Bangladesh

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Bangladesh’s comparative advantage in cheap labor for manufacturing is partially offset by lower productivity due to poor skills development, inefficient management, pervasive corruption, and inadequate infrastructure. According to the 2016-2017 Labor Force Survey, 85 percent of the Bangladeshi labor force is employed in the informal economy. Bangladeshi workers have a strong reputation for hard work, entrepreneurial spirit, and a positive and optimistic attitude. With an average age of 26 years, the country boasts one of the largest and youngest labor forces in the world. However, training is not well aligned with labor demand. Bangladesh’s labor laws specify acceptable employment conditions, working hours, minimum wage levels, leave policies, health and sanitary conditions, and compensation for injured workers. Freedom of association and the right to join unions are guaranteed in the constitution. In practice, however, compliance and enforcement of labor laws are weak, and companies frequently discourage or prevent formation of worker-led labor unions, preferring pro- factory management unions. Export Processing Zones (EPZs) are a notable exception to the national labor law in that trade unions are not allowed there. The EPZ labor law instead allows worker welfare associations, to which 74 percent of workers belong, according to the government.

Since two back-to-back tragedies killed over 1,250 workers – the Tazreen Fashions fire in 2012 and the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013 – Bangladesh made significant progress in garment factory fire and structural safety remediation, thanks mostly to two Western brand-led initiatives, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (Alliance), comprised of North American brands, and the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (Accord), which was formed by European brands. Major accidents and workplace deaths in the garment sector dropped precipitously as a result—to zero in 2020. Monitoring and remediation of RMG factories exporting to non-Western countries was overseen by the government, with assistance from the International Labor Organization (ILO) under the National Initiative. By 2020, fewer than half the factories under the National Initiative had completed initial remediation of safety issues, and both the Alliance and Accord had closed their Bangladesh operations. North American brands continued to monitor manufacturers’ safety maintenance and training through a new organization, Nirapon. The Accord, under High Court order, handed over its staff and operations to the newly formed RMG Sustainability Council (RSC), overseen by a board consisting of manufacturers, brands, and worker representatives. The government is working to form an Industrial Safety Unit to oversee factory safety in National Initiative garment factories as well as all manufacturing

The U.S. government suspended Bangladesh’s access to the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) over labor rights violations following a six-year formal review conducted by the U.S. Trade Representative. The decision, announced in 2013 in the months following the Rana Plaza collapse, was accompanied by a 16-point GSP Action Plan to help start Bangladesh’s path to reinstatement of the trade benefits. While some progress was made in the intervening years, several key issues have not been adequately addressed. Despite revisions intended to make Bangladesh more compliant with international labor standards, the Bangladesh Labor Act (BLA) and EPZ Labor Act (ELA) still restrict the freedom of association and formation of unions and maintain separate administrative systems for workers inside and outside of export processing zones.

Under the current BLA, legally registered unions are entitled to submit charters of demands and bargain collectively with employers, but this has rarely occurred in practice. The government counts nearly 1,000 registered trade unions, but labor leaders estimate there are fewer than 100 active trade unions in the country’s dominant sector, RMG, and only 30 to 40 are capable enough to negotiate with owners. The law provides criminal penalties for conducting unfair labor practices such as retaliation against union members for exercising their legal rights, but charges are rarely brought against employers and the labor courts have a large backlog of cases. Labor organizations reported most workers did not exercise their rights to form unions, attend meetings, or bargain collectively due to fear of reprisal. A crackdown on mostly peaceful wage protests between December 2018 and February 2019 reportedly led to termination or forced resignation of an estimated 7,000 to 11,000 garment workers – many of whom were blacklisted and remained unable to find new employment in the garment sector over a year later.

The labor law differentiates between layoffs and terminations; no severance is paid if a worker is fired for misconduct. In the case of downsizing or “retrenchment,” workers must be notified and paid 30 days’ wages for each year of service. The law requires factories and establishments to notify Bangladesh’s Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments a week prior to temporarily laying off workers due to a shortage of work or material. Laid off workers are entitled to their full housing allowance. For the first 45 days, they are also entitled to half their basic wages, then 25 percent thereafter. Workers who were employed for less than one year are not eligible for compensation during a layoff. However, the press and trade unions report employers not only fail to pay workers their severance or benefits, but also their regular wages. In 2020 alone, workers and organizers staged 264 labor protests in the garment sector over back wages, factory layoffs, and demands to reopen closed factories. No unemployment insurance or other social safety net programs exist, although the government had begun discussing how to establish them with the help of development partners and brands. The government does not consistently and effectively enforce applicable labor laws. For example, the law establishes mechanisms for conciliation, arbitration, and dispute resolution by a labor court and workers in a collective bargaining union have the right to strike in the event of a failure to reach a settlement. In practice, few strikers followed the cumbersome and time-consuming legal requirements for settlements and strikes or walkouts often occur spontaneously. The government was partnering with the ILO to introduce a dispute settlement system within its Department of Labor.

The government does not consistently and effectively enforce applicable labor laws. For example, the law establishes mechanisms for conciliation, arbitration, and dispute resolution by a labor court and workers in a collective bargaining union have the right to strike in the event of a failure to reach a settlement. In practice, few strikers followed the cumbersome and time-consuming legal requirements for settlements and strikes or walkouts often occur spontaneously. The government was partnering with the ILO to introduce a dispute settlement system within its Department of Labor.

The BLA guarantees workers the right to conduct lawful strikes, but with many limitations. For example, the government may prohibit a strike deemed to pose a “serious hardship to the community” and may terminate any strike lasting more than 30 days. The BLA also prohibits strikes at factories in the first three years of commercial production, and at factories controlled by foreign investors.

The U.S. government funds efforts to improve occupational safety and health alongside labor rights in the readymade garment sector in partnership with other international partners, civil society, businesses, and the Bangladeshi government. The United States works with other governments and the International Labor Organization (ILO) to discuss and assist with additional labor reforms needed to fully comply with international labor conventions. In early 2021, the government submitted a draft action plan to the EU and ILO describing how it planned to bring its laws and practices into compliance with international labor standards over time. The U.S. government will closely monitor development and implementation of the plan to ensure it sufficiently addresses long-standing recommendations.

Cambodia

11. Labor Policies and Practices 

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on Cambodia’s labor sector. In particular, Cambodia’s garment and manufacturing sector, which is heavily reliant on global supply chains for inputs and on demand from the United States and Europe, experienced severe disruptions due to COVID-19. The Asian Development Bank estimates that roughly half of Cambodia’s approximately 1 million factory workers experienced some period of furlough in 2020. In addition, approximately 126,000 of Cambodia’s 1.3 million migrant workers returned from abroad (mostly from Thailand) due to COVID-related job losses.

Cambodia’s labor force numbers about 10 million people. A small number of Vietnamese and Thai migrant workers are employed in Cambodia, and – prior to the pandemic – Chinese-run infrastructure and other businesses imported an increasing number of Chinese laborers, who typically earn more than their Cambodian counterparts.

Given the severe disruption to the Cambodian education system and loss of skilled Cambodians during the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge period, there are few Cambodian workers with higher education or specialized skills. Around 65 percent of the population is under the age of 30. The United Nations estimates that around 300,000 new job seekers enter the labor market each year. The agricultural sector employs about 40 percent of the labor force. Some 37 percent of the non-agricultural workforce, or 2.2 million workers, are in the informal economy.

Cambodia’s 2016 Trade Union Law (TUL) erects barriers to freedom of association and the rights to organize and bargain freely. The ILO has stated publicly that the law could hinder Cambodia’s obligations to international labor conventions 87 and 98. To address those concerns, Cambodia passed an amended TUL in early 2020, but the amended law does not fully address ILO, NGO, and union concerns about the law’s curbs on freedom of association. In addition, Cambodia has only implemented and enforced a minimum wage in the export garment and footwear sectors.

Unresolved labor disputes are mediated first on the shop-room floor, after which they are brought to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training. If reconciliation fails, then the cases may be brought to the Arbitration Council, an independent state body that interprets labor regulations in collective disputes, such as when multiple employees are dismissed. Since the 2016 Trade Union Law went into force, Arbitration Council cases have decreased from over 30 per month to fewer than five, although that number began to increase again in 2019 due to regulatory changes.  12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs

Colombia

11. Labor Policies and Practices

An OECD economic survey of Colombia was published in October 2019. The report mentions progress on labor market reforms, but cites a weakening of the labor market given decelerating economic growth, stalled progress on labor force participation, and persistently high income inequality. At the end of 2020, 49.2 percent of the urban workforce was working in the informal economy. The overall unemployment rate at that time was 17.3 percent. Both figures represent deteriorations due to the economic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic. Colombia has a wide range of skills in its workforce, including managerial-level employees who are often bilingual, but faces large skills gaps. Colombia has made strong efforts to incorporate Venezuelan migrants into the formal economy, most notably the February 2021 announcement of ten-year Temporary Protected Status for the country’s estimated 1.8 million Venezuelan migrants.

Labor rights in Colombia are set forth in its Constitution, the Labor Code, the Procedural Code of Labor and Social Security, sector-specific legislation, and ratified international conventions, which are incorporated into national legislation. Colombia’s Constitution guarantees freedom of association and provides for collective bargaining and the right to strike (with some exceptions). It also addresses forced labor, child labor, trafficking, discrimination, protections for women and children in the workplace, minimum wages, working hours, skills training, and social security. Colombia has ratified all eight of the International Labor Organization’s (ILO’s) fundamental labor conventions, and all are in force. Colombia has also ratified conventions related to hours of work, occupational health and safety, and minimum wage.

The 1991 Constitution protects the right to constitute labor unions. Pursuant to Colombia’s labor law, any group of 25 or more workers, regardless of whether they are employees of the same company or not, may form a labor union. Employees of companies with fewer than 25 employees may affiliate themselves with other labor unions. Colombia has a low trade union density (9.5 percent). Where unions are present, multiple affiliation sometimes poses challenges for collective bargaining. The largest and most influential unions are composed mostly of public-sector employees, particularly of the majority state-owned oil company and the state-run education sector. Only 6.2 percent of all salaried workers are covered by collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), according to the OECD. The Ministry of Labor has expressed commitment to working on decrees to incentivize sectoral collective bargaining and to strengthen union representation within companies and regulate strikes in the essential public services sector. Strikes, when held in accordance with the law, are recognized as legal instruments to obtain better working conditions, and employers are prohibited from using strike-breakers at any time during the course of a strike. After 60 days of strike action, the parties are subject to compulsory arbitration. Strikes are prohibited in certain “essential public services,” as defined by law, although Colombia has been criticized for having an overly-broad interpretation of “essential.”

Foreign companies operating in Colombia must follow the same hiring rules as national companies, regardless of the origin of the employer and the place of execution of the contract. No labor laws are waived in order to attract or retain investment. In 2010, Law 1429 eliminated the mandatory proportion requirement for foreign and national personnel; 100 percent of the workforce, including the board of directors, can be foreign nationals. Labor permits are not required in Colombia, except for minors of the minimum working age. Foreign employees have the same rights as Colombian employees. Employers may use temporary service agencies to subcontract additional workers for peaks of production. Employers must receive advance permission from the Ministry of Labor before undertaking permanent layoffs. The Ministry of Labor typically does not grant permission to lay off workers who have enhanced legal protections (for example, those with work-related injuries or union leaders). The Ministry of Labor has been cracking down on using temporary or contract workers for jobs that are not temporary in nature, although challenges remain in this area.

Reputational risks to investors come with a lack of effective and systematic enforcement of labor law, especially in rural sectors. Homicides of unionists (social leaders) remain a concern. In January 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a public report of review in response to a submission filed under Chapter 17 (the Labor Chapter) of the CTPA by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and five Colombian workers’ organizations that alleged failures on the part of the government to protect labor rights in line with CTPA commitments. In January 2018, the Department of Labor published the first periodic review of progress to address issues identified in the submission report. For additional information on labor law enforcement see:

Djibouti

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Djibouti’s official unemployment rate is 47%. Youth unemployment, defined locally as the share of the labor force between age 15 and 24 without work but is available and actively seeing employment, has remained between 11% and 12% in the past three decades. Estimates of a sizeable informal labor market of up to 75% exist in Djibouti, with a larger informal market outside of the capital city of Djibouti. The formal labor market is heavily service- or government-oriented with growing markets in construction, logistics, and transportation. Skilled Djiboutian workers, especially in high-demand trades such as construction, are in short supply.

Djibouti has complicated labor laws that favor the employee, especially in the areas of disputes and termination. Vocational and professional training facilities remain limited. The World Bank, the Ministry of Finance, USAID, and other entities are working on a variety of initiatives to address the shortage of workforce development programs. The government has promoted entrepreneurship as a means of stimulating the economy. The government, in partnership with the World Bank and European Union, recently opened the entrepreneurship and leadership center (CLE – Centre Leadership Entreprenariat ) to assist start-up companies.

Foreign workers are legally allowed to work in Djibouti only if their qualifications or expertise are not available among the nationals. In January 2017, the cost for a work permit was reviewed and classified in three different categories based on the type of profession with respective annual fees of 50,000 Djibouti francs (USD 281), 100,000 Djibouti francs (USD 563) and Djibouti francs 200,000 (USD 1,125). The National Agency for Employment, Training, and Professional Integration (ANEFIP) maintains a database of Djiboutian job-seekers and issues work permits to foreign workers.

Employers have to abide by the Labor Code. Workers who are laid off get more compensation than employees who are fired. No unemployment insurance or other social safety net programs exist for workers laid off for economic reasons. Only those workers who contributed to the social insurance for 25 years and are sixty years of age are entitled to retirement benefits.

Minimum wage is DJF 45,000 (USD 254) per month. By law, all employers are obligated to make social security payments on behalf of their employees, through the National Council for Social Security. Two large labor unions exist in Djibouti, but only the Djiboutian Workers Union is recognized by international organizations.

Labor laws are not waived to attract investment, but the investment code and free zones have separate legal provisions to attract investment. By law, labor unions are independent of the government and employers. In practice they can be influenced by the government and/or employers. In case of labor disputes, the Labor Inspector will bring together the employer and the employee to settle the case acting as a mediator. If the mediation fails, then the case will be sent to the Court. The process is opaque and the results are not publicized.

In November 2020, the National Assembly amended the Labor Code to require companies employing 11 or more employees to report annually on the status of its workforce. This report aims to prevent companies from hiring foreigners illegally, not respecting the legally allowed pregnancy leave, and/or illegally firing employees.

Ecuador

11. Labor Policies and Practices

While Ecuador’s Statistics Institute shows 66 percent workforce participation, and an unemployment rate of 5.7 percent, the official underemployment rate is 22.3 percent, and it is estimated that 47.3 percent of workers are in the informal sector. Semi-skilled and unskilled workers are relatively abundant at low wages. The supply of available workers is high due to layoffs in sectors affected by Ecuador’s flat economic growth since 2014. The COVID-19 economic crisis is estimated to have resulted in the loss of 230,000 jobs in the formal sector in 2020. In addition, first Colombian and now Venezuelan migrants have added to the informal labor pool. The National Wages Council and Ministry of Labor Relations set minimum compensation levels for private sector employees annually. The minimum basic monthly salary for 2020 is USD 400 per month.

Ecuador’s Production Code requires workers be paid a dignified wage, defined as an amount that would enable a family of four with 1.6 wage earners to be able to afford basic necessities. Ecuador’s Statistics Institute (INEC) determines the cost and the products that are considered basic necessities. In February 2021, the monthly cost of basic necessities was USD 712.07, while the official family wage level is at USD 746.67. As of January 2021, INEC estimated 34.0 percent of workers had adequate employment. INEC defines adequate employment as earning at least the minimum basic salary working 40 hours per week.

Ecuador’s National Assembly approved in June 2020 limited labor reforms in an emergency law (Humanitarian Law) valid for two years to address the economic impacts of COVID-19. These reforms allowed for the reduction of working hours up to 50 percent and salary up to 45 percent; ability to modify a labor contract with mutual agreement between employer and employee; new temporary contracts for new investments that can be changed to permanent contracts at the end of the temporary period; and layoffs without severance payments only when the company closes entirely.

Ecuador’s National Assembly passed a labor reform law in March 2016 intended to promote youth employment, support unemployed workers, and introduce greater labor flexibility for companies suffering from reduced revenue. The law established a new unemployment insurance program, a subsidized youth employment scheme, temporary reductions in workers’ hours for financially strapped companies, and nine months of unpaid maternity or paternity leave.

The Law for Labor Justice and Recognition of Work in the Home, which included several changes related to labor and social security, took effect in April 2015. The law limits the yearly bonus paid to employees, which is equal to 15 percent of companies’ profits and is required by law, to 24 times the minimum wage. Any surplus profits are to be handed over to IESS. The law also mandates that employees’ thirteenth and fourteenth month bonuses be paid in installments throughout the year instead of in lump sums. Employees have the option to opt out of this change and continue to receive the payments in lump sums. The law eliminated fixed-term employee contracts and replaced them with indefinite contracts, which shortens the allowable trial period for employees to 90 days. The law also allows participation in social security pensions for non-paid work at home.

The Labor Code provides for a 40-hour work week, 15 calendar days of annual paid vacation, restrictions and sanctions for those who employ child labor, general protection of worker health and safety, minimum wages and bonuses, maternity leave, and employer-provided benefits. The 2008 Constitution bans child labor, requires hiring workers with disabilities, and prohibits strikes in most of the public sector. Unpaid internships are not permitted in Ecuador.

Most workers in the private sector and at SOEs have the constitutional right to form trade unions, and local law allows for unionization of any company with more than 30 employees. Private employers are required to engage in collective bargaining with recognized unions. The Labor Code provides for resolution of conflicts through a tripartite arbitration and conciliation board process. The Code also prohibits discrimination against union members and requires that employers provide space for union activities.

Workers fired for organizing a labor union are entitled to limited financial indemnification, but the law does not mandate reinstatement. The Public Service Law enacted in October 2010 prohibits public sector workers in strategic sectors from joining unions, exercising collective bargaining rights, or paralyzing public services in general. The Constitution lists health; environmental sanitation; education; justice; fire brigade; social security; electrical energy; drinking water and sewerage; hydrocarbon production; processing, transport, and distribution of fuel; public transport; and post and telecommunications as strategic sectors. Public workers who are not under the Public Service Law may join a union and bargain collectively since they are governed by the provisions under the Labor Code.

India

Indonesia

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Companies have reported that the labor market faces a number of structural barriers, including skills shortages and lagging productivity, restrictions on the use of contract workers, and complicated labor laws.  Recent significant increases in the minimum wage for many provinces have made unskilled and semi-skilled labor more costly.  In the bellwether Jakarta area, the minimum wage was raised from IDR 3.94 million (USD 260) per month in 2019 to IDR 4.26 million (USD 296) per month in 2020.  Unions staged largely peaceful protests across Indonesia in 2019 demanding the government increase the minimum wage, decrease the price for basic needs, and stop companies from outsourcing and employing foreign workers.

The 2020 Omnibus Law on Job Creation introduced labor reforms, intended to attract investors, boost economic growth and create jobs.  The Law aims to make the labor market more flexible to encourage job creation and more formal sector employment, as over half of Indonesia’s workers are in the informal sector.  Restrictions on the types of work that can be outsourced were lifted and a new working hours arrangement was established to accommodate jobs in the digital economy era.  The Law abolished sectoral minimum wages and reformulated the calculation of minimum wage at the provincial and regency/city level based on economic growth or inflation variables.  A new unemployment benefit is now officially part of the public safety net for workers, and severance pay requirements were reduced.  The business community’s initial reactions to the law were cautiously optimistic, while labor unions, student groups, and religious organizations staged strikes and protests against the law’s labor reforms.  Labor unions cite the loss of limits on temporary employment contracts and expansion of outsourcing flexibility as concerns.

Until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment had remained steady at 4.38 percent.  As of August 2020, Statistics Indonesia recorded that the unemployment rate jumped to 7.07 percent, or 9.77 million people, while the number of workers who were furloughed due to COVID-19 was much higher.

Employers note that the skills provided by the education system is lower than that of neighboring countries, and successive Labor Ministers have listed improved vocational training as a top priority.  Labor contracts are relatively straightforward to negotiate but are subject to renegotiation, despite the existence of written agreements.  Local courts often side with citizens in labor disputes, contracts notwithstanding.  On the other hand, some foreign investors view Indonesia’s labor regulatory framework, respect for freedom of association, and the right to unionize as an advantage to investing in the country.  Expert local human resources advice is essential for U.S. companies doing business in Indonesia, even those only opening representative offices.

Labor unions are independent of the government; about 7.6 percent of the workforce is unionized.  The law, with some restrictions, protects the rights of workers to join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively.  Indonesia has ratified all eight of the core ILO conventions underpinning internationally accepted labor norms.  The Ministry of Manpower maintains an inspectorate to monitor labor norms, but enforcement is stronger in the formal sector.  A revised Social Security Law, which took effect in 2014, requires all formal sector workers to participate.  Subject to a wage ceiling, employers must contribute an amount equal to 4 percent of workers’ salaries to this plan.  In 2015, Indonesia established the Social Security Organizing Body of Employment (BPJS-Employment), a national agency to support workers in the event of work accident, death, retirement, or old age.

Additional information on child labor, trafficking in persons, and human rights in Indonesia can be found online through the following references:

Child Labor Report: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/indonesia .

Trafficking in Persons Report: https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-trafficking-in-persons-report/indonesia/

Human Rights Report: https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/

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