Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The constitution and law provide for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law provides for freedom of association, but the government had not adopted implementing regulations to enforce the law. While there were no provisions that limit collective bargaining in nonessential services, certain provisions restrict certain categories of public servants not engaged in the administration of the government from exercising their right to collective bargaining. Children ages 14-15 are permitted to work (although there are limits on the hours and type of work) but are not permitted to join unions. The right to strike excludes police and other security forces. The law restricts the right to strike by public servants in management positions and workers in certain “essential services,” the scope of which was broader than that envisioned in International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions. The law defines strategic and essential services that require minimum service during a strike, including telecommunications, health, government media, water supply, electricity distribution, fuel distribution, air traffic control, financial services, public transportation, garbage collection, and government authority services. Legal restrictions usually involve requiring civil servants to report to work during a legally notified strike. There are no prohibitions on strikes in nonessential services. Workers must give employers at least three days’ advance notice of intent to strike. The government may call for mandatory arbitration in lieu of a strike.
The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for damages (instead of reinstatement) for workers dismissed for union activity. There are limitations on the law’s applicability to public service employees, however.
Government application of laws in the public and private sectors varied, but the law was largely enforced. Penalties for violations included imprisonment and fines; these penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations in the formal sector.
The law applied to the large informal sector, which accounted for 64.5 percent of the economy in 2015, according to the National Institute of Statistics, but enforcement was limited because this sector was largely nonunionized and not subject to inspection. The informal sector did feature some unions. For example Marche Katako, a large informal market in Niamey, had its own union, the Union for Katako Tradespersons.
Authorities respected freedom of association, the right to strike, and the right to collective bargaining, and workers exercised these rights. For example, the tradespersons and storeowners in several markets throughout the country staged unobstructed strikes at times during the year to protest new taxes and high energy costs. Unions exercised the right to bargain collectively for wages above the legal minimum and for more favorable working conditions. In September the Ministry of Secondary Education discussed banning unions for secondary school students, but it did not ultimately pass the measure. The government also was increasingly critical of the National Union of University Teachers, blaming teacher strikes over unpaid wages, lack of supplies, and unacceptable facilities for lost school days.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law criminalizes all forms of forced labor, including slavery, practices similar to slavery, and exploitative begging. The term “forced or compulsory labor” is interpreted to mean “any labor or service required of a person under the threat of punishment and for which the individual has not given full consent.” The government did not effectively enforce these laws.
The labor code imposes penalties including fines and imprisonment for forced labor, but the penalties were largely unenforced. Information on the number of victims removed from forced labor was not available.
The government, particularly the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service, made efforts to reach out to administrative heads and religious and traditional chiefs to discourage forced labor, especially traditional slavery. Enforcement of the law, however, was sporadic and ineffective, particularly outside the capital.
Forced labor remained a problem. A study conducted by the government and the ILO concluded that in 2011 the prevalence of forced labor was 1.1 percent among the adult population (more than 59,000 persons), 48.8 percent of whom were engaged in domestic work, and 23.6 percent in agriculture or stockbreeding. These percentages were higher in the regions of Tillabery, Tahoua, and Maradi. A study conducted by the National Institute of Statistics, in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice, in 2016 concluded that victims of forced labor were characteristically young (age 17 on average) and predominantly male (62.5 percent), although adult victims were also identified. The study found poverty and associated misery and unacceptable living conditions to explain why victims accepted offers that put them into forced labor situations.
The Tuareg, Djerma, Fulani, Toubou, and Arab ethnic minorities throughout the country, particularly in remote northern and western regions and along the border with Nigeria, practiced a traditional form of caste-based servitude or bonded labor. Persons born into a traditionally subordinate caste or descent-based slavery sometimes worked without pay for those above them in the social order. Such persons were forced to work without pay for their masters throughout their lives, primarily herding cattle, working on farmland, or working as domestic servants. Estimates of the numbers of persons involved in traditional slavery varied widely.
Forced child labor occurred. Thousands of boys as young as age four and largely from poor, rural families, were forced to beg on city streets in lieu of payment of fees for religious education. Girls from poor rural families were sometimes forced into domestic servitude (see section 7.c.). In Djerma/Songhai communities, social stigma against descendants of hereditary slaves interfered with the latter’s right to marry freely, own property, practice independent farming or other economic activity, and participate in politics. Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the use of child labor and the employment of children younger than age 12. Children who are 12 or 13 may perform nonindustrial light work for a maximum of two hours per day outside of school hours with a labor inspector’s authorization, as long as such work does not impede their schooling. Light work is defined as including some forms of domestic work, fruit picking and sorting, and other nonindustrial labor. Children who are 14 to 17 may work a maximum of 4.5 hours per day. Children may not perform work that requires force greater than their strength, may damage their health or development, is risky, or is likely to undermine their morals. The minimum age for hazardous work does not meet the international standard of age 18. In addition, the law does not prohibit hazardous occupations and activities in all relevant child labor sectors, including agriculture. The law requires employers to provide minimum sanitary working conditions for children. The law does not apply to types of employment or work performed by children outside an enterprise, such as self-employment.
The government did not effectively enforce child labor laws, in part due to an insufficient number of child labor inspectors in the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service. Penalties for violations included fines and imprisonment, but these were not adequate to deter violations. The laws rarely were applied to work performed by children in the nonindustrial/informal sector. The government worked with international partners to provide relevant education as an inducement to parents to keep their children in school.
Child labor was prevalent. According to a 2012 national survey, approximately 43 percent of children between ages five and 14 (an estimated 2.5 million) were engaged in labor. The majority of rural children regularly worked with their families from an early age, helping in the fields, pounding grain, tending animals, gathering firewood and water, and doing similar tasks. Some families kept children out of school to work or even beg.
A study in 2009 indicated that 2.8 percent of working children (an estimated 55,000) were engaged in forced child labor. The most common forms of exploitation according to the study were forced labor (31.4 percent or about 631,437 persons), begging (21 percent), prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation (17.8 percent), slavery (10.2 percent), and servitude (11.4 percent).
Male youths, between the ages of four and 20 (with an average age of 10) were the most affected. The victims were forced to labor in mines, quarries, agriculture, as mechanics or welders, in artisanal workshops, or to beg or steal. Female victims, between ages 13 and 39 (with an average age of 19.8 years), mainly were forced into domestic or sex work. There were reports that loosely organized clandestine international networks forced young boys from neighboring countries into manual labor or begging and young girls to work as domestic servants, usually with some degree of consent or complicity of their families.
The practice of forced begging of talibes–Quranic schoolchildren–where some Quranic schoolteachers forced their young male pupils to work as beggars, remained widespread, with a degree of complicity from parents.
Child labor occurred in largely unregulated artisanal gold-mining operations as well as in trona (a source of sodium carbonate compounds), salt, and gypsum mines. The artisanal gold mines at Komabangou, Tillabery Region, continued to use many children, particularly adolescent boys and some girls, under hazardous health and safety conditions. The use of cyanide further complicated the health hazards. Komabangou miners, other residents, and human rights groups expressed deep concern about poisoning, but the practice remained widespread.
Children born into a traditionally subordinate caste or descent-based slavery became the property of their masters and could be passed from one owner to another as gifts or part of a dowry. Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The constitution provides for equal access to employment for all citizens. The labor code prohibits discrimination in 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-positive status, sickle cell anemia, or other communicable disease. The code prescribes fines for persons engaging in discrimination. The code requires equal pay for equal work and provides benefits for persons with disabilities.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. The government neither adopted any regulations to implement the labor code nor took any actions to prevent or prosecute employment discrimination. The government had inadequate resources to investigate reports of violations, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender and disability. Traditional and religious beliefs resulted in employment discrimination against women. The government requires companies to hire a minimum of 5 percent of individuals with disabilities; however, the government did not enforce the law. Workplace access for persons with disabilities remained a problem. The descendants of hereditary slaves also faced discrimination in employment and occupation.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The labor code establishes a minimum wage only for salaried workers in the formal sector with fixed (contractual) terms of employment. Minimum wages are set for each class and category within the formal economy. The lowest minimum wage was 30,047 CFA francs ($54) per month, with an additional 2,500 CFA francs ($4.51) per child per month. The government designated 1,000 CFA francs ($1.80) per day as the poverty income level, and during the year the government reported 48.2 percent of citizens lived below that level.
The formal economy’s legal workweek is 40 hours with a minimum of one 24-hour rest period, although the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service authorized workweeks of up to 72 hours for certain occupations such as private security guards, domestic workers, and drivers. The law provides for paid annual holidays. The law provides special arrangements regarding the mining and oil sectors whereby the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service may grant waivers regarding work hours based on these two sectors’ specific nature and make allowances for working larger blocks of time in exchange for time off. Workers may work for two weeks beyond normal work hours, in compensation for which they are entitled to two weeks’ rest. Employers must provide premium pay for overtime, although the law does not set a specific rate. The labor code calls for a maximum eight hours of overtime per week, but this was not enforced. Employees of each enterprise or government agency negotiate with their employer to set the rate.
The labor code establishes occupational safety and health standards, which were current and appropriate for the main industries. It extends labor inspectors’ authority and provides for sanctions, including a mandatory appearance before labor inspectors for resolving labor disputes. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and there are no exceptions from such protections for migrant or foreign workers. Nevertheless, authorities did not effectively protect employees in such situations. The nonunionized subsistence agricultural and small trading sectors, where the law applied but was not enforced, employed approximately 80 percent of the workforce. In the nonunionized informal sector, despite the law, it was unlikely workers could exercise the right to sick leave without jeopardizing their employment.
The Ministry of Labor and Civil Service inconsistently enforced minimum wages and workweek laws only in the regulated formal economy. The number of inspectors responsible for enforcing the labor code was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Ministry officials observed that monetary sanctions were not stringent enough to deter violations.
Violations of provisions governing wages, overtime, and work conditions reportedly occurred in the petroleum and mining sectors, including at artisanal gold mines, oil fields, and oil refineries. Groups of workers in hazardous or exploitive work conditions included mineworkers, which included children, domestic workers, and persons in traditional slavery. In the traditional gold-mining sector, the use of cyanide posed serious health hazards for workers and surrounding communities. A significant, but unknown, percentage of the mining workforce worked in the informal sector.
Union workers in many cases did not receive information about the risks posed by their jobs. According to the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service, in 2013 there were 229 work-related accidents, including nine fatalities. All cases were compensated as required by law. Most accidents occurred in the mining sector.