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Canada

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Freedom of Speech: According to Supreme Court rulings, the government may limit speech to counter discrimination, foster social harmony, or promote gender equality. The court ruled that the benefits of limiting hate speech and promoting equality are sufficient to outweigh the freedom of speech clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the country’s constitutional bill of rights.

The criminal code prohibits public incitement and willful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group in any medium. Inciting hatred (in certain cases) or genocide is a criminal offense, but the Supreme Court sets a high threshold for such cases, specifying that these acts must be proven to be willful and public. Provincial-level film censorship, broadcast-licensing procedures, broadcasters’ voluntary codes curbing graphic violence, and laws against hate literature and pornography impose some restrictions on media.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes defamatory libel with a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, but courts seldom imposed such a punishment.

In June police arrested Andrzej Kumor, the publisher of Ontario Polish-language publication Goniec, related to anti-Semitic statements he published online. According to B’nai Brith Canada, police warned Kumor that he would be criminally charged for willful promotion of hatred if he published any additional anti-Semitic material, and he was released without charges. He later reportedly removed all anti-Semitic materials from Goniec’s online platforms.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Following a free and fair federal election in October 2019, the Liberal Party won a plurality of seats in the federal parliament and secured a mandate to form a national government.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. In the 2019 federal election, 726 of 2,146 House of Commons candidates were women, which was a record high. Women won a record 29 percent of the seats in the House of Commons. The government of New Brunswick provided financial incentives to political parties to field female candidates in provincial elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were allegations of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: In July the federal ethics commissioner launched investigations into the failure of the prime minister and finance minister to recuse themselves from the award of a sole source 900 million Canadian dollar (C$) ($692 million) pandemic-relief contract to the nonprofit organization WE Charity to administer a youth program. The prime minister, his family, his chief of staff, and some ministers, including the finance minister, had previously volunteered or fundraised for WE Charity, and some close family members of the prime minister and finance minister had earned income (e.g., speaking fees, direct wages, or salary) from the WE organizations. The commissioner also launched an investigation into the finance minister’s acceptance of approximately C$41,000 ($32,000) in personal travel from WE Charity, which the minister said was an oversight and repaid when the matter became public.

Financial Disclosure: Public officeholders, including elected members of the executive branch and their staffs and designated senior nonelected officials, are legally obligated to disclose information about their personal financial assets. Members of the legislative branch are not required to disclose financial holdings. These declarations, as well as an annual report, are available to the public through regular reports by a commissioner for conflict of interest and ethics. The commissioner may impose an administrative monetary penalty for noncompliance, but the law does not provide for criminal sanctions. Provincial governments provide independent audits of government business and ombudsman services.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The law prohibits discrimination because of race. Federal, provincial, and territorial human rights commissions investigated complaints and raised public awareness. The federal Canadian Race Relations Foundation coordinates and facilitates public education and research and develops recommendations to eliminate racism and promote harmonious race relations.

In September, five indigenous persons attacked and stabbed a black man in a Manitoba park while yelling racial slurs. Police arrested three of the perpetrators charged them with assault and public incitement of hatred, and continued to search for the other two assailants.

Indigenous People

Indigenous peoples constituted approximately 5 percent of the national population and much higher percentages in the country’s three territories: Yukon, 23 percent; Northwest Territories, 52 percent; and Nunavut, 86 percent. Disputes over land claims, self-government, treaty rights, taxation, duty-free imports, fishing and hunting rights, and alleged police brutality and harassment were sources of tension. Indigenous peoples remained underrepresented in the workforce, leadership positions, and politics; more susceptible than other groups to suicide, poverty, chronic health conditions, and sexual violence; and overrepresented on welfare rolls and in prison populations. In January the government announced the proportion of indigenous persons serving federal sentences had reached a record high: indigenous women constituted 42 percent of all incarcerated women, and more than 30 percent of all incarcerated individuals were indigenous. According to the government’s statistical agency, approximately 22 percent of all homicide victims in 2018 were indigenous, and the rate of homicide was five times higher for indigenous persons than nonindigenous persons.

The law recognizes individuals registered under the Indian Act based on indigenous lineage and members of a recognized First Nation as Status Indians and eligible for a range of federal services and programs. Status and services are withheld from unregistered or nonstatus indigenous persons who do not meet eligibility criteria for official recognition or who may have lost status through marriage to a nonindigenous person or other disenfranchisement. In 2016, according to the government’s statistical agency, 52 percent of children in foster care were indigenous, although indigenous children accounted for less than 8 percent of the child population. Approximately 14,970 of 28,665 foster children in private homes younger than age 15 were indigenous. In January a law came into effect that affirms and recognizes First Nations, Inuit, and Metis jurisdiction over child and family services with the goal of keeping indigenous children and youth connected to their families, communities, and culture. In July the government of Ontario announced reform of its child welfare system with a goal of reducing the number of indigenous children in provincial foster care by 25 percent and mandating that 85 percent of placements be made with caregivers related to a child’s family of origin to allow children to retain cultural, familial, and community connections.

The law recognizes and specifically protects indigenous rights, including rights established by historical land claims settlements. Treaties with indigenous groups form the basis for the government’s policies in the eastern part of the country, but there were legal challenges to the government’s interpretation and implementation of treaty rights. Indigenous groups in the western part of the country that had never signed treaties continued to claim land and resources, and many continued to seek legal resolution of outstanding issues. As a result the evolution of the government’s policy toward indigenous rights, particularly land claims, depended on negotiation or legal challenges.

The law imposes statutory, contractual, and common-law obligations to consult with indigenous peoples on the development and exploitation of natural resources on land covered by treaty or subject to indigenous land claims. According to a Supreme Court ruling, the federal government has the constitutional duty to consult and, where appropriate, accommodate indigenous peoples when the government contemplates actions that may adversely affect potential or established indigenous and treaty rights.

A Supreme Court decision affirmed that indigenous title extends to territory used by indigenous peoples for hunting, fishing, and other activities prior to contact with Europeans, as well as to settlement sites. Provincial and federal governments may develop natural resources on land subject to indigenous title but are obliged to obtain consent of the indigenous titleholders in addition to existing constitutional duties to consult, and where necessary, accommodate indigenous peoples in matters that affect their rights. If governments cannot obtain consent, they may proceed with resource development only based on a “compelling and substantial objective” in the public interest, in which the public interest is proportionate to any adverse effect on indigenous interests. The court has established that indigenous titles are collective in nature.

First Nations, Inuit, and Metis former students of federal and provincial government-funded day schools filed a national class-action lawsuit in 2018 for alleged physical, sexual, and psychological abuse and loss of culture and language, which they claimed they suffered in church-run schools they were legally compelled to attend since 1920. In May 2019 the federal court approved a settlement between the government and former students who suffered harm while attending the schools, whereby some former students would receive C$10,000 ($7,700) in individual compensation, and students who experienced physical and sexual abuse were eligible for additional compensation, ranging from C$50,000 ($38,500) to C$200,000 ($154,000). The claims period was scheduled to remain open until July 2022.

Contaminated drinking water was a problem in many indigenous communities. The 2018 budget provided C$172.6 million ($133 million) over three years for infrastructure projects to support high-risk water systems. The government committed to end all drinking water advisories on indigenous lands by March 2021.

In October, Joyce Echaquan, an indigenous woman, used her cellphone to record derogatory and discriminatory comments made to her by nurses at a Joliette, Quebec, hospital as she lay dying and asked for pain relief. The hospital fired a nurse and orderly when the recording became public. The prime minister publicly deplored the abuse as an example of systemic racism. The premier of Quebec, whose government has jurisdiction over health care, issued a public, formal apology to the Echaquan family and publicly committed to investigating complaints of racism and mistreatment of indigenous patients at the hospital and to introducing training on indigenous culture for physicians and nurses. At the request of the Quebec government, the provincial chief coroner ordered a public inquiry into Echaquan’s death that remained pending at year’s end.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Federal and some provincial laws, including related regulations and statutory instruments, provide for the right of workers in both the public and the private sectors to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. Workers in the public sector who provide essential services, including police and armed forces, do not have the right to strike but have mechanisms to provide for due process and to protect workers’ rights. Workers in essential services had recourse to binding arbitration if labor negotiations failed. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination or other forms of employer interference in union functions.

Federal labor law applies in federally regulated sectors, which include industries of extra provincial or international character, transportation and transportation infrastructure that cross provincial and international borders, marine shipping, port and ferry services, air transportation and airports, pipelines, telecommunications, banks, grain elevators, uranium mining and processing, works designated by the federal parliament affecting two or more provinces, protection of fisheries as a natural resource, many First Nation activities, and most state-owned corporations. These industries employed approximately 10 percent of workers.

The law requires the government and a bargaining unit to negotiate an essential services agreement defining an essential service and identifying the number and type of employees and the specific positions within the bargaining unit necessary to provide such essential service and, consequently, do not have the right to strike. If the parties are unable to agree, either party can apply to the independent Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board for a resolution. The law also allows a bargaining unit to choose between arbitration and conciliation as the process for resolving collective bargaining disputes if it is unable to resolve the dispute directly with the employer.

Provincial and territorial governments regulate and are responsible for enforcing their own labor laws in all occupations and workplaces that are not federally regulated, leaving categories of workers excluded from statutory protection of freedom of association in several provinces. Some provinces restrict the right to strike. For example, agricultural workers in Ontario and Quebec do not have the right to organize or bargain collectively, or experience restrictions on such rights, under provincial law. Migrant workers in specific occupations, such as agriculture or caregiving, may also be exempt from minimum wage, overtime, and other labor standards protections in specific provinces.

The government generally respected freedom of association and the right of collective bargaining. The government effectively enforced applicable laws and regulations, including with remedies and penalties such as corrective workplace practices and criminal prosecution for noncompliance and willful violations. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations and were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. Administrative and judicial procedures were not subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced the law. The law prescribes penalties that are sufficiently stringent to deter violations. The government investigated and prosecuted cases of forced labor, including domestic servitude, and penalties were commensurate with penalties for other analogous serious crimes. The government’s efforts to identify victims and address forced labor, through both law enforcement and victim identification and protection measures, remained inadequate.

The federal government held employers of foreign workers accountable by verifying employers’ ability to pay wages and provide accommodation and, through periodic inspections and mandatory compliance reviews, ensuring that employers provided the same wages, living conditions, and occupation specified in the employers’ original job offer. The government can deny noncompliant employers the permits required to recruit foreign workers for two years and impose fines of up to C$100,000 ($77,000) per violation of the program. Some provincial governments imposed licensing and registration requirements on recruiters or employers of foreign workers and prohibited the charging of recruitment fees to workers.

There were reports that employers subjected employees with temporary or no legal status to forced labor in the agricultural sector, food processing, cleaning services, hospitality, construction industries, and domestic service. During the pandemic there were also reports that some employers barred migrant workers from leaving the work location, hired private security to prevent workers from leaving, and deducted inflated food and supply costs from their wages. NGOs reported bonded labor, particularly in the construction industry, and domestic servitude constituted the majority of cases of forced labor and that some victims had participated in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

In June the prime minister publicly acknowledged that the government had “not done enough” to protect migrant farm workers from the coronavirus pandemic. In August the government committed C$58.6 million ($44.9 million) to improve the health and safety of migrant farm workers, including increased inspections and better accommodations.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. There is no federal minimum age for employment. In federally regulated sectors, children younger than age 17 may work only when they are not required to attend school under provincial legislation, provided the work does not fall under excluded categories (such as work underground in a mine, on a vessel, or in the vicinity of explosives), and the work does not endanger health and safety. Children may not work in any federally regulated sector between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. The provinces and territories have primary responsibility for regulation of child labor, and minimum age restrictions vary by province. Enforcement occurs through a range of laws covering employment standards, occupational health and safety, education laws, and in regulations for vocational training, child welfare, and licensing of establishments for the sale of alcohol. Most provinces restrict the number of hours of work to two or three hours on a school day and eight hours on a nonschool day and prohibit children ages 12 to 16 from working without parental consent, after 11 p.m., or in any hazardous employment.

Authorities effectively enforced child-labor laws and policies, and federal and provincial labor ministries carried out child-labor inspections either proactively or in response to formal complaints. There were reports that limited resources hampered inspection and enforcement efforts. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

There were reports child labor occurred, particularly in the agricultural sector. There were also reports children, principally teenage girls, were subjected to sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin or citizenship, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases. The law does not include restrictions on women’s employment concerning working hour limits, occupations, or tasks. In June 2019 Quebec overrode constitutional protections of freedom of religion for a period of five years to pass a law that restricts the wearing of visible religious symbols–including hijabs, kippahs, turbans, and crosses–by certain public-sector employees to enforce a policy of religious neutrality in the delivery of provincial public services. Some provinces, including Quebec, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the Northwest Territories, prohibit employment discrimination on the grounds of social origin, “social condition,” or political opinion. The government enforced the law effectively, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were generally commensurate to laws related to civil rights.

Federal law requires, on a complaint basis, equal pay for equal work for four designated groups in federally regulated industries enforced through the Canadian Human Rights Commission: women, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, and visible minorities. Ontario and Quebec have pay equity laws that cover both the public and private sectors, and other provinces require pay equity only in the public sector.

Authorities encouraged individuals to resolve employment-related discrimination complaints through internal workplace dispute resolution processes as a first recourse, but federal and provincial human rights commissions investigated and mediated complaints and enforced the law and regulations. Some critics complained the process was complex and failed to issue rulings in a timely manner. Foreign migrant workers have the same labor rights as citizens and permanent residents, although NGOs alleged discrimination occurred against migrant workers and that some refugee claimants faced language and other nonlegal barriers that made it difficult to enter the workforce.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage. In 2018 the government adopted the Market Basket Measure as its first official poverty line. The income level varies based on family size and province; for example, the threshold for a family of four in Ottawa was $47,233 in 2018, the most recent date for which data was available. The government effectively enforced wage rates, and penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.

Standard work hours vary by province, but the limit is 40 or 48 hours per week, with at least 24 hours of rest. The law requires payment of a premium for work above the standard workweek. There is no specific prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime, which is regulated by means of the required rest periods in the labor code that differ by industry. Some categories of workers have specific employment rights that differ from the standard, including commercial fishermen, oil-field workers, loggers, home caregivers, professionals, managers, and some sales staff.

Federal law provides safety and health standards for employees under federal jurisdiction. Provincial and territorial legislation provides for all other employees, including foreign and migrant workers. Standards were current and appropriate for the industries they covered. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations resides with authorities, employers, and supervisors, not the worker. Federal, provincial, and territorial laws protect the right of workers with “reasonable cause” to refuse dangerous work and to remove themselves from hazardous work conditions, and authorities effectively enforced this right. The government also promoted safe working practices and provided training, education, and resources through the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety, a federal agency composed of representatives of government, employers, and labor.

Minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety standards were effectively enforced, and penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes. Federal and provincial labor departments monitored and effectively enforced labor standards by conducting inspections through scheduled and unscheduled visits, in direct response to reported complaints, and at random. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Some trade unions claimed that limited resources hampered the government’s inspection and enforcement efforts.

NGOs reported migrants, new immigrants, young workers, and the unskilled were vulnerable to violations of the law on minimum wage, overtime pay, unpaid wages, and excessive hours of work. NGOs also alleged that restrictions on the types of labor complaints accepted for investigation and delays in processing cases discouraged the filing of complaints.

According to the Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada, during 2018, the most recent year for which data were available, there were 1,027 workplace fatalities.

Laos

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government severely restricted political speech and writing and prohibited most public criticism it deemed harmful to its reputation.

Freedom of Speech: The law provides citizens the right to criticize the government but forbids slandering the state, distorting party or state policies, inciting disorder, or propagating information or opinions that weaken the state.

In late August, Champasak provincial police arrested Sangkhane Phachanthavong for criticizing the government in his Facebook posts; he was held in jail for a month. There were reports that during his confinement, he was “re-educated” and instructed to stop posting critical content.

As of November, Houayheuang (“Muay”) Xayabouly remained in prison. She was arrested in September 2019 on charges of defaming the country when she criticized on Facebook the government’s response to flooding in Champasak and Salavan Provinces, after previously using social media to criticize graft and greed among government officials. She pled guilty and in November 2019 was sentenced to five years in prison and a 20 million kip ($2,260) fine.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally exercised self-censorship, particularly after the 2012 disappearance of an internationally respected civil society advocate (see section 1.b.). NGOs said they also tried to avoid saying anything that might further delay government approval of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) needed to carry out their work. NGOs reported that citizens are taught at an early age not to criticize the government.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The state owned and controlled most domestic print and electronic media. Local news reflected government policy. The government permitted publication of several privately owned periodicals of a nonpolitical nature, including ones specializing in business, society, and trade. By law foreign media must submit articles to the government before publication; however, authorities did not enforce these controls. The government did not allow foreign news organizations to set up bureaus in the country, except those from neighboring communist states China and Vietnam. In September the army started a new television channel, reportedly funded by the Chinese government.

Although the government closely controlled domestic television and radio broadcasts, it did not interfere with broadcasts from abroad. Citizens had 24-hour access to international stations via satellite and cable television. The government required owners of satellite receivers to register them and pay a one-time licensing fee, largely as a revenue-generating measure, but otherwise made no effort to restrict their use.

In August, Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith urged media and publishing officials to continue “defeating the fake, deceptive, and harmful news” found in social media. International media reports interpreted the prime minister’s speech as an instruction to the press not to report negatively on the government.

One domestic news outlet reported that they were told by government officials to stop investigating a controversial land use dispute.

In September the Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism (Ministry of Information) reiterated a warning to social media outlets that had not yet complied with a 2019 order to register with the government. The order required any “individual, legal entity, state or private sector” that posts news stories on social media platforms to register or face legal consequences.

The government restricted the activities of foreign journalists. Authorities denied journalists free access to information sources and at times required them to travel with official escorts.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Officials reviewed all articles in privately owned periodicals after publication and by law could penalize those whose articles did not meet government approval. Publishers and journalists were generally aware of what content the government would approve for publication and practiced self-censorship. The Ministry of Information’s Mass Media Department did not confirm whether the government disapproved any publication during the year.

Authorities prohibited dissemination of materials deemed subversive of national culture or politically sensitive. Any person found guilty of importing a publication considered offensive to national culture was subject to a fine of one to three times the value of the item or imprisonment of up to one year.

In August the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications issued instructions reiterating that social media users must not post content or comments that contain criticism of the government. Observers noted that articles or comments on articles critical of the government suddenly disappeared from social media sites.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law denies citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage, and it did not provide for the free expression of the will of the people. Although the constitution outlines a system comprising executive, legislative, and judicial branches, the LPRP controlled governance and leadership at all levels through its constitutionally designated leading role.

Elections and Political Participation

The National Assembly appointed election committees, which must approve all candidates for local and national elections. Candidates do not need to be LPRP members, but almost all were, and the party vetted all candidates.

The National Assembly chooses or removes the country’s president, vice president, and other members of the government. The National Election Committee manages elections, including approval of candidates. The activities of the National Election Committee were not transparent.

Recent Elections: The most recent election for National Assembly members was in 2016. The government allowed independent observers to monitor certain polling stations; the LPRP selected all candidates. Several of the observers were members of the diplomatic corps and foreign press. The government determined which polling stations observers could visit, and these selected polling stations were reportedly better prepared and organized than others not under observation.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution designates the LPRP as the sole legal party. The formation of other political parties is illegal.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women’s leadership roles were limited, especially in rural areas. As of November, after the majority of provincial and ministerial Party Congress elections were held, only an estimated 10 percent of positions in the Standing Party Secretary Committees were held by women. Of the population, 80 percent lived in rural areas where the village chief and council handled most routine matters, and fewer than 3 percent of village chiefs were women. The LPRP’s Party Congress elections in 2016 increased the number of ethnic minority members in the 69-member LPRP Central Committee from seven to 15, and from two to three in the 11-member Politburo. There were seven women in the committee. The number of ethnic minority ministers in the 27-member cabinet increased from two to six, including a deputy prime minister. Three women were in the cabinet.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials and the government made some progress in addressing corruption. Some officials continued to engage in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: Official corruption was widespread and found at all levels of government, and it was acknowledged by government-controlled media. In March 2019 local media reported that investigating agencies discovered more than 1,000 cases of corruption in 2018, with 1,285 persons involved (including 970 government officials and 315 persons from the private sector). The government anticorruption hotline reportedly was used often, and members of the public frequently raised awareness of government officials’ inappropriate or suspicious activities on social media; such postings were not censored or removed.

Observers characterized the reshufflings of officials at various levels, including provincial officials in Champasak Province in March and within the Ministry of Information in June, as “clean-up” measures to remove corrupt officials. In February nonstate news sources reported some staff members of the Lao Border Logistical Service Company, a state-owned enterprise run by the Ministry of Finance, had been convicted of corruption; the company director received a life sentence, while three lower-level staff received nine-year sentences. Sources also reported that the appointment of a new chief executive officer for Electricite du Laos, the state corporation that generates and distributes electricity in the country, was made in response to corruption and weak management in the organization. During 2019 several party members or central or provincial authorities were punished for corrupt acts such as embezzlement, theft, or illegal timber trading; consequences issued included warnings, demotion, “re-education,” or dismissal.

Financial Disclosure: There is no legal requirement for public disclosure of assets and income by appointed or elected officials, although LPRP policy requires senior officials, prior to taking their designated positions, to disclose their personal assets and those of their dependents, but not their incomes, to the party’s inspection committee. The committee inspects the officials’ assets before and after they have been in their positions. Persons not compliant with this policy are subject to unspecified sanctions, although the LPRP used its control of government authorities and media to block public censure of corrupt officials who were party members.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Societal discrimination persisted against minority ethnic groups, despite law and policy providing for equal rights for all members of national, racial, and ethnic groups and barring discrimination against them, including in employment and occupation.

Some critics continued to charge that the government’s resettlement program for ending slash-and-burn agriculture and opium production adversely affected many ethnic minority groups, particularly in the north. Some minority groups not involved in resettlement, notably those in remote locations, maintained they had little voice in government decisions affecting their lands and the allocation of natural resources from their areas.

The Hmong are one of the largest and most prominent of the 50 official ethnic groups in the country. Several Hmong officials served in senior ranks of government and the LPRP; these included one Politburo member and several members of the LPRP Central Committee. Some Hmong reportedly maintained separatist or irredentist political beliefs. Amnestied former Hmong insurgents continued to be the focus of official suspicion and scrutiny, and the government leadership remained suspicious of the political objectives of some Hmong.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not provide for the right of workers to form and join worker organizations independent of the Lao Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU), an organ of the LPRP. The law defines collective bargaining but does not set out conditions, and it requires the examination of all collective bargaining agreements by the Labor Administration Agency. The law provides for the right to strike, subject to certain limitations. The law does not permit police, civil servants, foreigners, and members of the armed forces to form or join unions. There is a general prohibition against discrimination against employees for reasons unrelated to performance, although there is no explicit prohibition against antiunion discrimination. There is no explicit requirement for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law requires a workforce of 10 or more workers to elect one or more employee representatives. Where a trade union exists, the head of the union is by default the employee representative. Both representatives and trade union heads may bargain collectively with employers on matters including working conditions or recruitment, wages, welfare, and other benefits.

Trade union law allows workers in the informal economy, including workers outside of labor units or who were self-employed, to join LFTU-affiliated unions. It also establishes rights and responsibilities for “laborer representatives,” which the law defines as “an individual or legal entity selected by the workers and laborers in labor units to be a representative to protect their legitimate rights and interest.”

There was no information on the resources dedicated to enforcement of freedom of association provisions of the labor laws. Penalties under law for infringing on workers’ freedom of association include fines, incarceration, business license revocation, or some combination of these; these penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving civil rights. Violations and enforcement were rare.

The government reported the law permits affiliation between unions of separate branches of a company but does not explicitly allow or disallow affiliation at the industry, provincial, or national levels. There were reports that unions not affiliated with the LFTU and without legal standing existed in some industries, including the garment industry, light manufacturing, and agricultural processing. These unions were not allowed to strike.

Labor disputes reportedly were infrequent, and the Ministry of Labor generally did not enforce the dispute resolution section of the labor law, especially in dealings with joint ventures in the private sector. In May former employees of one of the largest private enterprises in the country assembled outside the Ministry of Labor to demand assistance after being laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ministry officials later met with the LFTU and the Lao National Chamber of Commerce to find a resolution, which involved severance pay to the workers for 36 or 24 months, depending on their tenure at the company.

According to law workers who join an organization that encourages protests, demonstrations, and other actions that might cause “turmoil or social instability” can face prison time. The government’s overall prohibition of activities it considered subversive or demonstrations it considered destabilizing, workers’ lack of familiarity with the provisions of the amended labor law, and general aversion to open confrontation continued to make workers extremely unlikely to exercise their right to strike.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law prohibits private employers from using forced labor, and the penalties for perpetrating forced labor may include fines, suspension from work, revocation of business license, and prosecution. The law allows for prisoners to work. There may be civil or criminal prosecutions for forced labor violations. Penalties for trafficking in persons, which includes forced labor, consist of imprisonment, fines, and confiscation of assets. Such penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Due to limited numbers of inspectors, among other factors, the government did not effectively enforce the law.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law allows children from ages 14 to 18 to work a maximum of eight hours per day, provided such work is not dangerous or difficult. Employers may employ children 12 to 14 to perform light work that does not affect their health or school attendance. The law applies only to work undertaken in a formal labor relationship, not to self-employment or informal work.

The Ministry of Public Security and Justice and the Ministry of Labor are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, including in the informal economy, but enforcement was ineffective due to the lack of inspectors. The law prescribes penalties of imprisonment and fines, which were not commensurate with analogous crimes, such as kidnapping. The Ministry of Labor conducted public awareness campaigns, organized workshops with the National Commission for Mothers and Children in the northern and southern provinces, and collected data on child labor as part of its effort to implement the National Plan of Action for the elimination of the worst forms of child labor.

There were reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law requires equal pay for equal work, although a gender wage gap persisted, and prohibits discrimination in hiring based on a woman’s marital status or pregnancy, and it protects against dismissal on these grounds. The government enforced prohibitions against employment discrimination or requirements for equal pay; penalties under law included fines and were commensurate to laws related to those for civil rights.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In 2018 the government raised the monthly minimum wage for all private-sector workers; it was above the estimated national poverty line.

The law provides for a workweek limited to 48 hours (36 hours for employment in dangerous activities). Overtime may not exceed 45 hours per month, and each period of overtime may not exceed three hours. Employers may apply to the government for an exception, which the law stipulates workers or their representatives must also approve. The law does not specify penalties for noncompliance with minimum wage and overtime provisions, but it states they could include warnings, fines, “re-education,” or suspension of business license. The laws were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. The law was not effectively enforced.

Occupational health and safety standards existed, but inspections were inconsistent. The law provides for safe working conditions and higher compensation for dangerous work, but it does not explicitly protect the right of workers to remove themselves from a hazardous situation. In case of injury or death on the job, employers are responsible to compensate the worker or the worker’s family. The law requires employers to report accidents causing major injury to or death of an employee or requiring an employee to take a minimum of four days off work to the Labor Administration Agency. The law also mandates extensive employer responsibility for workers who become disabled while at work. The law does not specify penalties for noncompliance with occupational safety and health provisions, but it states they could include warnings, fines, “re-education,” or suspension of business license. They were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence.

The law also prohibits the employment of pregnant women and new mothers in occupations deemed hazardous to women’s reproductive health. The law requires the transfer of women working in such jobs to less demanding positions, and they are entitled to maintain the same salary or wage.

The government did not always effectively enforce the law.

The Department of Labor Management within the Ministry of Labor is responsible for workplace inspections. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

Some piecework employees, especially on construction sites, earned less than the minimum wage. The overtime or wage law was not effectively enforced.

According to civil society organizations, the establishment of large-scale, foreign-financed agricultural plantations led to displacement of local farmers. Unable to continue traditional practices of subsistence agriculture, many farmers sought employment as day laborers through local brokers, many of whom operated informally and thus left workers vulnerable to exploitation.

There were a number of undocumented migrant workers in the country, particularly from Vietnam and Burma, who were vulnerable to exploitation by employers in the logging, mining, and agricultural sectors. Migrants from China and Vietnam also worked in construction, plantations, casinos, and informal service industries, sectors where wage and occupational safety and health violations were common.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future