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. A union must have at least 50 members. There is no minimum size for a company to be unionized. The minister of labor has the authority to designate the most representative trade union in each sector. Most civil servants may unionize, but their unions must register with the Ministry of Civil Service, Labor, and Social Security (Labor Ministry), which has the authority to deny registration. Police, the armed forces, magistrates, and foreigners working in the public sector may not form or join unions. Workers younger than age of 18 must have the consent of their parents or guardians to join a union.
The law provides workers with a conditional right to strike after meeting strict conditions; it bans solidarity strikes. The parties must exhaust all other means of resolution (dialogue, conciliation, and arbitration) prior to a strike. Intending strikers must represent a majority of workers and give six days’ notice to the employer and the Labor Ministry, and negotiations mediated by a mutually agreed party or by the government must continue during the action. The ministry must determine whether the sides have met strike conditions, giving it, in effect, veto power over strikes. The law permits requisition of essential employees in the event of strike action. The law prohibits retribution against workers participating in a legal strike.
The law recognizes the right to collective bargaining, excluding measures regarding public sector wages, which are set according to fixed scales following consultation with unions. If negotiations result in deadlock, the labor minister may impose arbitration and approve or revise any agreement. There are no laws that compel an employer to engage in collective bargaining. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. The law allows termination of workers engaged in an illegal strike and does not specifically provide for reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity.
The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Resources for inspection and remediation were inadequate, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.
The government placed excessive restrictions on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining and sometimes interfered in union activities. In the wake of participation by union members in antigovernment demonstrations in 2015, unions were subject to similar pressures and restrictions as other elements of civil society. These measures led to a significant reduction in union activism.
Most unions were public-employee unions, and virtually no private sector workers were unionized. Since most salaried workers were civil servants, government entities were involved in almost every phase of labor negotiations. The principal trade union confederations represented labor interests in collective bargaining negotiations, in cooperation with individual labor unions.
Most laborers worked in the unregulated informal economy and were not protected. According to the Confederation of Burundian Labor Unions, virtually no informal sector workers had written employment contracts.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children. The penalty for conviction of forced labor trafficking is between five and 10 years’ imprisonment. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Resources for inspections and remediation were inadequate, and the penal code did not specify penalties. Workplace inspectors had authority to impose fines at their own discretion, but there were no reports of prosecutions or convictions.
Children and young adults were coerced into forced labor on plantations or small farms in the south, small-scale menial labor in mines, carrying river stones for construction in Bujumbura, or engaging in informal commerce in the streets of larger cities (see section 7.c.).
The government encouraged citizens to participate in community work each Saturday morning from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Governors of various provinces sporadically fined residents who failed to participate, and members of the Imbonerakure or police sometimes harassed or intimidated individuals who did not participate.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, but does not generally apply to children working outside of formal employment relationships. The law states that enterprises may not employ children younger than 16, with exceptions permitted by the Labor Ministry. These exceptions include light work or apprenticeships that do not damage children’s health, interfere with their normal development, or prejudice their schooling. The minister of labor permitted children who were 12 years old and above to be employed in “light labor,” such as selling newspapers, herding cattle, or preparing food. The legal minimum age for most types of “nondangerous” labor varies between ages 16 and 18. The law prohibits children from working at night and limits them to 40 hours’ work per week. The law makes no distinction between the formal and informal sectors.
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for the enforcement of laws on child labor and had many instruments for this purpose, including criminal sanctions, fines, and court orders. The ministry, however, did not effectively enforce the law, primarily due to a dearth of inspectors and inadequate resources, such as insufficient fuel for vehicles. As a result the ministry enforced the law only when a complaint was filed. Fines were not sufficient to deter violations. During the year authorities did not report any cases of child labor in the formal sector, nor did they conduct surveys on child labor in the informal sector.
In rural areas children younger than age 16, often responsible for contributing to their families and their own subsistence, were regularly employed in heavy manual labor during the day, including during the school year, especially in agriculture. Children working in agriculture could be forced to carry heavy loads and use machines and tools that could be dangerous. They also herded cattle and goats, which exposed them to harsh weather conditions and forced them to work with large or dangerous animals. Many children worked in the informal sector, such as in family businesses, selling in the streets, and working in small local brickworks. There were instances of children being employed as beggars, including forced begging by children with disabilities.
In urban areas child domestic servants were often isolated from the public. Some were only housed and fed instead of being paid for their work. Some employers who did not pay the salaries of children they employed as domestic servants accused them of stealing, and children were sometimes imprisoned on false charges. Child domestic workers could be forced to work long hours, some employers exploited them sexually, and girls were disproportionately impacted.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The constitution recognizes workers’ right to equal pay for equal work. The constitution does not specifically prohibit discrimination against a particular group but rather provides for equal rights. Authorities reported no violations concerning discrimination. Much of the country’s economic activity took place in the informal sector, where protection was generally not provided. Some persons claimed membership in the ruling party was a prerequisite for formal employment in the public and private sectors. Members of the Twa ethnic minority, who in many cases lacked official documentation, were often excluded from opportunities in the formal economy. Women were excluded from some jobs, and in October a government decree prohibited women from participating in traditional drumming groups. Persons with albinism reportedly experienced discrimination in employment.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There are official minimum wages established by a 1988 decree of 160 Burundian francs per day ($0.09) in urban areas and 105 francs per day ($0.06) in rural areas. These rates were not consistent with labor market realities and were not enforced; somewhat higher minimum wages prevailed. In Bujumbura the informal minimum wage for unskilled workers was approximately 3,000 Burundian francs ($1.70) per day, less than the World Bank’s international poverty rate of $1.90. In rural areas the informal daily minimum wage was 2,000 Burundian francs ($1.13) plus lunch. According to the World Bank, 73 percent of the population lived below the poverty line. More than 90 percent of the working population worked in the informal economy; minimum wage law did not apply to the informal sector, where wages were typically based on negotiation and reflected prevailing average wages.
The labor code limited working hours to eight hours per day and 40 hours per week, but there are many exceptions, including national security, guarding residential areas, and road transport. Security companies received guidance from the Labor Ministry allowing workweeks of 72 hours for security guards, not including training. A surcharge of 35 percent for the first two hours and 60 percent thereafter must be paid for those workers eligible for paid overtime. Workers are supposed to receive 200 percent of their base salary for working weekends and holidays, but only become eligible for this supplement after a year of service. There is no legislation on mandatory overtime. Breaks include 30 minutes for lunch as a generally observed practice, but there is no legal obligation. Foreign or migrant workers are subject to the same conditions and laws as citizens.
The labor code establishes appropriate occupational safety and health standards for the workplace. Many buildings under construction in Bujumbura, however, had workforces without proper protective equipment, such as closed-toe shoes, and scaffolding built of wooden poles of irregular length and width.
The Labor Inspectorate in the Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing the laws on minimum wages and working hours as well as safety standards and worker health regulations. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.
Although workplaces rarely met safety standards or protected the health of workers sufficiently, there were no official investigations, no cases of employers reported for violating safety standards, and no complaint reports filed with the Labor Inspectorate during the year. There were no data on deaths in the workplace. Workers were allowed to leave the work site in case of imminent danger without fear of sanctions.