Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers, except members of the armed forces, police, firefighters, members of sovereign bodies, and public prosecutors to form and join independent unions. To establish a trade union, at least 30 percent of workers in an economic sector in a province must follow a registration process and obtain authorization from government officials. The law provides for the right to collective bargaining except in the civil service. The law prohibits strikes by members of the armed forces, police, prosecutors and magistrates of the Attorney General’s Office, prison staff, fire fighters, public-sector employees providing “essential services,” and oil workers. Essential services are broadly defined, including the transport sector, communications, waste management and treatment, and fuel distribution. In exceptional circumstances involving national interests, authorities have the power to requisition workers in the essential services sector. The law does not explicitly prohibit employer interference with union activity.
While the law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference, it also places some restrictions on their ability to strike. Before engaging in a strike, workers must negotiate with their employer for at least 20 days prior to a work stoppage. Should they fail to negotiate, the government may deny the right to strike. The government may intervene in labor disputes that affect national security and energy sectors. Collective labor disputes are to be settled through compulsory arbitration by the Ministry of Public Administration, Labor, and Social Security (Ministry of Labor). The law prohibits employer retribution against strikers, but it does not contain effective measures to deter such retribution. The law permits the government to force workers back to work for “breaches of worker discipline” or participation in unauthorized strikes. Nonetheless, the law prohibits antiunion discrimination and stipulates that worker complaints should be adjudicated in the labor court. The Ministry of Labor had a hotline and two service centers in Luanda for workers who believed their rights had been violated. By law employers are required to reinstate workers who have been dismissed for union activities.
During the year there were several strikes in the public and private sector over disputes between employers and workers. There were also allegations of retribution against strikers during the year. On August 9, workers of the National Company of Electricity Distribution (ENDE) went on strike to demand better working conditions and for an increase in salary and benefits. Union delegates reported that ENDE threatened to fire workers if they joined the strike, in particular workers hired within the last two years.
The government generally did not effectively enforce labor laws. Labor courts functioned but were overburdened by a backlog of cases and inadequate resources. The law provides for penalties for violations of the law and labor contracts, which are commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, but the penalties were not an effective deterrent due to the inefficient functioning of the courts.
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not generally respected. Government approval is required to form and join unions, which were hampered by membership and legalization issues. Labor unions, independent of those run by the government, worked to increase their influence, but the ruling MPLA party dominated the labor movement because of its historical close relationship with labor unions and from the strong financial base of the nation’s largest union, of which the MPLA is a part.
The government was the country’s largest employer, and the Ministry of Labor mandated government worker wages with no negotiation with the unions. In September 2020 President Joao Lourenco created an advisory body, the Economic and Social Council, with 45 members representing large sectors of the country’s society but did not include labor representatives. Public-sector labor unions used strikes and protests to advance labor rights. For example, in May a group of public-sector labor unions began a strike in four provinces to protest salaries that the unions said had remained too low for 10 years. In September the Angola Union of Justice Clerks announced a general strike over staff shortages, salary stagnation, and working conditions. After the government agreed to start negotiations with these groups, the unions called off the strikes.
On July 30, municipal and provincial judges and public prosecutors protested in Luanda and Malanje Provinces against the deterioration of working conditions and benefit cuts, including health insurance. The president of the National Union of Public Prosecutors said that although the law did not allow them to strike, they would use protests and other means to pressure the government to solve their problems.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and sets penalties commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes. The government did not effectively enforce the law due in part to an insufficient number of inspectors and to systemic corruption.
Forced labor of men and women occurred in fisheries, agriculture, construction, domestic service, and artisanal diamond-mining sectors, particularly in Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul Provinces. Migrant workers were subject to seizure of passports, threats, denial of food, and confinement. Forced child labor occurred (see section 7.c.).
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and provides for a minimum age of employment (age 14), which applies to all sectors. To obtain an employment contract, the law requires youth to submit evidence they are 14 or older. Children may work from age 14 to age 18 with parental permission, or without parental consent if they are married, and the work does not interfere with schooling or harm the physical, mental, and moral development of the minor. Children ages 14 to 16 may work no more than six hours per day or 34 hours per week; children ages 16 to 18 may work up to seven hours per day or 39 hours per week. Children are also prohibited from working between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. and are prohibited from performing shift work. The law also allows orphan children who want to work to get official permission in the form of a letter from “an appropriate institution,” but it does not specify the type of institution. The Ministry of Labor, Ministry of Social Assistance, Ministry of Interior, INAC, and the national police are responsible for enforcement of child labor laws.
In August the Council of Ministers approved a redesigned National Action Plan for the Eradication of Child Labor for 2021-2025 with the goal of combatting and preventing child labor through social assistance, education, victim advocacy, and finance the enforcement and prosecution of child labor.
The government did not effectively monitor the large informal sector, where most child labor occurred. Penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes. The government did not consistently enforce the law, and child labor remained a problem, especially in the informal sector. Between January and March, INAC registered more than 3,000 cases of hazardous child labor on farms involving the handling of chemicals, stones, and bricks, as well as working as street vendors and beggars, and reported the cases to law enforcement but acknowledged that the real number was likely much higher. The Ministry of Labor has oversight of formal work sites in all 18 provinces, but it was unknown whether inspectors examined the age of workers or conditions of work sites. If the ministry determined a business was using child labor, it transferred the case to the Ministry of Interior to investigate and possibly press charges. It was not known whether the government fined any businesses for using child labor.
Child labor occurred in agriculture on family and commercial farms as well as in fishing, brick making, artisanal diamond mining, charcoal production, domestic labor, construction, and street vending. Exploitive labor practices included involvement in the sale, transport, and offloading of goods in ports and across border posts. Children were forced to work as couriers in the illegal cross-border trade with Namibia. Adult criminals sometimes used children for forced criminal activity, since the justice system prohibits minors younger than 12 from being tried in court.
Street work by children was common, especially in the provinces of Luanda, Benguela, Huambo, Huila, and Kwanza Sul. Investigators found children working in the streets of Luanda. Most of these children shined shoes, washed cars, carried water and other goods, or engaged in other informal labor, but some resorted to petty crime and begging. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred as well (see section 6).
The incidence of child labor increased in the southern provinces due to a severe drought. In Cunene Province, children were forced to leave school and work as herders or dig wells and fetch water. The drought and the accompanying economic devastation increased the risk of exploitation of vulnerable persons in the province; one NGO in Cunene said the drought led many boys to seek work in urban areas and led girls to engage in commercial sexual exploitation.
The government, through INAC, worked to create, train, and strengthen child protection networks at the provincial and municipal levels in all 18 provinces. No central mechanism existed to track cases or provide statistics. The government also dedicated resources to the expansion of educational and livelihood opportunities for children and their families.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, ethnic origin, country origin and social condition, religion, political opinion, union membership, disability, or language, and the government in general effectively enforced the law in the formal sector. The International Labor Organization, however, noted the law did not clearly define discrimination. The constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination, although it does not specifically address HIV or AIDS status, sexual orientation, or gender identity (see section 6). The law provides for equal pay for equal work, but gender pay disparities in the country existed. The law provides that both employers and workers are treated with respect, but there were no provisions prohibiting harassment in the workplace. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations considered dangerous, in factories, and in industries such as mining, agriculture, and energy.
The law provides working mothers nine weeks of maternity leave and four weeks of prematernity leave before childbirth and one day of leave each month in the next 15 weeks after the birth, while working fathers receive leave on the day of the child’s birth.
The government did not effectively enforce the law, although penalties, when applied, were commensurate with those for other laws related to civil rights. There were no known prosecutions of official or private-sector gender-based discrimination in employment or occupation. Persons with disabilities found it difficult to gain access to public or private facilities, and it was difficult for such persons to participate in the education system and thus find employment. In 2020 there were reports that persons with albinism experienced discrimination in employment and access to public services. In the past there were also complaints of discrimination against foreign workers. There were no known prosecutions for discrimination in employment. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Wage and Hour Laws: A minimum wage for the formal sector exists and varies by sector. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights raised concerns regarding the wide disparities of minimum wage by sector and the possibility this may undervalue work in female-dominated sectors. The lowest minimum wage was for agricultural work and was set below the UN Development Program’s official line of poverty. The minimum wage for the formal sector may be updated annually or when the government assesses economic conditions warrant. The minimum wage had not been updated since 2019. The minimum wage law does not cover workers in informal sectors, such as street vendors and subsistence farmers.
The standard workweek in the private sector is 44 hours, while in the public sector it is 37 hours. In both sectors the law mandates at least one unbroken period of 24 hours of rest per week. In the private sector, when employees engage in shift work or a variable weekly schedule, they may work up to 54 hours per week before the employer must pay overtime. In the formal sector, there is a prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime, defined as more than two hours a day, 40 hours a month, or 200 hours a year. The law also provides for paid annual holidays. By law employers must provide, at a minimum, a bonus amounting to 50 percent of monthly salary to employees each year in December and an annual vacation. The law does not cover domestic workers, but a 2016 presidential decree extended some protections and enforcement standards to domestic workers. Workweek standards were not enforced unless employees filed a formal complaint with the Ministry of Labor. The law protects foreign workers with permanent legal status or a temporary work visa.
The government effectively enforced the minimum wage law within the formal labor sector, and penalties were commensurate with those for similar infractions. The Ministry of Labor is charged with implementing and enforcing the law. An insufficient number of adequately trained labor inspectors hampered enforcement efforts. Inspectors have the authority to conduct unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions, but some companies received advance warning of impending labor inspections.
Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health standards are required for all sectors of the economy. Employees have the right to remove themselves from hazardous working conditions without jeopardy to their employment. The government did not always proactively enforce occupational safety and health standards nor investigate private company operations unless complaints were made by NGOs and labor unions. Inspections were reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020 there were 1,151 labor accidents that caused the death or serious injury of workers.
Informal Sector: As much as 80 percent of the workforce was employed in the informal economy. The rate was higher in rural areas than urban areas (93 and 67 percent, respectively). Even in the country’s rapidly growing urban areas, self-employed informal workers provided essential services such as water, food, and transportation. Other common types of informal work included agriculture, commerce and trading, domestic work, security guards, and raising cattle. The government began job skills training programs to reduce informal employment, as well as efforts to reduce barriers to formalization and promote greater awareness of the advantages and protection that come with the formalization.
Government regulation and closure of market stalls during COVID-19 forced many informal workers to set up shop in the streets, apartment building entrances, or their own doorsteps to sell food, handcrafts such as leather sandals, furniture, and imported goods. Informal markets were the main source of food goods for most of the population. Informal money changers operated a parallel financial system to exchange weak local currency for dollars. This practice was not as widespread as years past due to the devaluation of the kwanza, which reduced the gap between the official and unofficial exchange rates. Some informal-sector workers joined unions, such as the National Federation of Unions of Food Industry, Commerce, and Hotels. Most workers in the informal sector were not covered by wage or occupational safety standards or social protections.