Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of workers, including those in export processing zones (EPZs), to form and join unions of their choice and to bargain collectively. For the union to be recognized as a bargaining agent, it needs to represent a simple majority of the employees in a firm eligible to join the union. This provision extends to public and private sector employees. Members of the armed forces, prisons service, and police are not allowed to form or join trade unions.
The law permits the government to deny workers the right to strike under certain conditions. For example the government prohibits members of the military, police, prison guards, and the National Youth Service from striking. Civil servants are permitted to strike following a seven-day notice period. A bureau of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection typically referred disputes to mediation, fact-finding, or binding arbitration at the Employment and Labour Relations Court, a body of up to 12 judges that has exclusive jurisdiction to handle employment and labor matters and that operates in urban areas, including Nairobi, Mombasa, Nyeri, Nakuru, Kisumu, and Kericho. The Employment and Labour Relations Court also has subregistries in Meru, Bungoma, Eldoret, Malindi, Machakos, and Garissa.
By law workers who provide essential services, interpreted as “a service the interruption of which would probably endanger the life of a person or health of the population,” may not strike. Any trade dispute in a service listed as essential or declared an essential service may be adjudicated by the Employment and Labour Relations Court.
Strikes must concern terms of employment, and sympathy strikes are prohibited.
The law permits workers in collective bargaining disputes to strike if they have exhausted formal conciliation procedures and have given seven days’ notice to the government and the employer. Conciliation is not compulsory in individual employment matters. Security forces may not bargain collectively but have an internal board that reviews salaries. Informal workers may establish associations, or even unions, to negotiate wages and conditions matching the government’s minimum wage guidelines and advocate for better working conditions and representation in the Employment and Labour Relations Court. The bill of rights in the constitution allows trade unions to undertake their activities without government interference, and the government generally respected this right.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. The Employment and Labour Relations Court can order reinstatement and damages in the form of back pay for employees wrongfully dismissed for union activities. Labor laws apply to all groups of workers.
The government enforced the decisions of the Employment and Labour Relations Court inconsistently. Many employers did not comply with reinstatement orders, and some workers accepted payment in lieu of reinstatement. In several cases employers successfully appealed the Employment and Labour Relations Court’s decisions to a branch of the High Court. The enforcement mechanisms of the Employment and Labour Relations Court remained weak, and its case backlog raised concerns about the long delays and lack of efficacy of the court.
The Employment and Labour Relations Court received many cases arising from the implementation of new labor laws. The parties filed most cases directly without referral to the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection for conciliation. The court was running a significant backlog.
The chief justice designated all county courts presided over by senior resident Magistrates and higher-ranking judges as special courts to hear employment and labor cases. Providing adequate facilities outside of Nairobi was challenging, but observers cited the ability of workers to submit labor-related cases throughout the country as a positive step. In 2016 the Judiciary finalized the Employment and Labor Relations (Procedure) Rules. The significant changes introduced in the new court procedure rules provide parties access to file pleadings directly in electronic form, new pretrial procedures, and alternative dispute resolution. The rules also set a 30-day time limit for the court to submit a report on disagreements over collective bargaining agreements filed.
The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively, although enforcement was inconsistent. The government expressed its support for union rights mandated in the constitution.
Airport workers at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport also went on strike in March to protest potential restructuring of the airport. Six striking workers were injured during clashes with police, and 10 members of the Kenya Aviation Workers Union, including its secretary-general, were arrested. After negotiation, the union agreed to end the strike in exchange for release of the arrested union officials and an agreement not to fire striking workers.
Migrant workers often lacked formal organization and consequently missed the benefits of collective bargaining. Similarly, domestic workers and others who operated in private settings were vulnerable to exclusion from legal protections, although domestic workers’ unions exist to protect their interests.
The government deployed labor attaches to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to regulate and coordinate contracts of migrant workers from the country and promote overseas job opportunities. The Ministry of East African Community and Regional Development also helped domestic workers understand the terms and conditions of their work agreements. The government operationalized a 2017 bilateral agreement with Saudi Arabia in January after revetting recruitment agencies in Riyadh. The government has additional bilateral agreements with Qatar and UAE. The ministry has a directorate to regulate the conduct of labor agents for local migrant workers, including requiring the posting of a 500,000 shilling ($4,910) performance-guarantee bond for each worker.
The misuse of internships and other forms of transitional employment threatened the survival of trade unions, with employers often not hiring employees after an internship ends. State agencies increasingly outsourced jobs to the private sector, and in the private sector, casual workers were employed on short-term contracts. This shift contributed to declining numbers in trade unions. In July the Public Service Commission introduced a plan to place civil servants on three-year employment contracts and eliminate permanent and pensionable terms, but a worker’s union obtained a court order to halt the policy shift. NGOs and trade unionists reported replacement of permanent positions by casual or contract labor, especially in the EPZs, the Port of Mombasa, and in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. In some cases employers staffed permanent jobs with rotating contract workers. This practice occurred at the management level as well, where employers hired individuals as management trainees and kept them in these positions for the maximum permitted period of three years. Instead of converting such trainees to permanent staff, employers replaced them with new trainees at the end of three years.
Workers exercised the right to strike. The health sector witnessed industrial strikes by county government health professionals to protest delayed salary payments. The strikes occurred intermittently in various counties, since under the 2010 constitution each county manages its own health system as part of the devolution of resources and services from the national government. According to the Kenya County Government Workers Union, during the year 21 counties had delayed salary payments. The strikes affected delivery of services in counties like Meru and Embu, but negotiations averted some threatened strikes.
The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children. The country made moderate advances to prevent or eliminate forced labor.
The government did not effectively enforce the law, and forced labor occurred, including forced child labor (see section 7.c.). Certain legal provisions, including the penal code and the Public Order Act, impose compulsory prison labor. Resources, inspections, and remediation were not adequate to prevent forced labor, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Violations included debt bondage, trafficking of workers, and compulsion of persons, even family members, to work as domestic servants. Domestic workers from Uganda, herders from Ethiopia, and others from Somalia, South Sudan, and Burundi were subjected to forced labor in the country; however, this trend was reportedly decreasing.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The government prohibits most, but not all, of the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for work (other than apprenticeships) is 16, and the minimum age for hazardous work is 18. These protections, however, only extend to children engaged under formal employment agreements and do not extend to those children working informally. The ministry published a list of specific jobs considered hazardous that would constitute the worst forms of child labor. This list includes but is not limited to scavenging, carrying stones and rocks, metalwork, working with machinery, mining and stone crushing. The law explicitly prohibits forced labor, trafficking, and other practices similar to slavery; child soldiering; prostitution; the use, procuring, or offering of a child for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances; and the use by an adult for illegal activities (such as drug trafficking) of any child up to age 18. The law applies equally to girls and boys. The International Labor Organization (ILO) identified gaps in the law with regards to children working as cadets at sea.
The law allows children ages 13 to 16 to engage in industrial undertakings when participating in apprenticeships. Industrial undertakings are defined under law to include work in mines, quarries, factories, construction, demolition, and transportation, which are legally categorized as hazardous work.
The law provides for penalties for any person who employs, engages, or uses a child in an industrial undertaking in violation of the law. Fines in the formal sector were generally enough to deter violations. Employment of children in the formal industrial wage sector in violation of the Employment Act was rare. The law does not prohibit child labor for children employed outside the scope of a contractual agreement. Child labor in the informal sector was widespread, but the government did not effectively monitor or control it.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection enforces child labor laws, but enforcement remained inconsistent. Supplementary programs, such as the ILO-initiated Community Child Labor monitoring program, helped provide additional resources to combat child labor. These programs identified children who were working illegally, removed them from hazardous work conditions, and referred them to appropriate service providers. The government also worked closely with the Central Organization of Trade Unions, and the Federation of Kenyan Employers to eliminate child labor.
In support of child protection, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection launched a national online database system in 2017. The Child Protection Information Management System collects, aggregates and reports on child protection data that informs policy decisions and budgeting for orphans and vulnerable children. The web-based system allows for an aggregate format of data to be made available to all the child protection stakeholders. In 2017, two new child rescue centers were established in Siaya and Kakamega counties, bringing the total number of these centers to eight. Child rescue centers remove child laborers from the workplace, rehabilitate them, and provide counseling and life-skills training.
The government continued to implement the National Safety Net Program for Results, a project that seeks to establish an effective national safety net program for poor and vulnerable households, and the Decent Work Country Program, a project designed to advance economic opportunities. Under these programs, the government pays households sheltering orphans or other vulnerable children to deter the children from dropping out of school and engaging in forced labor. For example there were some cases reported in the western part of the country of girls dropping out of secondary school and engaging in sex work in order to afford basic supplies.
Many children worked on family plots or in family units on tea, coffee, sugar, sisal, tobacco, and rice plantations, as well as in the production of khat. Children worked in mining, including in abandoned gold mines, small quarries, and sand mines. Children also worked in the fishing industry. In urban areas businesses employed children in hawking, scavenging, carrying loads, fetching and selling water, selling food, and forced begging (that puts children at risk of being involved in criminal acts). Children often worked long hours as domestic servants in private homes for little or no pay, and there were reports of physical and sexual abuse of child domestic servants. Parents sometimes initiated forced or compulsory child labor, such as in agricultural labor and domestic service, but also including commercial sexual exploitation.
Most of the trafficking of children within the country appeared related to domestic labor, with migrant children trafficked from rural to urban areas.
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 , and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination on race, sex, ethnicity, religion, and several other criteria, but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Several regulatory statutes explicitly prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities; provide a legal framework for a requirement for the public and private sectors to reserve 5 percent of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities; tax relief and incentives for such persons and their organizations; and reserves 30 percent of public-procurement tenders for women, youth, and persons with disabilities.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred, although the law mandates nondiscrimination based on gender in hiring. The average monthly income of women was approximately two-thirds that of men. Women had difficulty working in nontraditional fields, received slower promotions, and were more likely to be dismissed. According to a World Bank report, both men and women experienced sexual harassment in job recruitment, but women more commonly reported it. Women who tried to establish their own informal businesses were subjected to discrimination and harassment. One study of women street vendors in Nairobi found harassment was the main mode of interaction between street vendors and authorities. The study noted demands for bribes by police amounting to 3 to 8 percent of a vendor’s income as well as sexual abuse were common.
In an audit of hiring practices released in 2016, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission accused many county governors of appointing and employing disproportionate numbers of the dominant tribe in their county. According to the commission, 15 of the 47 counties failed to include a single person from a minority tribe either on the county’s public service board or as county executive committee members. For example, all 10 of West Pokot’s committee members were Pokots. These problems were aggravated by the devolution of fiscal and administrative responsibility to county governments. Other counties, for example, Nairobi City County, were notable for apportioning roles inclusively. Observers also noted patterns of preferential hiring during police recruitment exercises (see section 1.d.).
In both private business and in the public sector, members of nearly all ethnic groups commonly discriminated in favor of other members of the same group.
The law provides protection for persons with disabilities against employment discrimination, although many employers still discriminated against persons with disabilities during hiring processes (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities). Due to societal discrimination, there were very limited employment opportunities for persons with albinism. There are no legal employment protections for LGBTI persons, who remained vulnerable to discrimination in the workplace. Discrimination against migrant workers also occurred.
Regulation of wages is part of the Labor Institutions Act, and the government established basic minimum wages by occupation and location, setting minimum standards for monthly, daily, and hourly work in each category. The minimum wage for all occupations exceeded the World Bank poverty rate.
The law limits the normal workweek to 52 hours (60 hours for night workers); some categories of workers had lower limits. It specifically excludes agricultural workers from such limitations. It entitles an employee in the nonagricultural sector to one rest day per week and 21 days of combined annual and sick leave. The law also requires total hours worked (regular time plus overtime) in any two-week period not exceed 120 hours (144 hours for night workers), and provides premium pay for overtime.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Authorities reported workweek and overtime violations. Workers in some enterprises, particularly in the EPZs and those in road construction, claimed employers forced them to work extra hours without overtime pay to meet production targets. Hotel industry workers were usually paid the minimum statutory wage, but employees worked long hours without compensation. Additionally, employers often did not provide nighttime transport, leaving workers vulnerable to assault, robbery, and sexual harassment.
The law details environmental, health, and safety standards. The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection’s Directorate of Occupational Health and Safety Services has the authority to inspect factories and work sites, but employed an insufficient number of labor inspectors to conduct regular inspections. Fines generally were insufficient to deter violations.
The directorate’s health and safety inspectors can issue notices against employers for practices or activities that involve a risk of serious personal injury. Employers may appeal such notices to the Factories Appeals Court, a body of four members, one of whom must be a High Court judge. The law stipulates factories employing 20 or more persons have an internal health and safety committee with representation from workers. According to the government, many of the largest factories had health and safety committees.
The law provides for labor inspections to prevent labor disputes, accidents, and conflicts and to protect workers from occupational hazards and disease by ensuring compliance with labor laws. The government paid low salaries to labor inspectors and did not provide vehicles, fuel, or other resources, making it very difficult for labor inspectors to do their work effectively and leaving them vulnerable to bribes and other forms of corruption.
The law provides social protections for workers employed in the formal and informal sectors. Informal workers organized into associations, cooperatives, and, in some cases, unions. All local employers, including those in the informal sector, are required to contribute to the National Hospital Insurance Fund and the National Social Security Fund; these provide health insurance and pensions.
Workers, including foreigners and immigrants, have the legal right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection did not effectively enforce these regulations, and workers were reluctant to remove themselves from working conditions that endangered their health or safety due to the risk of losing their jobs. In November a harvester lost an eye in an accident on a tea plantation. The Kenya Federation of Employers provided training and auditing of workplaces for health and safety practices.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct strikes, and bargain collectively. The government did not control or restrict union activities; however, unions must register with the government. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination at the time of hiring and while employed but does not specifically provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.
The government effectively enforced the laws. Penalties for violations include fines or imprisonment and were sufficient to deter violations. There were no reports of lengthy delays or appeal processes during dispute resolution.
The law allows for compulsory arbitration in a wider range of cases than generally allowed under international standards. Similarly, the definition of “essential services,” in which the right to strike is limited, includes a broader range of sectors than do international standards. The penalties for unlawful strikes in both essential and nonessential sectors include imprisonment and a fine and were sufficient to deter violations.
The government and the employers in practice respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The Kiribati Trade Union Congress claims 3,000 members, including unions and associations for nurses, teachers, fishermen, and seafarers.
In keeping with tradition, negotiations generally were nonconfrontational. There were no known collective-bargaining agreements and no instances reported of denial of the right to strike. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination.
The constitution and laws prohibit most forms of forced or compulsory labor, with some exceptions regarding times of emergency or “calamity.” The law prescribes penalties of fines and imprisonment that are considered sufficient to deter violations. There were no reports forced labor.
The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 14 except in light work, and of children ages 14 to 18 in hazardous work. The law does not, however, specify what constitutes either light or hazardous work. Although the worst forms of child labor are generally prohibited–including the sale or trafficking of children; compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict; use, procuring, or offering for prostitution; use, procuring, or offering of a child for illicit activities; and use, procuring, or offering of a child for the production or trafficking of illegal drugs–gaps exist within Kiribati’s legal framework. For example, the law does not specifically prohibit domestic trafficking of children. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations.
The Ministry of Employment and Human Resource conducted enforcement outreach efforts and established a mechanism for labor complaints, including child labor complaints. The government effectively enforced the law.
Child labor existed primarily in the informal economy. There were allegations of minors involved in sexual activity with foreign fishing crews, receiving cash, alcohol, food, or goods (see section 6, Children).
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 prohibits discrimination in employment, and there were no formal reports of discrimination in employment and wages. Cultural barriers, however, sometimes impeded women from playing a more active role in the economy. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to worksites.
The national minimum wage for employees of local businesses and companies was lower than the minimum wage rate for employees of foreign funded projects. This wage was higher than the poverty income level, but most of the working population worked in the informal, subsistence economy. The Public Service Office sets wages in the public sector, which makes up approximately half the employment in the formal economy.
The law sets the workweek at 40 hours. The law provides for the possibility of paid annual holidays for all employees except casual workers and 12 weeks for maternity leave, but it leaves the determination up to individual employment contracts, which are then submitted to the Ministry of Employment and Human Resource for documentation. Workers in the public sector worked 36.25 hours per week, with overtime pay required for additional hours. No law or regulation governs the amount of overtime an employee may work.
The Ministry of Employment and Human Resource is responsible for enforcing occupational safety and health standards. Employers are liable for the expenses of workers injured on the job. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without threat to their employment.
A lack of qualified personnel hampered the government’s ability to enforce employment laws. The ministry conducted labor inspections and did not receive any work-related injury complaints in the year to October. The government did not provide any information on penalties for noncompliance. Anecdotal information suggested that workers in the service and hospitality sector worked excessive hours.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and the violation of any individual’s labor rights due to his or her union activities. The law requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, including in essential services. The law applies equally to all individuals working in the public and private sectors, including documented migrants and domestic servants.
Authorities did not effectively enforce the labor law, which includes regulations and administrative instructions that govern employment relations, including rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. According to the Association of Independent Labor Unions in Kosovo (BSPK), resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, and penalties insufficient. As of May the Ministry of Labor and Social Work’s Labor Inspectorate had issued 99 fines during the year. These fines were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were circuitous and subject to lengthy delays or appeals.
According to the BSPK, the government and private employers generally respected the right to form and join unions in both the public and private sectors. Political party interference in trade union organizations and individual worker rights remained a problem. According to union officials, workers in the public sector commonly faced mistreatment, including sexual harassment and the loss of employment, based on their political party affiliation. Employers did not always respect the rights of worker organizations to bargain collectively, particularly in the private sector. The BSPK reported many private-sector employers essentially ignored labor laws. The BSPK reported continued difficulty in establishing unions due to employer interference in workers’ associations and unions, particularly in the banking, construction, and hotel sectors.
Representatives from these sectors told the BSPK anonymously employers used intimidation to prevent the establishment of unions. The Labor Inspectorate reported receiving no formal complaints of discrimination against employees who tried to join unions during the year. The inspectorate was not fully functional due to budgetary and staffing shortfalls.
The Law on Child Protection adopted in June prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but forced child labor occurred during the year (see section 7.c.).
Government resources, including remediation, were insufficient to bring about compliance, identify and protect victims, and investigate claims of forced or compulsory labor. There were limited investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of forced labor due, according to the Labor Inspectorate, to inadequate resources. Penalties, although stringent compared with those for other serious crimes, were insufficient to prevent forced labor. As of July authorities had not identified any victims of forced labor.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for contractual employment is 15, provided the employment is not harmful or prejudicial to school attendance. If the work is likely to jeopardize the health, safety, or morals of a young person, the legal minimum age is 18. Regulations forbid exploitation of children in the workplace, including forced or compulsory labor. The government maintained a National Authority against Trafficking in Persons that investigated cases of child labor trafficking.
On June 27, the Assembly adopted its first Law on Child Protection, key child labor protection legislation that unifies all the other legal and sublegal documents on the topic. The law provides additional measures and penalties for employers of children that are sufficient to deter violations, but citations do not address the problem adequately as it does not affect occurrences in the informal economy. The law permits authorities to remove a child from the home if that is determined to be in the best interests of the child.
The law enforcement agency effectively enforced the law. Inspectors immediately notified employers when minors were exploited or found engaged in hazardous labor conditions. As of May the NGO Terres Des Hommes reported the cases of 116 minors (105 Kosovo citizens and 11 minors from Albania) working in hazardous conditions. Of these, 73 were children engaged in begging, 13 in street work, and 14 in mining. According to the Ministry of Labor, 73 individuals received Social Work Center counseling on issues related to child labor.
The Coalition of NGOs for Protection of Children (KOMF) reported children working in agriculture encountered hazards associated with operating farm equipment. KOMF reported child labor in farming persisted as a traditional activity. Government-run social work centers reported children engaged in farming were not prevented from attending school. While children were rarely their families’ main wage earners, child labor contributed substantially to some family incomes.
Urban children often worked in a variety of unofficial construction and retail jobs, such as selling newspapers, cigarettes, food, and telephone cards on the street. Some children, especially those from families receiving social assistance and ethnic minorities, also engaged in physical labor, such as transportation of goods and in picking through trash piles for items to sell.
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
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred across sectors with respect to sex, gender identity, disability, religion, political affiliation, and minority status (see section 6). During the year the BSPK received reports from labor unions and individuals also claiming discrimination based on union membership, age, and family status. The BSPK and union officials noted employment, particularly in the public sector, often depended on the employee’s political status and affiliation. Union officials reported other mistreatment, including sexual harassment, based on political party affiliation. The BSPK also reported instances of employers discriminating against female candidates in employment interviews and illegally firing women for being pregnant or requesting maternity leave.
International observers reported discrimination in university employment against individuals wearing hijabs or other symbols of Islam. Universities sometimes rejected candidates on this basis, justifying the practice as a counterradicalization effort.
The government-set minimum wage was higher than the official poverty income line.
The law provides for a standard 40-hour workweek, requires rest periods, limits the number of regular hours worked to 12 per day, limits overtime to 20 hours per week and 40 hours per month, requires payment of a premium for overtime work, and prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. The law provides for 20 days’ paid leave per year for employees and 12 months of partially paid maternity leave. The labor law sets appropriate health and safety standards for workplaces and governs all industries in the country.
Ministry of Labor inspectors were responsible for enforcing all labor standards, including those pertaining to wages, hours, and occupational safety and health. The fines were not sufficient to deter violations. The number of inspectors was insufficient to deter violations in both the formal and informal sectors.
According to the Labor Inspectorate and the BSPK, the labor code is comprehensive and its provisions on work hours are adequate for the equal protection of public and private sector workers. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The BSPK reported lack of enforcement by the government and citing resource and capacity limitations within the Labor Inspectorate.
According to the BSPK, employers failed to abide by official labor standards that provided equal standards of protection to public and private sector workers. The BSPK reported a lack of government oversight and enforcement, particularly of the standard workweek and compulsory and unpaid overtime. Many individuals worked long hours in the private sector as “at-will” employees, without employment contracts, regular pay, or contributions to their pensions. The BSPK reported employers fired workers without cause in violation of the law and refused to respect worker holidays. As of June the Labor Inspectorate received 1,519 formal complaints of violations of workers’ rights in the public and private sectors and issued 99 formal complaints against violators. Women’s rights organizations reported sexual abuse and harassment occurred on the job but went unreported due to fear of dismissal or retaliation.
While the law provides for the protection of employees’ health and working conditions, private and public institutions failed at times to comply. The Labor Inspectorate and BSPK officials reported difficulties in obtaining accurate information about compliance, because workers rarely disclosed the problems due to fear of losing their jobs.
No law specifically permits employees to remove themselves from a dangerous work situation, but the law requires every employer to provide adequate work conditions for all employees based upon job requirements. According to the Labor Ministry, informal employer-employee arrangements may address when and whether employees may remove themselves from work due to dangerous work situations. The country’s institutions did not track these arrangements. According to experts, violations of wage, overtime, and occupational health and safety standards were common for men and women, as well as foreign migrant workers, particularly those who faced hazardous or exploitative working conditions.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law protects the right of Kuwaiti workers to form and join trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, with significant restrictions. The government, however, did not always respect these rights.
The law does not apply to public-sector employees, domestic workers, or maritime employees. Discrete labor laws set work conditions in the public and private sectors, with the oil industry treated separately. The law permits limited trade union pluralism at the local level, but the government authorized only one federation, the Kuwait Trade Union Federation (KTUF). The law also stipulates any new union must include at least 100 workers and that at least 15 must be citizens.
The law provides workers, except for domestic workers, maritime workers, and civil servants, a limited right to collective bargaining. There is no minimum number of workers needed to conclude such agreements. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Based on available information, it was unclear whether penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
Public-sector workers do not have the right to strike. Citizens in the private sector have the right to strike, although cumbersome provisions calling for compulsory negotiation and arbitration in the case of disputes limit that right. The law does not prohibit retaliation against striking workers or prevent the government from interfering in union activities, including the right to strike. In November hundreds of workers at Kuwait International Airport held a one-hour strike to demand better working conditions and compensation for daily exposure to pollution and noise. In December cleaners at the Ministry of Education protested missing wages dating back to July.
According to the PAM, there were 2.75 million workers in the country. Only 17.7 percent of the total workforce were citizens. Most citizens (78 percent as of 2018) worked in the public sector, in part because the government provided lucrative benefits to citizens, including generous retirement funding.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference with union functions. It provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Nevertheless, the law empowers the courts to dissolve any union for violating labor laws or for threatening “public order and morals,” although a union can appeal such a court decision. The Ministry of State for Economic Affairs can request the Court of First Instance to dissolve a union. Additionally, the amir may dissolve a union by decree.
The government enforced applicable laws, with some exceptions, and procedures were generally not subjected to lengthy delay or appeals.
The law prohibits and criminally sanctions forced or compulsory labor “except in cases specified by law for national emergency and with just remuneration.” The law allows for forced prison labor as a punishment for expressing certain political views, and in cases of seafarers who breach discipline. Although the law prohibits withholding of workers’ passports, the practice remained common among sponsors and employers of foreign workers, and the government demonstrated no consistent efforts to enforce this prohibition. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.
Employers confined some domestic and agricultural workers to their workspaces by retaining their passports and, in the case of some domestic workers, locked them in their work locations. Workers who fled abusive employers had difficulty retrieving their passports, and authorities deported them in almost all cases. The government usually limited punishment to administrative actions such as assessing fines, shutting employment firms, issuing orders for employers to return withheld passports, or requiring employers to pay back wages. In June the Public Authority for Manpower announced it had shut down 1,600 companies that had received government contracts, for failing to pay workers on time.
In January a number of laborers demonstrated in front of the Ministry of Public Works to protest against the withholding of four months’ back pay. The laborers were employed by a company contracted by the ministry for maintenance services. Similar protests were reported in April against a company that contracted with the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs. It was later reported that the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs distributed all back salaries.
In September a company owner was sentenced by the Court of Appeals to seven years in prison on charges of visa trading. In June a criminal court sentenced a Kuwaiti female lawyer to five years in jail over charges of forced labor and trafficking in persons.
Some incidents of forced labor and conditions indicative of forced labor occurred, especially among foreign domestic and agricultural workers. Such practices were usually a result of employer abuse of the sponsorship system (kafala) for noncitizen workers. Employers frequently illegally withheld salaries from domestic workers and minimum-wage laborers.
Domestic servitude was the most common type of forced labor, principally involving foreign domestic workers employed under kafala, but reports of forced labor in the construction and sanitation sectors also existed. Forced labor conditions for migrant workers included nonpayment of wages, long working hours, deprivation of food, threats, physical and sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement, such as withholding passports or confinement to the workplace. In 2018 employers filed 4,500 “absconding” reports against private sector employees. Domestic workers have filed approximately 240 complaints against their employers in accordance with the domestic labor law. As of September, PAM statistics indicated that 3,793 domestic helper-related complaints had been filed between April and August 2019, including 2,087 in August alone. Numerous domestic workers who escaped from abusive employers reported waiting several months to regain passports, which employers had illegally confiscated when they began their employment.
The PAM operated a shelter for abused domestic workers but still did not allow them to leave the country without permission of their employers. As of October, according to a government source, the shelter had a capacity of 500 victims. It housed as many as 450 residents in April before the residency amnesty that removed travel bans from workers seeking to return home. According to a 2018 report, 145 workers were resident at the shelter.
A government owned company for recruiting domestic workers officially launched its services in 2017 and initially planned to bring 120 domestic workers a month from the Philippines and approximately 100 male workers from India. In February the company announced that it helped bring nearly 900 domestic workers into the country since September 2017 when it started receiving applications. The target recruitment fee depends on domestic workers’ experience and skillset. The government regularly conducted information awareness campaigns via media outlets and public events and otherwise informed employers to encourage compliance by public and private recruiting companies with the new law.
There were numerous media reports throughout the year of sponsors abusing domestic workers or injuring them when they tried to escape; some reports alleged that abuse resulted in workers’ deaths. Female domestic workers were particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse. Police and courts were reluctant to prosecute citizens for abuse in private residences but prosecuted some serious cases of abuse when reported, particularly when the cases were raised by the source country embassies. According to a high-level government official, authorities prosecuted several cases of domestic worker abuse.
In May, Filipina household worker Constancia Lago Daya, died after allegedly suffering physical and sexual assault by her employer. The Kuwaiti Public Prosecutor later filed a felony murder complaint against her employer. In June lawyers for the Philippines Embassy filed charges against a Kuwaiti man for sexually assaulting his Filipina domestic worker. The court subsequently summoned the man for questioning. Media reported in December that a couple, of which the husband was allegedly employed by the Ministry of Interior, was detained for investigation after they brought their 26-year-old Filipina maid to the hospital where she subsequently died with marks of physical abuse visible on her corpse, including missing organs and vaginal lacerations suggesting rape, according to statements made to the press in unofficial preliminary accounts by officials who conducted the autopsy.
Numerous media reports highlighted the problem of visa trading, where companies and recruitment agencies work together to “sell” visas to prospective workers. Often the jobs and companies attached to these visas do not exist, and the workers were left to be exploited and find work in the black market to earn a living and pay the cost of the residency visa. Arrests of traffickers and illegal labor rings occurred almost weekly. In October the PAM announced that it had referred 18 websites and online accounts to the Ministry of Interior’s cybersecurty department for the sale of domestic workers. Since workers cannot freely change jobs, they were sometimes willing to leave their initial job due to low wages or unacceptable working conditions and enter into an illegal residency status with the hope of improved working conditions at another job.
In September a court sentenced two individuals (one a Kuwaiti citizen) to life imprisonment and four others to three-year sentences for selling 400 visas for $5,000 each. Nine other cases of visa trafficking (alleging visas valued between $5,000-6,500) were under investigation at year’s end. These investigations and prosecutions followed a January government policy to begin prosecuting trafficking crimes under antitrafficking laws (vice labor laws) and the appointment of a deputy chairman of the national anti-TIP committee.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The legal minimum age for employment is 18, although employers may obtain permits from the Ministry of State for Economic Affairs to employ juveniles between 15 and 18 years of age in some nonhazardous trades. Juveniles may work a maximum of six hours a day with no more than four consecutive hours followed by a one-hour rest period. Juveniles cannot work overtime or between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Although not extensive, there were credible reports that children of South Asian origin worked as domestic laborers. Some underage workers entered the country on travel documents with falsified birth dates.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Information was unavailable regarding whether penalties were sufficient to deter violations. PAM labor and occupational safety inspectors routinely monitored private firms for labor law compliance. Noncompliant employers faced fines or a forced suspension of their company operations. Nevertheless, the government did not consistently enforce child labor laws in the informal sector, such as in street vending.
The law prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, sex, gender, and disability. The government immediately deports HIV-positive foreign workers, and there is no protection for workers based on sexual orientation. No laws prohibit labor discrimination based on non-HIV communicable diseases, or social status, but there were no reported cases of discrimination in these areas. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to both citizen and noncitizen women. Female domestic workers were at particular risk of discrimination or abuse due to the isolated home environment in which they worked.
The law states that a woman should receive “remuneration equal to that of a man provided she does the same work,” although it prohibits women from working in “dangerous industries” in trades “harmful” to health, or in those that “violate public morals.” Educated women contended the conservative nature of society restricted career opportunities, although there were limited improvements. Media reported that the gender pay gap between male and female workers in the public sector was 28.5 percent for citizens and 7.9 percent for non-Kuwaitis. According to government statistics from 2018, women represented 51 percent of the population, but there was a total female workforce participation rate of 55 percent in the public sector.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with permanent physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, and it imposes penalties on employers who refrain without reasonable cause from hiring persons with disabilities. The law also mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities. The government generally enforced these provisions. Noncitizens with disabilities had no access to government-operated facilities that covered job training, and the government still has not fully implemented social and workplace aides for persons with physical and, in particular, vision disabilities.
Shia continued to report government discrimination based on religion. For example, Shia were not represented, in all branches of the security forces and rarely held leadership positions. Some Shia continued to allege that a glass ceiling prevented them from obtaining leadership positions in public-sector organizations, including the security services. In the private sector, Shia were generally represented at all levels in proportion to their percentage of the population.
The law sets a national monthly minimum wage in the oil and private sector and a minimum monthly wage for domestic workers. Most low-wage employees lived and worked in the country without their families, and employers generally provided at least some form of housing. In July, Kuwait ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment by Public and Private Employers, which will come into effect in July 2020.
The law limits the standard workweek to 48 hours (40 hours for the petroleum industry) and gives private-sector workers 30 days of annual leave. The law also forbids requiring employees to work more than 60 hours per week or 10 hours per day. The law provides for 13 designated national holidays annually. Workers are entitled to 125 percent of base pay for working overtime and 150 percent of base pay for working on their designated weekly day off. The government effectively enforced the law except with regard to domestic workers. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
The government issued occupational health and safety standards that were current and appropriate for the main industries. For example, the law provides that all outdoor work stop between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. during June, July, and August, or when the temperature rises to more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. A worker could file a complaint against an employer with the PAM if the worker believed his safety and health were at risk. As of August 26, the Kuwait Society for Human Rights received 356 complaints of employers violating the summer heat work ban. In May it reported that 12 workers were killed in workplace accidents caused by employer negligence in the preceding 16 months.
The law and regulations governing acceptable conditions of work do not apply to domestic workers. The Public Authority for Manpower has jurisdiction over domestic worker matters and enforces domestic labor working standards.
The Ministry of State for Economic Affairs is responsible for enforcement of wages, hours, overtime, and occupational safety and health regulations of nondomestic workers. Enforcement by the ministry was generally good, but there were gaps in enforcement with respect to unskilled foreign laborers. Several ministry officials cited inadequate numbers of inspectors as the main reason for their inability to better enforce the laws.
Labor and occupational safety inspectors monitored private firms. The government periodically inspected enterprises to raise awareness among workers and employers and to assure that they abided by existing safety rules, controlled pollution in certain industries, trained workers to use machines, and reported violations.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of State for Economic Affairs monitored work sites to inspect for compliance with rules banning summer work and recorded hundreds of violations during the year. Workers could also report these violations to their embassies, the KTUF, or the Labor Disputes Department. Noncompliant employers faced warnings, fines, or forced suspensions of company operations, but these were not sufficient to deter violators.
In the first 10 months of the year, the Labor Disputes Department received approximately 15,150 complaints from workers, of which approximately 5,800 were referred to the courts. These complaints were either about contract issues, such as nonpayment of wages, or about difficulties transferring work visas to new companies. Most of the complaints were resolved in arbitration, with the remaining cases referred to the courts for resolution. In July the Court of Appeals ordered al-Kharafi & Sons to pay heirs of a deceased Egyptian foreign resident (a former employee of the company) as compensation for the company’s negligence and noncompliance to safety and security regulations. The lawsuit indicated employees of the company caused the unintentional death of the victim due to negligence by tasking the employee to clean a six-meter (19.6 feet)-deep manhole without proper gear and without checking for poisonous gases.
At times the PAM intervened to resolve labor disputes between foreign workers and their employers. The authority’s labor arbitration panel sometimes ruled in favor of foreign laborers who claimed violations of work contracts by their employers. The government was more effective in resolving unpaid salary disputes involving private sector laborers than those involving domestic workers. Media reports indicated that the Ministry of Social Affairs won 58 court cases against visa traders by October.
Foreign workers were vulnerable to unacceptable conditions of work. Domestic workers and other unskilled foreign workers in the private sector frequently worked substantially in excess of 48 hours a week, with no day of rest.
Domestic workers had little recourse when employers violated their rights except to seek admittance to the domestic workers shelter where the government mediated between sponsors and workers either to assist the worker in finding an alternate sponsor or to assist in voluntary repatriation. There were no inspections of private residences, which is the workplace of the majority of the country’s domestic workers. Reports indicated employers forced domestic workers to work overtime without additional compensation. In July the PAM announced it was planning to unveil a “blacklist” system that would prevent the sponsorship of domestic workers by recruitment offices or employers that violate workers’ rights.
Some domestic workers did not have the ability to remove themselves from an unhealthy or unsafe situation without endangering their employment. There were reports of domestic workers’ committing or attempting to commit suicide due to desperation over abuse, including sexual violence or poor working conditions. A 2016 law provides legal protections for domestic workers, including a formal grievance process managed by the PAM. A worker not satisfied with the department’s arbitration decision has the right to file a legal case via the labor court.
Several embassies with large domestic worker populations in the country met with varying degrees of success in pressing the government to prosecute serious cases of domestic worker abuse. Severe cases included those where there were significant, life-threatening injuries.