against women in employment included limits on working hours, occupations, and tasks. In particular the law restricted women’s participation in “hazardous” occupations such as mining.
The government’s Sixth Basic Plan on Equal Employment and Work-Life Balance for 2018 to 2022 provides a roadmap for a policy on women’s employment that consists of three pillars: creating nondiscriminatory working environments, preventing interruptions in women’s careers, and providing re-employment for “career-interrupted” women.
The workplace antibullying law requires employers to take action to fight bullying in the workplace. According to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, 70 percent of persons surveyed in 2018 said they had been bullied at work. By law employers convicted of failing to take action to protect bullied employees face a fine and up to three years in prison.
The law prohibits discrimination against subcontracted (also known as “dispatched”) and temporary workers, who comprised approximately one-third of all wage workers and were found especially in the electronics, automotive, and service sectors. Nonetheless, NGOs and local media reported discrimination against informal or irregular workers (those who do not have full-time, permanent employment and who do not receive benefits at the same level as permanent workers). For example, while the law requires the conversion to permanent status of those employed longer than two years, employers often laid off irregular workers shortly before the two-year mark. To address this problem, the government provides subsidies and tax breaks to encourage businesses to hire temporary workers on a permanent basis, according to the labor ministry. The International Labor Organization noted that the disadvantaged status of irregular workers contributed to discrimination against women given that women were overrepresented among these workers.
Discrimination in the workplace occurred against persons with HIV/AIDS, women, persons with disabilities, and migrant workers.
Many migrant workers faced workplace discrimination. The maximum length of stay permitted under the Employee Permit System is four years and 10 months, just under the five years needed to apply for permanent residency. NGOs and civil society groups asserted this policy is designed to exclude foreign workers from permanent residence or citizenship eligibility. NGOs stated it remained difficult for migrant workers to change employers (see sections 7.b. and 7.e.).
The law allows employers to pay foreign workers on South Korean-flagged ships lower wages than South Korean workers. The minimum wage for Korean workers is set by the government while industry and trade union representatives, who do not represent foreign workers, set the minimum wage for foreign employees. According to NGOs, the rate for domestic crewmembers is five times higher than for foreign workers. Further, unlike citizens, foreign sailors are not entitled to profit sharing. Many foreign seafarers reported to NGOs that they received only 600,000 won ($517) in monthly wages.
The law prohibits recruiters, agents, employers, or managers from receiving money or other valuables or benefits from job seekers or employees in exchange for securing employment. Nevertheless, NGOs reported South Korean-flagged vessel owners routinely demanded security deposits from foreign crewmembers to discourage them from transferring jobs.
During the year the minimum wage increased 2.9 percent and was above the official poverty line. NGOs reported that as the minimum wage increased, employers tried to curb expenses by reducing work hours, listing employees as “on-call” at home when they were in fact at work, employing undocumented foreign workers, and charging migrant workers for their accommodations and board.
The law allows a flexible system under which employees may work more than eight hours during certain days and more than 40 hours per week during certain weeks (up to a maximum of 52 hours in a single week), so long as average weekly work hours for any two-week period do not exceed 40 hours and workers have a mandatory day of rest each week. For employers who adopt a flexible system, hours exceeding 80 in a two-week period constitute overtime. Foreign companies operating in export-processing zones are exempt from labor regulations that mandate one day of rest a week. The law limits overtime of ordinary workers to 12 hours a week.
The government generally effectively enforced laws on wages and acceptable conditions of work in most sectors, but migrants faced discriminatory laws and practices. The Labor Ministry was responsible for enforcement of these laws and the number of labor inspectors was sufficient to deter violations in most sectors. Inspectors had the authority to identify unsafe conditions, conduct unannounced visits, and issue corrective orders. Penalties for violations included imprisonment and fines and were generally commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.
Regulations outline legal protections for migrant and foreign workers. Inspections covered businesses with foreign workers, particularly in the agriculture, livestock, fisheries, and construction sectors, which generally had poor working conditions. Migrants’ rights advocates noted the government inspected only a small percentage of workplaces that hire migrant workers and asserted that employers were not deterred from violating labor standards because most inspections were perfunctory and, even if violations were found, the typical result was a corrective order.
Migrant workers faced multiple restrictions on employment mobility, which left them vulnerable to exploitation. Migrant workers must obtain the consent of their current employers to switch jobs. The Ministry of Labor stated that migrant workers may apply to change workplaces without the employer’s consent when an employer violates the law, but NGOs argued that violations were hard to prove and vulnerable workers were unlikely to be aware of this right.
In one instance an employer told a migrant worker owed four months’ salary in back wages that he would provide the needed approval only in exchange for a payment that exceeded the back wages. In another case a Cambodian agricultural migrant who had not been paid in three years could not leave her job because she did not have the employer’s approval. The employer told media that paying fines for violating the labor standards law was less expensive than paying the back wages.
In March migrant workers seeking to overturn the restriction on changing workplaces filed a constitutional appeal. As of September the case was pending.
Migrant workers lose their legal status if they lose their job and do not find another employer within three months. Authorities may then cancel the work permit, forcing the worker either to return home or to remain in the country illegally. This caused difficulties for seasonal workers such as those involved in agriculture or construction. Migrant workers did not have access to lists of companies that were hiring when they wanted to change jobs, which made it more difficult for these workers to change jobs freely.
To prevent violations and improve working conditions for migrant and foreign workers, the government provided pre-employment training to newly arrived foreign workers, workplace adaptation training to those who changed workplaces, and training to employers who hired foreign workers. The government funded 44 Foreign Workers Support Centers nationwide to provide foreign workers with counseling services in 16 languages, Korean language and cultural programs, shelter, and free health-care services. It also ran a call center to help foreign workers resolve grievances. The government also funded multicultural family and migrant plus centers to provide foreign workers, international marriage immigrants, and other multicultural families with a one-stop service center providing immigration, welfare, and education services.
The law requires severance payments to migrant workers who have worked in the country for at least one year. Many workers, however, reported difficulty in receiving severance pay prior to their departure and stated they did not receive payments even after returning to their country of origin, due to banking regulations and delinquent employers. NGOs confirmed many departing migrants never received these payments and that the COVID-19 pandemic magnified these difficulties.
Some NGOs reported migrant workers were particularly vulnerable to exploitation because the law excludes regulations on working hours, holidays, and benefits for the agricultural, livestock, and fisheries industries that had large numbers of migrant workers. Foreign laborers sometimes faced physical abuse and exploitation by employers in the form of longer working hours, fewer days off, and lower wages than their local counterparts. According to NGOs, the government only occasionally investigated reports of poor or abusive working conditions for migrants, and court cases were often dismissed due to insufficient evidence.
NGOs reported that although employers were prohibited from providing makeshift accommodations, some violated this prohibition, providing migrant workers with substandard accommodations made of plastic panels. After heavy rain led to the flooding of the Sanyang Reservoir in Gyeonggi Province in August, an estimated 100 persons were displaced, of whom 80 percent were migrant workers living in “plastic houses” while working on farms near the reservoir. Employers justified the accommodations, noting they lived there together with the workers and that the lodgings were only temporary to respond to busy work schedules. Workers’ rights advocates argued the plastic houses were illegal.
The government sets occupational health and safety standards and is responsible for monitoring industry adherence. Under the law workers in every sector have the right to remove themselves from situations of danger without jeopardizing their employment. As of July the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency, responsible for enforcement of these laws, had directly or indirectly inspected 299,081 workplaces. The penalties were commensurate with those for analogous crimes such as gross negligence.
In January broad reforms to the Occupational Safety and Health Act took effect. Some of the revisions included higher fines for workplace fatalities and increased penalties for health and safety violations. The revised regulations also prohibited companies from subcontracting out specific types of dangerous work, such as metal plating, that involve harmful heavy metals such as mercury and lead.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Agency, there were 109,242 work-related accidents in 2019, an increase of 6.8 percent from 2018, and 2,020 occupational deaths, down from 2,142 in 2018. The agency’s director acknowledged that challenges remained in further reducing the level of fatal accidents to that on par with other advanced countries; ensuring the safety of workers vulnerable to occupational accidents and health risks, including older workers, women, migrants, and those working in small workplaces; and reducing safety gaps between large enterprises and small- and medium-sized enterprises, as well as between parent companies and subcontractors. Workers’ rights advocates said that contract or temporary workers were also vulnerable to workplace injury.
From September 2019 until May, five fatal accidents occurred at Hyundai Heavy Industries Co., one of the world’s largest shipbuilders. The Ministry of Employment and Labor determined the company lacked executive support for safety management, failed to abide by basic safety regulations, and did not properly educate employees about risks. After inspections in July, the ministry imposed a nominal fine of 152 million won ($131,000) for 165 safety violations.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The constitution allows most workers, including foreign and migrant workers, to form and join independent trade unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. Military personnel and national police forces do not have the right to join generalist unions. Judges, magistrates, and prosecutors may join only bar associations.
The constitution provides for the right of part-time and full-time public sector workers to adopt collective bargaining agreements with employers’ representatives. Public-sector collective bargaining includes salaries and employment levels, but the government retains the right to set the levels if negotiations failed. The government has the unilateral power to annul, modify, or extend the content and scope of collective agreements in the public sector, and all collective bargaining agreements must be registered with the government.
The constitution and law provide for the right to strike, and workers exercised this right by conducting legal strikes. The law prohibits strikers from disrupting or seeking to disrupt harmonious relationships among citizens, disturbing public order, causing damage to persons or property, blocking roads or public spaces, or preventing authorities or bodies from performing their duties freely. Any striking union must respect minimum service requirements negotiated with the respective employer. Law and regulations prohibit retaliation against strikers, antiunion discrimination, and discrimination based on union activity, and these laws were effectively enforced. According to the law, if an employer violates union rights, including the right to conduct legal strikes, or dismisses an employee for participation in a union, the employer could face imprisonment from six months to two years or a fine if the employer does not reinstate the employee.
Workers freely organized and joined unions of their choice. The government effectively enforced applicable laws and generally did not interfere in union functioning. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Collective bargaining agreements covered approximately 80 percent of the workforce in the public and private sectors. On occasion employers used the minimum service requirements to undermine planned strikes and ensure services in critical areas such as transportation or health services.
Although the law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers against workers and union organizers, unions contended that employers practiced discrimination in many cases by refusing to renew the temporary contracts of workers engaging in union organizing. There were also antiunion dismissals and interference in the activities of trade unions and collective bargaining in the public sector.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor including by children.
The government maintained strong prevention efforts, although the efforts focused more on sex trafficking and forced prostitution than forced labor. The government had an insufficient number of inspectors and did not enforce the law effectively. The government did not implement new forced labor awareness campaigns. Penalties for applicable laws were commensurate with those for other analogous crimes, such as kidnapping.
There were cases of employers subjecting migrant men and women to forced labor in domestic service, agriculture, construction, and the service industry. Unaccompanied children were particularly vulnerable to labor exploitation and labor trafficking through forced begging.
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, as defined by international standards. The statutory minimum age for the employment of children is 16, although permission from parents or guardians is required up to 18 years of age unless the person is legally emancipated. The law also prohibits those younger than 18 from employment at night, overtime work, or employment in sectors considered hazardous, such as the agricultural, mining, and construction sectors. Laws and policies provide for protection of children from exploitation in the workplace, and these laws generally were enforced.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Economy (Ministry of Labor) has primary responsibility for enforcement of the minimum age law, and it enforced the law effectively in industries and the service sector.
The ministry did not always effectively enforce the law on small farms and in family-owned businesses, where child labor persisted. The government effectively enforced laws prohibiting child labor in the special economic zones. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. In 2018, the most recent year for which data was available, the Ministry of Labor detected 31 violations of child labor laws that involved 45 minors between ages 16 and 18 and 17 violations involving 23 minors younger than age 16. The fines amounted to more than 324,000 euros ($389,000). In 2018 there were 27 violations related to the safety and health of working minors, involving 35 minors, with penalties of more than 500,000 euros ($600,000).
There were reports that criminals exploited children in child sex trafficking and forced prostitution as well as pornography. Police databases do not automatically register foreign children intercepted at the borders, making them vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking, including labor trafficking through forced begging and child sex trafficking and forced prostitution (see section 6, Children).
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation, and the government effectively enforced the law, although discrimination in employment and occupation still occurred with respect to race and ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. The government requires companies with more than 50 workers to reserve 2 percent of their jobs for persons with disabilities, but it does not effectively enforce this law. Penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.
The law mandates equal remuneration for work of equal value, but a pay gap exists between men and women. On September 24, the Spanish National Statistics Institute reported that women earned on average more than 11 percent less per hour than their male counterparts, compared with 14 percent less in 2014. The gap exists across variables such as age, education, years of service, occupation, type of contract, length of working day, activity, and company size.
In March 2019 the government approved an executive order on urgent measures to guarantee equal treatment and opportunities between women and men in employment and occupation. Congress validated the order in April 2019.
On October 13, the Council of Ministers approved a decree aimed at lessening the wage gap and increasing transparency of employee wages by requiring companies with more than 50 employees to publish salary data for all their workers, disaggregated by gender. On July 30, the Ministries of Labor and Equality signed with two major unions an agreement on effective equality between women and men at work. Under the agreement companies with more than 50 employees must create equality plans and maintain and audit payroll records for over- or undervaluation of positions based on gender.
On International Women’s Day on March 8, hundreds of thousands of women and men demonstrated in most cities to call attention to gender-based violence, wage gaps, and sexual harassment.
The law provides for a national minimum wage, which barely met the poverty level in 2019. In June the government approved an increase to the minimum living wage, which will guarantee an income of between 461 euros ($553) and 1,015 euros ($1,218) for approximately 850,000 households. The measure aimed to reduce extreme poverty in the country by 80 percent.
The government effectively enforced minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health (OSH) standards in the formal economy but not in the informal economy. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.
The law provides for a 40-hour workweek, with an unbroken rest period of 36 hours after each 40 hours worked. The law restricts overtime to 80 hours per year unless a collective bargaining agreement establishes a different level. Pay is required for overtime and must be equal to or greater than regular pay.
The National Institute of Safety and Health in the Ministry of Labor has technical responsibility for developing OSH standards. The law protects workers who remove themselves from situations that could endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
The Inspectorate of Labor has responsibility for enforcing OSH laws through inspections and legal action if inspectors find infractions. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law in all instances, although the number of inspectors and infractions identified increased since 2014. The penalties were not sufficient to deter violations, with 45,605 violations identified in 2018, the latest year for which data was available. Unions criticized the government for devoting insufficient resources to inspection and enforcement. The most common workplace violations included OSH in the construction sector and infractions of wages and social security benefits on workers in the informal economy. The Ministry of Labor issued specific COVID-19 guidelines addressed to self-employed persons and companies that included measures to protect the health of workers.
In 2019 the Ministry of Labor recorded 650,602 workplace accidents, of which authorities considered 4,518 as serious but nonfatal. There were 716 fatal accidents, 13 fewer than in 2018.
Through July the Ministry of Labor recorded 263,434 workplace accidents, of which 418 were fatal accidents, 47 more than the same period in 2019.
During the government-decreed state of alarm, many domestic workers reportedly were dismissed from their employment in Madrid because they were unable to obtain the required employer-provided paperwork to travel between city districts due to their irregular status. Prior to the pandemic, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in February described extremely poor living conditions for seasonal migrant workers in Huelva, including the lack of clean water and electricity, as well as inadequate sanitary conditions. Rights groups had long criticized migrant worker conditions in Huelva, noting exploitative labor conditions, physical abuse, sexual assaults, and racism.
After the Moroccan government closed its borders in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 7,100 Moroccan seasonal strawberry pickers, mostly women, were trapped in Huelva in unsanitary and overcrowded conditions, unable to repatriate following the termination of their contracts in mid-June. On July 15, the Spanish and Moroccan governments announced an agreement to repatriate the workers.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions of their choice. Exceptions include members of the armed forces, police officers, judicial officers, and prison officers. Workers in nonessential services industries, except for workers in public-service unions, have the legal right to bargain collectively. The law does not explicitly recognize the right to strike, but courts recognized an implied right to strike based on the Trade Unions Ordinance and the Industrial Disputes Act. Nonunion worker councils tended to represent labor in export processing zone (EPZ) enterprises, although several unions operated in the zones. According to the Board of Investment, which operates the EPZs, if both a recognized trade union with bargaining power and a nonunion worker council exist in an enterprise, the trade union would have the power to represent the employees in collective bargaining.
Under emergency regulations of the public security ordinance, the president has broad discretion to declare sectors “essential” to national security, the life of the community, or the preservation of public order and to revoke those workers’ rights to conduct legal strikes. In addition to the public security ordinance, the law allows the president to declare services provided by government agencies as “essential” public services. The law prohibits retribution against striking workers in nonessential sectors. Seven workers may form a union, adopt a charter, elect leaders, and publicize their views, but a union must represent 40 percent of workers at a given enterprise before the law obligates the employer to bargain with the union. Unions that do not meet the 40 percent threshold can merge with others and operate as one. The International Trade Union Confederation reported that employers used the 40 percent threshold to refuse to bargain with unions. The law does not permit public-sector unions to form federations or represent workers from more than one branch or department of government. The Labor Ministry may cancel a union’s registration if it fails to submit an annual report for three years.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. Labor laws do not cover domestic workers employed in the homes of others or informal-sector workers.
The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference, but the government enforced the law unevenly. Violations for antiunion discrimination may result in a fine of 100,000 rupees ($578). The law requires an employer found guilty of antiunion discrimination to reinstate workers fired for union activities, but it may transfer them to different locations. These penalties were commensurate with those under other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Only the Labor Ministry has legal standing to pursue an unfair labor practice case, including for antiunion discrimination.
Only the Department of Labor may bring antiunion discrimination cases before a magistrate’s court, not victims of such discrimination. From 1999 to 2019, the Labor Ministry filed 14 cases against companies for unfair labor practices (ULP) under the Industrial Disputes Act. The ministry did not file any new ULP cases during the year. Citing routine government inaction on alleged violations of labor rights, some unions pressed for standing to sue for ULPs, while some smaller unions did not want that ability because of the cost of filing cases. Workers brought some labor violations to court under the Termination of Employment and Workmen Act and the Payment of Gratuity Act. Lengthy delays hindered judicial procedures. The Industrial Dispute Act does not apply to the public sector, and public-sector unions had no formal dispute resolution mechanism. In addition, most large-scale private firms in the services sector, other than banks and tourist hotels, prohibited forming or joining a labor union within work premises and included it as a binding clause in the letter of appointment or contracts signed between the employee and the firm; this practice transgresses the country’s legal framework.
The government generally respected the freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively. Public-sector unions staged numerous work stoppages on several issues, ranging from government moves to privatize state-owned enterprises to wage issues. The International Labor Organization expressed concern that EPZ enterprises refused to recognize the right of unions to bargain collectively.
In November, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, President Rajapaksa issued an “extraordinary gazette” that made the Ports Authority an essential public service, therefore making port workers essential employees. Under Rajapaksa’s essential services act, any port employee not attending work faces “conviction after summary trial before a magistrate” and is “liable to rigorous imprisonment” of two to five years, a fine between 2,000 and 5,000 rupees ($11 and $25), or both. The essential service acts were previously used to break strikes and protests and negatively impacted workers deemed “essential.” When emergency laws are declared, essential service orders can be extended to the private sector as well.
While some unions in the public sector were politically independent, most large unions were affiliated with political parties and played a prominent role in the political process.
Unions alleged that employers often indefinitely delayed recognition of unions to avoid collective bargaining, decrease support for unionization, or identify, terminate, and sometimes assault or threaten union activists. The Ministry of Labor requires labor commissioners to hold union certification elections within 30 working days of an application for registration if there was no objection or within 45 working days if there was an objection.
Seven unions representing EPZ employees made a series of proposals to the labor minister to protect their rights and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. The labor unions that wrote the proposals were supported by 20 civil society organizations. While the government took steps to implement a 5,000 rupee ($26.50) COVID-19 subsidy for EPZ employees, there were reports the subsidy was insufficient, with most workers out of work for months.
The law prohibits all forms of forced and compulsory labor, but penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The government did not effectively enforce the laws due to inadequate resources, inspections, and remediation efforts, as well as a lack of identification of forced labor cases. Labor Ministry inspections did not extend to domestic workers. The government sporadically prosecuted labor agents who fraudulently recruited migrant workers yet appeared to sustain its monthly meetings to improve interministerial coordination.
Children between the ages of 14 and 18 and women working as live-in domestic workers in some homes were vulnerable to forced labor (see section 7.c.).
Traffickers exploited men, women, and children in forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Traffickers recruited women from rural areas with promises of urban jobs in the hospitality sector, salons, spas, and domestic work but exploited some in forced labor. While conditions for most tea plantation workers on larger corporate tea estates met international certification standards, such as Fair Trade, some smaller tea estate owners exploited men and women in bonded labor. NGOs documented cases in which employers “sold” workers’ debts to another estate and forced the workers to move. The same reports stated that some tea estates illegally deducted more than 75 percent of workers’ daily earnings for miscellaneous fees and repayment of debts, including charging workers for the pay slip itself. Three international organizations reported the forced labor continued on at least nine tea estates during the year.
Police continued to arrest trafficking victims for vagrancy, prostitution, and immigration offenses. Police allegedly accepted bribes to permit commercial sexual exploitation, and NGOs reported that workers in government and private shelters for trafficking victims abused and exploited residents.
The minimum age for employment is 14, although the law permits the employment of younger children by their parents or guardians in limited family agricultural work or technical training. The government increased the compulsory age of education from 14 to 16 in 2016. The law prohibits hazardous work for persons younger than 18. The law limits the working hours of children ages 14 and 15 to nine hours per day and of children ages 16 and 17 to 10 hours per day. The government estimated less than 1 percent of children–approximately 40,000–were working, although employment was often in hazardous occupations. The government classifies 51 activities as hazardous. Although the government did not effectively enforce all laws, existing penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
The Labor Ministry made some progress in eliminating the worst forms of child labor. The government appointed district coordinators with responsibility for reducing child labor in all 25 districts and provided new guidelines for district officials. The Department of Labor continued its efforts to monitor workplaces on the list of hazardous work for children. The government reported there were 11 shelters for child victims of trafficking at the provincial level.
Children worked in the construction, manufacturing, mining, transport, street vending, and fishing industries and as cleaners and helpers, domestic workers, and street vendors. Children also worked in agriculture during harvest periods. Children displaced by the war were especially vulnerable to employment in hazardous labor.
The list of hazardous work prohibited for children younger than 18 does not include domestic labor. Family enterprises, such as family farms, crafts, small trade establishments, restaurants, and repair shops, commonly employed children. Criminals reportedly exploited children, especially boys, for prostitution in coastal areas catering to sex tourists (see section 6, Children).
COVID-19-induced school closures were disproportionately harmful for children in rural areas and plantation communities because they had significantly less access to internet and technology. They also had lower school completion rates and were among the poorest regions in the country.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The constitution prohibits discrimination, including with respect to employment and occupation, on the basis of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, or place of birth. The law does not prohibit employment or occupational discrimination on the basis of color, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, HIV-positive status, or status with regard to other communicable diseases.
Women have a wide range of workforce restrictions, including caps on overtime work and limits on nighttime shifts. Women are restricted from certain jobs. Women are prohibited from working in mines, except under certain circumstances and are equated with young persons in laws prohibiting cleaning of transmission machinery while in motion.
Employers are required to bear the full cost of providing maternity-leave benefits to their employees for 12 weeks. The labor market was characterized by high female unemployment and low female labor force participation. Unemployment rates for women below the age of 40 were much higher than they were for men, and this discrepancy was also connected to age. A woman between the ages of 25 and 39 seeking employment was 3.8 times more likely to be unemployed than a man seeking employment in the same age cohort. An estimated 55 percent of employees in the public sector were men and 45 percent were women. In contrast, 70 percent of employees outside the public sector were men and only 30 percent were women.
In October the Development Officers Service Union claimed that the 84 days of maternity leave that was entitled to its female members since 2013 to breastfeed children was reduced by the government to 42 days.
The government did not always effectively enforce these laws, and discrimination based on the above categories occurred with respect to employment and occupation. Penalties were commensurate to those under laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. For example, some employers specified particular positions as requiring male or female applicants, and women often earned less than men for equal work. The earnings gap between men and women widened to 15.9 percent. Companies also openly evaded paying legally mandated maternity benefits through hiring discrimination of young women. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs also described widespread social stigma and harassment and minimal childcare services. The Ministry of Women worked with the World Bank to open career centers for women business owners to offer technical and vocational training for in-demand occupations. The ministry also expanded day-care centers across the country and offered tax incentives to cover the salaries for women on maternity leave.
The parliament passed its first-ever national minimum wage law in 2015. The Department of Labor’s wage boards continued to set minimum wages and working conditions by sector and industry in consultation with unions and employers. Public-sector salary was 34,550 rupees ($186). The minimum private-sector and public-sector wages were above the government’s official poverty line.
The law prohibits most full-time workers from regularly working more than 45 hours per week (a five-and-one-half-day workweek). In addition, the law stipulates a rest period of one hour per day. Regulations limit the maximum overtime hours to 15 per week. Overtime pay is 1.5 times the basic wage and is paid for work beyond 45 hours per week and work on Sundays or holidays. The provision limiting basic work hours is not applicable to managers and executives in public institutions. The law provides for paid annual holidays.
Enforcement of minimum wage and overtime laws was insufficient. Under the Shop and Office Act, penalties for violating hours of work laws are a fine of 500 rupees ($2.89), six months’ imprisonment, or both. The law provides for a fine of 50 rupees ($0.29) per day if the offense continues after conviction. These penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. Labor inspectors did not monitor wages or working conditions or provide programs or social protections for informal-sector workers. In 2018 amendments to the factory’s ordinance and the wages board ordinance increased fines for nonpayment of salaries to workers under the purview of the wages board to between 5,000 rupees ($27) and 10,000 rupees ($55), along with imprisonment not exceeding one year.
The government sets occupational health and safety standards. Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous situations, but many workers had no knowledge of such rights or feared that they would lose their jobs if they did so.
Authorities did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health standards in all sectors. Penalties for violations of occupational safety and health laws were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence. The Labor Ministry’s resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were insufficient. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient for the country’s workforce. Occupational health and safety standards in the rapidly growing construction sector, including infrastructure development projects, such as port, airport, and road construction, as well as high-rise buildings, were insufficient. Employers, particularly those in the construction industry, increasingly used contract employment for work of a regular nature, and contract workers had fewer safeguards. According to the 2019 Labor Survey, approximately 62 percent of the country’s workforce was employed informally, and legal entitlements enjoyed by formal-sector workers such as Employees Provident Fund, Employees Trust Fund, paid leave, gratuity payments, and security of employment, were not available to a large majority of the aggregate workforce in the country.
Labor Ministry inspectors verified whether employers fully paid employees and contributed to pension funds as required by law. Unions questioned, however, whether the ministry’s inspections were effective. The Labor Department used a computerized labor information system application designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of inspections, but officials and trade unions noted concerns that the system was not well maintained.
When the government imposed a countrywide lockdown on March 20 due to COVID-19, employers in FTZs forced workers to continue working until cases spread and workers protested. After one month, several large companies resumed work, putting workers in unsafe conditions amid rising COVID-19 infections. The workers did not received their wages for March and April when they returned. Factory workforces experienced serious job cuts.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The freedom of association for employers and employees, explicitly including the right to strike and the right to hold lockouts, is provided under the federal constitution. This provides for the right for all workers, including foreigners, public-sector officials, domestic workers, and agricultural workers, to form and join independent unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. The constitution also foresees collective agreements between workers and employers and provides for the right to conduct legal strikes, and the government protected these rights. Strikes must be linked to industrial relations, however, and the government may curtail the right of federal public servants to strike for reasons of national security or to safeguard foreign policy interests. Laws prohibit public servants in some cantons and many municipalities from striking. The law protects employees from termination because they are trade union members or carrying out trade union activities in a lawful manner.
No law defines minimum or maximum penalties for violations of the freedoms of association or collective bargaining. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), unjustified dismissals for workers involved in trade union activity may result in compensation of up to six months’ wages. Collective agreements commit the social partners to maintain labor peace, thereby limiting the right to strike for the duration of an agreement, which generally lasts several years. The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs maintains a list of collective agreements that have been declared binding in various regions and sectors of the economy.
The government respected the freedoms of association and collective bargaining, but there have at times been cases when employers dismissed trade unionists or have used the legal system to limit legitimate trade union activities. Trade unions continued to report discriminatory behavior against their members.
The law prohibits all forms of forced and compulsory labor. Penalties for forced labor violations were up to 20 years’ imprisonment or a fine. The law criminalizes sex trafficking and labor trafficking, and prescribed penalties of up to life imprisonment or a fine; the penalties included prison sentences of no less than one year for offenses involving a child victim and those where the trafficker acted for commercial gain. NGOs commented that fines for labor trafficking were often very low because authorities treated indications of forced labor as relatively minor labor violations; in addition, they reported that inspectors often regarded foreign victims of labor trafficking as criminals working illegally in the country. The government conducted several training programs for relevant authorities on labor trafficking aimed at raising awareness and reducing such exploitation. Through three joint action days between law enforcement, labor inspectors, and EUROPOL in 2019, the government reported conducting at least 145 labor inspections that resulted in the identification of at least five victims of labor trafficking, 46 potential victims, and 10 suspected traffickers (compared with the identification of 54 potential victims and seven suspects in 2018). The government conducted multiple antitrafficking training events for law enforcement in 2019, including a roundtable for 40 officials that focused on trafficking in the hospitality sector.
According to antitrafficking NGOs who provided services to victims, incidents of forced labor occurred primarily in the domestic-service, catering, agriculture, tourism, hospitality, construction, and nursing industries. Labor trafficking in the forms of forced begging, stealing, and financial scams occurred in several cantons.
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for full-time employment is 15. Children who are ages 13 or 14 may engage in light work for no more than nine hours per week during the school year and 15 hours at other times. Children younger than 15 may, under special circumstances, work at sports or cultural events with the approval of cantonal authorities. Employment of youths between the ages of 15 and 18 is also restricted. Children who have not completed compulsory education may not work on Sundays, while all children younger than 18 are prohibited from working under hazardous conditions or at night. According to the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, the penal code prohibits the publication of pornography involving children, but the relevant provisions only cover persons who are younger than 16.
The government effectively enforced laws and policies to protect children from exploitation in the workplace. The Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education, and Research monitored the implementation of child labor laws and policies, and cantonal labor inspectors effectively inspected companies to determine whether there were violations of child labor laws. Cantonal inspectors strictly enforced these provisions. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on national origin, race, gender, age, language, social position, lifestyle, religion, beliefs or political convictions, or based on physical, mental or psychological disability. The constitution specifically states that men and women have equal rights, including at work, and that women have to right to equal pay for work of equal value. The criminal code prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, ethnic origin, religion, or sexual orientation, but does not contain provisions specifically on personnel operations such as hiring or firing.
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment on the basis of gender (including pregnancy). Violations of the law may result in the award of compensation to a prospective or dismissed employee equal to a maximum of three months’ salary in the public sector and six months’ salary in private industry. The government did not consistently enforce this provision.
Although discrimination against women in the workplace is illegal, a disproportionate share of women held jobs with lower levels of responsibility. Employers promoted women less frequently than they did men, and women were less likely to own or manage businesses. According to a 2019 study by the University of St. Gallen, there was a 50-50 balance between men and women in the workforce at nonmanagement levels, but the proportion of women decreases at each successive level of management–from 38 percent in lower management, to 23 percent in middle management, and to only 18 percent among the top managers. In June 2019 parliament passed legislation calling for women to occupy at least 30 percent of corporate board positions, and 20 percent of corporate management positions in enterprises with a minimum of 250 employees. The nonbinding policy requires businesses that fail to reach the targets to submit a written justification to the government.
Although the constitution entitles women and men to equal pay for equal work, this was not enforced effectively according to TravailSuisse. According to the Federal Statistics Office, there was an 11.5 percent gender wage gap across both the public and private sectors in 2018, the most recent year for which data was available. The Statistics Office also noted that the wage gap increases with higher levels of responsibility. In upper management women earned 18.6 percent less than men in 2018.
According to Inclusion Handicap, problems remained in integrating individuals with disabilities, especially those with mental and cognitive handicaps, into the labor market. The NGO noted discrimination against disabled persons was particularly problematic in the private sector. Procap, one of the country’s largest organizations for persons with disabilities, welcomed a new law on the further development of social insurance for persons with disabilities in June 2020, which aims to provide greater support for disabled youth in getting a job, among other steps to promote sustained employment (also see section 6, Persons with Disabilities).
The NGOs Pink Cross and Transgender Network noted LGBTI persons experienced workplace discrimination. Pink Cross cited a decision by the Federal Court in April 2019 which made clear that the law did not apply in cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation. The case demonstrated that sexual orientation enjoys no protection from workplace discrimination under the law, the NGO commented. According to Transgender Network, 20 percent of transgender persons in the country are unemployed–nearly five times the rate among the general population.
The NGO Avenir50Plus stated that older persons also face discrimination at the workplace, stating that only 14 percent of unemployed persons older than age 50 found a stable job after losing their previous employment. Nearly 23 percent of the workforce over the age of 55 was unemployed, the NGO said.
There were reports of labor discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS. In 2019 the Swiss AIDS Federation registered 105 cases of discrimination against individuals with HIV, down from 122 in 2018. Of the complaints, 10 concerned employment discrimination or other discrimination in the workplace. Examples of workplace discrimination included a supervisor demanding an employee be tested for HIV, and a supervisor requesting an employee go on sick leave status due to the employee’s HIV-positive status.
According to the Advocacy and Support Organization for Migrant Women and Victims of Trafficking, migrant workers in low-wage jobs were more likely than other workers to face exploitative labor practices and poor working conditions. Women are particularly vulnerable, according to the NGO.
The country has no national minimum wage, but four (Geneva, Jura, Neuenberg, and Ticino) of the 26 cantons have minimum wage laws. Collective agreements on working conditions, including sectoral minimum wages, cover approximately 40 percent of the country’s workforce. Average wages for workers and employees covered by these contracts, particularly in the clothing, hospitality, and retail industries, however, remain relatively low. Authorities effectively enforced these collective agreements, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Minimum wages in the agreements exceeded the poverty income level for a single person, but often did not exceed the poverty level for families with two adults and two children.
Law sets a maximum 45-hour workweek for blue- and white-collar workers in industry, services, and retail trades, and a 50-hour workweek for all other workers. The rules exclude certain professions, such as medical doctors.
To protect worker health and safety, the law contains extensive provisions that are current and appropriate for the main industries. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
The Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education, and Research and cantonal labor inspectorates effectively enforced laws relating to hours of work and occupational safety and health across all sectors including the informal economy. The ministry also oversees collective bargaining agreements. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance.
The courts determined fines according to the personal and economic situation of the perpetrator. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.
Migrant workers in low-wage jobs were more likely to experience exploitative labor practices, although the criminal code forbids human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation. During the year several local NGOs and international organizations expressed concern that authorities lacked the necessary resources and expertise to address adequately labor exploitation prevalent in the construction, hospitality, healthcare, and domestic-labor sectors. For example the Swiss Competence Center for Human Rights examined 12 cases that showed strong signs of labor exploitation of migrant workers, but found that only six of these cases resulted in courts confirming that labor exploitation had occurred.
Immigrant workers have the same rights as other workers. There are no special provisions or requirements for noncitizen workers apart from having legal immigration status and a valid work permit. The government did not allow individuals without legal status or work permits to work. Individuals who obtained legal status could request a work permit. Asylum seekers are usually not allowed to work until they are assigned to a canton and receive a work permit from cantonal authorities.
Section 7. Worker Rights
While the law provides for the right to form and join unions, conduct legal labor strikes, and bargain collectively, there were excessive restrictions on these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but also allows employers to fire workers at will.
The law requires all unions to belong to the regime-affiliated General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU). The law prohibits strikes involving more than 20 workers in certain sectors, including transportation and telecommunications, or strike actions resembling public demonstrations. Restrictions on freedom of association also included fines and prison sentences for illegal strikes.
The law requires that government representatives be part of the bargaining process in the public sector, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor could object to, and refuse to register, any agreements concluded. The law and relevant labor protections do not apply to workers covered under civil service provisions, under which employees neither have nor are considered to need collective bargaining rights. The law does not apply to foreign domestic servants, agricultural workers, NGO employees, or informal-sector workers. There are no legal protections for self-employed workers, although they constituted a significant proportion of the total workforce. Foreign workers may join the syndicate representing their profession but may not run for elected positions, with the exception of Palestinians, who may serve as elected officials in unions.
The regime did not enforce applicable laws effectively or make any serious attempt to do so during the year. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.
The Baath Party dominated the GFTU, and Baath Party doctrine stipulates that its quasi-official constituent unions protect worker rights. The GFTU president was a senior member of the Baath Party, and he and his deputy could attend cabinet meetings on economic affairs. In previous years the GFTU controlled most aspects of union activity, including which sectors or industries could have unions. It also had the power to disband union governing bodies. Union elections were generally free of direct GFTU interference, but successful campaigns usually required membership in the Baath Party. Because of the GFTU’s close ties to the regime, the right to bargain collectively did not exist in practical terms. Although the law provides for collective bargaining in the private sector, past regime repression dissuaded most workers from exercising this right.
There was little information available on employer practices with regard to antiunion discrimination. Unrest and economic decline during the year caused many workers to lose their private-sector jobs, giving employers the stronger hand in disputes.
The law does not prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and such practices existed. The penal code does not define forced labor. The code states, “Those sentenced to forced labor will be strictly required to do work with difficulty on par with their sex, age, and may be inside or outside of the prison.” The penal code allows for forced labor as a mandatory or optional sentence for numerous crimes, such as treason. Authorities may sentence convicted prisoners to hard labor, although according to the International Labor Organization, authorities seldom enforced such a sentence. There was little information available on regime efforts to enforce relevant laws during the year or whether penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
Terrorist groups, including ISIS and the HTS, reportedly forced, coerced, or fraudulently recruited some foreigners, including migrants from Central Asia, children, and Western women, to join them. Thousands of Yezidi women and girl captives of ISIS remained missing and were presumed to have been victims of sex trafficking and subjected to domestic servitude (see section 1.g.).
The law provides for the protection of children from exploitation in the workplace and prohibits the worst forms of child labor. There was little publicly available information on enforcement of the child labor law. The regime did not make significant efforts to enforce laws that prevent or eliminate child labor. Independent information and audits regarding regime enforcement were not available. The minimum age for most types of nonagricultural labor is 15 or the completion of elementary schooling, whichever occurs first, and the minimum age for employment in industries with heavy work is 17. Parental permission is required for children younger than 16 to work. Children younger than 18 may work no more than six hours a day and may not work overtime or during night shifts, weekends, or on official holidays. The law specifies that authorities should apply “appropriate penalties” to violators; however, there was no information that clarified which penalties were appropriate to assess whether such penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Restrictions on child labor do not apply to those who work in family businesses and do not receive a salary.
Child labor occurred in the country in both informal sectors, including begging, domestic work, and agriculture, as well as in positions related to the conflict, such as lookouts, spies, and informants. Conflict-related work subjected children to significant dangers of retaliation and violence.
Various forces, particularly terrorist groups and regime-aligned groups, continued to recruit and use child soldiers (see section 1.g.).
Organized begging rings continued to subject children displaced within the country to forced labor.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Labor and nationality laws discriminate against women. The labor law prohibits women from working during certain hours and does not allow women to work in jobs deemed hazardous, arduous, or morally inappropriate. Additional regulations prohibit women from working in several industries, including in mining, factories, agriculture, energy, and construction. While the constitution provides the “right of every citizen to earn his wage according to the nature and yield of the work,” the law does not explicitly stipulate equal pay for equal work. The Commission for Family Affairs, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor shared responsibility for attempting to accord equal legal rights to women. Governmental involvement in civil rights claims, including cases against sexual discrimination, was stagnant, and most claims went unanswered. Women participated in most professions, including the armed forces, although UNFPA reported that violence and lawlessness in many regions reduced women’s access to the public sphere. Various sources observed that women constituted a minority of lawyers, university professors, and other professions.
The constitution does not address discrimination based on sexual orientation, age, or HIV-positive status. Since the law criminalizes homosexuality, many persons faced discrimination due to their sexual orientation.
The law prohibits most forms of discrimination against persons with disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, and other state services, but the regime did not enforce these provisions effectively, and Article 130 (b) of the labor law allows an employer to decrease the wages of a person with disabilities whenever his productivity is substantially reduced as attested by a medical certificate. Discrimination occurred in hiring and access to worksites. The law seeks to integrate persons with disabilities into the workforce, reserving 4 percent of government jobs and 2 percent of private-sector jobs for them. Private-sector businesses are eligible for tax exemptions after hiring persons with disabilities.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to certain minority groups (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).
The law divides the public-sector monthly minimum wage into five levels based on job type or level of education, almost all of which fell below the World Bank’s poverty indicator. Benefits included compensation for meals, uniforms, and transportation. Most public-sector employees relied on bribery to supplement their income. Private-sector companies usually paid much higher wages, with lower-end wage rates semiofficially set by the regime and employer organizations. Many workers in the public and private sectors took additional manual jobs or relied on their extended families to support them.
The public-sector workweek was 35 hours, and the standard private-sector workweek was 40 hours, excluding meals and rest breaks. Hours of work could increase or decrease based on the industry and associated health hazards. The law provides for at least one meal or rest break totaling no less than one hour per day. Employers must schedule hours of work and rest such that workers do not work more than five consecutive hours or 10 hours per day in total. Employers must provide premium pay for overtime work. There was little information available on regime efforts to enforce relevant laws during the year or whether penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as fraud.
The regime set occupational safety and health standards. The law includes provisions mandating that employers take appropriate precautions to protect workers from hazards inherent to the nature of work. The law does not protect workers who chose to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety from losing their employment.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage and other regulations pertaining to acceptable conditions of work. The Ministries of Health and of Social Affairs and Labor designated officials to inspect worksites for compliance with health and safety standards. Workers could lodge complaints about health and safety conditions with special committees established to adjudicate such cases. Wage and hour regulations as well as occupational health and safety rules do not apply to migrant workers, rendering them more vulnerable to abuse.
There was little information on regime enforcement of labor law or working conditions during the year. There were no health and safety inspections reported, and even previous routine inspections of tourist facilities, such as hotels and major restaurants, no longer occurred. The enforcement of labor law was lax in both rural and urban areas, since many inspector positions were vacant due to the conflict, and their number was insufficient to cover more than 10,000 workplaces.
Before the conflict began, 13 percent of women participated in the formal labor force, compared with 73 percent of men. During the year the unemployment rate for both men and women remained above 50 percent, with millions unable to participate in the workforce due to continued violence and insecurity. During the year UNFPA reported that local female employment participation increased in areas such as Damascus, Raqqa, and Daraa, as men were detained or killed.
Foreign workers, especially domestic workers, remained vulnerable to exploitative conditions. For example, the law does not legally entitle foreign female domestic workers to the same wages as Syrian domestic workers. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor oversees employment agencies responsible for providing safe working conditions for migrant domestic workers, but the scope of oversight was unknown. The continued unrest resulted in the large-scale voluntary departure of foreign workers as demand for services significantly declined, but violence and lawlessness impeded some foreign workers from leaving the country.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right to form and join independent unions but requires registration for all NGOs, including trade unions, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. The law also provides that union activities, such as collective bargaining, be free from interference except “in cases specified by law,” but the law does not define such cases. Collective bargaining contracts covered 90 percent of workers in the formal sector.
Workers have the right to strike, but the law requires that meetings and other mass actions have prior official authorization, limiting trade unions’ ability to organize meetings or demonstrations. The law provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively, but it does not specifically prohibit antiunion discrimination. Penalties were commensurate with those under other laws involving denials of civil rights.
Workers joined unions, but the government used informal means to exercise considerable influence over organized labor, including influencing the selection of labor union leaders. The government-controlled umbrella Federation of Trade Unions of Tajikistan did not effectively represent worker interests. There were reports the government compelled some citizens to join state-endorsed trade unions and impeded formation of independent unions. There were no reports of threats or violence by government entities toward trade unions; however, government influence inhibited workers from fully exercising or demanding their rights. Most workers’ grievances were resolved with mediation between employees, with support from their union, and employer. Anecdotal reports from multiple in-country sources stated that citizens were reluctant to strike due to fear of government retaliation.
Labor NGOs not designated as labor organizations played a minimal role in worker rights, as they were restricted from operating fully and freely. In 2019 police reportedly arrested 15 agricultural workers, charging them with organizing an illegal event after they protested outside the Dushanbe headquarters of Faroz, a company belonging to President Rahmon’s family. Dozens of workers had gathered around the gates of the company to object to proposed lower wages for harvesting the medicinal plant ferula. All were subsequently released within 10 to 15 days of their arrest, with some paying nominal fines.
Tajik children and adults may be subjected to forced labor in agriculture, mainly during the country’s fall cotton harvest, but also in dried fruit production. The government may have subjected some citizens to participate in manual labor, such as cleaning roads and park maintenance. Some Afghan and Bangladeshi citizens were victims of forced labor in the country, including in the construction industry. The law prohibits and criminalizes most forms of forced labor except for cleaning the streets (“subotnik” labor), work in the military, and “socially important” work. The country, however, does not consider those types of labor to be “forced labor.” The government did not effectively enforce this law and resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate to address concerns over forced labor. Employees of state institutions were sometimes required to perform agricultural work outside of and in addition to their regular employment. While penalties to discourage the practice of forced labor were stringent and commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes, such as rape, the government investigated, prosecuted, and convicted fewer individuals suspected of trafficking persons for forced labor than in prior years. In May, Tajik State Medical University students reported they were forced to work at hospitals treating coronavirus patients due to a shortage of medical personnel.
The government continued to implement its national referral mechanism that has formal written procedures for identification, referral, and assistance to victims of trafficking. Law enforcement reported screening for victims when making arrests for prostitution. NGOs reported that in many cases when victims were identified by authorities, they were detained but not put in jail.
The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for children to work is 16, although children may work at age 15 with permission from the local trade union. By law children younger than 18 may work no more than six hours a day and 36 hours per week. The law applied only to contractual employment and children as young as seven may participate in household labor and agricultural work, which is separately classified as family assistance. The government did not effectively enforce the law and many children under the age of 15 worked in the country. Many children younger than 10 worked in bazaars or sold goods on the street. The highest incidences of child labor were in the domestic and agricultural sectors and some children performed hazardous work.
Enforcement of child labor laws is the responsibility of the Prosecutor General’s Office, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Social Welfare, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and appropriate local and regional governmental offices. Unions also are responsible for reporting any violations in the employment of minors. Citizens can bring unresolved cases involving child labor before the prosecutor general for investigation. There were few reports of violations because most children worked under the family assistance exception. There were reports that military recruitment authorities kidnapped children younger than 18 from public places and subjected them to compulsory military service to fulfill local recruitment quotas.
The government enforced child labor laws and worked with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to prevent the use of forced child labor. IOM and local NGOs noted that penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. The overall instances of forced child labor in the cotton harvest decreased dramatically after 2013; the 2015 IOM annual assessment showed local or national government authorities responded to most cases, in which comprehensive data on child labor in the cotton harvest are available. Without comprehensive data (collected by the government, NGO(s), or a multilateral entity such as the IOM) it was not possible to assess the prevalence of child labor in the country’s cotton sector.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of race, sex, gender, disability, language, HIV-positive status, other communicable diseases, or social status. The law does not expressly prohibit worker discrimination on the basis of color, religion, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, sexual orientation, or age.
Persons holding foreign nationalities, including dual citizens and stateless persons, are prohibited from certain public sector positions, including serving in the police force.
Employers discriminated against individuals based on sexual orientation and HIV-positive status, and police generally did not enforce the laws. LGBTI persons and HIV-positive individuals opted not to file complaints due to fear of harassment from law enforcement personnel and the belief that police would not take action.
The law provides that women receive equal pay for equal work, but legal and cultural barriers continued to restrict the professional opportunities available to women. The law lists 37 employment categories in which women are prohibited from engaging, ostensibly to protect them from performing heavy labor. As a result, women are unable to work in the following sectors, affecting their earning potential: energy, mining, water, construction, factories, agriculture, and transportation.
The government did not effectively enforce discrimination laws; penalties were commensurate with those under other laws related to civil rights.
The government set a minimum monthly wage of 400 somoni ($38.80), which is below the poverty line. The legal workweek is 40 hours and the law mandates overtime payment, with the first two hours paid at a time-and-a-half rate and the remainder at double the rate, but there is no legal limit to compulsory performance of overtime.
The State Inspectorate for Supervision of Labor, Migration, and Employment under the Ministry of Labor, Migration, and Employment is responsible for the overall supervision of enforcing labor law in the country. The Ministry of Finance enforces financial aspects of the labor law, and the Agency of Financial Control of the presidential administration oversees other aspects of the law. Resources, including the number of inspectors, inspections, and remediation to enforce the law were inadequate. The State Inspectorate conducts inspections once every two years and has the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. In 2018, however, President Rahmon suspended all labor-related inspections in the manufacturing sector to support “entrepreneurship,” so inspections have only occurred on the basis of complaints. The Inspectorate reported just under 50 such inspections during 2020.
Penalties for violations are commensurate with those for similar crimes, but the regulation was not enforced, and the government did not pay its employees for overtime work. Overtime payment was inconsistent in all sectors of the labor force. In May police fired on Chinese mine workers in the northern region of Sughd who were protesting over the payment of overdue salaries. Despite the use of live rounds, no individuals were reported injured, and the protestors dispersed.
The State Inspectorate for Supervision of Labor, Migration, and Employment is also responsible for enforcing occupational health and safety standards. The government did not fully comply with these standards, partly because of corruption and the low salaries paid to inspectors. The law provides workers the right to remove themselves from hazardous working conditions without fear of loss of employment, but workers seldom exercised this right. Medical personnel working with COVID-19 patients were fired for complaining about a lack of access to personal proactive equipment, according to media reports. There were zero industrial accidents during the year that caused the death or serious injury to workers. Farmers and agricultural workers, accounting for more than 60 percent of employment in the country, continued to work under difficult circumstances. There was no system to monitor or regulate working conditions in the agricultural and informal sectors. Wages in the agricultural sector were the lowest among all sectors, and many workers received payment in kind. The government’s failure to ensure and protect land tenure rights continued to limit its ability to protect agricultural workers’ rights.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The mainland and Zanzibari governments have separate labor laws. Workers on the mainland, except for workers in the categories of “national service” and prison guards, have the right to form and join independent trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. The government nevertheless restricted these rights. Reinstatement of workers fired for trade union activity is not mandatory.
Trade unions in the private sector must consist of more than 20 members and register with the government, while public-sector unions need 30 members. Five organizations are required to form a federation. Trade union affiliation with nonunion organizations can be annulled by the Labor Court if it was obtained without government approval, or if the union is considered an organization whose remit is broader than employer-worker relations. A trade union or employers association must file for registration with the Registrar of Trade Unions in the Ministry of Labor within six months of establishment. The law, however, does not provide for specific time limits within which the government must register an organization, and the registrar has the power to refuse registration on arbitrary or ambiguous grounds. The government prescribes the terms of office of trade union leaders. Failure to comply with government requirements is subject to fines, imprisonment, or both.
The law requires unions to submit financial records and a membership list to the registrar annually and to obtain government approval for association with international trade unions. The registrar can apply to the Labor Court to deregister or suspend unions if there is overlap within an enterprise or if it is determined the union violated the law or endangered public security.
Collective bargaining agreements must be registered with the Labor Commission. Public-service employees, except for limited exceptions, such as workers involved in “national service” and prison guards, may also engage in collective bargaining.
Employers have the right to initiate a lockout, provided they comply with certain legal requirements and procedures. For a strike to be declared legal, the law requires three separate notifications of intent, a waiting period of at least 92 days, and a union vote in the presence of a Ministry of Labor official that garners approval by at least 75 percent of the members voting. All parties to a dispute may be bound by an agreement to arbitrate, and neither party may then engage in a strike or a lockout until that process has been completed. Disputes regarding adjustments to or the terms of signed contracts must be addressed through arbitration and are not subject to strikes.
The law restricts the right to strike when a strike would endanger the life and health of the population. Picketing in support of a strike or in opposition to a lawful lockout is prohibited. Workers in sectors defined as “essential” (water, sanitation, electricity, health services, health laboratory services, firefighting, air traffic control, civil aviation, telecommunications, and any transport services required for these services) may not strike without a pre-existing agreement to maintain “minimum services.” Workers in other sectors may also be subject to this limitation as determined by the Essential Services Committee, a tripartite committee composed of employers, workers, and government representatives with the authority to deem which services are essential.
An employer may not legally terminate an employee for participating in a lawful strike or terminate an employee who accedes to the demands of an employer during a lockout.
Penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were commensurate with penalties for similar violations. Disputes over antiunion discrimination must be referred to the Commission for Mediation and Arbitration, a governmental department affiliated with the Ministry of Labor. There was no public information available regarding cases of antiunion discrimination.
There were no reports of sector-wide strikes or any other major strikes.
In Zanzibar the law requires any union with 50 or more members to be registered, a threshold few companies could meet. The law sets literacy standards for trade union officers. The law provides the registrar considerable powers to restrict union registration by setting criteria for determining whether an organization’s constitution protects its members’ interests. The law applies to both public- and private-sector workers and bans Zanzibari workers from joining labor unions on the mainland. The law prohibits a union’s use of its funds, directly or indirectly, to pay any fines or penalties incurred by trade union officials in the discharge of their official duties. In Zanzibar both government and private-sector workers have the right to strike as long as they follow procedures outlined in the law. For example, workers in essential sectors may not strike; others must give mediation authorities at least 30 days to resolve the issue in dispute and provide a 14-day advance notice of any proposed strike action.
The law provides for collective bargaining in the private sector. Public-sector employees have the right to bargain collectively through the Trade Union of Government and Health Employees; however, members of the police force and prison service, and high-level public officials (for example, the head of an executive agency) are barred from joining a trade union. Zanzibar’s Dispute Handling Unit addresses labor disputes. In Zanzibar judges and all judicial officers, members of special departments, and employees of the House of Representatives are excluded from labor law protection. In Zanzibar the courts are the only venue in which labor disputes can be heard. Enforcement of labor law in Zanzibar is insufficient, especially on the island of Pemba.
The government did not effectively enforce the law protecting the right to collective bargaining. Penalties were commensurate with penalties for similar violations. On both the mainland and in Zanzibar, private-sector employers adopted antiunion policies or tactics, although discriminatory activities by an employer against union members are illegal. The Trade Union Congress of Tanzania (TUCTA)’s 2018 annual report claimed that international mining interests bribed government officials to ignore workers’ complaints and write false favorable reports on work conditions in mines. TUCTA also reported that employers discouraged workers from collective bargaining and retaliated against workers’ rights activists via termination of employment and other measures.
TUCTA expressed concern over the proposal of a new formula for calculating pensions. Under the new formula, 25 percent of a pension would be issued as a lump sum while the remaining 75 percent would be paid in monthly installments. TUCTA called for the government to revert to the old formula, under which workers received a 50 percent lump sum payment upon retirement. By the end of December 2018, President Magufuli announced the new formula would not go into effect until 2023 to provide more time to reach consensus.
The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law allows prisoners to work without pay on construction and agriculture projects within prisons. The law deems such work acceptable as long as a public authority ensures the work is not for the benefit of any private party. The law also allows work carried out as part of compulsory national service in certain limited circumstances. The constitution provides that no work shall be considered forced labor if such work forms part of compulsory national service in accordance with the law, or “the national endeavor at the mobilization of human resources for the enhancement of society and the national economy and to ensure development and national productivity.”
The law establishes criminal penalties for employers using forced labor. Penalties were not commensurate with penalties for similar violations. The government did not adequately enforce the law. Neither the government nor the International Labor Organization (ILO) provided statistics on government enforcement. The ILO reported unspecified instances of forced labor, including those involving children from the southern highlands forced into domestic service or labor on farms, in mines, and in the informal business sector. Forced child labor occurred (see section 7.c.). In late 2018 the government drafted a national child labor strategy, addressing elimination of forced child labor, which has yet to be launched formally.
Prisoners perform unpaid and nonvoluntary labor on projects outside of the prison, such as road repair, agriculture, and government construction projects. The Ministry of Home Affairs reported that prisoners perform labor on a joint sugar plantation project, including planting 2,000 acres of sugar under an agreement between the National Social Security Fund and the Parastatal Pension Fund (PPF). The Moshi Prison Department, in collaboration with PPF, installed leather manufacturing equipment, and prisoners produce shoes and handbags. In Kigoma, the prisoners work on palm farms in palm oil production, in Dodoma and Singida they work on farms to produce corn and beans, and in Arusha, they work in meat production. The Minister of Home Affairs budget speech of 2020/21 included a statement about having prisoners produce their own food.
The law prohibits the exploitation of children in the workplace. By law the minimum age on the mainland for employment is 14; in Zanzibar the minimum age is 15. Neither the mainland nor Zanzibar’s minimum age laws, however, extend to children in domestic work, leaving such children vulnerable to exploitation. Children older than 14 but younger than 18 may be employed only to do nonhazardous work that is not likely to be harmful to the child’s health and development or attendance at school. The government published regulations to define hazardous work for children in several sectors, including in agriculture, fishery, mining, quarrying, construction, service, informal operations, and transport. The law limits working hours for children to six hours a day. Although legal penalties for violations of minimum age laws are likely sufficient to deter violations, there are few reported instances of law enforcement officials imposing penalties. Penalties were not commensurate with penalties for similar violations.
Both the mainland’s and Zanzibar’s labor inspectorates lacked human and financial resources to adequately enforce minimum age laws, and labor inspectors lacked authority to assess penalties for violations. Inadequate enforcement left children vulnerable to exploitation. In January the ILO worked with the Ministry of Labor to train approximately 70 labor inspectors on child labor in Iringa.
Mainland officials arrested but were not able to obtain convictions for traffickers of children working in mining and domestic service. Zanzibar’s Ministry of Labor, Youth Development, Women, and Children did not take legal action related to child labor.
Government measures to ameliorate child labor included verifying that children of school age attended school, imposing penalties on parents who did not enroll their children in school, and pressing employers in the formal sector not to employ children younger than 18. In 2018 the government developed a national strategy for elimination of child labor; however, the government has yet to launch the strategy, indicating a lack of political will to prioritize its implementation.
On the mainland children worked as domestic workers, street vendors, and shopkeepers as well as in agriculture, family-based businesses, fishing, construction, and artisanal mining of gold and tanzanite. According to Human Rights Watch, children as young as eight worked in mining. In Zanzibar children worked primarily in fishing, clove picking, domestic labor, small businesses, and gravel making. In Micheweni and Mwambe villages, for example, children engaged in stone crushing, exposing them to being hit by rock fragments. In fishing villages such as Matemwe, children’s work at fish markets prevents them from attending school.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits workplace discrimination, directly or indirectly, against an employee based on skin color, nationality, tribe, place of origin, race, national extraction, social origin, political opinion, religion, sex, gender, pregnancy, marital status, family responsibility, disability, HIV/AIDS, age, or station in life. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, language, citizenship, or other communicable disease status. The law distinguishes between discrimination and an employer hiring or promoting based on affirmative action. The government in general did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Penalties were commensurate with penalties for similar violations.
Women have the same status as men under labor law on the mainland. According to TUCTA, gender-based discrimination in terms of wages, promotions, and legal protections in employment continued to occur in the private sector. It was difficult to prove and often went unpunished. While employers in the formal sector were more attentive to laws against discrimination, problems were particularly acute in the informal sector, in which women were disproportionately employed. Women often were employed for low pay and in hazardous jobs, and they reported high levels of bullying, threats, and sexual harassment. A 2015 study by the LHRC found that women faced particular discrimination in the mining, steel, and transport industries. The 2019 LHRC human rights and business report shows women still experienced discrimination.
Discrimination against migrant workers also occurred. They often faced difficulties in seeking documented employment outside of the informal sector. The law gives the labor commissioner authority to deny work permits if a citizen with the same skills is available. During the year foreign professionals, including senior management of international corporations, frequently faced difficulties obtaining or renewing work permits. Because refugees lived in camps and could not travel freely (see section 2.d.), few refugees worked in the formal sector.
The LHRC stated that persons with disabilities faced discrimination in seeking employment and access to the workplace. While nongovernment and government actors made efforts to curb discrimination and violence against persons with albinism, the LHRC reported that this population still lived in fear of their personal security and therefore could not fully participate in social, economic, and political activities.
Inspections conducted since the enactment of the law in 2015 revealed 779 foreign employees working without proper permits. Of these, 29 were repatriated and 77 were arraigned in court. Because legal refugees lived in camps and could not travel freely (see section 2.d.), few worked in the formal sector.
The government established minimum wage standards in 2015 for employees in both the public and private sectors on the mainland, and it divided those standards into nine employment sectors. The minimum wage was above the government poverty line, but in many industries, it was below World Bank standards for what constitutes extreme poverty. The government’s poverty line has not been updated since 2012. The law allows employers to apply to the Ministry of Labor for an exemption from paying the minimum wage. The labor laws cover all workers, including foreign and migrant workers and those in the informal sector. The minimum wage on Zanzibar was above the poverty line. According to the Tanzania Mainland Poverty Assessment 2019 published by the World Bank and the Tanzania National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the national basic needs poverty line for 2018 for the country was 49,320 TZS ($21) per adult per month (or $0.55 per day) and the food poverty line was 33,748 TZS ($14) per month ($0.50 per day).
The standard workweek is 45 hours, with a maximum of nine hours per day or six days per week. Any work in excess of these limits should be compensated with overtime pay at one-and-a-half times the employee’s regular wage. Under most circumstances, it is illegal to schedule pregnant or breastfeeding women for work between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The law states employees with 12 months of employment are entitled to 28 days of paid annual leave, and it requires employee compensation for national holidays. The law prohibits excessive or compulsory overtime, and it restricts required overtime to 50 hours in a four-week period or in accordance with previously negotiated work contracts. The law requires equal pay for equal work.
Several laws regulate occupational safety and health (OSH) standards in the workplace. According to TUCTA, OSH standards are appropriate for the main industries and enforcement of these standards has improved, but challenges remained in the private sector. In March the National Audit Office released a follow-up report on a 2013 performance audit on the management of occupational health and safety in the country. The audit found the vast majority of recommendations had been fully implemented.
OSH standards, however, were not effectively enforced in the informal economy. The Occupational Safety and Health Authority did not employ sufficient inspectors. By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively enforce this protection.
Workers may sue an employer if their working conditions do not comply with the Ministry of Labor’s health and environmental standards. Disputes were generally resolved through the Commission for Mediation and Arbitration. There were no exceptions for foreign or migrant workers.
Many workers did not have employment contracts and lacked legal protections. The LHRC reported many workers did not have written contracts, and those who did were often not provided with written copies of their contract. Additionally, employers often kept copies of the contracts that differed from the versions given to the employees. Companies frequently used short-term contracts of six months or less to avoid hiring organized workers with labor protections.
The government did not adequately enforce labor standards, particularly in the informal sector, where the majority of workers were employed. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations and were not commensurate with penalties for similar violations. The number of inspectors was insufficient to deter violations. Inspectors did have the authority to conduct unannounced inspections, but the penalties are imposed by the court.
In dangerous industries such as construction, employees often worked without protective equipment such as helmets, gloves, or harnesses. According to a 2008 Accident Notification Survey (latest available), the sectors with the highest rates of fatal accidents were construction and building, transport, and mining and quarrying. Domestic workers were reportedly frequent victims of abuse.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The constitution provides that a person shall enjoy the liberty to unite and form an association, cooperative, union, organization, community, or any other group. The law provides for the right of workers in certain private-sector and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to form and join independent trade unions. The law does not allow public-sector and migrant workers to organize trade unions. Civil servants may assemble as a group, provided that such assembly does not affect the efficiency of national administration and continuity of public services and does not have a political objective. The law provides for the right of certain workers to bargain collectively and to conduct legal strikes, although these rights come with some restrictions.
By law only workers with the same employer or in the same industry may form a union. Subcontract workers, even if working in the same factory and doing the same job as full-time workers, may not join the same union because they are classified as belonging to the service industry while full-time workers come under the “manufacturing industry.” Nevertheless, the law makes subcontract workers eligible for the same benefits as those enjoyed by union members. The inability of subcontract workers and full-time workers to join the same union limits the unions’ ability to bargain collectively as a larger group. In addition short-term contract workers are less likely to join unions, fearing antiunion retaliation in the form of nonrenewal of their contracts. Labor advocates claimed that many companies hire subcontract workers to undermine unionization efforts. A survey of the auto parts and electronics industries found that more than 45 percent of the workforce consisted of subcontract workers, approximately half on short-term contracts.
The law does not protect union members against antiunion discrimination by employers until their union is registered. To register a union, at least 10 workers must submit their names to the Department of Labor Protection and Welfare (DLPW). The verification process of vetting the names and employment status with the employer exposes the workers to potential retaliation before registration is complete. Moreover, the law requires that union officials be full-time employees of the company or SOE and prohibits permanent union staff. The law allows one union per SOE. Banks, trains, airlines, airports, marine ports, and postal services are among those industries owned by SOEs. If an SOE union’s membership falls below 25 percent of the eligible workforce, regulations require dissolution of the union. The law restricts formal links between unions of SOEs and their private-sector counterparts because they are governed by two separate laws.
The law requires unions to have 20 percent membership to bargain collectively. The law allows employees at workplaces without a union to submit collective demands if at least 15 percent of employees are listed as supporting that demand.
Employees in private enterprises with more than 50 workers may establish “employee committees” to represent workers’ interests in employment benefits; employees may also form “welfare committees” to represent workers’ interests in welfare benefits and nonfinancial interests. Employee and welfare committees may offer employers suggestions but are barred from submitting labor demands or going on strike.
The law prohibits employers from taking adverse employment actions against workers for their participation in these committees and from obstructing the work of the committees. Union leaders often join employee committees to avail themselves of this legal protection. Within 29,305 enterprises which have more than 50 workers in the country, there are 1,486 labor unions and 687 employee committees. NGOs reported that welfare committees were uncommon in the border regions where the majority of workers are migrants.
The law provides workers with the right to strike if they notify authorities and employers 24 hours in advance and if the strike does not include a demonstration on public roads. The government may block private-sector strikes with national security implications or with negative repercussions on the population at large. Strikes and lockouts are prohibited at SOEs, and penalties for violations include imprisonment, fines, or both.
The law prohibits termination of employment of legal strikers but permits employers to hire temporary workers or use subcontract workers to replace strikers. The legal requirement to call a general meeting of trade-union members and obtain strike approval by at least 50 percent of union members constrained strike action since many factories use shift workers, making it difficult to attain a quorum.
In May the minister of labor issued an order prohibiting employer lockouts and employee strikes while the emergency decree to contain the COVID-19 outbreak was in effect. The decree required any labor dispute to be arbitrated by a Labor Relations Committee in order to maintain public safety and ease industrial relations conflicts during the COVID-19-induced recession. NGOs criticized the order for violating the rights of workers to bargain collectively, while the government and certain union leaders viewed the decree as a means to promote negotiations to find ways to prevent business closures and mass layoffs.
Labor courts or the Labor Relations Committee may make determinations on complaints of unfair dismissals or labor practices and may require compensation or reinstatement of workers or union leaders with wages and benefits equal to those received prior to dismissal. The Labor Relations Committee consists of representatives of employers, government, and workers groups, and there are associate labor court judges who represent workers and employers.
Noncitizen migrant workers, whether registered or undocumented, do not have the right to form unions or serve as union officials. Migrants may join unions organized and led by Thai citizens. Migrant-worker participation in unions is low due to language barriers, weak understanding of legal rights, frequent changes in employment status, membership fees, restrictive union regulations, and segregation of citizen workers from migrant workers by industry and by zones (particularly in border and coastal areas) as well as due to migrants’ fears of losing their jobs due to their support for a union.
Unregistered associations, community-based organizations, and religious groups often represent the interests of migrant workers. In workplaces where the majority of workers are migrants, migrant workers are sometimes elected to the welfare committees and employee committees. Migrant workers are allowed to make collective demands if they obtain the names and signatures of at least 15 percent of employees. NGOs reported few cases, however, where migrant workers’ collective demands were successful in effecting change, particularly along the border areas.
The law protects employees and union members from criminal or civil liability for participating in negotiations with employers, initiating a strike, organizing a rally, or explaining labor disputes to the public, except where such activities cause reputational harm. The law does not protect employees and union members from criminal charges for reputational damage, and reputational damage charges have been used to intimidate union members and employees. The law does not prohibit lawsuits intended to censor, intimidate, or silence critics through costly legal defense. The law provides some protection to defendants in frivolous libel cases from prosecution. By law a court may dismiss a defamation lawsuit if it is considered dishonest. In June the Supreme Court upheld the appeals court not-guilty verdict in the case of a British worker rights activist who had been charged in 2013 for reporting on migrant workers’ rights.
Labor law enforcement was inconsistent and in some instances ineffective in protecting workers who participated in union activities. There were reports of workers dismissed for engaging in union activities, both before and after registration. Rights advocates reported that judges and provincial-level labor inspectors often attempted to mediate cases, even when labor rights violations requiring penalties had been found. In some cases labor courts ordered workers reinstated, although the court orders were not always complied with by employers. There were reports from unions and NGOs that employers attempted to negotiate terms of reinstatement after court orders were issued, offering severance packages for voluntary resignation, denying reinstated union leaders access to work, or demoting workers to jobs with lower wages and benefits.
In some cases judges awarded compensation in place of reinstatement when employers or employees claimed they could not work together peacefully; however, authorities rarely applied penalties against employers found guilty of labor violations. Penalties include imprisonment, a fine, or both and were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights.
Unions and NGOs reported that employers used various techniques to weaken labor-union association and collective-bargaining efforts. These included replacing striking workers with subcontractors, which the law permits as long as strikers continue to receive wages; delaying negotiations by failing to show up at Labor Relations Committee meetings or sending non-decision-makers to negotiate; threatening union leaders and striking workers; pressuring union leaders and striking workers to resign; dismissing union leaders, ostensibly for business reasons, violation of company rules, or negative attitudes toward the company; prohibiting workers from demonstrating in work zones; inciting violence, then using a court order to clamp down on protests; transferring union leaders to other branches, thus making them ineligible to participate in employee or welfare committees; transferring union leaders and striking workers to different, less desirable positions or stripping them of management authority; and supporting the registration of competing unions to circumvent established, uncooperative unions.
The unionization rate among wage and salary workers was estimated at 3.4 percent, and only 34 of 77 provinces had any labor unions.
Labor groups reported that employers exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to discriminate against union members during the year. In May, 93 of the 94 workers dismissed from Sunstar Engineering, an auto supplier, were members of the sectoral Thailand Auto Parts and Metal Workers Union. Another 800 workers from Body Fashion Factory in Nakhon Sawan Province, an undergarment and lingerie manufacturer, were dismissed without compensation after the workers gathered to demand that the company pay the previously agreed wages and bonuses.
Employers sometimes filed lawsuits against union leaders and strikers for trespass, defamation, and vandalism.
Private companies also continued to pursue civil and criminal lawsuits against NGOs and journalists as well as workers (see section 2.a., Libel/Slander Laws). Since 2016 and continuing into May, Thammakaset, a poultry farm owner in Lopburi Province, filed 13 criminal and civil cases against 14 former employees, labor rights activists, and journalists on various charges such as criminal defamation, theft of timecards, and computer crime. Authorities and courts dismissed most of these complaints and ordered Thammakaset to pay THB 1.7 million ($56,900) in compensation for back wages, overtime, and holiday pay to 14 former employees for labor-law violations. As of September some of these cases remained pending.
NGOs and labor advocates reported incidents where their staff members were followed or threatened by employers after they had been seen advocating for labor rights.
In October the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases found 13 State Railway Workers’ Union leaders guilty of “committing an official act of omission of the official duty or…to disrupt work or to cause damage by doing so together with five or more persons” and sentenced them to three years in prison. This case concerned the union’s role in organizing a strike in 2009 to protest against unsafe conditions following a train derailment that killed seven persons. The International Labor Organization (ILO) found that the union leaders’ actions were in line with international standards. In 2018 the Supreme Court ordered seven railway union leaders to pay a fine of THB 15 million ($500,000) plus accrued interest in connection with the same incident; the government then started to garnish the wages and seize the assets of union leaders. Various labor organizations and unions viewed these penalties as an effort to send a signal chilling freedoms of expression and association.
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, except in the case of national emergency, war, martial law, or imminent public calamity. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The government enforced the law with mixed results.
In 2019 the government amended the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act for the third time in five years. The new amendment added a separate provision specifically addressing “forced labor or services” and prescribed penalties of up to four years’ imprisonment. More severe penalties can be pursued under the previously existing human trafficking statute or if victims were seriously injured. Government agencies and nongovernmental groups worked on revisions of subordinate regulations, victim-identification guidelines, and standard operating procedures.
The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, the Ministry of Labor, and the Office of Attorney General organized training workshops for law enforcement and multidisciplinary teams to understand changes to the law.
There were reports that forced labor continued in fishing, shrimp, garment production, agriculture, domestic work, and begging. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. NGOs acknowledged a decline in the most severe forms of labor exploitation in the fishing sector. Some NGOs, however, pointed to inconsistencies in enforcing labor law, particularly around irregular or delayed payment of wages, illegal wage deductions, illegal recruitment fees, withholding of documents, and not providing written contracts in a language that workers understand.
Labor rights groups reported that some employers utilized practices indicative of forced labor, such as seeking to prevent migrant workers from changing jobs or forcing them to work by delaying wages, burying them in debt, or accusing them of theft. NGOs reported cases where employers colluded to blacklist workers who reported labor violations, joined unions, or changed jobs.
The government and NGOs reported trafficking victims among smuggled migrants, particularly from Burma. Most of those cases involved transnational trafficking syndicates both in Thailand and in the country of origin. Many victims were subjected to deception, detention, starvation, human branding, and abuse during their journey. Traffickers sometimes destroyed the passports and identity documents of victims. Some victims were sold to different smugglers and subjected to debt bondage.
The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The law protects children from child trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, use in illicit activities, and forced labor, but it does not meet the international standard for prohibiting military recruitment of children by nonstate armed groups. The law regulates the employment of children younger than age 18 and prohibits employment of children younger than 15. Children younger than 18 are prohibited from work in any activity involving metalwork, hazardous chemicals, poisonous materials, radiation, extreme temperatures, high noise levels, toxic microorganisms, operation of heavy equipment, and work underground or underwater. The law also prohibits children younger than 18 from workplaces deemed hazardous, such as slaughterhouses, gambling establishments, places where alcohol is sold, massage parlors, entertainment venues, sea-fishing vessels, and seafood processing establishments. As such, children ages 15 to 17 may legally engage in hazardous “homework” (work assigned by the hirer representing an industrial enterprise to a homeworker to be produced or assembled outside of the workplace). The law provides limited coverage to child workers in some informal sectors, such as agriculture, domestic work, and home-based businesses. Self-employed children and children working outside of employment relationships, defined by the existence of an agreement or contract and the exchange of work against pay, are not protected under labor law, but they are protected under laws on child protection and trafficking in persons. Children participating in paid and nonpaid Muay Thai (Thai boxing) competitions, however, are not protected under labor law, and it was unclear whether child-protection legislation sufficiently protects child Muay Thai participants.
Penalties for violations of the law may include imprisonment or fines. These penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Parents of victims whom the court finds were “driven by unbearable poverty” may be exempt from penalties. The government effectively enforced law related to the worst forms of child labor but was less effective enforcing laws on the minimum age of work and hazardous work.
Government and private-sector entities used bone-density checks and dental examinations to identify potentially underage job applicants. Such tests, however, were not always conclusive. Labor inspectors used information from civil society to target inspections for child labor and forced labor.
Civil society and international organizations reported they rarely saw cases of child labor in manufacturing, fishing, shrimping, and seafood processing. They attributed the decline to legal and regulatory changes both in 2014 that expanded the number of hazardous-job categories in which children younger than 18 were prohibited from working and in 2017 that increased penalties for the use of child laborers.
NGOs, however, reported that some children from within the country, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and ethnic minority communities were working in informal sectors and small businesses, including farming, home-based businesses, restaurants, street vending, auto services, food processing, construction, domestic work, and begging. Some children were forced to work in prostitution, pornography, begging, and the production and trafficking of drugs (see section 6, Children). In 2019 the Thailand Internet Crimes against Children Task Force investigated 26 cases of child sex trafficking, three cases of forced child begging, and 31 cases of possession of child-pornographic materials.
The DLPW is the primary agency charged with enforcing child labor law and policies. NGOs reported child labor violations found by the DLPW’s labor inspectors were usually referred to law enforcement officers for further investigation and prosecution. NGOs reported families whose children suffered from trafficking or forced labor received some support, but little support was provided to children found working in violation of other child labor laws (minimum working age, hazardous work limits).
In 2019 the government reported a slight increase in the number of labor inspectors and interpreters directly employed by the Ministry of Labor. During the year labor inspections were targeted at fishing ports and high-risk workplaces, including garment factories, shrimp and seafood processing, poultry and pig farms, auto repair shops, construction sites, and in service-sector businesses like restaurants, karaoke bars, hotels, and gas stations. The DLPW reported 43 violations related to child labor, including the employment of underage children, failure to notify the government about the employment of child workers, and employing children younger than 18 to work in hazardous conditions or during the night.
Observers noted several limiting factors in effective enforcement of child-labor law, including insufficient labor inspectors, insufficient interpreters during labor inspections, ineffective inspection procedures (especially in hard-to-reach workplaces like private residences, small family-based business units, farms, and fishing boats), and a lack of official identity documents among young migrant workers from neighboring countries. NGOs also reported insufficient protection for child-labor victims, including lack of legal assistance for claiming compensation and restitution, inadequate protection and counseling mechanisms, and a lack of safe repatriation (especially for migrant children). They alleged that while there were clear mechanisms for the protection and repatriation of child trafficking victims, there was no such mechanism for child-labor victims. A lack of public understanding of child-labor law and standards was also an important factor.
In June 2019 the government published its first national working-children survey, using research methodology in line with international guidelines. This survey was the product of cooperation among the Ministry of Labor, the National Statistical Office, and the ILO. The survey revealed that 3.9 percent of 10.47 million children ages five to 17 were working children, including 1.7 percent who were child laborers (exploited working children)–1.3 percent in hazardous work and an additional 0.4 percent in nonhazardous work. The majority of child laborers were doing hazardous work in household or family businesses (55 percent), in the areas of agriculture (56 percent), service trades (23 percent), and manufacturing (20 percent). Boys were in child labor more than girls, and more than half of child laborers were not in school. Of the top three types of hazardous work which children performed, 22 percent involved lifting heavy loads, 8 percent working in extreme conditions or at night, and 7 percent being exposed to dangerous chemicals and toxins.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
Labor law does not specifically prohibit discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, religion, national origin, color, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, or HIV status. The law imposes penalties of imprisonment or fines for anyone committing gender or gender-identity discrimination, including in employment decisions. Penalties for gender discrimination were commensurate with those for laws related to civil rights, but the government did not effectively enforce its limited discrimination law. The law requires workplaces with more than 100 employees to hire at least one worker with disabilities for every 100 workers.
Women are prohibited from work underground, in mining, or in underwater construction; on scaffolding higher than 33 feet; and in production or transportation of explosive or inflammatory material.
Discrimination with respect to employment occurred against LGBTI persons, women, and migrant workers (see section 7.e.). Government regulations require employers to pay equal wages and benefits for equal work, regardless of gender. Union leaders stated the wage differences for men and women were generally minimal and were mostly due to different skills, duration of employment, and types of jobs, as well as legal requirements which prohibit the employment of women in hazardous work. Nonetheless, a 2016 ILO report on migrant women in the country’s construction sector found female migrant workers consistently received less than their male counterparts, and more than half were paid less than the official minimum wage, especially for overtime work (see section 6, Women). There were reports many companies intentionally laid off pregnant women during the year.
In 2018 the police cadet academy announced it would no longer admit female cadets. This decision was widely criticized as discriminatory and detrimental to the ability of the police force to identify some labor violations against women. Discrimination against persons with disabilities occurred in employment, access, and training. In April advocacy groups for the rights of persons with disabilities filed a complaint on embezzlement and illegal deduction of wages from workers with disabilities. The case was transferred from the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission to the National Anti-Corruption Commission because it involves senior government officials, and remains under investigation.
Members of the LGBTI community faced frequent discrimination in the workplace, partly due to common prejudices and a lack of protective law and policies on discrimination. Transgender workers reportedly faced even greater constraints, and their participation in the workforce was often limited to a few professions, such as cosmetology and entertainment.
The minimum wage was three times higher than the government-calculated poverty line. It does not apply to employees in the public sector, SOEs, domestic work, and seasonal agricultural sectors.
The maximum workweek by law is 48 hours, or eight hours per day over six days, with an overtime limit of 36 hours per week. Employees engaged in “dangerous” work, such as the chemical, mining, or other industries involving heavy machinery, may work a maximum of 42 hours per week and may not work overtime. Petrochemical industry employees may not work more than 12 hours per day but may work continuously for a maximum period of 28 days.
The law requires safe and healthy workplaces, including for home-based businesses, and prohibits pregnant women and children younger than 18 from working in hazardous conditions. The law also requires the employer to inform employees about hazardous working conditions prior to employment. Workers do not have the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
Legal protections do not apply equally to all sectors. For example, the daily minimum wage does not apply to employees in the public sector, SOEs, domestic work, and seasonal agricultural work. Ministerial regulations provide household domestic workers some protections regarding leave, minimum age, and payment of wages, but they do not address minimum wage, regular working hours, social security, or maternity leave. According to government statistics, 54 percent of the labor force worked in the informal economy, with limited protection under labor law and the social security system.
The DLPW enforces laws related to wages, hours of work, labor relations, and occupational safety and health. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and issue orders to employers to comply with the law. If an employer fails to comply with the order within a specified period, inspectors have a duty to refer the case for criminal law enforcement actions. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. The law subjects employers to fines and imprisonment for minimum-wage noncompliance, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with or greater than those for similar crimes such as fraud.
The DLPW issued orders to provincial offices in 2018 prohibiting labor inspectors from settling cases where workers received wages and benefits less than those required by law; however, there were many reports during the year of minimum-wage noncompliance that went to mediation, where workers settled for owed wages lower than the daily minimum wage. NGOs reported contract workers in the public sector received wages below minimum wage as they were governed by separate law.
Labor inspections increasingly focused on high-risk workplaces and information received from civil society partners. Labor inspections, however, remained infrequent, and the number of labor inspectors and resources were inadequate. Trade-union leaders suggested that inspectors should move beyond perfunctory document reviews toward more proactive inspections. Rights advocates reported that provincial-level labor inspectors often attempted to mediate cases, even when labor rights violations requiring penalties had been found.
Due to the economic impact of COVID-19, union leaders estimated almost one million workers were laid off, and many workers, particularly subcontract workers and migrant workers, were laid off without receiving severance payment or advance notice as required by law.
The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage, overtime, and holiday-pay laws in small enterprises, in certain geographic areas (especially rural or border areas), or in certain sectors (especially agriculture, construction, and sea fishing). In 2019 labor unions estimated 5-10 percent of workers received less than the minimum wage; the share of workers who received less than minimum wage was likely higher among unregistered migrant workers and in the border region. Unregistered migrant workers rarely sought redress under the law due to their lack of legal status and the fear of losing their livelihood.
The law subjects employers to imprisonment and fines for violations of occupational safety and health (OSH) regulations. Penalties were commensurate with or greater than those for similar crimes such as negligence. The numbers of OSH experts and inspections were insufficient, however, with most inspections only taking place in response to complaints. The government did not effectively enforce OSH law.
Union leaders estimated 20 percent of workplaces, mostly large factories owned by international companies, complied with government OSH standards. Workplace safety instructions as well as training on workplace safety were mostly in Thai, likely contributing to the higher incidence of accidents among migrant workers. Medium-sized and large factories often applied government health and safety standards, but overall enforcement of safety standards was lax, particularly in the informal economy and among smaller businesses. NGOs and union leaders noted that ineffective enforcement was due to insufficient qualified inspectors, an overreliance on document-based inspection (instead of workplace inspection), a lack of protection against retaliation for workers’ complaints, a lack of interpreters, and a failure to impose effective penalties on noncompliant employers.
The country provides universal health care for all citizens, and social security and workers’ compensation programs to insure employed persons in cases of injury or illness and to provide maternity, disability, death, child-allowance, unemployment, and retirement benefits. Registered migrant workers in both the formal and informal labor sectors and their dependents are also eligible to buy health insurance from the Ministry of Public Health.
NGOs reported that many construction workers, especially subcontracted workers and migrant workers, were not in the social security system or covered under the workers’ compensation program because their employers failed to register them or did not transfer the payments to the social security system.
In March 2019 the Ministry of Labor issued regulations for a workers compensation plan for workplace accidents and injuries; however, the regulations do not cover vendors and domestic workers. Labor-union leaders reported that compensation for work-related illnesses was rarely granted because the connection between the health condition and the workplace was often difficult to prove.
In November 2019 a new labor-protection law for workers in the fishing industry came into effect. It required workers to have access to health-care and social security benefits and, for vessels with deck size more than 300 tonnage gross or which go out more than three days at a time, to provide adequate living conditions for workers. Social security benefits and other parts of the law, however, were not enforced pending approval of subordinate laws by the Council of State. The existing government requirements are for registered migrant fishery workers to buy health insurance and for vessel owners to contribute to the workers’ compensation fund. Since 2019 fishery migrant workers holding a border pass have been eligible for accident compensation. The lack of OSH inspections, first aid kits, and OSH training in the migrant workers’ language increased the vulnerability of fishery workers. During the year NGOs reported several cases where the navy rescued fishery workers who had been in accidents at sea.
Firms used a “subcontract labor system” under which workers sign a contract with labor brokers. By law businesses must provide subcontract laborers “fair benefits and welfare without discrimination.” Employers, however, often paid subcontract laborers less and provided fewer or no benefits.
Department of Employment regulations limit the maximum charges for recruitment fees, but effective enforcement of the rules was hindered by worker unwillingness to provide information and the lack of documentary evidence regarding underground recruitment, documentation fees, and migration costs. Exploitative employment-service agencies persisted in charging citizens working overseas illegal recruitment fees. NGOs reported that workers would often borrow this money at exorbitant interest rates from informal moneylenders.
In 2019, the latest year for which data were available, there were 94,906 reported incidents of accidents or work-related diseases. Of these, 2 percent resulted in organ loss, disability, or death. The Social Security Office reported most serious workplace accidents occurred in manufacturing, wholesale retail trade, construction, transportation, hotels, and restaurants. Observers said workplace accidents in the informal and agricultural sectors and among migrant workers were underreported. Employers rarely diagnosed or compensated occupational diseases, and few doctors or clinics specialized in them.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides workers with the right to organize, form, and join unions, and to bargain collectively. The law allows workers to protest, provided they give 10 days’ advance notice to their federations and receive Ministry of Interior approval. Workers may strike after giving 10 days’ advance notice. The right to strike extends to civil servants, with the exception of workers in essential services “whose interruption would endanger the lives, safety, or health of all or a section of the population.” The government did not explicitly define which services were essential. Authorities largely respected the right to strike in public enterprises and services. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers and retribution against strikers. The government generally enforced applicable laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights.
Conciliation panels with equal labor and management representation settled many labor disputes. Otherwise, representatives from the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), and the Tunisian Union for Industry, Commerce, and Handicrafts (UTICA) formed tripartite regional commissions to arbitrate disputes. Observers generally saw the tripartite commissions as effective.
By law unions must advertise a strike 10 days in advance to be considered a legal action. The decision to hold a strike is internally approved by the union leadership; however, wildcat strikes (those not authorized by union leadership) have increasingly occurred throughout the year. According to the report of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, 798 collective protests, mainly seeking jobs and regional development, were recorded in July alone. Sector-based unions carried out some strikes and sit-ins, such as those in education, security services, health services, and extractive industries. Even if they were not authorized, the Ministry of Interior tolerated most strikes.
An April agreement between the UGTT, UTICA), and the government averted approximately 1.5 million pandemic-related private-sector layoffs, including agricultural and maritime fishing, construction, metal, garment and shoe manufacturing, transportation, and hotels. Under the agreement the government would pay 190 dinars ($70) per worker, and employers would be responsible for paying the remaining salaries, in an effort to ensure that workers remain employed through the crisis caused by COVID-19.
In May workers organized a strike against Gartex Garment Factory for its failure to apply labor laws and regulations on a wide range of health and safety issues, and for violating collective agreements. Tensions had been high between the union and employer since Gartex dismissed the IndustriAll affiliate’s general secretary and assistant general secretary in 2018. In February, Gartex also dismissed additional union leaders, advisory committee members, and 56 workers. In a letter to Gartex, IndustriAll urged management to respect workers’ fundamental labor rights and to reinstate the union leaders and members immediately.
In June the UGTT raised concerns about an uptick in worker rights violations at garment factories since the government allowed them to reopen that month. The UGTT called on employers and the government to reduce short-term contracts and increase formal employment; enact protective measures so workers do not bear the brunt of corporate brands’ rush for products at the lowest cost; urgently address gender-based violence and harassment to ensure decent working conditions, increase safety and health inspections and monitoring; and create space for workers to form and join unions.
In response to the prime minister’s June statements suggesting the possible reduction of salaries of civil servants, public officials, and pensioners due to COVID-19 related crises, the UGTT denounced the government for passing its financial imbalances to workers and stressed the need to respect its commitments and implement agreements reached, including the payment of third tranche wage increases for civil servants and revision of the guaranteed minimum wage. The UGTT further called on the government to respect workers’ contractually guaranteed actions such as promotions and bonuses, the need for serious negotiations to resolve outstanding issues, and for finding solutions to precarious employment.
On June 21, protesters in the southern governorate of Tataouine clashed with security forces near a pumping station and demanded that authorities honor its 2017 pledge to provide thousands of jobs in the gas and oil sectors (see section 2.b., Freedom of Assembly). After extensive negotiations, the government agreed to hire 1,000 employees in the state-owned Environment, Planting and Gardening Company in Tataouine, to create an 80-million dinar ($29 million) development fund for projects in the region, grant loans to 1,000 beneficiaries under the Corporate Social Responsibility Fund, ensure the hiring of 285 workers by private oil and gas companies operating in Tataouine, and create state-owned holding companies in various sectors in the region with priority access to oil and gas companies’ tenders.
The UGTT alleged antiunion practices among private-sector employers, including firing of union activists and using temporary workers to deter unionization. In certain industries, such as textiles, hotels, and construction, temporary workers continued to account for a significant majority of the workforce. UTICA, along with the government, maintained an exclusive relationship with the UGTT in reaching collective bargaining agreements. The government held organized collective social negotiations only with the UGTT and UTICA. Representatives from the General Confederation of Tunisian Labor and the Union of Tunisian Workers complained their labor organizations were ignored and excluded from tripartite negotiations.
The law prohibits forced and compulsory labor and provides for penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for capturing, detaining, or sequestering a person for forced labor. While the government enforced most applicable codes dealing with forced labor, penalties were not commensurate with those prescribed for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, and transgressions still occurred in the informal sector.
The law generally prohibits the employment of children younger than age 16. Persons younger than 18 are prohibited from working in jobs that present serious threats to their health, security, or morality. The minimum age for light work in the nonindustrial and agricultural sectors during nonschool hours is 13. Children between the ages of 14 and 16 may work no more than two hours per day. The total time that children spend at school and work may not exceed seven hours per day. Workers between the ages of 14 and 18 must have 12 hours of rest per day, which must include the hours between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
Children engage in the worst forms of child labor, including in forced labor and domestic work in third-party households. They work nearly 10 hours per day without written contracts and have no social coverage. They are victims of health problems related to the arduous nature and long hours of work and to the dangers to which they may be exposed in the performance of various household tasks and other types of work in employers’ home, begging, street vending, and seasonal agricultural work. They were also subjected to commercial sexual exploitation and used in illicit activities, including drug trafficking, sometimes as a result of human trafficking.
Labor inspectors from the Ministry of Social Affairs monitored compliance with the minimum-age law by examining employee records. According to ministry officials, the labor inspectorate did not have adequate resources to monitor fully the informal economy, officially estimated to constitute 38 percent of the gross domestic product. According to the latest figures from the National Institute of Statistics, more than 1.5 million Tunisians worked in the informal sector by the fourth quarter of 2019, accounting for 44 percent of the total labor force. Occasionally, labor inspectors coordinated spot checks with the UGTT and the Ministry of Education.
The Ministries of Employment and Vocational Training, Social Affairs, Education, and Women, Family, Childhood, and Senior Citizens all have programs directed at both children and parents to discourage children from entering the informal labor market at an early age. These efforts include programs to provide vocational training and to encourage youth to stay in school through secondary school. The minister of social affairs told media in 2019 that the number of school dropouts increased more than 50 percent in the preceding five years to 101,000 dropouts in 2018. He estimated that 90 percent of school dropouts come from poor and low-income families, stressing that the poverty rate for children has reached 25 percent, higher than the national rate of 15 percent. UNICEF reported in November that only 56.1 percent of children ages 15-18 complete secondary school, down from 70 percent 20 years ago.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law and regulations prohibit employment discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and gender identity, HIV-positive status or presence of other communicable diseases, or social status. The government did not always effectively enforce those laws and regulations, due to lack of resources and difficulty in identifying when employers’ attitudes toward gender identity or sexual orientation resulted in discriminatory employment practices (see section 6). Penalties were commensurate with other laws related to civil rights.
Societal and cultural barriers significantly reduced women’s participation in the formal labor force, particularly in managerial positions. Women are prohibited from employment determined to be dangerous, hard, or harmful to health or trade, or jobs which violate their morals and femininity, in line with public morals. This prevents women from working the same hours as men, as well as in the same sectors, such as in mining and agriculture. Women in the private sector earned on average one-quarter less than men for similar work. The 2018 law on gender-based violence contains provisions aimed at eliminating the gender-based wage gap. The law explicitly requires equal pay for equal work, and the government generally enforced it. The law allows female employees in the public sector to receive two-thirds of their full-time salary for half-time work, provided they have at least one child younger than age 16 or a child with special needs, regardless of age. Qualifying women may apply for the benefit for a three-year period, renewable twice for a maximum of nine years.
On October 15, the International Day of Rural Women, the Moussawat (Equality) organization condemned the illegal transport of rural women and demanded information regarding fatal accidents that have killed dozens of women agricultural workers. The organization voiced its support for Law 51 of 2019, which would provide safe transportation for rural agricultural workers, and an equal inheritance law that would support women’s rights. The Moussawat also urged the government to enforce the labor code ensuring that rural women have guaranteed limits on work hours, social security, and equal pay.
Despite the absence of an asylum law, an internal government circular from the Ministry of Social Affairs, issued in May 2019, allowed refugees registered with UNHCR, who hold a regular employment with a contract validated by the Ministry of Vocational Training and Employment or who are self-employed, to enroll in the Tunisian social security system, thereby formalizing their employment. The Caisse Nationale pour la Securite Sociale (National Social Security Fund or CNSS) issued a note in this regard in September 2019. According to UNHCR, refugees who fulfill the requirements can apply through their employer for CNSS coverage and their application will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Civil society worked with the Ministry of Human Rights and other government bodies to support the most vulnerable among the country’s migrant populations, especially day laborers, those working in the informal sector, or those living in shelters who are adversely impacted by COVID-19 prevention measures. Migrants at the Ouardia Center, a government-run facility for approximately 60 migrants, initiated a hunger strike on April 6 to protest their continued detention, alleged mistreatment, and an absence of COVID-19 prevention measures. The government announced a series of new measures to support the largely sub-Saharan migrant community during the COVID-19 crisis. These included commitments by the Ministry of Interior not to arrest migrants during the remainder of the crisis, to finalize a national migration strategy, to regularize the legal status of current migrants, to release some migrants at the Ouardia Center, and to improve the conditions for those who remained. The ministry also suspended fines for visa overstays during the COVID-19 pandemic and appealed to landlords to forgive migrants’ rent for the months of April and May. Some municipalities guaranteed to cover the rent of sub-Saharan African migrants in need.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities. It mandates that at least 2 percent of public- and private-sector jobs be reserved for persons with disabilities. NGOs reported authorities did not widely enforce this law, and many employers were not aware of it.
The labor code provides for a range of administratively determined minimum wages; the minimum wages were above the poverty income level. The Prime Ministry announced in May 2019 an increase of the guaranteed minimum wage in the industrial and agricultural sectors by 6.5 percent.
In 2015 the Ministry of Social Affairs, the UGTT, and the Tunisian Union of Agriculture and Fishing reached an agreement to improve labor conditions and salaries in agricultural work to match those in the industrial sector. The agreement allows for the protection of rural women against dangerous employment conditions, sets safety standards for handling of hazardous materials, and gives tax incentives for agricultural employers to provide training for workers.
The law sets a maximum standard 48-hour workweek for manual work in the industrial and agricultural sectors and requires one 24-hour rest period per week. For administrative jobs in the private and public sectors, the workweek is 40 hours with 125-percent premium pay for overtime. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. Depending on years of service, employees are statutorily awarded 18 to 23 days of paid vacation annually. Although there is no standard practice for reporting labor-code violations, workers have the right to report violations to regional labor inspectors. The government did not adequately enforce the minimum-wage law, particularly in nonunionized sectors of the economy. The prohibition against excessive compulsory overtime was not always enforced. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes.
Special government regulations control employment in hazardous occupations, such as mining, petroleum engineering, and construction. Workers were free to remove themselves from dangerous situations without jeopardizing their employment, and they could take legal action against employers who retaliated against them for exercising this right. The Ministry of Social Affairs is responsible for enforcing health and safety standards in the workplace. Under the law all workers, including those in the informal sector, are afforded the same occupational safety and health protections. The government did not effectively enforce these health and safety standards. Regional labor inspectors were also responsible for enforcing standards related to hourly wage regulations. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Penalties for violations of occupational, safety, and health laws were not commensurate with those for similar crimes.
Working conditions and standards generally were better in export-oriented firms, which were mostly foreign owned, than in those firms producing exclusively for the domestic market. According to the government and NGOs, labor laws did not adequately cover the informal sector, where labor violations were reportedly more prevalent. Temporary contract laborers complained they were not afforded the same protections as permanent employees. Credible data on workplace accidents, injuries, and fatalities were not available.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, but it places significant restrictions on these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and discourages employers for terminating workers involved in union activities. In particular the law requires employers to either reinstate a worker fired for participating in union activity or pay a fine equal to one year of the affected worker’s salary. Some public-sector employees, such as senior officials, magistrates, members of the armed forces, and police, may not form or join unions.
The law provides some workers the right to strike. In particular public-sector workers who are responsible for safeguarding life and property as well as workers in the essential areas (coal mining and petroleum industries, hospitals and funeral industries, urban transportation, energy and sanitation services, national defense, banking, and education) do not have the right to strike. Instead, while the law allows some essential workers to bargain collectively, the law requires the workers to resolve disputes through binding arbitration rather than strikes.
A 2014 the Constitutional Court ruling that bankers and municipal transport workers have the right to strike remains in force. The law further allows the government to deny the right to strike in any situation that represents a threat to public health or national security. On October 9, the government issued an executive order prohibiting workers at the multinational glass manufacturer Sisecam in Mersin from striking, noting the strike would disrupt general public health and security.
The government also maintains a number of restrictions on the right of association and collective bargaining. The law requires labor unions to notify government officials prior to meetings or rallies, which must occur in officially designated areas, and allows government representatives to attend their conventions and record the proceedings.
The law requires a minimum of seven workers to establish a union without prior approval. To become a bargaining agent, a union must represent 40 percent of the worksite employees and 1 percent of all workers in that particular industry. The law prohibits union leaders from becoming officers of or otherwise performing duties for political parties. The law also prohibits union leaders from working for or being involved in the operation of any profit-making enterprise. As of March, 67 percent of public-sector employees and 14 percent of private-sector employees were unionized. Nonunionized workers, such as migrants and domestic servants, are not covered by collective bargaining laws.
The government did not enforce laws related to collective bargaining and freedom of association effectively in many instances (e.g., penalties were not consistently commensurate with those provided under other laws involving denials of civil rights). Labor courts functioned effectively and relatively efficiently, although as with other courts, the appeals process could often last for years. If a court ruled that an employer had unfairly dismissed a worker and should either reinstate or compensate the individual, the employer generally paid compensation to the employee along with a fine.
The 19 unions and confederations shut down under the 2016-18 state of emergency, at times due to alleged affiliations with the Gulen movement, remained closed.
The government and employers interfered with freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Government restrictions and interference limited the ability of some unions to conduct public and other activities. According to the most recent information available from the government, as of May 2019, the rate of security force interference in labor union marches and demonstrations was 0.8 percent, below the 2 percent rate of intervention in 2016. Police frequently attended union meetings and conventions. In addition some unions reported that local authorities prohibited public activities, such as marches and press conferences.
Employers used threats, violence, and layoffs in unionized workplaces. Unions stated that antiunion discrimination occurred regularly across sectors. Service-sector union organizers reported that private-sector employers sometimes ignored the law and dismissed workers to discourage union activity. Many employers hired workers on revolving contracts of less than a year’s duration, making them ineligible for equal benefits or bargaining rights.
The government instituted a ban on lay-offs during the COVID-19 crisis that in some cases resulted in the employees being compelled to take leave without pay or earn less than minimum wage. Some companies instituted COVID-19 precautions, including prohibiting workers from leaving and returning to a worksite for extended periods of time. In April workers at a Cengiz Holding construction site of a railway in Diyarbakir staged a protest after reportedly being prohibited from leaving the worksite for more than 15 days and compelled to work 14-hour days during the outbreak.
The law generally prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government enforced such laws unevenly. Penalties for violations were not consistently commensurate with those for other serious crimes. Forced labor generally did not occur, although some local and refugee families required their children to work on the streets and in the agricultural or industrial sectors to supplement family income (see section 7.c.).
Women, refugees, and migrants were vulnerable to labor trafficking. Although government efforts to prevent trafficking continued with mixed effect, authorities made improvements in identifying trafficking victims nationwide. The government did not release data on the number of arrests and convictions related to trafficking.
The government implemented a work permit system for registered Syrian adults with special temporary protected status; however, applying for a work permit was the responsibility of the employer, and the procedure was sufficiently burdensome and expensive that relatively few employers pursued legally hiring refugees. As a consequence the vast majority of both conditional refugees and Syrians under special temporary protection remained without legal employment options, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation, including illegally low wages, withholding of wages, and exposure to unsafe work conditions.
The law allows children to perform light work that does not interfere with their school attendance from age 14 and establishes 16 as the minimum age for regular employment. The law prohibits children younger than 16 from performing arduous or dangerous work. The government prohibited children younger than 18 from working in certain professions or under hazardous conditions.
The government did not effectively enforce child labor laws but made efforts to address the problem. Penalties for violations were sufficiently stringent compared with those for other serious crimes. Resources and inspections were insufficient to effectively monitor and enforce prohibitions against the use of child labor. In the absence of a complaint, inspectors did not generally visit private agricultural enterprises that employed 50 or fewer workers, resulting in enterprises vulnerable to child labor exploitation.
Illicit child labor persisted, including in its worst forms, fostered in part by large numbers of Syrian refugees and the pandemic driving more family members to seek employment. Child labor primarily took place in seasonal agriculture (e.g., hazelnuts), street work (e.g., begging), and small or medium industry (e.g., textiles, footwear, and garments), although the overall scale of the problem remained unclear, according to a wide range of experts, academics, and UN agencies engaged on the issue. Parents and others sent Romani children to work on the streets selling tissues or food, shining shoes, or begging. Such practices were also a significant problem among Syrian and Afghan refugee children. The government implemented a work permit system for registered adult Syrian refugees with temporary protection status, but many lacked access to legal employment; some refugee children consequently worked to help support their families, in some cases under exploitative conditions. According to data from the Ministry of Family, Labor, and Social Services, in 2019, a total of 27 workplaces were fined for violating rules prohibiting child labor.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law does not explicitly address discrimination due to sexual orientation, gender identity, color, national origin or citizenship, social origin, communicable disease status, or HIV-positive status. The labor code does not apply to discrimination in the recruitment phase. Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred with regard to sex, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, and presence of a disability. Sources also reported frequent discrimination based on political affiliation and views. Penalties were not consistently commensurate with those for other civil rights violations.
Women faced discrimination in employment and were generally underrepresented in managerial-level positions in business, government, and civil society, although the number of women in the workforce increased compared with previous years. According to the Turkish Statistics Institute, the employment rate for women in 2019 was 34 percent (an increase from 28 percent in 2016), corresponding to 10.7 million women, compared with 72 percent employment for men. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 published in December 2019 recorded that 37.5 percent of women participated in the labor force, compared with 36.1 percent in 2018. Research by Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey Research Center concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionally affected women’s labor force participation.
For companies with more than 50 workers, the law requires that at least 3 percent of the workforce consist of persons with disabilities, while in the public sector, the requirement is 4 percent. Despite these government efforts, NGOs reported examples of discrimination in employment of persons with disabilities.
LGBTI individuals faced particular discrimination in employment. Employment laws allow the dismissal of public-sector employees found “to act in a shameful and embarrassing way unfit for the position of a civil servant,” while some statutes criminalize the vague practice of “unchastity.” KAOS-GL and other human rights organizations noted that some employers used these provisions to discriminate against LGBTI individuals in the labor market, although overall numbers remained unclear.
The national minimum wage was greater than the estimated national poverty level.
The law establishes a 45-hour workweek with a weekly rest day. Overtime is limited to three hours per day and 270 hours a year. The law mandates paid holiday/leave and premium pay for overtime but allows for employers and employees to agree to a flexible time schedule. The Ministry of Family, Labor, and Social Services’ Labor Inspectorate effectively enforced wage and hour provisions in the unionized industrial, service, and government sectors. Workers in nonunionized sectors had difficulty receiving overtime pay to which they were entitled by law. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. Government-set occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were not always up to date or appropriate for specific industries.
The government did not effectively enforce laws related to the minimum wage, working hours, and OSH in all sectors. The law did not cover workers in the informal economy, which accounted for an estimated 25 percent of GDP and more than one-quarter of the workforce. Penalties for violations were not consistently commensurate with those for similar crimes.
OSH violations were particularly common in the construction and mining industries, where accidents were frequent and regulations inconsistently enforced. The Assembly for Worker Health and Safety reported at least 1,488 workplace deaths during the first nine months of the year. These figures included COVID-19-related deaths. In many sectors workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect vulnerable employees. Overall, numbers of labor inspectors remained insufficient to enforce compliance with labor laws across the country. Inspectors were able to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.
OSH laws and regulations covered both contract and unregistered workers but did not sufficiently protect them. Migrants and refugees working in the informal sector remained particularly vulnerable to substandard work conditions in a variety of sectors, including seasonal agriculture, industry, and construction. A majority of conditional refugees and Syrians under temporary protection were working informally, as employers found too burdensome the application process for work permits (see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees).
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions and to bargain collectively with their employers. The law prohibits workers from striking. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination against union members and organizers. There are no mechanisms for resolving complaints of discrimination, nor does the law provide for reinstatement of workers fired for antiunion activity.
The government did not respect freedom of association or collective bargaining and did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination, because no penalties exist to deter violations. All trade and professional unions were government controlled, and none had an independent voice in its activities. The government did not permit private citizens to form independent unions. There were no labor NGOs in the country.
Each government agency has a trade union that can receive complaints related to labor issues, as can the country’s human rights ombudsperson, but reporting was deterred by the required inclusion of names, addresses, and signatures in complaints.
Authorities retaliated violently to labor organizers. Gaspar Matalaev, a labor and human rights activist, was imprisoned for three years for reporting on the systematic use of forced and child labor in the cotton harvest in 2016. The prominent NGO Cotton Campaign reported that he was tortured while in prison for his reporting. In September 2019 Matalaev was released from prison, having served a three-year sentence in full.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law allows for compulsory labor as a punishment for criminal offenses, requiring that convicted persons work in the place and job specified by the administration of the penal institution, potentially including private enterprises. Compulsory labor may also be applied as a punishment for libel and for violation of the established procedure for the organization of assemblies, meetings, or demonstrations.
The law provides for the investigation, prosecution, and punishment of suspected forced-labor and other trafficking offenses. The government did not report the number of convictions during the year under its criminal code, identified no victims, and did not implement legal provisions on victim protection. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Information on the sufficiency and consistency of penalties for violations was unavailable, so penalties could not be determined whether they were considered commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
The government frequently forced students and public-sector workers to work in unpaid support roles during government-sponsored events such as parades, sporting events, or holiday celebrations. In addition the government compulsorily mobilized students, teachers, doctors, and other civil servants for public works projects, such as planting trees and cleaning streets and public spaces in advance of presidential visits (see Section 7.c.), Forced child labor was reported in the country (see section 7.c.). In June, Eurasianet reported that government officials were forced to use their own money to buy bicycles to take to mass events such as World Bicycle Day.
The government released a National Action Plan to address human trafficking as well as a National Victim Referral Mechanism. The government, however, did not report any information on prosecutions or convictions, nor did the government identify any victims, fund victim assistance programs, or implement legal provisions on victim protection.
The law permits employers to require workers to undertake work not associated with their employment. During the year the International Labor Organization’s Committee of Experts’ report expressed “concern at the continued practice of forced labor in the cotton sector.” To meet government-imposed quotas for the cotton harvest, government officials required some employees at private-sector institutions, soldiers, and public-sector workers (including teachers, doctors, nurses, and others) to pick cotton without payment and under the threat of administrative penalties, such as dismissal, reduced work hours, or salary deductions, for refusal to comply. There are also reports that public-sector workers who declined to participate in the cotton harvest were assessed financial penalties to pay for their employers to hire “replacement” pickers through an unregulated, informal system. Those forced to work were compelled to sign declarations that their work was “voluntary,” but the subbotnik, or civic project, loses its voluntary character due to the association of penalties with nonparticipation. The government also threatened farmers with land seizure if they failed to meet harvest quotas, and individuals were brought to farms far from their homes, lodged in a temporary, unsanitary base facility for 10 or more days, and forced to work long hours with little rest.
Radio Azatlyk reported in September that individuals in Mary Province unable to pay 60 manat ($17) fines for failing to wear masks were sent by police to pick cotton. Each violator was required to gather 44 pounds of cotton daily.
Workers in construction and rural residents were particularly vulnerable to forced labor and trafficking. Isolated reports suggested that during the year officials might have also coerced farmers to cultivate silkworms under threat of land seizure or assessment of a financial penalty.
The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. According to the labor code, the minimum age at which a person can enter into a labor agreement or contract is 18. A 15-year-old child, however, may work four to six hours per day, up to 24 hours per week, with parental and trade union permission. The law prohibits children younger than 16 from working more than 24 hours per week and prohibits children between the ages of 16 and 18 from working more than six hours per day or 36 hours per week. The law also prohibits children from working overtime or between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. and protects children from exploitation in the workplace. A 2005 presidential decree bans child labor in all sectors and states specifically that children may not participate in the cotton harvest. Children work informally in markets and bazaars as porters, transporting carts that can weigh as much as 220 pounds.
The Ministry of Justice and the Prosecutor General’s Office are responsible for enforcing the prohibition on child labor and can impose penalties for violations, including fines of up to 2,000 manat ($570) or suspension of an employer’s operations for up to three months, sanctions that were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. There were no official figures available or independent reporting on the number of violations to assess whether the Ministry of Justice and the Prosecutor General’s Office effectively enforced the 2005 presidential decree prohibiting child labor.
The law prohibits students ages 14-30 from working during the educational process but permits students to work in voluntary collective production practices in their free time. Some schools had two shifts of school attendance during the school day, which may facilitate children’s engagement in child labor in the cotton harvest by accommodating this work within the school schedule.
In June, Radio Azatlyk reported that children whose parents paid the school administration for 20-day summer educational camps in Lebap Province and Darganatinsky District were engaged in forced labor in cotton and potato fields. Children were forced to work for several days and reportedly were not provided food or water. Children complained to their parents about the labor, but parents did not take action because they feared the school would retaliate and give their children poor grades. Schools told the parents the children would be forced to work until the potatoes were fully harvested in July. Authorities and state-run media denied the abusive treatment of children and instead reported “a happy life for children.”
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination based on nationality, race, gender, origin, language, religion, disability, HIV-status or other communicable diseases, political beliefs, and social status. The government did not always effectively enforce the law, which does not specify penalties for discrimination on these grounds, with the exception of disability; discrimination against persons with disabilities is punishable by fines that were commensurate to other laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on age, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
Discrimination in employment and occupation based on gender, language, and disability (see section 6) was widespread across all sectors of the economy and government, to include legal discrimination against women from working in the same jobs as men. Certain government positions required language exams, and all government positions required a family background check going back three generations. Civil society members reported the country retained a strong cultural bias against women in positions of power and leadership, making it difficult for some women to secure managerial positions based on their gender. Although the law defines social protection policies for persons with disabilities and establishes quotas and workplaces for persons with disabilities, it was not broadly enforced. Members of the disability rights community reported that persons with disabilities were generally unable to find satisfactory employment due to unofficial discrimination. There was no information on discrimination against internal migrant workers.
The minimum monthly wage in all sectors was above the poverty line. The standard legal workweek is 40 hours with weekends off.
The law states overtime or holiday pay should be double the regular wage. The law prohibits pregnant women, women with children up to age three, women with disabled children younger than age 16, and single parents with two or more children from working overtime. Laws governing overtime and holiday pay were not effectively enforced. The government, as well as many private-sector employers, required workers to work 10 hours a day or a sixth day without compensation. Reports indicated many public-sector employees worked at least a half day on Saturdays. Penalties for violations of minimum wage and overtime laws were not clearly defined and there was no state agency designated for enforcement, so they were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. In September, RFE/RL reported due to the COVID-19 pandemic, medical personnel complained they were being forced against their will to work in quarantine zones for two-week stints while having to pay from their own pockets for personal protection equipment. In some cases experienced nurses said they were barred from leaving quarantine zones for more than two months.
The government did not set comprehensive standards for occupational health and safety. There is no state labor inspectorate. State trade unions, however, employed 14 labor inspectors, who have the right to issue improvement notices to government industries. According to the law, trade union inspectors may not levy fines, and there are no mechanisms for enforcement of improvement notices. Penalties for violations of occupational safety and health laws were not commensurate with those for crimes like negligence.
Employers did not provide construction workers and industrial workers in older factories proper protective equipment and often made these workers labor in unsafe environments. Some agricultural workers faced environmental health hazards related to the application of defoliants in preparing cotton fields for mechanical harvesting. Workers did not have the right to remove themselves from work situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their continued employment, and authorities did not protect employees in these situations. Statistics regarding work-related injuries and fatalities were not available. Radio Azatlyk reported the Ministry of Health demanded that high-level managers at medical facilities ensure that there is no discussion among their staff regarding the coronavirus or economic or political problems in the country. According to the service, the ministry demanded the managers identify staff members who violated this informal ban, suppress any dissent, and put pressure on outspoken employees through their family members.
According to the International Labor Organization, there was “gross underreporting” of occupational accidents in the country and the surrounding region. In September, Turkmen.news reported the deaths of 14 soldiers in a crash on their way to harvest pistachios in Serhetabad Province.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The constitution provides for freedom of association as a fundamental right and establishes the right to participate in independent trade unions. The law provides the right for most workers to form and join independent unions, to bargain collectively, and to conduct legal strikes. The law, however, establishes low penalties for noncompliance with collective bargaining agreements by employers. The low penalties are insufficient to ensure employers comply with collective bargaining agreements, making it easier to pay a penalty than to launch negotiations.
There are no laws or legal mechanisms to prevent antiunion discrimination, although the labor code requires employers to provide justification for layoffs and firings, and union activity is not an acceptable justification. Legal recourse is available for reinstatement, back wages, and punitive damages, although observers described court enforcement as arbitrary and unpredictable, with damages too low to create incentives for compliance on the part of employers.
The law contains several limits to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. A number of laws that apply to worker organizations are excessively complex and contradictory. For example, two laws establish the status of trade unions as legal entities only after state registration. Under another law, a trade union is considered a legal entity upon adoption of its statute. The inherent conflict between these laws creates obstacles for workers seeking to form trade unions. Unions also reported significant bureaucratic hurdles in the registration process, including the payment of notary fees and requirements to visit as many as 10 different offices. Moreover, independent unions reported multiple incidents of harassment by local law enforcement officials while navigating the registration process, including atypical and irregular requests for documentation and membership information.
The legal procedure to initiate a strike is complex and significantly hinders strike action, artificially lowering the numbers of informal industrial actions. The legal process for industrial disputes requires initial consultation, conciliation and mediation, and labor arbitration allowing involved parties to draw out the process for months. Workers may vote to strike only after completion of this process, a decision that the courts may still block. The requirement that a large percentage of the workforce (two-thirds of general workers’ meeting delegates or 50 percent of workers in an enterprise) must vote in favor of a strike before it may be called further restricts the right to strike. The government can also deny workers the right to strike on national security grounds or to protect the health or “rights and liberties” of citizens. The law prohibits strikes by broad categories of workers, including personnel in the Office of the Prosecutor General, the judiciary, the armed forces, the security services, law enforcement agencies, the transportation sector, and the public-service sector.
Legal hurdles resulting from an obsolete labor code make it difficult for independent unions that are not affiliated with the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine to take part in tripartite negotiations, participate in social insurance programs, or represent labor at the national and international levels. Such hurdles hindered the ability of smaller independent unions to represent their members effectively. Authorities did not enforce labor laws effectively. Penalties for labor law violations were raised in 2019 to make them commensurate with those for other similar laws but were not consistently applied.
In September workers in the Zhovtneva Mine began an underground protest to address low wages and unsafe work conditions. The strikes spread to three other mines, encompassing 400 miners. Workers and employers initially agreed to terms; however, the employer ultimately filed a lawsuit against the protests and union officials. On October 16, after 43 days of underground striking, the workers ended the protest. Miners and mine management reportedly signed a memorandum in which the parties agreed on 10 percent increase of miners’ salaries starting on October 1, a waiver of prosecution of those miners who took part in the protests, and the payment of salaries for those days miners spent underground.
Worker rights advocates continued to express concerns about the independence of unions from government or employer control. Independent trade unions alleged that the Federation of Trade Unions enjoyed a close relationship with employers and members of some political parties. Authorities further denied unions not affiliated with the federation a share of disputed trade union assets inherited by the federation from Soviet-era unions, a dispute dating back more than two decades.
Independent union representatives continued to be subjected to violence and intimidation and reported that local law enforcement officials frequently ignored or facilitated violations of their rights. Worker advocates reported an increase in retaliation against trade union members involved in anticorruption activities at their workplaces.
The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other serious crimes, but resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate to enforce the law sufficiently.
During the year the IOM responded to numerous instances of compulsory labor, to include pornography, criminal activity, labor exploitation, begging, and sexual and other forms of exploitation.
Nearly all trafficking victims identified in the first half of the year were subjected to forced labor and labor exploitation. The most prevalent sectors for forced labor exploitation were construction, manufacturing, and agriculture. The vast majority of victims identified in the first half of the year had a university degree or vocational education. Annual reports on government action to prevent the use of forced labor in public procurement indicated that the government has not taken action to investigate its own supply chains for evidence of forced labor. Traffickers subjected some children to forced labor (see section 7.c.).
According to the results of a 2019 IOM survey, 30 percent of Ukrainian migrants working abroad had no regular employment status, rendering them vulnerable to forced labor. The estimated number of Ukrainians working abroad at the time of the survey was 1,051,000, up from previous estimates. According to the IOM study, Human Trafficking in the Context of Armed Conflict in Ukraine (2019), persons who were extremely vulnerable to forced labor included: internally displaced persons and persons living within 12 miles of the conflict line, especially women with children; persons living in areas that were not under government control; persons with disabilities or physical injuries, chronic conditions, and serious health issues (including mental health issues); elderly persons; persons facing socioeconomic difficulties; children; and national minorities.
The government continued to rely on international organizations and NGOs with international donor funding to identify victims and provide the vast majority of victim protection and assistance.
The minimum age for most employment is 16, but children who are 14 may perform undefined “light work” with a parent’s consent. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, but were inconsistently applied. While the law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, it does not always provide inspectors sufficient authority to conduct inspections.
From January to August, the State Service on Labor conducted 1,539 inspections to investigate compliance with child labor laws. The decrease in the number of inspections from the previous year was due to COVID-19 lockdown measures. The inspections identified 28 employers engaged in child labor activities. Of these, 11 were in the service sector, five in the industrial sector, two in the agricultural sector, and 10 in other areas. The inspections uncovered 29 cases of undeclared labor and three of minors receiving undeclared wages. Child labor in amber mining remained a growing problem, according to media sources.
The most frequent violations of child labor laws concerned work under hazardous conditions, long workdays, failure to maintain accurate work records, and delayed salary payments. The government established institutional mechanisms for the enforcement of laws and regulations on child labor. The limited collection of penalties imposed for child labor violations, however, impeded the enforcement of child labor laws.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The labor code prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of race, color, political, religious and other beliefs, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnic, social and foreign origin, age, health, disability, HIV/AIDS condition, family and property status, or linguistic or other grounds.
The government did not effectively enforce the law, and employment discrimination reportedly occurred with respect to gender, disability, nationality, race, minority status, sexual orientation or gender identity, and HIV-positive status. The agriculture, construction, mining, heavy industry, and services sectors had the most work-related discrimination. The law provides for civil, administrative, and criminal liability for discrimination in the workplace. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations, but they were not sufficient to deter violations, and the burden of proof in discrimination cases is still on an employee.
Under the law women were not allowed to work the same hours as men; women were prohibited from occupying jobs deemed dangerous, which men were permitted to hold; and women were prohibited from working in all of the same industries as men.
Women received lower salaries due to limited opportunities for advancement and the types of industries that employed them. According to the State Statistics Office, men earned on average 20 percent more than women. The gap was not caused by direct discrimination in the setting of wages, but by horizontal and vertical stratification of the labor market; women were more likely to work in lower-paid sectors of the economy and in lower positions. Women held fewer elected or appointed offices at the national and regional levels.
The country’s annual budget establishes a government-mandated national minimum wage, which is above the poverty level. Some employees working in the informal economy received wages below the established minimum.
The labor law provides for a maximum 40-hour workweek, with a minimum 42-hour period of rest per week and at least 24 days of paid vacation per year. It provides for double pay for overtime work and regulates the number of overtime hours allowed. The law requires agreement between employers and local trade union organization on overtime work and limits overtime to four hours during two consecutive days and 120 hours per year.
The law requires employers to provide appropriate workplace safety standards. Employers sometimes ignored these regulations due to the lack of enforcement or strict imposition of penalties. The law provides workers the right to remove themselves from dangerous working conditions without jeopardizing their continued employment. Employers in the metal and mining industries often violated the rule and retaliated against workers by pressuring them to quit.
Wage arrears continued to be a major problem. A lack of legal remedies, bureaucratic wrangling, and corruption in public and private enterprises blocked efforts to recover overdue wages, leading to significant wage theft. Total wage arrears in the country increased during the year through August to 3.4 billion hryvnias ($129 million) from 2.8 billion hryvnias ($118 million) in September 2019. The majority of wage arrears occurred in the Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions. The Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine reported that arrears in the coal sector had reached almost 888 million hryvnias ($32 million). Arrears and corruption problems exacerbated industrial relations and led to numerous protests.
In September 2019 the government changed the labor-related authorities of the Ministry of Social Policy and transferred responsibility for employment, labor, and labor migration to the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade, and Agriculture. Moreover, the State Labor Service (Labor Inspectorate) has also been transferred to the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade, and Agriculture.
The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health laws. Penalties ranged from the administrative to the criminal and were not consistently applied. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance and the inspectorate lacked sufficient funding, technical capacity, and professional staffing to conduct independent inspections effectively. The absence of a coordination mechanism with other government bodies also inhibited enforcement.
Labor inspectors may assess compliance based on leads or other information regarding possible unreported employment from public sources. This includes information the service learns concerning potential violations from other state agencies. For example, when tax authorities discover a disparity between a company’s workforce, its production volumes, and industry norms, they may refer the case to labor authorities who will determine compliance with labor laws.
While performing inspection visits to check potential unreported employment, labor inspectors may enter any workplace without prior notice at any hour of day or night. The law also allows labor inspectors to hold an employer liable for certain types of violations (e.g., unreported employment), empowering them to issue an order to cease the restricted activity. Labor inspectors may also visit an employer to monitor labor law compliance and inform the company and its employees about labor rights and best practices.
In August 2019 the government implemented labor legislation that expands the list of possible grounds for labor inspections conducted by the State Labor Service, its territorial bodies, and municipalities. It also allows the labor inspector not to report on the inspection visit if there is a suspicion of undeclared work. When inspectors find cases of labor violations, they are authorized to hold the perpetrator liable if there is clear evidence of labor inspection violations.
Mineworkers, particularly in the illegal mining sector, faced serious safety and health problems. Operational safety problems and health complaints were common. Lax safety standards and aging equipment caused many injuries on the job.
In the context of the pandemic, a COVID-19 infection in a medical worker was deemed a workplace accident.
During the first eight months of the year, authorities reported 3,231 individual injuries, including 296 fatalities.
Despite active fighting close to industrial areas in the government-controlled areas of the Donbas region, enterprises involved in mining, energy, media, retail, clay production, and transportation continued to operate. Fighting resulted in damage to mines and plants through loss of electricity, destroyed transformers, physical damage from shelling, and alleged intentional flooding of mines by combined Russia-led forces. Miners were especially vulnerable, as loss of electrical power could strand them underground. The loss of electrical power also threatened the operability of mine safety equipment that prevented the buildup of explosive gases.
The law neither provides for the right to organize, strike, or bargain collectively nor permits workers to form or join unions. The labor law forbids strikes by public-sector employees, security guards, and migrant workers. The law does not entirely prohibit strikes in the private sector but allows an employer to suspend an employee for striking. In the private sector, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization, formerly the Labor Ministry, must approve and register individual employment contracts. The labor law does not apply to public-sector employees, agricultural workers, or most workers in export processing zones. Domestic workers fall under a separate labor law but are regulated by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization. Persons with a claim to refugee status but who lacked legal residency status, including those with either short-term visitor visas or expired visas, were generally not eligible for employment.
Private-sector employees may file collective employment dispute complaints with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization, which by law acts as mediator between the parties. Employees may then file unresolved disputes within the labor court system, which forwards disputes to a conciliation council. Public-sector employees may file an administrative grievance or a case in a civil court to address a labor-related dispute or complaint. Administrative remedies are available for labor complaints, and authorities commonly applied them to resolve issues such as delayed wage payments, unpaid overtime, or substandard housing.
All foreign workers have the right to file labor-related grievances with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization. Reports on the length of administrative procedures varied, with some workers citing both speedy and delayed processes. The ministry sometimes intervened in foreign workers’ disputes with employers and helped negotiate private settlements. The law allows employers to request the government to cancel the work permit of, and deport for up to one year, any foreign worker on a work-sponsored residency visa for unexcused absences of more than seven consecutive days or for participating in a strike. While the law does not explicitly delineate labor strikes as grounds for deportation, the law prohibits unauthorized demonstrations or the expression of opinions deemed false, incitant, or hurtful to the country’s public image.
Abu Dhabi police directed private security personnel at several camps for laborers to surveil gatherings of laborers and report if they discussed security, social, and religious-related issues.
The government generally enforced labor laws. Professional associations were not independent, and authorities had broad powers to interfere in their activities. For example, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization had to license and approve professional associations, which were required to receive government approval for international affiliations and travel by members. The government granted some professional associations with majority citizen membership a limited ability to raise work-related issues, petition the government for redress, and file grievances with the government.
In Dubai the CDA regulates and provides licensing services to nonprofit civil society organizations and associations that organize ongoing social, cultural, artistic, or entertainment activities. In Dubai all voluntary organizations and individual volunteers are required to register with the CDA within six months. In addition, all voluntary activities require a CDA permit, but there are no prescribed penalties for noncompliance.
Foreign workers may belong to local professional associations; however, they do not have voting rights and may not serve on association boards. Apart from these professional associations, in a few instances some foreign workers came together to negotiate with their employers on issues such as housing conditions, nonpayment of wages, and working conditions.
The threat of deportation discouraged noncitizens from expressing work-related grievances. Nonetheless, occasional protests and strikes took place. The government did not always punish workers for nonviolent protests or strikes, but it dispersed such protests and sometimes deported noncitizen participants. In response to the government-mandated closing of many businesses as part of its COVID-19 pandemic response, the government changed employment contract regulations to give employers the ability to reduce wages or place workers on unpaid leave with the workers’ consent. There were instances of employers exploiting these changes illegally to reduce salaries or furlough workers without their consent.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law or impose penalties that were commensurate, particularly in the domestic-worker sector.
The government took steps to prevent forced labor through continued implementation of the Wages Protection System (WPS) (see section 7.e.). The government enforced fines for employers who entered incorrect information into the WPS, did not pay workers for more than 60 days, or made workers sign documents falsely attesting to receipt of benefits. According to local media reporting, some firms withheld ATM cards from employees, withdrawing the money and paying the employee 35 to 40 percent less than the mandated salary. As a result of COVID-19-related restrictions and cost-saving measures, workers reported forced leave without pay or nonpayment of wages.
According to a December 2019 statement issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization, one million low-skilled laborers benefited from instruction on labor laws and regulations offered by its 34 Tawjeeh centers specializing in providing governmental services and orientation on labor laws. In April authorities stated that in 2019 the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department carried out awareness campaigns in labor camps targeting 266,000 workers.
The domestic worker law that regulates domestic workers’ contracts, rights and privileges, prohibitions, and recruitment agencies was implemented throughout the year. In January the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization announced that to enable employers to pay domestic workers a living wage, residents sponsoring a domestic worker must earn at least 25,000 AED ($6,810) per month, a change from the previous salary minimum of 6,000 AED ($1,630).
It was relatively common for employers to subject migrant domestic workers, and to a lesser degree, construction and other manual labor workers, to conditions equivalent to forced labor. Contract substitution remained a problem. Workers experienced nonpayment of wages, unpaid overtime, failure to grant legally required time off, withholding of passports, threats, and in some cases psychological, physical, or sexual abuse. There were reports employers raped or sexually assaulted foreign domestic workers. These cases rarely went to court, and those that did led to few convictions. In a few cases physical abuses led to death. Local newspapers reported on court cases involving violence committed against maids and other domestic workers.
In violation of the law, employers routinely held employees’ passports, thus restricting their freedom of movement and ability to leave the country or change jobs. In labor camps it was common practice for passports to be kept in a central secure location, accessible with 24 or 48 hours’ notice. In most cases individuals reported they were able to obtain documents without difficulty when needed, but this was not always the case. There were media reports that employees were coerced to surrender their passports for “safekeeping” and sign documentation that the surrender was voluntary. With domestic employees, passport withholding frequently occurred, and enforcement against this practice was weak.
Some employers forced foreign workers in the domestic and agricultural sectors to compensate them for hiring expenses such as visa fees, health exams, and insurance, which the law requires employers to pay, by withholding wages or having these costs deducted from their contracted salary. Some employers did not pay their employees contracted wages even after they satisfied these “debts.”
There were other reports from community leaders that employers would refuse to apply for a residency visa for their domestic workers, rendering them undocumented and thus vulnerable to exploitation.
Although charging workers recruitment fees was illegal, workers in both the corporate and domestic sectors often borrowed money to pay recruiting fees in their home countries, and as a result they spent most of their salaries trying to repay home-country labor recruiters or lenders. These debts limited workers’ options to leave a job and sometimes trapped them in exploitive work conditions. The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization oversees recruitment of domestic workers. In 2018 the ministry established Tadbeer recruitment centers, one-stop shops for recruitment agencies to register their services, workers to undergo interviews and receive training, and visas and identification documents to be distributed. Persons reported problems obtaining proper documentation and processing for domestic workers through Tadbeer Centers, including difficulties with processing basic services, salary payment, and passport retention.
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, including child trafficking, forced labor, and sexual exploitation. The law also prohibits employment of persons younger than 15 and includes special provisions regarding children ages 15 to 18. The law, however, excludes agricultural work, leaving underage workers in these sectors unprotected. Under the law governing domestic workers, 18 is the minimum age for legal work. The law allows issuance of work permits for 12- to 18-year-old persons, specifically for gaining work experience and under specific rules. The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization is responsible for enforcing the regulations and generally did so effectively.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The antidiscrimination law prohibits all forms of discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, or race, although without specific reference to employment. Penalties include fines and prison terms of six months to 10 years. The law had been applied only in cases of religious discrimination, including one incident that occurred in a work environment.
Various departments within the Ministries of Human Resources and Emiratization, Education, and Community Development are responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and the government enforced these rights in employment, housing, and entitlement programs. Enforcement was effective for jobs in the public sector, and the government made efforts to encourage private-sector hiring of persons with disabilities. Some emirates and the federal government included statements in their human resources regulations emphasizing priority for hiring citizens with disabilities in the public sector and actively encouraged the hiring of all persons with disabilities. In September 2019 the Dubai government released an eight-page pamphlet explaining the government’s equal opportunity policy and encouraging employers to hire persons with disabilities. Public-sector employers provided reasonable accommodations, defined broadly, for employees with disabilities. The employment of persons with disabilities in the private sector remained a challenge due to a lack of training and opportunities and also societal discrimination.
In September 2019 the government amended the labor law to prohibit discrimination, which prejudices equal opportunity employment, equal access to jobs, and continuity of employment. The law does not specify what types of discrimination are prohibited. The government also reformed laws that prohibited women from working during certain hours, or in certain occupations, eliminating legal restrictions. In September 2019 a national decree introduced new rules to the labor laws to promote equal opportunities and access to the labor market, prohibit discrimination based on gender in the workplace, and repeal articles prohibiting women from working during the hours of 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. and in hazardous, strenuous, or physically harmful jobs. The decree prohibits discrimination in jobs with the same functions and prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee based on pregnancy. Termination of service is considered arbitrary under the labor law. In August the UAE became the first country in the region to offer paid parental leave after it amended the country’s federal labor law to grant private-sector employees five days of paid paternal leave. Public-sector employees receive three days of paternal leave. In August the president also issued a decree granting women equal pay for “work of equal value.” Work of “equal value” is to be determined by rules and regulations approved by the cabinet based on recommendations from Ministries of Human Resources and Emiratization. Women who worked in the private sector, and especially nonnationals, however, regularly did not receive equal benefits and reportedly faced discrimination in promotions and equality of wages. The domestic worker law also prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, gender, religion, political opinion, national, or social origin. Nevertheless, job advertisements requesting applications only from certain nationalities were common and not regulated. In free zones individualized laws govern employment requirements. For example, in the Dubai International Financial Center, employers may not discriminate against any person based on sex, marital status, race, national identity, religion, or disability.
There is no national minimum wage. There was very limited information on average domestic, agricultural, or construction worker salaries or on public-sector salaries. In some sectors minimum wages were determined by workers’ nationality and years of experience. According to TAMM, an online government services platform, Tadbeer Centers charged higher recruitment and sponsorship transfer fees for domestic workers of certain nationalities, including Indonesia and the Philippines.
The law prescribes a 48-hour workweek and paid annual holidays. The law states daily working hours must not exceed eight hours in day or night shifts, and it provides for overtime pay to employees working more than eight hours in a 24-hour period, with the exception of those employed in trade, hotels, cafeterias, security, domestic work, and other jobs as decided by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization.
Government occupational health and safety standards require that employers provide employees with a safe work and living environment, including minimum rest periods and limits on the number of hours worked, depending on the nature of the work. For example, the law mandates a two-and-one-half-hour midday work break between June 15 and September 15, for laborers who work in exposed open areas, such as construction sites. Companies are required to make water, vitamins, supplements, and shelter available to all outdoor workers during the summer months to meet health and safety requirements. Employers who do not comply are subject to fines and suspension of operations. The government may exempt companies from the midday work break if the company cannot postpone the project for emergency or technical reasons. Such projects include laying asphalt or concrete and repairing damaged water pipes, gas lines, or electrical lines.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization was responsible for enforcing laws governing acceptable conditions of work for workers in professional and semiskilled job categories but did not do so in all sectors, including the informal sector. To monitor the private sector, the ministry had active departments for inspection, occupational safety, combating human trafficking, and wage protection. Although workplace inspection is permissible but not required under the law, oversight of the large domestic worker population, often the most vulnerable to abuse, remained a challenge, due to significant cultural barriers to entering and inspecting private households.
Workers in agriculture and other categories overseen by the Ministry of Interior come under a different regulatory regime. These workers are not covered by private- and public-sector labor law, but they have some legal protections regarding working hours, overtime, timeliness of wage payments, paid leave, health care, and the provision of adequate housing; however, enforcement of these rules was often weak. As a result, these workers were more vulnerable to unacceptable work conditions.
There was no information available on the informal economy, legal enforcement within this sector, or an estimate of its size; however, anecdotal reports indicated it was common for individuals to enter the country on a nonwork visa and join the informal job sector, subjecting them to exploitative conditions.
Sailors faced particular difficulty remedying grievances against employers. In 2018 the Federal Authority for Land and Maritime Transport announced that ship owners operating in the country’s ports were required to carry insurance contracts for all sailors on board and mandated that sailors must be deported to their home countries in case of abandonment by the ship owner. Ship owners often declare bankruptcy but refuse to sell their ships, leaving their crews cut off from both pay and regular resupply. As a result, crew members often remain on board their ships even under substandard conditions. In June 2019 the Coast Guard seized the ship MV Hoot off the coast of Khor Fakkan after it refueled in midsea, a crime under UAE law, allegedly at the instruction of the ship’s owner. In March media reports called attention to the sailors’ complaints, including unpaid salaries, harsh living conditions, lack of fresh water, and no access to medical treatment. According to local media, the ship’s owner asked the sailors to accept half of what they were owed in unpaid wages, with some sailors making as little as 6,000 AED ($1,630) a month. The crew continues to remain on board the vessel pending the issuance of a verdict in Fujairah Court.
To provide for the continuity of ship crew changes complicated by COVID-19, in August the Federal Transport Authority issued a circular opening crew changes to all ports across the country. Previously, crew changes were possible only in Dubai. The decision sought to relieve crew whose time onboard extended past the limits delineated under maritime conventions.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization conducted inspections of labor camps and workplaces such as construction sites. The government also routinely fined employers for violating the midday break rule and published compliance statistics. The penalties were not commensurate with those of fraud crimes, which carried larger fines and imprisonment. The Abu Dhabi Judicial Department and Dubai Courts employed buses as mobile courts, which traveled to labor camps to allow workers to register legal complaints. Abu Dhabi’s mobile courtroom was used for cases involving large groups or those who encountered difficulties attending court. In September 2019 the mobile courtroom settled a labor dispute, presented to the Abu Dhabi Labor Court, allowing more than 1,000 workers to recover 10 million dirhams in unpaid wages from their employer. In April the Executive Committee of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council announced the formation of the Abu Dhabi Workers Committee mandated with assessing compliance with legal statutes governing contracts, workers’ rights, salary payments and protections, and the provision of suitable living arrangements.
The government took action to address wage payment issues. Its implementation of the WPS and fines for noncompliance discouraged employers from withholding salaries to foreign workers under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization. The WPS, an electronic salary transfer system, requires private institutions employing more than 100 employees to pay workers via approved banks, exchange bureaus, and other financial institutions, to assure timely and full payment of agreed wages, within 10 days of payment due date. Under the law, after 16 days of nonpayment, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization freezes issuance of new work permits to the employer. If the nonpayment persists past 29 days, the ministry refers the case to the labor courts; after 60 days, a fine of 5,000 AED ($1,360) per unpaid worker is imposed, up to a maximum of 50,000 AED ($13,600). For companies employing fewer than 100 employees, the freezes, fines, and court referrals apply only after 60 days of nonpayment. The ministry monitored these payments electronically. The WPS, however, did not apply to foreign workers under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, such agricultural workers, or to domestic laborers.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization conducted site visits to monitor the payment of overtime. Violations resulted in fines and in many cases a suspension of permits to hire new workers.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization continued efforts to provide for adequate health standards and safe food and facilities in labor camps. A ministerial decree requires that employers with 50 or more employees must provide low-salaried workers (those earning less than 2,000 AED ($544) per month) with accommodations. It conducted regular inspections of health and living conditions at labor camps, stated that it issued written documentation on problems needing correction, and reviewed them in subsequent inspections. Nevertheless, some low-wage foreign workers faced substandard living conditions, including overcrowded apartments or unsafe and unhygienic lodging in labor camps. In some cases, the ministry cancelled hiring permits for companies that failed to provide adequate housing. During some inspections of labor camps, the ministry employed interpreters to assist foreign workers in understanding employment guidelines. The ministry operated a toll-free hotline in several languages spoken by foreign residents through which workers were able to report delayed wage payments or other violations. The ministry’s mobile van units also visited some labor camps to inform workers of their rights.
Emirate-level officials across the country developed programs aimed at verifying the protection of workers’ rights, security, and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Abu Dhabi blue-collar workers residing in labor camps and industrial cities received free COVID-19 testing. Quarantine facilities and free health care were provided to those who tested positive. The Abu Dhabi government mandated employers to continue paying rent and food costs for all workers through August, although the government allowed drastic salary cuts. Dubai Municipality and the Dubai Health Authority instituted regulations, including thermal screening and capacity limitations on shared transportation to and from work sites, to limit the spread of COVID-19 within labor camps, and engaged in a systematic inspection campaign to verify compliance.
The government instituted a standard contract for domestic workers aimed to protect domestic workers through a binding agreement between employers and domestic workers. The contract provides for transparency and legal protections concerning issues such as working hours, time off, overtime, health care, and housing. Officials from some originating countries criticized the process, saying it prevented foreign embassies from reviewing and approving the labor contracts of their citizens. As a result, some countries attempted to halt their citizens’ travel to the UAE to assume domestic labor positions. Many entered on visit visas, however, and then adjusted status, making them vulnerable to exploitation by illegal recruiters.
The government allowed foreign workers to switch jobs without a letter of permission from their employer. Labor regulations provide foreign employees the option to work without an employment contract or, in cases in which a contract was in force, to change employer sponsors after two years, as well as within the first two years within the terms of the contract. The government designed this regulation to improve job mobility and reduce the vulnerability of foreign workers to abuse. To mitigate against potential labor abuse under the kafala (or sponsorship) system, a 2019 cabinet resolution granted domestic workers the right to terminate their employment if an employer fails to meet contractual obligations or if the employee is subject to sexual harassment or physical or verbal abuse by the employer. Despite legal measures allowing workers to change sponsors or terminate their employment, regulatory enforcement remained a problem.
The government-supported NGO EHRA promoted worker rights. It conducted unannounced visits to labor camps and work sites to monitor conditions and reported violations to the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization.
There were cases in which workers were injured or killed on job sites; however, authorities typically did not disclose details of workplace injuries and deaths, including the adequacy of safety measures. The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization routinely conducted health and safety site visits. The ministry mandated that companies with more than 15 employees submit labor injuries reports. A ministerial resolution requires private companies that employ more than 500 workers to hire at least one local as an occupational health and safety officer; companies with more than 1,000 employees must hire two health and safety officers. In addition, Dubai required construction companies and industrial firms to appoint safety officers accredited by authorized entities to promote greater site safety.
Reports of migrant worker suicides or attempted suicides continued. In some cases, observers linked the suicides to poor working and living conditions, low wages, and financial strain caused by heavy debts owed to originating-country labor recruitment agencies. Dubai police and the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, a quasi-governmental organization, conducted vocational training programs with some elements aimed at decreasing suicidal behavior.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The government routinely respected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and protects employees from unfair dismissal while striking, provided the union has complied with the legal requirements governing such industrial action.
The law allows strikes to proceed only when at least 50 percent of workers who participate in a secret ballot support it. For “important public services,” defined as health services, education for those younger than 17, fire services, transport services, nuclear decommissioning and the management of radioactive waste and spent fuel, and border security, 40 percent of all eligible union members must vote in favor of the strike action, and ballots require at least a 50 percent turnout to be valid and for strike action to be legal.
The law does not cover workers in the armed forces, public-sector security services, police forces, and freelance or temporary work. According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the right to strike in the UK is “limited” due to prohibitions against political and solidarity strikes, lengthy procedures for calling strikes, and the ability of employers to seek injunctions against unions before a strike has begun if the union does not observe all legal steps in organizing the strike.
The government generally enforced the law. Remedies were limited in situations where workers faced reprisal for union activity, and ITUC stated that the law does not provide “adequate means of protection against antiunion discrimination.” Penalties range from employers paying compensation to reinstatement and were commensurate with those for similar violations. Inspection was sufficient to enforce compliance. The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy funded the Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service (ACAS), which works to help employees and employers better adhere to collective bargaining and other workplace laws and to improve workplace relationships. If ACAS is not able to settle a dispute, a claim can be brought to the Employment Tribunal.
The government and employers routinely respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The law allows any workplace with more than 21 workers to organize into a collective bargaining unit if 50 percent of workers agree and the employer accepts the terms. Unions and management typically negotiated collective “agreements,” which were less formal and not legally enforceable. The terms of the agreement could, however, be incorporated into an individual work contract with legal standing.
The law does not allow independent trade unions to apply for de-recognition of in-house company unions or to protect individual workers seeking to do so. The effect has been that some in-house company unions operate with a membership less than the majority of workers.
Trade union membership levels rose for three consecutive years since 2016, driven by the increase in female members and public-sector workers. According to the ONS, approximately 6.44 million employees were trade union members in 2019. Membership levels were below the 1979 peak of more than 13 million.
The law prohibits all forms of forced and compulsory labor.
The law permits punishment of up to life imprisonment for all trafficking and slavery offenses, including sexual exploitation, labor exploitation, and forced servitude. Firms with a global turnover of 36 million pounds ($47.5 million) that supply goods or services in the UK must by law publish an annual statement setting out what steps they are taking to ensure that forced labor is not being used in their operations and supply chain. Foreign companies and subsidiaries that “carry on a business” in the UK also have to comply with this law. The law allows courts to impose reparation orders on convicted exploiters and prevention orders to ensure that those who pose a risk of committing modern slavery offenses cannot work in relevant fields, such as with children.
The government effectively enforced the law. Resources and inspections were generally adequate, and penalties were sufficiently stringent compared with other sentences for serious crimes.
Forced labor occurred in the UK involving both foreign and domestic workers, mainly in sectors characterized by low-skilled, low-paid manual labor and heavy use of flexible, temporary workers. Those who experienced forced labor practices tended to be poor, living on insecure and subsistence incomes and in substandard accommodations. Forced labor was normally more prevalent among men, women, and children of the most vulnerable minorities or socially excluded groups. The majority of victims were British nationals including minors or young adults forced by criminal gangs to sell drugs.
Albania and Vietnam were the most likely foreign countries of origin for forced labor. Most labor migrants entered the UK legally. Many migrants used informal brokers to plan their journey and find work and accommodation in the UK, enabling the brokers to exploit the migrants through high fees and to channel them into forced labor situations. Many with limited English were vulnerable and trapped in poverty through a combination of debts, flexible employment, and constrained opportunities. Migrants were forced to share rooms with strangers in overcrowded houses, and often the work was just sufficient to cover rent and other subsistence charges. Forced labor was the most common form of exploitation reported in the UK, followed by sexual exploitation. Migrant workers were subject to forced labor in agriculture (especially in marijuana cultivation), construction, food processing, service industries (especially nail salons), and on fishing boats. Women employed as domestic workers were particularly vulnerable to forced labor.
In Bermuda there were no reported cases of forced labor during the year. The government effectively enforced the law. Expatriate workers are required to obtain a work permit based on the type of work and the expected length of time of employment in Bermuda. The law requires employers to repatriate work-permit holders. Failure to do so has been a migrant complaint. Cases of worker exploitation largely consisted of employers requiring workers to work longer hours or to perform work outside the scope of their work permit, threatening the status of their permit. Penalties for forced labor were generally commensurate with those for similar crimes.
The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. UK law prohibits the employment of children younger than 13 with exceptions for sports, modeling, and paid performances, which may require a child performance license, depending on local bylaws. Children younger than age 18 are prohibited from working in hazardous environments. The law prohibits those younger than 16 from working in an industrial enterprise, including transportation or street trading. Children’s work hours are strictly limited and may not interfere with school attendance. Different legislation governs the employment of persons younger than 16, and, while some laws are common across the UK, local bylaws vary. If local bylaws so require, children between the ages of 13 and 16 must apply for a work permit from a local authority. The local authority’s education and welfare services have primary responsibility for oversight and enforcement of the permits.
The Department for Education has primary regulatory responsibility for child labor, although local authorities generally handled enforcement. Penalties were commensurate with equally severe crimes.
In Bermuda children younger than 13 may perform light work of an agricultural, horticultural, or domestic character if the parent or guardian is the employer. Schoolchildren may not work during school hours or more than two hours on school days. No child younger than 15 may work in any industrial undertaking, other than light work, or on any vessel, other than a vessel where only family members work. Children younger than 18 may not work at night except that those ages 16 to 18 may work until midnight; employers must arrange for safe transport home for girls between ages 16 and 18 working until midnight. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, and inspection was sufficient to enforce compliance. The government effectively enforced the law. The Bermuda Police Service reported no cases of child labor or exploitation of children during the year.
No cases of child labor were reported in overseas British territories, but gaps in the law made children vulnerable. The governments of Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), Montserrat, and St. Helena-Ascension-Tristan da Cunha have not developed a list of hazardous occupations prohibited for children. On Anguilla the minimum age for labor is 12 and for hazardous work 14, allowing children to engage in work deemed hazardous.
There are legislative gaps in the prohibition of trafficking in children for labor exploitation and the use of children for commercial sexual exploitation on the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) and St. Helena-Ascension-Tristan da Cunha. While criminal laws prohibit trafficking in children for sexual exploitation, they do not address trafficking in children for labor exploitation. Laws do not exist in Monserrat regarding the use of children in drug trafficking and other illicit activities. Traffickers subjected children to commercial sexual exploitation in Turks and Caicos.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination in employment or occupation regarding race, color, sex, religion or belief, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, being pregnant or on maternity leave, age, language, or HIV or other communicable disease status. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, gender, and sexual orientation and gender identity. Women were paid less than men, and persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring, access to the workplace, and training. Ethnic minorities faced difficulty in hiring and attaining promotion, as well as discrimination in the work place.
The law requires equal pay for equal work. Businesses with more than 250 employees are required to measure, and then report, on how they pay men and women. This affected 8,000 businesses employing approximately 11 million persons. The pay gap has narrowed over the long term for low earners but has remained largely consistent over time for high earners. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is charged with enforcing pay gap reporting requirements. The deadline for pay-gap reporting was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2019 the finance sector had the highest pay gap of all sectors, with the average woman earning 35.6 percent less than the average man.
In Northern Ireland the law prohibits discrimination in employment or occupation regarding age, disability, gender or gender reassignment, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy and maternity, race, sex, sexual orientation, religion or political affiliation. The Northern Ireland Equality Commission assisted with 15 cases of disability discrimination throughout the year, 12 cases of gender discrimination, and 10 cases of race discrimination in the workplace. Gender discrimination cases included complaints from women that their employment had been unfairly terminated due to reasons related to their pregnancy. Race discrimination cases included instances of harassment at the workplace. Teachers applying to work in religious schools, however, are not protected from discrimination on religious grounds. Employers must register with the Northern Ireland Equality Commission if they employ more than 10 persons. Registered employers are required to submit annual reports to the commission on the religious composition of their workforce.
In Scotland the law prohibits discrimination on the basis of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. The Scottish government introduced a plan in March 2019 to address the gender pay gap, estimated at 5.7 percent in 2018. This plan set a goal of reducing the gender pay gap by 2021 and includes 50 actions to provide resources and support for working women and mothers.
The minimum wage for workers age 25 or older, known as the National Living Wage, is above the poverty level.
The law limits the workweek to an average of 48 hours, normally averaged over a 17-week period. The law does not prohibit compulsory overtime, but it limits overtime to the 48-hour workweek restriction. The 48-hour workweek regulations do not apply to senior managers and others who can exercise control over their own hours of work. There are also exceptions for the armed forces, emergency services, police, domestic workers, sea and air transportation workers, and fishermen. The law allows workers to opt out of the 48-hour limit, although there are exceptions for airline staff, delivery drivers, security guards, and workers on ships or boats.
The government effectively enforced the wage and hour laws. Penalties were generally commensurate with those for similar violations and inspections were sufficient to enforce compliance. Although criminal enforcement is available, most minimum wage noncompliance is pursued via civil enforcement through the courts.
The government set appropriate and current occupational safety and health standards. The law stipulates that employers may not place the health and safety of employees at risk. The Health and Safety Executive is responsible for identifying unsafe situations, and not the worker, and inspectors had the authority to conduct unannounced inspections, levy fines, and initiate criminal proceedings. 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.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, beginning in March the government advised citizens to work from home if possible. Employers of “essential workers,” such as hospital staff, grocery store workers, and public works departments, were required to make arrangements to work safely. In July the government allowed anyone unable to work from home to return to their place of work, as long as their employer had put in place sufficient safety measures. The government issued “COVID-secure” workplace guidance for different sectors of the economy. Employers that fail to meet these standards can be reported to the local authority or the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), an arm of the Department for Work and Pensions, which can require employers to take additional steps where appropriate. Certain businesses, such as theaters and live music venues, have been ordered to close to reduce the spread of coronavirus COVID-19, contributing to a steep rise in unemployment.
The HSE effectively enforced occupational health and safety laws in all sectors including the informal economy. The fines for violations were commensurate with those for similar laws. HSE inspectors also advise employers on how to comply with the law. Employers may be ordered to make improvements, either through an improvement notice, which allows time for the recipient to comply, or a prohibition notice, which prohibits an activity until remedial action has been taken. The HSE issued notices to companies and individuals for breaches of health and safety law. The notice may involve one or more instances when the recipient failed to comply with health and safety law, each of which was called a “breach.” The HSE prosecuted recipients for noncompliance with a notice while the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) prosecuted similar cases in Scotland. The International Labor Organization expressed concern that the number of HSE inspectors decreased in recent years, noting that the number of cases brought by the HSE had also declined.
From April 10 to October 17, there were 11,278 disease notifications of COVID-19 in workers where occupational exposure was suspected, including 162 death notifications.
Figures for April 2019 to March 2020 revealed 111 persons were fatally injured at work. An estimated 581,000 workers sustained a nonfatal injury at work according to self-reports in 2018-19. A total of 69,208 industrial injuries were reported in 2018-19 in the UK. The HSE and COPFS prosecuted 394 cases with at least one conviction secured in 364 of these cases, a conviction rate of 92 percent. Across all enforcing bodies, 11,040 notices were issued. The HSE and COPFS prosecutions led to fines totaling 54.5 million pounds ($71.9 million) compared with the 71.6 million pounds ($94.5 million) in 2017-18.
Bermuda’s legislation does not provide a minimum or living wage, and efforts to introduce one have not progressed. The Bermuda Department of Labour and Training enforces any contractually agreed wage, hours and safety and health standards. Regulations enforced by the department extensively cover the safety of the work environment, occupational safety, and health standards and are current and appropriate for the main industries. By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The constitution and the law, including related regulations and statutory instruments, protect the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The government and employers respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining in practice. Civil servants, employees of state-run enterprises, private-enterprise workers, and legal foreign workers may join unions. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires employers to reinstate workers fired for union activities and pay them an indemnity. Workers in the informal sector are excluded from these protections.
An omnibus reform bill passed in July introduced changes that affected the right to strike. The law establishes that strikers may not occupy places of work and prevent nonstrikers and management staff from entering the building. In addition, the law states that pickets that prevent the free circulation of persons, goods, or services in public spaces or private spaces of public use are not allowed. Unions had been vocal in their assertion that this is a limitation to the right to protest.
The government effectively enforced applicable labor laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.
Worker organizations operated free of government and political intervention. Labor union leaders were strong advocates for public policies and even foreign policy issues and remained very active in the political and economic life of the country. In June 2019 the International Labor Organization (ILO) selected the country to be analyzed by the ILO Committee on Application of Standards, due to noncompliance with Convention 98 on collective bargaining. According to the committee, tripartite bodies can negotiate only wages, while terms and conditions of work should be negotiated bilaterally between employers and workers organizations. The convention states collective bargaining should be voluntary; however, in practice it was mandatory. During the international labor conference in June 2019, the committee called on the government to review and change the country’s legislation on collective bargaining before November.
The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced the law. The law establishes penalties of four to 16 years in prison for forced labor crimes. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Information on the effectiveness of inspections and governmental remedies was not available. Foreign workers, particularly from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela, were vulnerable to forced labor in agriculture, construction, domestic service, cleaning services, elderly care, wholesale stores, textile industries, agriculture, fishing, and lumber processing. Domestic workers employed in the less-monitored interior of the country were at greater risk of trafficking. Cuban and Venezuelan migrant workers were subject to forced agricultural labor in Canelon Chico, north of Montevideo. Migrant women were the most vulnerable as they were often exposed to sexual exploitation. Foreign workers aboard foreign-flagged fishing vessels docked at the Montevideo port and in Uruguay’s waters may have been subjected to abuses indicative of forced labor, including unpaid wages, confiscated identification, a complete absence of medical and dental care, and physical abuse. According to an NGO representative, since 2013 an average of one dead crewmember per month from these vessels had been recorded, several due to poor medical care.
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and provides for a minimum age of employment, limitations on working hours, and occupational safety and health restrictions for children. The law sets the minimum age for employment at age 15 but does not apply to all sectors, such as hazardous work. INAU may issue work permits for children ages 13 to 15 under exceptional circumstances specified by law. Minors ages 15 to 18 must undergo physical exams prior to beginning work and renew the exams yearly to confirm that the work does not exceed the physical capacity of the minor. Children ages 15 to 18 may not work more than six hours per day within a 36-hour workweek and may not work between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. The minimum age for hazardous work is 18, and the government maintains a list of hazardous or fatiguing work that minors should not perform and for which it does not grant permits.
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for overall compliance with labor regulations, but INAU is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. Due to a lack of dedicated resources, enforcement was mixed and particularly poor in the informal economy, where most child labor occurred. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, or even harsher. Violations of child labor laws by companies and individuals are punishable by fines determined by an adjustable government index. Parents of minors involved in illegal child labor may receive a sentence of three months to four years in prison, according to the penal code. These penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
The main child labor activities reported in the interior of the country were work on small farms, maintenance work, animal feeding, fishing, cleaning milking yards, cattle roundup, beauty shops, at summer resorts, and as kitchen aids. In Montevideo the main labor activities were in the food industry, including supermarkets, fast food restaurants, and bakeries, and in services, gas stations, customer service, delivery services, cleaning, and kitchen aid activities. Informal-sector child labor continued to be reported in activities such as begging, domestic service, street vending, garbage collection and recycling, construction, and in agriculture and forestry sectors, which were generally less strictly regulated and where children often worked with their families.
INAU worked with the Ministry of Labor and the state-owned insurance company BSE to investigate child labor complaints and worked with the Prosecutor General’s Office to prosecute cases. According to INAU, there were an estimated 60,000 children and adolescents working in informal and illegal activities.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, HIV status, or other communicable diseases. In general, the government effectively enforced applicable law and regulations, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The Labor and Social Security Inspection Division of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security investigates discrimination and workplace abuse claims filed by union members.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred mostly with respect to sex, race, disability, gender identity, and nationality. According to UN Women, the number of gainfully employed, paid women decreases as they have more children, which did not happen to men. Women earned lower wages than their male counterparts, an average 25 percent less in similar circumstances, and only an estimated 20 percent of companies claimed to have women in leadership positions. According to a study published by ECLAC and UN Women in August, 10 years after having their first child, women experienced a 42 percent decrease in their monthly salary, compared with women in similar circumstances who did not have any children.
According to a report on social exclusion published by the World Bank in August, Afro-Uruguayans earned 20 percent less than the rest of the population for the same work. Afro-Uruguayan women had the highest unemployment rate, amounting to 14.1 percent, compared with 8 percent for the general population. The law requires that 8 percent of government positions be filled with Afro-Uruguayans. The National Office of the Civil Service oversees compliance with the Afro-Uruguayan (and other) employment quota requirements and submits reports to parliament. The office stated that in 2019 the percentage of vacancy announcements for positions calling for Afro-Uruguayan applicants had reached the 8 percent required by the law for the first time in history.
The August World Bank report also stated that participation in the labor market among persons with disabilities amounted to 59.5 percent, compared with 76 percent for persons who did not report disabilities. The law requires a 4 percent quota for hires in the public and private sectors. According to reports of the National Office of the Civil Service, only 1.3 percent of civil service hires were persons with a disability. The requirement for the private sector was very recent and would be implemented gradually, so there were no figures available during the year. Furthermore, the report showed that transgender persons, especially transgender men, had the worst employment indicators in the entire population. Only 66 percent of the transgender population was employed; the unemployment rate among transgender women was 30 percent and 43 percent among transgender men. Among those employed, approximately one-third were sex workers. A law for transgender persons sets an employment quota for transgender persons in the public sector of 1 percent, but the National Office of the Civil Service reported that only 0.03 percent of civil service hires corresponded to transgender persons.
Foreign workers, regardless of their national origin or citizenship status, were not always welcome and continued to face challenges when seeking employment. The International Organization for Migration reported that several foreign workers were removed from positions with face-to-face customer interaction due to complaints by customers about their foreign accents. The government took steps to prevent and eliminate discrimination (see sections 5 and 6).
The law provides for a national minimum wage, and the monthly minimum wage for all workers was above the poverty line. The government effectively enforced wage laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. Formal-sector workers, including domestic and migrant workers and workers in the agricultural sector, are covered by laws on minimum wage and hours of work. These laws do not cover workers in the informal sector, who accounted for 24 percent of the workforce. Workers in the construction and agricultural sectors were more vulnerable to labor rights violations.
The law stipulates that persons cannot work more than eight hours a day, and the standard workweek for those in the industrial and retail sectors may not exceed 44 or 48 hours, with daily breaks of 30 minutes to two and one-half hours. The law requires that workers receive premium pay for work in excess of regular work schedule hours. The law entitles all workers to 20 days of paid vacation after one year of employment and to paid annual holidays, and it prohibits compulsory overtime beyond a maximum 50-hour workweek. Employers in the industrial sector are required to give workers either Sunday off or one day off every six days of work (variable workweek). Workers in the retail sector are entitled to a 36-hour block of free time each week. Workers in the rural sector cannot work more than 48 hours in a period of six days.
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum monthly wage for both public- and private-sector employees and for enforcing legislation regulating health and safety conditions. The ministry had 120 labor inspectors throughout the country, which was sufficient to enforce compliance. The number of penalties imposed for labor violations was unavailable.
The government monitors wages and other benefits, such as social security and health insurance, through the Social Security Fund and the Internal Revenue Service. The Ministry of Public Health’s Bureau of Environment and Occupational Work is responsible for developing policies to detect, analyze, prevent, and control risk factors that may affect workers’ health. In general authorities effectively enforced these standards in the formal sector but less so in the informal sector.
The Labor Ministry’s Social Security Fund monitors domestic work and may obtain judicial authorization to conduct home inspections, some unannounced, to investigate potential labor law violations and initiate sanctions if necessary. Conditions for domestic workers include labor rights, social security benefits, wage increases, and insurance benefits. Although 37 percent of domestic workers were employed in the informal sector, it was half the percentage of 10 years ago.
By law workers may not be exposed to situations that endanger their health or safety and may remove themselves from such situations without jeopardy to their employment. Government authorities and unions protected employees who removed themselves from such activities. The Ministry of Agriculture is responsible for carrying out safety and health inspections in the agricultural sector.
The Ministry of Labor sets occupational safety and health (OSH) standards, and the standards were current and appropriate for the main industries in the country. The government effectively enforced OSH laws. Penalties for violations of OSH laws were commensurate with those for crimes, such as negligence.
In some cases workers were not informed of specific hazards or employers did not adequately enforce labor safety measures.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions under the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL), a CPV-run organization. The VGCL, however, answers directly to the VFF, which does not protect trade unions from government interference in or control over union activity. The labor code adopted in November 2019 and coming into force in January 2021 allows workers to form or join an independent employee representative organization of their choosing that does not have to be affiliated with VGCL. Only citizens may form or join labor unions.
The law limits freedom of association by not allowing trade unions full autonomy in administering their affairs. All unions must follow the organizational and operational guidelines prescribed by the CPV and law. The law confers on the VGCL ownership of all trade-union property and gives it the right to represent lower-level unions. By law trade union leaders and officials are not elected by union members, but are appointed.
The law requires that if a workplace trade union does not exist, the next level “trade union” must perform the tasks of a grassroots union, even where workers have not so requested or have voluntarily elected not to organize.
For nonunionized workers to organize a strike, they must request the strike “be organized and led by the upper-level trade union.” If nonunionized workers wish to bargain collectively, the upper-level VGCL union must represent them.
The law prohibits strikes by workers in businesses the government considers essential to the national economy, defense, or public order. “Essential services” include electricity production; post and telecommunications; and maritime and air transportation, navigation, public works, and oil and gas production. The law also grants the chairmen of provincial people’s committees the right to suspend a strike considered detrimental to the national economy or public safety.
The law prohibits strikes at the sector or industry level and prohibits workers and unions from calling for strikes in support of multiemployer contracts.
The law provides for the right of trade unions to organize and lead strikes with substantive and procedural restrictions. The law limits strikes to cases that arise from a collective labor dispute and cases when collective bargaining is not undertaken within the legal timeframes or when a labor arbitration board has not been established. Workers must also provide five days’ prior notification to the employer and the provincial and district level peoples committee labor agents before a strike. Strikes that do not adhere to the process outlined by law are illegal.
The law states the executive committee of a trade union may issue a decision to go on strike only when at least 50 percent of workers support it. Workers must request and exhaust an extensive and cumbersome process of mediation and arbitration before a lawful strike may occur. Unions or workers’ representatives may either appeal decisions of provincial arbitration councils to provincial people’s courts or strike. The law stipulates strikers may not be paid wages while they are not at work. The law prohibits retribution against legal strikers. By law individuals participating in strikes declared illegal by a people’s court and found to have caused damage to their employer are liable for damages, although this has never been enforced.
The law includes provisions that prohibit antiunion discrimination and, nominally, interference in worker organization activities and impose administrative sanctions and fines for violations. The law does not distinguish between workers and managers, however, and fails to prohibit employers’ agents, such as managers, from participating or interfering in union activity.
The labor code, adopted in 2019 and set to take effect on January 1, 2021, includes provisions for collective bargaining.
The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. There were no penalties for antiunion activities. There was no enforcement against workers for illegal strikes.
According to VGCL statistics as reported in state media, there were 121 wildcat strikes in 2019 and 91 wildcat strikes in the first half of 2020; most occurred in southern provinces. Approximately 82 percent of the strikes were in foreign direct-investment companies (mainly Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese, and Chinese). The strikers sought higher wages, better social insurance, and better meals between shifts. None of the strikes followed the authorized conciliation and arbitration process and thus authorities considered them illegal “wildcat” strikes. The government, however, took no action against the strikers and, on occasion, mediated agreements in the workers’ favor. In some cases the government imposed heavy fines on employers, especially foreign-owned companies, which engaged in illegal practices that led to strikes.
Because it was illegal to establish or seek to establish independent labor unions prior to the new labor code, there were no registered domestic NGOs involved in labor organizing. Local, unregistered labor NGOs, however, supported efforts to raise awareness of worker rights and occupational safety and health issues and to support internal and external migrant workers. Multiple international labor NGOs collaborated with the VGCL to train VGCL-affiliated union representatives in labor organizing, collective bargaining, and other trade union issues. The International Labor Organization (ILO)-International Finance Corporation (IFC) Better Work project reported management participation in trade union activities was a significant issue in apparel and footwear factories.
The constitution and law prohibit forced or compulsory labor. The labor code’s definition of forced labor, however, does not explicitly include debt bondage. The law criminalizes all forms of labor trafficking of adults and children younger than 16. The penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes; in fact, the law does not provide any penalty for violating provisions prohibiting forced labor. NGOs continued to report the occurrence of forced labor of men, women, and children (see also section 7.c.).
Labor recruitment firms, most affiliated with state-owned enterprises, and unlicensed brokers reportedly charged workers seeking overseas employment higher fees than the law allows, and they did so with impunity. Those workers incurred high debts and were thus more vulnerable to forced labor, including debt bondage.
The labor code set to take effect on January 1, 2021, establishes that a minor worker is a worker younger than age 18. It states a worker older than age 15 and younger than 18 shall not perform work that might damage the physical or intellectual development and dignity of the minor, such as lifting heavy objects or dealing with alcohol or dangerous chemicals or gases. A minor worker from age 13 up to 15 may perform light jobs from a list from the Minister of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs. Children younger than age 13 may work in art and sports in certain circumstances for no more than 20 hours per week. Minor workers must have the permission of their parents. The constitution prohibits child labor.
The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes.
Illegal child labor was reported in labor-intensive sectors, such as construction, production of garments and textiles, bricks, fish, furniture, footwear, and leather goods, agriculture, and some manufacturing. Local media also reported children working as beggars in gangs whose leaders abused the children and took most of their income. Some children started work as young as 12, and nearly 55 percent of child workers did not attend school.
In the garment sector, children as young as age six reportedly produced garments in conditions of forced labor. The most recently available information from government raids, NGOs, and media reports during the year indicated this was most common in small, privately owned garment factories and informal workshops.
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies. Government officials may fine and, in cases of criminal violations, prosecute employers who violate child labor laws. As part of the government’s 2016-20 National Plan of Action for Children and National Program for Child Protection, the government continued efforts to prevent child labor and specifically targeted children in rural areas, disadvantaged children, and children at risk of exposure to hazardous work conditions.
International and domestic NGOs noted successful partnerships with provincial governments to implement national-level policies combatting child labor.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, race, disability, color, social class, marital status, belief, religion, HIV-status, and membership in a trade union or participation in trade union activities in employment, labor relationships, and work but not explicitly in all aspects of employment and occupation. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on political opinion, age, language, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Penalties for discrimination were not commensurate with those under laws related to civil rights.
No laws prohibit employers from asking about family or marital status during job interviews.
The labor code set to take effect on January 1, 2021, includes a definition of sexual harassment and assigns employer responsibility for its prevention. Employers must implement regulations against sexual harassment in the workplace and include it as possible grounds for dismissal.
The government did not effectively enforce employment discrimination laws but did take some action to address employment discrimination against persons with disabilities. Companies with a workforce composed of at least 51 percent employees with disabilities may qualify for special government-subsidized loans.
Discriminatory hiring practices existed, including discrimination related to gender, age, disability, and marital status. Women were expected to retire at age 60, compared with age 62 for men, affecting women’s ability to rise to managerial ranks and have higher incomes and pensions. Under the new labor code beginning in 2021, the retirement ages of employees in normal working conditions shall be 60 years and three months for men, and 55 years and four months for women, and shall increase by three months for men and four months for women each consecutive year.
Women-led enterprises had limited access to credit and international markets. Female workers earned, per year, an average of one month’s income less than male workers. Many women older than 35 found it difficult to find a job, and there were reports of women receiving termination letters at the age of 35. The VGCL’s Institute of Workers and Trade Unions noted women older than 35 accounted for approximately one-half of all unemployed workers in the country. Legal restrictions exist against women in certain occupations and tasks, including jobs deemed “hazardous” in industries such as mining, construction, and transportation.
Social barriers and the limited accessibility of many workplaces remained problems in the employment of persons with disabilities.
The minimum wage varies by region. In all regions the minimum wage exceeds the World Bank official poverty income level.
The law provides for a 48-hour regular workweek, with overtime payment for additional hours worked. The labor code set to take effect on January 1, 2021, limits overtime to 40 hours per month, an increase from 30 hour per month. The new code limits overtime to 200 hours per year, but it provides for an exception in special cases, with a maximum of 300 overtime hours annually, subject to advance approval by the government after consultations with the VGCL and employer representatives.
The new labor code broadens the definition of “employment relationship” so that a legally valid employment relationship exists where two parties agree to a document that includes a description of the job, salary, management, and supervision conditions. The code creates the possibility that where a contract with an “independent contractor,” “service provider,” “freelancer,” or other informal agreement between two or more parties contains employment-like terms, it may be recognized as a formal labor contract. The new labor code also limits the repeated use of limited-term contracts. The law extends protection to part-time and domestic workers.
The law provides for occupational safety and health standards, describes procedures for persons who are victims of labor accidents and occupational diseases, and delineates the responsibilities of organizations and individuals in the occupational safety and health fields. The law provides for the right of workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
The Ministry of Labor, War Invalids, and Social Affairs is the principal labor authority, and it oversees the enforcement of labor law. The Labor Inspections Department is responsible for workplace inspections to confirm compliance with labor laws and occupational safety and health standards. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Inspectors may use sanctions, fines, withdrawal of operating licenses or registrations, closures of enterprises, and mandatory training in response to labor law violations. Inspectors may take immediate measures where they have reason to believe there is an imminent and serious danger to the health or safety of workers, including temporarily suspending operations, although such measures were rare. Penalties for wage and hour and occupational safety and health violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.
The number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. The government did not effectively enforce labor laws, particularly in the informal economy.
Credible reports, including from the ILO-IFC Better Work 2019 Annual Report, indicated many apparel and footwear factories exceeded legal overtime thresholds and did not meet legal requirements for rest days. The ILO-IFC report stated that, while a majority of factories in the program complied with the daily limit of four hours overtime, 77 percent still failed to enforce monthly limits (30 hours) and 69 percent exceeded annual limits (300 hours). In addition, and due to the high prevalence of Sunday work, 40 percent of factories failed to provide at least four days of rest per month to all workers.
Migrant workers, including internal economic migrants, and uncontracted laborers were among the most vulnerable workers, and employers routinely subjected them to hazardous working conditions. Members of ethnic minority groups often worked in the informal economy and, according to the ILO, informal workers typically had low and irregular incomes, endured long working hours, and lacked protection by labor market institutions. Additionally, workers in the informal sector are only eligible to pay into a voluntary social insurance fund covering only retirement and survivors’ allowances. Workers in the formal sector and their employers contributed to a system that covers sickness, maternity, labor accidents, and occupational disease as well as retirement and survivors’ allowances.
On-the-job injuries due to poor health and safety conditions and inadequate employee training remained a problem. Work-related injuries and deaths remained at approximately the same level in 2019 (most recent data) and 2018. In 2019 the government reported 8,150 occupational accidents with 8,327 victims, including 927 fatal incidents with 979 deaths. Among the deaths, 610 incidents involved contracted laborers, while 369 incidents involved uncontracted laborers.
Section 7. Worker Rights
Government enforcement of labor law was weak to nonexistent due to the continuing conflict. Labor laws were still in effect, but the Houthis controlled the ministries responsible for their implementation.
The law provides for the right of salaried private-sector employees to join unions and bargain collectively. These protections do not apply to public servants, day laborers, domestic servants, foreign workers, and other groups who together made up the majority of the work force. The civil service code covers public servants. The law generally prohibits antiunion discrimination, including prohibiting dismissal for union activities.
While unions may negotiate wage settlements for their members and may conduct strikes or other actions to achieve their demands, workers have the right to strike only if prior attempts at negotiation and arbitration fail. They must give advance notice to the employer and government and receive prior written approval from the executive office of the General Federation of Yemen Workers’ Trade Unions (GFYWTU). Strikes may not be carried out for “political purposes.” The proposal to strike must be put to at least 60 percent of all workers concerned, of whom 25 percent must vote in favor for a strike to be conducted.
The government did not enforce laws on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.
While not formally affiliated with the government, the GFYWTU was the only official federation and worked with the government to resolve labor disputes. In practical terms, a union’s ability to strike depended on its political strength. Authorities often accused unions and associations of being linked to a political party.
The law prescribes up to 10 years’ imprisonment for any person who “buys, sells, gives [a human being] as a present, or deals in human beings.” This statute’s narrow focus on transactions and movement means the law does not criminalize many forms of forced labor.
The ROYG did not effectively enforce the law due to the continuing conflict and lack of resources.
Although information was limited, in the past there were numerous reports of forced labor in both urban and rural areas. The Asharq al–Awsat newspaper reported in July 2019 that prominent Houthis held more than 1,800 Yemenis as slaves and servants who work in their residences and places of work.
Migrant workers and refugees were vulnerable to forced labor. For example, some Ethiopians, Eritreans, and Somalis were forced to work on khat farms (khat is a flowering plant that contains stimulants); some women and children among this population may also have been exploited in domestic servitude.
The law prohibits child labor, but the government did not implement its regulations effectively. The Combating Child Labor Unit within the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor was responsible for implementing and enforcing child labor laws and regulations.
The country’s minimum employment age is 14 or not lower than the age of completion of compulsory education, which is generally age 15.
Children younger than 18 with formal contracts may work no longer than six hours a day, with a one-hour break after four consecutive hours, on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
Child labor was common, including its worst forms. According to a 2013 International Labor Organization study, which had the most recent available data, more than 1.3 million children participated in the workforce.
In rural areas, family poverty and traditional practice led many children to work in subsistence farming. In urban areas, children worked in stores and workshops, sold goods, and begged on the streets. Children also worked in some industries and construction. Continued weak economic conditions forced hundreds of children to seek work in the hazardous fishery, construction, and mining sectors. Children also reportedly worked in dangerous conditions in waste dumps. According to HRW, nearly one-third of all combatants in the country were younger than 18 years of age (see section 1.g, Abuses in Internal Conflict–Child Soldiers).
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law does not address employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, political opinion, national origin, social origin, gender identity, HIV status, or other communicable diseases. Discrimination based on race, gender, and disability remained a serious problem in employment and occupation. The law prohibits women from working the same hours as men and in jobs deemed hazardous, arduous, or morally inappropriate. The law reserves 5 percent of government jobs for persons with disabilities and mandates the acceptance of persons with disabilities in universities, exempts them from paying tuition, and requires schools be accessible to persons with disabilities. The extent to which any authority implemented these laws was unclear.
Racial and employment discrimination against the Muhamasheen were problems. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and limited access to the workplace (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities). Foreign workers may join unions but may not be elected to office. Women were almost absent from the formal labor market, with a labor force participation rate as low as 6 percent.
There was no established minimum wage in the private sector. The minimum civil service wage was more than the estimated poverty income level; however, civil servant salaries have not been paid consistently for several years, and most were too low to provide for a large family.
The law specifies a maximum 48-hour workweek with a maximum eight-hour workday, although many workshops and stores operated 10- to 12-hour shifts without penalty. The 35-hour workweek for government employees was nominally seven hours per day from Sunday through Thursday. The law requires overtime pay, paid holidays, and paid leave, and it prohibits excessive or compulsory overtime.
The law prescribes occupational safety and health standards. It states every employer must provide industry-appropriate safe and healthy conditions for workers. The law recognizes the right of workers to remove themselves from dangerous work situations, and workers may challenge dismissals based on such actions in court. The safety law does not apply to domestic servants, casual workers, or agricultural workers.
There were reports of migrant workers being mistreated in detention centers before being sent back to their country of origin due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Travel restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus left many migrant workers stranded.
Government enforcement of labor law was weak to nonexistent; penalties, if enforced, were not commensurate with those for analogous violations such as civil rights. Working conditions generally were poor, and wage and overtime violations were common. Foreign migrant workers, youth, and female workers typically faced the most exploitative working conditions. Working conditions were poor in the informal sector, which included an estimated 89 percent of the workforce. There was no credible information available regarding work-related accidents or fatalities during the year.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. Statutory restrictions regulate these rights; the government has discretionary power to exclude certain categories of workers from unionizing, including prison staff, judges, court registrars, magistrates, and local court justices. The law also requires the registration of a trade union with the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, which may take up to six months. The ministry has the power to refuse official registration on arbitrary or ambiguous grounds.
No organization may be registered as a trade union unless its application is signed by at least 50 employees or such lesser number as may be prescribed by the Minister of Labor and Social Security. With some exceptions, a trade union may not be registered if it claims to represent a class of employees already represented by an existing trade union. Unions may be deregistered under certain circumstances, but the law provides for notice, reconsideration, and right of appeal to an industrial relations court.
The government, through the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, brokers labor disputes between employers and employees. Casualization and unjustifiable termination of employment contracts is illegal. The law defines a casual employee as an employee engaged for less than a day.
In cases involving the unjustified dismissal of employees, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security settles disputes through social dialogue, and any unresolved cases are sent to the Industrial Relations Division of the High Court. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other similar violations. The law also provides a platform for employers, workers, and government to discuss matters of mutual interest through the Tripartite Consultative Labor Council.
The law provides for collective bargaining. In certain cases, however, either party may refer a labor dispute to a court or for arbitration. The International Labor Organization raised concerns the law did not require the consent of both parties involved in the dispute for arbitration. The law also allows for a maximum period of one year for a court to consider the complaint and issue a ruling. Collective bargaining agreements must be filed with the commissioner and approved by the minister before becoming binding on the signatory parties.
With the exception of workers engaged in a broadly defined range of essential services, the law provides for the right to strike if all legal options are first exhausted. The law defines essential services as fire departments, the mining sector, sewage removal, and any activity relating to the generation, supply, or distribution of electricity and water. Employees in the defense force and judiciary as well as police, prison, and intelligence service personnel are also considered essential. The process of exhausting the legal alternatives to a strike is lengthy. The law also requires a union to notify employers 10 days in advance of strike action and limits the maximum duration of a strike to 14 days. If the dispute remains unresolved, it is referred to the court. The government may stop a strike if the court finds it is not “in the public interest.” Workers who engage in illegal strikes may be dismissed by employers.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union functions, and it provides for reinstatement and other remedies for workers fired for union activity. Except for workers in “essential services,” no other groups of workers are excluded from relevant legal protections. The law covers workers in the informal sector but is seldom applied. Administrative judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for employers were not commensurate with those for similar violations and were not effectively enforced. During the year the government interfered with the administrative affairs of trade unions. In February the Ministry of Labor and Social Security terminated the recognition agreement between the University of Zambia and the University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers Union after the union protested against erratic payment of lecturers’ salaries and criticized poor government funding to the university. In August, however, the Lusaka High Court nullified the termination and restored the agreement. Other challenges that constrained effective enforcement included unaligned pieces of legislation, lack of financial capacity to implement programs, and lack of trained officers to enforce legislation.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law authorizes the government to call upon citizens to perform labor in specific instances, such as during national emergencies or disasters. The government also may require citizens to perform labor associated with traditional, civil, or communal obligations.
An employment code passed in 2019 criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for conviction of violations range from a fine, up to two years’ imprisonment, or both. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. While the government investigated cases involving a small number of victims, it did not investigate more organized trafficking operations potentially involving forced labor in the mining, construction, and agricultural sectors. According to the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), there is no standard system for collecting data on forced labor.
The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor, but gaps hamper adequate protection of children. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than age 15 at any commercial, agricultural, or domestic worksite or engaging a child in the worst forms of child labor. The employment code consolidates all child-related labor laws into a single law to provide regulations on the employment and education of children. Restrictions on child labor prohibit work that harms a child’s health and development or that prevents a child’s attendance at school.
The government did not effectively enforce the law in the informal sector, where child labor was prevalent. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. The law does not stipulate an age for compulsory education, and children who were not enrolled were vulnerable to child labor.
While the labor commissioner enforced minimum age requirements in the industrial sector, where there was little demand for child labor, the government seldom enforced minimum age standards in the informal sector, particularly in artisanal mining, agriculture, and domestic service. Although the government reported a National Child Labor Steering Committee composed of government ministries oversaw child labor activities, the Zambian Federation for Employers, the ZCTU, civil society, and other stakeholders stated the committee was not active during the year. The government collaborated with local and international organizations to implement programs combatting child labor. Because most child labor occurred in the agricultural sector, often on family farms or with the consent of families, inspectors from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security focused on counseling and educating families that employed children. In some cases such work also exposed children to hazardous conditions. Scarcity of financial and human resources, including lack of transportation, hampered the ability of labor inspectors and law enforcement agencies to investigate alleged violations and successfully prosecute cases.
Child labor was prevalent in agriculture, fisheries, domestic service, construction, farming, commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children), quarrying, begging and mining. UNICEF noted discrepancies between the right to education and child labor laws in the country; the employment code allows children ages 13 to 15 legally to be engaged in work, which conflicts with the child’s right to education.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The employment code prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, disability, age, or refugee status but does not specifically prohibit such discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Various organizations had policies that protected individuals with HIV/AIDS. Although the employment code provides for maternity leave, it requires a worker be continuously employed for two years before being eligible for such leave. Some NGOs warned the code was likely to have a negative impact on women because potential employers would see hiring them as a financial risk, since the increased maternity leave allowance provides for up to 14 weeks with full pay. The law prohibits termination or imposition of any penalty or disadvantage to an employee due to pregnancy.
The government did not consistently enforce the law. There were reports of discrimination against minority groups. Undocumented migrant workers are not protected by the law and faced discrimination in wages and working conditions.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. LGBTI persons were at times dismissed from employment or not hired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Women’s wages lagged behind men’s, and training opportunities were less available for women. Women were much less likely to occupy managerial positions. Persons with disabilities faced significant societal discrimination in employment, education, and access to the workplace.
The law allows the Ministry of Labor and Social Security to set wages by sector; the category of employment determines the minimum wage and conditions of employment. The minimum wage categories, last revised in 2019, at the low end were slightly above World Bank poverty estimates for a lower-middle income country but lower than the Basic Needs Basket. Before an employee commences employment or when the nature of employment changes, an employer is required to explain employee conditions of employment, including with regard to wages. For unionized workers, wage scales and maximum workweek hours were established through collective bargaining. Almost all unionized workers received salaries considerably higher than the nonunionized minimum wage. Penalties for violations of wage and hour laws were commensurate with those for similar violations.
According to the law, the normal workweek should not exceed 48 hours. The standard workweek is 40 hours for office workers and 45 hours for factory workers. There are limits on excessive compulsory overtime, depending on the category of work. The law provides for overtime pay. Employers must pay employees who work more than 48 hours in one week (45 hours in some categories) for overtime hours at a rate of 1.5 times the hourly rate. Workers receive double the rate of their hourly pay for work done on a Sunday or public holiday. The law requires that workers earn two days of annual leave per month without limit.
The law regulates minimum occupational safety and health (OSH) standards in industry. According to Workers Compensation Fund Control Board and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, government OSH standards are appropriate for the main industries. The law places on both workers and experts the duty to identify unsafe situations in a work environment.
The government did not consistently enforce the law. Inspection was inadequate and did not extend to the informal sector. Safety and health standards were only applied in certain sectors of the formal economy. According to the ZCTU, compliance levels to standardized overtime pay were low due to insufficient enforcement.
During the year media reported incidents of Chinese-owned firms forcing workers into quarantine to prevent the spread COVID-19 among them. For example, the state-run newspaper Zambia Daily Mail reported that in May, five workers at the Chinese Dafa Construction Company in Chongwe were quarantined at their worksite for two months. One of the five workers stated, “We have not been to our homes, and it is against our wish. We eat well, but our employers don’t allow us to go to our homes saying we will contract COVID 19” if we leave. Additionally, the Chinese-owned truck assembly factory Delta, allegedly quarantined six Zambian workers by force in a container as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Security shut down two other Chinese companies for violating labor laws by quarantining their workers in unventilated rooms for two months. According to labor reports, Chueng Zhu Hardware detained 15 workers for more than two months without pay, Louise Investment Limited had 13 employees locked up in a single room, and another Chinese store, Kaikai Hardware, locked up 12 workers. According to the ZCTU, the effected employees received no overtime pay or additional compensation, the ZCTU reported.
The government engaged with mining companies and took some steps to improve working conditions in the mines. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively protect employees in these situations. Despite these legal protections, workers generally did not exercise the right to remove themselves from work situations that endangered their safety or health, and workers who protested working conditions often jeopardized their employment.
Violations of wage, overtime, or OSH standards were most common in the construction and mining sectors–particularly in Chinese-owned companies–and among domestic workers.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. Other provisions of law, as well as the government’s application of the law, abrogated these rights. Public-sector workers may not form or join trade unions but may form associations that bargain collectively and strike. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, provides that the labor court handle complaints of such discrimination, and may direct reinstatement of workers fired due to such discrimination.
The law provides for the registrar of the Ministry of Public Service, Labor, and Social Welfare to supervise the election of officers of workers’ and employers’ organizations, to cancel or postpone elections, and to change the venue of an election. The law also grants the minister extensive powers to regulate union activities such as collecting dues and paying staff salaries, and to make decisions concerning the equipment and property that may be purchased by trade unions. The minister has the authority to veto collective bargaining agreements perceived to be harmful to the economy as well as to appoint an investigator who may, without prior notice, enter trade union premises, question any employee, and inspect and copy any books, records, or other documents. The law empowers the minister to order an investigation of a trade union or employers’ organization and to appoint an administrator to run its affairs.
The law significantly limits the right to strike. Strikes are limited to disputes regarding work issues. The law provides that a majority of the employees must agree to strike by voting in a secret ballot. Strike procedure requirements include a mandatory 30-day reconciliation period and referral to binding arbitration (in essential services and in nonessential services where the parties agree or where the dispute involves rights). Following an attempt to resolve a dispute of interest and a labor officer’s issuance of a certificate of no settlement, the party proposing a collective job action must provide 14 days’ written notice of intent to resort to such action, including specifying the grounds for the intended action, in order to call a strike legally. No provisions prohibit employers from hiring replacement workers in the event of a strike.
Police and army members are the only legally recognized essential services employees and may not strike, but the law allows the Ministry of Public Service, Labor, and Social Welfare to declare any nonessential service an essential service if a strike is deemed a danger to the population. The law also allows employers to sue workers for liability during unlawful strikes, with penalties for conviction that include fines, up to five years’ imprisonment, or both.
Collective bargaining agreements applied to all workers in an industry, not just union members. Collective bargaining takes place at the enterprise and industry levels. At the enterprise level, work councils negotiate collective agreements, which become binding if approved by 50 percent of the workers in the bargaining unit. Industry-level bargaining takes place within the framework of the National Employment Councils (NECs). Unions representing at least 50 percent of the workers may bargain with the authorization of the minister of public service, labor, and social welfare. The law encourages the creation of employee-controlled workers’ committees in enterprises where less than 50 percent of workers are unionized. Workers’ committees existed in parallel with trade unions. Their role is to negotiate shop floor grievances, while that of the trade unions is to negotiate industry-level problems, notably wages. Trade unions regarded the existence of such a parallel body as an arrangement that allows employers to undermine the role of unions.
For a collective bargaining agreement to go into effect, the ministry must announce it, thus giving the minister the power to veto the agreement. The Labor Amendment Act expands the minister’s power to veto a collective bargaining agreement if the minister deems it to be “contrary to public interest.” Workers and employers at the enterprise level also may come to a binding agreement outside of the official framework. Despite this provision, the ministry could block indefinitely any collective bargaining agreement that was not announced officially.
Although the law does not permit national civil servants to bargain collectively, the Apex Council, a group of public service associations, represented civil servants in job-related negotiations with the Public Service Commission. The Apex Council, representing 14 government health-care unions, declared a strike on June 18 demanding that the government raise salaries to October 2018 levels, pay salaries in U.S. dollars, and provide adequate PPE in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Likewise, the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, the largest teachers union in the country, began a strike on September 21 to demand higher wages and adequate PPE. Nurses ultimately reached an agreement with the health services board on September 9 to end their strike. The agreement called for nurses to work two days a week to reduce exposure to COVID-19 and as a compromise regarding nurses’ salary demands. Vice President Chiwenga announced an end to flexible working conditions and a return to a five-day workweek for nurses on October 23. The teachers strike continued as of mid-November.
The Ministry of Public Service, Labor, and Social Welfare did not effectively enforce the laws. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other violations of civil rights. Those charged with violating the law were subject to lengthy administrative delays and appeals.
The government did not respect workers’ right to form or join unions, strike, and bargain collectively. Parliament enacted a bill establishing the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) in 2019 to formalize dialogue efforts among government, labor leaders, and employers to discuss social and economic policy and address worker demands. The forum met once during the year. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) stated the TNF had done little to address its workers’ demands for wage increases and labor law reform, and the government showed little progress in supporting workers’ protections, fairness, and peaceful resolution of labor disputes.
Government interference with trade union activity was common. Police and state intelligence services regularly attended and monitored trade union activities such as meetings. Police or ZANU-PF supporters sometimes prevented unions from holding meetings with their members and carrying out organizational activities. In July the Zimbabwe Republic Police published a list of 14 prominent government critics wanted for questioning, including the presidents of the ZCTU and the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ), regarding planned anticorruption demonstrations on July 31. In the lead-up to the planned protests, the ZCTU president accused state security agents of slashing his car tires and unsuccessfully trying to abduct his relatives. The ARTUZ president alleged armed suspects confronted occupants in his home and the home of a relative, demanding to know his whereabouts. Some union leaders remained in hiding as of December.
Although the law does not require unions to notify police of public gatherings, police demanded such notification. Under the law the government could fine and imprison union members for organizing an illegal strike.
When unions exercised their right to strike, the government often met their efforts with violence and excessive force. Police arrested three ARTUZ members following a June 22 protest in Masvingo to demand increased salaries paid in U.S. dollars. Police also arrested 13 nurses at Harare Central Hospital on July 6 and charged them with contravening COVID-19 lockdown regulations; photographs of police holding clubs and chasing uniformed nurses circulated widely on social media.
At the 108th session of the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) conference in 2019, the Committee on the Application of Standards noted concern regarding serious violations of fundamental rights by government security forces, including a clear pattern of intimidation, arrests, detentions, violence, and torture of union and opposition members. The committee also noted persistent allegations of violations of the rights of freedom of assembly of workers’ organizations. The committee urged the government to accept an ILO direct contacts mission to assess progress before the next conference. After initial resistance, the ILO persuaded the government to support a direct contacts mission, which was originally scheduled for May but was postponed due to COVID-19. Ultimately, however, the government did not accept the direct contacts mission.
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children, with exceptions for work for the national youth service and forced prison labor. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable crimes. The laws against forced labor were neither effectively nor sufficiently enforced. Forced labor occurred in agriculture, mining, street vending, and domestic servitude. The full extent of the problem was unknown.
The law does not clearly define human trafficking crimes and requires proof that traffickers transported victims, further limiting the number of crimes classified as human trafficking. The government made moderate advancements in efforts to combat human trafficking. The government adopted a national action plan to combat trafficking, and the government continued to investigate and prosecute traffickers, to train law enforcement and the judiciary, to identify and refer victims, and to conduct awareness-raising activities. Under a COVID-19 amnesty program to reduce prison populations, the government released a convicted human trafficker after serving only two years of a 20-year sentence.
The law fully prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum age for light work at age 12 and for apprenticeship at 16. The law declares void and unenforceable formal apprenticeship contracts entered into by children younger than age 18 without the assistance of a guardian. The law further states that no person younger than age 18 shall perform any work likely to jeopardize that person’s health, safety, or morals.
The Department of Social Welfare in the Ministry of Public Service, Labor, and Social Welfare is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but the department did not effectively enforce these laws. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable serious crimes.
As a result of COVID-19’s negative impact on the economy and worsening economic conditions, more children worked to supplement family incomes. Children participated in hazardous activities or other worst forms of child labor in agriculture (including small-scale subsistence agriculture, sugarcane, and tobacco, the latter cited by NGOs as posing significantly adverse health effects for child workers), domestic services, prostitution, street begging, informal trading, and artisanal gold mining.
Working children often faced hazards to their health and safety and lacked necessary equipment and training. Working on farms exposed children to bad weather, dangerous chemicals, and the use of heavy machinery. Most children involved in mining worked for themselves, a family member, or someone in the community. Exposure to hazardous materials, particularly mercury, took place in the informal mining sector.
Some employers did not pay wages to child domestic workers, claiming they were assisting a child from a rural home by providing room and board. Some employers paid with goods instead of cash, while others paid the parents for a child’s work.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits employment or occupational discrimination based on race, color, gender, tribe, political opinion, creed, place of origin, disability, HIV status, and pregnancy. The law does not expressly prohibit employment discrimination based on age, language, citizenship, social origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or non-HIV-related communicable diseases. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, gender, disability, sexual orientation (see section 6), and political affiliation for civil servants.
The constitution provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Labor legislation prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, and an employer may be held liable for civil remedies if found to be in violation of provisions against “unfair labor practices,” including sexual harassment. The law does not specify penalties for conviction of such violations. Women commonly faced sexual harassment in the workplace (see section 6).
It was unknown if there were formal complaints of wage discrimination filed with the Ministry of Public Service, Labor, and Social Welfare; however, women’s salaries lagged behind those of men in most sectors, and women faced discrimination on the basis of gender when seeking maternity leave provided for by law and other gender-based benefits. The government did not respond to international organizations’ requests for information on the criteria used to evaluate candidates for public-sector employment or the measures taken to ensure men and women receive equal remuneration for equal work and to monitor other gender disparities. Unions expressed their concern regarding wage disparity between management and employees.
There was a relative lack of women in decision-making positions, despite a constitutional requirement for equal representation of both men and women in all institutions and agencies of government at every level.
Employment discrimination against migrant workers occurred, especially those employed in the informal sector.
Persons with HIV, AIDS, and albinism faced discrimination in employment. Employers discriminated against members of minority ethnic groups whom they often perceived as opposition supporters. Persons with disabilities faced social and employment discrimination and lack of access to many workplaces. Members of trade unions and workers committees often perceived that adverse employment action targeted them and that workers feared the consequences of participating in trade unions or workers committees. LGBTI persons faced discrimination in employment. It was unknown whether there were official reports of discrimination against migrant laborers in the formal sector.
Labor law does not differentiate among workers based on sector or industry. The labor law does not apply to the informal sector, which was estimated to include more than 90 percent of the labor force. The law applies to migrant laborers if they are in the formal sector.
The NECs set the minimum wage for all industrial sectors through a bipartite agreement between employers and labor unions. The minimum wage, when paid, seldom exceeded the poverty line due to the speed of inflation. Employers paid many agricultural and domestic workers below minimum wage. Many public servants earned salaries that put them below the poverty line due to rampant inflation and currency depreciation.
The law does not provide for a standard workweek, but it prescribes a minimum of one 24-hour continuous rest period per week. Unions and employers in each sector negotiate the maximum legal workweek. No worker may work more than 12 continuous hours. The law prescribes that workers receive not less than twice their standard remuneration for working on a public holiday or on their rest day. The law provides workers paid public holidays and annual leave upon one year of service with an employer. There was little or no enforcement of the work hours law, particularly for agricultural and domestic workers. Although workers were generally unlikely to complain to authorities of violations due to fear of losing their jobs, some exceptions occurred.
The Ministry of Public Service, Labor, and Social Welfare is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage and work hours laws for each sector. The government did not effectively enforce these laws. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce labor laws, including those covering children. The Zimbabwe Occupational Safety Council, a quasi-governmental advisory body to the National Social Security Authority, regulated working conditions. Staffing shortages, as well as its status as an advisory council, made it largely ineffective. The law permits unannounced inspections. Penalties for violations of wage or hours-of-work restrictions were not commensurate with penalties for comparable offenses. Penalties for occupational safety and health violations were inconsistent and fall within the jurisdiction of numerous ministries.
The government sets safety and health standards on an industry-specific basis. Occupational safety and health standards were up to date and appropriate for the main industries in the country. Although the law provides for workers to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, poor health and safety standards in the workplace were common in both the formal and informal sectors due to lack of enforcement. Abuses by the management at certain Chinese-owned enterprises and companies were common, including reports of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse of workers; unsafe working conditions; underpayment or nonpayment of wages; unfair dismissal; and firing without notice. In February a group of local miners in Matabeleland South Province petitioned a labor court to protest their firing by their Chinese employer. In June the Chinese owner of a Gweru mine shot two employees after they confronted him about his failure to pay wages in U.S. dollars. The owner was arrested on two counts of attempted murder and granted bail of approximately $100; his case remained pending as of December 1.
While official statistics were not available, most work-related injuries and deaths occurred in the mining sector due to low investment in occupational safety and health, noncompliance with rules and regulations, and low levels of awareness of occupational safety and health matters. Due to the growth of the informal mining sector, artisanal miners, including children, had increased exposure to dangerous chemicals and environmental waste. A gold mine collapse killed two persons in February and was described as a common event by artisanal miners in the area. An estimated 1.5 million persons worked in or depended on artisanal mining, defined as mining activities carried out using low technology or with minimal machinery, according to the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development.