Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law, including related regulations and statutes, generally provides for the right to establish and join independent trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The Ministry of Labor, Local Government, and Rural Development (Ministry of Labor) recognizes unions and employers associations after they are registered, and the law establishes procedures for the registration and status of trade unions and employers organizations and for collective bargaining. The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination, dissolution, or suspension of unions by administrative authority. It requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.
The law allows authorities to refer disputes involving public- and private-sector employees who provide “essential services” to compulsory arbitration, prohibit strikes, and terminate actions. The national fire service, postal service, monetary and financial services, civil aviation and airport security services, port authority personnel (stevedores and pilots), and security services are deemed essential services beyond the International Labor Organization definition of essential services. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination, but there were some reports workers were intimidated into either not joining a union or dropping union membership if they had joined.
Workers can file complaints with the Ministry of Labor or seek redress from the courts, although it remained difficult to prove that terminations were due to union activity. The ministry’s Labor Department generally handled labor cases without lengthy delays and dealt with appeals via arbitration outside of the court system. The court did not apply the law requiring reinstatement of workers fired for union activity and provided monetary compensation instead. A complaint was filed at the Office of the Ombudsman against the Ministry of Education and the Catholic School Management by a female teacher who claimed that both authorities were refusing to accept her retirement and award her pension and gratuity based on medical grounds. The matter was under investigation.
The Labor Department was hampered by factors such as a shortage of vehicles and fuel in its efforts to monitor compliance, particularly in rural areas. There were complaints of administrative or judicial delays relating to labor complaints and disputes. Information on penalties for violations of freedom of association or collective bargaining was unavailable.
The government and employers did not always effectively enforce the law. Antiunion discrimination and other forms of employer interference in union functions sometimes occurred, and on several occasions unions threatened or carried out strikes. At least one NGO continued to petition the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to highlight, among other things, concerns with employers’ measures that do not allow migrant workers to unionize and that require migrants to submit to HIV tests in certain industries. The NGO asserted that in certain industries, particularly banana, citrus, and construction, employers often did not respect due process, did not pay minimum wages, and classified workers as contract and nonpermanent employees to avoid providing certain benefits. An NGO noted that both national and migrant workers were denied rights.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for forced or compulsory labor are covered under the antitrafficking law and carry prison sentences of one to eight years for adult victims and one to 12 years for child victims, which were comparable to penalties for other major offenses and sufficient to deter violations, although the government did not enforce the law. Resources and inspections to deter violations were limited. The government reportedly investigated three forced labor cases; it did not identify any forced labor victims during the year.
Forced labor of both Belizean and foreign women occurred in bars, nightclubs, and domestic service. Migrant men, women, and children were at risk for forced labor in agriculture, fishing, and in the service sector, including restaurants and shops, particularly among the South Asian and Chinese communities.
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 sets the minimum age for employment at 14 years old generally, with the exception of work in wholesale or retail trade or business, for which the minimum age is 12. “Light work,” which is not defined in the law, is allowed for children ages 12 to 13. Children ages 14-18 may be employed only in an occupation that a labor officer determines is “not injurious to the moral or physical development of nonadults.” Children older than age 14 are explicitly permitted to work in “industrial undertakings,” which include mining, manufacturing, and construction. Children younger than age 16 are excluded from work in factories, and those younger than age 18 are excluded from working at night or in certain kinds of employment deemed dangerous. The Labor Department used a list of dangerous occupations for young workers as guidance, but the list was not adopted as law.
The law permits children to work on family farms and in family-run businesses. National legislation does not address a situation in which child labor is contracted between a parent and the employer. The National Child Labor Policy distinguishes between children engaged in work that is beneficial to their development and those engaged in the worst forms of child labor. The policy identifies children involved in the worst forms of child labor as those engaged in hazardous work, human trafficking and child slavery, commercial sexual activities, and illicit activities.
The Labor Department has primary responsibility for implementing labor policies and enforcing labor laws, but it was not effective in investigating complaints. Inspectors from the Labor and Education Departments are responsible for enforcing these regulations, with the bulk of the enforcement falling to truancy officers. The penalty for employing a child younger than the minimum age is a fine not exceeding 20 Belize dollars ($10) or imprisonment not exceeding two months. On a second offense, the law stipulates a fine not exceeding 50 Belize dollars ($25) or imprisonment not exceeding four months. Information was inadequate to determine if the penalties, remediation, and inspections were sufficient to deter violations. Child labor laws were not well enforced. There is also a National Child Labor Committee under the National Committee for Families and Children, a statutory interagency group that advocates for policies and legislation to protect children and eliminate child labor.
Some children were vulnerable to forced labor, particularly in the agricultural and service sectors. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children). According to the most recent data available from the Statistical Institute of Belize from 2013, the country’s child labor rate was 3.2 percent, with half of those children involved in hazardous work. The problem was most prevalent in rural areas. Boys accounted for 74 percent of children illegally employed, mostly engaged in hazardous activities.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law and regulations prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, language, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. The government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination in employment with respect to disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. There were reports that discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to sexual orientation. One NGO reported that members of the LGBTI community often had problems gaining and retaining employment due to discrimination in the workplace. There were no officially reported cases of discrimination at work based on ethnicity, culture, or skin color; although anecdotal evidence suggested that such cases occurred.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The national minimum wage was 3.30 Belize dollars ($1.65) per hour. A full-time worker receiving the minimum wage earned between 1.5 to two times the poverty-limit income, depending on the district. The law sets the workweek at no more than six days or 45 hours and requires premium payment for overtime work. Workers are entitled to two workweeks’ paid annual holiday. Additionally there are 13 days designated as public and bank holidays. Employees who work on public and bank holidays are entitled to pay at time-and-a-half, except for Good Friday and Christmas, which are paid at twice the normal rate.
Several different health and safety regulations cover numerous industries. The law, which applies to all sectors, prescribes that the employer must take “reasonable care” for the safety of employees in the course of their employment. The law further states that every employer who provides or arranges accommodation for workers to reside at or in the vicinity of a place of employment shall provide and maintain sufficient and hygienic housing accommodations, a sufficient supply of wholesome water, and sufficient and proper sanitary arrangements.
The Ministry of Labor did not always effectively enforce minimum wage and health and safety regulations. The Labor Department had 25 labor officers in 10 offices throughout the country. Inspections were not sufficient to secure compliance, especially in the more remote areas. Fines varied according to the infraction but generally were not very high and thus not sufficient to deter violations. Several cases were pending. In 2017 a labor tribunal was established, but it was uncertain how many cases the tribunal had heard.
The minimum wage was generally respected. Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence from NGOs and employers suggested that undocumented Central American workers, particularly young service workers and agricultural laborers, were regularly paid below the minimum wage.
In January the Christian Workers Union (CWU) was able successfully to resolve a dispute between its members and the Social Security Board of Belize over salary adjustments. The board had refused to honor the accrued adjustment for the period 2015-18, but in the end it decided to award the 1.75-percent increase.
In September the CWU issued a notice of intended industrial action against the Port of Belize Limited after negotiations between the two reached an impasse over working hours. The CWU stated that the “refusal to engage on any other matter that remains on the agreed list is no less than extreme bad faith.” Two days before the union began industrial action, the CWU and the port authorities agreed to return to the negotiations in an effort to conclude the collective agreement between stevedores and the port. Negotiations continued as of November.
It was unclear whether workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment or whether authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.