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, 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.

The government did not effectively enforce labor laws, which include 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. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for laws related to civil rights. Administrative and judicial procedures were circuitous and subject to lengthy delays or appeals.

Employers did not always respect the right 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 new independent unions due to employer interference in workers’ associations and unions, particularly in the banking, construction, and hotel sectors. Representatives from these sectors anonymously told the BSPK some 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; however, the inspectorate was not fully functional due to budgetary and staffing shortfalls. In addition, employers did not always respect the rights of worker organizations and unions to bargain collectively or to network with unions outside their organization, particularly in the private sector.

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and forced labor, including forced child labor, occurred (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. The labor inspectorate reported conducting only limited investigations for forced labor offenses. Penalties, although commensurate with those for other serious crimes, were seldom applied.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

The law prohibits some of 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. Minimum age protections do not extend to the informal sector. If the work is likely to jeopardize the health, safety, or morals of a young person, the legal minimum age for work is 18.

The 2020 Law on Child Protection institutes key child labor protection standards unifying all the other legal and sublegal documents on the topic. It provides additional penalties for formal and informal employers of children that are commensurate with those for similar crimes. The law does not fully address the problem of child labor, as the law does not extend protections for children working in the informal economy.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were seldom applied. Inspectors immediately notified employers when minors were exploited or found engaged in hazardous labor conditions. Child labor occurred primarily in the informal sector. As of May, the NGO Terre Des Hommes reported 115 cases of minors working in hazardous conditions.

The Coalition of NGOs for the Protection Children of reported that children working in agriculture encountered hazards from operating farm equipment. The coalition reported that child labor in farming persisted as a traditional activity. Government-run social-work centers reported children engaged in farming were primarily in the informal sector and were not prevented from attending school.

Urban children often worked in a variety of unofficial construction jobs and street work, including selling newspapers, cigarettes, food, or telephone cards and other small items. Some children, especially those from ethnic minorities or from families receiving social assistance, were subjected to forced begging or engaged in physical labor such as transportation of goods or 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/ .

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment based on race, religion, national origin, sex, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV or AIDS status, or political affiliation. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. 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 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 reported instances of employers discriminating against female candidates in employment interviews and illegally firing women for being pregnant or requesting maternity leave. The Ombudsperson Institution reported instances of discrimination against single mothers, particularly regarding their rights to maternity leave, and recommended the Labor Inspectorate monitor such occurrences. Women’s rights organizations reported sexual abuse and harassment occurred on the job but went unreported due to fear of dismissal or retaliation.

Wage and Hour Laws: The government-set minimum wage was higher than the official poverty income line.

The law provides for a standard 40-hour work week, requires rest periods, limits the number of regular hours worked to 12 per day, limits overtime to 8 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 of paid leave per year for employees and 12 months of partially paid maternity leave.

Ministry of Labor inspectors were responsible for enforcing all labor standards, including those pertaining to wages and hours. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations. The number of inspectors was insufficient to deter violations in both the formal and informal sectors and enforcement was further curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions; however, the inspectorate was not fully functional due to budgetary and staffing shortfalls.

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.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law sets appropriate health and safety standards for workplaces and governs all industries in the country. The responsibility for identifying unsafe workplaces lies with individual employers, while the services that would secure safe work conditions lie with occupational safety and health experts rather than workers.

The same inspectors responsible for wage and hour laws also had authority over occupational safety and health laws. The government did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health laws, and penalties for violations were not commensurate to those of similar laws.

The law does not provide workers the right to remove themselves from a dangerous work situation without jeopardy to their employment. 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, but the government did not track these arrangements. There were nine worker fatalities because of inadequate or unsafe work conditions during the year. According to experts, violations of wage, overtime, and occupational health and safety standards were common for both men and women, as well as foreign migrant workers, particularly those who faced hazardous or exploitative working conditions, such as in construction and agriculture.

Informal Sector: There are no reliable official statistics on the informal economy, but an October 2020 EU-commissioned report estimated the informal and black market at 32 percent of GDP. Workers in the informal sector were not covered by all wage, hour, and occupational safety and health laws. The Association of Labor Unions reported lack of enforcement by the judiciary, especially in the informal sector, citing resource and capacity limitations within the labor inspectorate.


Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of citizen workers to form and join trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, with significant restrictions. The law prohibits trade unions from conducting any political activities. Foreign workers, who constituted more than 80 percent of the workforce, may join unions only as nonvoting members after five years of work in the sector the union represents, provided they obtain a certificate of good conduct and moral standing from the government. They cannot run for seats or vote in board elections. Migrant workers have the right to bargain collectively at their respective workplace but are not permitted to form trade unions. Migrant workers can participate in trade unions and share grievances but are not permitted to vote or run for office. The government generally enforced applicable laws with some exceptions, which were commensurate with those for other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination. Complaint proceedings were generally not subjected to lengthy delays or appeals for Kuwaitis. The time it takes to resolve complaints for migrant workers depends on the nature of the complaint but is generally longer for migrants than for citizens.

The labor law does not apply to 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. Public sector employees are permitted to unionize, but the government authorized only one federation, the Kuwait Trade Union Federation. 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 public sector employees, 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. 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.

As of July the Ministry of Interior arrested 95 employers for issuing residency permits in exchange for money and deported 4,896 residents whose legal status had lapsed. The Ministry of Interior reported that it closed 44 fake domestic worker employment offices.

The International Labor Organization and the International Trade Union Confederation criticized the citizenship requirement for discouraging unions in sectors that employ few citizens, including most private sector employment, such as construction. The government treated worker actions by citizens and migrant workers differently. While citizens and public sector union leaders and workers faced no government repercussions for their roles in union or strike activities, companies directly threatened migrant workers calling for strikes with termination and deportation.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference with union functions. The law 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 law does not prohibit and criminalize all forms of forced or compulsory labor. There are exceptions to the law in cases related to “national emergency and with just remuneration.” The law allows for forced prison labor as a punishment. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

In April security guards at the Ministry of Education posted on social media that they had not received their salaries for five months. In response PAM required their employer to pay their salaries. As of June hundreds of security guards and cleaners working for private companies with government contracts had not received their salaries since February. 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 foreign workers. Employers frequently illegally withheld salaries from domestic workers and minimum-wage laborers. 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. The government did not make consistent efforts to educate households regarding the legal prohibition on seizing domestic employees’ passports. Some employers did not allow workers to take their weekly day of rest or leave their work location. Workers who fled abusive employers had difficulty retrieving their passports, and authorities deported them in almost all cases.

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.

Numerous domestic workers who escaped from abusive employers reported waiting several months to regain their passports, which employers had illegally confiscated when they began their employment. 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. PAM operated a shelter for female domestic workers, victims of abuses, or persons who were otherwise unwilling to continue to work for their employers and preferred to leave the country. The shelter had a capacity of 500, and PAM reported the shelter accommodated a total of 160 occupants during the reporting period. In August a Filipina domestic worker posted a video on social media claiming abuse by her sponsor. According to PAM, the Ministry of Interior and PAM found her and moved her to the women’s domestic worker shelter in Jleeb al-Shuyoukh.

A government-owned recruiting company designed to mitigate abuses against domestic workers (Al-Durra) 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. Al-Durra reported it had not recruited any new domestic workers since the end of the first quarter of 2020 due to COVID-19. Al-Durra’s services included worker insurance, a 24/7 abuse hotline, and follow-up on allegations of labor rights violations. The target recruitment fee depends on domestic workers’ experience and skillset. The government regularly conducted information awareness campaigns in Arabic and English via media outlets and public events and otherwise informed employers to encourage compliance by public and private recruiting companies with the law.

Numerous media reports highlighted the problem of residence permit or “visa trading,” wherein companies and recruitment agencies collude to “sell visas” fraudulently to prospective workers. Often the jobs and companies attached to these visas do not exist, and workers are vulnerable to exploitation in the black market where they are forced to earn a living and repay the cost of their fake “visa.” Arrests of traffickers and illegal labor rings occurred almost weekly. Since workers cannot freely or easily change jobs under the country’s kafala system, many workers were unwilling to leave their initial job, even if visa traders had misled them regarding the position, or their position existed only on paper. Workers who left their employers due to abusive treatment, nonpayment or late payment of wages, or unacceptable working conditions risked the Ministry of Interior charging them with falling into illegal residency status, absconding, and being deported. In 2020 PAM established an emergency hotline to track “visa trading” and labor infraction allegations. Through the hotline, online applications, social media platforms, and the PAM website, PAM received 53 complaints as of November. In October the Anti-Trafficking Department at the Ministry of Interior established a 24/7 hotline in Arabic and English to receive reports of human trafficking. Since its establishment the hotline received 95 complaints, none of which the Ministry of Interior qualified as a trafficking in persons violation.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought increased public and press attention to “visa trading.” Civil society groups, press outlets, and MPs called for the government to increase its efforts to protect victims and punish traders and their enablers.

In May the Court of Cassation sentenced a Ministry of Interior colonel and two Egyptian nationals to three years in prison for visa trading and violating the residency law. In September the Public Prosecutor’s Office ordered the arrest of three citizens for running a human trafficking operation, after the Immigration Investigations Department found that 400 expatriates were falsely told they would be working at hotels, which the workers later discovered did not exist. Some expatriates from various countries reportedly indicated to the Public Prosecutor’s Office they paid approximately 1,500 dinars ($5,000) each to be brought to the country for work.

In March the rapporteur of the National Assembly’s human rights committee stated that the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, among other ministries, were involved in human trafficking, and government contracts are a large source for trafficking.

In November the Court of Cassation rejected the appeals of Bangladeshi member of parliament Kazi Shahidul Papul, two Kuwaiti government officials, and a Kuwaiti former member of parliament who were convicted of bribery and human trafficking in April. The court upheld Papul’s seven-year prison sentence, his fine of approximately 270,000 dinars ($900,000), and his deportation after serving his sentence.

The court also upheld the appeal ruling for the former PAM chief, who was sentenced to seven years in prison and a fine of almost 180,000 dinars ($600,000) The police officers involved were sentenced to seven years in prison and a fine of approximately 1.97 million dinars ($6.5 million).

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 government did not effectively enforce the child labor law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The legal minimum age for employment is 18, although employers may obtain permits from the Ministry of State for Economic Affairs to employ juveniles ages 15 to 18 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.

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.

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/ .

The law prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, gender, and disability in the public and private sectors. Penalties for violations were not commensurate to other laws on civil rights, such as election interference.

The government immediately deported HIV-positive foreign workers, and there was no protection for workers based on sexual orientation. No laws prohibit labor discrimination based on non-HIV communicable diseases, or social status; 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,” such as professions that provide services exclusively to men. The law does not allow women to work the same hours as men and restricts women from working in certain industries, such as mining, oil drilling, construction, factories, and agriculture.

In September the Ministry of Commerce and PAM issued a decision banning sexual harassment and discrimination in the private sector workplace. The decision prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of gender, age, pregnancy, or social status in the oil and private sectors.

The Supreme Council for Planning and Development reported that women make up 56 percent of the labor market in the public sector and 11 percent in the private sector. The Supreme Council for Planning and Development reported that women make up 18 percent of leadership positions.

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 government generally enforced these provisions. Noncitizens with disabilities had no access to government-operated facilities that covered job training, and the government has not fully implemented social and workplace aides for persons with physical and, in particular, vision disabilities.

In July, PAM approved a proposal to prohibit the issuance of new work permits for expatriate workers at the age of 60 years and above, and those who hold only high school diplomas, unless the employer paid a 2000 dinar ($6,555) fee. In October the Department of Fatwa and Legislation determined that the prohibition was illegal and that the fee would be removed. In November, PAM proposed a new decision stipulating that this category of expatriate residents could renew their visas if their employers were to pay for private health insurance, amounting to approximately 900 dinars ($3,000) and an annual visa fee of 510 dinars ($1,680). Though this fee was for the employer, most employees paid the fees. The Fatwa and Legislation Department must approve PAM’s new decision before it can be implemented. As of December no visas have been renewed and the suspension was still in place.

Shia continued to report government discrimination based on their religion. Shia held no leadership positions in the security forces. 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.

Wage and Hour Laws: The law does not provide for a national minimum wage for all sectors of the economy. It sets a national monthly minimum wage in the oil sector, and the private sector, and a minimum monthly wage for domestic workers. The minimum monthly salary for the private sector is approximately 75 dinars ($250) whereas the approximate lowest monthly salary for the public sector is 600 dinars ($2,000). Domestic workers earn a minimum monthly salary of approximately 60 dinars ($200).

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 in most cases, but there were gaps in enforcement with respect to low-skilled migrant workers. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government issued occupational health and safety standards that were up-to-date and appropriate for the main industries. The law provides that all outdoor work stops 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 PAM if the worker believed his or her safety and health were at risk. As of November, PAM conducted 2,773 inspections; between June and August, PAM recorded 1,045 companies in violation of the work ban.

PAM was responsible for enforcement of wages, hours, overtime, and occupational safety and health regulations of workers. 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 safely, and reported violations.

The government did not effectively enforce all occupational safety and health laws. Penalties for violations of the law were commensurate with those for crimes like negligence. Workers were responsible for identifying and reporting unsafe situations to PAM. Occupational safety and health inspectors were required to actively monitor conditions and take appropriate actions when violations occur. PAM 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 Kuwait Trade Union Federation, Kuwait Society for Human Rights, or the Labor Disputes Department. Noncompliant employers faced warnings, fines, or forced suspensions of company operations. The law does not provide domestic workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment.

Informal Sector: The law does not provide for occupational health and safety standards for workers in the informal economy. PAM has jurisdiction over domestic worker matters and enforces domestic labor working standards.

At times 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.

Domestic workers and other low-skilled foreign workers in the private sector frequently worked in excess of 48 hours a week, with no day of rest. The law required workers to earn an established monthly wage in order to sponsor their family to live in the country, although certain professions were exempted. As a result, most low-wage employees were not able to bring their families to the country.

Although the law prohibits withholding of workers’ passports, the practice remained common among sponsors and employers of foreign workers, particularly domestic employees in the home, and the government demonstrated no consistent efforts to enforce this prohibition. 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, where most of the country’s domestic workers were employed. Reports indicated employers forced domestic workers to work overtime without additional compensation. In 2020 PAM began implementing a “blacklist” system that would prevent the sponsorship of domestic workers by recruitment offices or employers that violate workers’ rights. The government usually limited punishment for abusive employers 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 September 2020 PAM, the Supreme Council for Planning and Development, the United Nations Development Program and the International Organization for Migration launched the Tamkeen Initiative to implement the International Recruitment Integrity System to promote ethical recruitment of migrant workers. As of November, PAM stated that the first phase of the Tamkeen Initiative, which included training for its own staff and recruitment agencies, was complete.

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’ dying or attempting to die by suicide due to desperation over abuse, including sexual violence or poor working conditions. The law provides legal protections for domestic workers, including a formal grievance process managed by PAM. A worker who was 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 or death.

In July, PAM imposed a ban on residence permits for laborers in the country working in the industrial, agricultural, and fishing industries. In September, PAM implemented a decision to permit expatriates to transfer commercial visit visas to a work permits due to widespread labor shortages.


Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not provide for the right of workers to form and join worker organizations independent of the Lao Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU), an organ of the LPRP. The law defines collective bargaining but does not set out conditions, and it requires the examination of all collective bargaining agreements by the Labor Administration Agency. The law provides for the right to strike, subject to certain limitations. The law does not permit police, civil servants, foreigners, and members of the armed forces to form or join unions. There is a general prohibition against discrimination against employees for reasons unrelated to performance, although there is no explicit prohibition against antiunion discrimination. There is no explicit requirement for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law requires a workforce of 10 or more workers to elect one or more employee representatives. Where an LFTU-affiliated trade union exists, the head of the union is by default the employee representative. Both representatives and trade union heads may bargain collectively with employers on matters including working conditions, recruitment, wages, welfare, and other benefits.

Trade union law allows workers in the informal economy, including workers outside of labor units or who were self-employed, to join LFTU-affiliated unions. It also establishes rights and responsibilities for “laborer representatives,” which the law defines as “an individual or legal entity selected by the workers and laborers in labor units to be a representative to protect their legitimate rights and interest.”

There was no information on the resources dedicated to enforcement of freedom of association provisions of the labor laws, particularly during the continued COVID-19 lockdown of government offices during the year. Penalties under law for infringing on workers’ freedom of association include fines, incarceration, business license revocation, or some combination of these; these penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving civil rights, and there were no reports of enforcement.

The law permits affiliation between unions of separate branches of a company but does not explicitly allow or disallow affiliation at the industry, provincial, or national levels. There were reports that unions not affiliated with the LFTU and without legal standing existed in some industries, including the garment industry, light manufacturing, and agricultural processing.

Trade unions are prohibited from striking or creating a disturbance. Labor disputes reportedly were infrequent, and the Ministry of Labor generally did not enforce the dispute resolution section of labor law, especially in dealings with joint ventures in the private sector. Lockdown measures and fear of COVID-19 limited out-of-home collective activities.

By law workers who join an organization that encourages protests, demonstrations, and other actions that might cause “turmoil or social instability” may face prison time.

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law prohibits private employers from using forced labor, and the penalties for perpetrating forced labor may include fines, suspension from work, revocation of business licenses, and prosecution. There may be civil or criminal prosecutions for forced labor violations. Penalties for trafficking in persons, which includes forced labor, consist of imprisonment, fines, and confiscation of assets. Such penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Due to limited numbers of inspectors, among other factors, the government did not effectively enforce the law. During the year antitrafficking resources and inspection officials were diverted to COVID-19 management at border crossings.

With no oversight by local authorities, foreign and Lao workers at or near foreign-owned or foreign-operated agricultural plantations, including banana and rubber plantations, on railway construction sites, and in special economic zones were vulnerable to 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 the worst forms of child labor. The law allows children from ages 14 to 18 to work a maximum of eight hours per day, provided such work is not dangerous or difficult. Children 12 to 14 may perform light work that does not affect their health or school attendance. The law applies only to work undertaken in a formal labor relationship, not to self-employment or informal work.

The Ministries of Public Security, Justice, and Labor are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, including in the informal economy, but enforcement was ineffective due to the lack of inspectors. The law prescribes penalties of imprisonment and fines, which were not commensurate with analogous crimes, such as kidnapping. Prior to COVID-19-related lockdowns, the Ministry of Labor conducted public awareness campaigns, organized workshops with the National Commission for Mothers and Children in the northern and southern provinces, and collected data on child labor as part of its effort to implement the national plan of action for the elimination of the worst forms of child labor. Similar activities for the year were postponed due to prolonged COVID-19 lockdowns.

Child labor was prevalent throughout the country and most often associated with family agriculture production, since COVID-19 lockdowns closed many schools and factories.

There were reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children, Sexual Exploitation).

The law prohibits direct or indirect discrimination by employers against employees based on sex but does not explicitly prohibit employment discrimination based on race, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, age, language, and HIV or other communicable disease status. The law prohibits actions by the employer that are biased or limit opportunities for promotion on the part of the employee. This law was not effectively enforced.

The law requires equal pay for equal work, although a gender wage gap persisted, prohibits discrimination in hiring based on a woman’s marital status or pregnancy, and protects against dismissal on these grounds. During the year the government did not prioritize enforcement of prohibitions against employment discrimination or requirements for equal pay, but penalties under law included fines and were commensurate with laws related to those for civil rights.

Wage and Hour Laws: In 2018 the government raised the monthly minimum wage for all private-sector workers; it was above the estimated national poverty line but has not since been raised. Some piecework employees, especially on construction sites, earned less than the minimum wage.

The law provides for a workweek limited to 48 hours (36 hours for employment in dangerous activities). Overtime may not exceed 45 hours per month, and each period of overtime may not exceed three hours. Employers may apply to the government for an exception, which the law stipulates workers or their representatives must also approve.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for the enforcement of wage and hour laws. The law does not specify penalties for noncompliance with minimum wage and overtime provisions, but it states they could include warnings, fines, “re-education,” or suspension of a business license. The laws were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. Wage and working hours laws were not effectively enforced.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational health and safety standards existed, but inspections were inconsistent. The law provides for safe working conditions and higher compensation for dangerous work, but it does not explicitly protect the right of workers to remove themselves from a hazardous situation. In case of injury or death on the job, employers are responsible for compensating the worker or the worker’s family. The law requires employers to report accidents causing major injury to or death of an employee or requiring an employee to take a minimum of four days off work to the Labor Administration Agency. The law also mandates extensive employer responsibility for workers with disabilities who become so while at work. The law does not specify differentiated penalties for noncompliance with specific occupational safety and health provisions, but it states that workplaces could face warnings, fines, “re-education,” or suspension of business licenses.

In May two migrant workers at a Chinese banana plantation in Bolikhamxay Province, ages 18 and 30, reportedly died due to exposure to toxic chemicals used on the plantation. Several workers at banana plantations throughout the country reported that many other workers had fallen ill or died due to chemical exposure; however, local media reported authorities often claimed the victims died of natural causes.

The law prohibits the employment of pregnant women and new mothers in occupations deemed hazardous to women’s reproductive health. The law requires the transfer of women working in such jobs to less demanding positions, without a wage or salary reduction.

The government did not always effectively enforce the law.

The Department of Labor Management within the Ministry of Labor is responsible for workplace inspections. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions but did not do so due to COVID-19 workplace lockdowns.

Informal Sector: According to NGOs, the establishment of large-scale, foreign-financed agricultural plantations led to displacement of local farmers. Unable to continue traditional practices of subsistence agriculture, many farmers sought employment as day laborers through local brokers, many of whom operated informally and thus left workers vulnerable to exploitation. The International Labor Organization estimated that more than 93 percent of workers in the country were employed in the informal economy, mostly in plantation agriculture, construction, mining, and hospitality work.

There were undocumented migrant workers in the country, particularly from Vietnam and Burma, who were vulnerable to exploitation by employers in the logging, mining, and agricultural sectors. Migrants from China and Vietnam also worked in construction, plantations, casinos, and informal service industries, all sectors where wage and occupational safety and health violations were common. In late October the Ministry of Labor told local media that authorities had been “unable to collect accurate data” on the make-up and well-being of the labor force in the Golden Triangle, but that it was working with Bokeo Province officials to address unlawful labor practices.


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, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Unions may not have fewer than 15 members or less than 25 percent of the total number of employees in the company (which cannot be fewer than five). The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union functions, and it provides reinstatement for unlawful dismissal, including dismissal for union activity.

There were several limitations on these rights. Uniformed members of the military and members of the State Security Services may not form or join unions. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, collective bargaining in the public administration is a formal procedure with no real substance since all employment conditions are fixed by law.

While the law provides for the right to strike, it requires a strike vote by a simple majority at a meeting attended by more than half of the union’s members. It prohibits strikes in sectors related to public safety and by personnel classified as essential, including judges, prosecutors, police, firefighters, border guards, employees of state security institutions, prison guards, and military personnel. The law prohibits “solidarity” strikes by workers who are not directly involved in a specific labor agreement between strikers and their employers, a restriction criticized by local labor groups. It also bans political strikes. The law provides arbitration mechanisms for essential personnel not permitted to strike.

The government generally enforced applicable labor laws. EU labor regulations also applied. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate under the law. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those under other civil rights laws, ranging from a few hundred to several thousand euros, but were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Labor rights organizations expressed concern regarding employer discrimination against union members.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected. The law on trade unions requires trade unions to be independent under the law. Anticorruption officials and press reports stated, however, that external funding and support appeared to make some union individuals or groups lack independence.

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law, although staffing problems hindered more effective enforcement. Penalties range from fines to imprisonment, were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, and were generally sufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Welfare’s State Labor Inspectorate, the agency responsible for enforcing labor laws, conducted regular inspections of workplaces and reported no incidents of forced labor through September. The inspectorate reported a high employee turnover, with approximately 12 percent of positions unfilled, a situation made worse by perennial wage issues they were seeking to improve.

In July the State Police detained eight persons for suspected labor trafficking at several addiction prevention centers. Police started the investigation and suspected the NGO running the centers forced clients to perform heavy labor in the agricultural and forestry industries without pay.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

The government effectively enforced child labor and minimum age laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes and sufficient to deter violations. The statutory minimum age for employment is 15. Children age 13 or older may work in certain jobs outside of school hours with written permission from a parent. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from performing nighttime or overtime work. The law provides that children may not work in jobs that pose a risk to their physical safety, health, or development. There were three reports of labor abuses involving children, which the State Labor Inspectorate investigated and did not find any violations. Through September the State Labor Inspectorate did not report cases of unregistered employment of youth.

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination. Penalties were commensurate with those under laws related to civil rights. Despite the existence of a sizeable Russian-speaking minority, the government requires the use of Latvian as the officially recognized language where employment activities “affect the lawful interests of the public.” Citing the continuing political and economic threat posed by Russia to Latvia, the government restricted some sensitive civil service positions for candidates who previously worked for the former Soviet intelligence apparatus.

According to the World Bank Group’s publication Women, Business and the Law 2020, women in the country have equal legal standing with men. There were instances of hiring and pay discrimination against women, particularly in the private sector, but they were underreported to the ombudsman. Through August the ombudsman opened one case of discrimination against women.

Employment discrimination also occurred with respect to sexual orientation, gender identity, and ethnicity. Persons with disabilities experienced limited access to work, although they were free to work in all labor markets and were able to receive government employment support services, including those specifically designed for persons with disabilities. In 2019, 27 percent of all persons with disabilities were employed, a slight increase from 2018. The Romani community faced discrimination and high levels of unemployment.

Wage and Hour Laws: The law sets a monthly minimum wage that was above the official poverty line. The government enforced its wage laws effectively.

The law provides for a maximum workweek of 40 hours. The maximum permitted overtime work may not exceed eight hours on average within a seven-day period, which is calculated over a four-month reference period. The law requires a minimum of 100 percent premium pay in compensation for overtime, unless the parties agree to other forms of compensation in a contract; however, this was rarely enforced. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous crimes and sufficient to deter violations. The State Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcement of wage and hour laws. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance, and the inspectorate has the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

Workers in low-skilled manufacturing and retail jobs as well as some public-sector employees, such as firefighters and police, were reportedly most vulnerable to poor working conditions, including long work hours, lack of overtime pay, and arbitrary remuneration.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law establishes minimum occupational health and safety standards for the workplace that were current and appropriate for the main industries. While the law allows workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, these regulations were not always followed. Workers were able to complain to the State Labor Inspectorate when they believed their rights were violated. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous crimes and sufficient to deter violations.

The State Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing minimum wage regulations, restrictions on hours of work, and occupational health and safety standards. These standards were not always enforced in the informal economy. Penalties for violations are fines that vary widely, depending on the severity and frequency of the violation, but were generally sufficient to deter violations. The inspectorate had adequate resources to inspect and remediate labor standards problems, effectively enforce labor laws, and occupational safety and health standards. Through September the State Labor Inspectorate reported 18 workplace fatalities. The inspectorate also reported 139 serious workplace injuries. The State Labor Inspectorate reported that 66 injuries and four deaths occurred as a result of industrial accidents. Workplace injuries and fatalities were primarily in the construction, wood-processing, and lumber industries.

Informal Sector: Real wage estimates were difficult to calculate in the sizeable informal economy, which according to some estimates accounted for 25 percent of GDP. Most workers in the informal sector were officially registered and received an official wage (with all taxes paid and eligibility for all benefits). These individuals also receive some tax-free money in cash. In this case, they are covered by wage, hour, and occupational safety and health (OSH) laws and inspections.

Some persons who were employed illegally without any papers, paid no taxes, and received their wages in cash, did not have wage, hour, and OSH protection but did have access to social protection provided by the Ministry of Welfare, such as unemployment benefits, as well as to various social assistance programs provided by municipalities. The State Labor Inspectorate conducted inspections to find these cases and punish employers for illegal employment.


Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join trade unions, bargain collectively, and strike but places restrictions on these rights. In principle, the penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination. Some private sector worker groups, however, do not enjoy the right to organize and bargain collectively, especially agricultural, domestic, and migrant workers in the informal economy. The Ministry of Labor must approve the formation of unions, and it controlled the conduct of all trade union elections, including election dates, procedures, and ratification of results. The law permits the administrative dissolution of trade unions and bars trade unions from political activity. Unions have the right to strike after providing advance notice to and receiving approval from the Ministry of Interior. Organizers of a strike (at least three of whom must be identified by name) must notify the ministry of the number of participants in advance and the intended location of the strike, and five percent of a union’s members must take responsibility for maintaining order during the strike.

There are significant restrictions on the right to strike. The law excludes public-sector employees, domestic workers, and agricultural workers. Therefore, they have neither the right to strike nor to join and establish unions. The law prohibits public-sector employees from any kind of union activity, including striking, organizing collective petitions, or joining professional organizations. On July 12, however, the board of the Association of Public Administration Employees called for a strike and sick-out from July 15-23 and early dismissal from work on July 12-14. On August 31, public administration employees called for an extension of the strike until September 30 and reported to work only on Wednesdays to process urgent issues for the public. They demanded salary adjustments to compensate for the rising cost of living, an increase in their transportation allowance, and measures to address the decline in health and social benefits under the National Social Security Fund and State Employees Cooperatives. The strike was ongoing at the end of the reporting period.

The law protects the right of workers to bargain collectively, but a minimum of 60 percent of workers must agree on the goals beforehand. Two-thirds of union members at a general assembly must ratify collective bargaining agreements. The Association of Banks in Lebanon renewed the collective sectoral agreement with the Federation of Lebanese Bank Employees Unions in 2019 after nearly three months of mediation between the two parties led by the minister of labor. The Association of Banks in Lebanon had initially refused to renew the agreement.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. By law when employers misuse or abuse their right to terminate a union member’s contract, including for union activity, the worker is entitled to compensation and legal indemnity and may institute proceedings before a conciliation board. The board adjudicates the case, after which an employer may be compelled to reinstate the worker, although this protection is available only to the elected members of a union’s board. Anecdotal evidence showed widespread antiunion discrimination in both the public and private sectors, although this issue did not receive significant media coverage. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the most flagrant abuses occurred in banking, private schools, retail businesses, daily and occasional workers, and the civil service.

By law foreigners with legal resident status may join trade unions. According to the ILO, however, most unions do not encourage or accept the participation of foreign workers. The law permits migrant workers to join existing unions (regardless of nationality and reciprocity agreements) but denies them the right to form their own unions. They do not enjoy full membership since they may neither vote in trade union elections nor run for union office. Certain sectors of migrant workers, such as migrant domestic workers, challenged the binding laws supported by some unions by forming their own autonomous structures that acted as unions, although the Ministry of Labor has not approved them.

Palestinian refugees generally may organize their own unions. Because of restrictions on their right to work, few refugees participated actively in trade unions. While some unions required citizenship, others were open to foreign nationals whose home countries had reciprocity agreements with Lebanon.

The government’s enforcement of applicable law was weak, including prohibitions on antiunion discrimination.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not always respected. The government and other political actors interfered with the functioning of worker organizations, particularly the main federation, the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers (CGTL). The CGTL is the only national confederation recognized by the government, although several unions boycotted and unofficially or officially broke from the CGTL and no longer recognized it as an independent and nonpartisan representative of workers. Since 2012 the Union Coordination Committee (UCC), a grouping of public and private teachers as well as civil servants, played a major role in pushing the government to pass a promised revised salary scale, largely overshadowing the CGTL. While the UCC is not formally recognized by any government body, it acts as an umbrella organization and guides several recognized leagues of workers in demonstrating and in negotiating demands. During the 2019 national budget debate, both the CGTL and UCC failed to take leadership of worker protest actions successfully or to express coherently the demands and aspirations of working persons. In 2019 the CGTL was further weakened when union president Antoine Bechara was interrogated by the ISF Cybercrime Bureau over a complaint filed by then minister of economy Raed Khoury. In 2019 Bechara was arrested and pressured to resign after a video was leaked showing him insulting and making offensive comments against late Maronite patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, but he was re-elected in July 2020. The National Federation of Workers and Employees in Lebanon emerged as another alternative to represent the independent trade union movement.

The economic and financial collapse, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ensuing political unrest exacerbated challenges in the labor sector, including an increased rate of unemployment, increased dismissal of employees, partial salary payments, deteriorating working conditions, and an increased number of businesses shutting down. The Syndicate of Restaurants, Nightclubs, and Pastries announced that its membership decreased from 8,500 in 2019 to 3,700 in the year. The secretary general of the Economic Institutions association announced that 60 percent of retail shops and commercial institutions had closed since 2019. The Ministry of Labor formed a crisis committee to investigate the unlawful termination of contracts, but it did not include foreign domestic workers in its review. Multiple international organizations reported in September 2020 that domestic workers were adversely affected by the port explosion since many were suddenly laid off or rendered homeless along with their employers. Antiunion discrimination and other instances of employer interference in union functions occurred. Some employers fired workers in the process of forming a union before the union could be formally established and published in the official gazette.

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. It is unclear whether penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Children, foreign workers employed as domestic workers, and other foreign workers sometimes worked under forced labor conditions. The law criminalizes labor trafficking and provides protection against forced labor for domestic workers. The domestic worker population is excluded from legal protection, which leaves them vulnerable to exploitation. In violation of the law, employment agencies and employers routinely withheld foreign workers’ passports, especially in the cases of domestic workers, sometimes for years. According to NGOs assisting migrant workers, in some instances employers withheld salaries for the duration of the contract, which was usually two years.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Child labor occurred, including in its worst forms. While up-to-date statistics on child labor were unavailable, anecdotal evidence and the accounts of NGOs suggested the number of child workers may have risen during the year and that more children worked in the informal sector. UNHCR noted that commercial sexual exploitation of refugee children continued to occur. The government did not enforce child labor law effectively. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The minimum age for employment is 14, and the law prescribes occupations that are legal for juveniles, defined as children between ages 14 and 18. The law requires juveniles to undergo a medical exam by a doctor certified by the Ministry of Public Health to ensure they are physically fit for the types of work employers ask them to perform. The law prohibits employment of juveniles for more than seven hours per day, or between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., and it requires one hour of rest for work lasting more than four hours. The law prohibits specific types of labor for juveniles, including informal “street labor.” It also lists types of labor that, by their nature or the circumstances in which they are carried out, are likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of children younger than 16, as well as types of labor that are allowed for children older than 16, provided they are offered full protection and adequate training.

Child labor, including among refugee children, was predominantly concentrated in the informal sector, including in small family enterprises, mechanical workshops, carpentry, construction, manufacturing, industrial sites, welding, agriculture, and fisheries. UN agencies and NGOs reported that Syrian refugee children were vulnerable to child labor and exploitation. According to the ILO, child labor rates have at least doubled since the Syrian refugee influx. The ILO reported that instances of child labor strongly correlated with a Syrian refugee presence. The ILO equally highlighted that most Syrian children involved in the worst forms of child labor, especially forced labor, worked primarily in agriculture in the Bekaa and Akkar regions and on the streets of major urban areas (Beirut and Tripoli). Anecdotal evidence also indicated child labor was prevalent within Palestinian refugee camps.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor requirements through its Child Labor Unit. Additionally, the law charges the Ministry of Justice, ISF, and Higher Council for Childhood (HCC) with enforcing laws related to child trafficking, including commercial sexual exploitation of children and the use of children in illicit activities. The HCC is also responsible for referring children held in protective custody to appropriate NGOs to find safe living arrangements.

A Ministry of Labor unit responsible for inspections of all potential labor violations also investigates child labor matters when a specific complaint is reported or found during its other inspections.

The Ministry of Labor’s Child Labor Unit acts as the government’s focal point for child labor matters, and it oversees and implements the ministry’s national strategy to tackle child labor. The National Steering Committee on Child Labor is the main interministerial body coordinating on child labor across the government.

In 2019 the Ministry of Social Affairs developed a National Action Plan to End Street Begging by Children, but implementation was slow due to the October 2019 revolution and government resignation.

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 .

The law provides for equality among all citizens and prohibits employment discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status. The law does not specifically provide for protection against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV status, or other communicable diseases. Although the government generally respected these provisions, they were not enforced in some areas, and aspects of the law and traditional beliefs discriminated against women. It is unclear whether penalties were commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, persons with disabilities, foreign domestic workers, and LGBTQI+ and HIV-positive persons (see section 6). The law does not distinguish between women and men in employment, and it provides for equal pay for men and women, with exceptions that exclude women from a variety of industrial and construction jobs as well as jobs listed in Annex 1. The law prohibits women from working in certain industries, such as mining, factories, agriculture, energy, and transportation, although the law was not enforced in multiple sectors, including factories and agriculture. According to the UN Population Fund, the law does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, although it gives an employee the right to resign without prior notice if the employer or representative commits an indecent offense toward the employee or a family member. However, there are no legal consequences for the perpetrator.

The law defines a “disability” as a physical, sight, hearing, or mental disability. It stipulates persons with disabilities must fill at least three percent of all government and private-sector positions, provided such persons fulfill the qualifications for the position. There was no evidence the government enforced the law. Employers are legally exempt from penalties if they provide evidence no otherwise qualified person with disabilities applied for employment within three months of advertisement.

Migrant workers and domestic workers faced employment discrimination. During the reporting period, Syrian workers, usually employed as manual laborers and construction workers, continued to suffer discrimination. Many municipalities enforced a curfew on Syrians’ movements in their neighborhoods in efforts to control security.

NGOs and UN agencies continued to report incidents of sexual harassment and exploitation of refugees by employers and landlords, including paying workers less than minimum wage, requiring them to work excessive hours, and debt bondage. There were multiple reports of domestic workers (mainly from East Africa and Southeast Asia) who were tied to their employers through visa sponsorship, known as the kafala system. They faced physical, mental, and sexual abuse, unsafe working conditions, and nonpayment of wages. According to NGOs that assisted migrant workers in reporting abuses to authorities, security forces and judges did not always adequately investigate these crimes, and victims sometimes refused to file complaints or retracted testimony due to threats and fear of reprisals or deportation.

Wage and Hour Laws: The legal minimum wage was last raised in 2012. In July 2020 then minister of labor Lamia Yammine requested an increase in the minimum wage to balance purchasing power and inflation, but no further action was taken. As a result of the increase in fuel prices, public and private sector employees’ daily transportation allowances were raised during the year. Public sector employees also received a one-time social assistance payment worth one month’s salary. There was no official minimum wage for domestic workers. Observers concluded that the minimum wage was lower than unofficial estimates of the poverty income level. Official contracts stipulated monthly wages for domestic workers, depending on the nationality of the worker. A unified standard contract which was registered with the DGS for workers to obtain residency granted migrant domestic workers some labor protections. The standard contract covered uniform terms and conditions of employment, but not wages for domestic workers, depending on the nationality of the worker. The law prescribes a standard 48-hour workweek with a weekly rest period that must not be less than 36 consecutive hours. The law stipulates 48 hours of work as the maximum per week in most corporations except agricultural enterprises. The law permits a 12-hour day under certain conditions, including a stipulation that overtime pay is 50 percent higher than pay for normal hours. The law does not set limits on compulsory overtime. Workers may report violations to the CGTL, Ministry of Labor, NSSF, or through their respective unions. In most cases they preferred to remain silent due to fear of dismissal. Violations of wage and overtime pay were most common in the construction industry and among migrant workers, particularly with domestic workers. Generally, penalties for violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. Domestic workers are not covered by law or other legal provisions related to acceptable conditions of work. Such provisions also do not apply to those involved in work within the context of a family, day laborers, temporary workers in the public sector, or workers in the agricultural sector. In September 2020 the caretaker minister of labor signed a new standard labor contract for all domestic workers, foreign and Lebanese, to apply to all contracts signed after November 1, 2020.

Occupational Safety and Health: The Ministry of Labor sets occupational health and safety standards. Labor experts deemed Lebanon’s occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were inappropriate for the main industries in the country and noted that the government did not regularly enforce them. The country’s OSH standards do not conform with international labor standards, and the few numbers of OSH inspectors make it difficult to enforce the established measures. Some companies did not respect legal provisions governing OSH in specific sectors, such as the construction industry. The responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with OSH experts and not the worker based on hazards inherent to the nature of work. Penalties for violations of OSH laws were commensurate with those for similar crimes like negligence; however, in practice, employers easily avoided such penalties. While most licensed businesses and factories strove to meet international standards for working conditions with respect to OSH, conditions in informal factories and businesses were poorly regulated and often did not meet these standards. The Ministry of Industry is responsible for enforcing regulations to improve safety in the workplace. The law requires employers to implement proper safety measures and to have fire, third-party liability, and workers’ compensation insurance. The ministry has the authority to revoke a company’s license if its inspectors find a company noncompliant, but there was no evidence this occurred.

The ministry’s enforcement team handled all inspections of potential labor violations, but it suffered from a lack of staff, resources, legal tools, and political support for its work. Interference with inspectors affected the quality of inspections, and issuance of fines for violators was common. The law stipulates workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, although government officials did not protect employees who exercised this right.

Workers in the industrial sector worked an average of 35 hours per week, while workers in other sectors worked an average of 32 hours per week. These averages, however, were derived from figures that included part-time work, including for employees who desired full-time work. Some private-sector employers failed to provide employees with family and transportation allowances as stipulated under the law and did not register them with the National Social Security Fund.

Informal Sector: Migrant workers arrived in the country through local and source-country recruitment agencies. Although the law requires recruitment agencies to be licensed by the Ministry of Labor, the government did not adequately monitor their activities. The kafala system tied a foreign worker’s employment visa to a specific employer, making it difficult to change employers. In cases of employment termination, the worker would lose legal status. This discouraged many migrant workers from filing complaints. Some employers subjected domestic workers, mostly of Asian and African origin, to mistreatment and abuse, including rape. In many cases domestic workers endured long hours without vacations or holidays. Victims of abuse may file civil suits or seek other legal action, often with the assistance of NGOs, but most victims, counseled by their embassies or consulates, settled for an administrative solution that usually included monetary compensation and repatriation. During the year victims explained that, when they escaped from employers who were withholding wages, an NGO helped them file charges against their employers. Authorities commonly reached administrative settlements with employers to pay back wages or finance return to employees’ home countries, but generally did not seek criminal prosecution of employers.

In June 2020 the director general of Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons named Lebanon among countries in which Nigerian citizens were trapped in domestic servitude. The official stated her agency had received more than 50 distress calls and collected evidence regarding cruel working conditions, unpaid salaries, 18-hour workdays, and hazardous duties. Some women were reportedly sold as slaves to third-party buyers.

Authorities typically did not prosecute perpetrators of abuse against domestic workers for reasons that included the victims’ refusal to press charges and lack of evidence. Authorities settled an unknown number of cases of nonpayment of wages through negotiation. According to source-country embassies and consulates, many workers did not report violations of their labor contracts until after they returned to their home countries, since they preferred not to stay in the country for a lengthy judicial process.


Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

By law workers in the private sector have the right to join and form trade unions of their own choosing without prior authorization or excessive bureaucratic requirements. The law prohibits civil servants and police from joining or forming unions but allows them to form staff associations for collective bargaining and promoting ethical conduct of their members. All trade unions must register with the Office of the Registrar of Trade Unions. Registration requires that more than 35 percent of workers in an enterprise of 10 persons or more be unionized. Only the members of a registered trade union, which must represent more than 35 percent of the employees (of an employer with 10 or more employees), are entitled to elect workplace union representatives. The employees (of an employer with 10 or more employees) are entitled to elect workplace union representatives. The registrar may refuse to register a trade union if the provisions of its constitution violate the labor code. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference.

The law significantly limits the right to strike. In the private sector, the law requires workers and employers to follow a series of procedures designed to resolve disputes before the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR), an independent government body, authorizes a strike. A registered union with a 51 percent majority of staff may call a strike on a “dispute of interest” (a demand that goes beyond labor code stipulations). If mandatory negotiations between employer and employees reach a deadlock, a union may file with the DDPR for permission to embark on a strike. Typically, the employer and employees agree on the strike rules and its duration. Employers may also invoke a lockout clause and should inform DDPR of their intention to invoke the clause based on employer-employee agreement. The law does not permit civil servants, military, and essential workers to strike.

By law the Public Service Joint Advisory Council provides for due process and protects civil servants’ rights. The council consists of equal numbers of members appointed by the minister of public service and members of associations representing at least 50 percent of civil servants. The council concludes and enforces collective bargaining agreements, prevents and resolves disputes, and provides procedures for dealing with general grievances. Furthermore, the Public Service Tribunal handles appeals brought by civil servants or their associations. During the year five cases were adjudicated, and one was closed.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and other employer interference in union functions. The law provides for reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. The law does not cover the informal sector and excludes the self-employed from relevant legal protections. There were reports foreign employers at construction companies did not rehire 106 workers who joined unions following a March-May 2020 COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. The Construction, Mining, Quarrying, and Allied Workers Union stated that one construction company dismissed 75 workers for joining unions. Some employers threatened union leaders and denied them the opportunity to meet with their members.

The government effectively enforced applicable law with disputed cases typically resolved within one to six months at the DDPR. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations. The Labor Court’s independence remained questionable because it is under the authority of the Ministry of Labor and Employment (Ministry of Labor), despite a 2011 law transferring it to the judiciary.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and collective bargaining. Government approval is not required for collective agreements to be valid. The law protects collective bargaining but places restrictions on factory workers. Although factory workers have bargaining power, the law requires any union entering negotiations with management to represent at least 50 percent of workers in a factory. Only a few factories met that condition, and unions at factories where union membership is below 50 percent may not represent workers collectively in negotiations with employers. In 2015 the Factory Workers Union (FAWU), Lesotho Clothing and Allied Workers Union, and National Union of Textile Workers merged to form the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL) to strengthen their bargaining power. The National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union, which separated from FAWU, was active. Since 2018 the three largest unions (IDUL, United Textile Employees, and the National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union) worked together to address workers’ issues, resulting in stronger collective bargaining. All worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. Most unions focused on organizing apparel workers.

Factory owners in the apparel industry were generally willing to bargain collectively on wages and working conditions but only with trade unions that represented at least 50 percent of workers. Factory decisions concerning labor disputes are determined by companies’ headquarters, which are usually located outside the country. In the retail sector, employers generally respected the freedom to associate and the right to bargain collectively, although retail unions complained employers commonly appealed Labor Court rulings to delay their implementation. The Labor Court was subject to judicial delays given its case backlog.

In April factory workers held a 27-day protest demanding the government publish the minimum wage gazettes for 2020 and 2021. The law stipulates that effective April 1, the minimum wage increment must be published annually. The workers further urged Minister of Labor and Employment Moshe Leoma to pass the amended Labor Code pending since 2006. The workers complained the government approved COVID-19 pandemic regulations without their contribution. These regulations led to delivery delays and factory closures. Some factory worker protests turned violent and resulted in two deaths: One person died after being struck by a vehicle during the protest, and police allegedly shot and killed Mots’illisi Ramanasi on May 25 during a factory worker protest in the Ha Tsolo area of Maseru. Following the incident, Ramanasi was transported by police to Maseru Private Hospital. An apparent examination from Maseru Private Hospital confirmed Ramanasi was shot. She was subsequently transferred to Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH) where she died. The postmortem report indicated Ramanasi died as a result of being stabbed with a sharp object. Members of the trade union filed a lawsuit accusing QMMH of hiding evidence related to Ramanasi’s death. Protesters vandalized buildings and blocked roads with burning tires.

On June 8, the workers returned to work after the Lesotho Textile Exporters’ Association issued an ultimatum for them to return or face dismissal. On June 15, the government published a gazette reflecting a 14 percent minimum wage increase for textile factory workers and a 9 percent increase for other industries in the private sector.

According to the Lesotho Public Servants Staff Association (LEPSSA), 34 percent of civil servants belonged to the association. LEPSSA reported most civil servants did not register for membership in the association because they were not aware of its existence. LEPSSA has also reported that the Public Service Act of 2005 allows only workers from grade A to H (junior officers) to join the association while grade I to K (managers) are not allowed to join the association. The low rate of participation made it difficult for LEPSSA to engage with the government on workers’ rights problems, resulting in declining membership trends from 6,500 members in the 2017/18 financial year to 4,040 members in the 2021/22 financial year. In July LEPSSA filed a Constitutional Court application against the minister of labor for denial of its right to register as a civil servants’ trade union as enshrined in the constitution.

The Lesotho Police Staff Association (LEPOSA) stated 98 percent of all police officers were members of the organization, an increase from 92 percent in 2019. In 2019 police embarked on a “go-slow” work action and countrywide protest against the government’s failure to pay a risk allowance and 6 percent salary increase. Police also complained of a lack of uniforms and unclear transfer and promotion criteria. The government granted the salary increase in 2019. On September 2020 LEPOSA requested a permit to march to present grievances, but the minister of police declined, citing the law stating police were not allowed to protest. LEPOSA made a recommendation to the prime minister to dismiss Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli for incompetency and mismanagement of the police force. Because the infighting between LEPOSA and the commissioner disrupted the police force, the prime minister appointed an interministerial committee to investigate the matter. Based on the interministerial committee’s findings, the prime minister rejected LEPOSA’s demand to dismiss Molibeli. In April, Molibeli dismissed LEPOSA’s public relations officer, Motlatsi Mofokeng, due to his failure to disclose a conviction prior to joining the police force. Molibeli had asked Mofokeng to show cause why he could not dismiss him for failure to disclose his conviction. In March Mofokeng reportedly departed the country amid unsubstantiated rumors that police officers had been ordered to arrest and kill him.

From February 1 to March 11, nurses at Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital went on a strike demanding their salaries of 9,000 maloti ($638) per month be increased to 13,000 maloti ($921) to match those of their counterparts in government and in private hospitals. The Lesotho Nursing Council urged the nurses to stop their strike, arguing the strike put patients’ lives at risk and tarnished the image of the nursing and the midwifery professions. On February 24, a Labor Court interim ruling ordered the nurses to return to work pending the finalization of their case; however, the nurses continued to strike. On March 12, hospital management dismissed 345 nurses after they failed to comply with an interim Labor Court ruling of February 25 that ordered them to return to work. There was a pending Labor Court case.

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor including child labor. The CGPU conducted community outreach on forced labor through community gatherings, lectures, workshops, and radio programs. Police focused on high schools and areas located close to the borders with South Africa to raise awareness of human trafficking and other forms of forced labor.

The government did not consistently enforce the law. Some government ministries and NGOs stated that the government did not have sufficient resources to enforce compliance. Police reported inadequate resources and training hampered their investigations and remediation efforts. The country convicted the first trafficker in four years and sentenced him to imprisonment. It enacted a new antitrafficking law that closed key legislative gaps, including criminalizing all forms of sex trafficking and prescribing penalties commensurate with the penalties for other serious crimes, and commencing criminal investigations into multiple government officials allegedly complicit in human trafficking offenses. It devoted, for the first time, modest funding for victim protection; and passed a 2021-26 antitrafficking national action plan. A national referral mechanism and standard operating procedures had been finalized and launched as of April. Criminal penalties for conviction of violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes, but they were seldom enforced. Forced labor, including forced child labor, continued to occur in the sectors of domestic work and agricultural work. Victims of forced labor were frequently either children or workers in the informal sector.

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

The law defines the legal minimum age for employment as 15, or 18 for hazardous employment. The law does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor. Children in domestic work are sometimes exposed to the worst forms of child labor and are not protected by law and regulations. The law defines hazardous work to include mining and quarrying; carrying heavy loads; manufacturing where chemicals are produced or used; working in places where machines are used, or in places such as bars, hotels, and places of entertainment where a person may be exposed to immoral behavior; herding; and producing or distributing tobacco.

The law provides for completion of free and compulsory primary school at age 13, two years before the legal age of employment, rendering children ages 13-15 particularly vulnerable to forced labor. According to the findings of the Worst Forms of Child Labor Report of 2020, 28.1 per cent of children between the ages of five and 14 years are engaged in child labor. The law prohibits the use of children for illicit activities, including drug trafficking, hawking, gambling, or other illegal activities detrimental to the health, welfare, and educational advancement of the child. The law also states a child has a right to be protected from the use of hallucinogens, narcotics, alcohol, tobacco products, psychotropic drugs, and any other substances declared harmful, and from being involved in their production, trafficking, or distribution. Additionally, the law prohibits the use of children for commercial sexual exploitation.

The government did not effectively enforce minimum age law regarding employment outside the formal economy. No convictions for child labor were reported. The Ministry of Labor and the CGPU investigated cases of working children, but it lacked enough labor inspectors to enforce compliance

The NGO Beautiful Dream Society reported one case of sex trafficking involving a girl trafficked to South Africa during the year.

Government regulations on “herd boys” distinguished between legal “child work” and illegal “child labor.” Herding continued to be the most common form of child labor, as the law was not effectively enforced for those younger than 18. The guidelines applied to children younger than age 18 and prohibited the engagement of children at a “cattle post,” the hut where herders stay when in remote mountain rangelands. In line with international conventions and standards, the law considers herding by children to be illegal child labor only if it deprives herd boys of the opportunity to attend school, obliges them to leave school prematurely, or requires them to combine school attendance with excessively long hours and difficult working conditions. Children also engaged in domestic service and street work, including vending.

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 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 .

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, HIV/AIDS status, or refugee status. Discrimination based on disability is not explicitly prohibited. The law’s prohibition of gender-based discrimination is ambiguous. Generally, gender-based employment discrimination is prohibited. There is no provision for equal pay for equal work. According to the NGO Women and Law in Southern Africa, discrimination against women in employment, business, and access to credit is illegal, although social barriers to equality remained.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing the law, but it lacked adequate resources and did not report any complaints during the year. In the past both men and women reported hiring practices often aligned with gender, with men preferentially selected for certain positions (such as mechanics) and women preferentially selected for other positions (such as sewing machine operators). The Ministry of Labor was accused of providing work permits to white South Africans to work in mines, performing duties that Lesotho citizens could otherwise perform. Investigations into these allegations continued at the end of the year.

Migrant workers have the same legal protections, wages, and working conditions as citizens.

Wage and Hour Laws: There is a sector-specific minimum wage and a general minimum wage. The general minimum monthly wage was above the official poverty line. Minimum wage provisions do not cover significant portions of the workforce. Labor laws were not applied to workers in agriculture or other informal sectors.

The law stipulates standards for hours of work, including a maximum 45-hour workweek, a weekly rest period of at least 24 hours, a daily minimum rest period of one hour, at least 12 days of paid leave per year, paid sick leave, and public holidays. Required overtime is legal if overtime wages for work in excess of the standard 45-hour workweek are paid. The maximum overtime allowed is 11 hours per week; however, there are exemptions under special circumstances. The law requires the premium pay for overtime be at a rate not less than 25 percent more than the employee’s normal hourly wage rate; any employer who requires excessive compulsory overtime is liable to a fine, imprisonment, or both.

The government applied wage and hour laws inconsistently. Wage and hour rates were not enforced in the large informal economy. The Ministry of Labor, which has the responsibility to enforce minimum wage and overtime laws, observed the security sector, retail, and construction sectors did not always conform to the minimum wages and hours-of-work regulations. In general, overtime laws were enforced through inspection visits and office mediation.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law empowers the Ministry of Labor to issue regulations on occupational health and safety standards, and the commissioner of labor is responsible for investigating allegations of labor law violations.

The law requires employers to provide adequate light, ventilation, and sanitary facilities for employees and to install and maintain machinery in a manner that minimizes injury. It also requires each employer have a registered health and safety officer. Employers must provide first aid kits, safety equipment, and protective clothing. The law also provides for a compensation system for industrial injuries and diseases related to employment. The law holds employers responsible for orienting their employees on safety standards and for providing adequate protective clothing. Workers may be held responsible for accidents if they fail to use provided protective clothing or fail to comply with safety standards.

The government did not effectively enforce the law on safety and health standards. Labor inspectors worked in all districts and generally conducted unannounced inspections, but the government did not employ enough labor inspectors to enforce compliance. By law the informal sector is not subject to inspection. The Ministry of Labor’s inspectorate reported employers, particularly in the security, transport, and construction sectors, did not always observe the minimum wage and hours-of-work laws. Many locally owned businesses did not keep adequate employee records to facilitate labor inspections as required by law. Smaller employers failed to establish safety committees, did not have complete first aid kits, and did not provide protective clothing. Except for the mining industry, employers’ compliance with health and safety regulations was generally low. According to the ministry, there was extensive noncompliance with health and safety regulations, especially in the manufacturing and construction sectors. Employers exploited the ministry’s lack of labor inspectors and its inability to prosecute violations. Additionally, penalties were not commensurate with those provided for in the labor code for violations.

Trade union representatives described textile-sector working conditions as poor or harsh but not dangerous. They stated failure by small factories to observe the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 pandemic guidelines put the workers at risk of contracting the disease. Unions noted government-constructed factories had poor layout and were designed with improperly installed ventilation. Employers who leased factories from the government were not allowed to change the design of government factory buildings to install ventilation systems. Independent auditors hired by foreign textile buyers conducted spot checks on many exporting factories, customarily sought labor’s input, and briefed the unions on their findings. Unions believed independent auditors kept factory owners compliant with health and safety regulations.

In 2019 a coalition of labor unions and women’s rights organizations, an apparel supplier, and three apparel brands signed agreements to address gender-based violence in garment factories. In response to allegations of sexual harassment, including some claims of supervisors demanding sexual favors, these agreements provided for the establishment of an independent body to receive complaints of gender-based violence and carry out investigations accordingly. Union leaders stated, however, that workers reported cases of violence and harassment, including assault and verbal abuse by employers. In May Time Magazine reported there was prevalence of abuse and gender-based violence at Hippo Knitting Factory. The Ministry of Labor, Hippo Knitting, and the trade unions signed a memorandum of understanding to eradicate gender-based violence and harassment in the factory. A local consultancy firm, Rise Africa, was contracted to monitor and assist in agreement implementation. Rise Africa successfully implemented a gender-based violence program at Nien Hsing Textiles.

Many workplace policies covered employees with HIV/AIDS. Some of the larger factories provided health-care services at the workplace. Where factories did not provide health care, workers had the right to access services at public health centers. Employers provided space for employee examinations and time off for employees to see doctors, receive counseling, and participate in educational and antistigma programs.

On August 19, the Ministry of Health launched a COVID-19 vaccination campaign for the textile factory workers. There were reports that the Ever Unison Textile Factory forced workers to receive COVID-19 vaccination shots to ensure safety at the workplace and to stabilize production. The National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union intervened, and the factory stopped the forced vaccination of workers.

The Ministry of Labor prepares an annual report on workplace fatalities and accidents. According to the report, from January through August, there were 124 accidents, of which 25 persons died and 99 individuals (76 men and 23 women) sustained serious injuries. The affected sectors included the textile, manufacturing, security, retail, and construction sectors.

Working conditions for foreign or migrant workers were the same as those of residents, and migrants had equal protection under the law in the formal sector.

The law does not explicitly provide for workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Workers have the right to report incidents that put their lives in danger to their safety officers of safety committees. In most cases workers reported being pressured not to report violations. Nevertheless, code provisions on safety in the workplace and dismissal imply such a dismissal would be illegal. Authorities protected employees when violations of the law were reported.

Informal Sector: The Ministry of Labor has minimal jurisdiction over the informal economy, where an estimated one-half of the country’s workers were employed. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations, but they were not applied. Violations of wage, hour and safety regulations were common. Conditions were especially hazardous in the construction, agriculture, domestic work, and mining sectors.


Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides workers, except public servants and employees of state-owned enterprises, the right to freely form or join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes or engage in “go-slow” (a protest by workers in which they deliberately work slowly). The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows unions to conduct their activities without interference by employers, parties, or government, but it does not provide adequate protection. The law provides, “All employers and workers in Liberia, without distinction whatsoever, may establish and join organizations of their own choosing, without prior authorization, and subject only to the rules of the organization concerned.” The law provides that labor organizations and associations have the right to draw up their constitutions and rules on electing their representatives, organizing their activities, and formulating their programs. There is no minimum number of workers needed, and foreigner and migrant members are not prohibited, although a long approval process or denial on arbitrary grounds could be hurdles to registration.

The government’s Labor Practices Review Board has the right to supervise trade union elections, which the International Confederation of Trade Unions termed an interference in a union’s right to organize its administration. Trade and labor unions are registered with, and licensed by, the Ministry of Labor, which represents the government in the labor and employment sector. The Bureau of Trade Union Affairs & Social Dialogue is the arm of the ministry that coordinates the activities of the social partners, trade unions, and employer organizations in the labor sector.

Public-sector employees and employees of state-owned enterprises are prohibited under the Civil Service Standing Orders from unionizing and bargaining collectively, but they may join associations and process grievances through the Civil Service Agency grievance board. The Standing Orders outlines the rules and regulations governing the conduct of the civil service as well as addressing issues affecting civil servants. Representatives from the Ministry of Labor, Liberia Labor Congress, and Civil Servants Association continued to argue the Standing Orders conflict with Article 17 of the constitution, which affords the right to associate in trade unions. Some public-sector associations, including the National Teachers’ Association of Liberia for public school teachers and the National Health Workers’ Union of Liberia composed of public health workers, declared themselves to be unions despite the law, and the Liberia Labor Congress and Ministry of Labor backed their efforts to unionize.

By law parties engaged in essential services are also prohibited from striking. The law provides that the National Tripartite Council (comprising the Ministry of Labor, Liberian Chamber of Commerce, and Liberian Federation of Labor Unions) shall recommend to the minister all or part of a service to be an essential service if, in the opinion of the National Tripartite Council, the interruption of that service would endanger the life, personal safety, or health of the whole or any part of the population. As of year’s end, the National Tripartite Council had not published a list of essential services. The act does not apply to public-sector workers, who are under the ambit of the Civil Service Standing Orders.

The law provides for the right of workers to conduct legal strikes, provided they have attempted and failed to resolve the dispute through conciliation within 30 days of the minister of labor receiving an application for referral to conciliation and have given the Ministry of Labor 48 hours’ notice of their intent to strike. On matters of national security, the president may request the minister of labor to appoint a conciliator to mediate any dispute or potential dispute. The law prohibits unions from engaging in partisan political activity and prohibits agricultural workers from joining industrial workers’ organizations. It also prohibits strikes if the disputed parties have agreed to refer the issue to arbitration, if the issue is already under arbitration or in court, and if the parties engage in essential services as designated by the National Tripartite Council.

Although the law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement for workers dismissed for union activity, it allows for dismissal without cause if the company provides the mandated severance package. It does not prohibit retaliation against strikers whose strikes comply with the law if they commit “an act that constitutes defamation or a criminal offense, or if the proceedings arise from an employee being dismissed for a valid reason.”

The government did not effectively enforce the law in every sector. The law does not provide adequate protection for strikers, and some protections depended on whether property damage occurred and was measurable. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays or appeals and to outside interference, such as bribes, coercion, and intimidation by politicians. According to the International Labor Organization, most union workers in an enterprise must be represented in order to engage in collective bargaining.

On July 6-7, Liberia Electric Corporation workers staged protests over several labor issues, including a reduction in salaries and alleged bad labor practices. The Ministry of Labor intervened by instituting measures to address workers’ grievances. On July 19, a group of health workers demonstrated peacefully outside of the government-run referral hospital in the commercial city of Kakata in Margibi County to demand that the government pay outstanding salary arrears. On July 21, National Transit Authority employees staged a series of protests over several labor grievances, which included salary arrears.

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, aside from compulsory prison labor that does not qualify as forced labor, or work defined as “minor communal service.” The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Criminal penalties were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Prosecution and conviction rates for trafficking, including forced labor, decreased during the year, and labor inspectors did not identify any child labor or trafficking victims.

Forced labor, including forced child labor, occurred. Families living in the interior of the country sometimes sent young women and children to live with relatives, acquaintances, or even strangers in Monrovia or other cities with the promise the women and children would pursue educational or other opportunities. In some instances these women and children were forced to work as street vendors, domestic servants, or beggars, or were exploited in commercial sex. There were also credible reports of forced labor on small rubber plantations, family farms, and artisanal mines.

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

The law does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor. Children were vulnerable to hazardous work because the government had not yet designated hazardous work categories, as stipulated by the law. The law prohibits most full-time employment of children younger than age. Children older than 13 but younger than 15 may be employed to perform “light work” for a maximum of two hours per day and not more than 14 hours per week. “Light work” is defined as work that does not prejudice the child’s attendance at school and is not likely to be harmful to a child’s health or safety and moral or material welfare or development as defined by law. There is an exception to the law for artistic performances, where the law leaves the determination of work hours to the minister of labor. Children 15 and older are not allowed to work more than seven hours a day or more than 42 hours in a week. There are mandatory rest periods of one hour, and a child may not work more than four hours consecutively. The law also prohibits the employment of children younger than 16 during school hours, unless the employer keeps a registry of the child’s school certificate to illustrate the child attended school regularly and can demonstrate the child was able to read and write simple sentences. The law prohibits the employment of apprentices younger than 16. The compulsory education requirement extends through grade nine or until age 15.

Gaps existed, however, in the legal framework to protect children adequately from the worst forms of child labor, including the one-year break between the compulsory education age and the minimum age for work. Additionally, the minimum age for work was not in compliance with international standards because it allows children younger than 16 to engage in work if it is outside of school hours, the employer keeps records of the child’s schooling, and the child is literate and attends school regularly. Because of these legal gaps, children of any age were vulnerable to child labor. Although the law prohibits children younger than 15 from working full time, it does not prevent children below this age from engaging in part-time employment.

The law provides that an employer must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Labor before engaging a child in a proscribed form of labor. The ministry did not provide statistics on whether such permits were either requested or issued.

The government prohibits children younger than 18 from engaging in hazardous work but had not yet published a hazardous work list, leaving children vulnerable to hazardous work in certain sectors. The law penalizes employers who violate the minimum age provision of child labor laws and parents or guardians who violate this minimum age provision. According to the law, “A parent, caregiver, guardian, or relative who engages in any act or connives with any other person to subject a child to sexual molestation, prohibited child labor, or such other act that places the well-being of a child at risk is guilty of a second-degree felony.”

The National Commission on Child Labour, composed of representatives of the government, workers, and employers, as well as child advocacy groups and civil society organizations, engaged in efforts to create the necessary awareness of the danger and implications of child labor in the country. The commission is responsible for coordinating enforcement of child labor laws and policies but did not do so effectively. Labor inspectors were assigned to monitor and address child labor but were understaffed. The government charged the National Steering Committee for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor (National Child Labor Committee) with investigating and referring for prosecution allegations of child labor. The committee consists of the Ministry of Labor’s Child Labor Secretariat (which includes the National Commission on Child Labour); the Ministry of Justice’s Human Rights Protection Unit; the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection’s Human Rights Division; and the police’s Women’s and Children’s Protection Section. The government investigated seven cases and initiated prosecutions of two defendants, a decrease from 18 investigations and four prosecutions in 2020. Although the National Child Labor Committee convened regular meetings, coordination of their activities remained a serious problem. In 2019 the government released the National Action Plan on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor. The government did not identify specific funding to implement its provisions and expected the donor community to contribute approximately 60 percent of the total budget for eliminating child labor.

Child labor was widespread in almost every economic sector. In urban areas children assisted their parents as vendors in markets or hawked goods on the streets. There were reports that children tapped rubber on smaller plantations and private farms, which exposed them to hazardous conditions involving use of machetes and acids. Children also worked in other conditions likely to harm their health and safety, such as rock crushing or work that required carrying heavy loads. Children were engaged in hazardous labor in alluvial diamond and gold mining, which exposed them to heavy loads and hazardous chemicals. Children were also engaged in agriculture, hunting, and fishing. Some children in Monrovia, particularly girls, worked in domestic service after being sent from rural communities by their parents or guardians. There were also reports of children working in auto shops.

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 .

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation or gender identity, or HIV and AIDS status. It does not address refugee or stateless status. The law calls for equal pay for equal work. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations and were seldom applied. Mechanisms for receiving and acting on complaints were inadequate, and the government took no efforts to strengthen antidiscrimination regulations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, HIV-positive status, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Women experienced economic discrimination based on cultural traditions discouraging their employment outside the home in rural areas. Anecdotal evidence indicated that women’s pay lagged that for men. LGBTQI+ persons and persons with disabilities faced hiring discrimination, and persons with disabilities faced difficulty with workplace access and accommodation (see section 6). Persons with disabilities lacked equal access to social, economic, and political opportunities and were among the most vulnerable population groups in the country.

Wage and Hour Laws: The law establishes minimum wages for unskilled laborers and for formal-sector workers. The law also allows workers in the informal sector to bargain for a wage higher than the legal minimum.

The minimum wage was greater than the World Bank’s poverty income level. Many families paid minimum-wage incomes were also engaged in subsistence farming, artisanal mining, small-scale marketing, street peddling, and begging.

The law provides for a 48-hour, six-day regular workweek with a one-hour rest period for every five hours of work. The law stipulates that ordinary hours may be extended by collective agreement up to an average of 53 hours during an agreed period, as well as to 56 hours for workers in seasonal industries. The law provides for overtime pay and prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. The law provides for at least one week of paid leave per year and for severance benefits.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational health and safety standards were up to date and appropriate for the intended industries. Workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect employees in this situation. For certain categories of industries, the law requires employers to employ safety and health officers and establish a safety and health committee in the workplace.

The government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors. The Ministry of Labor’s Labor Inspection Department is responsible for enforcing government-established wage, hour, and health and safety standards in the formal sector, but there is no system for monitoring and enforcement in the informal sector. The government did not employ a sufficient number of labor inspectors to enforce compliance. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. Observers reported labor inspectors solicited and took bribes to certify compliance with regulations, and the labor inspectorate did not track numbers of individual inspections or violations.

The country did not keep records of industrial accidents, but evidence pointed to mining, construction, forestry, fishing, and agriculture as the most dangerous sectors. Hazardous occupations were especially dangerous in the informal sector, such as illegal fishing, logging, and mining, where the lack of regulation and remediation contributed to fatalities and obscured accountability.

On August 18, at least seven persons were injured at the Sethi Ferro Fabrik Incorporated modern steel manufacturing company in Gardnersville following an explosion at the facility. According to eyewitnesses, the explosion occurred following a surge to an electric induction arc furnace that was being used to melt steel by one of the workers at the facility. The Environmental Protection Agency and Liberia National Police arrived on the scene to assess and investigate the cause of the explosion and its effect on the environment.

On August 21, Emmanuel Joe, an employee of the Liberia Agriculture Company in Wee Statutory District, Grand Bassa County, was killed by a rubber processing machine when a breaker was reportedly turned on by another worker while the victim was cleaning it.

Informal Sector: Most citizens were unable to find work in the formal sector and therefore did not benefit from any of the formal labor laws and protections. Most citizens (estimated at 80 percent) worked in the largely unregulated informal sector, where they faced widely varying and often harsh working conditions. Informal-sector workers included rock crushers, artisanal miners, agricultural workers, street sellers, most market sellers, domestic workers, and others. In the diamond and gold mines, in addition to physical danger and poor working conditions, the industry is unregulated, leaving miners vulnerable to exploitive brokers, dealers, and intermediaries. Illegal mining of gold was rampant throughout the country and posed serious safety risks, resulting in the deaths of several persons every year.


Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not provide for the right of workers to form and join independent unions. It provides for the right of workers to bargain collectively and conduct legal strikes, with significant restrictions. The law neither prohibits antiunion discrimination nor requires the reinstatement of workers for union activity. By law workers in the formal sector are automatically members of the General Trade Union Federation of Workers, although they may elect to withdraw from the union. Only citizens may be union members, and regulations do not permit foreign workers to organize. According to Freedom House, some trade unions formed after the 2011 revolution, but they remained in their infancy, and collective-bargaining activity was severely limited due to the continuing hostilities and weak rule of law.

The GNU was limited in its ability to enforce applicable labor laws. The requirement that all collective agreements conform to the “national economic interest” restricted collective bargaining. Workers may call strikes only after exhausting all conciliation and arbitration procedures. The government or one of the parties may demand compulsory arbitration, thus severely restricting strikes. The government has the right to set and cut salaries without consulting workers. State penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

Employees organized spontaneous strikes, boycotts, and sit-ins in a number of workplaces, generally to protest delays in salary payments.

The law did not prohibit or criminalize all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The penal code criminalizes slavery and prescribes penalties of five to 15 years’ imprisonment. It also criminalizes the buying and selling of slaves and prescribes penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Other forms of forced labor are not criminalized. The GNU did not fully enforce the law, however. The resources, inspections, and penalties for abuses were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

There were numerous anecdotal reports of migrants and IDPs being subjected to forced labor by human traffickers. According to numerous press reports, individuals were compelled to support the armed groups that enslaved them, including by preparing and transporting weapons. Others were forced under threat of violence to perform manual labor on farms, at industrial and construction facilities, and in homes.

Private employers sometimes used detained migrants from prisons and detention centers as forced labor on farms or construction sites; when the work was completed or the employers no longer required the migrants’ labor, employers returned them to detention facilities.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

The law prohibits and criminalizes the worst forms of child labor and provides for a minimum age of employment. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from employment, except in a form of apprenticeship. The law stipulates employees may not work more than 48 hours per week or more than 10 hours in a single day. The law sets occupational safety and health (OSH) restrictions for children. The government lacked the capacity to enforce the law. No information was available to determine whether abuses of child labor laws incur penalties commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. There were reports of children forced into labor or military service by nonstate armed groups. These accounts were difficult to verify due to the absence of independent monitoring organizations and the continuing hostilities.

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  and the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for a right to work for every citizen and prohibits any form of discrimination based on religion, race, political opinion, language, wealth, kinship, social status, and tribal, regional, or familial loyalty. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, social status, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on an individual’s employment or occupation. The limitations of the central government restricted its ability to enforce applicable laws. Penalties for abuses were not commensurate with other laws on civil rights, such as election interference.

Women faced discrimination in the workplace. The law prohibits women from working in jobs deemed “morally inappropriate.” Regulations issued by the General People’s Committee prohibit women from working in roles “unsuited to their nature as women” and permit women’s work hours to be reduced for certain professions and occupations as a function of the work’s requirements and the proportion of male and female workers. Observers reported that authorities precluded hiring women for positions in the civil service. They also reported social pressure on women to leave the workplace, especially in high-profile professions such as journalism and law enforcement. In rural areas societal discrimination restricted women’s freedom of movement, including to local destinations, and impaired their ability to play an active role in the workplace.

Wage and Hour Laws: The Ministry of Labor and Rehabilitation’s Department of Labor Inspection and Occupational Safety is responsible for enforcing the national monthly minimum wage. There is no set official poverty income level. The law stipulates a workweek of 40 hours, standard working hours, night shift regulations, dismissal procedures, and training requirements. The law does not specifically prohibit excessive compulsory overtime. Penalties for abuses were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

Occupational Safety and Health: OSH standards were appropriate for the main industries in the country. The government generally did not enforce them. Certain industries, such as the petroleum sector, attempted to maintain standards set by foreign companies. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remained with OSH experts and not the worker. The law provides OSH standards and grants workers the right to court hearings regarding abuses of these standards. The law does not provide workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment. The limitations of the GNU restricted its ability to enforce wage laws and OSH standards. Penalties for abuses of the law were not commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence.

The Ministry of Labor and Rehabilitation is responsible for OSH concerns, but no information was available on enforcement and compliance.

Informal Sector: No accurate data on the size of the informal economy were available. The law does not provide for OSH standards for workers in the informal economy.

North Korea

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Workers do not have the right to form or join independent unions, bargain collectively, or strike. No information was available regarding labor organizations other than those created and controlled by the government. While the law stipulates employees working for foreign companies may form trade unions and foreign enterprises must provide conditions for union activities, the law does not protect workers who might attempt to engage in union activities from employer retaliation, nor does it provide penalties for employers who interfere in union activities. The constitution stipulates the freedom of assembly for citizens, but this right was not protected in practice. Unlawful assembly may result in five years of correctional labor.

The WPK purportedly represents the interests of all labor. The WPK Central Committee directly controlled several labor organizations in the country, including the General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea and the Union of Agricultural Workers of Korea. Operating under this umbrella, unions functioned according to a classic Stalinist model, with responsibility for mobilizing workers to support production goals and for providing health, education, cultural, and welfare facilities, but did not provide a means for worker expression.

The government controlled all aspects of the formal employment sector, including assigning jobs and determining wages. Joint ventures and foreign-owned companies were required to hire employees from government-vetted lists. The government organized factory and farm workers into councils, which purportedly afforded a mechanism for workers to provide input into management decisions.

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor. The government did not enforce the law and mobilized the population for compulsory labor on construction and other projects. “Reformatory labor” and “re-education through labor,” sometimes of entire families, were common punishments for political offenses. Forced and compulsory labor in such activities as logging, mining, tending crops, and manufacturing continued to be the common fate of political prisoners. Penalties for forced labor were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes such as kidnapping and were not applied.

The law requires all citizens of working age to work and “strictly observe labor discipline and working hours.” There were numerous reports that farms and factories did not pay wages or provide food to their workers. Forced labor continued to take place in the brick making, cement manufacturing, coal mining, gold mining, logging, iron production, agriculture, and textile industries. The Walk Free Foundation in its 2018 Global Slavery Index estimated that one of every 10 individuals, or approximately 2.6 million persons, in the country were in situations of modern slavery.

On July 28, 2021, the UN secretary-general reported that the economy “continues to be organized in a way that relies on the widespread extraction of forced labor, including from conscripted soldiers and the general populace, including children” (see also section 7.c.). In June RFA reported the government was forcing nearly 14,000 married women from all regions of the country to “volunteer” for farm work in South Hwanghae Province to boost food output after the 2020 suspension of border trade with China cut off food imports and the country endured a bad harvest. In July RFA reported the government forcibly mobilized married women in Ryanggang Province, near the river bordering China, to make cement blocks for the construction of a wall to prevent escape and stop the smuggling of food and other goods that had escalated after the government’s border closure caused price spikes in 2020. The schedule required those ranging “from newlywed women in their 20s to those in their 60s” to transport enough sand from the mountains each day to mix with cement and produce 10 blocks, for the wall to be built by October 10, the Party Foundation Day deadline.

According to reports from an NGO, during the implementation of short-term economic plans, factories and farms increased workers’ hours and asked workers for contributions of grain and money to purchase supplies for renovations and repairs. By law failure to meet economic plan goals may result in two years of “labor correction.” In 2019 workers who were reportedly required to work at enterprises assigned by the government received no compensation or were undercompensated by the enterprises. In 2020 women in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province, reported that government officials required all women in the area to work daily on construction and other projects. Those physically unable to work had to pay a monetary fine, and security forces arrested evaders.

The 2019 UN report The Price Is Rights noted work “outside the State system, in the informal sector, has become a fundamental means to survival [but] access to work in the informal sector has become contingent on the payment of bribes.” In addition, NGOs and media reported that stricter border and internal travel restrictions, due to government fears concerning the spread of COVID-19, made it extremely difficult for persons to pursue a living through informal trading. The HRNK’s 2020 report entitled Imagery Analysis of Kyo-hwa-so No. 12, Jongo-ri, Update 3 detailed the use of forced labor by prison officials in the production of false eyelashes.

According to NGO Open North Korea’s 2016 report Sweatshop, North Korea, individuals ages 16 or 17 from the low-loyalty class were assigned to 10 years of forced labor in military-style construction youth brigades. One worker reportedly earned 120 won (less than $0.15) per month. During a 200-day labor mobilization campaign in 2016, for example, these young workers worked as many as 17 hours per day. State media boasted that the laborers worked in subzero temperatures. One laborer reported conditions were so dangerous while building an apartment building that at least one person died each time a floor was added. Loyalty class status also determined lifelong job assignments, with the lowest classes relegated to dangerous mines.

HRW reported the government operated regional, local, or subdistrict-level “labor training centers” where detainees were forced to work for short periods doing hard labor, with little food and subject to abuse, including regular beatings. Authorities reportedly sent individuals to such centers if they were suspected of engaging in simple trading schemes or were unemployed. In 2018 the HRNK reported that thousands of citizens including children were detained in prison-like conditions in these centers and suggested that satellite imagery indicated the number and size of such camps were expanding.

The vast majority of North Koreans employed outside the country were in Russia and China. Workers were also reportedly in Georgia (in Abkhazia, a Russia-occupied region), Algeria, Benin, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Indonesia, Iran, Laos, Mozambique, Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Syria, and Tanzania. While some places removed most or all of these workers during the year, reports suggested that some places either took no action or issued work authorizations or other documentation, allowing these individuals to work.

Numerous NGOs noted workers abroad were subjected to forced labor. NGO reports indicated the government managed these laborers as a matter of state policy and that they were under constant and close surveillance by government security agents. Laborers worked between 12 and 16 hours per day, and sometimes up to 20 hours per day, with only one or two rest days per month. Employers stated the average wage was 270,000 to 900,000 won per month ($300 to $1,000), but in most cases employing firms paid salaries directly to the government, which took between 70 percent and 90 percent of the total earnings, leaving approximately 90,000 won ($100) per month for worker take-home pay. The state reportedly withheld some wages in certain instances until the laborers returned home after the completion of their three-year contracts. Workers reportedly worked in a range of industries, including but not limited to apparel, construction, footwear manufacturing, hospitality, information technology services, logging, medical, pharmaceuticals, restaurant, seafood processing, textiles, and shipbuilding.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

The law prohibits work by children younger than age 16 and restricts children 16 to 17 from working in hazardous conditions. The law criminalizes forced child labor, but observers did not know whether that included all the worst forms of child labor. There were reports that forced child labor occurred, including the worst forms of child labor. NGOs reported government officials held thousands of children and forced them to work in labor camps with their parents.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar serious crimes such as kidnapping but were not applied. Officials occasionally sent schoolchildren to work in factories or fields for short periods to assist in completing special projects, such as snow removal on major roads or meeting production goals. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted children were also sometimes subjected to mass mobilizations in agriculture away from their families, with long working hours per day, sometimes for periods of a month at a time, and work under hazardous conditions. HRW previously published students’ reports that their schools forced them to work without compensation on farms twice a year for one month each time. HRW also reported schools required students under the minimum working age to work to raise funds for faculty salaries and maintenance costs for school facilities. According to 2019 media reports, students ages 14 and 15 were required to work in WPK opium fields.

On October 8, 2021, the OHCHR reported that orphans and street children were vulnerable to child labor, including deployment to permanent “shock brigades” for extended periods without pay. The OHCHR noted that children ages 16 and 17 were not legally protected against hazardous labor and cited August state media reporting that more than 200,000 youth league officials and members had taken part in “youth shock brigade activities” since April. Citing state media reporting in May that more than 160 orphans who graduated from secondary school volunteered to work at coal mines and farms to “repay the love the Workers’ Party of Korea showed for taking care of them over the years,” the OHCHR expressed concern that orphans had to volunteer to work to “repay” the care they had received from the state, which was the state’s human rights obligation. The OHCHR declared that “the use of child labor involving those under 18 years of age in harmful and hazardous environments such as coal mines are considered the worst forms of child labor and are prohibited under international law.”

In May state-run media reported that hundreds of children, apparently teenagers, “volunteered” to perform manual labor for the state in coal mines, factories, farms, and forests and that more than 700 orphans who had graduated from middle schools “volunteered” to work on cooperative farms, at an iron and steel complex, and in forestry, among other areas. HRW stated the reality of such “volunteer” work was “backbreaking labor under extremely harsh and dangerous conditions for long periods of time with little or no pay” that “very few people can turn down.”

Children ages 16 and 17 were enrolled in military-style youth construction brigades for 10-year periods and subjected to long working hours and hazardous work. Students suffered from physical and psychological injuries, malnutrition, exhaustion, and growth deficiencies resulting from required forced labor.

While the law provides that all citizens “may enjoy equal rights in all spheres of state and public activities” and all “able-bodied persons may choose occupations in accordance with their wishes and skills,” the law does not prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on race, religion, ethnicity, or other factors. There is no direct reference to employment discrimination in the law; classification based on the songbun loyalty system has a bearing on equal employment opportunities and equal pay.

Despite the law’s provision for women of equal social status and rights, societal and legal discrimination against women continued. Labor laws and directives mandate sex segregation of the workforce, assigning specific jobs to women while impeding access of others to these jobs. Women’s retirement age is set at age 55, compared with age 60 for men, which also has material consequences for women’s pension benefits, economic independence, and access to decision-making positions.

Persons with disabilities also faced employment discrimination. Most of the approximately 1,200 workshops or light factories for persons with disabilities built in the 1950s were reportedly no longer operational; there were limited inclusive workplaces.

Wage and Hour Laws: There is no legal minimum wage in the country. No reliable data were available on the minimum wage paid by state-owned enterprises. Wages were sometimes paid at least partially in kind rather than in cash.

The law stipulates an eight-hour workday, although some sources reported that laborers worked longer hours, perhaps including additional time for mandatory study of the writings of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. The law provides all citizens with a “right to rest,” including one day’s rest per week (Sunday), paid leave, holidays, and access to sanitariums and rest homes funded at public expense. No information was available, however, regarding the state’s willingness and ability to provide these services.

Mandatory participation in mass events on holidays and practice sessions for such events sometimes compromised leave or rest from work. Workers were often required to “celebrate” at least some part of public holidays with their work units and were able to spend an entire day with their families only if the holiday lasted two days. Failure to pay wages was common and reportedly drove some workers to seek income-generating activity in the informal or underground economy.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law recognizes the state’s responsibility for providing modern and hygienic working conditions. The law criminalizes the failure to heed “labor safety orders” pertaining to worker safety and workplace conditions only if the conditions result in the loss of lives or other “grave loss.” Workers themselves do not have a designated right to remove themselves from hazardous working conditions. No information was available on enforcement of occupational safety and health laws.

Many worksites were hazardous, and the industrial accident rate was high. Managers were often under pressure to meet production quotas and often ignored training and safety requirements. According to reports, in March 2021 three untrained teenage workers died and several were critically injured in an industrial accident at the Sungri Motor Complex in South Pyongan Province. Also in March at least 20 individuals who were part of a “storm trooper” construction brigade died in an electrical fire at their Pyongyang jobsite.

Informal Sector: The informal sector is large, but there is little information on its size or composition. Many citizens depend on the informal economy for their survival as regular wages and rations are not sufficient. The informal sector has been growing rapidly, but during the year there were signs that the government increased efforts to tighten its regulatory control.

South Korea

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, conduct strikes within strict limits, and bargain collectively, but certain limitations apply.

The law recognizes most workers’ right to strike. Labor and employers in businesses deemed to be “essential services” are required to agree on a plan to maintain a minimum level of services for the public interest during a strike. Essential services include railroads, air transport, communications, water supply, and hospitals. The trade union law prohibits the use of replacement workers to conduct general business disrupted by legal strikes, but in essential services employers may hire replacements for up to 50 percent of striking workers.

By law parties involved in a “labor dispute” must first undergo third-party mediation through the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) before registering to strike. Strikes initiated following this period are legal if they obtain majority support from union membership. The law narrowly defines “labor dispute,” which makes strikes on many issues falling under managerial control, such as downsizing and layoffs, illegal. Strikes not specifically pertaining to labor conditions, wages, benefits, or working hours are illegal. Participating in strikes falling outside of the legally prescribed definition may result in imprisonment or a fine for the organizers and participants.

Laws banning education workers from engaging in certain political activities, such as joining a political party or openly endorsing a political party or candidate, constrained unions’ abilities to advocate for their positions. An amended law took effect in July allowing dismissed workers to maintain their union membership. The previous administration had used this rule to decertify or prevent legal recognition of unions with dismissed workers among their ranks, namely the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union and the Korean Government Employees Union. Both unions regained legal recognition under the current administration.

The law permits workers to file complaints of unfair labor practices against employers who interfere with union organizing or who discriminate against union members. The law prohibits retribution against workers who strike legally, and the NLRC may order employers to reinstate workers fired for lawful union activities.

The government generally enforced legislation related to freedom of association, collective bargaining, and collective action, including legal strikes, and the penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. In addition, an employer may be penalized for noncompliance with a labor relations commission order to reinstate a worker. The law sets penalties in the form of fines or imprisonment against employers who refuse unions’ lawful requests for bargaining.

Labor organizations generally operated without government interference.

Some “dispatched workers” (those on temporary contracts) said they faced increased risk of nonrenewal of their work contract if they joined unions or engaged in industrial disputes. Some undocumented foreign workers avoided participating in union activities due to fear of exposing themselves to arrest and deportation.

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government generally enforced the law effectively but did not consistently identify cases of forced labor; penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

NGOs continued to report that some migrant workers were subject to forced labor, particularly those who had incurred thousands of dollars in debt for payment of recruitment fees, making them vulnerable to debt bondage. Some migrant workers in the agriculture, livestock, and fishing industries faced conditions indicative of forced labor, including deceptive recruiting practices, confiscation of passports, and nonpayment of wages.

The Ministry of Ocean and Fisheries issued rules in January to better regulate the recruitment system, prevent excessive working hours, set a minimum salary, and ensure the provision of necessities such as clean drinking water for migrant seafarers who worked aboard Korean deep-sea fishing vessels. NGOs reported harsh conditions for migrant seafarers, including some who endured 18-hour workdays and physical and verbal abuse from Korean captains and other crew. NGOs also called for stricter enforcement and penalties for violators.

Stakeholders reported that enforcement activities were limited by jurisdictional disputes between the Ministry of Employment and Labor and the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries.

The government also investigated instances of abuse, including forced labor, against workers with intellectual disabilities.

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. The law provides a minimum age for employment of 15 but has an exception for work by children younger than 15 if they have an authorization certificate from the Ministry of Employment and Labor. Authorities issued few such certificates for full-time employment because education is compulsory through the end of middle school. Children ages 15 to 18 may work with the consent of at least one person with parental authority or a guardian, for limited hours and are prohibited from night work. Workers younger than age 18 may not work in employment that is detrimental to their health or “morality.” Employers in industries considered harmful or hazardous to a minor’s morals or health may not hire them and face fines or imprisonment for violations.

The maximum penalty for child labor, three years’ imprisonment, was not commensurate with that for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, which is penalized by up to 10 years’ imprisonment, but prosecutors could apply other criminal statutes in such a case. Through September the government reported no violations of child labor laws. The government generally effectively enforced the law.

There were some reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children).

The law prohibits discrimination in employment or occupation based on gender, nationality, social status, age, religion, or disability. No law explicitly prohibits discrimination based on race or ethnicity, sexual orientation, language or HIV or other communicable disease status. The penalties for employment discrimination were commensurate with laws related to similar violations. The law prohibits companies with more than 30 employees from asking job applicants about family members, place of origin, marital status, age, or property ownership.

The law provides for equal pay for equal work. The government inconsistently enforced the law, and discrimination occurred with respect to gender. The gender pay gap was 35.9 percent in 2020. Workers’ rights groups attributed the gap to women’s childcare and household responsibilities. A higher percentage of women filled lower-paying, low-skilled, contract jobs, and women often faced difficulties returning to the workforce after childbirth. During the COVID-19 pandemic, tasks such as handling virtual schooling for children or taking care of sick family members often fell to women. Legal restrictions against women in employment included limits on working hours, occupations, and tasks. In particular, the law restricted women’s participation in “hazardous” occupations such as mining.

The workplace antibullying law requires employers to take action to fight bullying in the workplace. According to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, 70 percent of persons surveyed in 2018 said they had been bullied at work. By law employers convicted of failing to take action to protect bullied employees face a fine and up to three years in prison.

The law prohibits discrimination against subcontracted (also known as “dispatched”) and temporary workers, who comprised approximately one-third of all wage workers and were found especially in the electronics, automotive, and service sectors. The International Labor Organization noted that the disadvantaged status of irregular workers contributed to discrimination against women given that women were overrepresented among these workers.

Discrimination in the workplace occurred against persons with HIV/AIDS, women, persons with disabilities, and migrant workers.

Many migrant workers faced workplace discrimination. The maximum length of stay permitted under the Employee Permit System is four years and 10 months, just under the five years needed to apply for permanent residency. NGOs and civil society groups asserted this policy is designed to exclude foreign workers from permanent residence or citizenship eligibility. NGOs stated it remained difficult for migrant workers to change employers (see sections 7.b. and 7.e.).

The law prohibits recruiters, agents, employers, or managers from receiving money or other valuables or benefits from job seekers or employees in exchange for securing employment. Nevertheless, NGOs reported Republic of Korea-flagged vessel owners routinely demanded security deposits from foreign crewmembers to discourage them from transferring jobs. New regulations issued in January require employers to bear the costs of recruitment fees and set a minimum wage, but NGOs said the regulations were not clearly drafted to include any preboarding costs, such as security deposits.

Wage and Hour Laws: During the year the minimum wage increased 1.5 percent and was above the official poverty line.

The law allows a flexible system under which employees may work more than eight hours during certain days and more than 40 hours per week during certain weeks (up to a maximum of 52 hours in a single week), so long as average weekly work hours for any two-week period do not exceed 40 hours and workers have a mandatory day of rest each week. For employers who adopt a flexible system, hours exceeding 80 in a two-week period constitute overtime. Foreign companies operating in export-processing zones are exempt from labor regulations that mandate one day of rest a week. The law limits overtime of ordinary workers to 12 hours a week. Standards for working and rest hours and paid leave do not apply to seafarers; overtime pay standards apply to fishermen on coastal fishing vessels, but not to those deep-sea fishing vessels. The annual ministerial notification set a minimum wage for Korean crewmembers but not migrant crewmembers, who, according to an NGO, earned just one-fifth of the Republic of Korea minimum wage.

Unions said that during the COVID-19 pandemic there were almost no reported violations of overtime laws. Official statistics showed 566,000 workers held second “side jobs” as of July, working as drivers, couriers, or in service jobs to cover or supplement living expenses. In June and October, delivery workers held nationwide strikes protesting long hours and strenuous work conditions that led to the deaths of 16 delivery workers in 2020.

The government generally effectively enforced laws on wages and acceptable conditions of work in most sectors, but migrants faced discriminatory laws and practices. The Labor Ministry was responsible for enforcement of these laws and the number of labor inspectors was sufficient to deter violations in most sectors. Inspectors had the authority to identify unsafe conditions, conduct unannounced visits, and issue corrective orders. Penalties for violations included imprisonment and fines and were generally commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

Regulations outline legal protections for migrant and foreign workers. Inspections covered businesses with foreign workers, particularly in the agriculture, livestock, fisheries, and construction sectors, which generally had poor working conditions. Migrants’ rights advocates noted the government inspected only a small percentage of workplaces that hire migrant workers and asserted that employers were not deterred from violating labor standards because most inspections were perfunctory and, even if violations were found, the typical result was a corrective order.

NGOs and local media reported discrimination against workers who do not have full-time, permanent employment and who do not receive benefits at the same level as permanent workers. For example, while the law requires the conversion to permanent status of those employed longer than two years, employers often laid off irregular workers shortly before the two-year mark. To address this the government provides subsidies and tax breaks to encourage businesses to hire temporary workers on a permanent basis, according to the labor ministry.

Migrant workers faced multiple restrictions on employment mobility, which left them vulnerable to exploitation. NGOs continued to push for changes to the employment permit system to allow migrant workers the freedom to change employers. Migrant workers generally must obtain the consent of their current employers to switch jobs or can request a change based on very limited circumstances beyond their control. The Ministry of Labor in April added unacceptable employer-provided housing (e.g., vinyl greenhouses) as another reason workers could request a change in workplace under this structure, which also includes overdue or nonpayment of wages, sexual assault, a workplace accident, and others. Workers’ rights NGOs noted the burden was on the worker to present evidence of the mistreatment to avail themselves of these provisions, making it very difficult to switch jobs without the employer’s consent.

A December 2020 Reuters report found 522 Thai migrant workers had died in the Republic of Korea since 2015, based on documents obtained from the Thai Embassy in Seoul. Forty percent of the deaths were from unknown causes, and 60 percent were health-related, accidents, or suicides. The Thai Embassy estimated only a tenth of the 185,000 Thai migrants held legal status in the country. Media and NGOs claimed a flawed employment permit system places migrant workers in precarious situations.

To prevent violations and improve working conditions for migrant and foreign workers, the government provided preemployment training to newly arrived foreign workers, workplace adaptation training to those who changed workplaces, and training to employers who hired foreign workers. In April the law was amended to require all employers of foreign workers under the employment permit system to receive training on labor laws and human rights. The government funded 45 foreign workers support centers nationwide to provide foreign workers with counseling services in 16 languages, Korean language and cultural programs, shelter, and free health-care services. It also ran a call center to help foreign workers resolve grievances. The government also funded multicultural family and migrant plus centers to provide foreign workers, international marriage immigrants, and other multicultural families with a one-stop service center providing immigration, welfare, and education services.

The law requires severance payments to migrant workers who have worked in the country for at least one year. Many workers, however, reported difficulty in receiving severance pay prior to their departure and stated they did not receive payments even after returning to their country of origin, due to banking regulations and delinquent employers. NGOs confirmed many departing migrants never received these payments and that the COVID-19 pandemic magnified these difficulties.

Some NGOs reported migrant workers were particularly vulnerable to exploitation because the law excludes regulations on working hours, holidays, and benefits for the agricultural, livestock, and fisheries industries that had large numbers of migrant workers. Foreign laborers sometimes faced physical abuse and exploitation by employers in the form of longer working hours, fewer days off, and lower wages than their local counterparts. According to NGOs, the government only occasionally investigated reports of poor or abusive working conditions for migrants, and court cases were often dismissed due to insufficient evidence.

Surveys show nearly all migrant workers lived in housing provided by their employers. In the farming and fisheries sector, 70 percent reported living in makeshift structures made of assembled panels, containers, or structures covered with vinyl sheeting. After a Cambodian worker was found dead in December 2020 in a vinyl greenhouse with a malfunctioning heating unit, the Labor Ministry announced in January it would no longer issue employment permits to employers in the agriculture and fisheries industries who house foreign workers in makeshift structures. This took effect in other industries in July, although NGOs claimed the government granted some employers a grace period until September.

Occupational Safety and Health: The Korea Occupational Health and Safety Agency, under the supervision of the Ministry of Employment and Labor, established occupational health and safety standards and worked to identify unsafe working conditions. Under the law workers in every sector have the right to remove themselves from situations of danger without jeopardizing their employment. In addition to broad reforms in 2020 to occupational health and safety law, including increased penalties for workplace fatalities and health and safety violations, in January the government announced even stricter penalties for certain industrial accidents. In January the National Assembly passed the Serious Accident Punishment Act, which, when it takes effect in January 2022, will require stricter compliance from business owners and place responsibility for accident prevention on CEOs.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor had 815 health and safety inspectors and conducted 12,097 workplace inspections from January to July, an increase compared with the same period last year.

The government enforced the law, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those for analogous crimes such as gross negligence. According to the Ministry of Employment and Labor, there were 108,379 industrial accidents in 2020, similar to 2019, and 2,062 occupational deaths. The leading causes of workplace deaths were falls and accidents involving equipment in the construction and manufacturing sectors. The ministry acknowledged that challenges remained in further reducing the level of fatal accidents to that on par with other advanced countries; ensuring the safety of workers vulnerable to occupational accidents or health risks, including older workers, women, migrants, and those working in small workplaces; and reducing safety gaps between large enterprises and small- and medium-sized enterprises, as well as between parent companies and subcontractors. Workers’ rights advocates said that contract or temporary workers were also vulnerable to workplace injury.

The country has a high industrial death rate. For example, steelmaker POSCO has reported 14 workplace fatalities in the past three years. In February a subcontractor was killed while replacing a conveyor roller at the POSCO steelworks in Pohang. One month later, a subcontractor for an affiliated company died in a similar incident at the same plant. The February incident prompted the Labor Ministry to conduct a two-month inspection of the Pohang plant. It fined POSCO $395,000 for 225 safety-rule breaches.

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