Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the rights of workers to form or join unions of their choice, to engage in collective bargaining, and to conduct legal strikes. The labor code provides for protection against antiunion discrimination and for the reinstatement of workers. Although government enforcement generally was effective, some cases continued for years, with further delay for appeals. The Directorate General for Labor (DGT) has a conciliation mechanism to promote dialogue between workers and employers on conditions of work.
The labor code designates certain jobs essential and limits workers’ ability to strike in those industries. Services provided by telecommunications, justice, meteorology entities, health, firefighting, postal service, funeral services, water and sanitation services, transportation, ports and airports, private security, and the banking and credit sectors are considered indispensable. The law states the government may force the end of a strike when there is an emergency or “to ensure the smooth operation of businesses or essential services of public interest.” The law and custom allow unions to carry out their activities without interference.
The government respected workers’ right of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining and effectively enforced applicable laws in the formal sector. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. Penalties were adequate to deter violations of freedom of association.
Labor unions complained the government sporadically restricted the right to strike for certain critical job categories. Other observers stated the government cooperated with the unions and did not discriminate against certain job categories. According to the local press, few companies adopted collective bargaining, but the International Labor Organization (ILO) worked with local unions and government bodies to provide guidance on conducting a dialogue among parties.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and the government effectively enforced applicable laws in the formal sector. The labor code prohibits forced labor, and the penal code outlaws slavery, with penalties sufficiently stringent to deter violations.
Nevertheless, there were reports such practices occurred during the year. Migrants from China, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Nigeria, and Guinea may receive wages below minimum wage and work without contracts, creating vulnerabilities to forced labor in the construction sector. There were incidents of child labor in the domestic services and agriculture sectors, with children often working long hours in dangerous conditions and at times experiencing physical and sexual abuse, indicators of forced labor (see also section 7.c.).
On January 10, the president promulgated Resolution 3/2019 that established the Second National Plan of Action on Immigration (2018-20). Migrants from West Africa came to work in the construction and hospitality sectors, and the government sought to reduce their vulnerability to exploitation and increase their integration.
In October 2018 four Chinese nationals escaped from a situation of forced labor on Sal. The government identified them as victims of labor trafficking and, with support from the IOM, repatriated them to China. In May the traffickers–two Chinese nationals and one Cabo Verdean–were sentenced.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The 2016 National List of Dangerous Work for Children expanded, codified, and prohibited types of work in which children may not engage. The law defines the worst forms of child labor as any work done by children under age 16, and dangerous work performed by children between ages 16 and 18. The National Assembly ratified ILO Convention 138 in 2011, and the legal minimum age for work is 15. The labor code does not allow children ages 15 to 18 to work more than 38 hours a week or more than seven hours a day. The labor code provides that underage children may work only on small household tasks, in apprenticeship or training programs, or to help support the family. Children ages 16 to 18 are allowed to work overtime in an emergency but may not work more than two overtime hours a day, and these extra hours may not exceed 30 hours per year. The law permits children to perform agricultural work for the family provided that work does not compromise the child’s mental and physical development. Children under age 16 are banned from performing any street work. The ILO called on the government to raise the minimum age for hazardous work from 16 to 18, in line with international standards.
Several laws prohibit child labor, and the penalties they impose were adequate, but enforcement was neither consistent nor effective. Barriers, many cultural, remained to the effective implementation of these laws. For example, not all citizens considered children working to help support their families, especially in small remote communities, as negative, even when the work by law was deemed dangerous. The government had minimal ability to monitor and enforce laws in the informal sector, estimated to represent 30 percent of the economy.
Children engaged in street work, including water and food sales, car washing, and begging, and were vulnerable to trafficking. The risk to children depended largely on where they were located; there was considerably more child labor on some islands than others. The worst forms of child labor included street work, domestic service, agriculture, animal husbandry, trash picking, garbage and human waste transport, and at times passing drugs. A psychologist working for the international NGO SOS Children’s Village warned that a child could make above the monthly minimum wage from begging.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion, ethnic origin, age, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social status.
Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation, however, occurred (see section 6). Women generally had lower economic status and less access to management positions in public- and private-sector organizations. Women experienced inequality in political and economic participation. For instance, being a homemaker is not officially recognized as employment, and national statistics report homemakers as inactive members of the labor force. In some sectors of the formal economy, women received lower salaries than men for equal work.
African immigrants worked mainly in retail, services, and construction. Immigrants generally were poorly educated and had few professional qualifications and little work experience; consequently, their wages tended to be lower. Many of these immigrants did not have a legal contract with their employers, and thus they did not enjoy many legal protections and often worked in unacceptable conditions. The ECOWAS charter permits labor mobility for citizens of member states. The country was criticized by its neighbors for failing to implement its charter responsibilities fully by not protecting legal ECOWAS migrants.
The law stipulates a monthly minimum wage greater than the official estimate of the poverty income level. The law stipulates a maximum of eight hours of work per day and 44 hours per week. The law requires rest periods, the length of which depends on the work sector.
There were reports workers employed in the ubiquitous Chinese stores often received less than the minimum wage. These workers did not file formal complaints due to fear of losing their jobs and because they anticipated authorities would not take corrective action.
The law sets minimum occupational and safety standards and gives workers the right to decline to work if working conditions pose serious risks to health or physical integrity. In specific high-risk sectors, such as fishing or construction, the government may and often does provide, in consultation with unions and employers, occupational safety and health rules. The employer must also develop a training program for workers. The CNDHC noted companies generally chose to follow these rules, but that the government has insufficient resources through the Inspectorate General of Labor (IGT) to address violations.
The DGT and IGT are charged with implementing labor laws. Certain formal-sector benefits, such as social security accounts for informal workers, were enforced in the informal sector, although no penalties for violations that included fines or imprisonment were imposed during the year. The informal sector remained largely unregulated by government actors. The government made efforts to reduce work accidents and illness at work by carrying out more inspections and awareness campaigns to promote a culture of prevention and safety at work. The DGT and IGT, however, did not employ a sufficient number of inspectors to adequately enforce the law. Although companies tended to respect laws on working hours, many employees, such as domestic workers, health-care professionals, farmers, fishers, and commercial workers, commonly worked for longer periods of time than the law allows. Penalties for labor violations were generally insufficient to deter violations.
According to the IGT’s 2018 report, most irregularities detected during labor inspections related to nonsubscription to the National Institute for Social Protection, nonsubscription to mandatory insurance for job injury, and some irregularities in complying with health and safety standards. Inspections revealed the most common work violations concerned the right to vacation time and the right to rest periods between work periods.
Although there were no official studies available, some sources speculated foreign workers were more likely to be exploited than others. In 2018 between 17,000 and 22,000 immigrants, mostly from ECOWAS countries, worked in the country. Most immigrants were men (60.3 percent) older than 25 years of age, with the highest percentage between ages 25 and 44 (51.7 percent). Generally foreigners worked in civil construction, security services, hospitality, domestic services, and tourism. It was common for companies not to honor foreign workers’ rights regarding contracts, especially concerning deductions for social security.
The majority of work-related accidents reported during the year occurred in food services, the steel industry, and construction sectors. In 2018 the IGT registered 395 work-related accidents and six deaths resulting from labor accidents.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law broadly provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join trade unions of their own choice, the right to bargain collectively, and the right to strike. Nevertheless, the law puts significant restrictions on the right to organize, limits the right to strike, curbs the right to assemble, facilitates government intervention in internal union affairs, excludes certain categories of workers from joining unions, permits third parties to seek the dissolution of trade unions, and imposes minor penalties on employers for unfair labor practices.
Onerous registration requirements amount to a requirement for prior authorization for union formation. Union registration requirements include filing charters, listing officials and their immediate families, and providing banking details to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training. The law forbids unregistered unions from operating. Civil servants, teachers, workers employed by state-owned enterprises, and workers in the banking, health care, and informal sectors may form only “associations,” not trade unions, affording them fewer worker protections than unionized trades. The law also prohibits workers who have been convicted of a crime from union leadership, management, or administration, and restricts illiterate workers and those younger than age 18 from holding union leadership.
Some employers reportedly refused to sign notification letters to recognize unions officially or to renew short-term contract employees who had joined unions. (Approximately 80 percent of workers in the formal manufacturing sector were on short-term contracts.) Employers and local government officials often refused to provide necessary paperwork for unions to register. Labor activists reported many banks refused to open accounts for unregistered unions, although unions are unable by law to register until they provide banking details. Provincial-level labor authorities reportedly indefinitely stalled registration applications by requesting more materials or resubmissions due to minor errors late in the 30-day application cycle, although anecdotal evidence suggested this practice has decreased, particularly for garment- and footwear-sector unions.
Workers reported various obstacles while trying to exercise their right to freedom of association. There were reports of government harassment targeting independent labor leaders, including the use of spurious legal charges. Several prominent labor leaders associated with the opposition or independent unions had charges pending against them or were under court supervision. On May 28, the Appeals Court acquitted six prominent union leaders who had been criminally charged for their alleged involvement in a violent wage protest in 2014. In July, however, the court convicted a newly elected president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union of violence related to protests in 2016.
Reports continued of other forms of harassment. For the first half of the year, some NGOs and unions complained that police were monitoring their activities and intimidating participants by sending uniformed police to stand outside their offices during meetings (see section 2.b.).
The International Labor Organization (ILO) noted reports of antiunion discrimination by employers through interference with and dismissal of members of independent unions, as well as through the creation of employer-backed unions. Although the law affords protection to union leaders, many factories successfully terminated elected union officials prior to the unions’ attainment of formal registration.
The law stipulates that workers can strike only after meeting several requirements, including the successful registration of a union; the failure of other methods of dispute resolution (such as conciliation, mediation, and arbitration); completion of a 60-day waiting period following the emergence of the dispute; a secret-ballot vote of the absolute majority of union members; and seven days’ advance notice to the employer and the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training. Strikers can be criminally charged if they block entrances or roads or engage in any other behavior interpreted by local authorities as harmful to public order. A court may issue an injunction against the strike and require the restart of negotiations with employers.
There were credible reports of workers dismissed on spurious grounds after organizing or participating in strikes. Unions initiated most strikes without meeting all the requirements stated above, making them technically illegal, according to Better Factories Cambodia (BFC). Participating in an illegal strike, however, is not in itself a legally acceptable reason for dismissal. In some cases employers failed to renew the short-term contracts of active unionists; in others, they pressured union personnel or strikers to accept compensation and quit. Government-sponsored remedies for these dismissals were generally ineffective.
The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training’s Strike Demonstration Resolution Committee reported that during the first half of the year, 16,585 workers conducted 26 strikes and demonstrations, compared with 28 strikes involving 4,617 workers in the same period of 2018. The report said the committee resolved 16 of the 26 cases successfully while 10 others went to the Arbitration Council.
During the year, the government restricted workers’ right to assembly. On January 2, police pulled down a public display by a group of associations and unions marking the anniversary of a violent government crackdown on a 2014 strike. Phnom Penh municipal authorities initially denied a request by 12 associations and unions to celebrate the March 8 Women’s Day at the National Stadium, but the government eventually allowed these groups to hold a celebration inside the stadium, although it deployed large numbers of riot police to prevent them from leaving the area.
The resolution of labor disputes was inconsistent, largely due to government officials’ ability to classify disputes as “individual” rather than “collective” disputes. The Arbitration Council only hears collective disputes. Unions reported progress in “minority” unions’ ability to represent workers in collective disputes. The Arbitration Council noted it received 68 cases in the first seven months of the year, up from 28 cases for the same period last year, reflecting the ability of minority unions to represent workers in disputes.
There is no specialized labor court. Labor disputes that are designated “individual” disputes may be brought before the courts, although the judicial system was neither impartial nor transparent.
The law places significant, detailed reporting responsibilities and restrictions on labor unions. Union representatives feared many local chapters would not be able to meet the requirements.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Officials reported difficulties in verifying working conditions and salaries in the informal fishing, agricultural, construction, and domestic-service sectors. Legal penalties for forced labor were stringent, including imprisonment and fines, but these penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Although the government made efforts to highlight the problem of forced labor, the extent to which these efforts were effective remained unclear. Moreover, there was some evidence that employers, particularly those operating brick kilns, were violating the law prohibiting forced or bonded labor, and that some local government authorities were turning a blind eye to such abuses. The majority of brick-factory workers did not have access to the free medical care provided by the National Social Security Fund, because those factories were not registered as fund members.
Third-party debt remained an important issue driving forced labor. According to an August report from human rights group LICADHO (Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights), two million Cambodians have loans to microfinance lenders, and levels of debt have “skyrocketed” in recent years, leading to child labor and bonded labor. According to a 2017 survey, 48 percent of 1,010 construction workers in Phnom Penh had debts; 75 percent of the debtors owed money to microfinance lending operations or banks, and 25 percent owed money to family members.
Because most construction companies and brick factories operate informally and without registration, workers in those sectors have few benefits. They are not entitled to a minimum wage, lack insurance, and work weekends and holidays with few days off.
Forced labor, usually related to overtime work, remains an issue in factories making products for export. Unions and workers reported some factory managers had fired workers who refused to work overtime.
Children were also at risk of forced labor (see section 7.c.).
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law establishes 15 as the minimum age for most employment and 18 as the minimum age for hazardous work. The law permits children age 12 to 15 to engage in “light work” that is not hazardous to their health and does not affect school attendance; an implementing regulation provides an exhaustive list of activities considered “heavy work.” These include agriculture, brickmaking, fishing, tobacco, and cassava production. The law limits most work by children age 12 to 15 to a maximum of four hours on school days and seven hours on nonschool days and it prohibits work between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.
In May 2018 the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training issued a regulation that provided clear definitions of household work and set the minimum age for household work at 18. The regulation, however, does not specify rights for household workers employed by relatives. While the regulation extends minimum age protections to domestic workers, the labor code does not apply to children outside of formal employment, so children participating in other forms of informal employment are not protected under existing minimum age laws.
The law stipulates fines of up to 60 times the prevailing daily base wage for persons convicted of violating the country’s child labor provisions, but they were not sufficient to deter violations, and such sanctions were rarely imposed.
The Department of Child Labor, part of the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training, employed an insufficient number of inspectors to effectively enforce the law. Child labor inspections were concentrated in Phnom Penh and provincial, formal-sector factories producing goods for export, rather than in rural areas where the majority of child laborers work. In addition, the National Committee on Countering Child Labor reported the labor inspectorate does not conduct inspections in hospitality or nightlife establishments after business hours because the inspectorate lacks funds to pay inspectors overtime. In 2018 the government imposed penalties on 10 firms for violations of child labor standards, which was significantly lower than the reported prevalence of child labor in the country.
Inadequate training also limited the capacity of local authorities to enforce these regulations, especially in rural areas and high-risk sectors.
Children were vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor, including in agriculture, brick making, and commercial sex (also see section 6, Children). On March 9, a nine-year-old girl lost her arm in a brick-molding machine in a brick kiln in Kandal Province’s Ksach Kandal district. No criminal action was taken against the owner of the brick kiln. Poor access to basic education and the absence of compulsory education contributed to children’s vulnerability to exploitation. Children from impoverished families were at risk because some affluent households reportedly used humanitarian pretenses to hire children as domestic workers whom they abused and exploited. Children were also forced to beg.
Child labor in export-sector garment factories declined significantly in recent years. Some analysts attributed the decline to pressure from BFC’s mandatory remediation program. Since 2015 the BFC has found fewer than 20 child workers per year in a pool of approximately 550 such factories. In its latest available report for May 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018, the BFC discovered only 10 children younger than age 15 working in export garment factories. The BFC and others expressed concern, however, that child labor and other abuses may be more prevalent in factories making footwear and travel goods for export, since these sectors do not fall under BFC’s mandate for monitoring.
See also the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, religion, political opinion, birth, social origin, HIV-positive status, or union membership. The law does not explicitly prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, or communicable disease. The constitution stipulates that citizens of either sex shall receive equal pay for equal work.
The government generally did not enforce these laws. Penalties for employment discrimination include fines, civil, and administrative remedies. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.
Harassment of women was widespread. A BFC report in March 2018 said more than 38 percent of workers surveyed felt uncomfortable “often” or “sometimes” because of behavior in their factory, and 40 percent did not believe there was a clear and fair system for reporting sexual harassment in their factory.
The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training is responsible for enforcing labor laws, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were seldom assessed and were insufficient to address problems. Outside the export garment industry, the government rarely enforced working-hour regulations. The government enforced standards selectively due to poorly trained staff, lack of necessary equipment, and corruption. Ministry officials admitted their inability to carry out thorough inspections on working hours and said they relied upon the BFC to do such inspections in export-oriented garment factories.
The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training, however, did conduct training and testing for more than 600 labor inspectors during the year and stated that each inspector was required to pass a test to stay on the job.
Work-related injuries and health problems were common. On June 23, a Chinese-owned and -designed facility collapsed in Sihanoukville, killing 26 local workers and injuring 26 others. Those victims and their families could not get full compensation from the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) because the construction company was not registered.
There was insufficient inspection of construction worksites by the government. Occupational safety and health laws for the construction industry have penalties that are not sufficient to deter violations.
The minimum wage covered only the garment and footwear sector. It was more than the official estimate for the poverty income level.
By law workplace health and safety standards must be adequate to provide for workers’ well-being. Labor inspectors assess fines according to a complex formula based on the severity and duration of the infraction, as well as the number of workers affected. Labor ministry inspectors are empowered to assess these fines on the spot, without the cooperation of police, but there are no specific provisions to protect workers who complain about unsafe or unhealthy conditions. The number of inspectors was insufficient to effectively enforce the law. In June the government ordered provincial officials to inspect brick kilns for child and bonded labor, and it launched a campaign to eliminate child labor in brick kilns by the end of the year.
Mass fainting remained a problem. The NSSF noted that 417 workers in five factories reportedly fainted during the first six months of the year, down from 1,350 workers during the same period in 2018. Observers reported excessive overtime, poor health, insufficient sleep, poor ventilation, lack of nutrition, pesticides in nearby rice paddies, and toxic fumes from production processes all continued to contribute to mass fainting.
Compliance with safety and health standards continued to be a challenge in the garment export sector largely due to improper company policies, procedures, and poorly defined supervisory roles and responsibilities.
The NSSF reported that during the first half of the year, 24 workers died in traffic accidents on the way to or from work, an increase from eight in the same period in 2018. The accidents injured 920 others, an increase from 62 during the same period in 2018. Workers’ unsafe transportation was a big concern for stakeholders of the garment industry. On April 4, five workers lost their arms in a crash when the truck they were riding on collided with another truck.
Workers and labor organizations raised concerns that the use of short-term contracts (locally known as fixed duration contracts) allowed firms, especially in the garment sector where productivity growth remained relatively flat, to avoid certain wage and legal requirements. Fixed duration contracts also allowed employers greater freedom to terminate the employment of union organizers and pregnant women simply by failing to renew their contracts. The law limits such contracts to a maximum of two years, but more recent directives allow employers to extend this period to up to four years. The Arbitration Council and the ILO disputed this interpretation of the law, noting that after 24 months, an employee should be offered a permanent “unlimited duration contract.” (Also see section 7.a.).
The law provides for a standard legal workweek of 48 hours, not to exceed eight hours per day. The law establishes a rate of 130 percent of daytime wages for nightshift work and 150 percent for overtime, which increases to 200 percent if overtime occurs at night, on Sunday, or on a holiday. Employees may work a maximum two hours of overtime per day. The law prohibits excessive overtime, states that all overtime must be voluntary, and provides for paid annual holidays. Workers in marine and air transportation are not entitled to social security and pension benefits and are exempt from limitations on work hours prescribed by law.
Workers reported overtime was often excessive and sometimes mandatory; many complained that employers forced them to work 12-hour days, although the legal limit is 10, including overtime. Workers often faced dismissal, fines, or loss of premium pay if they refused to work overtime.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. This does not apply to multiple groups of workers, including defense and national security personnel, prison administration civil servants, and judicial and legal personnel. The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Statutory limitations and other practices substantially restricted these rights. The law does not permit the creation of a union that includes both public- and private-sector workers, or the creation of a union that includes different, even if closely related, sectors. The law requires that unions register with the government, have a minimum of 20 members, and formalize the union by submitting a constitution and by-laws. Founding members must also have clean police records. Those who form a union and carry out union activities without registration can be fined under the law. More than 100 trade unions and 12 trade union confederations were in operation, including one public-sector confederation. Trade unions or associations of public servants may not join a foreign occupational or labor organization without prior authorization from the minister responsible for “supervising public freedoms,” currently the minister of territorial administration.
The constitution and law provide for collective bargaining between workers and management, as well as between labor federations and business associations in each sector of the economy. The law does not apply to the agricultural or informal sectors, which included the majority of the workforce.
Legal strikes or lockouts may be called only after conciliation and arbitration procedures have been exhausted. Workers who ignore procedures to conduct a legal strike may be dismissed or fined. Free Industrial Zones are subject to some labor laws; however, there are several exceptions. The employers have the right to determine salaries according to productivity, the free negotiation of work contracts, and the automatic issuance of work permits for foreign workers.
The government and employers did not effectively enforce the applicable legislation on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Penalties for violations were rarely enforced and were ineffective as a deterrent. Administrative judicial procedures were infrequent and subject to lengthy delays and appeals.
Collective agreements are binding until after a party has given three months’ notice to terminate. Unlike in the previous year, there were no reported allegations that the minister of labor and social security negotiated collective agreements with trade unionists who had nothing to do with the sectors concerned and did not involve trade union confederations that prepared the draft agreements. The government continued to undermine the leadership of the Cameroon Workers Trade Union Confederation (CSTC), one of 12 trade union confederations elected in 2015.
Despite multiple complaints by CSTC’s elected leadership, the government continued to work with former leaders. In June for example, the minister of labor reportedly included Celestin Bama, a member of the former leadership team, as CSTC’s representative in the Cameroonian delegation to the International Labor Conference in Geneva. The International Trade Union Confederation worked with CSTC’s legitimate leadership for its 4th Congress held in Copenhagen, Denmark, in early December 2018.
Trade unionists reported some company officials disregarded labor legislation and prohibited the establishment of trade unions in their companies. They cited the examples of Sarsel and Harjap, two Lebanese-owned businesses based in Douala, as well as several small- and medium-sized Cameroonian companies. Unlike in 2018, there were no reported allegations that some companies retained 1 percent of unionized workers’ salaries as union dues but refused to transfer the money to trade unions.
Many employers used subcontractors to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights. Workers’ representatives said most major companies, including parastatal companies, engaged in the practice, citing the electricity company Energy of Cameroon, the water company Camerounaise des Eaux, cement manufacturer Cimencam, Guinness, Aluminum Smelter (Alucam), COTCO, Ecobank, and many others. Subcontracting was reported to involve all categories of personnel, from the lowest to senior levels. As a result, workers with equal expertise and experience did not always enjoy similar advantages when working for the same business, and subcontracted personnel typically lacked a legal basis to file complaints.
Several strikes were announced during the year. Some were called off after successful negotiation, and some were carried out peacefully, while others faced some degree of repression.
On July 31, the Free National Union of Dockers and Related Activities of Cameroon embarked on a peaceful and lawful strike at the port of Douala. The striking workers demanded improved working conditions, including the effective implementation of a presidential decree of January 24 that offered them hope for better conditions of employment and work. Port officials allegedly called police and administrative authorities to the scene shortly after the start of the strike. They threatened the striking workers with dismissal if they did not return to work and arrested Jean Pierre Voundi Ebale, the elected leader of the dockers’ union, and two other members of the union, Guialbert Oumenguele and Elton Djoukang Nkongo. The senior divisional officer for Wouri placed them on a renewable two-week administrative custody at the Douala Central Prison. Voundi Ebale and his codetainees were released on September 1, after one full month of detention, reportedly on banditry-related charges.
As of November 30, the government delegate to the Douala City Council had not implemented a September 2017 decision of the Littoral Court of Appeal’s Labor Arbitration Council requesting the delegate to reinstate the 11 workers’ representatives he suspended in April 2017. The delegate instead opposed the court decision and referred the issue back to the labor inspector, who once again referred it to the region’s Court of Appeal. After multiple postponements, the court on October 29 confirmed the initial decision to reinstate the workers’ representatives and pay their salaries and outstanding arrears.
The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced and compulsory labor. The law prohibits slavery, exploitation, and debt bondage and voids any agreement in which violence was used to obtain consent. Penalties would have likely been sufficient to deter violations if enforced. The law also extends culpability for all crimes to accomplices and corporate entities. Although the statutory penalties are fairly severe, the government did not enforce the law effectively, in part due to a lack of capacity to investigate trafficking and limited labor inspection and remediation resources. In addition, due to the length and expense of criminal trials and the lack of protection available to victims participating in investigations, many victims of forced or compulsory labor resorted to accepting an out-of-court settlement.
There continued to be anecdotal reports of hereditary servitude imposed on former slaves in some chiefdoms in the North Region. Many members of the Kirdi–whose ethnic group practiced predominately Christian and traditional faiths and who had been enslaved by the Muslim Fulani in the 1800s–continued to work for traditional Fulani rulers for compensation, in room and board and generally a low and unregulated salary, while their children were free to pursue schooling and work of their choosing. Kirdi were also required to pay local chiefdom taxes to the Fulani, as were all other subjects. The combination of low wages and high taxes (although legal) effectively constituted forced labor. While technically free to leave, many Kirdi remained in the hierarchical and authoritarian system because of a lack of viable options.
Anecdotal reports suggested that in the South and East Regions, some Baka, including children, continued to be subjected to unfair labor practices by Bantu farmers, who hired the Baka at exploitive wages to work on their farms during the harvest seasons.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and sets 14 as the minimum age of employment. The law prohibits children from working at night or longer than eight hours per day. It also outlines tasks children younger than 18 cannot legally perform, including moving heavy objects, undertaking dangerous and unhealthy tasks, working in confined areas, and prostitution. Employers are required to provide skills training to children between ages 14 and 18. Because compulsory education ends at age 12, children who were not in school and not yet 14 were particularly vulnerable to child labor. Laws relating to hazardous work for children younger than 18 are not comprehensive, since they do not include prohibitions on work underwater or at dangerous heights. Children engaged in hazardous agricultural work, including in cocoa production. The government in 2018 earmarked funds for the Ministry of Labor and Social Security to revise the hazardous work list. There were no reported developments or progress achieved as of late November. The law provides penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment for those who violate child labor laws. These penalties likely would have been sufficient to deter violations, if enforced.
Children worked in agriculture, where they were exposed to hazardous conditions, including handling heavy loads, machetes, and agricultural chemicals. Children worked in mining, where they carried heavy loads and were exposed to dangerous conditions. Children worked as street vendors and in fishing, where they were exposed to hazardous conditions. Children in these sectors mainly worked alongside families and not under formal employers. Children were subjected to forced begging as talibes in Quran schools. Children were recruited or coerced by armed groups to work as porters, scouts, cooks, and child soldiers.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law contains no specific provisions against discrimination, but the constitution in its preamble provides that all persons shall have equal rights and obligations and that every person shall have the right and the obligation to work.
Discrimination in employment and occupation allegedly occurred with respect to ethnicity, HIV status, disability, gender, and sexual orientation, especially in the private sector. Ethnic groups often gave preferential treatment to members of their respective ethnic group in business and social practices, and persons with disabilities reportedly found it difficult to secure and access employment. There were no reliable reports of discrimination against internal migrant or foreign migrant workers, although anecdotal reports suggested such workers were vulnerable to unfair working conditions. The government took no action to eliminate or prevent discrimination and kept no records of incidents of discrimination.
The minimum wage in all sectors was greater than the World Bank’s international poverty line. Premium pay for overtime ranged from 120 to 150 percent of the hourly rate, depending on the amount of overtime and whether it is weekend or late-night overtime. Despite the minimum wage law, employers often negotiated with workers for lower salaries, in part due to the extremely high rate of underemployment in the country. Salaries lower than the minimum wage remained prevalent in the public-works sector, where many positions required unskilled labor, as well as in domestic work, where female refugees were particularly vulnerable to unfair labor practices.
The law establishes a standard workweek of 40 hours in public and private nonagricultural firms and a total of 2,400 hours per year, with a maximum limit of 48 hours per week in agricultural and related activities. There are exceptions for guards and firefighters (56 hours per week), service-sector staff (45 hours per week), and household and restaurant staff (54 hours per week). The law mandates at least 24 consecutive hours of weekly rest.
The government sets health and safety standards in the workplace. The minister in charge of labor issues establishes the list of occupational diseases in consultation with the National Commission on Industrial Hygiene and Safety. These regulations were not enforced in the informal sector. The labor code also mandates that every enterprise and establishment of any kind provide medical and health services for its employees. This stipulation was not enforced.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for national enforcement of the minimum wage and work hour standards, but it did not enforce the law. Ministry inspectors and occupational health physicians are responsible for monitoring health and safety standards, but the ministry lacked the resources for a comprehensive inspection program. The government more than doubled the total number of labor inspectors, but the number of labor inspectors was still insufficient. Moreover, the government did not provide adequate access to vehicles or computers, hampering the effectiveness of the inspectors.
Section 7. Worker Rights
Federal and some provincial laws, including related regulations and statutory instruments, provide for the right of workers in both the public and the private sectors to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. Workers in the public sector who provide essential services, including police and armed forces, do not have the right to strike but have mechanisms to provide for due process and to protect workers’ rights. Workers in essential services had recourse to binding arbitration if labor negotiations failed. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination or other forms of employer interference in union functions.
Federal labor law applies in federally regulated sectors, which include industries of extra provincial or international character, transportation and transportation infrastructure that cross provincial and international borders, marine shipping, port and ferry services, air transportation and airports, pipelines, telecommunications, banks, grain elevators, uranium mining and processing, works designated by the federal parliament affecting two or more provinces, protection of fisheries as a natural resource, many First Nation activities, and most state-owned corporations. These industries employed approximately 10 percent of workers.
The law requires the government and a bargaining unit to negotiate an essential services agreement defining an essential service and identifying the number and type of employees and the specific positions within the bargaining unit who are necessary to provide such essential service and, consequently, do not have the right to strike. If the parties are unable to agree, either party can apply to the independent Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board for a resolution. The law also allows a bargaining unit to choose between arbitration and conciliation as the process for resolving collective bargaining disputes if it is unable to resolve the dispute directly with the employer.
Provincial and territorial governments regulate and are responsible for enforcing their own labor laws in all occupations and workplaces that are not federally regulated, leaving categories of workers excluded from statutory protection of freedom of association in several provinces. Some provinces restrict the right to strike. For example, agricultural workers in Ontario and Quebec do not have the right to organize or bargain collectively, or experience restrictions on such rights, under provincial law. Migrant workers in specific occupations, such as agriculture or caregiving, may also be exempt from minimum wage, overtime, and other labor standards protections in specific provinces.
The government generally respected freedom of association and the right of collective bargaining. The government effectively enforced applicable laws and regulations, including with effective remedies and penalties such as corrective workplace practices and criminal prosecution for noncompliance and willful violations. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were not subject to lengthy delays and appeals.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced the law. The law prescribes penalties that are sufficiently stringent to deter violations. The government investigated and prosecuted cases of forced labor and domestic servitude.
The federal government held employers of foreign workers accountable by verifying employers’ ability to pay wages and provide accommodation and, through periodic inspections and mandatory compliance reviews, ensuring that employers provided the same wages, living conditions, and occupation specified in the employers’ original job offer. The government can deny noncompliant employers the permits required to recruit foreign workers for two years and impose fines of up to C$100,000 ($77,000) per violation of the program. Some provincial governments imposed licensing and registration requirements on recruiters or employers of foreign workers and prohibited the charging of recruitment fees to workers.
There were reports that employers subjected employees with temporary or no legal status to forced labor in the agricultural sector, food processing, cleaning services, hospitality, construction industries, and domestic service. NGOs reported bonded labor, particularly in the construction industry, and domestic servitude constituted the majority of cases of forced labor and that some victims had participated in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report.
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. There is no federal minimum age for employment. In federally regulated sectors, children younger than age 17 may work only when they are not required to attend school under provincial legislation, provided the work does not fall under excluded categories (such as work underground in a mine, on a vessel, or in the vicinity of explosives), and the work does not endanger health and safety. Children may not work in any federally regulated sector between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. The provinces and territories have primary responsibility for regulation of child labor, and minimum age restrictions vary by province. Enforcement occurs through a range of laws covering employment standards, occupational health and safety, education laws, and in regulations for vocational training, child welfare, and licensing of establishments for the sale of alcohol. Most provinces restrict the number of hours of work to two or three hours on a school day and eight hours on a nonschool day, and they prohibit children ages 12 to 16 from working without parental consent, after 11 p.m., or in any hazardous employment.
Authorities effectively enforced child-labor laws and policies, and federal and provincial labor ministries carried out child-labor inspections either proactively or in response to formal complaints. There were reports that limited resources hampered inspection and enforcement efforts. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
There were reports child labor occurred, particularly in the agricultural sector. There were also reports children, principally teenage girls, subjected to sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin or citizenship, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases. In June Quebec overrode constitutional protections of freedom of religion for a period of five years to pass a law that restricts the wearing of visible religious symbols–including hijabs, kippas, turbans, and crosses–by certain public-sector employees to enforce a policy of religious neutrality in the delivery of provincial public services. Some provinces, including Quebec, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the Northwest Territories, prohibit employment discrimination on the grounds of social origin, “social condition,” or political opinion. The government enforced the law effectively, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Federal law requires, on a complaint basis, equal pay for equal work for four designated groups in federally regulated industries enforced through the Canadian Human Rights Commission: women, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, and visible minorities. Ontario and Quebec have pay equity laws that cover both the public and private sectors, and other provinces require pay equity only in the public sector.
Authorities encouraged individuals to resolve employment-related discrimination complaints through internal workplace dispute resolution processes as a first recourse, but federal and provincial human rights commissions investigated and mediated complaints and enforced the law and regulations. Some critics complained the process was complex and failed to issue rulings in a timely manner. Foreign migrant workers have the same labor rights as citizens and permanent residents, although NGOs alleged discrimination occurred against migrant workers and that some refugee claimants faced language and other nonlegal barriers that made it difficult to enter the workforce.
There is no national minimum wage and no official poverty income level. As of June provincial and territorial minimum wage rates were above the low-income measure, which is half the after-tax median income level adjusted for family size. The government effectively enforced wage rates, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
Standard work hours vary by province, but the limit is 40 or 48 hours per week, with at least 24 hours of rest. The law requires payment of a premium for work above the standard workweek. There is no specific prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime, which is regulated by means of the required rest periods in the labor code that differ by industry. Some categories of workers have specific employment rights that differ from the standard, including commercial fishermen, oil-field workers, loggers, home caregivers, professionals, managers, and some sales staff.
Federal law provides safety and health standards for employees under federal jurisdiction. Provincial and territorial legislation provides for all other employees, including foreign and migrant workers. Standards were current and appropriate for the industries they covered. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations resides with authorities, employers, and supervisors, not the worker. Federal, provincial, and territorial laws protect the right of workers with “reasonable cause” to refuse dangerous work and to remove themselves from hazardous work conditions, and authorities effectively enforced this right. The government also promoted safe working practices and provided training, education, and resources through the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety, a federal agency composed of representatives of government, employers, and labor.
Minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety standards were effectively enforced. Federal and provincial labor departments monitored and effectively enforced labor standards by conducting inspections through scheduled and unscheduled visits, in direct response to reported complaints, and at random. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Some trade unions claimed that limited resources hampered the government’s inspection and enforcement efforts.
NGOs reported migrants, new immigrants, young workers, and the unskilled were vulnerable to violations of the law on minimum wage, overtime pay, unpaid wages, and excessive hours of work. NGOs also alleged that restrictions on the types of labor complaints accepted for investigation and delays in processing cases discouraged the filing of complaints.
According to the Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada, during 2017, the most recent year for which data were available, there were 951 workplace fatalities.