Ecuador is a constitutional, multiparty republic with an elected president and unicameral legislature. In 2017 voters elected President Lenin Moreno from the ruling party Alianza PAIS (Proud and Sovereign Fatherland) and chose members of the National Assembly in elections that were generally free and fair.
The National Police maintains internal security and law enforcement and is under the authority of the Ministry of Government. The military is under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense and is responsible for external security. Police and military forces share responsibility for border enforcement, with the military also having limited domestic security responsibilities. The military may complement police operations to maintain and control public order when expressly mandated. Migration officers are civilians and report to the Ministry of Government. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces allegedly committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: reports of torture and abuse by police officers and prison guards; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; the existence of criminal libel laws; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women and children; and the use of child labor.
The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law, with some exceptions, provides for the rights of workers to form and join trade unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits the dismissal of union members from the moment a union notifies the labor inspector of its general assembly until the formation of its first executive board, the first legal steps in forming a union. Employers are not required to reinstate workers fired for union activity but are required to pay compensation and fines to such workers. According to an April 2019 El Comercio article, the number of public and private unions registered by the Ministry of Labor had increased by 32 percent since 2013. Labor unions and associations reported difficulties in registering unions in the Ministry of Labor due to excessive requirements and Ministry of Labor staff shortages.
Companies that dismiss employees attempting to form a union or that dismiss union members exercising their rights face a fine of one year’s annual salary for each individual wrongfully dismissed. Individual workers still employed may take complaints against employers to the Labor Inspection Office. Individuals no longer employed may take their complaints to courts charged with protecting labor rights. Unions may also take complaints to a tripartite arbitration board established to hear these complaints. These procedures often were subject to lengthy delays because the Ministry of Labor continued to be nonspecialized and understaffed to address all arbitration requests and appeals. Private-sector representatives alleged that boards exhibited conscious bias in favor of employees when they did convene.
All private employers with unionized employees are required to negotiate collectively when the union so requests. The law requires a minimum of 30 workers for the creation of an association, work committee, or labor union, and it does not allow foreign citizens to serve as trade union officers. In 2018 the Ministry of Labor authorized, through ministerial resolutions, eight new types of labor contracts, with specific provisions for the flower, palm, fishing, livestock, and construction sectors.
The law provides for the right of private-sector employees to strike on their own behalf and conduct three-day solidarity strikes or boycotts on the behalf of other industries. The law also establishes, however, that all collective labor disputes be referred to courts of conciliation and arbitration. In 2014 the International Labor Organization (ILO) called on the government to amend this provision by limiting such compulsory arbitration to cases where both parties agree to arbitration and the strike involves the public servants who exercise authority in the name of the state or who perform essential services. Since this action requires constitutional reform, the provision had not been amended as of year’s end.
In most industries the law requires a 10-day “cooling-off” period from the time a strike is declared before it can take effect. In the case of the agriculture and hospitality industries, where workers are needed for “permanent care,” the law requires a 20-day “cooling-off” period from the day the strike is called, and workers may not take possession of a workplace. During this time workers and employers must agree on how many workers are needed to ensure a minimum level of service, and at least 20 percent of the workforce must continue to work to provide essential services. The law provides the employer may contract substitute personnel only when striking workers refuse to send the number of workers required to provide the minimum necessary services. Contracting substitute personnel is effectively impossible, however, as the law does not provide for time-limited, seasonal, hourly, or part-time contracts.
The law prohibits formation of unions and restricts the right to collective bargaining and striking of public-sector workers in “strategic sectors.” Such sectors include workers in the health, environmental sanitation, education, justice, firefighting, social security, electrical energy, drinking water and sewage, hydrocarbon production, fuel processing, transport and distribution, public transportation, and postal service and telecommunications sectors. Some of the sectors defined as strategic exceed the ILO standard for essential services. Workers in these sectors attempting to strike may face charges with penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment. The government effectively enforced the law.
All unions in the public sector fall under the Confederation of Public Servants. Although the vast majority of public-sector workers also maintained membership in labor-sector associations, the law does not allow such associations to bargain collectively or to strike. A 2015 constitutional amendment specifies that only the private sector could engage in collective bargaining.
Several unions, labor associations, and media outlets denounced the presence of military vehicles and alleged police harassment during strikes by employees of local explosives company Explocen since July 13. The strike started after five employees allegedly were dismissed in June without due compensation. The military deployed vehicles to guard the entrance to Explocen’s facilities when the strike started, and officials stated the military presence was necessary because of the national state of emergency (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and highly dangerous nature of the materials stored and processed at the facility. Employees’ attorneys and unions denounced the protest’s “militarization.” On July 13, the Ombudsman’s Office demanded the Ministry of Labor and Explocen “stop discriminating” and threatening employees’ right to strike. The strike and military presence continued through October 27.
The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws, but penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination. Employers did not always respect freedom of association and collective bargaining. Independent unions often had strong ties to political movements.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including all forms of labor exploitation; child labor; illegal adoption; servile marriage; and the sale of tissues, fluids, and genetic materials of living persons. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Limited resources, limited presence in parts of the country, and inadequate victim services hampered the effectiveness of police and prosecutors. NGOs and media outlets continued to report that children were being subjected to forced criminality, particularly drug trafficking and robbery.
Reports of forced labor of children (see section 7.c.) and women persisted. Observers most frequently reported women as victims of sex trafficking or of working in private homes under conditions that may amount to human trafficking. The National Police reported through August the rescue of 17 female sex trafficking victims, 19 arrests of individuals involved in trafficking in persons, and the dismantling of an international sexual exploitation network. Through August 17, consolidated government figures reported 42 trafficking-in-persons victims (80 percent of them female).
Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorians, Colombian refugees, and Venezuelan migrants (see section 7.d.) were particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. Traffickers often recruited children from impoverished indigenous families under false promises of employment; these children were then forced to beg or to work as domestic servants, in sweatshops, or as street and commercial vendors within the country or in other South American countries. Men, women, and children were exploited in forced labor and sex trafficking abroad, including in other South American countries and the United States. The country is a destination for South and Central American women and girls exploited in sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and forced begging.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. It sets the minimum working age for minors at 15 for all types of labor and the maximum hours a minor may work at six hours per day, five days per week. The law requires employers of minors who have not completed elementary school to give them two additional hours off from work to complete studies. The law requires employers to pay minors the same wages received by adults for the same type of employment and prohibits minors younger than age 18 from working in “dangerous and unhealthy” conditions. A 2015 ministerial accord lists 27 economic activities that qualify as dangerous and unhealthy. Other illegal activities, including slavery, prostitution, pornography, and drug trafficking, are punishable. The law identifies work that is “likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of a child,” which includes work in mines, garbage dumps, slaughterhouses, livestock, fishing, textiles, logging, and domestic service, as well as in any work environment requiring exposure to toxic or dangerous substances, dust, dangerous machinery, or loud noises.
The law establishes penalties for violations of child labor laws, including fines and closure of the business. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. If an employer commits a second child labor violation, inspectors may close the business temporarily. The law authorizes labor inspectors to conduct inspections at factories, workshops, and any other location when they consider it appropriate or when an employer or worker requests an inspection. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a partial moratorium on labor inspections, although some were still conducted. As of October 27, statistics on inspections conducted during the year were unavailable.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Ministries of Labor and of Economic and Social Inclusion, Rights Protection Boards, and the Minors’ Tribunals are responsible for enforcing child labor laws.
A January 2019 report by the governmental Intergenerational Equality Council indicated the provinces of Bolivar, Chimborazo, and Cotopaxi had the highest child labor rates for children between the ages of five and 14. A 2017 survey on employment and underemployment found that 3 percent of children ages five to 11 and 10.6 percent of children ages 12 to 14 worked. The survey found that child laborers were most likely in rural areas, particularly in the agricultural and ranching sectors. Although the government conducted two surveys in 2017 that included some information on child labor, the government had not conducted a nationwide child labor survey since 2012. Government, union, and civil society officials agreed that a lack of updated statistics hampered efforts in eradicating child labor.
Several labor organizations and NGOs reported that no reliable data concerning child labor in the formal employment sectors was available due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to these groups, even before the pandemic, the government-led austerity measures affected the Ministry of Labor’s child labor eradication program, and thus the number of government inspections decreased.
The government also did not effectively enforce child labor laws in the informal sector. The COVID-19 pandemic most likely increased child labor in the informal sector, as NGO surveys and studies found an increase in children supporting family-run businesses who otherwise would attend school. The worsening national economic situation and nationwide school closures triggered by the pandemic further exacerbated this trend. The most common informal economic activity was cooking homemade meals and selling them on the streets or delivering them to customers. According to CARE International, children in rural areas were most likely found working in family-owned farms or businesses, including banana and rose farms.
As the COVID-19 pandemic led to nationwide school closures, more parents were forced to take their children to agricultural fields while the parents worked. Labor organizations reported children were largely removed from the most heavy and dangerous work. In urban areas many children younger than 15 worked informally to support themselves or to augment family income by peddling on the street, shining shoes, sorting garbage, or begging.
Local civil society organizations reported that children conducted domestic work, including paid household work. A July study by CARE International found that during the pandemic many female house cleaners took their children, mostly girls, to their place of employment to help with the mother’s household tasks, likely increasing child labor in domestic environments.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. The law prohibits employers from using discriminatory criteria in hiring, discriminating against unions, and retaliating against striking workers and their leaders. The government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations, but penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.
Employment discrimination against women was prevalent, particularly with respect to economic opportunities for older women and for those in the lower economic strata. In 2018 the National Assembly approved a series of labor reforms for employees in the public and private sectors to prevent workplace harassment.
The National Institute for Statistics and Census (INEC) announced the unemployment rate in June was 15.7 percent for women and 11.6 percent for men, compared with 5.5 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively, in June 2019. Although INEC did not release further disaggregated gender employment information, economic analysts stressed women were disproportionately affected in some sectors hardest hit by social distancing and workhour reduction measures, including tourism, floriculture, and domestic services.
A labor association reported female health-care personnel in public hospitals nationwide were equipped with ill-fitting medical and protective equipment for treating patients diagnosed with COVID-19, as the majority of the equipment was provided in men’s sizes, although women represented nearly two-thirds of social and health-care service workers.
Afro-Ecuadorians continued to demand more opportunities in the workforce and complained that employers often profiled them based on their job application photographs and racial stereotypes. At the conclusion of a December 2019 official country visit, the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent expressed concern about reports of impunity and also human rights abuses and violations against farm workers, the majority of whom were Afro-descendants, at banana plantations owned by Japanese subsidiary company Furukawa Plantations C.A. The Working Group was also concerned by “the lack of access to justice for people of African descent” seeking reparations for injuries doing agricultural work, and welcomed the Constitutional Court’s commitment to address the backlog of labor cases against agricultural employers. Indigenous and LGBTI individuals as well as persons with disabilities also experienced employment discrimination.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The law provides for a minimum monthly wage, which was above the poverty income level.
The law limits the standard work period to 40 hours a week, eight hours a day, with two consecutive days of rest per week. Miners are limited to six hours a day and may only work one additional hour a day with premium pay. Premium pay is 1.5 times the basic salary for work done from 6 a.m. to midnight. Work done from midnight to 6 a.m. receives twice the basic salary, although workers whose standard shift is at night receive a premium of 25 percent instead. Premium pay also applies to work on weekends and holidays. Overtime is limited to no more than four hours a day and a total of 12 hours a week. Mandatory overtime is prohibited. The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage and overtime laws, but penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. Workers are entitled to a continuous 15-day annual vacation, including weekends, plus one extra day per year after five years of service. Different regulations regarding schedule and vacations apply to live-in domestic workers. The law mandates prison terms for employers who do not comply with the requirement of registering domestic workers with the Social Security Administration. INEC data showed the “adequate employment” rate–the proportion of the population working at least 40 hours per week or earning at or above the minimum salary of $400 per month–fell to a record low 16.7 percent through June, and the “underemployment rate” doubled from December 2019 to 34.5 percent.
On June 22, a law to address COVID-19’s impact went into effect that includes provisions allowing employers and employees to enter into force majeure agreements, although the dismissal of an employee is permitted only if the business ceased operations permanently. The law also permits employers to reduce working hours and salaries by up to 50 and 45 percent, respectively, by signing “emergency contracts” with their employees to prevent job losses. Citing government figures, media reported that as of August 20, a total of 671 companies had enrolled 5,971 workers under “emergency contracts,” with the majority of them being in the agriculture, livestock, manufacturing, and trade industries. Unions and labor organizations stated the new law enabled precarious work conditions, reduced wages below the minimum wage, and allowed unfair dismissals without due compensation because of employers’ leverage over employees desperate to keep their jobs during the COVID-19 economic slowdown.
The new law facilitates and encourages teleworking options, including a worker’s right to “disconnect” from work duties for a minimum of 12 continuous hours in a 24-hour period. On July 23, the minister of labor affirmed that more than 430,000 persons in the public and private sectors worked remotely.
The law provides for the health and safety of workers and outlines occupational safety and health (OSH) standards, which are current and appropriate for the country’s main industries. These regulations and standards were not applied in the informal sector, which employed 46.7 percent of the working population before the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of inspectors was insufficient, and the government did not effectively enforce OSH laws.
Authorities may conduct labor inspections by appointment or after a worker complaint. If a worker requests an inspection and a Ministry of Labor inspector confirms a workplace hazard, the inspector then may close the workplace. Labor inspections generally occurred because of complaints, not as a preventive measure, and inspectors could not make unannounced visits. The COVID-19 pandemic impeded in situ inspections due to social distancing measures and budgetary constraints at the Ministry of Labor. In some cases violations were remedied, but other cases were subjected to legal challenges that delayed changes for months. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations and were often not enforced.
Some unions and labor associations alleged public- and private-sector employers sometimes failed to enforce biosecurity protocols and provide adequate protective equipment to prevent COVID-19 contagion.
The Ministry of Labor continued its enforcement reforms by increasing the number of workers protected by contracts, minimum wage standards, and registration for social security benefits.
Most workers worked in the large informal sector and in rural areas. They were not subject to the minimum wage laws or legally mandated benefits. OSH problems were more prevalent in the large informal sector. The law singles out the health and safety of miners, but the government did not enforce safety rules in informal, often illegal, small-scale mines (frequently linked to local community leaders and organized crime), which made up the vast majority of enterprises in the mining sector. Migrants and refugees were particularly vulnerable to hazardous and exploitative working conditions. According to media and labor associations, local organizations reported complaints of Venezuelans receiving below the minimum wage, particularly in the informal sector.
Workers in the formal sector could generally remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. Labor representatives said that COVID-19 complicated these protections, however, as employees and their employers sometimes had a conflicting sense on the degree of risk involved in presenting themselves for work and the extent of protective measures at the workplace, while employees feared losing employment in an economic downturn. Workers in the informal sector received far fewer labor protections, and they were less likely to be able to remove themselves from dangerous health or safety situations without jeopardy to their employment.