Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides all workers, except members of the armed forces, the Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigeria Telecommunications, and public employees who are classified in the broad category of “essential services,” the right to form or belong to any trade union or other association, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively; some statutory limitations substantially restrict these rights. Trade unions must meet various registration requirements to be legally established. By law a trade union may only be registered if there is no other union already registered in that trade or profession and if it has a minimum of 50 members, a threshold most businesses could not meet. A three-month notice period, starting from the date of publication of an application for registration in the Nigeria Official Gazette, must elapse before a trade union may be registered. If the Ministry of Labor and Employment does not receive objections to registration during the three-month notice period, it must register the union within three months of the expiration of the notice period. If an objection is raised, however, the Ministry has an indefinite period to review and deliberate on the registration. The registrar may refuse registration because a proper objection has been raised or because a purpose of the trade union violates the Trade Union Act or other laws. Each federation must consist of 12 or more affiliated trade unions, and each trade union must be an exclusive member in a single federation.
The law generally does not provide for a union’s ability to conduct its activities without interference from the government. The law narrowly defines what union activities are legal. The minister of labor and employment has broad authority to cancel the registration of worker and employer organizations. The registrar of trade unions has broad powers to review union accounts at any time. In addition, the law requires government permission before a trade union may legally affiliate with an international organization.
The law stipulates that every collective agreement on wages be registered with the National Salaries, Income, and Wages Commission, which decides whether the agreement becomes binding. Workers and employers in export processing zones (EPZs) are subject to the provisions of labor law, the 1992 Nigeria Export Processing Zones Decree, and other laws. Workers in the EPZs may organize and engage in collective bargaining, but there are no explicit provisions providing them the right to organize their administration and activities without interference by the government. The law does not allow worker representatives free access to the EPZs to organize workers, and it prohibits workers from striking for 10 years following the commencement of operations by the employer within a zone. In addition the Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority, which the federal government created to manage the EPZ program, has exclusive authority to handle the resolution of disputes between employers and employees, thereby limiting the autonomy of the bargaining partners.
The law provides legal restrictions that limit the right to strike. The law requires a majority vote of all registered union members to call a strike. The law limits the right to strike to disputes regarding rights, including those arising from the negotiation, application, interpretation, or implementation of an employment contract or collective agreement, or those arising from a collective and fundamental breach of an employment contract or collective agreement, such as one related to wages and conditions of work. The law prohibits strikes in essential services, defined in an overly broad manner, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO). These include the Central Bank of Nigeria; the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company, Ltd.; any corporate body licensed to carry out banking under the Banking Act; postal service; sound broadcasting; telecommunications; maintenance of ports, harbors, docks, or airports; transportation of persons, goods, or livestock by road, rail, sea, or river; road cleaning; and refuse collection. Strike actions, including many in nonessential services, may be subject to a compulsory arbitration procedure leading to a final award, which is binding on the parties concerned.
Strikes based on disputed national economic policy are prohibited. Penalties for conviction of participating in an illegal strike include fines and imprisonment for up to six months.
Workers under collective bargaining agreements may not participate in strikes unless their unions comply with legal requirements, including provisions for mandatory mediation and referral of disputes to the government. Workers may submit labor grievances to the judicial system for review. Laws prohibit workers from forcing persons to join strikes, blocking airports, or obstructing public byways, institutions, or premises of any kind. Persons committing violations are subject to fines and possible prison sentences. The law further restricts the right to strike by making “check-off” payment of union dues conditional on the inclusion of a no-strike clause during the lifetime of a collective agreement. No laws prohibit retribution against strikers and strike leaders, but strikers who believe they are victims of unfair retribution may submit their cases to the Industrial Arbitration Panel with the approval of the Ministry of Labor and Employment. The panel’s decisions are binding on the parties but may be appealed to the National Industrial Court. The arbitration process was cumbersome, time consuming, and ineffective in deterring retribution against strikers. Individuals also have the right to petition the Labor Ministry and may request arbitration from the National Industrial Court.
The law does not prohibit general antiunion discrimination; it only protects unskilled workers. The law does not provide for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. A large number of alleged cases in anti-union discrimination and obstruction to collective bargaining were reported during the year. Specific acts include denial of the right to join trade unions, massive dismissals for trying to join trade unions, mass persecution of union members, and arrests of union members, among others.
In 2013 the ILO ruled that many provisions of the Trade Union Act and the Trade Disputes Act contravened ILO conventions 87 and 98 by limiting freedom of association. While workers exercised some of their rights, the government generally did not effectively enforce the applicable laws. Penalties were not adequate to deter violations. Inflation reduced the deterrence value of many fines established by older laws. For example, some fines could not exceed 100 naira ($0.28).
In many cases workers’ fears of negative repercussions inhibited their reporting of antiunion activities. According to labor representatives, police rarely gave permission for public demonstrations and routinely used force to disperse protesters.
Collective bargaining occurred throughout the public sector and the organized private sector but remained restricted in some parts of the private sector, particularly in banking and telecommunications. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, the government and some private-sector employers occasionally failed to honor their collective agreements.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children, although some laws provide for a sentence that includes compulsory prison labor. The law provides for fines and imprisonment for individuals convicted of engaging in forced or compulsory labor, and these penalties would be sufficient to deter violations if appropriately enforced. Enforcement of the law remained ineffective in many parts of the country. The government took steps to identify or eliminate forced labor, but insufficient resources and lack of training on such laws hampered efforts.
Forced labor remained widespread. Women and girls were subjected to forced labor in domestic service, while boys were subjected to forced labor in street vending, domestic service, mining, stone quarrying, agriculture, and begging.
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 government has laws and regulations related to child labor, but the legal framework does not completely prohibit the worst forms of child labor. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.
By law age 12 is the general minimum age for employment. Persons younger than age 14 may be employed only on a daily basis, must receive the day’s wages at the end of each workday, and must be able to return each night to their parents’ or guardian’s residence. By law these regulations do not apply to domestic service. The law also provides exceptions for light work in agriculture and horticulture if the employer is a family member. No person younger than age 16 may work underground, in machine work, or on a public holiday. No “young person,” defined as a person under age 18 by the Labor Act, may be employed in any job that is injurious to health, dangerous, or immoral. For industrial work and work on vessels where a family member is not employed, the minimum work age is 15, consistent with the age for completing educational requirements. The law states children may not be employed in agricultural or domestic work for more than eight hours per day. Apprenticeship of youths older than age 12 is allowed in skilled trades or as domestic servants.
The Labor Ministry dealt specifically with child labor problems, but mainly conducted inspections in the formal business sector, where the incidence of child labor reportedly was not significant. The National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons has some responsibility for enforcing child labor laws, although it primarily rehabilitates trafficking and child labor victims. Victims or their guardians rarely complained due to intimidation and fear of losing their jobs.
The government’s child labor policy focused on intervention, advocacy, sensitization, legislation, withdrawal of children from potentially harmful labor situations, and rehabilitation and education of children following withdrawal. In an effort to withdraw children from the worst forms of child labor, it operated vocational training centers with NGOs around the country. Despite the policy and action plan, children remained inadequately protected due to weak or nonexistent enforcement of the law.
The worst forms of child labor identified in the country included: commercial agriculture and hazardous farm work (cocoa, cassava); street hawking; exploitative cottage industries such as iron and other metal works; hazardous mechanical workshops; exploitative and hazardous domestic work; commercial fishing; exploitative and hazardous pastoral and herding activities; construction; transportation; mining and quarrying; prostitution and pornography; forced and compulsory labor and debt bondage; forced participation in violence, criminal activity, and ethnic, religious, and political conflicts; and involvement in drug peddling.
Many children worked as beggars, street peddlers, and domestic servants in urban areas. Children also worked in the agricultural sector and in mines. Boys were forced to work as laborers on farms, in restaurants, for small businesses, in granite mines, and as street peddlers and beggars. Girls worked involuntarily as domestic servants and street peddlers.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/ .
The law does not prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, sex, religion, political opinion, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, HIV-positive status, or social status. The government in general did not effectively address discrimination in employment or occupation.
Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred (see section 6, Women). No laws bar women from particular fields of employment, but women often experienced discrimination due to traditional and religious practices. Police regulations provide for special recruitment requirements and conditions of service applying to women, particularly the criteria and provisions relating to pregnancy and marital status.
NGOs expressed concern about discrimination against women in the private sector, particularly in access to employment, promotion to higher professional positions, and salary equity. According to credible reports, many businesses implemented a “get pregnant, get fired” policy. Women remained underrepresented in the formal sector but played active and vital roles in the informal economy, particularly in agriculture, processing of foodstuffs, and selling of goods at markets. Women employed in the business sector did not receive equal pay for equal work and often encountered difficulty in acquiring commercial credit or obtaining tax deductions or rebates as heads of households. Unmarried women in particular endured many forms of discrimination. Several states had laws mandating equal opportunity for women.
Employers frequently discriminated against people living with HIV/AIDs. According to a 2012 study of people living with HIV in Nigeria, 26 percent of those surveyed had lost a job or source of income in the past year due to HIV-related stigma. The government spoke out in opposition to such discrimination, calling it a violation of the fundamental right to work.
The legal national monthly minimum wage was 18,000 naira ($49.54). Employers with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from this minimum, and the large majority of workers were not covered. There was no official estimate for the poverty income level. Implementation of the minimum wage, particularly by state governments, remained sporadic despite workers’ protests and warning strikes. In general, penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.
The law mandates a 40-hour workweek, two to four weeks of annual leave, and overtime and holiday pay, except for agricultural and domestic workers. The law does not define premium pay or overtime. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime for civilian government employees.
The law establishes general health and safety provisions, some aimed specifically at young or female workers. The law requires employers to compensate injured workers and dependent survivors of workers killed in industrial accidents. The law provides for the protection of factory employees in hazardous situations. The law does not provide other nonfactory workers with similar protections. The law applies to legal foreign workers, but not all companies respected these laws.
By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively protect employees in these situations.
The Ministry of Labor and Employment is responsible for enforcing these standards. The Labor Ministry employs factory inspectors and labor officers, and 42 inspectors are dedicated to enforcing laws related to child labor, but its Inspectorate Department stated it did not have sufficient staff to properly monitor and enforce health and safety conditions. The department is tasked to inspect factories’ compliance with health and safety standards, but it was underfunded, lacked basic resources and training, and consequently did not sufficiently enforce safety regulations at most enterprises, particularly construction sites and other nonfactory work locations. Labor inspections mostly occurred randomly but occasionally occurred when there was suspicion, rather than actual complaints, of illegal activity. In addition the government did not enforce the law strictly. Authorities did not enforce standards in the informal sector, which included the majority of workers.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join trade unions. Workers have the legal right to strike and to bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination.
Parliament may impose restrictions on the right of association based on security, public order, or morality grounds. The Ministry of Manpower also has broad powers to refuse to register a union or to cancel a union’s registration. Laws and regulations restrict freedom of association by requiring any group of 10 or more persons to register with the government. The law also restricts the right of uniformed personnel and government employees to organize, although the president may grant exemptions. Foreigners and those with criminal convictions generally may not hold union office or become employees of unions, but the ministry may grant exemptions.
The law requires more than 50 percent of affected unionized workers to vote in favor of a strike by secret ballot, as opposed to 51 percent of those participating in the vote. Workers in “essential services” are required to give 14 days’ notice to an employer before striking, and there is a prohibition on strikes by workers in the water, gas, and electricity sectors.
Unions were unable to carry out their work without interference from the government or political parties. The law limits how unions may spend their funds, prohibiting, for example, payments to political parties or the use of funds for political purposes, and restricts the right of trade unions to elect their officers and choose their employees.
Almost all unions were affiliated with the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC), an umbrella organization with a close relationship with the government and the ruling PAP. The NTUC secretary-general was a cabinet minister and four PAP members of parliament were in NTUC leadership positions. NTUC policy prohibited union members who supported opposition parties from holding office in its affiliated unions. In November 2017 the NTUC announced that “where possible,” all 82 PAP members of parliament would act as advisors to NTUC unions and affiliated associations.
Collective bargaining was a routine part of labor-management relations in all sectors. Because almost all unions were its affiliates, the NTUC had almost exclusive authority to exercise collective bargaining power on behalf of employees. Union members may not reject collective agreements negotiated between their union representatives and an employer. Although transfers and layoffs are excluded from the scope of collective bargaining, employers consulted with unions on both issues.
Foreign workers constituted approximately 15 percent of union members. Labor NGOs also filled an important function by providing support for migrant workers, including legal aid and medical care, especially for those in the informal sector.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law; penalties included prison terms and fines, although these were not always sufficient to deter violations. The government took law enforcement action against employers for workplace violations, including arresting and prosecuting several employers for abuse or mistreatment of foreign domestic workers. It also investigated and imposed fines on some employment agencies for committing other illegal practices. Given the number of low-paid foreign workers in the country, however, outside observers believe that many cases of abuse likely were undetected.
Practices indicative of forced labor, including the withholding of wages and passports, occurred. Migrant workers in low-wage and unskilled sectors such as domestic work, hospitality, and construction were vulnerable to labor exploitation. The Ministry of Manpower reported, for example, that 48 foreign workers lodged complaints between January and April against Nihal Enterprise and Nihal Construction for defaulting on their salaries and overtime, with some workers remaining unpaid for one year. The workers were reportedly forced to sign blank salary slips but were either unpaid, or paid only a fraction of the amount owed.
The law caps the fees payable by foreign domestic workers to employment agencies in the country at one month’s salary per year of the employment contract not to exceed two months’ salary, irrespective of the duration of the contract. Observers noted that unscrupulous agencies in migrant workers’ countries of origin could charge exorbitant fees.
Some observers also noted that the country’s employer sponsorship system made legal migrant workers vulnerable to forced labor because they may not change employers without the consent of their employer.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits employment of children younger than 13 years. A child age 13 or older may engage in light work in a nonindustrial undertaking, subject to medical clearance. Exceptions include work in family enterprises; a child 13 or older may only work in an industrial undertaking that employs members of his or her family. Ministry of Manpower regulations prohibit night employment of children and restrict industrial work for children between 15 and 16. Children younger than 15 may not work on commercial vessels, with moving machinery, on live electrical apparatus lacking effective insulation, or in any underground job, and normally they are prohibited from employment in the industrial sector.
The Ministry of Manpower effectively enforced these laws and regulations. Penalties for employers who violated laws related to child labor were subject to fines and/or imprisonment, practices that provided adequate deterrence. Government officials asserted that child labor was not a significant problem.
The incidence of children in formal employment was low, although some children worked in family enterprises.
The constitution provides for equality in employment. No specific antidiscrimination legislation exists, although some statutes prohibit certain forms of discrimination. For example, employers may not dismiss female employees during pregnancy or maternity leave, and employers may not dismiss employees solely due to age.
The Ministry of Manpower’s Fair Consideration Framework requires all companies to comply with the Tripartite Guidelines on Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices and have employment practices that are open, merit based, and nondiscriminatory. These guidelines call for eliminating language referring to age, race, gender, religion, marital status, family responsibility, and disability in employment advertisements. Employers are required to provide explanations for putting requirements such as specific language skills in the job advertisement. Penalties for violation of government guidelines are at the discretion of the ministry. There were no similar government guidelines with respect to political opinion, sexual orientation, or HIV or other communicable disease status.
The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices received complaints of employment discrimination, largely due to the preference to hire foreigners over citizens.
In 2017 the gender wage gap was 9.2 percent, and women were underrepresented in managerial and executive positions. The country’s Diversity Action Committee reported that women’s representation on boards of companies listed on the Singapore Exchange was 11.2 percent as of June. For the first time, as of June, a majority (51 percent) of listed companies had at least one female board member.
Some ethnic Malays and Indians reported discrimination limited their employment and promotion opportunities. There were also reports of discrimination based on disability, pregnancy, and sexual orientation/gender identity. Pregnancy is a breach of the standard work permit conditions for foreign workers, and the government cancels work permits and requires repatriation of foreign domestic workers who become pregnant.
The law does not specify a national minimum wage. The government’s progressive wage model, designed to raise the productivity and wages of low-wage workers, requires businesses in the cleaning, landscaping, and security services sectors to pay a minimum wage in order to obtain a business license. The minimums range from 1,060 SGD ($774) for an indoor cleaner to 2,100 SGD ($1,530) for a qualified landscape supervisor. Legislation passed in October introduced a mandatory annual bonus for local cleaners.
The law sets the standard legal workweek at 44 hours. The law requires employers to apply for an overtime exception from the Ministry of Manpower for employees to work more than 72 hours of overtime per month. On November 20, the government amended the Employment Act to remove the existing salary cap on applicability of some workplace protections and expand the law’s coverage to all private sector employees, except domestic workers and seafarers who are still covered under separate laws. The amended law also mandates benefits for part-time employees, defined as those working 35 hours or less. The changes will enter into effect in April 2019 and will entitle all private sector employees to paid sick leave, mandatory annual leave, and protection against wrongful dismissal.
The law establishes a framework for workplaces to comply with occupational safety and health standards, and regular inspections enforced the standards. Officials encouraged workers to report situations that endanger health or safety to the ministry, but the law does not specifically protect the right of workers to remove themselves from a hazardous working environment.
The Ministry of Manpower effectively enforced laws and regulations establishing working conditions and comprehensive occupational safety and health regulations. Penalties for violating these regulations, which take the form of fines and stop-work orders, were sufficient to deter violations. During the year, the ministry increased the number of workplace inspections and continued to promote training to reduce the frequency of job-related accidents in high-risk sectors such as construction. The government also enforced requirements for employers to provide one rest day per week or compensation for foreign domestic workers. Penalties for violations include fines or imprisonment.
In July a landscaping company and two of its officers were charged for a workplace accident in 2016 in which a foreign worker, Rahman Mohammad Ataur, was severely burned. Environmental Landscape’s management reportedly pressured Rahman to clean an underground tank that exploded while he was inside it. The firm faced a maximum fine of 500,000 SGD ($365,000), and its director, a fine of as much as 200,000 SGD ($146,000) and/or a maximum of two years’ imprisonment.
The ministry promoted educational and training programs to reduce the frequency of job-related accidents. The programs strengthen the requirements for implementation of risk management and safety- and health-management systems in these higher-risk factories, which included construction worksites, shipyards, metalworking factories, and petrochemical plants.
The Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management was jointly established in 2017 by the Ministry of Manpower, unions, and the employers’ federation to offer advisory and mediation services to help employees and employers to manage employment disputes. The Labor Relations and Workplaces Division of the Ministry of Manpower provided free advisory services to both foreign and local workers who experienced problems with employers; it provided mediation services for a fee. The ministry operated a hotline for foreign domestic workers.
The majority of foreign workers were concentrated in low-wage, low-skill jobs and were often required to work long hours in construction, shipbuilding, services, and domestic work.
The majority of foreign domestic workers, mainly from the Philippines and Indonesia, worked under clearly outlined contracts. According to the penal code, any employer of a foreign domestic worker or a member of the employer’s family, if convicted of certain offenses against the worker, such as causing hurt or insulting the modesty of the worker, is liable to a maximum penalty of one and one-half times the mandated penalty when the victim is not a domestic worker. Nevertheless, there were reports of employers abusing or mistreating such workers (see section 7.b.).
Section 7. Worker Rights
The constitution provides that a person shall enjoy the liberty to unite and form an association, cooperative, union, organization, community, or any other group. The Labor Relations Act (LRA) and State Enterprise Labor Relations Act (SELRA) remained in effect. The LRA allows private-sector workers to form and join trade unions of their choosing without prior authorization, to bargain collectively, and to conduct legal strikes with a number of restrictions. Workers seeking to demonstrate or strike were subject to limits on assembly of more than five people under the 2015 Public Assembly Act and NCPO order No. 7/2014.
Legal definitions of who may join a union and requirements that the union represent at least one-fifth of the workforce hampered collective bargaining efforts. Under the law, only workers who are in the same industry may form a union. For example, despite working in the same factory, contract workers performing a manufacturing job function may be classified under the “service industry” may not join the same union as full-time workers who are classified under the “manufacturing industry.” This restriction often diminished the ability to bargain collectively as a larger group. Labor advocates claimed companies exploited this required ratio to avoid unionization by hiring substantial numbers of temporary contract workers. The law also restricts formal affiliations between unions of state-owned enterprises (SOE) and private-sector unions because two separate laws govern them. Therefore, workers in state-owned aviation, banking, transportation, and education enterprises may not affiliate formally with workers in similar jobs in private sector enterprises.
The law allows employees to submit collective demands if at least 15 percent of employees are listed as supporting that demand. The law allows employees in private enterprises with more than 50 workers to establish “employee committees” to represent workers’ collective requests and to negotiate with employers and “welfare committees” to represent workers’ welfare-related collective requests. Employee and welfare committees may give suggestions to employers, but the law bars them from submitting labor demands or conducting legal strikes. The law prohibits employers from taking adverse employment actions against workers for their participation in these committees and from obstructing the work of the committees. Therefore, union leaders often join employee or welfare committees.
The SELRA allows one union per SOE. SOEs in the country included state banks, trains, airlines, airports, marine ports, and postal services. Under the law civil servants, including teachers at public and private schools, university professors, soldiers, and police, do not have the right to form or register a union; however, civil servants (including teachers, police, and nurses), and self-employed persons (such as farmers and fishers) may form and register associations to represent member interests. If a SOE union’s membership falls below 25 percent of the eligible workforce, regulations require dissolution of the union.
The law forbids strikes and lockouts in the public sector and at SOEs. The government has authority to restrict private-sector strikes that would affect national security or cause severe negative repercussions for the population at large, but it did not invoke this provision during the year.
Noncitizen migrant workers, whether registered or undocumented, do not have the right to form unions or serve as union officials. Registered migrants may be members of unions organized and led by citizens. Migrant worker participation in unions was limited due to language barriers, weak understanding of rights under the law, frequent changes in employment, membership fees, restrictive labor union regulations, and segregation of citizen workers from migrant workers by industry and by zones (particularly in border and coastal areas). In practice thousands of migrant workers formed unregistered associations, community-based organizations, or religious groups to represent member interests.
The law does not protect union members against antiunion actions by employers until their union is registered. To register a union, at least 10 workers must submit their names to the Department of Labor Protection and Welfare (DLPW). The verification process of vetting the names and employment status with the employer exposes the workers to potential retaliation before registration is complete. Moreover, the law requires that union officials be full-time employees of the company or SOE and prohibits permanent union staff.
The law protects employees and union members from criminal or civil liability for participating in negotiations with employers, initiating a strike, organizing a rally, or explaining labor disputes to the public. The law does not protect employees and union members from criminal charges for endangering the public or for causing loss of life or bodily injury, property damage, and reputational damage. The law does not prohibit lawsuits intended to censor, intimidate, or silence critics through costly legal defense.
The law prohibits termination of employment of legal strikers but permits employers to hire workers or use subcontract workers to replace strikers. The legal requirement to call a general meeting of trade union members and obtain strike approval by at least 50 percent of union members constrained strike action, particularly in the face of the common manufacturing practice of shift work at most factories, made it more difficult to achieve a quorum of union members. The law provides for penalties, including imprisonment, a fine, or both, for strikers in SOEs.
Labor law enforcement was inconsistent, and in some instances ineffective, in protecting workers who participated in union activities. Employers may dismiss workers for any reason except participation in union activities, provided the employer pays severance. There were reports of workers dismissed for engaging in union activities, both before and after registration, and, in some cases, labor courts ordered workers reinstated. Labor courts or the Labor Relations Committee may make determinations on complaints of unfair dismissals or labor practices and may require compensation or reinstatement of workers or union leaders with wages and benefits equal to those received prior to dismissal. The Labor Relations Committee is comprised of representatives of employers, government, and workers groups, and there are associate labor court judges who represent workers and employers. There were reports employers attempted to negotiate terms of reinstatement after orders were issued, offering severance packages for voluntary resignation, denying reinstated union leaders access to work, or demoting workers to jobs with lower wages and benefits.
In some cases judges awarded compensation in lieu of reinstatement when employers or employees claimed they could not work together peacefully; however, authorities rarely applied penalties for conviction of labor violations, which include imprisonment, a fine, or both. International organizations reported DLPW leadership increasingly promoted good industrial relations and enforcement during inspector training across the country. Labor inspection increasingly focused on high-risk workplaces and the use of intelligence from civil society partners. Trade union leaders suggested that inspectors should move beyond perfunctory document reviews toward more proactive work site inspections. Rights advocates reported that provincial-level labor inspectors often attempted to mediate cases, even when there was a finding that labor rights violations requiring penalties occurred.
There were reports employers used various techniques to weaken labor union association and collective bargaining efforts. These included replacing striking workers with subcontractors, which the law permits when strikers continue to receive wages; delaying negotiations by failing to show up at Labor Relations Committee meetings or sending nondecision makers to negotiate; threatening union leaders and striking workers; pressuring union leaders and striking workers to resign; dismissing union leaders, citing business reasons; violation of company rules, or negative attitudes toward the company; prohibiting workers from demonstrating in work zones; and inciting violence to get a court warrant to prohibit protests. For example, an automotive company, upon reinstating nine union members who had been locked out since 2014, transferred the workers to distant work locations and reduced their pay to the minimum wage. There were reports that a firm and union workers reached impasse on collective bargaining arbitration with the Ministry of Labor and locked out workers after they went on strike. After workers conceded to most of the company’s proposals, the company forced the locked-out workers to attend a four-day camp at a military base to “learn discipline and order,” undergo five days of training by an external human resources firm, where they were expected to “reflect on their wrongdoing,” one day of cleaning old people’s homes to “earn merit,” and three days at a Buddhist temple, with no regard for their religious beliefs. The workers were also made to post apologies to the company on their personal social media accounts.
In some cases employers filed lawsuits against union leaders and strikers for trespassing, defamation, and vandalism. For example, during the year private companies pursued civil and criminal lawsuits against union leaders, including civil damages for allegations of disruption of production lines due to illegal strikes, trespassing, and civil and criminal defamation. Human rights defenders said these lawsuits, along with unfair dismissal of union leaders, and were used by employers to attempt to camouflage or justify antiunion activities or other efforts to promote workers’ rights; such tactics had a chilling effect on freedoms of expression and association (also see section 7.b.).
During the year there were reports some employers transferred union leaders to other branches to render them ineligible to participate in employee or welfare committees and then dismissed them. Some employers also transferred union leaders and striking workers to different, less desirable positions or inactive management positions (with no management authority) to prevent them from leading union activities. There were reports some employers supported the registration of competing unions to circumvent established unions that refused to accept the terms of agreement proposed by employers.
There were also reports government officers interrupted collective bargaining and association efforts of public hospital and social security office workers who demanded increased wages and welfare benefits for temporary employees.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, except in the case of national emergency, war, martial law, or imminent public calamity. The prescribed penalties for human trafficking were sufficiently stringent to deter violations. Rights groups and international organizations continued to call, however, for a more precise legal definition of forced labor and penalties equivalent to those in the Criminal Code and the Anti Trafficking in Persons Act. They noted a clearer and more comprehensive legal definition of forced labor could address challenges in applying existing anti-human-trafficking laws to forced labor cases, particularly when physical indicators of forced labor are not present.
The government did not effectively enforced the law in all sectors.
Government and NGOs continued to report forced labor in the fishing sector; however, an International Labor Organization (ILO) report published in March found considerable decline in worker claims of abuses such as intimidation and violence on short-haul fishing boats and seafood processing facilities. The study also pointed to declines in some indicators of forced labor, including non- or underpayment of wages, document holding, and lack of contracts. NGOs acknowledged a decline in the most severe forms of labor exploitation in the fishing sector, although they pointed to persistent weaknesses in enforcing labor laws. The government and NGOs noted efforts to regulate the fishing industry, document migrant workers, and improve inspections had contributed to improvements in the sector. There are anecdotal reports that forced labor continued in agriculture, domestic work, and forced begging.
Labor rights groups reported indicators of forced labor among employers who sought to prevent migrant workers from changing jobs through delayed payment of wages, incurred debt, and spurious accusations of stealing or embezzlement.
Private companies pursued civil and criminal lawsuits against labor leaders, including accusing workers of civil and criminal defamation (also see section 7.a.). In July the Bangkok Magistrate Court dismissed criminal defamation charges filed by an employer against 14 Burmese poultry workers. The employer filed the criminal defamation charges in response to the workers filing a complaint with the NHRCT alleging they were victims of forced labor. In 2017 a civil labor court ordered the employer to pay the workers 1.7 million baht ($51,100) in unpaid wages, plus unpaid overtime and holiday pay. In 2017 the Supreme Court upheld the labor court’s decision; as of the end of the year the employer had not yet provided compensation. In December the employer brought new criminal defamation charges against another rights organization, which had raised concerns over the defamation charges against the workers and other rights defenders. In September the Lopburi Provincial Court dismissed related criminal theft charges the employer brought against the workers for alleged theft of the workers’ timecards; the court found the employer failed to provide sufficient evidence that the workers had stolen their timecards.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law regulates the employment of children younger than 18 years and prohibits employment of children younger than 15. Children younger than 18 years are prohibited from work in an activity involving metalwork, hazardous chemicals, poisonous materials, radiation, and harmful temperatures or noise levels; exposure to toxic microorganisms; operation of heavy equipment; and work underground or underwater. The law also prohibits children younger than 18 years from work in hazardous workplaces, such as slaughterhouses, gambling establishments, places where alcohol is sold, massage parlors, entertainment venues, sea fishing vessels, and seafood processing establishments. The law provides limited coverage to child workers in some informal sectors, such as agriculture, domestic work, and home-based businesses. Self-employed children and children working in nonemployment relationships are not protected under national labor law, but they are protected under the Child Protection Act and the third amendment of the Antitrafficking in Persons Act of January.
Penalties for violations of the law may include imprisonment or fines, and were sufficient to deter violations. Parents who the court finds were “driven by unbearable poverty” can be exempt from penalties.
Government and private-sector entities, particularly medium and large manufacturers, advocated against the use of child labor through public awareness campaigns and conducted bone-density checks or dental age to identify potentially underage job applicants. Such tests were not, however, always accurate. Labor inspectors used information from civil society to target inspections for child labor and forced labor. In 2017 the DLPW recorded 103 cases of child labor violations (compared to 71 cases in 2016) and collected approximately 1.5 million baht ($46,000) in fines.
Some civil society and international organizations reported fewer cases of child labor in manufacturing, fishing, shrimping, and seafood processing. They attribute the decline to legal and regulatory changes in 2014 that expanded the number of hazardous job categories in which children younger than 18 years are prohibited from working and in 2017 that increased penalties for employing child laborers.
NGOs reported, however, that some children from Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and ethnic minority communities were engaged in labor in informal sectors and small businesses, including farming, home-based businesses, restaurants, street vending, auto services, food processing, construction, domestic work, and begging. Some children engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation, child pornography, forced child begging, and production and trafficking of drugs (see section 6, Children). The Thailand Internet Crimes against Children task force became a stand-alone unit in 2017 with its own budget and administrative personnel; the number of officers assigned to the task force team increased in an effort to counter the commission of online crimes against children.
The DLPW is the primary agency charged with enforcing child labor laws and policies. In 2017 labor inspectors increased the number of inspections; 84 percent were unannounced and targeted to high-risk sectors for child labor, including seafood processing, garment, manufacturing, agriculture and livestock, construction, gas stations, restaurants, and bars. Violations included employing underage child labor in hazardous work, unlawful working hours, and failure to notify the DLPW of employment of child workers.
Observers noted several limiting factors in effective enforcement of child labor laws, including insufficient number of labor inspectors, insufficient number of interpreters during labor inspections, ineffective inspection procedures for the informal sector or hard-to-reach workplaces (such as private residences, small family-based business units, farms, and fishing boats), and lack of official identity documents or birth certificates among young migrant workers from neighboring countries. Moreover, a lack of public understanding of child labor laws and standards was also an important factor. The government conducted a nationally representative working child survey during the year; the data had not been released at year’s end.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings .
Labor laws did not specifically prohibit discrimination in the workplace. The law does impose penalties of imprisonment, fines, or both for anyone committing gender or gender identity discrimination, including in employment decisions. Another law requires workplaces with more than 100 employees to hire at least one worker with disabilities for every 100 workers.
Discrimination with respect to employment occurred against LGBTI persons, women, and migrant workers (also see section 7.e.). Government regulations require employers to pay equal wages and benefits for equal work, regardless of gender. Union leaders stated the wage differences for men and women were generally minimal and were mostly due to different skills, duration of employment, types of jobs, as well as legal requirements, which prohibit the employment of women in hazardous work. Nonetheless, a 2016 ILO report on migrant women in the country’s construction sector found female migrant workers consistently received less than their male counterparts, and more than one-half were paid less than the official minimum wage, especially for overtime work.
Union leaders reported pregnant women were dismissed unfairly, although reinstatements occurred after unions or NGOs filed complaints. In May, for example, the Eastern Labor Union Group, an affiliate of the Thai Labor Solidarity Committee, helped a pregnant woman to file a grievance with the Rayong provincial labor protection and welfare office alleging that her employer had forced her to resign. She was reinstated.
In September the police cadet academy announced it would no longer admit female cadets. This decision was widely criticized as discriminatory and detrimental to the ability of the police force to identify some labor violations against women. Discrimination against persons with disabilities occurred in employment, access, and training.
Persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities faced frequent discrimination in the workplace, partly due to common prejudices and a lack of protective laws and policies on discrimination. Transgender workers reportedly faced even greater constraints, and their participation in the workforce was often limited to a few professions, such as cosmetology and entertainment.
Effective January 1 there were seven rates of daily minimum wage depending on provincial cost of living, ranging from 308 baht ($9.26) to 330 ($9.93) baht. This daily minimum wage was three times higher than the government-calculated poverty line of 2,667 baht ($80) per month, last calculated in 2016.
The maximum workweek by law is 48 hours, or eight hours per day over six days, with an overtime limit of 36 hours per week. Employees engaged in “dangerous” work, such as chemical, mining, or other industries involving heavy machinery, may work a maximum of 42 hours per week and may not work overtime. Petrochemical industry employees may not work more than 12 hours per day but may work continuously for a maximum period of 28 days.
The law requires safe and healthy workplaces, including for home-based businesses, and prohibits pregnant women and children younger than 18 from working in hazardous conditions. The law also requires the employer to inform employees about hazardous working conditions prior to employment. Workers do not have the right to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
Legal protections do not apply equally to all sectors. For example, the daily minimum wage does not apply to employees in the public sector, SOEs, domestic work, nonprofit work, and seasonal agricultural work. Ministerial regulations provide household domestic workers some protections regarding leave, minimum age, and payment of wages, but they do not address minimum wage, regular working hours, social security, or maternity leave.
A large income gap remained between formal and informal employment, with workers in nonagricultural sectors earning an average of three times more than those in the agricultural sector. According to government statistics, 55 percent of the labor force worked in the informal economy, with limited protection under labor laws and the social security system.
There were reports daily minimum wages, overtime, and holiday pay regulations were not well enforced in small enterprises, in some areas (especially rural or border areas), or in some sectors (especially agriculture, construction, and sea fishing). Labor unions estimated 5-10 percent of workers received less than the minimum wage; however, the share of workers who received less than minimum wage was likely higher among unregistered migrant workers. Unregistered migrant workers rarely sought redress under the law due to their lack of legal status to work and live in the country legally and the fear of losing their livelihood.
The DLPW enforces laws related to labor relations and occupational safety and health. The law subjects employers to fines and imprisonment for minimum wage noncompliance, but enforcement was inconsistent. There were reports many cases of minimum wage noncompliance went to mediation in which workers agreed to settlements for owed wages lower than the daily minimum wage.
Convictions for violations of occupational safety and health (OSH) regulations include imprisonment and fines; however, the number of OSH experts and inspections was insufficient, with most inspections taking place in reaction to complaints. Union leaders estimated only 20 percent of workplaces, mostly large factories for international companies, complied with government OSH standards.
Medium and large factories often applied government health and safety standards, but overall enforcement of safety standards was lax, particularly in the informal economy and smaller businesses. NGOs and union leaders noted the main factors for ineffective enforcement as an insufficient number of qualified inspectors, overreliance on document-based inspection (instead of workplace inspection), lack of protection for workers’ complaints, lack of interpreters, and failure to impose effective penalties on noncompliant employers. The Ministry of Labor hired and trained more inspectors and foreign language interpreters. The foreign language interpreters were assigned primarily to fishing port inspection centers and multidisciplinary human-trafficking teams.
The country provides universal health care for all citizens, and social security and workers’ compensation programs to insure employed persons in cases of injury or illness and to provide maternity, disability, death, child allowance, unemployment, and retirement benefits. Registered migrant workers in both the formal and informal labor sectors and their dependents are also eligible to buy health insurance from the Ministry of Public Health.
NGOs reported many construction workers, especially subcontracted workers and migrant workers, were not in the social security system or covered under the workers’ compensation program, despite requirements of the law. While the social security program is mandatory for employed persons, it excludes workers in the informal sector such as domestic work, seasonal agriculture, and fishing. Workers employed in the informal sector, temporary or seasonal employment, or self-employed may also contribute voluntarily to the workers’ compensation program and receive government matching funds.
NGOs reported several cases of denial of government social security and accident benefits to registered migrant workers due to employers’ failure to fulfill mandatory contribution requirements or because of migrant workers’ failure to pass nationality verification. Compensation for work-related illnesses was rarely granted because the connection between some illnesses (such as respiratory disease, anemia, or vitamin B deficiency) and the workplace was often difficult to prove.
Workers in the fishing industry were often deemed seasonal workers and therefore not required by law to have access to social security and workers’ compensation; however, the government requires registered migrant workers to buy health insurance. The lack of sufficient occupational safety and health training, inspections by OSH experts, first aid, and reliable systems to ensure timely delivery of injured workers to hospitals after serious accidents exacerbated the vulnerability of fishery workers. NGOs reported several cases of migrant workers who received only minimal compensation from employers after becoming disabled on the job.
NGOs reported poor working conditions and lack of labor protections for migrant workers, including those near border-crossing points. In July the Royal Ordinance Concerning the Management of Foreign Workers’ Employment to regulate the employment, recruitment, and protection of migrant workers, went into full effect. The decree provides for civil penalties for employing or sheltering unregistered migrant workers, while strengthening worker protections by prohibiting Thai employment brokers and employers from charging migrant workers additional fees for recruitment. The decree also bans subcontracting and prohibits employers from holding migrant worker documents. It also outlaws those convicted of labor and anti-trafficking-in-persons laws from operating employment agencies. During the first six months of the year, the government worked with the governments of Burma, Cambodia, and Laos to verify identity documents and issue work permits for more than one million migrant workers from those countries.
Labor brokerage firms used a “contract labor system” under which workers sign an annual contract. By law businesses must provide contract laborers “fair benefits and welfare without discrimination”; however, employers often paid contract laborers less and provided fewer or no benefits.
NGOs noted local moneylenders, mostly informal, offered loans at exorbitant interest rates so citizen workers looking for work abroad could pay recruitment fees, some as high as 500,000 baht ($15,000). Department of Employment regulations limit the maximum charges for recruitment fees, but effective enforcement of the rules remained difficult and inadequate; effective enforcement was hindered by workers’ unwillingness to provide information and the lack of legal documentary evidence regarding underground recruitment and documentation fees and migration costs. Exploitative employment service agencies persisted in charging citizens working overseas large, illegal fees that frequently equaled their first- and second-year earnings.
In 2017, the latest year for which data were available, there were 86,278 reported incidents of diseases and injuries from workplace accidents. The Social Security Office reported most serious workplace accidents occurred in manufacturing, wholesale retail trade, construction, transportation, hotels, and restaurants. Observers said workplace accidents in the informal and agricultural sectors and among migrant workers were underreported. Employers rarely diagnosed or compensated occupational diseases, and few doctors or clinics specialized in them.