Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the rights of workers to form or join unions of their choice, to engage in collective bargaining, and to conduct legal strikes. The labor code provides for protection against antiunion discrimination and for the reinstatement of workers. Although government enforcement generally was effective, cases can continue for years, with further delay for appeals. The Directorate General for Labor (DGT) has a conciliation mechanism to promote dialogue between workers and employers on conditions of work.
The labor code designates certain jobs essential and limits workers’ ability to strike in those industries. Services provided by telecommunications, justice, meteorology, health, firefighting, postal service, funeral services, water and sanitation services, transportation, ports and airports, private security, and the banking and credit sectors are considered indispensable. The law states that the government may force the end of a strike when there is an emergency or “to ensure the smooth operation of businesses or essential services of public interest.” The law and custom allow unions to carry out their activities without interference.
During the year the National Police threatened a six-day strike in midsummer regarding allegations of unfair penalties against officers who protested working conditions in late 2017. The National Police falls into a sector with limited rights to strike, but it prepared a defense of its decision to do so in advance, garnering support from several other unions. The government negotiated an agreement with the union before the strike began.
The government respected workers’ right of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining and effectively enforced applicable laws in the formal sector. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. Penalties were adequate to deter violations of freedom of association.
Labor unions complained the government sporadically restricted the right to strike for certain critical job categories. Other observers stated the government cooperated with the unions and did not discriminate against certain job categories. According to the local press, few companies adopted collective bargaining, but the International Labor Organization (ILO) worked with local unions and government bodies to provide guidance on conducting a dialogue between parties.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and the government effectively enforced applicable laws in the formal sector. According to the Inspectorate General of Labor (IGT) 2017 report, the IGT carried out 770 inspections in response to 920 requests for intervention and did not identify any forced labor violations. The labor code prohibits forced labor, and the penal code outlaws slavery, both of which prescribe penalties for conviction of six to 12 years’ imprisonment, which was usually sufficiently stringent to deter violations.
Nevertheless, there were reports such practices occurred during the year. Migrants from China, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Nigeria, and Guinea may receive low wages and work without contracts, creating vulnerabilities to forced labor in the construction sector. There were incidents of child labor in domestic service and in family agricultural efforts, with children often working long hours in dangerous conditions, and at times experiencing physical and sexual abuse, indicators of forced labor (see also section 7.c.).
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The 2016 National List of Dangerous Work for Children expanded, codified, and prohibited types of work in which children may not engage. The law defines the worst forms of child labor as work engaged in by children under age 15, dangerous work performed by children between ages 15 and 17, or both. The National Assembly ratified ILO Convention 138 in 2011, and the legal minimum age for work is 15. The labor code does not allow children ages 15 to 18 to work more than 38 hours a week or more than seven hours a day. The constitution provides that underage children may work only on small household tasks, in apprenticeship or training programs, or to help support the family. Children ages 16 to 18 are allowed to work overtime in an emergency but may not work more than two overtime hours a day, and these extra hours may not exceed 30 hours per year. The law permits children to perform agricultural work for the family provided that work does not compromise the child’s mental and physical development. Children under age 15 are banned absolutely from performing any street work.
Several laws prohibit child labor, and the penalties they impose were adequate, but enforcement was neither consistent nor effective. Barriers, many cultural, remained to the effective implementation of these laws. For example, not all citizens considered children working to help support their families, especially in small remote communities, as negative, even when the work by law was deemed dangerous. The government had minimal ability to monitor and enforce laws in the informal sector, estimated to represent 12 percent of the economy.
The ICCA, DGT, and IGT work on matters pertaining to child labor. The ICCA works on the promotion and defense of the rights of children and adolescents. The DGT creates labor market policy and drafts labor legislation that provides for promotion of social dialogue and reconciliation among social partners. The IGT has responsibility to monitor and enforce labor laws and enforces rules relating to labor relations. The agencies stated they had insufficient resources. During the year the government (through the three agencies) carried out training activities for local staff and awareness campaigns to combat child labor, particularly in its worst forms, and consulted with local businesses.
The first survey conducted by the National Statistics Institute on child labor in the country, conducted in 2012 and published in 2013, revealed that 7 percent of children were engaged in the worst forms of child labor. The worst forms of child labor were more common in rural areas (91 percent) than urban areas (84 percent). Child labor prevalence was also higher for boys (9 percent) than girls (5 percent).
Children engaged in street work, including water and food sales, car washing, and begging, and were vulnerable to trafficking. The risk to children depended largely on where they were located; there was considerably more child labor on some islands than others. The worst forms of child labor included street work, domestic service, agriculture, animal husbandry, trash picking, garbage and human waste transport, and at times passing drugs for adults.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion, ethnic origin, age, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social status. There have been no known challenges to the law.
Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation, however, occurred (see section 6). Women generally had lower economic status and less access to management positions in public- and private-sector organizations. Women experienced inequality in political and economic participation. For instance, being a homemaker is not officially recognized as employment, and national statistics report homemakers as inactive members of the labor force. In some sectors of the formal economy, women received lower salaries than men for equal work.
The ICIEG launched a campaign to recognize housework as work and register domestic workers–overwhelmingly women–with the National Institute for Social Protection (INPS). Many domestic workers resisted formalizing because they preferred payment in cash rather than the ability to eventually access deferred benefits.
According to the 2010 census conducted by the National Statistics Institute, more than eight in 10 immigrants were active in the local economy, with a rate of 91 percent among Africans. African immigrants worked mainly in retail, services, and construction. Immigrants generally had low education and professional qualifications and little work experience; consequently, their wages tended to be lower. Most of these immigrants did not have a legal contract with their employers, and thus they did not enjoy many legal protections and often worked in unacceptable conditions. The ECOWAS charter permits labor mobility for citizens of member states. The country was criticized by its neighbors for failing to implement its charter responsibilities fully by not protecting legal ECOWAS migrants.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The law stipulates a monthly minimum wage of 13,000 escudos ($140). The government defines the poverty income level as 105 escudos ($1.12) a day, making the minimum wage greater than the official estimate of the poverty income level. The law stipulates a maximum of eight hours of work per day and 44 hours per week. The law requires rest periods, the length of which depends on the work sector.
On May 1, a Senegalese man protested on Sal, claiming he and many other West African migrant workers were employed in the large resorts but did not receive regular days off. He protested alone in front of the offices of a major tourist operator.
The law sets minimum occupational and safety standards and gives workers the right to decline to work if working conditions pose serious risks to health or physical integrity. In specific high-risk sectors, such as fishing or construction, the government may and often does provide, in consultation with unions and employers, occupational safety and health rules. In general it is the employer’s responsibility to provide for a secure, healthy, and hygienic workplace. The employer must also develop a training program for workers. The CNDHC noted companies generally chose to follow these rules and that the government has insufficient resources through the IGT to enforce them.
The DGT and IGT are charged with implementing labor laws. Certain formal-sector benefits, such as social security accounts for informal workers, were enforced in the informal sector, although no penalties for violations that included fines or imprisonment were imposed during the year. The informal sector remained largely unregulated by official government actors. The government made efforts to reduce work accidents and illness at work by carrying out more inspections and awareness campaigns to promote a culture of prevention and safety at work. Six technicians worked for the DGT and 15 worked for the IGT, covering three islands (Santiago, Sao Vicente, and Sal). The IGT launched a hiring campaign to recruit five more IGT inspectors during the year. Both agencies agreed with trade unions these numbers were inadequate, and there remained a need for tighter enforcement of labor standards, especially on the more sparsely populated islands where monitoring was more difficult. Although companies tended to respect laws on working hours, many employees, such as domestic workers, health professionals, farmers, fishers, and commercial workers, commonly worked for longer periods of time than the law allows. Penalties for labor violations depend on the number of workers employed; the minimum fine is 10,000 escudos ($107) going up to 180,000 escudos ($1,935).
According to the IGT’s 2017 report, most irregularities detected during labor inspections related to nonsubscription to the INPS, nonsubscription to mandatory insurance for job injury, and some irregularities in complying with health and safety standards. Inspections revealed the most common work violations concerned the right to vacation time and the right to rest periods between work periods. The report indicated the IGT made 770 inspections, including unannounced inspections, and inspectors responded to 723 requests for intervention, conducting 414 inspection visits from January to September.
Although there were no official studies available, some sources speculated foreign migrant workers were more likely to be exploited than others. Between 17,000 and 22,000 immigrants, mostly from ECOWAS countries, were working in the country. Generally immigrants worked in civil construction, security services, hospitality, and tourism. It was common for companies not to honor migrant workers’ rights regarding contracts, especially concerning deductions for social security.
The most work-related accidents reported during the year were in the restaurant business and food services, steel industry, and the construction sectors. In September a worker with years of experience at the Frescomar fish processing plant fell into a freezing machine and sustained severe injuries to his leg. He was rushed to the hospital and received appropriate treatment. Both the IGT and the employer conducted inspections and investigations of the event.