An official website of the United States Government Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

United Kingdom

Executive Summary

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the UK) is a constitutional monarchy with a multiparty, parliamentary form of government. Citizens elect representatives to the House of Commons, the lower chamber of the bicameral Parliament. They last did so in free and fair elections in June 2017. Members of the upper chamber, the House of Lords, occupy appointed or hereditary seats. Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Bermuda each have elected legislative bodies and devolved administrations, with varying degrees of legislative and executive powers. The UK has 14 overseas territories, including Bermuda. Each of the overseas territories has its own constitution, while the UK government is responsible for external affairs, security, and defense.

Civilian authorities throughout the UK and its territories maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included violence motivated by anti-Semitism and against members of minorities on racial or ethnic grounds. Authorities generally investigated, and where appropriate prosecuted, such cases.

The government investigated, prosecuted, and punished allegations of official abuse, including by police, with no reported cases of impunity.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, and the government routinely observed these requirements.

Stop-and-search in the country has declined from 1.2 million to 380,000 during the last five years. Three-in-four black, Asian, or minority ethnic Britons, however, feel that their communities are targeted by stop-and-search policies.

In January the Scottish government published new guidelines regarding the appropriate use of stop-and-search actions. Under the new guidelines, which came into force in May, police are able to stop and search persons only when they have “reasonable grounds.”

In Bermuda there were approximately 1,123 stop-and-search actions in the first half of the year, a significant decrease from a high of approximately 5,500 at the end of 2012, when gang violence was at its height. Civil rights groups stated the stop-and-search law unfairly targeted blacks.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government respected judicial independence and impartiality.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 came into effect in 2017 granting intelligence and police forces greater investigatory powers, including new powers for interception and collection of communications.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government implemented the law effectively. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

Financial Disclosure: All members of Parliament (MPs) are required to disclose their financial interests. The Register of Members Interests was available online and updated regularly. These public disclosures include paid employment, property ownership, shareholdings in public or private companies, and other interests that “might reasonably be thought to influence” the member in any way. The Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the Bermudian Parliament have similar codes of conduct for members. Under the ministerial code issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, ministers must follow standards of conduct, including the disclosure of gifts and travel. The national government publishes the names, grades, job titles, and annual pay rates for most civil servants with salaries greater than 150,000 pounds ($196,500). Government departments publish the business expenses of and hospitality received by their most senior officials.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of 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 new Trade Union Act allows strikes to proceed only when there has been a ballot turnout of at least 50 percent. For “important public services,” defined as health services, education for those age under 17, fire services, transport services, nuclear decommissioning and the management of radioactive waste and spent fuel, and border security, an additional threshold of 40 percent of support from all eligible union members must be met 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. The law excludes workers serving in the police, the prison service, and the armed forces from the right to strike. 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 proper steps in organizing the strike.

The government enforced applicable laws. Remedies were limited in situations where workers faced reprisal for union activity, and the ITUC stated that the law does not provide “adequate means of protection against antiunion discrimination,” and noted that legal protections against unfair labor practices only exist within the framework of organizing a recognition ballot. Penalties range from employers paying compensation to reinstatement and were sufficient to deter violations.

The government and employers routinely respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. 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. Labor-market surveys suggested that employers expanded the practice of “zero-hour contracts” in which workers are required to be available but are not guaranteed any minimum work hours, which potentially eroded independent trade union membership and further limited worker rights. In the final three months of 2016, there were 905,000 individuals on zero-hours contracts, which represented a rise of more than 100,000, or 13 percent, compared with the same period in 2015. Approximately 68 percent of the individuals on zero-hour contracts reportedly were satisfied with the arrangement, while 32 percent said they would prefer more hours or a different job.

Various labor NGOs advocated for worker’s rights freely within the UK and acted independently from trade unions, although often advocacy problems overlapped. NGOs advocated for improvements in paid family leave, a minimum/living wage, and worker safety among other problems.

According to the ONS, approximately 6.2 million employees were trade union members in 2016. The level of overall union members decreased by 275,000 (4.2 percent) from 2015, the largest annual fall recorded since the series began in 1995. Current membership levels were below the peak of more than 13 million in 1979.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced and compulsory labor, but such practices occurred. The government routinely enforced these laws effectively. Resources and inspections were generally adequate and penalties were sufficiently stringent compared with other sentences for serious crimes.

The Modern Slavery Law, enacted in 2015, requires more than 12,000 firms with a global turnover of 36 million pounds ($47.2 million) that supply goods or services in the UK to publish an annual statement setting out what steps they are taking to ensure that slave 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 includes the ability for courts to make reparation orders following the conviction of 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.

Forced labor in the UK involved 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 often in substandard accommodations. Victims of forced labor included men, women, and children. Forced labor was normally more prevalent among the most vulnerable, minorities or socially excluded groups. Albania, Nigeria, Vietnam, Romania, and Poland were the most likely countries of origin, but some victims were from the UK itself. Most 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 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 charges. Sexual exploitation was the most common form of modern slavery reported in the UK, followed by labor exploitation, forced criminal exploitation, and domestic servitude. Migrant workers were subject to forced labor in agriculture, 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 the Department of Immigration and the Director of Public Prosecutions confirmed there were no cases of forced labor during the year, although historically there were some cases of forced labor, mostly involving migrants, among men in the construction sector and women in domestic service. Media did not report any cases of forced labor or worker exploitation in 2016. The law requires employers to repatriate work-permit holders. Failure to do so had been a migrant complaint. The 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. The Department of Immigration imposed civil penalties in approximately eight such cases. The penalties for ‎employing someone outside the scope of their work permit are 5,000 Bermudian dollars ($5,000) for the first offense and $10,000 Bermudian dollars ($10,000) for the second or subsequent offenses.

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

UK law prohibits the employment of children under the age of 13 with exceptions for sports, modeling, and paid performances, which may require a child performance license. The law prohibits those under 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 under 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 related to child labor, although local authorities generally handled enforcement. Penalties for noncompliance consist of relatively low fines. The Department of Education did not keep records of the number of local prosecutions, but officials insisted the department effectively enforced applicable laws.

In Bermuda children under the age of 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 under 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 under 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 for violations of the law begin at 350 Bermudian dollars ($350) for the first offense and 720 Bermudian dollars ($720) for the second and subsequent offenses. The penalty for willfully abusing, mistreating, neglecting, deserting, or abandoning a child is a fine not exceeding 3,000 Bermudian dollars ($3,000) or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months. The BPS reported no cases of child labor or exploitation of children during the year.

Labor laws do not set a minimum age for work in the territories of Anguilla, St. Helena-Ascension-Tristan da Cunha, and the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas). The governments of Anguilla, the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), and St. Helen-Ascension-Tristan da Cunha have not developed a list of hazardous occupations prohibited for children.

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. It is unclear whether laws 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.

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

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-positive status or other communicable diseases. Legal protection extends to others who are associated with someone who has a protected characteristic or who have complained about discrimination or supported someone else’s claim. 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. Complainants faced higher fees in discrimination cases than in other types of claims made to employment tribunals or the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

The law requires equal pay for equal work. The government enacted mandatory gender pay reporting, aimed at closing the “gender pay gap,” a separate concept from the equal pay principle. From April, 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 gap has narrowed over the long term for low earners but has remained largely consistent over time for high earners.

In July the government required the BBC to publish information on the earnings and salaries of employees making 150,000 pounds ($196,500) or more. The information revealed two-thirds of the 96 top earners were men and that the highest-paid woman earned less than a quarter of the salary of the highest-paid man. While the list showed a gender pay gap in the BCC at 10 percent, the gap across the UK was 18 percent.

A report survey in August by public body Creative Scotland found that one-half of women working in the arts in Scotland believed their gender was a barrier in career development. The report, which surveyed 1,500 individuals working in the arts, found that men were more likely to work in senior roles and more likely to earn more than women.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The new National Living Wage became law on April 1. All workers age 25 and over are legally entitled to at least 7.50 pounds ($9.82) per hour. Workers between 21 and 24 are legally entitled to the National Minimum Wage, which was 7.05 pounds ($9.23) for individuals.

The government measures the poverty level as income less than 60 percent of the median household income; thus, the poverty line moves with the median income year to year.

Although criminal enforcement is available, most minimum wage noncompliance is pursued via civil enforcement. Civil penalties for noncompliant employers include fines of up to 200 percent of arrears capped at 20,000 pounds ($26,200) per worker) and public naming and shaming.

During the year catalogue retailer Argos was forced to pay 2.4 million pounds ($3.14 million) in wages to more than 37,000 current and former workers and was fined nearly 1.5 million pounds ($1.96 million) after HM Revenue and Customs investigation.

In February the Court of Appeal upheld a ruling that a London plumber who worked as a contractor for a company full time for six years was entitled to employment benefits such as sick pay.

The law limits the workweek to an average of 48 hours, normally averaged over a 17-week period. The law provides for one day of rest per week, 11 hours of daily rest, and a 20-minute rest break when the working day exceeds six hours. The law also mandates a minimum of four weeks of paid annual leave, including eight national holidays. As part of collective agreements, however, almost all workers are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year, while an employer can choose to include bank holidays as part of a worker’s statutory annual leave. An individual employee may agree by contract to work overtime for premium pay. 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 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. By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), an arm of the Department for Work and Pensions, effectively enforced occupational health and safety laws in all sectors including the informal economy. The fines for penalties are 400 pounds ($524), which was sufficient to deter violations. The HSE conducted workplace inspections and may initiate criminal proceedings. HSE inspectors enforced health and safety standards by giving advice on how to comply with the law. Employers may also 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 has 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.

Figures for 2015-16 show the HSE and COPFS prosecuted 696 cases with at least one conviction secured in 660 of these cases, a conviction rate of 95 percent. Across all enforcing bodies there were 11,403 notices issued. HSE and COPFS prosecutions led to fines totaling 38.3 million pounds ($50.2 million) compared with the 18.1 million pounds ($23.7 million) in fines from 2014-15.

Workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.

According to the HSE annual report, 137 workers were killed at work in 2016-17. An estimated 621,000 workers sustained a nonfatal injury at work according to self-reports.

Bermuda’s law does not provide for a minimum wage, but the Department of Labor and Training enforces any contractually agreed wage. The law requires that work in excess of 40 hours per week be paid at the overtime rate or with compensatory time off; employees may waive rights to overtime pay. The law also requires that employees have a rest period of at least 24 consecutive hours per week. It provides for paid public holidays and two weeks’ paid annual leave. Regulations enforced by the Department of Labor and Training extensively cover the safety of the work environment; occupational safety and health standards 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. No industrial injuries were reported in 2016.

Human Rights Reports
Edit Your Custom Report

01 / Select A Year

02 / Select Sections

03 / Select Countries You can add more than one country or area.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future