Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right for all workers, including foreigners, public-sector officials, domestic workers, and agricultural workers, to form and join independent unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. The law also provides for the right to bargain collectively and conduct legal strikes, and the government protected these rights. Strikes must be linked to industrial relations, however, and the government may curtail the right of federal public servants to strike for reasons of national security or to safeguard foreign policy interests. Laws prohibit public servants in some cantons and many municipalities from striking. No specific laws prohibit antiunion discrimination or employer interference in trade union activities. The law does not require employers to reinstate an employee whom employers unjustly dismissed for union activity.
No law defines minimum or maximum penalties for violations of the freedoms of association or collective bargaining. Penalties took the form of fines, which were sufficient to deter violations. According to union representatives, the length of administrative and judicial procedures varied from case to case. Collective bargaining agreements committed the social partners to maintain labor peace, thereby limiting the right to strike for the duration of an agreement, which generally lasted several years.
The government respected the freedoms of association and collective bargaining, but employers at times dismissed trade unionists and used the legal system to limit legitimate trade union activities. Trade unions continued to report discriminatory behavior against their members.
The law prohibits all forms of forced and compulsory labor. Penalties for forced labor violations were up to 20 years’ imprisonment and were sufficient to deter violations. Various NGOs commented that fines for labor trafficking were often very low because authorities treated indications of forced labor as relatively minor labor violations. The government conducted several training programs for relevant authorities on labor trafficking aimed at raising awareness and reducing such exploitation. In 2018 the Federal Police organized a day-long labor-trafficking seminar attended by 100 prosecutors, labor inspectors, and cantonal police officers, while the government and International Labor Organization (ILO) held a forced-labor workshop for businesses to improve their identification and risk awareness of labor trafficking in global supply chains. In 2017 the Federal Police published an updated national action plan on countering human trafficking for the period 2017-20 that included increased measures for combating forced labor and labor exploitation, such as an improved checklist to identify potential labor-trafficking victims.
According to antitrafficking NGOs who provided services to victims, incidents of forced labor occurred, primarily in the domestic-service, catering, agriculture, tourism, hospitality, construction, and nursing industries. Forced begging, stealing, and financial scams occurred in several cantons.
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 minimum age for full-time employment is 15 years. Children who are 13 or 14 years of age may engage in light work for no more than nine hours per week during the school year and 15 hours at other times. Children younger than 13 may, under special circumstances, work at sports or cultural events with the approval of cantonal authorities. Employment of youths between the ages of 15 and 18 is also restricted. Children who have not completed compulsory education may not work on Sundays, while all children younger than the age of 18 are prohibited from working under hazardous conditions or at night. According to the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, the penal code prohibits the publication of pornography involving children, but the relevant provisions only cover persons who are younger than 16 years of age.
The government effectively enforced laws and policies to protect children from exploitation in the workplace, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education, and Research monitored the implementation of child labor laws and policies, and cantonal labor inspectors effectively inspected companies to determine whether there were violations of child labor laws. Cantonal inspectors strictly enforced these provisions.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The equality law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment on the basis of sex (including pregnancy). No labor law explicitly prohibits discrimination with respect to employment on the grounds of sex (including pregnancy), race, color, religion, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, language, political opinion, HIV/AIDS status, age, national origin, or refugee or stateless status. In court cases on employment discrimination based on sex, the equality law prevails.
Violations of the law may result in the award of compensation to a prospective or dismissed employee equal to a maximum of three months’ salary in the public sector and six months’ salary in private industry. The government did not effectively enforce this provision. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The ILO observed that the country lacked easily accessible mechanisms for workers to seek remedy or compensation for discrimination in employment and vocational training.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to national, racial, and ethnic minorities as well as based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, HIV/AIDS status, and age. For example, an employer dismissed an HIV-positive person after the employee informed his supervisor of his HIV-positive status.
Discrimination against women in the workplace is illegal, but a disproportionate share of women held jobs with lower levels of responsibility. Employers promoted women less frequently than they did men, and women were less likely to own or manage businesses. According to TravailSuisse, one of the country’s largest trade unions representing more than 150,000 workers, women were severely underrepresented in top-level management positions, particularly in private industry.
On June 19, parliament passed legislation calling for women to occupy at least 30 percent of corporate board positions and 20 percent of corporate management positions in enterprises with a minimum of 250 employees. The nonbinding policy requires businesses that fail to reach the targets to submit a written justification to the government.
The law entitles women and men to equal pay for equal work, but this was not enforced effectively according to TravailSuisse. Based on research by the Federal Statistics Office, there was an 18 percent gender wage gap across both the public and private sectors in 2016, the last year for which data was available. In 2016 the median monthly income for women in the public sector was 7,468 Swiss francs/U.S. dollars, while men earned 8,966 Swiss francs/U.S. dollars. The median monthly income for women in the private sector was 6,266 Swiss francs/U.S. dollars while men earned 7,793 Swiss francs/U.S. dollars. On June 14, several hundred thousand people protested against gender inequality and the gender pay gap in one of the country’s largest-ever demonstrations.
In December 2018 parliament passed a law giving companies with more than 100 employees until 2021 to submit an independent report examining potential wage gaps between men and women. The law requires companies to repeat the assessment every four years until no evidence of an unjustified wage difference is found.
The Federal Office for Gender Equality’s annual budget of approximately four million Swiss francs/U.S. dollars financed projects that promoted equal pay and equal career opportunities. As of July the office had approved 14 projects totaling 1.4 million Swiss francs/U.S. dollars. In 2018 the office financed projects worth approximately 4.4 million Swiss francs/U.S. dollars. The projects were primarily geared towards assisting businesses and counseling offices in eliminating sex-based discrimination.
According to Inclusion Handicap, problems remained in integrating individuals with disabilities, especially those with mental and cognitive handicaps, into the labor market. The NGO noted discrimination against disabled persons was particularly problematic in the private sector. Procap, one of the country’s largest organizations for persons with disabilities, stated that many persons with disabilities lacked adequate support from social insurance after taking a job, making sustained employment difficult (also see section 6, Persons with Disabilities).
The NGOs Pink Cross and Transgender Network noted LGBTI persons experienced workplace discrimination but did not provide specific examples.
According to a July 2018 study by the Bern University of Applied Sciences, only 14 percent of unemployed persons older than age 50 found a stable job after losing their previous employment, with many requiring social assistance after their unemployment benefits expired. The Romani association Romano Dialogue reported Roma were subjected to discrimination in the labor market and that many Roma concealed their identity to prevent professional backlash.
There were reports of labor discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. In 2018 the Swiss AIDS Federation registered 122 cases of discrimination against individuals with HIV, the highest number of discrimination cases ever recorded. Approximately 15 of the complaints concerned employment discrimination or other discrimination in the workplace. Examples of workplace discrimination included refusals to renew job contracts and dismissals because of a person’s HIV-positive status.
According to several organizations, including the International Organization for Migration and the Advocacy and Support Organization for Migrant Women and Victims of Trafficking, migrant workers in low-wage jobs were more likely than other workers to face exploitative labor practices and poor working conditions. This was especially true in the construction, hospitality, tourism, domestic-work, health-care, and agricultural sectors.
There was no national minimum wage. Work contracts covering approximately 40 percent of citizen wage earners included minimum wage provisions, although average wages for workers and employees covered by these contracts, particularly in the clothing, hospitality, and retail industries, remained relatively low. A majority of voluntary collective bargaining agreements, reached on a sector-by-sector basis, contained minimum compensation clauses. Authorities effectively enforced these contracts, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Minimum wage agreements exceeded the poverty income level for a single person but did not exceed the poverty income level for a family with two adults and two children.
The law sets a maximum 45-hour workweek for blue- and white-collar workers in industry, services, and retail trades, and a 50-hour workweek for all other workers. The rules exclude certain professions, such as taxi drivers and medical doctors.
To protect worker health and safety, the law contains extensive provisions that are current and appropriate for the main industries. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
The Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education, and Research and cantonal labor inspectorates effectively enforced laws relating to hours of work and occupational safety and health across all sectors including the informal economy. In 2018 the cantons inspected 12,376 businesses. The ministry also oversees collective bargaining agreements. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance.
The courts determined fines according to the personal and economic situation of the perpetrator at the time of sentencing.
Migrant workers in low-wage jobs were more likely to experience exploitative labor practices. During the year several local NGOs and international organizations, including the International Organization for Migration, expressed concern that authorities lacked the necessary resources and expertise to adequately address labor exploitation prevalent in the construction, hospitality, health-care, and domestic-labor sectors.
Immigrants may work and have the same rights as other workers. There are no special provisions or requirements for noncitizen workers apart from having legal immigration status and a valid work permit. The government did not allow individuals without legal status or work permits to work. Individuals who obtained legal status could request a work permit. Asylum seekers usually were not allowed to work during the first three to six months after they had applied for asylum but in exceptional cases could work as self-employed.
In 2017 the Federal Office for Health facilitated the establishment of a fund for assisting asbestos victims who had been diagnosed with cancer caused by workplace conditions dating to 2006. The fund was financed by voluntary industry contributions, including starting capital of six million Swiss francs/U.S. dollars and financial pledges of 24 million Swiss francs/U.S. dollars.
Section 7. Worker Rights
While the law provides for the right to form and join unions, conduct legal labor strikes, and bargain collectively, there were excessive restrictions on these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but also allows employers to fire workers at will.
The law requires all unions to belong to the regime-affiliated General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU). The law prohibits strikes involving more than 20 workers in certain sectors, including transportation and telecommunications, or strike actions resembling public demonstrations. Restrictions on freedom of association also included fines and prison sentences for illegal strikes.
The law requires that government representatives be part of the bargaining process in the public sector, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor could object to, and refuse to register, any agreements concluded. The law and relevant labor protections do not apply to workers covered under civil service provisions, under which employees neither have nor are considered to need collective bargaining rights. The law does not apply to foreign domestic servants, agricultural workers, NGO employees, or informal-sector workers. There are no legal protections for self-employed workers, although they constituted a significant proportion of the total workforce. Foreign workers may join the syndicate representing their profession but may not run for elected positions, with the exception of Palestinians, who may serve as elected officials in unions.
The regime did not enforce applicable laws effectively or make any serious attempt to do so during the year. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.
The Baath Party dominated the GFTU, and Baath Party doctrine stipulates that its quasi-official constituent unions protect worker rights. The GFTU president was a senior member of the Baath Party, and he and his deputy could attend cabinet meetings on economic affairs. In previous years the GFTU controlled most aspects of union activity, including which sectors or industries could have unions. It also had the power to disband union governing bodies. Union elections were generally free of direct GFTU interference, but successful campaigns usually required membership in the Baath Party. Because of the GFTU’s close ties to the regime, the right to bargain collectively did not exist in practical terms. Although the law provides for collective bargaining in the private sector, past regime repression dissuaded most workers from exercising this right.
There was little information available on employer practices with regard to antiunion discrimination. Unrest and economic decline during the year caused many workers to lose their private-sector jobs, giving employers the stronger hand in disputes.
The law does not prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and such practices existed. The penal code does not define forced labor. The code states, “those sentenced to forced labor will be strictly required to do work with difficulty on par with their sex, age, and may be inside or outside of the prison.” The penal code allows for forced labor as a mandatory or optional sentence for numerous crimes, such as treason. Authorities may sentence convicted prisoners to hard labor, although according to the International Labor Organization, authorities seldom enforced such a sentence. There was little information available on regime efforts to enforce relevant laws during the year or on the effectiveness of penalties to deter violations.
Terrorist groups, including ISIS and the HTS, reportedly forced, coerced, or fraudulently recruited some foreigners, including migrants from Central Asia, children, and Western women to join them. Thousands of Yezidi women and girl captives of ISIS remained missing and were presumed to have served as sex slaves and in domestic servitude (see section 1.g.).
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law provides for the protection of children from exploitation in the workplace and prohibits the worst forms of child labor. There was little publicly available information on enforcement of the child labor law. The regime generally did not make significant efforts to enforce laws that prevent or eliminate child labor. Independent information and audits regarding regime enforcement were not available. The minimum age for most types of nonagricultural labor is 15 or the completion of elementary schooling, whichever occurs first, and the minimum age for employment in industries with heavy work is 17. Parental permission is required for children younger than 16 to work. Children younger than 18 may work no more than six hours a day and may not work overtime or during night shifts, weekends, or on official holidays. The law specifies that authorities should apply “appropriate penalties” to violators. Restrictions on child labor do not apply to those who work in family businesses and do not receive a salary.
Child labor occurred in the country in both informal sectors, such as begging, domestic work, and agriculture, as well as in positions related to the conflict, such as lookouts, spies, and informants. Conflict-related work subjected children to significant dangers of retaliation and violence.
Various forces, particularly terrorist groups and regime-aligned groups, continued to recruit and use child soldiers (see section 1.g.).
Organized begging rings continued to subject children displaced within the country to forced labor.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Labor and nationality laws discriminate against women. While the constitution provides the “right of every citizen to earn his wage according to the nature and yield of the work,” the law does not explicitly stipulate equal pay for equal work. The Commission for Family Affairs, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor shared responsibility for attempting to accord equal legal rights to women. Governmental involvement in civil rights claims, including cases against sexual discrimination, was stagnant, and most claims went unanswered. Women participated in most professions, including the armed forces, although UNFPA reported that violence and lawlessness in many regions reduced women’s access to the public sphere. Various sources observed that women constituted a minority of lawyers, university professors, and other professions.
The constitution does not address discrimination based on sexual orientation, age, or HIV-positive status. Since the law criminalizes homosexuality, many persons faced discrimination due to their sexual orientation.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, and other state services, but the regime did not enforce these provisions effectively. Discrimination occurred in hiring and access to worksites. The law seeks to integrate persons with disabilities into the workforce, reserving 4 percent of government jobs and 2 percent of private-sector jobs for them. Private-sector businesses are eligible for tax exemptions after hiring persons with disabilities.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to certain minority groups (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).
The law divides the public-sector monthly minimum wage into five levels based on job type or level of education, almost all of which fell below the World Bank’s poverty indicator. Benefits included compensation for meals, uniforms, and transportation. Most public-sector employees relied on bribery to supplement their income. Private-sector companies usually paid much higher wages, with lower-end wage rates semiofficially set by the regime and employer organizations. Many workers in the public and private sectors took additional manual jobs or relied on their extended families to support them.
The public-sector workweek was 35 hours, and the standard private-sector workweek was 40 hours, excluding meals and rest breaks. Hours of work could increase or decrease based on the industry and associated health hazards. The law provides for at least one meal or rest break totaling no less than one hour per day. Employers must schedule hours of work and rest such that workers do not work more than five consecutive hours or 10 hours per day in total. Employers must provide premium pay for overtime work.
The regime set occupational safety and health standards. The law includes provisions mandating that employers take appropriate precautions to protect workers from hazards inherent to the nature of work. The law does not protect workers who chose to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety from losing their employment.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage and other regulations pertaining to acceptable conditions of work. The Ministries of Health and of Social Affairs and Labor designated officials to inspect worksites for compliance with health and safety standards. Workers could lodge complaints about health and safety conditions with special committees established to adjudicate such cases. Wage and hour regulations as well as occupational health and safety rules do not apply to migrant workers, rendering them more vulnerable to abuse.
There was little information on regime enforcement of labor law or working conditions during the year. There were no health and safety inspections reported, and even previous routine inspections of tourist facilities, such as hotels and major restaurants, no longer occurred. The enforcement of labor law was lax in both rural and urban areas, since many inspector positions were vacant due to the conflict and their number was insufficient to cover more than 10,000 workplaces. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.
Before the conflict began, 13 percent of women participated in the formal labor force, compared with 73 percent of men. During the year the unemployment rate for both men and women remained above 50 percent, with millions unable to participate in the workforce due to continued violence and insecurity. During the year UNFPA reported that local female employment participation increased in areas such as Damascus, Raqqa, and Daraa, as men were detained or killed.
Foreign workers, especially domestic workers, remained vulnerable to exploitative conditions. For example, the law does not legally entitle foreign female domestic workers to the same wages as Syrian domestic workers. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor oversees employment agencies responsible for providing safe working conditions for migrant domestic workers, but the scope of oversight was unknown. The continued unrest resulted in the large-scale voluntary departure of foreign workers as demand for services significantly declined, but violence and lawlessness impeded some foreign workers from leaving the country.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct strikes, and bargain collectively. The law allows foreign workers to form and join unions and to serve as union officers. The law establishes three types of unions: enterprise unions, industrial unions, and professional unions. Enterprise unions are responsible for negotiating the immediate labor rights and entitlements of enterprise-level “collective agreements.” A minimum of 30 members is required to form an enterprise union; there may only be one union per enterprise. Employees in companies with fewer than 30 workers may only join a professional union or an industrial union to exercise their rights. This applied to approximately 78 percent of employees of small and medium sized enterprises. Industrial unions help to link workers in the same industry. Professional unions are geographically constrained within municipal boundaries.
The law prohibits discrimination, dismissal, or other unfair treatment of workers for union-related activities and requires reinstatement of workers fired for trade union activity. Employees hired through dispatching agencies (i.e., temporary workers) do not have the right to organize and bargain collectively in the enterprises where they work. In May the Labor Standards Act was modified to provide job security measures to, and identify the liability of enterprises and dispatching agencies for, temporary workers, particularly the responsibility for occupational injury and the presumption of indefinite and nontransferrable contract.
The right to strike remained highly regulated. Teachers, civil servants, and defense industry employees do not have the right to strike. Workers in industries such as utilities, hospital services, and telecommunication service providers are allowed to strike only if they maintain basic services during the strike. Authorities may prohibit, limit, or break up a strike during a disaster. For all workers, the law divides labor disputes into “rights disputes” and “adjustment disputes.” Workers are allowed to strike only in adjustment disputes, which include issues such as compensation and working schedules. The law forbids strikes in rights disputes related to violations of collective agreements and employment contracts.
The law requires mediation of labor disputes when authorities deem them sufficiently serious or involving unfair practices. Most labor disputes involved wage and severance issues. Local labor authorities were the usual venue to settle disputes by either mediation or arbitration, which is referred to as the alternative dispute resolution. Mediation, which accounted for 95 percent of all cases in 2018, provided a civil resolution and cost-effective way to reach a settlement, usually within 20 days. Arbitration, with legally binding obligations, generally took between 45 and 79 working days to finalize, which was often too lengthy for cases requiring urgent remedies. The law prohibits labor and management from conducting strikes or other acts of protest during conciliation or arbitration proceedings. Labor organizations said this prohibition impeded workers’ ability to exercise their right to strike.
The Ministry of Labor oversees implementation and enforcement of labor laws, in coordination with local labor affairs bureaus. Authorities effectively enforced laws providing for the freedom of association and collective bargaining. A labor ministry arbitration committee reviewed cases of enterprises using discriminatory or improper action to repress union leaders and their activities, and authorities subjected violators to fines or restoration of employee’s duties. Such fines, however, generally were not sufficient to deter violations, especially for financial sectors. Among 12 arbitrated cases with China Airlines as of October, six were appealed by the enterprise; two of them, with a restoration order, have yet to be complied with.
Large enterprises frequently made it more difficult for employees to organize an enterprise union by using such methods as blacklisting the union organizers from promotion or relocating them into other work divisions. These methods were particularly common in the technology sector. For example, there was only one enterprise union in the entire Hsinchu Science Park. With the exception of the banking industry, industrial unions were also underdeveloped.
Authorities encouraged collective bargaining agreements to provide better terms and conditions than the law stipulates. For example, the High-Speed Rail Trade Union successfully won back overtime payments through collective bargaining. The implementation of collective bargaining is still inconsistent. For example, after inspections, the Financial Supervisory Commission removed the chairpersons of certain financial holdings companies from their firms’ independent salary review committees.
Professional unions have grown more influential in collective bargaining. For example, the Taoyuan pilots’ professional union began a strike in February to win better safety provisions for pilots on “red-eye” routes. In August the Taoyuan flight attendants’ professional union went on strike on behalf of EVA Air flight attendants, which became Taiwan’s longest strike on record, lasting 17 days before reaching an agreement.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law prescribes penalties for forced labor, and the government effectively enforced the law, but courts delivered light sentences or fines in most forced labor convictions. Such penalties were inadequate to serve as an effective deterrent. Authorities continued public-awareness campaigns, including disseminating worker-education pamphlets, operating foreign-worker hotlines, and offering Ministry of Education programs on labor trafficking as part of the broader human rights curriculum. According to the National Immigration Agency, 13 forced labor cases were opened, and a further five individuals were convicted in the first seven months of the year.
Labor laws do not cover domestic household workers, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation. Forced labor occurred primarily in the domestic service, fishing, farming, manufacturing, and construction sectors. Foreign workers were most susceptible to forced labor, especially when serving as crew members on Taiwan-flagged fishing vessels. Some labor brokers charged foreign workers exorbitant recruitment fees and used debts incurred from these fees in the source country as tools of coercion to subject the workers to debt bondage (see section 7.e.). Authorities ordered six brokers convicted of illegal activities in 2018 to close; however, there was no legal prohibition against reopening a business through a proxy that registers as a new company. In November 2018 the Employment Services Act was modified to require brokers to report to law enforcement authorities within 24 hours if they learn of an employer mistreating a foreign worker. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations, although authorities sought to enforce the law.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits work by children younger than 15 years without approval from appropriate authorities after an evaluation of the nature of the work to be performed, the working environment, and other factors. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from doing heavy or hazardous work. Working hours for children are limited to eight hours per day, and children may not work overtime or on night shifts.
Authorities effectively enforced minimum age laws. Employers who violate minimum age laws face a prison sentence, fines, or both, which was sufficient to deter violations.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. The law prohibits potential employers from requesting medical reports from job candidates to prove they do not have HIV or other communicable diseases. The law forbids termination of employment because of pregnancy or marriage.
Workers who encounter discrimination can file complaints with two independent committees composed of scholars, experts, and officials in city and county departments of labor affairs. Local labor affairs bureaus are empowered to intervene and investigate discrimination complaints. Authorities enforced decisions made by those committees. Employers can appeal rulings to the Ministry of Labor and the Administrative Court.
Latest available statistics showed that among the 201 sex discrimination cases reported in 2017, the majority involved forced resignations due to pregnancy. 141 sexual harassment cases and 118 unfair treatment or work equality cases were reported the same year. Scholars said these numbers significantly understated the problem due to workers’ fear of retaliation from employers and difficulties in finding new employment if the worker has a history of making complaints.
Persons with “minor” disabilities who have not applied for proof of disability from the government are nonetheless protected against employment discrimination. The Ministry of Labor imposes fines of between NT$300,000 and NT$1.5 million ($9,770 and $48,900) on employers who discriminate against this category of disabled workers or job seekers.
The law requires 3 percent of the workforce in the public sector and 1 percent of the workforce in the private sector to be persons with disabilities. In 2018, 4.3 percent of the public sector workforce were persons with disabilities; the private sector continued to fall short of the regulated target. The unemployment rate for persons with disabilities was three times higher than that for persons without disabilities.
The minimum wage is above the poverty line. There is no minimum wage for workers in categories not covered by the law, such as management employees, medical doctors, healthcare workers, gardeners, bodyguards, self-employed lawyers, civil servants, contractors for local authorities, and domestic household workers.
The law stipulates an eight-hour workday and 40-hour work week and allows up to 54 hours per month overtime. The mandatory rest interval for shift work is eight hours in certain sectors, provoking health and safety concerns. The permissible number of consecutive working days is 12 in two weeks. Employees in the “authorized special categories” approved by the Ministry of Labor are exempt from regular working hours stipulated in the law. These categories include security guards, flight attendants, insurance salespersons, real estate agents, nursery school teachers, ambulance drivers, hospital workers, media journalists, and public transport drivers.
Religious leaders continued to raise concerns the law did not guarantee a day off for domestic workers and caregivers, which limited their ability to attend religious services. This problem was particularly salient among the 235,000 foreign caregivers and household workers, predominantly from Indonesia and the Philippines, many of whom are Muslim or Christian and want to, or believe they must, attend religious services on a certain day of the week.
The law sets occupational safety and health standards that are appropriate for the main industries in the country. Employers are not subject to criminal charges if an employee is involved in a fatal accident due to unsafe working conditions. The freight and passenger transportation industries saw higher than average accident rates among drivers working overtime. Their employers often sought to transfer legal liability from the company to the driver.
Labor inspections conducted by local governments and specified agencies are regulated by the labor inspection law; but due to relatively weak enforcement, labor inspections often failed to serve as an effective deterrent against labor law violations and unsafe working conditions. Authorities can fine employers and withdraw their hiring privileges for violations of the law, and the law mandates publicizing the names of offending companies. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to deter violations.
The Ministry of Labor operated a Foreign Worker Direct Hire Service Center and an online platform to allow employers to hire foreign workers without using a broker. The Taiwan International Workers’ Association maintained, however, that red tape in the system continued to enable brokers to extract profits from foreign workers and prevented the Service Center from achieving widespread implementation. Regulations require inspection and oversight of foreign labor brokerage companies.
The Ministry of Labor may also permit foreign workers to transfer to new employers in cases of exploitation or abuse. Authorities also introduced several measures to reduce such exploitation. For example, authorities eliminated the requirement that foreign workers leave Taiwan every three years between re-employment contracts.
Taiwan authorities maintained a 24-hour toll-free “1955” hotline service in five languages (Mandarin, English, Indonesian, Thai, and Vietnamese) available for all foreign workers to obtain free legal advice, request urgent relocation and protection, report abuse by employers, file complaints about delayed salary payments, and make general inquiries. All cases reported are registered in the system for law enforcement to track and intervene if necessary. Among the 187,338 calls, the hotline helped 5,162 foreign workers to reclaim a total of NT$139 million ($4.53 million) in salary payments in 2018. Foreign workers’ associations maintained that in spite of the existence of the hotline and the authorities’ record of effective response, foreign workers often were reluctant to report employer abuses for fear the employer would terminate the contract and deport them, leaving them unable to reimburse debt accrued during the recruitment process.
The approximately 703,000 foreign workers, primarily from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, were vulnerable to exploitation. Foreign workers generally incurred significant debt burdens during the recruitment process due to excessive brokerage fees, guarantee deposits, and higher charges for flights and accommodations. Brokerage agencies, for example, often required their clients to take out loans for “training” and other fees at local branches of Taiwan banks in their home countries at high interest rates. Abuse was common in domestic service; there were several reports of employers raping foreign domestic helpers. In some instances, the victims were unable to leave until they paid off debts to employment brokers. Locally operated service centers, which briefed foreign workers on arrival, maintained a hotline for complaints and assistance and funded and operated shelters to protect abused workers. NGOs reported that the monthly take-home pay of some domestic workers was as low as 6.7 percent of the official poverty level.
Mistreatment and poor working conditions for foreign fishermen remained common. Foreign fishermen recruited offshore were not entitled to the same labor rights, wages, insurance, and pensions as those recruited locally. For example, the Control Yuan in 2018 issued a “correction verdict” to the Fisheries Agency and the Kaohsiung City Marine Bureau for their mismanagement and inaction when it became aware that the fishing vessel Fuh Sheng 11 subjected its Indonesian crewmembers to inhuman treatment.
Regulations only require a minimum monthly wage of $450 for foreign fishermen, significantly below the minimum wage on the island. Moreover, NGOs reported foreign fishing crews on Taiwan-flagged long-haul vessels generally received wages below $450 per month because of dubious deductions for administrative fees and deposits. Several NGOs, including the Taiwan International Workers Association, advocated abolishing the separate hiring system for foreign fishermen. In response the Fisheries Agency dispatched officers to the United States, Samoa, Mauritius, Fiji, Palau, South Africa (Cape Town), and Marshall Islands to monitor labor conditions on Taiwan-flagged long-haul fishing vessels when they dock at these ports. These officers used a multilingual questionnaire to interview foreign fishermen and examine labor conditions on board.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right to form and join independent unions but requires registration for all NGOs, including trade unions. The law also provides that union activities, such as collective bargaining, be free from interference except “in cases specified by law,” but the law does not define such cases. Workers have the right to strike, but the law requires that meetings and other mass actions have prior official authorization, limiting trade unions’ ability to organize meetings or demonstrations. The law provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively, but it does not specifically prohibit antiunion discrimination. Penalties are insufficient to deter violations, and the government did not effectively enforce the law.
Workers joined unions, but the government used informal means to exercise considerable influence over organized labor, including influencing the selection of labor union leaders. The government-controlled umbrella Federation of Trade Unions of Tajikistan did not effectively represent worker interests. There were reports the government compelled some citizens to join state-endorsed trade unions and impeded formation of independent unions. According to International Labor Organization figures, 1.3 million persons belonged to unions. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination during the year.
Anecdotal reports from multiple in-country sources stated that citizens were reluctant to strike due to fear of government retaliation. Police reportedly arrested 15 agricultural workers, charging them with organizing an illegal event, after an April 29 protest outside the Dushanbe headquarters of Faroz, a company belonging to President Rahmon’s family. Dozens of workers had gathered around the gates of the company to object to proposed lower wages for harvesting the medicinal plant ferula. Police did not comment on the arrests.
On May 9, the Shahrituz District Court imprisoned Karomatullo Shekhov, a local trader, for six days of “administrative arrest” for protesting against tax inspectors. An acquaintance of Shekhov told media that the court found him guilty of “disturbing public order.” On May 7, a group of traders, including Shekhov, protested against an additional tax imposed on them by local tax authorities. The protesters filmed their conversation with tax officers and posted the video on social media. Following the protest, three other unnamed protesters were accused of disturbing public order and disobedience to tax inspectors.
Collective bargaining contracts covered 90 percent of workers in the formal sector.
The government fully controlled trade unions. There were no reports of threats or violence by government entities toward trade unions; however, unions made only limited demands regarding workers’ rights repeatedly because they feared the government reaction. Most workers’ grievances were resolved with union mediation between employee and employer.
Labor NGOs not designated as labor organizations played a minimal role in worker rights, as they were restricted from operating fully and freely.
The January criminal code provisions are consistent with international law regarding the prohibition of all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including that of children, except in cases defined in law. The government did not effectively enforce the law to prohibit compulsory labor, and resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate to address concerns over forced labor. While penalties to discourage the practice of forced labor were stringent and commensurate with other serious crimes, such as rape, the government investigated, prosecuted, and convicted fewer individuals suspected of trafficking persons for forced labor than in prior years. Two cases involving nine individuals were dismissed by presidential amnesty. The Prosecutor General’s Office continued to investigate three Dushanbe-based employment agencies that sent several citizens to Saudi Arabia where they were forced to work in homes of Saudi citizens.
The government continued to implement its national referral mechanism that has formal written procedures for identification, referral, and assistance to victims of trafficking. Law enforcement reported screening for victims when making arrests for prostitution. NGOs reported that in many cases when victims were identified by authorities, they were detained but not put in jail.
See also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law outlaws all of the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for children to work is 16 years, although children may work at age 15 with permission from the local trade union. By law children younger than age 18 may work no more than six hours a day and 36 hours per week. Children as young as age seven may participate in household labor and agricultural work, which is separately classified as family assistance. Many children younger than age 10 worked in bazaars or sold goods on the street. The highest incidences of child labor were in the domestic and agricultural sectors.
Enforcement of child labor laws is the responsibility of the Prosecutor General’s Office, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Social Welfare, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and appropriate local and regional governmental offices. Unions also are responsible for reporting any violations in the employment of minors. Citizens can bring unresolved cases involving child labor before the prosecutor general for investigation. There were few reports of violations because most children worked under the family assistance exception. There were reports that military recruitment authorities kidnapped children younger than age 18 from public places and subjected them to compulsory military service to fulfill local recruitment quotas.
The government enforced child labor laws and worked with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to prevent the use of forced child labor. IOM and local NGOs noted that penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Nevertheless, there were isolated reports some children were exploited in agriculture. The U.S. Department of Labor’s 2019 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor reported cotton harvest as a good produced by child labor. The overall instances of forced child labor in the cotton harvest decreased dramatically after 2013; the 2015 IOM annual assessment showed local or national government authorities responded to most cases. During the 2015 harvest, the government levied two fines against employers using child labor and collected a total of 1,800 somoni ($190) from violators.
The Interministerial Commission to Combat Trafficking in Persons disseminated a directive to local officials reiterating prohibitions and ordered the Labor Inspector’s Office to conduct a monitoring mission of the cotton-picking season. According to the IOM, however, no independent monitoring of the cotton harvest was conducted during the year.
Also see the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of race, sex, gender, disability, language, HIV-positive status, other communicable diseases, or social status. The law does not expressly prohibit worker discrimination on the basis of color, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, or age.
In June 2017 parliament approved amendments to the Law on Police, which bans persons with dual citizenship, foreign nationals, and stateless persons from serving in the police force. In March 2017 the Council of Majlisi Namoyandagon, the lower house of parliament, approved amendments to the Law on Public Service prohibiting dual citizenship for any persons in public service. In 2016 lawmakers approved amendments to the law banning individuals with dual citizenship from serving in the country’s security services and requiring knowledge of the Tajik (state) language.
Employers discriminated against individuals based on sexual orientation and HIV-positive status, and police generally did not enforce the laws. LGBTI persons and HIV-positive individuals opted not to file complaints due to fear of harassment from law enforcement personnel and the belief that police would not take action.
The law provides that women receive equal pay for equal work, but cultural barriers continued to restrict the professional opportunities available to women.
The government did not effectively enforce discrimination laws, and penalties were not adequate to deter violations.
World Bank data reveals that almost one-third of the country’s population lives below the poverty line of 18 somoni ($1.90) per person per day. The monthly minimum wage of 400 somoni ($42) is below the poverty line. The State Inspectorate for Supervision of Labor, Migration, and Employment under the Ministry of Labor, Migration, and Employment is responsible for the overall supervision of enforcing labor law in the country. The Ministry of Finance enforces financial aspects of the labor law, and the Agency of Financial Control of the presidential administration oversees other aspects of the law. There is no legal prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime. The law mandates overtime payment, with the first two hours paid at a time-and-a-half rate and the remainder at double the rate. Resources, inspections, and remediation to enforce the law were inadequate. The State Inspectorate conducts inspections once every two years. Penalties for violations are adequate to deter violations, but the regulation was not enforced, and the government did not pay its employees for overtime work. Overtime payment was inconsistent in all sectors of the labor force.
The State Inspectorate for Supervision of Labor, Migration, and Employment is also responsible for enforcing occupational health and safety standards. The government did not fully comply with these standards, partly because of corruption and the low salaries paid to inspectors. The law provides workers the right to remove themselves from hazardous working conditions without fear of loss of employment, but workers seldom exercised this right.
Farmers and agricultural workers, accounting for more than 60 percent of employment in the country, continued to work under difficult circumstances. There was no system to monitor or regulate working conditions in the agricultural and informal sectors. Wages in the agricultural sector were the lowest among all sectors, and many workers received payment in kind. The government’s failure to ensure and protect land tenure rights continued to limit its ability to protect agricultural workers’ rights.