The law provides for the right to form and join trade unions and conduct legal strikes, but with significant restrictions. There is no right to collective bargaining, although the law provides for collective agreements. The law identifies specific groups of public- and private-sector workers who may organize. It also defines 17 industries and professions in which trade unions may be established. The law requires that these 17 trade unions belong to the government-linked General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions, the country’s sole trade union federation. The establishment of new unions requires at least 50 founding members and approval from the Ministry of Labor. The law authorizes additional professions to form professional associations on a case-by-case basis.
There were no reports of threats of violence against union heads, although labor activists alleged that the security services pressured union leaders to refrain from activism that challenged government interests. Strikes generally occurred without advance notice or registration.
In July authorities suspended The Jordanian Teachers Syndicate (the syndicate) and detained its 13-member governing board. All were released on bail following 30 days in detention. Security forces raided several of the syndicate’s offices. Under the suspension, the syndicate is prohibited for two years from conducting any activities or using its headquarters in Amman or its 12 branch offices in the governorates. Authorities stated they had acted against the syndicate because of financial transgressions under investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission, inflammatory decisions issued by the syndicate’s council and circulated on social media, and videos of “incendiary” remarks by acting syndicate head Nasser Nawasreh released on social media. All public school teachers belong to the syndicate, which has approximately 100,000 members. On July 25 and 29, hundreds of teachers and their supporters protested in Amman and other cities (see section 2.b.).
On August 3, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) sent a letter to the government in which it denounced the attacks against the syndicate, emphasizing that the international right to freedom of association is protected by law. ITUC called for the government to immediately release the arrested teachers and syndicate council members, to annul the Attorney General’s order to dissolve the syndicate, and to refrain from further attacks against and harassment of the syndicate and its members. The NCHR reported that some detained teachers signed pledges not to participate in protests or disturb the public order.
When conflicts arise during labor negotiations, the law requires that union representatives and employers first attempt to resolve the issue through informal mediation. If the issue remains unresolved, the union is required to submit a request for a Ministry of Labor-appointed mediation. Labor-appointed mediators are assigned to cases for up to 21 days. If initial mediation fails, the issue is referred to a higher mediation council composed of an employer representative, a labor representative, and a chair appointed by the minister of labor. If the council’s adjudication is unsuccessful, this issue is referred to a labor court with a panel of ministry-appointed judges for 21 days.
In March, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government suspended the mandatory legal periods and deadlines regarding labor disputes stipulated in the law. The judiciary resumed operations on June 1.
In December 2019 the General Trade Union of Workers in Textile, Garment and Clothing Industries, along with the Jordan Garments, Accessories & Textiles Exporters’ Association and the Association of Owners of Factories, Workshops and Garments signed a three-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The agreement added new provisions to its previous versions and adopts internal policies proposed by the Ministry of Labor to eliminate abusive behaviors. The new CBA calls for employers to provide medical care for workers and to adopt zero-tolerance policies against sexual harassment. The Ministry of Labor signed a total of 19 CBAs in the year.
The law allows foreign workers to join unions but does not permit them to form unions or hold union office. Authorities did not permit civil servants to form or join unions or engage in collective bargaining. No new trade union has been established since 1976. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and protects workers from employer retaliation for union affiliation or activities. The law does not explicitly provide the right to reinstatement for workers fired due to antiunion views.
There are limits on the right to strike, including a requirement to provide a minimum of 14 days’ notice to the employer. The law prohibits strikes if a labor dispute is under mediation or arbitration. The law prohibits management from arbitrarily dismissing workers engaged in labor activism or arbitration, but enforcement was inconsistent. Labor organizations reported that some management representatives used threats to intimidate striking workers.
The government did not fully respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Many worker organizations were not independent of the government, and the government influenced union policies and activities.
The government subsidized and audited salaries and activities of the General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions and monitored union elections. The government denied recognition to independent unions organized outside the structure of the government-approved federation. The government did not meet with these unions, and the lack of legal recognition hampered their ability to collect dues, obtain meeting space, and otherwise address members’ workplace concerns. Labor organizations also reported difficulty getting government recognition for trade unions in new sectors beyond the 17 sectors established in law, in part because new unions would require approval by a tripartite committee in which the existing 17 union heads are represented.
Some foreign workers whose residency permits are tied to work contracts were vulnerable to retaliation by employers for participating in strikes and sit-ins. Participation in a legally unrecognized strike is counted as an unexcused absence under the law. The law allows employers to consider employment contracts void if a worker is absent more than 10 consecutive days, as long as the employer provides written notice. Labor rights organizations reported instances of refusing to renew foreign workers’ contracts due to attempts to organize in the workplace.
Observers noted that the labor code did not explicitly protect nonunionized workers from retaliation. This was particularly the case for foreign workers in all sectors as well as citizens working as day laborers in the public sector on short-term contracts.
Labor NGOs working to promote the rights of workers generally focused on promoting the rights of migrant workers. Labor NGOs did not face government restrictions in addition to or apart from those discussed in section 2.b.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor except in an emergency such as war or natural disaster or when prison sentences include hard labor. The government enforced the law, although penalties were not commensurate with those prescribed for analogous crimes in all cases. Labor activists noted that law enforcement and judicial officials did not consistently identify victims or open criminal investigations of forced labor.
The government inspected garment factories, a major employer of foreign labor, and investigated allegations of forced labor. A 2019 study by the Global Alliance against Trafficking in Women found that female Bangladeshi garment workers in the country suffered physical, verbal, and psychological abuse and were provided crowded, bedbug-infested living conditions and unsanitary food. Forced labor or conditions indicative of forced labor also occurred among migrant workers in the domestic work and agricultural sectors. Activists highlighted the vulnerability of agricultural workers due to minimal government oversight. Activists also identified domestic workers, most of whom were foreign workers, as particularly vulnerable to exploitation due to inadequate government oversight, social norms that excused forced labor, and workers’ isolation within individual homes. Activists further noted cases where domestic workers who used an employer’s phone to complain to a Ministry of Labor hotline sometimes experienced retaliation when the hotline returned the call to their employers. In 2019 the International Organization for Migration reported the Ministry of Labor’s Countertrafficking Unit preferred to settle potential cases of domestic servitude through mediation rather than referring them for criminal prosecution. High staff turnover at the unit also reportedly made prosecution more difficult.
Government bylaws require recruitment agencies for migrant domestic workers to provide insurance with medical and workplace accident coverage. The bylaws authorize the Ministry of Labor publicly to classify recruitment agencies based on compliance with the labor law, and to close and withdraw the license of poorly ranked agencies. As of August the ministry warned 23 recruitment agencies and transferred 11 domestic helper complaints to the PSD’s Countertrafficking Unit. A closure recommendation is an internal procedure in which inspectors send to the minister of labor their recommendation to close recruitment agencies with multiple labor violations. Based on that recommendation, the minister may issue a closure decision.
The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law forbids employment of children younger than age 16, except as apprentices in light work. The law bans those between the ages of 16 and 18 from working in hazardous occupations, limits working hours for such children to six hours per day, mandates one-hour breaks for every four consecutive working hours, and prohibits work after 8 p.m., on national or religious holidays, and on weekends.
The Ministry of Labor’s Child Labor Unit was responsible for coordinating government action regarding child labor in collaboration with the National Committee on Child Labor. The Child Labor Unit, with the ministry’s labor inspectors, was responsible for enforcing all aspects of the labor code, including child labor. Authorities referred criminal violations to the magistrate’s penalty court which handles labor cases. The law provides that employers who hire a child younger than age 16 pay a fine which was not clearly prescribed. In 2019 the Ministry of Labor’s Child Labor Unit increased the number of inspectors by more than 25 percent, and established and began using an electronic child labor monitoring system to coordinate government and civil society efforts to remove children from illegal labor and provide them with services. The government increased the number of families receiving assistance through the National Aid Fund, a program that provides cash transfers to families who re-enroll working children in school. In addition, the government provided shelter, education, and financial services to children engaged in child labor. Children continue to be engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including street work and dangerous tasks in agriculture. Despite government measures, Syrian children still face barriers to education due to socioeconomic pressures, bullying, and costs associated with transportation and supplies.
Labor inspectors reportedly monitored cases of legally working children between ages 16 and 18 to issue advice and guidance, provide safe work conditions, and cooperate with employers to permit working children to attend school concurrently. The Labor Ministry had a zero-tolerance policy for labor of children younger than age 16 and hazardous work for children younger than 18.
The government took actions to combat child labor but did not fully and effectively enforce child labor laws. The government did not impose penalties that were commensurate with those for analogous crimes. The government had limited capacity to monitor children working in the informal work sector, such as those working in family businesses and the agricultural sector.
The Ministries of Labor, Education, and Social Development collaborated with NGOs seeking to withdraw children from the worst forms of child labor.
Refugee children worked in the informal sector, sold goods in the streets, worked in the agricultural sector, and begged in urban areas. In 2019 NGOs reported that when government inspectors withdrew Syrian refugee children from child labor, inspectors often took the children to the Azraq refugee camp, even when their families lived in distant urban centers or the Za’atari refugee camp, separating families for days, weeks, or months. NGOs report the reception center has since been shut down and they are aware of a very small number of cases of refugee children engaged in child labor still being sent to Azraq camp.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law does not prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of race, disability, language, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV-positive status, other communicable diseases, or social status.
The law requires private companies to hire workers with disabilities, forbids employers from firing employees solely because of a disability, and directs employers to make their workplaces accessible to persons with disabilities. Citizens and NGOs, however, reported that persons with disabilities faced problems obtaining employment. In December 2019 a coalition of 20 NGOs, private- and public-sector organizations, and disabilities advocates issued a position paper on labor law related to persons with disabilities. An NGO held discussions between government stakeholders and the HCD to review the Ministry of Labor’s Employment Bylaw. In January a group of disabilities advocates and activists held discussions at the Civil Service Bureau to reassess employment mechanisms for persons with disabilities.
Discrimination in employment and occupation also occurred with respect to gender, national origin, and sexual orientation (see section 6).
The law places restrictions on professions women are allowed to pursue, normally only “socially acceptable” positions such as nursing and teaching. By law the minister of labor issues decisions specifying the industries and economic activities that are prohibited for women, as well as the hours during which they are allowed to work. Women are prohibited from working in quarries and other hazardous environments, and are not allowed to work between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. except in hotels, theaters, restaurants, airports, offices of tourism, hospitals, clinics, and some transportation industries. Evening work for women is limited to 30 days per year and a maximum of 10 hours per day. These restrictions limit job competition in favor of men. The Civil Service Ordinance of Jordan discriminates on the allocation of benefits such as the family allowance and cost of living allowance, which are higher for men than for women.
In October 2019 the Ministry of Labor increased the number of professions closed to foreign workers from 11 to 28, with the stated purpose of creating job opportunities in the private sector for Jordanian youth. The decision includes not renewing previously granted foreign worker permits for any of these closed professions. Amendments to the labor law passed during the year prohibit discrimination in wages based solely on gender, and include labor law protections for flexible and part-time work contracts.
Union officials reported that sectors predominantly employing women, such as secretarial work, offered wages below the official minimum wage. The law prohibits women from working in technical roles. Many women reported traditional social pressures discouraged them from pursuing professional careers, especially after marriage. According to the Department of Statistics, for the second quarter of the year, economic participation by women was 14.1 percent, and unemployment among women holding a bachelor’s degree was 78.2 percent, compared with 26 percent for men. The female unemployment rate was 28.6 percent, compared with a male unemployment rate of 21.5 percent and the overall unemployment rate of 23.1 percent.
According to the Employment Ministry, Egyptians make up the majority of foreign workers in the country. Jordan exports highly skilled and educated workers while hosting unskilled migrants to perform lower-level jobs its citizens avoid. NGOs reported foreign workers, including garment workers and domestic workers, were especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, sexual harassment, and sexual assault in the workplace. Lawyers criticized the law on harassment in the workplace, saying it did nothing to hold perpetrators of harassment accountable and only assisted victims by allowing them to resign.
Some persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment and access to the workplace despite the law, which requires any workplace over 50 employees to have 4 percent or more of its employees be persons with disabilities. According to the Ministry of Labor, agreements were signed with private sector companies to ensure implementation of the 4-percent requirement and to allow the ministry to conduct inspections. Some migrant workers faced discrimination in wages, housing, and working conditions (see section 7.e.).
The Ministry of Labor implemented a three-year program on “Economic Empowerment and Social Participation of Persons with Disabilities.” Through the program, 13 instructors were certified to train civil society organizations, private sector companies, and the public sector. The ministry continued to implement a sign language program and offer simultaneous interpretation devices across the ministry’s departments. The Ministry also allocated 80,000 dinars ($113,000) from its budget towards the Employment of Persons with Disabilities Department.
The law provides for a national minimum wage, per month, which is above the poverty line.
The law sets a workweek of 48 hours and requires overtime pay for hours worked in excess of that level. Because there was no limit on mutually agreed overtime, the Ministry of Labor reportedly permitted employees in some industries, such as the garment sector, to work as many as 70 to 75 hours per week, and observers reported many foreign workers requested overtime work. NGOs reported some instances of forced overtime. As part of the COVID-19 pandemic response, the government announced policies for remote work, reduced wages, and suspension of operations for private sector companies. The policies included permission for employers to reduce workers’ salaries up to 50 percent in cases where employees could not report to work.
Employees are entitled to one day off per week. The law provides for 14 days of paid sick leave and 14 days of paid annual leave per year, which increases to 21 days of paid annual leave after five years of service with the same firm. Workers also received additional national and religious holidays designated by the government. The law permits compulsory overtime under certain circumstances, such as conducting an annual inventory, closing accounts, preparing to sell goods at discounted prices, avoiding loss of goods that would otherwise be exposed to damage, and receiving special deliveries. In such cases actual working hours may not exceed 10 hours per day, the employee must be paid overtime, and the period may not last more than 30 days. Observers reported some violations, mostly delays of salary payment during periods when the country was locked down for public health reasons.
Employers are required to abide by all occupational health and safety standards set by the government. The law requires employers to protect workers from hazards caused by the nature of the job or its tools, provide any necessary protective equipment, train workers on hazards and prevention measures, provide first aid as necessitated by the job, and protect employees from explosions or fires by storing flammable materials appropriately.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcement of labor laws and acceptable conditions of work. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance. Labor inspectors did not regularly investigate reports of labor abuses or other abuses of domestic workers in private homes, and inspectors cannot enter a private residence without the owner’s permission except with a court order. Employees may lodge complaints regarding violations of the law directly with the Ministry of Labor or through organizations such as their union or the NCHR. The ministry opened an investigation for each complaint.
In July the ministry temporarily shut down a factory in the Jordan Valley after workers became ill from an accidental insecticide poisoning. In June the Ministry of Labor issued verbal and written warnings to two textile factories in Karak following a notice of concern from foreign investors and complaints from employees of maltreatment and poor working conditions. The ministry placed inspectors at both locations for two weeks.
Labor standards apply to the informal sector, but the Ministry of Labor did not consistently inspect and monitor all workplace violations or apply all the protections of the labor code to domestic and agricultural workers. Authorities were also hampered by barriers to the inspection of homes where domestic workers lived. Labor organizations stated that many freelancing agricultural workers, domestic workers, cooks, and gardeners, most of whom were foreign workers, were not enrolled for social benefits from the Social Security Corporation because only salaried employees were automatically enrolled, and optional enrollment was limited to citizens. Maternity leave is not consistent between the public and private sector. Domestic workers face discrimination by nationality in their wages. Although the law was amended in 2008 to extend certain rights to domestic and agricultural workers, the law required that each group be covered by its own legislation. A regulation on domestic workers enacted in 2009 did not extend collective bargaining rights or the right to form an association. In August bylaws which regulate working conditions for agricultural workers were published for public comment by the Labor Ministry’s Legislation and Opinion Bureau.
The government requires garment-exporting manufacturers to participate in the Better Work Jordan program, a global program implemented by the International Labor Organization and the International Finance Corporation to improve labor standards. All 77 of the foreign-exporting factories required by the government to join Better Work Jordan were active members of the program.
Wage, overtime, safety, and other standards often were not upheld. Some foreign workers faced hazardous and exploitative working conditions in a variety of sectors. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. Authorities did not effectively protect all employees who attempted to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health and safety. Labor organizations reported that female citizen workers were more likely than men to encounter labor violations, including wages below the minimum wage and harassment in the workplace.
A local NGO criticized the lack of safety protections for agricultural workers under the labor law, and reported that many migrant worker dormitories were built using combustible materials, putting residents at a greater risk of fire.
In the garment sector, foreign workers were more susceptible than citizens to dangerous or unfair conditions. Better Work Jordan stated that reports of coercion decreased during the year. Indebtedness of foreign garment workers to third parties and involuntary or excessive overtime persisted. While the law sets the minimum wage, according to an international NGO a substantial portion of the standard monthly minimum wage for foreign workers in the garment industry was used to pay employment placement agencies for food, accommodation, and travel for workers from their home countries.
Employers subjected some workers in the agricultural sector, the vast majority of whom are Egyptians, to exploitative conditions. According to a domestic NGO, agricultural workers usually received less than the minimum wage. Some employers in the agricultural sector confiscated passports. Egyptian migrant workers were also vulnerable to exploitation in the construction industry, where employers usually paid migrant workers less than the minimum wage and failed to uphold occupational health and safety standards.
Domestic workers often faced unacceptable working conditions. While domestic workers could file complaints in person with the Ministry of Labor’s Domestic Workers Directorate or the PSD, many domestic workers complained there was no follow-up on their cases. The Counter Trafficking Unit at the PSD operates a 24-hour hotline, with operators available in all languages spoken by migrant domestic workers in the country, including Tagalog, Bengali, and Tamil.
Advocates for migrant domestic workers reported that domestic workers who sought government assistance or made allegations against their employers frequently faced counterclaims of criminal behavior from the employers. Employers could file criminal complaints or flight notifications with police stations against domestic workers. Authorities waived immigration overstay fines for workers deported for criminal allegations or expired work permits. Most of the fleeing domestic workers reportedly fled conditions indicative of forced labor or abuse, including unpaid wages and, to a lesser extent, sexual or physical abuse. By law employers are responsible for renewing foreign employees’ residency and work permits but often failed to do so for domestic employees. In May the government launched an online platform called “Hemaya” to assist expatriate workers who were facing uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic and wanted to return to their countries. Medium and small factories were especially affected by the pandemic; some could not meet commitments to staff, and some cancelled contracts and closed worker dormitories. The government continued its cooperation with foreign embassies to waive overstay fees for migrant domestic workers who wished to repatriate after a two-year stay in the country, a policy that greatly reduced the number of domestic workers stranded at their embassies’ shelters.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for workers’ right to unionize but limits workers’ freedom of association. The law restricted workers’ freedom of association by requiring all labor unions to affiliate with higher-level unions. On May 4, the government enacted amendments to labor-related laws, including the trade union law, to bring them closer to compliance with International Labor Organization (ILO) standards, in particular, the convention on freedom of association. The amendments removed the requirement that lower-level unions affiliate with higher-level sectoral-, territorial-, and national-level federations. The amendments also lowered membership requirements and simplified other registration requirements.
The government exercised considerable influence on organized labor and favored state-affiliated unions over independent ones. The Federation of Trade Unions of the Republic of Kazakhstan (FTUK) is the successor to state-sponsored Soviet-era labor organizations and is the largest national trade union association, with approximately 90 percent of union members on its rolls. In 2018 the International Trade Union Confederation suspended the membership of the FTUK due to a lack of independence.
In July 2019 a court in Shymkent sentenced Yerlan Baltabay, the leader of an independent union of petrochemical workers, to seven years’ imprisonment for embezzlement of union dues. Human rights observers noted the parallels between Baltabay’s case and the investigation and ultimate conviction of Larisa Kharkova in 2017 and asserted that Baltabay was also targeted for his independent labor union activism. Baltabay appealed to the president for pardon, admitting his guilt and promising to compensate inflicted damages, and President Tokayev granted pardon in August 2019. In September 2019 Baltabay published an open letter on the website of the Human Rights Bureau, reasserting his innocence in the case and stating that he had only asked for pardon at the urging of the KNB. Baltabay did not repay the claimed damages, and authorities returned him to prison in October 2019. On March 20, he was released, but he remained banned from any public activity, including trade union activities, for the next seven years.
The law provides for the right of workers to bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, and a court may order reinstatement of a worker fired for union activity. Penalties for violations of these provisions included fines and imprisonment of up to 75 days, but these penalties did not deter violations. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. According to the FTUK, as of January, 98 percent of large and medium enterprises had collective agreements. Overall, 41.2 percent of all working enterprises had collective agreements.
The country’s three national-level labor unions–the FTUK with two million members, Commonwealth of Trade Unions of Kazakhstan Amanat with 300,000 members, and Kazakhstan Confederation of Labor (KCL) with up to 800,000 members–had more than three million members, or 40 percent of the workforce, as of March 1. These three labor unions, jointly, consist of 24 industry trade unions, 17 regional trade unions, and more than 18,000 local trade unions. Another trade union, Yntymak, with more than 57,000 members, was established in 2018 to represent small and medium enterprises. The law provides for the right to strike in principle but imposes onerous restrictions that make strikes unlikely. For example, the right to strike may be granted only after the dispute is brought to a reconciliatory commission for consideration. It may take more than forty days to initiate the strike in accordance with the law, trade union members reported. In addition, by law there are a variety of circumstances in which strikes are illegal. A blanket legal restriction bars certain occupations from conducting a strike. Military and other security service members, emergency medical, fire, and rescue crews, as well as those who operate “dangerous” production facilities are forbidden to strike. By law such strikes are illegal.
Workers employed in the railway, transport and communications, civil aviation, healthcare, and public utilities sectors may strike, but only if they maintain minimum services to the public–that is, provided there is no harm caused to other individuals. Numerous legal limitations restrict workers’ right to strike in other industries as well. Generally, workers may not strike unless a labor dispute cannot be resolved through compulsory arbitration procedures. Decisions to strike must be taken in a meeting where at least one-half of an enterprise’s workers are present. A written notice announcing a strike must be submitted to the employer at least five days in advance.
Officials are suspected of inflicting violence in response to supposed unlawful attempts to associate. Police were accused of beating labor and civil rights activist Dulat Agadil, who died in February of unconfirmed causes while in pretrial detention, after he was arrested for his suspected links to the banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan movement.
Employers may fire striking workers after a court declares a strike illegal. The 2014 law also enabled the government to target labor organizers by imposing criminal charges and up to three years in prison for calls to participate in strikes declared illegal by the court. Amendments to the law during the year softened the penalty for such calls. If the calls for strikes did not result in a material violation of rights and interests of other individuals, they would be classified as minor criminal offenses, and the penalty would be limited to a fine or community service.
The law limits worker rights to make claims on their employers. For example, one article requires employers to negotiate any labor-related act with official employee representatives. If there are multiple official representatives, they have five days in which to form a working group to discuss the proposed act. If the group cannot come to consensus, the employer may accept the act without the consent of the employees. The amendments annulled the previous clause that allowed an employer to dismiss an employee, as long as a compensation allowance is paid per the labor contract. Another article lists 25 reasons an employer may fire a worker. Another provision mandates the employer to respond to a resolution of the Council for Labor Protection within 15 days.
Disagreements between unions and their employers may be presented to a tripartite commission composed of representatives of the government, labor unions, and employer associations. State-affiliated and independent labor unions participate in tripartite commissions. The tripartite commission is responsible for developing and signing annual agreements governing most aspects of labor relations. The FTUK, Amanat, and KCL established a working group on May 28 to draft the general agreement for 2021-23. They recommended that the government and employers increase the minimum wage, change the minimum subsistence allowance, establish a minimum basket of consumer goods, and negotiate on other social matters.
Foreign workers have the right to join unions, but the law prohibits the operation of foreign unions and the financing of unions by foreign entities, such as foreign citizens, governments, and international organizations. Irregular migrants and self-employed individuals resided in the country were not per se exempt from the law. Approximately two million of the 8.8 million economically active citizens were self-employed as of March.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except when it is a consequence of a court sentencing or a condition of a state of emergency or martial law. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
The law provides for punishment of convicted traffickers and those who facilitated forced exploitation and trafficking, including labor recruiters who hired workers through deliberately fraudulent or deceptive offers with the intent to subject them to forced labor, or employers or labor agents who confiscated passports or travel documents to keep workers in a state of involuntary servitude. Conviction of trafficking in persons for the purpose of labor and sexual exploitation is punishable by penalties that are sufficient to deter violations. Conviction of kidnapping and illegal deprivation of freedom with the purpose of labor or sexual exploitation is also punishable by penalties that were considered sufficient to deter violations.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection is responsible for conducting checks of employers to reveal labor law violations, including exploitation of foreign workers. The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for identifying victims of forced labor and sexual exploitation and initiating criminal proceedings. The government effectively enforced laws to identify domestic victims of sexual exploitation, but it did not effectively enforce laws to identify foreign and domestic victims of labor trafficking. The statistics on identification of foreign victims remained low; three foreign victims were identified in 2019–two victims of forced begging and one victim of labor exploitation. Police conducted interagency operations to find victims of forced labor. Identification of forced labor victims, however, remained low and even decreased twice compared with 2018. Of 40 victims identified in 2019, 35 were victims of sexual exploitation, three were victims of labor exploitation, and two were victims of forced begging. In 2019 police investigated 102 criminal cases of human trafficking, and courts convicted eight traffickers, all for sexual exploitation.
Migrant workers were considered most at risk for forced or compulsory labor. In 2019 according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 1.6 million persons were registered as migrants in the country. The majority of migrant workers came from Uzbekistan, but there were also lesser numbers from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Migrant workers found employment primarily in agriculture and construction. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection is responsible for handling matters related to migrant labor. In 2017 the government adopted a new Concept of Migration Policy for 2017-21 and an accompanying implementation plan. Together, these changes addressed both internal and external modern challenges, such as the excess of low-skilled labor due to increased inflow of labor migrants from other Central Asian countries and the deficiency of high-skilled labor in some sectors of the economy due to a low level of education.
The general minimum age for employment is 16. With parental permission, however, children ages 14 through 16 may perform light work that did not interfere with their health or education. The law prohibits minors from engaging in hazardous work and restricts the length of the workday for employees younger than 18.
The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor; however, gaps existed in the legal framework to protect children adequately from the worst forms of child labor. Prohibitions against the worst forms of child labor include criminal punishment under the law. Conviction of violation of minimum age employment in hazardous work, engaging minors in pornographic shows or production of materials containing pornographic images of minors, coercion of minors into prostitution, kidnapping or illegal deprivation of freedom of a minor for the purpose of exploitation, and trafficking in minors are punishable by penalties that were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for investigating criminal offenses and training criminal police in investigating the worst forms of child labor.
The law provides for noncriminal punishments for violations of the law, including written warnings, suspensions, terminations, the withdrawal of licenses for specific types of activities, administrative penalties or fines, and administrative arrest (only by court decision and only up to 15 days for violation of legislation in relation to minors). Such violations include employment of minors without an employment agreement, which is punishable by fine with suspension of the employer’s license. Untimely or incorrect payment of salaries, nonprovision of vacation or time off, excessive work hours, and discrimination in the workplace are also punishable by fines. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection is responsible for enforcement of child labor law and for administrative offenses punishable by fines.
The government has established institutional mechanisms for the enforcement of child labor law and regulations, but the government did not always effectively enforce the law. The complaint mechanism does not allow for anonymous individuals to report labor violations and, in 2019 no case of child labor was reported to government hotlines.
Sporadic instances of children working below the country’s minimum age of employment were reported in agriculture, including producing vegetables, weeding, and collecting worms; in construction; in the markets and streets, including transporting and selling items; in domestic work; in gas stations, car washing, and working as bus conductors; or as waiters in restaurants. There were no reports of child victims of forced labor in the sectors noted above, nor was there evidence of children being compelled or forced into such work through slavery, debt bondage, or trafficking for purposes of labor exploitation. In October media reported cotton harvesters in the country and stated they have a lack of workers, who are normally supplied by neighboring Uzbekistan. Because of this, farmers have been reliant on employing children and teenagers to work in cotton fields. Schoolchildren were spotted in fields in the Maktaaral and Zhetisay districts of the southern Turkestan region. Local farmers are traditionally aided by migrant workers from Uzbekistan, but that labor supply was interrupted by travel restrictions imposed to contain the two countries’ COVID-19 outbreaks. These forms of labor were determined by local legislation to be potentially hazardous and categorized as the worst forms of child labor. The majority of such situations occur on family farms or in family businesses.
There were 10 instances of children being used in hazardous activities, including one case of trafficking in minors for the purpose of sexual exploitation, five cases of the coercion of minors into prostitution, two cases of the engagement of minors into pornographic activities, and two cases of violation of labor legislation related to the engagement of children in works that are not allowed for children younger than age 18. In the last case, two boys (ages 13 and 15) died of carbon monoxide poisoning while sleeping overnight in the cafe where they worked as waiters.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
By law transgender individuals are effectively barred from working in law enforcement agencies or serving in the military. Law and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on gender, age, disability, race, ethnicity, language, place of residence, religion, political opinion, affiliation with tribe or class, public associations, or property, social, or official status. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination with respect to laws related to employment and occupation based on sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases. The law prohibits specific listed conditions or diseases to work in law enforcement agencies or serve in the military. The government effectively enforced the law and regulations. Discrimination is an administrative offense punishable by a fine that is not sufficient to deter violations. Some cases like illegal termination of labor contracts due to pregnancy, disability, or minority are considered criminal offenses and are punishable by penalties which are sufficient to deter violations related to civil rights, such as election interference.
Discrimination, however, occurred with respect to employment and occupation for persons with disabilities, transgender persons, orphans, and former convicts. Transgender persons experienced workplace discrimination and have been repeatedly fired for their identity. Disability NGOs reported that despite government efforts, obtaining employment was difficult for persons with disabilities. The law does not require equal pay for equal work for women and men. NGOs reported no government body assumes responsibility for implementing antidiscrimination legislation and asserted the law’s definition of gender discrimination did not comply with international standards.
The law prohibits women from performing work in harmful conditions that require them to lift or move heavy loads. On August 6, Human Rights Commissioner Elvira Azimova proposed to amend the law to provide for equal labor rights for men and women by repealing the list of harmful and hazardous occupations prohibited for women. She particularly asked for elimination of the provision to deny employment to a female applicant in nuclear power, oil and gas, metals and mining, or petrochemical industries if working conditions are not deemed safe. In response, and in line with the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the country committed to annul the list of hazardous industries to specify equal access to all jobs.
In June 2019 a fight occurred at the Chevron-operated Tengiz oilfield between local and foreign workers, resulting in 45 injuries. A leading cause of the conflict was discontent among local workers who complained of wage discrepancy between local and foreign workers with similar qualifications. Following the incident the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection launched a series of inspections at companies employing foreign workers. The ministry reported the following violations: 1) foreign workers were paid 30-50 percent more than local workers; 2) local workers were paid in local currency, while foreign workers were paid in U.S. dollars; and 3) some foreign workers occupied positions that differed from that described on the work permits. These violations are punishable by fines, annulment of work permits, or deportation of a company’s foreign workforce. In February media reported the governor of a province bordering China stated he would seek the deportation of dozens of Chinese workers to defuse the local population’s fears of COVID-19.
In December 2019 the Labor and Social Protection Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s Office discovered 930 violations of law in 95 companies that employed foreigners. The most frequent violations revealed by the inspection included labor done by foreign workers that did not correspond to their work permits and discrepancies between education and job positions of foreign workers. In February Minister of Labor and Social Protection Birzhan Nurymbetov threatened companies that provide unequal living conditions for local and foreign workers with administrative actions. The ministry intended annually to inspect companies that employ more than 250 persons, including more than 30 foreign workers. Article 1 of the labor law was amended in May to provide for equal pay and equal working and living conditions with no discrimination.
During the year the national monthly minimum wage was 42,500 tenge ($106) and above the poverty line, which the Bureau of National Statistics reported was 32,688 tenge ($81) per month. In April media reported the Health Care and Social Development Ministry blamed regional governments for failing to provide personal protective equipment and other necessary supplies to hospital workers on the front line of the battle against COVID-19. In some regions doctors complained about a shortage of equipment, test kits, and specialists in rural hospitals. A doctor from Jambyl province reportedly said she was the only infectious disease specialist on hand to deal with COVID-19 patients at the main hospital in the Merki district, which has an estimated 85,000 inhabitants. For two days in early April, she had to come to work with a high fever after contracting COVID-19 from a patient. She reportedly stated that medics received up to six face masks a day, but eventually nurses were ordered to make masks.
As of August 2018, the government reported that 1.3 million citizens of a nine-million-person workforce were not registered as either employed or unemployed, meaning that they likely worked in the informal economy. A Ministry of Finance spokesperson separately reported during the year that up to one-third of workers were engaged in the informal economy, referencing 2015 government and international organization statistics. These workers were concentrated in the retail trade, transport services, agriculture, real estate, beauty and hair dressing salons, and laundry and dry-cleaning businesses. Small entrepreneurs and their employees for the most part work without health, social, or pension benefits.
In May the Center for Development of Human Resources forecasted that, due to the pandemic, more than 2.5 million workers likely would lose income or be temporarily laid off. The largest layoffs or temporary job suspensions would affect accommodation and catering services, leisure and entertainment, trade, transportation and warehousing, and construction. In August the government reported assisting 743,000 individuals with vocational training, permanent employment, or temporary employment.
The law stipulates the normal workweek should not exceed 40 hours and limits heavy manual labor or hazardous work to no more than 36 hours per week. The law limits overtime to two hours per day, or one hour per day for heavy manual labor, and requires overtime to be paid at least at a 50 percent premium. The law prohibits compulsory overtime and overtime for work in hazardous conditions. The law provides that labor agreements may stipulate the length of working time, holidays, and paid annual leave for each worker. By law employees are entitled to 24 days of paid annual leave per year.
The government sets occupational health and safety standards. The law requires employers to suspend work that could endanger the life or health of workers and to warn workers about any harmful or dangerous work conditions or the possibility of any occupational disease. The occupational safety and health standards are set and inspected by government experts. The law specifically grants workers the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without suffering adverse employment action.
Overtime pay for holiday and after-hours work is equal to 1.5 times regular salary. The decision on pay is made by the employer or in compliance with a collective agreement, and the amount of pay is based on so-called industry-specific wage multipliers, stipulated by industrial agreements.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection enforces the minimum wage, workhour restrictions, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards. By law labor inspectors have the right to conduct announced and unannounced inspections of workplaces to detect violations. Both types of inspections take place only after written notification. Violations of law are considered administrative offenses, not criminal ones. Penalties for violations of minimum wage and overtime law were not commensurate with crimes like fraud. For example, a minimal punishment for fraud is a fine of approximately 2.7 million tenge ($6,500) or imprisonment for up to two years, while violations of wage or overtime payment provisions result in fines from 84,000 tenge to 272,000 tenge ($200 to $650). Penalties for violations of occupational health and safety law were also not commensurate with crimes like negligence. The latter is a criminal offense and punished either by fines or public/corrective works, or by the five-year maximum term of imprisonment. Violation of the labor safety requirements may result in notification or fines.
Inspections based on risk assessment reports are announced in writing not less than 30 days before the beginning of the inspection. Unplanned inspections are announced not less than one day prior to the beginning of the inspection. Ministry inspectors conducted random inspections of employers. From January to June, inspectors conducted 1,900 inspections and detected 3,000 violations of the law, such as wage arrears, unsafe work conditions, and illegal employment or dismissal. The FTUK analyzed and concluded that unequal payments and work conditions of local and foreign workers, the increase and indexation of wages, and the absence of local labor unions in the companies were the main factors that caused social tension in 2019.
In February the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection reported that the country has 260 labor inspectors, or one inspector per every 23,000 workers, while the ILO recommends one inspector per every 10,000 employees. The law does not allow labor inspectors to respond to violations without the permission of the prosecutor’s office and a notification to the employer.
The law provides for so-called employer’s declarations. Under this system, labor inspectors may extend a certificate of trust to enterprises that complied with labor legislation requirements. Certified enterprises are exempt from labor inspections for the three-year period. In the opinion of labor rights activists, the practice may worsen labor conditions and conceal problems. By law any enterprise or company may form a production council to address labor safety problems from representatives of an employer and employees. These councils are eligible to conduct their own inspections of the employees’ work conditions. As of January 2019, there were 12,855 production councils and 17,751 volunteer labor inspectors.
There were reports some employers ignored regulations concerning occupational health and safety. Occupational safety and health conditions in the construction, industrial, and agricultural sectors often were substandard. Workers in factories sometimes lacked quality protective clothing and sometimes worked in conditions of poor visibility and ventilation. In 2019 the government reported 1,215 workplace injuries, of which 148 resulted in death. The government attributed many labor-related deaths to antiquated equipment, insufficient detection and prevention of occupational diseases in workers engaged in harmful labor, and disregard for safety regulations. The most dangerous jobs were in mining, construction, and oil and gas, according to an expert analysis of occupations with the highest fatalities. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection reported that in 2019, out of 1.6 million workers, more than 373,000 or 23 percent labored in hazardous conditions, 45.4 percent worked with high levels of noise and vibration, and 34.4 percent labored under high dust and gas levels.
Some companies tried to avoid payments to injured workers. Critics reported that employers, the FTUK, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection were more concerned with bureaucracy and filling out reports on work-related accidents than with taking measures to reduce their number. A minimal noncompliance with labor safety requirements may result in a company’s refusal to compensate workers for industrial injuries. According to activists, in 30 percent of cases, workers themselves were blamed for violating occupational health and safety regulations.
The Aktobe Labor Inspection blamed the management of the Aktobe Chromium Compound Plant for the May 28 accident in which two workers were injured and five died of chemical burns and poisoning while cleaning a tank used to hold hydroxyl. The Aktobe Labor Inspection assigned 80 percent of the blame for the accident to the employer for the breach of labor safety rules.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of workers, including those in export processing zones, to form and join unions of their choice and to bargain collectively. For the union to be recognized as a bargaining agent, it must represent a simple majority of the employees in a firm eligible to join the union. This provision extends to public- and private-sector employees. Members of the armed forces, prisons service, and police are not allowed to form or join trade unions.
The law permits the government to deny workers the right to strike under certain conditions. For example, the government prohibits members of the military, police, prison guards, and the National Youth Service from striking. Civil servants are permitted to strike following a seven-day notice period. A bureau of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection typically referred disputes to mediation, fact finding, or binding arbitration at the Employment and Labour Relations Court, a body of up to 12 judges that has exclusive jurisdiction to handle employment and labor matters and that operates in urban areas, including Nairobi, Mombasa, Nyeri, Nakuru, Kisumu, and Kericho. The Employment and Labour Relations Court also has subregistries in Meru, Bungoma, Eldoret, Malindi, Machakos, and Garissa.
By law workers who provide essential services, interpreted as “a service the interruption of which would probably endanger the life of a person or health of the population,” may not strike. Any trade dispute in a service listed as essential or declared an essential service may be adjudicated by the Employment and Labour Relations Court.
Strikes must concern terms of employment, and sympathy strikes are prohibited.
The law permits workers in collective bargaining disputes to strike if they have exhausted formal conciliation procedures and have given seven days’ notice to the government and the employer. Conciliation is not compulsory in individual employment matters. Security forces may not bargain collectively but have an internal board that reviews salaries. Informal workers may establish associations, or even unions, to negotiate wages and conditions matching the government’s minimum wage guidelines and advocate for better working conditions and representation in the Employment and Labour Relations Court. The bill of rights in the constitution allows trade unions to undertake their activities without government interference, and the government generally respected this right.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. The Labour Relations Court can order reinstatement and damages in the form of back pay for employees wrongfully dismissed for union activities. Labor laws apply to all groups of workers. Penalties for labor law violations were not commensurate with those for similar offenses.
The government enforced the decisions of the Labour Relations Court inconsistently. Many employers did not comply with reinstatement orders, and some workers accepted payment in lieu of reinstatement. In several cases employers successfully appealed the Labour Relations Court’s decisions to a branch of the High Court. The enforcement mechanisms of the Labour Relations Court remained weak, and its case backlog raised concerns regarding the long delays and lack of efficacy of the court.
The Labour Relations Court received many cases arising from the implementation of new labor laws. The parties filed most cases directly without referral to the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection for conciliation. The court had a significant backlog.
The chief justice designated all county courts presided over by senior resident magistrates and higher-ranking judges as special courts to hear employment and labor cases. Providing adequate facilities outside of Nairobi was challenging, but observers cited the ability of workers to submit labor-related cases throughout the country as a positive step. The 2016 employment and labor relations (procedure) rules provide parties access to file pleadings directly in electronic form, pretrial procedures, and alternative dispute resolution. The rules also set a 30-day time limit for the court to submit a report on disagreements over collective bargaining agreements filed.
The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively, although enforcement was inconsistent. The government expressed its support for union rights mandated in the constitution.
Airport workers at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport went on strike in March to protest potential restructuring of the airport. Six striking workers were injured during clashes with police, and 10 members of the Kenya Aviation Workers Union, including its secretary general, were arrested. After negotiation, the union agreed to end the strike in exchange for release of the arrested union officials and an agreement not to fire striking workers.
Migrant workers often lacked formal organization and consequently missed the benefits of collective bargaining. Similarly, domestic workers and others who operated in private settings were vulnerable to exclusion from legal protections, although domestic workers’ unions exist to protect their interests.
The government maintained labor attaches in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to regulate and coordinate contracts of migrant workers from the country and promote overseas job opportunities. The National Employment Authority manages a website that provides information to prospective migrant workers on the procedures of becoming a migrant worker in the Gulf. The Ministry of East African Community and Regional Development also helped domestic workers understand the terms and conditions of their work agreements. The government operationalized a 2017 bilateral agreement with Saudi Arabia in January after revetting recruitment agencies in Riyadh. The government has additional bilateral agreements with Qatar and United Arab Emirates. The ministry has a directorate to regulate the conduct of labor agents for local migrant workers, including requiring the posting of a performance-guarantee bond for each worker.
The misuse of internships and other forms of transitional employment threatened the survival of trade unions, with employers often not hiring employees after an internship ends. State agencies increasingly outsourced jobs to the private sector, and in the private sector, casual workers were employed on short-term contracts.
This shift contributed to declining numbers in trade unions. NGOs and trade unionists reported replacement of permanent positions by casual or contract labor, especially in the export-processing zones, the Port of Mombasa, and in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. In some cases employers staffed permanent jobs with rotating contract workers. This practice occurred at the management level as well, where employers hired individuals as management trainees and kept them in these positions for the maximum permitted period of three years. Instead of converting such trainees to permanent staff, employers replaced them with new trainees at the end of three years.
The health sector experienced strikes precipitated by challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Health workers, through their associations, issued strike notices citing failure by the government to meet their workplace demands, including adequate personal protective equipment while attending to COVID-19 patients. Counties like Nairobi and Trans Nzoia witnessed strikes by health workers. The health sector also witnessed industrial strikes by county government health professionals to protest delayed salary payments. The strikes occurred intermittently in various counties, since under the 2010 constitution, each county manages its own health system as part of the devolution of resources and services from the national government. According to the Council of Governors, all 47 counties faced delayed salaries for July due to government delay in disbursement of funds. The strikes affected delivery of services in counties such as Vihiga, Kisumu, and Nairobi, but negotiations averted some threatened strikes.
The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children. The law allowed, in some situations, up to 60 days of compulsory labor per year for the preservation of natural resources. The country made moderate advances to prevent or eliminate forced labor.
The government did not effectively enforce the law, and forced labor occurred, including forced child labor (see section 7.c.). Certain legal provisions, including the penal code and the Public Order Act, impose compulsory prison labor, including for political offenses. Resources, inspections, and remediation were not adequate to prevent forced labor, and penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable offenses. Forms of forced labor included debt bondage, trafficking of workers, and compulsion of persons, even family members, to work as domestic servants. Domestic workers from Uganda, herders from Ethiopia, and others from Somalia, South Sudan, and Burundi were subjected to forced labor in the country; however, this trend was reportedly decreasing.
The government prohibits most, but not all, of the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for work (other than apprenticeships) is 17, and the minimum age for hazardous work is 18. The ministry published a list of specific jobs considered hazardous that constitute the worst forms of child labor. This list includes but is not limited to scavenging, carrying stones and rocks, metalwork, working with machinery, mining, and stone crushing. The law explicitly prohibits forced labor, trafficking, and other practices similar to slavery; child soldiering (see section 6); prostitution; the use, procuring, or offering of a child for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances; and the use by an adult for illegal activities (such as drug trafficking) of any child up to age 18. The law applies equally to girls and boys. The International Labor Organization identified gaps in the law with regards to children working as cadets at sea.
The law allows children ages 13 to 16 to engage in industrial undertakings when participating in apprenticeships. Industrial undertakings are defined under law to include work in mines, quarries, factories, construction, demolition, and transportation, which are legally categorized as hazardous work.
The law provides for penalties for any person who employs, engages, or uses a child in an industrial undertaking in violation of the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable offenses. Employment of children in the formal industrial wage sector in violation of the Employment Act was rare. The law does not prohibit child labor for children employed outside the scope of a contractual agreement. Child labor in the informal sector was widespread, but the government did not effectively monitor or control it.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection enforces child labor laws, but enforcement remained inconsistent. Supplementary programs, such as the International Labor Organization-initiated Community Child Labor monitoring program, helped provide additional resources to combat child labor. These programs identified children who were working illegally, removed them from hazardous work conditions, and referred them to appropriate service providers.
The government also worked closely with the Central Organization of Trade Unions and the Federation of Kenyan Employers to eliminate child labor.
In support of child protection, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection operated a national online database system. The Child Protection Information Management System collects, aggregates, and reports on child protection data that informs policy decisions and budgeting for orphans and vulnerable children. The web-based system allows for an aggregate format of data to be made available to all the child protection stakeholders. The government had six child protection centers, which remove child laborers from the workplace, rehabilitate them, and provide counseling and life-skills training.
The government continued to implement the National Safety Net Program for Results, a project that seeks to establish an effective national safety net program for poor and vulnerable households, and the Decent Work Country Program, a project designed to advance economic opportunities. Under these programs, the government pays households sheltering orphans or other vulnerable children to deter the children from dropping out of school and engaging in forced labor. For example, there were some cases reported in the western part of the country of girls dropping out of secondary school and engaging in sex work to afford basic supplies.
Many children worked on family plots or in family units on tea, coffee, sugar, sisal, tobacco, and rice plantations, as well as in the production of khat. Children worked in mining, including in artisanal gold mines, small quarries, and sand mines. Children also worked in the fishing industry. In urban areas businesses employed children in hawking, scavenging, carrying loads, fetching and selling water, selling food, and forced begging. Children often worked long hours as domestic servants in private homes for little or no pay, and there were reports of physical and sexual abuse of child domestic servants. Parents sometimes initiated forced or compulsory child labor, such as in agricultural labor and domestic service, but also including commercial sexual exploitation.
Most of the trafficking of children within the country appeared related to domestic labor, with migrant children trafficked from rural to urban areas.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, ethnicity, religion, and several other criteria, but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Several regulatory statutes explicitly prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities; provide a legal framework for a requirement for the public and private sectors to reserve 5 percent of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities; provide tax relief and incentives for such persons and their organizations; and reserve 30 percent of public-procurement tenders for women, youth, and persons with disabilities.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for discrimination were not commensurate with those for comparable offenses. Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred, although the law mandates nondiscrimination based on gender in hiring. The average monthly income of women was approximately two-thirds that of men. Women had difficulty working in nontraditional fields, received slower promotions, and were more likely to be dismissed. According to a World Bank report, both men and women experienced sexual harassment in job recruitment, but it was more frequently experienced by women. Women who tried to establish their own informal businesses were subjected to discrimination and harassment.
Many county governors appointed and employed disproportionate numbers of the dominant tribe in their county, bypassing minority groups. These problems were aggravated by the devolution of fiscal and administrative responsibility to county governments. Observers also noted patterns of preferential hiring during police recruitment exercises (see section 1.d.).
In both private business and in the public sector, members of nearly all ethnic groups commonly discriminated in favor of other members of the same group. A report detailing the ethnic composition of 417 senior civil service staff tabled at the Senate in September indicated that four tribes dominated high-level management positions in civil service. The dominant ethnic community had 29 percent of the 417 positions, while the second had 10 percent.
The law provides protection for persons with disabilities against employment discrimination, although many employers discriminated against persons with disabilities during hiring processes (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities). Due to societal discrimination, there were very limited employment opportunities for persons with albinism. There are no legal employment protections for LGBTI persons, who remained vulnerable to discrimination in the workplace. Discrimination against migrant workers also occurred.
Regulation of wages is part of the Labor Institutions Act, and the government established basic minimum wages by occupation and location, setting minimum standards for monthly, daily, and hourly work in each category. The minimum wage for all occupations exceeded the World Bank poverty rate.
The law limits the normal workweek to 52 hours (60 hours for night workers); some categories of workers had lower limits. It specifically excludes agricultural workers from such limitations. It entitles an employee in the nonagricultural sector to one rest day per week and 21 days of combined annual and sick leave. The law also requires total hours worked (regular time plus overtime) in any two-week period not exceed 120 hours (144 hours for night workers) and provides premium pay for overtime.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable offenses. Authorities reported workweek and overtime violations. Workers in some enterprises, particularly in the export processing zones and those in road construction, claimed employers forced them to work extra hours without overtime pay to meet production targets. Hotel industry workers were usually paid the minimum statutory wage, but employees worked long hours without compensation. Additionally, employers often did not provide nighttime transport, leaving workers vulnerable to assault, robbery, and sexual harassment.
The law details environmental, health, and safety standards. The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection’s Directorate of Occupational Health and Safety Services has the authority to inspect factories and work sites but employed an insufficient number of labor inspectors to conduct regular inspections. Fines generally were insufficient to deter violations.
The directorate’s health and safety inspectors can issue notices against employers for practices or activities that involve a risk of serious personal injury. Employers may appeal such notices to the Factories Appeals Court, a body of four members, one of whom must be a High Court judge. The law stipulates factories employing 20 or more persons have an internal health and safety committee with representation from workers. According to the government, many of the largest factories had health and safety committees.
The law provides for labor inspections to prevent labor disputes, accidents, and conflicts and to protect workers from occupational hazards and disease by ensuring compliance with labor laws. The government paid low salaries to labor inspectors and did not provide vehicles, fuel, or other resources, making it very difficult for labor inspectors to do their work effectively and leaving them vulnerable to bribes and other forms of corruption. The State Department for Labor faced a large number of retiring labor inspectors during the year, and there was no hiring of new inspectors.
The law provides social protections for workers employed in the formal and informal sectors. Informal workers organized into associations, cooperatives, and, in some cases, unions. All local employers, including those in the informal sector, are required to contribute to the National Hospital Insurance Fund and the National Social Security Fund; these provide health insurance and pensions respectively.
Workers, including foreigners and immigrants, have the legal right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection did not effectively enforce these regulations, and workers were reluctant to remove themselves from working conditions that endangered their health or safety due to the risk of losing their jobs. The Kenya Federation of Employers provided training and auditing of workplaces for health and safety practices.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct strikes, and bargain collectively. The government did not control or restrict union activities; however, unions must register with the government. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination at the time of hiring and while employed but does not specifically provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.
The government effectively enforced the laws. Penalties for violations include fines or imprisonment and were commensurate with other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. There were no reports of lengthy delays or appeal processes during dispute resolution.
The law allows for compulsory arbitration in a wider range of cases than generally allowed under international standards. Similarly, the definition of “essential services,” in which the right to strike is limited, includes a broader range of sectors than do international standards. The penalties for unlawful strikes in both essential and nonessential sectors include imprisonment and a fine.
The government and the employers in practice respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The Kiribati Trade Union Congress claims 3,000 members, including unions and associations for nurses, teachers, fishermen, and seafarers who were able to exercise their labor rights.
In keeping with tradition, negotiations generally were nonconfrontational. There were no known collective-bargaining agreements and no instances reported of denial of the right to strike. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination.
The constitution and laws prohibit most forms of forced or compulsory labor, with some exceptions regarding times of emergency or “calamity.” The law prescribes penalties of fines and imprisonment that are commensurate with those for similar serious crimes. The government enforced the law, and there were no reports of forced labor.
The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 14 except in light work and of children ages 14 to 18 in hazardous work. The law does not, however, specify what constitutes either light or hazardous work. Although the worst forms of child labor are generally prohibited–including the sale or trafficking of children; compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict; use, procuring, or offering for prostitution; use, procuring, or offering of a child for illicit activities; and use, procuring, or offering of a child for the production or trafficking of illegal drugs–gaps exist within the country’s legal framework. For example the law does not specifically prohibit domestic trafficking of children. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar serious crimes.
The Ministry of Employment and Human Resource conducted enforcement outreach efforts and established a mechanism for labor complaints, including child labor complaints. The government effectively enforced the law in the formal sector.
Child labor existed primarily in the informal economy. There were allegations of minors involved in sexual activity with foreign fishing crews, receiving cash, alcohol, food, or goods (see section 6, Children).
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of ethnic origin, race, color, religion or political opinion, age, state of health or membership of a trade union, and prohibits sexual harassment. Penalties for violations include fines and were commensurate with other laws related to civil rights. The government effectively enforced the law. There were no formal reports of discrimination in employment and occupation. There are no legal restrictions against women in employment to include limiting working hours, occupations, or tasks. Cultural barriers, however, impeded women from playing a more active role in the economy. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to worksites.
The national minimum wage for employees of local businesses and companies was lower than the minimum wage rate for employees of foreign funded projects. This wage was higher than the official poverty income level, but most of the working population worked in the informal, subsistence economy where the law was not enforced. The Public Service Office sets wages in the public sector, which makes up approximately half the employment in the formal economy.
The law sets the workweek at 40 hours. The law provides for paid annual holidays for all employees except casual workers and 12 weeks for maternity leave, but it leaves the determination up to individual employment contracts, which are then submitted to the Ministry of Employment and Human Resource for documentation. Workers in the public sector worked 36.25 hours per week, with overtime pay required for additional hours. No law or regulation governs the amount of overtime an employee may work.
The Ministry of Employment and Human Resource is responsible for enforcing occupational safety and health standards. Employers are liable for the expenses of workers injured on the job. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without threat to their employment. Penalties for violations include fines, and penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud and negligence.
The government enforced the law in the formal sector. A lack of resources and qualified personnel hampered the government’s ability to enforce employment laws effectively in all sectors. The ministry conducted labor inspections and did not receive any work-related injury complaints in the year to October. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and the violation of any individual’s labor rights due to his or her union activities. The law requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, including in essential services. The law applies equally to all individuals working in the public and private sectors, including documented migrants and domestic servants.
The government did not effectively enforce labor laws, which include regulations and administrative instructions that govern employment relations, including rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. According to the Association of Independent Labor Unions in Kosovo (BSPK), resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, and penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were circuitous and subject to lengthy delays or appeals.
Employers did not always respect the right of worker organizations to bargain collectively, particularly in the private sector. The BSPK reported many private-sector employers essentially ignored labor laws.
The BSPK reported continued difficulty in establishing unions due to employer interference in workers’ associations and unions, particularly in the banking, construction, and hotel sectors. Representatives from these sectors anonymously told the BSPK some employers used intimidation to prevent the establishment of unions. The labor inspectorate reported receiving no formal complaints of discrimination against employees who tried to join unions during the year; however, the inspectorate was not fully functional due to budgetary and staffing shortfalls. In addition, employers did not always respect the rights of worker organizations and unions to bargain collectively or to network with unions outside their organization, particularly in the private sector.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law and forced labor, including forced child labor occurred (see section 7.c.), during the year. Government resources, including remediation, were insufficient to bring about compliance, identify and protect victims, and investigate claims of forced or compulsory labor. The labor inspectorate reported conducting only limited investigations for forced labor offenses. Penalties, although commensurate with those for other serious crimes, were seldom applied.
The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for contractual employment is 15, provided the employment is not harmful or prejudicial to school attendance. If the work is likely to jeopardize the health, safety, or morals of a young person, the legal minimum age for work is 18.
The 2020 Law on Child Protection institutes key child labor protection standards unifying all the other legal and sublegal documents on the topic. It provides additional penalties for formal and informal employers of children that are commensurate with those for similar crimes. The law does not fully address the problem of child labor, as the law has little impact on the informal economy.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were seldom applied. Inspectors immediately notified employers when minors were exploited or found engaged in hazardous labor conditions. Child labor occurred primarily in the informal sector. As of May, NGO Terres Des Hommes reported 116 cases of minors (105 Kosovo citizens and 11 minors from Albania) working in hazardous conditions. Of these, 73 were children engaged in begging, 13 in street work, and 14 in coal extraction.
The Coalition of NGOs for the Protection of Children reported that children working in agriculture encountered hazards from operating farm equipment. The coalition reported that child labor in farming persisted as a traditional activity. Government-run social-work centers reported children engaged in farming were primarily in the informal sector and were not prevented from attending school. While children were rarely their families’ main wage earners, child labor contributed substantially to some families’ income.
Urban children often worked in a variety of unofficial construction and retail jobs, such as selling newspapers, cigarettes, food, or telephone cards on the street. Some children, especially those from ethnic minorities or from families receiving social assistance, engaged in physical labor such as transportation of goods or in picking through trash piles for items to sell.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sex, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV or AIDS status, or political affiliation. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred across sectors with respect to sex, gender identity, disability, religion, political affiliation, and minority status (see section 6). During the year the BSPK received reports from labor unions and individuals claiming discrimination based on union membership, age, and family status. The BSPK and union officials noted employment, particularly in the public sector, often depended on the employee’s political status and affiliation. Union officials reported other mistreatment, including sexual harassment, based on political party affiliation. The BSPK reported instances of employers discriminating against female candidates in employment interviews and illegally firing women for being pregnant or requesting maternity leave.
University of Pristina officials noted a lack of space for conducting prayers on university premises. The Kosovo Center for Peace reported several cases of female students in Fushe Kosove/Kosovo Polje and Gjakove/Djakovica being denied elementary school access due to wearing religious garb.
The government-set minimum wage was higher than the official poverty income line.
The law provides for a standard 40-hour work week, requires rest periods, limits the number of regular hours worked to 12 per day, limits overtime to 20 hours per week and 40 hours per month, requires payment of a premium for overtime work, and prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. The law provides for 20 days of paid leave per year for employees and 12 months of partially paid maternity leave. The law sets appropriate health and safety standards for workplaces and governs all industries in the country. The responsibility for identifying unsafe workplaces lies with occupational safety and health experts rather than workers.
Ministry of Labor inspectors were responsible for enforcing all labor standards, including those pertaining to wages, hours, and occupational safety and health. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and fines were not commensurate with those for similar violations. The number of inspectors was insufficient to deter violations in both the formal and informal sectors and enforcement was further curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.
The BSPK reported lack of enforcement by the judiciary, especially in the informal sector, citing resource and capacity limitations within the labor inspectorate.
According to the BSPK, employers failed to abide by official labor standards that provided equal standards of protection to public and private sector workers. The BSPK reported a lack of government oversight and enforcement, particularly of the standard workweek and compulsory and unpaid overtime. Many individuals worked long hours in the private sector as “at-will” employees, without employment contracts, regular pay, or contributions to their pensions. The BSPK reported employers fired workers without cause in violation of the law and refused to respect worker holidays. Women’s rights organizations reported sexual abuse and harassment occurred on the job but went unreported due to fear of dismissal or retaliation.
The law does not provide workers the right to remove themselves from a dangerous work situation without jeopardy to their employment. According to the Labor Ministry, informal employer-employee arrangements may address when and whether employees may remove themselves from work due to dangerous work situations but the government did not track these arrangements. There were eight worker fatalities as a result of inadequate or unsafe work conditions during the year. According to experts, violations of wage, overtime, and occupational health and safety standards were common for both men and women, as well as foreign migrant workers, particularly those who faced hazardous or exploitative working conditions, such as in construction and agriculture.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law protects the right of citizen workers to form and join trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, with significant restrictions. The government generally enforced applicable laws which were commensurate with those for other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination.
The law does not apply to public-sector employees, domestic workers, or maritime employees. Discrete labor laws set work conditions in the public and private sectors, with the oil industry treated separately. The law permits limited trade union pluralism at the local level, but the government authorized only one federation, the Kuwait Trade Union Federation. The law also stipulates any new union must include at least 100 workers and that at least 15 must be citizens.
The law provides workers, except for domestic workers, maritime workers, and civil servants, a limited right to collective bargaining. There is no minimum number of workers needed to conclude such agreements. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Based on available information, it was unclear whether penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
Public-sector workers do not have the right to strike. Citizens in the private sector have the right to strike, although cumbersome provisions calling for compulsory negotiation and arbitration in the case of disputes limit that right. The law does not prohibit retaliation against striking workers or prevent the government from interfering in union activities, including the right to strike. In August the National Assembly approved amendments to the private sector labor law that would provide full end-of-service benefits for workers. The indemnity covers a full end-of-service benefits package without deducting the employer’s contribution to the Social Insurance Institution during the employee’s period of employment.
In January, several vocational rehabilitation employees at the Public Authority for Disabled Affairs organized a sit-in protest of the suspension of their shift allowance. In July approximately 200 workers of a restaurant chain protested three months’ worth of unpaid salaries during COVID-19-related lockdowns.
In March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Interior established the “Leave Safely” campaign, which aimed to deport approximately 200,000 residence violators. The program granted violators an amnesty period through April 30, waiving all penalties and fees. The government also provided free tickets back to violators’ home countries. In May unrest was reported at two migrant worker shelters for Egyptian nationals awaiting repatriation. Residents were barred from leaving the shelters due to authorities’ fear the workers would transmit coronavirus to the general population, despite reports of limited access to water and electricity inside the facility. Kuwaiti Special Forces dispersed the crowds with tear gas and arrested several Egyptian laborers.
According to the PAM, as of November only 4.8 percent of the total workforce in the private sector were citizens. Most citizens (81.5 percent) worked in the public sector where they constituted 76.8 percent of the total workforce, in part because the government provided lucrative benefits to citizens, including generous retirement.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference with union functions. It provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Nevertheless, the law empowers the courts to dissolve any union for violating labor laws or for threatening “public order and morals,” although a union can appeal such a court decision. The Ministry of State for Economic Affairs can request the Court of First Instance to dissolve a union. Additionally, the amir may dissolve a union by decree.
The government enforced applicable laws, with some exceptions, and procedures were generally not subjected to lengthy delay or appeals.
The law prohibits and criminally sanctions forced or compulsory labor “except in cases specified by law for national emergency and with just remuneration.” The law allows for forced prison labor as a punishment. Although the law prohibits withholding of workers’ passports, the practice remained common among sponsors and employers of foreign workers, particularly domestic employees in the home, and the government demonstrated no consistent efforts to enforce this prohibition. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
Employers confined some domestic and agricultural workers to their workspaces by retaining their passports and, in the case of some domestic workers, locked them in their work locations. Workers who fled abusive employers had difficulty retrieving their passports, and authorities deported them in almost all cases. The government usually limited punishment to administrative actions such as assessing fines, shutting employment firms, issuing orders for employers to return withheld passports, or requiring employers to pay back wages.
In January a group of foreign workers employed at a company contracted by the Ministry of Communications filed a complaint with the PAM over four months of unpaid salaries for 200 employees. The group also alleged that the company forced them to pay an illegal fee of 900 dinars ($2,930) for their residence permits under threat of expelling them from their housing. In July the Ministry of Education announced it was moving to suspend the licenses of six private schools for not paying teachers’ wages.
Some incidents of forced labor and conditions indicative of forced labor occurred, especially among foreign domestic and agricultural workers. Such practices were usually a result of employer abuse of the sponsorship system (kafala) for foreign workers. Employers frequently illegally withheld salaries from domestic workers and minimum-wage laborers.
Domestic servitude was the most common type of forced labor, principally involving foreign domestic workers employed under kafala, but reports of forced labor in the construction and sanitation sectors also existed. Forced labor conditions for migrant workers included nonpayment of wages, long working hours, deprivation of food, threats, physical and sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement, such as withholding passports or confinement to the workplace. As of November private sector and domestic labor employers filed approximately 15,000 reports claiming that employees “absconded.” Domestic workers filed approximately 425 complaints against their employers in accordance with the domestic labor law. As of November, PAM statistics indicated that 2634 domestic helper-related complaints had been filed. Numerous domestic workers who escaped from abusive employers reported waiting several months to regain passports, which employers had illegally confiscated when they began their employment. In July the PAM announced it would no longer accept private sector complaints over absenteeism, after reports some employers were filing them maliciously as a pretext to violate labor laws.
In September the PAM, the Supreme Council for Planning and Development, the United Nations Development Program and the International Organization for Migration launched the “Tamkeen Initiative” to implement the International Recruitment Integrity System to promote ethical recruitment of migrant workers.
The PAM operated a shelter for abused domestic workers. As of November according to a government source, the shelter had a capacity of 500 and housed 461 female domestic workers, victims of abuses or persons who were otherwise unwilling to continue to work for their employers and preferred to leave the country.
A government-owned recruiting company designed to mitigate abuses against domestic workers (“Al-Durra”) officially launched its services in 2017 and initially planned to bring 120 domestic workers a month from the Philippines and approximately 100 male workers from India. Al-Durra’s services included worker insurance, a 24/7 abuse hotline, and follow-up on allegations of labor rights violations. As of November the company announced that it helped bring into the country 205 domestic workers from the Philippines, 354 from India, 978 from Sri Lanka and four from Burkina Faso. The target recruitment fee depends on domestic workers’ experience and skillset. The government regularly conducted information awareness campaigns via media outlets and public events and otherwise informed employers to encourage compliance by public and private recruiting companies with the law.
There were numerous media reports throughout the year of sponsors abusing domestic workers or injuring them when they tried to escape. Some reports alleged that abuse resulted in workers’ deaths. Female domestic workers were particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse. Police and courts were reluctant to prosecute citizens for abuse in private residences but prosecuted some serious cases of abuse when reported, particularly when the cases were raised by the source country embassies. According to a high-level government official, authorities prosecuted several cases of domestic worker abuse. In August a female citizen was detained for torturing an elderly Sri Lankan maid by burning various parts of her body. Her three underage sons were also involved. Security forces freed the Sri Lankan migrant woman and transferred her to the Sri Lankan embassy to complete legal procedures. The case was pending as of November. In September the government announced it was opening an investigation into the death and alleged torture of a separate Sri Lankan domestic worker. The sponsor and his wife were under investigation.
In January the Philippines imposed a full ban on new workers bound to the country after the death of Filipina domestic worker Jeanelyn Villavende. The Philippine government noted that an autopsy showed Villavende was raped and beaten before she died at the hands of her employers in December. The Public Prosecutor detained because of her death a couple who had employed Villavende and referred the case to the Criminal Court on charges of premeditated murder, which carries the death sentence. The defendants denied the charges in a February court appearance. The government lifted the worker ban in February after coming to agreement over a standardized work contract that gave additional protections to workers. On December 30, the wife was sentenced to death by the Criminal Court and the husband was sentenced to four years for attempting to cover up the crime. Under the law, all death sentences are automatically reviewed by the Appeals Court.
Numerous media reports highlighted the problem of residence permit or visa trading, wherein companies and recruitment agencies collude to “sell” visas fraudulently to prospective workers. Often the jobs and companies attached to these visas do not exist, and workers are vulnerable to exploitation in the black market where they are forced to earn a living and repay the cost of their residence visa. Arrests of traffickers and illegal labor rings occurred almost weekly. In July the Minister of Social Affairs and Minister of State for Economic Affairs announced that the ministry had suspended the licenses of 2,207 companies and institutions in connection with visa trading. In August the PAM stated it had referred more than 400 companies to the Public Prosecutor over visa trading allegations since the beginning of the pandemic. Since workers cannot freely change jobs, many were unwilling to leave their initial job, even if their position existed only “on paper,” or due to low wages, wage nonpayment, or unacceptable working conditions. Workers who left their employers due to abusive treatment, nonpayment of wages or other practices associated with visa trading risked falling into illegal residency status, being accused of “absconding,” and being deported.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought increased public and press attention to visa trading. Civil society groups, press outlets, and MPs called for the government to increase its efforts to protect victims and punish traders and their enablers. In April and May, the Ministry of Interior announced numerous visa-trading investigations into government officials and those with government ties.
The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The legal minimum age for employment is 18, although employers may obtain permits from the Ministry of State for Economic Affairs to employ juveniles between 15 and 18 years of age in some nonhazardous trades. Juveniles may work a maximum of six hours a day with no more than four consecutive hours followed by a one-hour rest period. Juveniles cannot work overtime or between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Although not extensive, there were credible reports that children of South Asian origin worked as domestic laborers. Some underage workers entered the country on travel documents with falsified birth dates.
The government did not effectively enforce the child labor law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. PAM labor and occupational safety inspectors routinely monitored private firms for labor law compliance. Noncompliant employers faced fines or a forced suspension of their company operations. Nevertheless, the government did not consistently enforce child labor laws in the informal sector, such as in street vending.
The law prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, sex, gender, and disability. The government immediately deports HIV-positive foreign workers, and there is no protection for workers based on sexual orientation. No laws prohibit labor discrimination based on non-HIV communicable diseases, or social status, but there were no reported cases of discrimination in these areas. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to both citizen and noncitizen women. Female domestic workers were at particular risk of discrimination or abuse due to the isolated home environment in which they worked.
The law states that a woman should receive “remuneration equal to that of a man provided she does the same work,” although it prohibits women from working in “dangerous industries” in trades “harmful” to health, or in those that “violate public morals.” Educated women contended the conservative nature of society restricted career opportunities, although there were limited improvements. Media reported that the gender pay gap between male and female workers in the public sector was 28.5 percent for citizens and 7.9 percent for non-Kuwaitis according to government statistics. As of November women represented 52.8 percent of the citizen population, but there was a total female workforce participation rate of 55.2 percent in the public sector and 10.4 percent in the private sector. In July the Kuwait Society for Human Rights released a study describing the percentage of women in public sector leadership positions: 13 percent of ministers; 7 percent undersecretaries; 13 percent assistant undersecretaries; 19 percent directors of state bodies, agencies, or institutions; 9 percent deputy directors; 21 percent assistant secretaries general, 2 percent ambassadors; and 42 percent members in the Fatwa and Legislation Department. As of November the government announced 54 women occupied governmental leadership positions versus 294 men (the gender ratio in leadership positions was roughly 15 percent).
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with permanent physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, and it imposes penalties on employers who refrain without reasonable cause from hiring persons with disabilities. The government generally enforced these provisions. Noncitizens with disabilities had no access to government-operated facilities that covered job training, and the government still had not fully implemented social and workplace aides for persons with physical and, in particular, vision disabilities.
Shia continued to report government discrimination based on religious group. For example, Shia were not represented in any branch of the security forces and rarely held leadership positions in the security forces. Some Shia continued to allege that a glass ceiling prevented them from obtaining leadership positions in public-sector organizations, including the security services. In the private sector, Shia were generally represented at all levels in proportion to their percentage of the population.
The law sets a national monthly minimum wage in the oil and private sector and a minimum monthly wage for domestic workers. Most low-wage employees were not able to bring their families to the country. Employers generally provided some form of housing. In 2019, the country ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment by Public and Private Employers, which came into effect in July.
The law limits the standard workweek to 48 hours (40 hours for the petroleum industry) and gives private-sector workers 30 days of annual leave. The law also forbids requiring employees to work more than 60 hours per week or 10 hours per day. The law provides for 13 designated national holidays annually. Workers are entitled to 125 percent of base pay for working overtime and 150 percent of base pay for working on their designated weekly day off. The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties were commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.
The government issued occupational health and safety standards that were up-to-date and appropriate for the main industries. For example, the law provides that all outdoor work stop between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. during June, July, and August, or when the temperature rises to more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. A worker could file a complaint against an employer with the PAM if the worker believed his safety and health were at risk. In July the PAM reported that 138 companies had violated the summer heat work ban during its recent inspections.
The law and regulations governing acceptable conditions of work in the private sector do not apply to domestic workers. The PAM has jurisdiction over domestic worker matters and enforces domestic labor working standards.
The PAM is responsible for enforcement of wages, hours, overtime, and occupational safety and health regulations of workers. Enforcement by the ministry was generally good, but there were gaps in enforcement with respect to low-skilled foreign laborers. Several ministry officials cited inadequate numbers of inspectors as the main reason for their inability to enforce the laws better.
Labor and occupational safety inspectors monitored private firms. The government periodically inspected enterprises to raise awareness among workers and employers and to assure that they abided by existing safety rules, controlled pollution in certain industries, trained workers to use machines, and reported violations. In April the PAM announced the establishment of emergency hotlines to track visa trading and labor infraction allegations.
The government did not effectively enforce the private sector labor law. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to deter violations. The PAM monitored work sites to inspect for compliance with rules banning summer work and recorded hundreds of violations during the year. Workers could also report these violations to their embassies, the Kuwait Trade Union Federation, Kuwait Society for Human Rights, or the Labor Disputes Department. Noncompliant employers faced warnings, fines, or forced suspensions of company operations, but these were not sufficient to deter violators.
In the first 10 months of the year, the Labor Disputes Department received approximately 10,498 complaints from workers, of which approximately 2,693 were referred to the courts. These complaints were either regarding contract matters, such as nonpayment of wages, or concerning difficulties transferring work visas to new companies. Most of the complaints were resolved in arbitration, with the remaining cases referred to the courts for resolution.
At times the PAM intervened to resolve labor disputes between foreign workers and their employers. The authority’s labor arbitration panel sometimes ruled in favor of foreign laborers who claimed violations of work contracts by their employers. The government was more effective in resolving unpaid salary disputes involving private sector laborers than those involving domestic workers.
Foreign workers were vulnerable to unacceptable conditions of work. Domestic workers and other unskilled foreign workers in the private sector frequently worked substantially in excess of 48 hours a week, with no day of rest.
Domestic workers had little recourse when employers violated their rights except to seek admittance to the domestic workers shelter where the government mediated between sponsors and workers either to assist the worker in finding an alternate sponsor, or to assist in voluntary repatriation. There were no inspections of private residences, which is the workplace of the majority of the country’s domestic workers. Reports indicated employers forced domestic workers to work overtime without additional compensation. In July 2019 the PAM announced it was planning to unveil a “blacklist” system that would prevent the sponsorship of domestic workers by recruitment offices or employers that violate workers’ rights. The PAM began implementing this system in February.
Some domestic workers did not have the ability to remove themselves from an unhealthy or unsafe situation without endangering their employment. There were reports of domestic workers’ committing or attempting to commit suicide due to desperation over abuse, including sexual violence or poor working conditions. A 2016 law provides legal protections for domestic workers, including a formal grievance process managed by the PAM. A worker not satisfied with the department’s arbitration decision has the right to file a legal case via the labor court.
Several embassies with large domestic worker populations in the country met with varying degrees of success in pressing the government to prosecute serious cases of domestic worker abuse. Severe cases included those where there were significant, life-threatening injuries or death.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides workers the right to form and join trade unions. The government effectively enforced these rights. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference and provides them the right to organize and bargain collectively. Workers may strike, but the requirement to receive formal approval made striking difficult and complicated. The law on government service prohibits government employees from striking, but the prohibition does not apply to teachers or medical professionals. The law does not prohibit retaliation against striking workers. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws.
Many unions reportedly operated as quasi-official institutions that took state interests into consideration rather than representing workers’ interests exclusively. The Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) remained the only umbrella trade union in the country. The government did not require unions to belong to the FTU. Labor rights advocates reported the existence of several smaller unaffiliated unions.
Workers exercised their right to join and form unions, and unions exercised the right to organize and bargain collectively. Union leaders, however, generally cooperated with the government. International observers judged that unions represented the interests of their members poorly. In past years some unions alleged unfair dismissals of union leaders and the formation of single-company unions. In June the government presented unspecified criminal charges against trade union leader Kanatbek Osmonov and placed Osmonov under house arrest.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law specifically prohibits the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of sex or labor exploitation and prescribes penalties that were sufficient to deter violations. Forced labor is also prohibited by the labor code and the code on children. The government did not fully implement legal prohibitions, and victim identification remained a concern. Forced labor was found in agriculture, construction, textiles, domestic service, and childcare.
In September, Amnesty International reported that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government forced doctors to work in COVID quarantine zones. Since May doctors in Kyrgyzstan have been working what the Ministry of Health has called a “Barracks Regime” (kazarmennyi rezhim) to cope with the mounting pandemic. Doctors were forced to live near or in their place of work throughout. All doctors dealing directly with COVID-19 patients were on a regime of 14 days of shifts followed by 14 days of quarantine. The 14 days of quarantine after their shift work were not spent at home, but in hotels, hostels or in designated areas within the hospitals in which they worked.
The law sets the minimum legal age for basic employment at 16, except for work performed without a signed employment contract or work considered to be “light,” such as selling newspapers, in which children as young as 14 may work with the permission of a parent or guardian. The law prohibits employment of persons younger than age 18 at night, underground, or in difficult or dangerous conditions, including in the metal, oil, and gas industries; mining and prospecting; the food industry; entertainment; and machine building. Children ages 14 or 15 may work up to five hours a day, not to exceed 24 hours a week; children ages 16 to 18 may work up to seven hours a day, not exceeding 36 hours a week. These laws also apply to children with disabilities. Violations of the law incur penalties, which are sufficient to deter violations. The government did not effectively enforce the law and a lack of prosecution of violations continued to pose challenges to deterrence. Almost all child labor was in agriculture based on the 2014-2015 National Child Labor Survey.
Child labor remained a problem. Children continued to be engaged in household-scale work in cotton and tobacco cultivation; growing rice, potatoes, sugar beets, and wheat; and raising cattle and sheep. Reports indicated children worked in the industrial and services sectors as well, in coal mining; brick making; and construction, including lifting and portering construction materials and cutting metal sheets for roofs. In the services sector, children worked in bazaars, including by selling and transporting goods; washing cars; working in restaurants and cafes; begging and shoe shining as part of street work; and providing domestic work, including childcare. Examples of categorical worst forms of child labor in the country included: commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking; and illicit activities, including trafficking drugs, as a result of human trafficking (see section 7.b.).
The PGO and the State Inspectorate on Ecological and Technical Safety (Inspectorate) are responsible for enforcing employers’ compliance with the labor code. According to the Inspectorate, an insufficient number of labor inspectors resulted in infrequent and ineffective child labor inspections to ensure appropriate enforcement of the labor laws. Since many children worked for their families or were self-employed, the government found it difficult to determine whether work complied with the labor code. Due to the moratorium on unannounced business inspections, the state labor inspectorate was unable to apply penalties against any employers involved in the use of child labor.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, language, origin, property, official status, age, place of residence, religion, and political convictions, membership in public organizations, or other circumstances irrelevant to professional capacities. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and the penalties were insufficient to deter violations and were not commensurate to other laws on civil rights. Ethnic Uzbeks in the south also complained that discriminatory practices in licensing and registering a business with local authorities made starting a small business difficult.
On average employers paid women substantially lower wages than they paid to men. Women made up the majority of pensioners, a group particularly vulnerable to deteriorating economic conditions. By law, women are prohibited from working in “dangerous professions,” including energy, mining, water, factories, trucking, agriculture, and certain types of construction. This law is a holdover from the Soviet era, and while it is not clear that it has ever been enforced, it presents a barrier to women’s full and free participation in the economy and affects women’s earning potential. In rural areas traditional attitudes toward women limited them to the roles of wife and mother and curtailed educational opportunities. Members of the LGBTI community reported discrimination in the workplace when they publicly disclosed their sexual orientation. LGBTI persons faced a high risk of becoming the victims of deception and labor and sexual exploitation. The most vulnerable group in terms of employment is transgender women, who are frequently forced out of employment opportunities. Persons with HIV/AIDS-positive status faced discrimination regarding hiring and security of employment. Employers discriminated against persons with disabilities in hiring and limited their access to employment opportunities in the workplace. During the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the LGBTI community lack paid employment, social insurance, and the resources to work at home.
The law provides for a national minimum wage, which is less than the official government’s 2017 poverty line. The law on minimum wage states it should rise gradually to meet the cost of living. The government did not effectively enforce laws related to the minimum wage. There was no employer liability for late payment of wages, allowances, or other social benefits. On July 17, the Union of Health workers asked the president for doctors’ pay to be increased. They based this request on a 2005 law which required health workers be paid not less than the average wage; this law has never been implemented. Doctors and other health workers are being paid a bonus for working the extra hours required during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The standard workweek is 40 hours, usually with a five-day week. For state-owned industries, there is a mandated 24-hour rest period in a seven-day workweek. According to the labor code, overtime work cannot exceed four hours per day or 20 hours per week. The labor code also states workers engaged in overtime work must receive compensatory leave or premium pay of between 150 and 200 percent of the hourly wage. Compliance with these requirements differed among employers. For example, large companies and organizations with strong labor unions often abided by these provisions. Employers of small or informal firms where employees had no union representation often did not enforce these legal provisions.
The National Statistics Committee defined informal economic activity as household units that produce goods and services primarily to provide jobs and income to their members. In 2017 the government estimated that only 28.8 percent of the population worked in the formal sector of the economy, while the rest worked in the informal economy.
Factory operators often employed workers in poor safety and health conditions. The law establishes occupational health and safety standards that were appropriate to main industries, but the government generally did not enforce them. Penalties for violation of the law range from community service to fines and did not sufficiently deter violations. The law does not provide workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment.
The State Inspectorate on Ecological and Technical Safety (Inspectorate) is responsible for protecting workers and carrying out inspections for all types of labor problems. The government did not effectively enforce the law because it was not conducting labor inspections following a moratorium on all state inspections. Even prior to the moratorium, the inspectorate limited labor inspectors’ activities. The inspectorate did not employ enough inspectors to enforce compliance. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the inspectorate also lacked sufficient funding to carry out inspections. The law does not provide for occupational health and safety standards for workers in the informal economy. The government did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health laws. Penalties for violations of these laws were commensurate with those for crimes like negligence.
Amnesty International reported that health workers were dying because of the COVID-19 pandemic but unreliable statistics were undermining the government’s response. The head of Human Resources of the Ministry of Health stated that in the period from the beginning of the epidemic in mid-March to July22, a total of 29 health workers had died. Records kept by nongovernmental groups, however, give higher death figures for health workers, indicating over 40 health workers had died.
Government licensing rules placed strict requirements on companies recruiting citizens to work abroad, and the Ministry of Labor, Migration, and Youth licensed such companies. The government regularly published a list of licensed and vetted firms. Recruiters were required to monitor employer compliance with employment terms and the working conditions of labor migrants while under contract abroad. Recruiters were also required to provide workers with their employment contract prior to their departure.
Section 7. Worker Rights
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.
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.
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.
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.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Unions may not have fewer than 15 members or less than 25 percent of the total number of employees in the company (which cannot be fewer than five). The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union functions, and it provides reinstatement for unlawful dismissal, including dismissal for union activity.
There were several limitations on these rights. Uniformed members of the military and members of the State Security Services may not form or join unions. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, collective bargaining in the public administration is a formal procedure with no real substance, since all employment conditions are fixed by law.
While the law provides for the right to strike, it requires a strike vote by a simple majority at a meeting attended by more than half of the union’s members. It prohibits strikes in sectors related to public safety and by personnel classified as essential, including judges, prosecutors, police, firefighters, border guards, employees of state security institutions, prison guards, and military personnel. The law prohibits “solidarity” strikes by workers who are not directly involved in a specific labor agreement between strikers and their employers, a restriction criticized by local labor groups. It also bans political strikes. The law provides arbitration mechanisms for essential personnel not permitted to strike.
The government generally enforced applicable labor laws. EU labor regulations also apply. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate under the law. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other civil rights laws, ranging from a few hundred to several thousand euros, but were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Labor rights organizations expressed concern about employer discrimination against union members.
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected. The law on trade unions requires trade unions to be independent under the law. Anticorruption officials and press reports stated, however, that external funding and support appeared to make some union individuals or groups lack independence.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law, although staffing problems hindered more effective enforcement. Penalties range from fines to imprisonment, were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, and were generally sufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Welfare’s State Labor Inspectorate, the agency responsible for enforcing labor laws, conducted regular inspections of workplaces, and reported no incidents of forced labor through September. Two cases of complaints about workers’ rights were forwarded to the State Police to evaluate whether forced labor took place. The inspectorate reported a high employee turnover, with approximately 14 percent of positions unfilled, a situation made worse by perennial wage issues.
The government effectively enforced child labor and minimum age laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes and sufficient to deter violations. The statutory minimum age for employment is 15. Children who are 13 or older may work in certain jobs outside of school hours with written permission from a parent. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from performing nighttime or overtime work. By law children may not work in jobs that pose a risk to their physical safety, health, or development. There were no reports of labor abuses involving children. Through September the State Labor Inspectorate did not report cases of unregistered employment of youth.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination. Penalties were commensurate to laws related to civil rights. Despite the existence of a sizeable Russian-speaking minority, the government requires the use of Latvian as the officially recognized language where employment activities “affect the lawful interests of the public.” Citing the continuing political and economic threat posed by Russia to Latvia, the government restricted some sensitive civil service positions for candidates who previously worked for the former Soviet intelligence apparatus.
According to the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law 2020, women in the country have equal legal standing with men. There were instances of hiring and pay discrimination against women, particularly in the private sector, but they were underreported to the ombudsman. Through August the ombudsman did not open any cases of discrimination against women.
Employment discrimination also occurred with respect to sexual orientation, gender identity, and ethnicity. Persons with disabilities experienced limited access to work, although were free to work in all labor markets and were able to receive government employment support services, including those specifically designed for persons with disabilities. In 2019, 27.2 percent of all persons with disabilities were employed, a slight increase from 2018. The Romani community faced discrimination and high levels of unemployment.
The law sets a monthly minimum wage which was above the official poverty line. The government enforced its wage laws effectively.
The law provides for a maximum workweek of 40 hours. The maximum permitted overtime work may not exceed eight hours on average within a seven-day period, which is calculated over a four-month reference period. The law requires a minimum of 100 percent premium pay in compensation for overtime, unless the parties agree to other forms of compensation in a contract; however, this was rarely enforced. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous crimes and sufficient to deter violations.
The law establishes minimum occupational health and safety standards for the workplace, which are current and appropriate for the main industries. While the law allows workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, these regulations were not always followed. Workers are able to complain to the State Labor Inspectorate when they believe their rights are violated. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous crimes and sufficient to deter violations.
The State Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing minimum wage regulations, restrictions on hours of work, and occupational health and safety standards. These standards were not always enforced in the informal economy. Penalties for violations are fines that vary widely depending on the severity and frequency of the violation, but they were generally sufficient to deter violations. The inspectorate had adequate resources to inspect and remediate labor standards problems, effectively enforce labor laws, and occupational safety and health standards. The inspectorate has the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.
Through September the State Labor Inspectorate reported 22 workplace fatalities, eight of which will likely be categorized as due to natural causes. The inspectorate also reported 114 serious workplace injuries. The State Labor Inspectorate commented that 54 injuries and four deaths occurred as a result of industrial accidents. Workplace injuries and fatalities were primarily in the construction, wood-processing, and lumber industries.
Real wage estimates were difficult to calculate in the sizeable informal economy, which according to some estimates accounted for 24 percent of gross domestic product. Workers in low-skilled manufacturing and retail jobs as well as some public-sector employees, such as firefighters and police, were reportedly most vulnerable to poor working conditions, including long work hours, lack of overtime pay, and arbitrary remuneration.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join trade unions, bargain collectively, and strike but places restrictions on these rights. The Ministry of Labor must approve the formation of unions, and it controlled the conduct of all trade union elections, including election dates, procedures, and ratification of results. The law permits the administrative dissolution of trade unions and bars trade unions from political activity. Unions have the right to strike after providing advance notice to and receiving approval from the Ministry of Interior. Organizers of a strike (at least three of whom must be identified by name) must notify the ministry of the number of participants in advance and the intended location of the strike, and 5 percent of a union’s members must take responsibility for maintaining order during the strike.
There are significant restrictions on the right to strike. The law excludes public-sector employees, domestic workers, and agricultural workers. Therefore, they have neither the right to strike nor to join and establish unions. The law prohibits public-sector employees from any kind of union activity, including striking, organizing collective petitions, or joining professional organizations.
The law protects the right of workers to bargain collectively, but a minimum of 60 percent of workers must agree on the goals beforehand. Two-thirds of union members at a general assembly must ratify collective bargaining agreements. The Association of Banks in Lebanon renewed the collective sectoral agreement with the Federation of Lebanese Bank Employees Unions in December 2019 after nearly three months of mediation between the two parties led by the minister of labor. The Association of Banks in Lebanon had initially refused to renew the agreement.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. By law when employers misuse or abuse their right to terminate a union member’s contract, including for union activity, the worker is entitled to compensation and legal indemnity and may institute proceedings before a conciliation board. The board adjudicates the case, after which an employer may be compelled to reinstate the worker, although this protection is available only to the elected members of a union’s board. Anecdotal evidence showed widespread antiunion discrimination in both the public and private sectors, although this issue did not receive significant media coverage. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the most flagrant abuses occurred in banking, private schools, retail businesses, daily and occasional workers, and the civil service.
By law foreigners with legal resident status may join trade unions. According to the ILO, however, most unions do not encourage or accept the participation of foreign workers. The law permits migrant workers to join existing unions (regardless of nationality and reciprocity agreements) but denies them the right to form their own unions. They do not enjoy full membership since they may neither vote in trade union elections nor run for union office. Certain sectors of migrant workers, such as migrant domestic workers, challenged the binding laws supported by some unions by forming their own autonomous structures that acted as unions, although the Ministry of Labor has not approved them.
Palestinian refugees generally may organize their own unions. Because of restrictions on their right to work, few refugees participated actively in trade unions. While some unions required citizenship, others were open to foreign nationals whose home countries had reciprocity agreements with Lebanon.
The government’s enforcement of applicable law was weak, including with regard to prohibitions on antiunion discrimination.
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not always respected. The government and other political actors interfered with the functioning of worker organizations, particularly the main federation, the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers (CGTL). The CGTL is the only national confederation recognized by the government, although several unions boycotted and unofficially or officially broke from the CGTL and no longer recognized it as an independent and nonpartisan representative of workers. Since 2012 the Union Coordination Committee (UCC), a grouping of public and private teachers as well as civil servants, played a major role in pushing the government to pass a promised revised salary scale, largely overshadowing the CGTL. While the UCC is not formally recognized by any government body, it acts as an umbrella organization and guides several recognized leagues of workers in demonstrating and in negotiating demands. During the 2019 national budget debate, both the CGTL and UCC failed to take leadership of worker protest actions successfully or to express coherently the demands and aspirations of working persons. In January 2019 the CGTL was further weakened when union president Antoine Bechara was interrogated by the ISF Anticybercrime Bureau over a complaint filed by then minister of economy Raed Khoury. In May 2019 Bechara was arrested and pressured to resign after a video was leaked showing him insulting and making offensive comments against the late Maronite patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, but he was re-elected on July 14. The National Federation of Workers and Employees in Lebanon emerged as another alternative to represent the independent trade union movement.
The economic and financial collapse, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ensuing political unrest exacerbated challenges in the labor sector, including an increased rate of unemployment, increased dismissal of employees, partial salary payments, deteriorating working conditions, and an increased number of businesses shutting down. The Ministry of Labor formed a crisis committee to look into the unlawful termination of contracts, but it did not include foreign domestic workers in its review. Multiple international organizations reported in September that domestic workers were adversely affected by the port explosion since many were suddenly laid off or rendered homeless along with their employers.
Antiunion discrimination and other instances of employer interference in union functions occurred. Some employers fired workers in the process of forming a union before the union could be formally established and published in the official gazette.
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor and criminalizes all forms of labor trafficking.
Children, foreign workers employed as domestic workers, and other foreign workers sometimes worked under forced labor conditions. The law criminalizes trafficking and provides protection for domestic workers against forced labor, but domestic work is excluded from legal protection and is therefore vulnerable to exploitation. In violation of the law, employment agencies and employers routinely withheld foreign workers’ passports, especially in the cases of domestic workers, sometimes for years. According to NGOs assisting migrant workers, in some instances employers withheld salaries for the duration of the contract, which was usually two years.
Many employers left their domestic migrant workers in the streets and at their respective embassies because they were unable to pay their salaries due to the economic crisis and the devaluation of the Lebanese lira. For example, hundreds of Ethiopian migrant workers were left in the streets in front of the Ethiopian embassy by their employers.
Child labor occurred, including in its worst forms. While up-to-date statistics on child labor were unavailable, anecdotal evidence and the accounts of NGOs suggested the number of child workers may have risen during the year and that more children worked in the informal sector. UNHCR noted that commercial sexual exploitation of refugee children continued to occur.
The minimum age for employment is 14, and the law prescribes the occupations that are legal for juveniles, defined as children between ages 14 and 18. The law requires juveniles to undergo a medical exam by a doctor certified by the Ministry of Public Health to assure they are physically fit for the types of work employers ask them to perform. The law prohibits employment of juveniles for more than seven hours per day or between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., and it requires one hour of rest for work lasting more than four hours. The law prohibits specific types of labor for juveniles, including informal “street labor.” It also lists types of labor that, by their nature or the circumstances in which they are carried out, are likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of children younger than 16, as well as types of labor that are allowed for children older than 16, provided they are offered full protection and adequate training.
Overall, the government did not enforce child labor law effectively. Advocacy groups did not consider penalties for those who violate laws on the worst forms of child labor to be commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
Child labor, including among refugee children, was predominantly concentrated in the informal sector, including in small family enterprises, mechanical workshops, carpentry, construction, manufacturing, industrial sites, welding, agriculture, and fisheries. UN agencies and NGOs reported that Syrian refugee children were vulnerable to child labor and exploitation. According to the ILO, child labor rates have at least doubled since the Syrian refugee influx. The ILO reported that instances of child labor strongly correlated with a Syrian refugee presence. The ILO equally highlighted that the majority of Syrian children involved in the worst forms of child labor–especially forced labor–worked primarily in agriculture in the Bekaa and Akkar regions and on the streets of major urban areas (Beirut and Tripoli). Anecdotal evidence also indicated child labor was prevalent within Palestinian refugee camps.
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor requirements through its Child Labor Unit. Additionally, the law charges the Ministry of Justice, ISF, and Higher Council for Childhood (HCC) with enforcing laws related to child trafficking, including commercial sexual exploitation of children and the use of children in illicit activities. The HCC is also responsible for referring children held in protective custody to appropriate NGOs to find safe living arrangements.
A Ministry of Labor unit responsible for inspections of all potential labor violations also investigates child labor matters when a specific complaint is reported or found in the course of its other inspections.
The Ministry of Labor’s Child Labor Unit acts as the government’s focal point for child labor matters, and it oversees and implements the ministry’s national strategy to tackle child labor. The National Steering Committee on Child Labor is the main interministerial body coordinating on child labor across the government.
In October 2019 the Ministry of Social Affairs developed a National Action Plan to End Street Begging by Children, but implementation was slow due to the October 2019 revolution and government resignation.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law provides for equality among all citizens and prohibits employment discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status. The law prohibits women from working in certain industries, such as mining, factories, agriculture, energy, and transportation, although the law was not enforced in multiple sectors, including factories and agriculture. The law does not specifically provide for protection against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV status, or other communicable diseases. Although the government generally respected these provisions, they were not enforced in some areas, and aspects of the law and traditional beliefs discriminated against women. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, persons with disabilities, foreign domestic workers, and LGBTI and HIV-positive persons (see section 6).
The law does not distinguish between women and men in employment, and it provides for equal pay for men and women, with exceptions that exclude women from a variety of industrial and construction jobs as well as jobs listed in Annex 1. According to the UN Population Fund, the law does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, although it gives an employee the right to resign without prior notice in the event that the employer or representative commits an indecent offense towards the employee or a family member. There are, however, no legal consequences for the perpetrator.
The law defines a “disability” as a physical, sight, hearing, or mental disability. It stipulates that persons with disabilities fill at least 3 percent of all government and private-sector positions, provided such persons fulfill the qualifications for the position. There was no evidence the government enforced the law. Employers are legally exempt from penalties if they provide evidence no otherwise qualified person with disabilities applied for employment within three months of advertisement.
Migrant workers and domestic workers faced employment hurdles that amounted to discrimination. In July, Syrian workers, usually employed as manual laborers and construction workers, continued to suffer discrimination. Many municipalities enforced a curfew on Syrians’ movements in their neighborhoods in an effort to control security.
The legal minimum wage was last raised in 2012. In July then minister of labor Lamia Yammine requested an increase in the minimum wage to balance purchasing power and inflation, but no further action was taken. There was no official minimum wage for domestic workers. Observers concluded that the minimum wage was lower than unofficial estimates of the poverty income level. Official contracts stipulated monthly wages for domestic workers, depending on the nationality of the worker. A unified standard contract, which was registered with the DGS for workers to obtain residency, granted migrant domestic workers some labor protections. The standard contract covered uniform terms and conditions of employment, but not wages for domestic workers, depending on the nationality of the worker. The law prescribes a standard 48-hour workweek with a weekly rest period that must not be less than 36 consecutive hours. The law stipulates 48 hours of work as the maximum per week in most corporations except agricultural enterprises. The law permits a 12-hour day under certain conditions, including a stipulation that overtime pay is 50 percent higher than pay for normal hours. The law does not set limits on compulsory overtime. The law includes specific occupational health and safety regulations and requires employers to take adequate precautions for employee safety.
Domestic workers are not covered by law or other legal provisions related to acceptable conditions of work. Such provisions also do not apply to those involved in work within the context of a family, day laborers, temporary workers in the public sector, or workers in the agricultural sector. On September 11, the caretaker minister of labor signed a new standard labor contract for all domestic workers, foreign and Lebanese, that would apply to all contracts signed after November 1.
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing regulations related to acceptable conditions of work, but it did so inconsistently. The ministry’s enforcement team handled all inspections of potential labor violations, but it suffered from a lack of staff, resources, legal tools, and political support for its work. Interference with inspectors affected the quality of inspections, and issuance of fines for violators was common. The law stipulates that workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, although government officials did not protect employees who exercised this right.
Workers in the industrial sector worked an average of 35 hours per week, while workers in other sectors worked an average of 32 hours per week. These averages, however, were derived from figures that included part-time work, including for employees who desired full-time work. Some private-sector employers failed to provide employees with family and transportation allowances as stipulated under the law and did not register them with the National Social Security Fund (NSSF).
Some companies did not respect legal provisions governing occupational health and safety in specific sectors, such as the construction industry. Workers may report violations to the CGTL, Ministry of Labor, NSSF, or through their respective unions. In most cases they preferred to remain silent due to fear of dismissal.
Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational health and safety standards were most common in the construction industry and among migrant workers, particularly with foreign domestic workers.
Foreign migrant workers arrived in the country through local and source-country recruitment agencies. Although the law requires recruitment agencies to have a license from the Ministry of Labor, the government did not adequately monitor their activities. A sponsorship system tied foreign workers’ legal residency to a specific employer, making it difficult for foreign workers to change employers. If employment were terminated, a worker would lose residency. This circumstance made many foreign migrant workers reluctant to file complaints to avoid losing their legal status.
Some employers mistreated, abused, and raped foreign domestic workers, who were mostly of Asian and African origin. Domestic workers often worked long hours and in many cases did not receive vacations or holidays. Victims of abuse may file civil suits or seek other legal action, often with the assistance of NGOs, but most victims, counseled by their embassies or consulates, settled for an administrative solution that usually included monetary compensation and repatriation. Again during the year, victims explained that, when they escaped from employers who were withholding wages, an NGO helped them file charges against their employers. Authorities commonly reached administrative settlements with employers to pay back wages or finance return to employees’ home countries but generally did not seek criminal prosecution of employers.
During a May interview with an NGO, Ethiopian domestic workers reported that their employers had stopped paying them and refused to provide them with tickets to return home as stipulated in the unified contract that is designed to protect domestic worker rights. This left many of them stranded, sleeping on the pavement outside the Ethiopian Consulate, without food, money, passports, or medical care amid the global pandemic.
In June the Director General of Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons named Lebanon among Gulf countries in which Nigerian citizens were trapped in domestic servitude. The official stated her agency had received more than 50 distress calls and collected evidence regarding cruel working conditions, unpaid salaries, 18-hour workdays, and hazardous duties. Some of the women were reportedly sold as slaves to third-party buyers.
Authorities typically did not prosecute perpetrators of abuse against foreign domestic workers for a number of reasons, including the victims’ refusal to press charges and lack of evidence. Authorities settled an unknown number of cases of nonpayment of wages through negotiation. According to source-country embassies and consulates, many workers did not report violations of their labor contracts until after they returned to their home countries, since they preferred not to stay in the country for a lengthy judicial process.
While licensed businesses and factories strove to meet international standards for working conditions with respect to occupational safety and health, conditions in informal factories and businesses were poorly regulated and often did not meet these standards. The Ministry of Industry is responsible for enforcing regulations to improve safety in the workplace. The regulations require industries to have three types of insurance (fire, third party, and workers’ policies) and to implement proper safety measures. The ministry has the authority to revoke a company’s license if its inspectors find a company noncompliant, but there was no evidence this occurred.
The law requires businesses to adhere to safety standards, but authorities poorly enforced the law, and it did not explicitly permit workers to remove themselves from dangerous conditions without jeopardy to their continued employment. By law workers may ask to change their job or be removed from an unsafe job without being affected. The government only weakly implemented the law due to lack of governance, the weak role of the trade union movement, corruption, and lack of trade union rights.
Section 7. Worker Rights
By law workers in the private sector have the right to join and form trade unions of their own choosing without prior authorization or excessive bureaucratic requirements. The law prohibits civil servants and police from joining or forming unions but allows them to form staff associations for collective bargaining and promoting ethical conduct of their members. All trade unions must register with the Registrar of Trade Unions. The registrar may refuse to register a trade union if the provisions of its constitution violate the labor code. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference.
The law significantly limits the right to strike. In the private sector, the law requires workers and employers to follow a series of procedures designed to resolve disputes before the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR), an independent government body, authorizes a strike. A registered union with a 51 percent majority of staff may call a strike on a “dispute of interest” (a demand that goes beyond labor code stipulations). If mandatory negotiations between employer and employees reach a deadlock, a union may file with the DDPR for permission to embark on a strike. Typically, the employer and employees agree on the strike rules and its duration. Employers may also invoke a lockout clause. The law does not permit civil servants, military, and essential workers to strike.
The law protects collective bargaining and places no restrictions on it. Government approval is not required for collective agreements to be valid. By law the Public Service Joint Advisory Council provides for due process and protects civil servants’ rights. The council consists of equal numbers of members appointed by the minister of public service and members of associations representing at least 50 percent of civil servants. The council concludes and enforces collective bargaining agreements, prevents and resolves disputes, and provides procedures for dealing with general grievances. Furthermore, the Public Service Tribunal handles appeals brought by civil servants or their associations. During the year five cases were adjudicated and three were closed.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and other employer interference in union functions. The law provides for reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. The law covers the informal sector and does not exclude particular groups of workers from relevant legal protections. There were reports foreign employers at garment factories did not rehire workers who joined unions following a March 29-May 5 COVID-19 lockdown. The Construction, Mining, Quarrying, and Allied Workers Union stated that two construction companies dismissed 450 workers for joining unions. Some employers threatened union leaders and denied them the opportunity to meet with their members.
The government effectively enforced applicable law with disputed cases typically resolved within one to six months at the DDPR. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations. The Labor Court’s independence remained questionable because it is under the authority of the Ministry of Labor and Employment (Ministry of Labor), despite a 2011 law transferring it to the judiciary.
The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and collective bargaining. Although factory workers have bargaining power, the law requires any union entering negotiations with management to represent 50 percent of workers in a factory. Only a few factories met that condition, and unions at factories where union membership is below 50 percent may not represent workers collectively in negotiations with employers. In 2015 the Factory Workers Union (FAWU), Lesotho Clothing and Allied Workers Union, and National Union of Textile Workers merged to form the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL) to strengthen their bargaining power. The National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union, which separated from FAWU, was active. Since 2018 the three largest unions–IDUL, United Textile Employees, and the National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union–worked together to address workers’ issues, resulting in stronger collective bargaining. All worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties except the Lesotho Workers Party-affiliated Factory Workers Union. Most unions focused on organizing apparel workers.
Factory owners in the apparel industry were generally willing to bargain collectively on wages and working conditions but only with trade unions that represented at least 50 percent of workers. Factory decisions concerning labor disputes are determined by companies’ headquarters, which are usually located overseas. In the retail sector, employers generally respected the freedom to associate and the right to bargain collectively, although retail unions complained employers commonly appealed Labor Court rulings to delay their implementation.
In March factory workers held a one-day protest demanding a 20 percent salary increase, rather than the proposed 4.5 percent increase. They further demanded the government implement a social security scheme, unemployment insurance fund, and paid maternity leave for private-sector workers. On June 12, workers held a one-day stay-away protest after police declined to grant them a permit to march, citing COVID-19 regulations.
In 2018 the Labor Court overturned the DDPR’s ruling barring teachers from engaging in a strike regarding pay and working conditions. The court instructed the DDPR to award teachers unions an industrial action protection certificate to enable their members to go on a legal strike. The teachers suspended the strike following negotiations with the government. In August 2019 the teachers’ strike resumed. Later that month some teachers returned to work, but others remained on strike. The government applied a no-work, no-pay policy to those teachers who continued to strike. In September 2019 approximately 4,000 teachers did not receive their salaries, including those who returned to work. A full month’s salary was deducted for those who embarked on a strike, and retired teachers from those schools did not receive their pensions. Following intervention by the Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organizations, Christian Council of Lesotho, and Public Accounts Committee, the government reversed the decision, but many salaries remained unpaid at year’s end.
According to the Lesotho Public Servants Staff Association (LEPSSA), 34 percent of civil servants belonged to the association. LEPSSA reported most civil servants did not register for membership in the association because they were not aware of its existence. This low rate of participation made it difficult for LEPSSA to engage with the government on workers’ rights problems.
The Lesotho Police Staff Association (LEPOSA) stated it had 98 percent membership, an increase from 92 percent in 2019. In July 2019 police embarked on a “go-slow” work action and countrywide protest against the government’s failure to pay a risk allowance and 6 percent salary increase. Police also complained of a lack of uniforms and unclear transfer and promotion criteria. The government granted the salary increase. On September 10, LEPOSA requested a permit to march to present grievances, but the minister of police declined, citing the law stating police were not allowed to protest.
From July 13 to July 24, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and laboratory technicians went on a strike demanding the government provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect them from COVID-19. They also demanded a risk allowance. The government provided the PPE and pledged an additional allowance but at a lower rate. In July medical workers at designated COVID-19 isolation centers located at Berea and Mafeteng hospitals went on strike due to PPE shortages. The government then provided the required PPE.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The CGPU conducted community outreach on forced labor through community gatherings, lectures, workshops, and radio programs. Police focused on high schools to raise awareness of human trafficking and other forms of forced labor.
The government did not effectively enforce applicable law. Police reported inadequate resources hampered their investigations and remediation efforts. Penalties for conviction of violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes, but they were seldom enforced. Forced labor, including forced child labor, continued to occur in the sectors of domestic work and agricultural work. Victims of forced labor were either children or workers in the informal sector.
The law defines the legal minimum age for employment as 15, or 18 for hazardous employment. The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. Children in domestic work are sometimes exposed to the worst forms of child labor and are not protected by law and regulations. The law defines hazardous work to include mining and quarrying; carrying heavy loads; manufacturing where chemicals are produced or used; working in places where machines are used, or in places such as bars, hotels, and places of entertainment where a person may be exposed to immoral behavior; herding; and producing or distributing tobacco.
The law provides for completion of free and compulsory primary school at age 13, two years before the legal age of employment, rendering children ages 13-15 particularly vulnerable to forced labor. The law prohibits the use of children for illicit activities, including drug trafficking, hawking, gambling, or other illegal activities detrimental to the health, welfare, and educational advancement of the child. The law also states a child has a right to be protected from the use of hallucinogens, narcotics, alcohol, tobacco products, psychotropic drugs, and any other substances declared harmful, and from being involved in their production, trafficking, or distribution. Additionally, the law prohibits the use of children for commercial sexual exploitation. While the law applies to children working in the informal economy, it excludes self-employed children from relevant legal protections.
The government did not effectively enforce minimum age law regarding employment outside the formal economy. No convictions for child labor were reported. The Ministry of Labor and the CGPU investigated cases of working children, but it lacked a sufficient number of labor inspectors to enforce compliance. Police reported one case of child labor, and the ministry reported another case. There were 11 pending cases of human trafficking at year’s end.
The NGO Beautiful Dream Society reported one case of sex trafficking involving a girl trafficked to South Africa, and two cases of human trafficking of boys forced to leave school to work as herders.
Government regulations on children working as herdboys regulate the work and distinguish between legal “child work” and illegal “child labor.” The guidelines apply to children younger than age 18 and strictly prohibit the engagement of children at a cattle post, the huts where herders stay when in remote mountain rangelands. In line with international conventions and standards, the law considers herding by children to be illegal child labor only if it deprives herdboys of the opportunity to attend school, obliges them to leave school prematurely, or requires them to combine school attendance with excessively long hours and difficult working conditions. The highest estimated percentage of working children was in herding.
Children also engaged in domestic service and street work, including vending.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, HIV/AIDS status, or refugee status. Discrimination based on disability is not explicitly prohibited. The law’s prohibition of gender-based discrimination is ambiguous. Generally, gender-based employment discrimination is prohibited. Nevertheless, in certain sectors, such as mining, what the law refers to as “fair discrimination” permits employers to decline to hire women for dangerous jobs. There is no provision for equal pay for equal work.
According to the NGO Women and Law in Southern Africa, discrimination against women in employment, business, and access to credit is illegal, although social barriers to equality remained. Both men and women reported hiring practices often aligned with gender, with men preferentially selected for certain positions (such as mechanics) and women preferentially selected for other positions (such as sewing machine operators).
Migrant workers enjoy the same legal protections, wages, and working conditions as citizens.
There is a sector-specific minimum wage and a general minimum wage. The general minimum monthly wage was above the poverty line. Minimum wage provisions do not cover significant portions of the workforce. Labor laws were not applied to workers in agriculture or other informal sectors.
The law stipulates standards for hours of work, including a maximum 45-hour workweek, a weekly rest period of at least 24 hours, a daily minimum rest period of one hour, at least 12 days of paid leave per year, paid sick leave, and public holidays. Required overtime is legal if overtime wages for work in excess of the standard 45-hour workweek are paid. The maximum overtime allowed is 11 hours per week; however, there are exemptions under special circumstances. The law requires the premium pay for overtime be at a rate not less than 25 percent more than the employee’s normal hourly wage rate; any employer who requires excessive compulsory overtime is liable to a fine, imprisonment, or both.
The government applied wage and hour laws inconsistently. Wage and hour rates were not enforced in the large informal economy. The Ministry of Labor, which has the responsibility to enforce minimum wage and overtime laws, observed the security sector did not always conform to the minimum wages and hours-of-work regulations. In general overtime laws were enforced through inspection visits and office mediation.
The law empowers the Ministry of Labor to issue regulations on occupational health and safety standards, and the commissioner of labor is responsible for investigating allegations of labor law violations.
The law requires employers to provide adequate light, ventilation, and sanitary facilities for employees and to install and maintain machinery in a manner that minimizes injury. It also requires each employer have a registered health and safety officer. Employers must provide first aid kits, safety equipment, and protective clothing. The law also provides for a compensation system for industrial injuries and diseases related to employment. The law holds employers responsible for orienting their employees on safety standards and for providing adequate protective clothing. Workers may be held responsible for accidents if they fail to use provided protective clothing or fail to comply with safety standards.
The government did not effectively enforce the law on safety and health standards. Labor inspectors worked in all districts and generally conducted unannounced inspections, but the government did not employ enough labor inspectors. By law the informal sector is not subject to inspection. The Ministry of Labor’s inspectorate reported employers, particularly in the security, transport, and construction sectors, did not always observe the minimum wage and hours-of-work laws. Many locally owned businesses did not keep adequate employee records to facilitate labor inspections as required by law. Smaller employers failed to establish safety committees, did not have complete first aid kits, and did not provide protective clothing. Except for the mining industry, employers’ compliance with health and safety regulations was generally low. According to the ministry, there was extensive noncompliance with health and safety regulations, especially in construction. Employers took advantage of the fact the ministry failed to prosecute violations. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other violations.
Trade union representatives described textile-sector working conditions as poor or harsh but not dangerous. They stated failure by small factories to observe the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 guidelines put the workers at risk of contracting the disease. Unions noted that due to poor planning and design ventilation was usually improperly installed in government-constructed factories. Employers who leased factories from the government were not allowed to change the design of government factory buildings to install ventilation systems. Independent auditors hired by foreign textile buyers conducted spot checks on many exporting factories, customarily sought labor’s input, and briefed the unions on their findings. Unions believed independent auditors kept factory owners compliant with health and safety regulations.
In August 2019 a coalition of labor unions and women’s rights organizations, an apparel supplier, and three apparel brands signed agreements to address GBV in garment factories. In response to allegations of sexual harassment, including some claims of supervisors demanding sexual favors, these agreements provided for the establishment of an independent body to receive complaints of GBV and carry out investigations accordingly. As of November this program was implemented only at Nien Hsing Textiles factory. Union leaders stated, however, that workers reported cases of violence and harassment, including assault and verbal abuse by employers, in other factories and called for expansion of the program.
Many workplace policies covered employees with HIV/AIDS. Some of the larger factories provided health-care services at the workplace. Where factories did not provide health care, workers had the right to access services at public health centers. Employers provided space for employee examinations and time off for employees to see doctors, receive counseling, and participate in educational and antistigma programs.
The Ministry of Labor has minimal jurisdiction over the informal economy, where an estimated half of the country’s workers were employed. The ministry’s inspectorate noted penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations, but they were not applied.
The Ministry of Labor prepares an annual report on workplace fatalities and accidents. According to the report, from January through August, there were 237 accidents, of which 23 persons died and 214 individuals (160 men and 54 women) sustained serious injuries. The affected sectors included the textile, manufacturing, security, retail, and construction sectors.
Working conditions for foreign or migrant workers were the same as those of residents, and migrants enjoyed equal protection under the law in the formal sector.
The law does not explicitly provide for workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Workers have the right to report incidents that put their lives in danger to their safety officers of safety committees. In most cases workers reported being pressured not to report violations. Nevertheless, code provisions on safety in the workplace and dismissal imply such a dismissal would be illegal. Authorities protected employees when violations of the law were reported.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides workers, except public servants and employees of state-owned enterprises, the right to freely form or join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows unions to conduct their activities without interference by employers, parties, or government. The law provides that labor organizations and associations have the right to draw up their constitutions and rules with regard to electing their representatives, organizing their activities, and formulating their programs. Trade and labor unions are registered with the Ministry of Labor. The Bureau of Trade Union Affairs & Social Dialogue is the arm of the ministry that coordinates the activities of the social partners, trade unions, and employer organizations in the labor sector.
Public-sector employees and employees of state-owned enterprises are prohibited under the Civil Service Standing Orders from organizing into unions and bargaining collectively, but they may process grievances through the Civil Service Agency grievance board. Representatives from the Ministry of Labor, Liberia Labor Congress (LLC), and Civil Servants Association continued to argue the Standing Orders conflict with Article 17 of the constitution, which affords the right to associate in trade unions. Some public-sector associations, including those for teachers and public-health workers, declared themselves to be unions, despite the law, and the LLC and Ministry of Labor backed their efforts to unionize.
Under the Decent Work Act of 2015, parties engaged in essential services are also prohibited from striking. The act provides that the National Tripartite Council (comprising the Ministry of Labor, Liberian Chamber of Commerce, and Liberian Labor Union) shall recommend to the minister all or part of a service to be an essential service if, in the opinion of the National Tripartite Council, the interruption of that service would endanger the life, personal safety, or health of the whole or any part of the population. As of year’s end, the National Tripartite Council had not published a list of essential services.
The law provides for the right of workers to conduct legal strikes, provided they have attempted to negotiate to resolve the issue and give the Ministry of Labor 48 hours’ notice of their intent. The law requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law prohibits unions from engaging in partisan political activity and prohibits agricultural workers from joining industrial workers’ organizations. The law prohibits strikes under certain circumstances as follows: if the disputed parties have agreed to refer the issue to arbitration; if the issue is already under arbitration or in court; and if the parties engage in essential services as designated by the National Tripartite Council.
While the law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement for workers dismissed for union activity, it allows for dismissal without cause if the company provides the mandated severance package. It does not prohibit retaliation against strikers whose strikes comply with the law if they commit “an act that constitutes defamation or a criminal offense, or if the proceedings arise from an employee being dismissed for a valid reason.”
The government inconsistently enforced applicable laws in the formal sector, and workers exercised their rights. Employees enjoyed freedom of association and had the right to establish and become members of organizations of their own choosing without previous authorization or coercion. There were reports during the year of union-led protest actions in a number of concession areas, including plantations, leading to work stoppages or disruptions for days, and by public-sector associations of health workers and teachers. The law, however, does not provide adequate protection, and some protections depended on whether property damage occurred and was measurable. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays or appeals and to outside interference, such as bribes, coercion, and intimidation by politicians.
On September 23, a group of health workers demonstrated peacefully outside of diplomatic missions in Monrovia to advocate for international support in making their case to the government for better working conditions. On September 16, health workers under the banner of the National Health Workers Union of Liberia (NAHWUL) demanded the certification of NAHWUL, payment of outstanding salaries and benefits, and alignment between salaries and qualifications. The government responded with a call to hire replacement health-care workers. In October the health workers called off the strike upon the intervention of the UN resident coordinator and other international partners.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, aside from forced prison labor or work defined as “minor communal service.” The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Criminal penalties were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes involving denial of civil rights.
Forced labor, including forced child labor, occurred. Families living in the interior of the country sometimes sent young women and children to live with relatives, acquaintances, or even strangers in Monrovia or other cities with the promise the women and children would pursue educational or other opportunities. In some instances these women and children were forced to work as street vendors, domestic servants, beggars or in commercial sexual exploitation. There were also reports of forced labor on small rubber plantations and artisanal mines.
The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. Children were vulnerable to hazardous work because the government had not designated hazardous work categories. Under the Decent Work Act, most full-time employment of children younger than age of 15 is prohibited. Children older than 13 but younger than 15 may be employed to perform “light work” for a maximum of two hours per day and not more than 14 hours per week. “Light work” is defined as work that does not prejudice the child’s attendance at school and is not likely to be harmful to a child’s health or safety and moral or material welfare or development as defined by law. There is an exception to the law for artistic performances, where the law leaves the determination of work hours to the minister of labor. Under the act, children 15 and older are not allowed to work more than seven hours a day or more than 42 hours in a week. There are mandatory rest periods of one hour, and the child may not work more than four hours consecutively. The law also prohibits the employment of children younger than 16 during school hours, unless the employer keeps a registry of the child’s school certificate to illustrate the child attended school regularly and can demonstrate the child was able to read and write simple sentences. The law prohibits the employment of apprentices younger than 16. The compulsory education requirement extends through grade nine or until 15.
Gaps exist, however, in the legal framework to protect children adequately from the worst forms of child labor, including the one-year break between the compulsory education age and the minimum age for work. Additionally, the minimum age for work is not in compliance with international standards because it allows children younger than 16 to engage in work as long as it is outside of school hours, the employer keeps records of the child’s schooling, and the child is literate and attends school regularly. Because of these legal gaps, children of any age may be vulnerable to child labor. Although the Decent Work Act prohibits children younger than 15 from working full time, it does not prevent children below this age from engaging in part-time employment.
The law provides that an employer must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Labor before engaging a child in a proscribed form of labor. The ministry did not provide statistics on whether such permits were either requested or issued.
The government prohibits children younger than 18 from engaging in hazardous work but had not yet published a hazardous work list, leaving children vulnerable to hazardous work in certain sectors. The law penalizes employers who violate the minimum age provision of child labor laws and parents or guardians who violate this minimum age provision. According to the law, “a parent, caregiver, guardian, or relative who engages in any act or connives with any other person to subject a child to sexual molestation, prohibited child labor, or such other act, that places the well-being of a child at risk is guilty of a second-degree felony.”
The National Commission on Child Labor (NACOMAL) is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies but did not do so effectively. Labor inspectors were assigned to monitor and address child labor but were understaffed and underresourced. The government charged the National Steering Committee for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor (National Child Labor Committee) with investigating and referring for prosecution allegations of child labor. The committee consists of the Ministry of Labor’s Child Labor Secretariat (which includes NACOMAL); the Ministry of Justice’s Human Rights Protection Unit; the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection’s Human Rights Division; and the police’s Women’s and Children’s Protection Section. It was not clear if any inspections or remediation took place. Although the National Child Labor Committee convened regular meetings, coordination of their activities remained a serious problem. In 2019 the government released the National Action Plan on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor. The government did not identify specific funding to implement its provisions and expected the donor community to contribute 59 percent of the total budget for eliminating child labor.
Child labor was widespread in almost every economic sector. In urban areas children assisted their parents as vendors in markets or hawked goods on the streets. There were reports that children tapped rubber on smaller plantations and private farms, which exposed them to hazardous conditions involving use of machetes and acids. Children also worked in other conditions likely to harm their health and safety, such as rock crushing or work that required carrying heavy loads. Children were engaged in hazardous labor in alluvial diamond and gold mining, which exposed them to heavy loads and hazardous chemicals. Children were also engaged in agriculture, hunting, and fishing. Some children in Monrovia, particularly girls, worked in domestic service after being sent from rural communities by their parents or guardians. There were also reports of children working in auto shops. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findingsSee the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, color, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation or gender identity, or HIV/AIDS status. It does not address refugee or stateless status. The law calls for equal pay for equal work. The government did not effectively enforce the law.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, HIV-positive status, sexual orientation, and gender identity, and women experienced economic discrimination based on cultural traditions discouraging their employment outside the home in rural areas. Anecdotal evidence indicated that women’s pay lagged behind that for men. LGBTI individuals and those with disabilities faced hiring discrimination, and persons with disabilities faced difficulty with workplace access and accommodation (see section 6).
The law establishes minimum wages for unskilled laborers and for formal sector workers. The law allows workers in the informal sector to bargain for a wage higher than the legal minimum.
The minimum wage was greater than the World Bank’s poverty income level. Many families paid minimum-wage incomes were also engaged in subsistence farming, small-scale marketing, and begging.
The law provides for a 48-hour, six-day regular workweek with a one-hour rest period for every five hours of work. The law stipulates that ordinary hours may be extended by collective agreement up to an average of 53 hours during an agreed period, as well as to 56 hours for workers in seasonal industries. The law provides for overtime pay and prohibits excessive compulsory overtime.
The law provides for at least one week of paid leave per year, severance benefits, and occupational health and safety standards; the standards are up to date and appropriate for the intended industries. Workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect employees in this situation. For certain categories of industries, the law requires employers to employ safety and health officers and establish a safety and health committee in the workplace.
The government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors. The Ministry of Labor’s Labor Inspection Department is responsible for enforcing government-established wage, hour, and health and safety standards in the formal sector, but there is no system for monitoring and enforcement in the informal sector. The government did not employ a sufficient number of labor inspectors to enforce compliance. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. In April and September 2019, the Ministry of Labor, Liberia Revenue Authority, Liberia Immigration Service, and National Social Security and Welfare Corporation conducted joint nationwide labor inspections to ensure employers complied with the Decent Work Act and all other labor laws. Observers reported labor inspectors solicited and took bribes to certify compliance with regulations, and the labor inspectorate did not track numbers of individual inspections or violations.
Most citizens were unable to find work in the formal sector and therefore did not benefit from any of the formal labor laws and protections. The vast majority of citizens (estimated at 80 percent) worked in the largely unregulated informal sector, where they faced widely varying and often harsh working conditions. Informal sector workers included rock crushers, artisanal miners, agricultural workers, street sellers, most market sellers, domestic workers, and others. In the diamond and gold mines, in addition to physical danger and poor working conditions, the industry is unregulated, leaving miners vulnerable to exploitive brokers, dealers, and intermediaries. Illegal mining of gold was rampant throughout the country and posed serious safety risks, resulting in the deaths of several persons every year. On December 11, the bodies of three illegal gold miners were retrieved from a collapsed mineshaft at David Dean Town in Kokoyah Statutory District, in Bong County. A local Lands and Mines inspector in Bong County told FrontPageAfrica that more than 10 illegal miners were feared to have been buried alive at the illicit David Dean Town mining center.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law does not provide for the right of workers to form and join independent unions. It provides for the right of workers to bargain collectively and conduct legal strikes, with significant restrictions. The law neither prohibits antiunion discrimination nor requires the reinstatement of workers for union activity. By law, workers in the formal sector are automatically members of the General Trade Union Federation of Workers, although they may elect to withdraw from the union. Only citizens may be union members, and regulations do not permit foreign workers to organize. According to Freedom House, some trade unions formed after the 2011 revolution, but they remain in their infancy, and collective-bargaining activity was severely limited due to the continuing hostilities and weak rule of law.
The GNA was limited in its ability to enforce applicable labor laws. The requirement that all collective agreements conform to the “national economic interest” restricted collective bargaining. Workers may call strikes only after exhausting all conciliation and arbitration procedures. The government or one of the parties may demand compulsory arbitration, thus severely restricting strikes. The government has the right to set and cut salaries without consulting workers. State penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.
Employees organized spontaneous strikes, boycotts, and sit-ins in a number of workplaces, generally to protest delays in salary payments.
The law did not criminalize all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Article 425 of the penal code criminalizes slavery and prescribes penalties of five to 15 years’ imprisonment. Article 426 criminalizes the buying and selling of slaves and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment although other forms of forced labor are not criminalized. The GNA, however, did not fully enforce the applicable laws. In 2018 the UN Security Council imposed sanctions against a commander from the Libyan Coast Guard and three other Libyans with close links to fundamentalist terror groups for their roles in human trafficking and labor exploitation. The resources, inspections, and penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violators.
There were numerous anecdotal reports of migrants and IDPs being subjected to forced labor by human traffickers. According to numerous press reports, individuals were compelled to support the armed groups that enslaved them, including by preparing and transporting weapons. Others were forced to perform manual labor on farms, at industrial and construction facilities, and in homes under threat of violence.
Private employers sometimes used detained migrants from prisons and detention centers as forced labor on farms or construction sites; when the work was completed or the employers no longer required the migrants’ labor, employers returned them to detention facilities. In October, in the latest string of violence against migrant workers, three individuals stormed a factory in Tripoli where African migrants were working. During the attack, they poured gasoline on a Nigerian worker and burned him alive. Three other workers suffered burns in the attack, and the perpetrators were arrested.
The law prohibits children younger than 18 from employment, except in a form of apprenticeship. The law does prohibit the worst forms of child labor. The government lacked the capacity to enforce the law. No information was available concerning whether the law limits working hours or sets occupational health and safety restrictions for children.
There were reports of children forced into labor or military service by nonstate armed groups. These accounts were difficult to verify due to the absence of independent monitoring organizations and the ongoing hostilities.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The Constitutional Declaration provides for a right to work for every citizen and prohibits any form of discrimination based on religion, race, political opinion, language, wealth, kinship, social status, and tribal, regional, or familial loyalty. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, social status, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on an individual’s employment or occupation. The limitations of the central government restricted its ability to enforce applicable laws. Discrimination in all the above categories likely occurred.
Women faced discrimination in the workplace. The law prohibits women from working in jobs that are deemed morally inappropriate. Regulations issued by the General People’s Committee prohibit women from working in roles that are unsuited to their nature as women, and women’s work hours may be reduced for certain professions and occupations determined by the General People’s Committee that takes into account the requirements of the work and the proportion of male and female workers, as set forth in implementing regulations under the law. Observers reported that authorities precluded hiring women for positions in the civil service. They reported social pressure on women to leave the workplace, especially in high-profile professions such as journalism and law enforcement. In rural areas societal discrimination restricted women’s freedom of movement, including to local destinations, and impaired their ability to play an active role in the workplace.
On October 15, UNHCR resumed charter flights from Libya, ending a seven-month suspension due to the pandemic. As of October 19, nearly 3,200 migrants trying to reach Europe via Tripoli’s rocky coastline (including unaccompanied children younger than 18 and refugees) were still confined in squalid and overcrowded conditions in 11 detention centers that lacked adequate food and water. UNHCR evacuated nationals from primarily the sub-Saharan countries of Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan. This second UNHCR flight during the year evacuated 501 migrants from Libya, including 221 individuals who were resettled in Europe. As of year’s end, more than 200 migrants drowned and more than 280 went missing while trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, and more than 9,800 were intercepted and returned to Libya.
The law stipulates a workweek of 40 hours, standard working hours, night shift regulations, dismissal procedures, and training requirements. The law does not specifically prohibit excessive compulsory overtime. There is a national monthly minimum wage. There is not an official poverty income level.
The law provides occupational health and safety standards, and the law grants workers the right to court hearings regarding violations of these standards. The limitations of the GNA restricted its ability to enforce wage laws and health and safety standards. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.
Certain industries, such as the petroleum sector, attempted to maintain standards set by foreign companies. There was no information available on whether inspections continued during the year. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for occupational safety and health concerns, but no information was available on enforcement and compliance.
No accurate data on foreign workers were available. Many foreign workers have departed the country due to continuing instability and security concerns.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the rights of all workers to form and join independent unions of their choice and to bargain collectively. The law provides for freedom of assembly but is silent on the right to strike. The law neither prohibits antiunion discrimination nor requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.
The government adequately enforced applicable laws. Penalties in the form of fines were commensurate with similar crimes, and inspection was sufficient to enforce compliance.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for violations were criminal and commensurate with similar crimes. The government effectively enforced the law.
The LHRA reported no incidents involving forced or compulsory labor, including incidents involving children. It noted, however, that little research has been done on employment relationships in the private-care sector, where work is often performed by migrant women. The association added that employment relationships are not subject to a compulsory standard employment contract and are not audited or supervised.
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and sets the minimum age for employment at 16, with exceptions for limited employment of children 14 years old. Children between the ages of 14 and 16 may engage in certain categories of light work, but those of compulsory school age (through age 15) may work no more than eight hours per week during the school year and 35 hours per week during school vacations. Children younger than age 15 may be employed for the purposes of cultural, artistic, athletic, and advertising events. Working hours for youths between the ages of 15 and 18 are not to exceed 40 hours a week. The law prohibits children younger than 17 from working overtime and prohibits children through age 18 from engaging in night work or Sunday shifts. The law stipulates that an employer must consider the health of minors and provide them a proper moral environment within the workplace; the law also stipulates that employers may not overexert minors and that employers must protect the child from “bad influences” within the workplace.
The Office for Worker Safety of the Department of National Economy effectively enforced child labor laws and devoted adequate resources and oversight to child labor policies. Legal penalties were commensurate with similar crimes. The LHRA reported that it was not aware of any violations of the ban on child labor and the minimum age during the year.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits employment discrimination based on gender and disability. The law does not specifically prohibit employment discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, color, ethnicity, age, gender identity, HIV/AIDS or refugee status. Violations may result in the award of compensation to a prospective or dismissed employee equal to at least three months’ salary in the case of gender discrimination, and unspecified civil damages in the case of discrimination against persons with disabilities. Penalties were not commensurate with similar civil rights violations.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. According to statements by the Liechtenstein Institute and Liechtenstein Association for Persons with Disabilities, women, particularly migrant and Muslim women wearing headscarves, persons with disabilities, and LGBTI individuals experienced discrimination in the labor market.
According to the 2019 Human Rights Report of the Liechtenstein Institute, although the law explicitly forbids gender discrimination in the workplace, women in the country still earned significantly less than men on average. The Women’s Network also noted a marked difference between men and women persisted in professional promotions; women were severely underrepresented in top-level management positions in private industry and the national administration. An analysis in May by the Swiss Center of Expertise on Human Rights found that immigrant workers experienced workplace discrimination, including on the basis of gender, race, nationality, and religion.
The law does not provide for a national minimum wage. The Liechtenstein Workers Association negotiates voluntary collective bargaining agreements annually with the Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber for Economic Affairs on a sector-by-sector basis. Collective bargaining agreements were effectively enforced, and wages exceeded the poverty level.
The law sets the maximum workweek at 45 hours for white-collar workers, employees of industrial firms, and sales personnel and 48 hours for other workers. Overtime may not exceed an average workweek of 48 hours over a period of four consecutive months. Some exceptions to overtime limits were authorized, for example, in the area of medical treatment.
The law sets occupational safety and health standards, which were appropriate for the main industries in the country. The labor standards also cover the thousands of workers who commute daily from neighboring countries. There are additional safeguards for youths, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and employees with children. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts, not with workers.
The Office of Labor Inspection, a part of the Department of National Economy, effectively enforced labor laws on working conditions. The agency had a sufficient number of inspectors authorized to make unannounced inspections to enforce the law effectively. Penalties were commensurate with similar crimes.
Infra noted the working conditions of domestic workers and nurses employed in private homes were not subject to inspections or official labor contracts, which made the sectors vulnerable to exploitation.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of workers, except the armed forces, to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits employer discrimination against union organizers and members and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. These provisions also apply to migrant workers.
There were some specific legal limits to these rights. The law bans sympathy strikes. It also prohibits law enforcement officials, first-aid medical workers, and other security-related personnel from collective bargaining and striking, although they may join unions. The law does not afford workers in essential services, whose right to strike is restricted or prohibited, alternative procedures for impartial and rapid settlement of their claims or a voice in developing such procedures.
Labor-management disputes are settled by a labor arbitration board formed under the jurisdiction of the district court where the registered office of the enterprise or entity involved in the collective dispute is located. Despite the fact that the law establishes the binding character of the decision upon the parties, the decisions cannot lay down rights or obligations of individuals and are not enforceable by the courts. Labor-code procedures make it difficult for some workers to exercise the right to strike. The law prohibits sympathy strikes and allows an employer to hire replacement workers in certain sectors to provide for minimum services during strikes.
The government generally respected freedom of association but did not effectively enforce applicable laws, and penalties are not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, the judicial system was slow to respond to cases of unfair dismissal, and no employer faced penal sanctions for antiunion discrimination as envisaged in the law. No courts or judges specialized in labor disputes.
Employers did not always respect collective bargaining rights, and managers often determined wages without regard to union preferences, except in large factories with well organized unions.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government generally enforced the law effectively. Penalties are commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
There were instances of forced labor, most of which involved Lithuanian men subjected to forced labor abroad. Foreign workers from Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine were at risk of labor trafficking as long-haul truck drivers, builders, ship hull assemblers, and welders.
The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum age for most employment at 16 but allows the employment of children as young as 14 for light work with the written consent of the child’s parents or guardians and school. The government has not created a list of jobs considered “light work.” The law mandates reduced work hours for children, allowing up to two hours per day or 12 hours per week during the school year and up to seven hours per day or 32 hours per week when school is not in session. According to the law, hazardous work is any environment that may cause disease or pose a danger to the employee’s life, such as heavy construction or working with industrial chemicals. Under the law children younger than age 18 may not perform hazardous work. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
The State Labor Inspectorate is responsible for receiving complaints related to employment of persons younger than age 18. The government effectively enforced the law; however, penalties are not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. In the first eight months of the year, the inspectorate identified 16 cases in which children were working illegally in the construction, agriculture, retail, services, and manufacturing sectors.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits employment discrimination but does not specifically address HIV-positive or other communicable disease status, or gender identity. The law obliges the employer to implement the principles of gender equality and nondiscrimination, which prohibit direct and indirect discrimination, and psychological and sexual harassment. The employer must apply the same selection criteria and conditions when hiring new employees; provide equal working conditions, opportunities for professional development, and benefits; apply equal and uniform criteria for dismissal; pay equal wages for the same work and for work of equal value; and take measures to prevent psychological and sexual harassment in the workplace.
The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties are commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.
The law stipulates that discrimination based on sex should also cover discrimination related to pregnancy and maternity (childbirth and breastfeeding). The matter of female poverty among the elderly who do not receive equal government social remuneration, as well as a pay gap between men and women, continued to exist.
The equal opportunity ombudsman (EOO) monitored the implementation of discrimination laws. As of September 1, the EOO received 14 complaints. To address the gender equality problem, the EOO in cooperation with the municipalities and NGOs continued implementing projects aimed at strengthening local communities in the fight against gender-based violence and addressing gender equality problems. Under the law the age requirements for women and men to retire with full or partial pension benefits are not equal.
NGOs reported that workers in the Romani, LGBTI, and HIV-positive communities faced social and employment discrimination (see section 6). Non-Lithuanian speakers and persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment and workplace access.
According to the National Department of Statistics, as of January 1, the minimum monthly wage increased by 9 percent and was above the poverty line.
The law limits annual maximum overtime hours to 180 hours, and establishes different categories of work contracts, such as permanent, fixed-term, temporary agency, apprenticeship, project work, job-sharing, employee-sharing, and seasonal work. The occupational safety and health (OSH) standards are current and appropriate for the main industries. The law applies to both national and foreign workers. The government effectively enforced OSH laws, and penalties for OSH laws are commensurate with those for crimes like negligence.
The government enforced standards effectively across all sectors including the informal economy, which accounted for an estimated 25 percent of the economy. The State Labor Inspectorate, which is responsible for implementing labor laws, had a staff sufficient to enforce compliance. During the first eight months of the year, the inspectorate conducted 2,119 inspections at companies and other institutions. Of these cases, 80 percent were related to underpayment of wages, late payment of wages, or worker safety. Workers dissatisfied with the results of an investigation can appeal to the court system. The State Labor Inspectorate continued to conduct seminars for managers of companies, local communities, and persons looking for work. The seminars dealt with preventing and combating illegal employment, the administration of labor contracts, and worker’s rights.
According to the State Labor Inspectorate, violations of wage, overtime, and OSH laws occurred primarily in the construction, retail, and manufacturing sectors. The inspectorate received complaints about hazardous conditions from workers in the construction and manufacturing sectors. As of October 1, the State Labor Inspectorate recorded 2,533 accidents at work, including 22 fatal accidents, compared with 2,527 and 25, respectively, in 2019. Most accidents occurred in the transport, construction, processing, and agricultural sectors. To address the problem, the inspectorate continued conducting a series of training seminars for inspectors on technical labor inspection. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections. Workers have the legal right to request compensation for health concerns arising from dangerous working conditions. Health-care workers were overloaded and at the greatest risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the rights of workers, including foreign workers and workers in the informal sector, to form and join independent unions of their choice, to bargain collectively, and to conduct legal strikes. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. Workers exercised these rights freely, and the government protected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.
The right to strike excludes government workers who provide essential services. Legal strikes may occur only after a lengthy conciliation procedure between the parties. For a strike to be legal, the government’s national conciliation office must certify that conciliation efforts have ended.
The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes. The government and employers respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining in practice.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government pursued suspected cases and effectively enforced the law. Although NGOs reported it to be understaffed, the Labor Inspectorate increased recruitment efforts during the year to allow it to conduct timely inspections to enforce compliance. Penalties for violations included imprisonment under criminal law and were commensurate with those for similar crimes.
There were reports that foreign men and women were engaged in forced labor, chiefly in the construction and restaurant sectors. Some children were engaged in forced begging (see section 7.c.).
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and the employment of children younger than 16. Trainees younger than 16 must attend school in addition to their job training. The law also prohibits the employment of workers younger than 18 in hazardous work environments, on Sundays and official holidays, and for nighttime work. The Ministries of Labor and Education effectively enforced the child labor laws.
Romani children from neighboring countries were sometimes brought into the country during the day and trafficked for the purpose of forced begging (see section 7.b.).
The government worked to increase resources, inspections, and remediation over the year. By law persons who employ children younger than 16 may be subject to a fine and prison sentence. The penalties were commensurate with those for other crimes.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, color, national extraction, social origin, religion, political opinion, sex, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or refugee or social status. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations and penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other crimes.
Employers occasionally discriminated against persons with disabilities in employment (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities). The law establishes quotas that require businesses employing more than 25 persons to hire certain percentages of workers with disabilities and to pay them prevailing wages. InfoHandicap noted that the government failed to enforce these laws consistently.
The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including rights under labor law and in the judicial system. The law mandates equal pay for equal work. According to information provided by the Ministry of Equality between Women and Men, during the year employers paid women 5.5 percent less on average than men for comparable work.
The national minimum wage for a worker older than age 18 was greater than the estimated poverty income level. Minimum wage provisions apply to all employees, including foreign, migrant, temporary, and contract workers. Collective bargaining agreements established eight hours as a standard workday, with a 40-hour week and provision for 26 days leave and overtime.
The ITM, the Social Security Ministry, and the Superior Court of Justice are responsible for enforcing laws governing maximum hours of work and mandatory holidays. The government regularly conducted investigations and transferred cases to judicial authorities. The majority of alleged violations occurred in the construction sector. The agencies effectively enforced the law, when notified. Penalties for violations are commensurate with those for other similar crimes. In 2019 the ITM carried out 5,682 inspections and levied a total of almost 5.4 million euros ($6.5 million) in fines.
The law mandates a safe working environment and occupational safety and health standards are current and appropriate. Authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. Penalties were commensurate with similar violations.
The ITM and the accident insurance agency of the Social Security Ministry are responsible for inspecting workplaces. Although NGOs reported the Labor Inspectorate to be understaffed, the Labor Inspectorate increased recruitment efforts during the year to enforce compliance sufficiently. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections, except in private homes, and to order emergency measures for the regularization or cessation of labor law violations. They can seek assistance from the police should they meet opposition to the fulfillment of their duties. Inspectors can issue fines and establish reports documenting the infringements of the laws, which are forwarded by the director to the prosecutor’s office for further action if needed. There was no moratorium on inspections during the year. Workers have the right to ask the Labor Inspectorate to make a determination regarding workplace safety. Penalties for violations included fines and imprisonment and were commensurate with other similar crimes. Accidents occurred most frequently in the construction, commerce, industry, and catering sectors. In 2019 the ITM recorded 466 accidents (versus 442 accidents in 2018), including nine fatalities.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The Basic Law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, but the Legislative Assembly has not passed legislation to regulate this right. Workers have the right to join labor associations of their choice, but employers and the government reportedly wielded considerable influence over some associations. The law does not provide for workers to bargain collectively, and while workers have the right to conduct legal strikes, there is no specific protection in the law from retribution if workers exercise this right. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, stating employees or job seekers shall not be prejudiced, deprived of any rights, or exempted from any duties based on their membership in an association. There were no reports that the government threatened or was violent towards union leaders. The law does not stipulate the financial penalties for antiunion discrimination and cannot be compared to other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. The law does not require reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity.
The law forbids workers in certain professions, such as the security forces, to form unions, to take part in protests, or to strike. Such groups had organizations that provided welfare and other services to members and could speak to the government on behalf of members. Vulnerable groups of workers, including domestic workers and migrant workers, could freely associate and form associations, as could public servants.
Workers who believed they were dismissed unlawfully could bring a case to court or lodge a complaint with the Labor Affairs Bureau (LAB) or the Commission against Corruption, which also has an Ombudsman Bureau to handle complaints over administrative violations. The bureau makes recommendations to the relevant government departments after its investigation.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties range from three to 12 years’ imprisonment, with the minimum and maximum sentences increased by one-third if the victim is younger than age 14. Observers previously noted these penalties generally were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The government did not effectively enforce the law.
Children and migrants were vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking. Migrant construction and domestic workers were vulnerable to exploitative conditions such as recruitment fees, withholding of passports, and debt coercion. Victims were compelled to work in the commercial sex industry, entertainment establishments, and private homes where their freedom of movement was restricted, they were threatened with violence, and forced to work long hours. The government investigated trafficking cases (which typically total one or two annually), but there were no convictions during the year.
The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. A law prohibits minors younger than age 16 from working, although minors ages 14 and 15 may work in “exceptional circumstances” if they get a health certificate to prove they have the “necessary robust physique to engage in a professional activity.” The law defines “exceptional circumstances” as: the minor (younger than age 16) has completed compulsory education and has the authorization of the LAB after hearing the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau’s opinions; minors between ages 14 and 16 may work for public or private entities during school summer holidays; and minors of any age may be employed for cultural, artistic, or advertising activities upon authorization of the LAB after hearing the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau’s opinions and when such employment does not adversely affect their school attendance. The law governing the number of working hours was equally applicable to adults and legally working minors, but the law prohibits minors from working overtime hours. According to the civil code, minors who are age 16 can acquire full legal capacity if they marry.
The law prohibits minors younger than age 16 from certain types of work, including but not limited to domestic work, employment between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., and employment at places where admission of minors is forbidden, such as casinos. The government requires employers to assess the nature, extent, and duration of risk exposure at work before recruiting or employing a minor. These regulations serve to protect children from physically hazardous work, including exposure to dangerous chemicals, and jobs deemed inappropriate due to the child’s age.
The LAB enforced the law through periodic and targeted inspections, and prosecuted violators. Penalties fall under the labor ordinance and are financial; thus these are not comparable to those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. If a minor is a victim of forced labor, however, then the penalties are commensurate with those for kidnapping.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law provides that all residents shall be equal before the law and shall be free from discrimination, irrespective of national or social origin, descent, race, color, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, language, religion, political or ideological beliefs, membership in associations, education, or economic background. Equal opportunity legislation states that women are to receive equal pay for equal work. The labor law does not contain any legal restrictions against women in employment, to include limiting working hours, occupations, or tasks.
In November the government put into effect a minimum wage law that excludes disabled workers and domestic workers. The government justified the exclusion based on other benefits received and for the domestic workers, a pre-established minimum rate and housing allowance. The law prohibits discrimination in hiring practices based on gender or physical ability and allows for civil suits. Penalties exist for employers who violate these guidelines, and the government generally enforced the law effectively. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as election interference.
Some discrimination occurred. In January security companies disclosed informal government requests to hire ethnic Chinese security guards. According to official statistics, at the end of July, nonresident workers accounted for approximately 30 percent of the population. They frequently complained of discrimination in workplace hiring and wages.
In March the chief executive ordered a blanket ban on the entry of foreign nonresident workers to stem the further spread of COVID-19. The order stated that in exceptional cases, the Health Bureau could allow the entry of foreign nonresident workers “in the public interest” such as for prevention, control, and treatment of the disease, and aid and emergency measures. Nonresident workers from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan were not covered by the ban.
Local labor laws establish the general principle of fair wages and mandate compliance with wage agreements. In April the Legislative Assembly passed a law guaranteeing a minimum wage of 32 patacas ($4) per hour for all employees except for domestic workers and persons with disabilities. The SAR does not calculate an official poverty line. The law provides for a 48-hour workweek, an eight-hour workday, paid overtime, annual leave, and medical and maternity care. The law provides for a 24-hour rest period each week. All workers, whether under a term contract or an indefinite contract, are entitled to such benefits as specified working hours, weekly leave, statutory holidays, annual leave, and sick leave. It was not clear whether penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The law prohibits excessive overtime but permits legal overtime (a maximum of eight hours per day and irrespective of workers’ consent) in force majeure cases or in response to external shocks, at the discretion of the employer. Overtime laws are part of the labor ordinance, which is civil, and involve a financial penalty that is not commensurate with those for crimes, such as fraud, which violate the criminal ordinance and subject perpetrators to incarceration.
All workers, including migrants, have access to the courts in cases in which an employee is unlawfully dismissed, an employer fails to pay compensation, or a worker believes his or her legitimate interests were violated. If an employer dismisses staff “without just cause,” the employer must provide economic compensation indexed to an employee’s length of service.
The LAB provides assistance and legal advice to workers upon request, and cases of labor-related malpractice are referred to the LAB.
The law requires that employers provide a safe working environment. The LAB set industry-appropriate occupational safety and health standards and enforced occupational safety and health regulations. Failure to correct infractions could lead to prosecution. The number of labor inspectors was adequate to enforce compliance. Penalties for violations were not specified in the labor ordinance, other than holding the employer liable.
The law allows workers to remove themselves from hazardous conditions without jeopardy to their employment.
The Basic Law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, but the Legislative Assembly has not passed legislation to regulate this right. Workers have the right to join labor associations of their choice, but employers and the government reportedly wielded considerable influence over some associations. The law does not provide for workers to bargain collectively, and while workers have the right to conduct legal strikes, there is no specific protection in the law from retribution if workers exercise this right, and no strikes occurred. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, stating employees or job seekers shall not be prejudiced, deprived of any rights, or exempted from any duties based on their membership in an association. There were no reports that the government threatened or was violent towards labor leaders. The law does not stipulate the financial penalties for antiunion discrimination. The law does not require reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity.
The law forbids workers in certain professions, such as the security forces, to form unions, to take part in protests, or to strike. Such groups had organizations that provided welfare and other services to members and could speak to the government on behalf of members. Vulnerable groups of workers, including domestic workers and migrant workers, could freely associate and form associations, as could public servants.
Workers who believed they were dismissed unlawfully could bring a case to court or lodge a complaint with the Labor Affairs Bureau (LAB) or the Commission against Corruption, which also has an Ombudsman Bureau to handle complaints over administrative violations. The bureau makes recommendations to the relevant government departments after its investigation.
Government and employers did not respect collective bargaining and freedom of association in practice. Government influenced the selection of association officials and interfered in the functioning of workers’ organizations. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other similar violations and were seldom applied.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties range from three to 12 years’ imprisonment, with the minimum and maximum sentences increased by one-third if the victim is younger than age 14. Penalties generally were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The government investigated trafficking cases, which typically total one or two annually, but during the year recorded no new investigations. There were no convictions during the year.
Children and migrants were vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking. Migrant construction and domestic workers were vulnerable to exploitative conditions such as recruitment fees, withholding of passports, and debt-based coercion. Victims were compelled to work in the commercial sex industry, entertainment establishments, and private homes where their freedom of movement was restricted, they were threatened with violence, and forced to work long hours.
The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. A law prohibits minors younger than age 16 from working, although minors ages 14 and 15 may work in “exceptional circumstances” if they get a health certificate to prove they have the “necessary robust physique to engage in a professional activity.” The law defines “exceptional circumstances” as: the minor (younger than age 16) has completed compulsory education and has the authorization of the LAB after hearing the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau’s opinions; minors between ages 14 and 16 may work for public or private entities during school summer holidays; and minors of any age may be employed for cultural, artistic, or advertising activities upon authorization of the LAB after hearing the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau’s opinions and when such employment does not adversely affect their school attendance. The law governing the number of working hours was equally applicable to adults and legally working minors, but the law prohibits minors from working overtime hours. According to the civil code, minors age 16 can acquire full legal capacity if they marry.
The law prohibits minors younger than age 16 from certain types of work, including but not limited to domestic work, employment between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., and employment at places where admission of minors is forbidden, such as casinos. The government requires employers to assess the nature, extent, and duration of risk exposure at work before recruiting or employing a minor. These regulations served to protect children from physically hazardous work, including exposure to dangerous chemicals, and jobs deemed inappropriate due to the child’s age.
The LAB was responsible for enforcing the law through periodic and targeted inspections and prosecutions but did so inconsistently. LAB operations were adequately resourced, but prosecutions for labor trafficking fell to zero, and the Public Prosecutions Office was unable to convict any traffickers during the year.
Penalties for noncompliance with minimum wage law and child labor provisions fall under the labor ordinance and are financial; they are not comparable to those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. If a minor is a victim of forced labor, however, the penalties are commensurate with those for kidnapping.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law provides that all residents shall be equal before the law and shall be free from discrimination, irrespective of national or social origin, descent, race, color, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, language, religion, political or ideological beliefs, membership in associations, education, or economic background. It does not address HIV/AIDS or refugee status. Equal opportunity legislation states that women are to receive equal pay for equal work. The labor law does not contain any legal restrictions against women in employment, to include limiting working hours, occupations, or tasks.
The government excludes persons with disabilities and domestic workers from the minimum wage law. The law prohibits discrimination in hiring practices based on gender or physical ability and allows for civil suits. The government generally enforced the law effectively in response to complaints via hotlines and online platforms. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as election interference.
Some discrimination occurred. In February Secretary for Security Wong Sio-chak stated that nonresident workers do not have the same absolute rights as guaranteed under the Basic Law when explaining why a Burmese nonresident’s request to organize a protest against the military coup in Burma was rejected.
As of December the SAR maintained a blanket ban on the entry of foreign nonresident workers to stem the further spread of COVID-19. The order stated that in exceptional cases, the Health Bureau could allow the entry of foreign nonresident workers “in the public interest,” such as for prevention, control, and treatment of the disease, and aid and emergency measures. Nonresident workers from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan were not covered by the ban.
Wage and Hour Laws: Local labor laws establish the general principle of fair wages and mandate compliance with wage agreements. The SAR does not calculate an official poverty line, but the minimum wage was well above the World Bank’s poverty line of $1.90 per day. The law provides for a 48-hour workweek, an eight-hour workday, paid overtime, annual leave, health care, and maternity care. The law provides for a 24-hour rest period each week. All workers, whether under a term contract or an indefinite contract, are entitled to such benefits as specified working hours, weekly leave, statutory holidays, annual leave, and sick leave. The law prohibits excessive overtime but permits legal overtime (a maximum of eight hours per day and irrespective of workers’ consent) in force majeure cases or in response to external shocks, at the discretion of the employer. Overtime and wage laws are part of the labor ordinance, which is civil, and involve a financial penalty that was not commensurate with those for crimes, such as fraud, which violate the criminal ordinance and subject perpetrators to incarceration.
All workers, including migrants, have access to the courts in cases in which an employee is unlawfully dismissed, an employer fails to pay compensation, or a worker believes his or her legitimate interests were violated. If an employer dismisses staff “without just cause,” the employer must provide economic compensation indexed to an employee’s length of service.
The LAB provides assistance and legal advice to workers upon request, and cases of labor-related malpractice are referred to the LAB.
Occupational Safety and Health: The law requires that employers provide a safe working environment. The LAB set industry-appropriate occupational safety and health standards and enforced occupational safety and health regulations. Failure to correct infractions could lead to prosecution. The number of labor inspectors was adequate to enforce compliance. Inspectors were authorized to conduct unannounced visits and levy sanctions. Inspectors, and not the worker, were responsible for identifying dangerous working conditions. Penalties for violations were not specified in the labor ordinance, other than holding the employer liable.
The law allows workers to remove themselves from hazardous conditions without jeopardy to their employment. The most hazardous sector of the SAR’s economy was the construction industry; work-related accidents in 2020 (mostly on construction sites) caused 14 deaths and rendered 24 workers permanently disabled. The fatal work injury rate was 10.7 fatalities per 1,000 full-time equivalent workers in 2020. In separate incidents in August and November, two construction workers died after falls from the scaffolding on casino construction sites.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides that public- and private-sector workers may establish and join labor unions of their choice without prior authorization or excessive requirements. Civil servants and maritime workers have separate labor codes. Essential workers, including police, military, and firefighters, may not form unions. Seafarers are covered by the maritime code, which does not specifically provide the right to form unions.
The law generally allows for union activities and provides most workers the right to strike, including workers in export processing zones (EPZs). Authorities prohibit strikes, however, if there is a possibility of “disruption of public order” or if the strike would endanger the life, safety, or health of the population. Workers must first exhaust conciliation, mediation, and compulsory arbitration remedies, which may take eight months to two and one-half years. Magistrates and workers in “essential services” (not defined by law) have a recognized but more restricted right to strike. The law requires them to maintain a basic level of service and to give prior notice to their employer. The law also provides for a fine, imprisonment, or both for the “instigators and leaders of illegal strikes.”
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers. In the event of antiunion activity, unions or their members may file suit against the employer in civil court. The law does not accord civil servants and other public-sector employees legal protection against antiunion discrimination and interference. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with other laws involving denials of civil rights such as discrimination.
The law provides workers in the private sector, except seafarers, the right to bargain collectively. Public-sector employees not engaged in the administration of the state, such as teachers hired under the auspices of donor organizations or parent associations in public schools, do not have the right to bargain collectively. Authorities did not always enforce applicable laws, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Larger international firms, such as in the telecommunications and banking sectors, more readily exercised and respected collective bargaining rights. These rights, however, were reportedly more difficult to exercise in EPZs and smaller local companies. Union representatives reported workers in such companies often were reluctant to make demands due to fear of reprisal.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. The law requires that unions operate independently of the government and political parties. Union representatives indicated employers attempted to dissuade, influence, or otherwise interfere with unions, which often prevented workers from organizing or advocating for better working conditions. Unions reported that many employers hindered their employees’ ability to form or join labor unions through intimidation and threats of dismissal for professional misconduct. Due to pervasive corruption, labor inspectors, bribed by some employers, usually approved dismissal of union leaders. As a result workers were reluctant to join or lead unions.
Strikes occurred throughout the year, including by public school and university teachers, national company employees, and public-health workers. In July a union leader reported that some employers took advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to engage in union busting–the targeted layoff of union members. Employers reportedly changed the status of those workers from permanent to contract workers and dismissed them a few weeks later without paying dismissal allowances to which they otherwise would have been legally entitled.
The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced labor, but penalties were not commensurate with other serious crimes such as kidnapping. Forced child labor was a significant problem in the informal sector (see section 7.c.). Forced labor also persisted in dina judgments (see section 1.d.). In some communities local dinas imposed forced labor to resolve conflicts or pay debt. The government did not effectively enforce the law.
The government has a national service requirement law, under which all men are required to perform two years of military service or other work, which the International Labor Organization (ILO) criticized as a potential means of mobilizing compulsory labor for economic development. The national service requirement, however, was not enforced, because those wishing to enlist exceeded the available spaces and funding.
Union representatives charged that working conditions in some garment factories were akin to forced labor. Setting production targets instead of paying overtime allowances became a general practice among EPZ companies. Workers were assigned higher targets each time they reached the previous goals, obliging them to work more hours to avoid sanctions like salary withholding or even dismissal for low performance. Media and union representatives reported additional abuses perpetrated in call centers run by offshore companies and reported that managers required employees to work overtime beyond legal limits.
The law establishes a legal minimum working age of 16, with various restrictions. The law also regulates working conditions of children, prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor, identifies penalties for employers, and establishes the institutional framework for implementation. The law allows children to work a maximum of eight hours per day and 40 hours per week with no overtime and prohibits persons younger than 18 from working at night or where there is an imminent danger to health, safety, or morals. The law prohibits hazardous occupations and activities for children. The law requires working children to undergo a semiannual medical checkup performed by the company’s doctor or an authorized doctor at the expense of the employer.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with other serious crimes such as kidnapping. The Ministry of Civil Services, Administrative Reform, Labor, and Social Laws is responsible for enforcing child labor laws.
Child labor was a widespread problem. Children in rural areas worked mostly in agriculture, fishing, and livestock herding, while those in urban areas worked in domestic labor, transport of goods by cart, petty trading, stone quarrying, artisanal mining for gemstones such as sapphires, in bars, and as beggars. Mica mining and sorting was an industry rife with child labor abuses. Children also worked in the vanilla sector, salt production, deep-sea diving, and the shrimp industry. Some children were victims of human trafficking. Forced child labor occurred, including child sex trafficking and forced labor in mining, quarrying, begging, and domestic work. The results of the 2018 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey indicated 47 percent of children were involved in child labor, including 36 percent of those between five and 11 years old. In addition, 32 percent of children between ages five and 17 worked in dangerous environments or occupations.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
Labor laws prohibit workplace discrimination based on race, gender, religion, political opinion, origin, or disability. A special decree on HIV in the workplace bans discrimination based on serology status. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, age, color, ethnicity or refugee and statelessness status. The government did not effectively enforce the law and penalties were not commensurate with those for other violations of civil rights. Discrimination remained a problem. Employers subjected persons with disabilities and LGBTI individuals to hiring discrimination. Stateless persons had difficulty accessing employment, and refugees and asylum seekers were barred from employment. Members of some evangelical churches reported limited access to employment if their Sabbath was not on Sunday.
In rural areas where most of the population engaged in subsistence farming, traditional social structures tended to favor entrenched gender roles, leading to a pattern of discrimination against women. While there was little discrimination in access to employment and credit, women often did not receive equal pay for substantially similar work. The law does not permit women to work in positions that might endanger their health, safety, or morals. According to the labor and social protection codes, such positions included night shifts in the manufacturing sector and certain positions in the mining, metallurgy, and chemical industries.
In 2019 the government raised the minimum wage to an amount slightly above the poverty level as defined by the World Bank. The standard workweek was 40 hours in nonagricultural and service industries and 42.5 hours in the agricultural sector. The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage and overtime laws, and the penalties were not commensurate with other similar crimes.
The law limits workers to 20 hours of overtime per week and requires two and one-half days of paid annual leave per month. The law requires overtime pay, generally for more than 40 hours work in one week, but the exact circumstances requiring such pay are unclear. If the hours worked exceed the legal limits for working hours (2,200 hours per year in agriculture and 173.33 hours per month in other sectors), employers are legally required to pay overtime in accordance with a labor council decree that also denotes the required amount of overtime pay.
The government sets occupational safety and health (OSH) standards for workers and workplaces, but the labor code does not define penalties for noncompliance and only requires an inspection before a company may open. Workers, including foreign or migrant workers, have an explicit right to remove themselves from unsafe situations without jeopardizing their employment as long as they inform their supervisors. Employers did not always respect this right. Labor activists noted that standards, dating to the country’s independence in some cases, were severely outdated, particularly regarding health and occupational hazards and classification of professional positions. There was no enforcement in the large informal sector, which was estimated to comprise as much as 85 percent of the work force.
The Ministry of Civil Services’ Department of Administrative Reform, Labor, and Social Laws is responsible for enforcing OSH standards but did not effectively enforce the law. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Apart from the insufficient number of inspections, authorities reportedly took no other action to prevent violations and improve working conditions. There were no prosecutions, and penalties were not commensurate with those for crimes like negligence. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections but rarely initiated sanctions. In August, three workers, including a child age 15, were seriously injured in a stone quarry in Ivato, Antananarivo.
Violations of wage, overtime, or occupational safety and health standards were common in the informal sector and in domestic work, where many worked long hours for less than minimum wage. Although most employees knew the legal minimum wage, high unemployment and widespread poverty, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, led workers to accept lower wages.
During the COVID-19 crisis, workers from various sectors complained of lack of protections and disrespect of sanitary rules in the workplace. Employees of private companies, such as call centers, reported their employers failed to provide appropriate face masks and hand sanitizer while many of them were working in crowded conditions, making social distancing impossible. Agents of the public-health sector, including doctors and paramedics, demanded adequate training and more appropriate protection. In July, one union leader reported 100 health workers had been infected and that 10 had died from COVID-19. He complained that as they needed to change their protective equipment at least three times a day; some of them had to disinfect, wash, and reuse their equipment.
Media and labor unions repeatedly raised the problem that employers were increasingly violating labor rights during the COVID-19 health crisis. During suspension of public transportation, some employers failed to provide transportation services as instructed by the government. Employees who did not have personal means to commute to work had to walk long distances.
In July labor unions reported that when the government limited working hours from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic some employers required their workers to work from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. with no break. Some workers were required to work during weekends to complete their weekly 40 hours.
Ministry of Labor officials carried out surprise visits to several private companies before and at the beginning of the COVID-19 emergency period to enforce sanitary rules. They reported a number of infringements after those visits, but with no known measures taken against the employers. On June 30, the ministry announced the launch of a campaign in collaboration with the ILO to encourage compliance with OSH standards in private enterprises. Labor unions reported, however, that by the end of July labor inspections were uncommon due to continued COVID-19 restriction measures and insufficient efforts by labor inspectors.
On June 25, the Ministry of Labor issued an official notice allowing vulnerable workers to stop working or telework for up to 15 days to protect themselves from COVID-19 infection. On September 3, the ministry issued a note allowing private companies to suspend the working contracts of workers who exhausted their 15 days of leave and had not returned to work. The director general of labor stated that if the COVID-19 pandemic continued, this suspension could last up to six months, during which the employees would be granted one-month’s salary-worth of allowances. He clarified that once the pandemic ended, companies would have to reintegrate these employees.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law allows workers, except for military personnel and police, to form and join trade unions of their choice without previous authorization. Unions must register with the Registrar of Trade Unions and Employers’ Organizations in the Ministry of Labor, Skills, and Innovation; registration requirements are not onerous, but failure to meet annual reporting requirements may result in cancellation of a union’s registration. The law places some restrictions on the right to collectively bargain, including requirements of prior authorization by authorities, and bargaining status. The law provides for unions to conduct their activities without government interference. The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for remedial measures in cases of dismissal for union activity. The law does not specifically prohibit retaliation against strikers or actions against unions that are not registered.
The law requires that at least 20 percent of employees (excluding senior managerial staff) belong to a union before it may engage in collective bargaining at the enterprise (factory) level, and at least 15 percent of employees must be union members for collective bargaining at the sector (industry) level. The law provides for the establishment of industrial councils in the absence of collective agreements for sector-level bargaining. Industrial council functions include wage negotiation, dispute resolution, and industry-specific labor policy development. The law allows members of a registered union to strike after going through a mandatory mediation process overseen by the Ministry of Labor. A strike may take place only after failure of a lengthy settlement procedure, including seven days’ notice of a strike and a 21-day conciliation process as set out in the Labor Relations Act. The law also requires the labor minister to apply to the Industrial Relations Court to determine whether a strike involves an “essential service,” the interruption of which would endanger the life, health, or personal safety of part of the population. The law does not provide a specific list of essential services. Members of a registered union in essential services have only a limited right to strike. There are no special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws in export-processing zones. The law does not apply to most workers who are in the informal sector without work contracts.
The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. As was true of all cases entering the justice system, lack of capacity resulted in delays of some labor cases. Small fines for most violations were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. Provisions exist for punishment of up to two years’ imprisonment, but no convictions were reported.
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were adequately respected for those in the formal sector. Union membership among workers was low due to the small percentage of the workforce in the formal sector.
Arbitration rulings were legally enforceable; however, the Industrial Relations Court did not monitor cases or adequately enforce the laws.
Informal-sector workers organized in the Malawi Union for the Informal Sector (MUFIS), which is affiliated with the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions. MUFIS worked with district councils to address issues affecting informal workers due in part to a Ministry of Labor decision that MUFIS did not have sufficient standing to bargain collectively with employers.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but penalties for conviction were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes.
The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws, and forced labor occurred during the year, especially in agriculture (predominantly the tobacco industry), goat and cattle herding, and brickmaking. Child forced labor also occurred (see section 7.c.). Under the tenancy system, estate owners recruit farmers from distant districts to grow tobacco for them on their estates. The tenants are often promised such services as accommodation and food rations as well as a share of the earnings from sales. Tenant farmers include men and women, usually accompanied by their children and dependents. Most tenants are from the southern region of the country and work in the central or northern region. Employers loan the tenant farmers money to buy agricultural inputs during the growing season. If they are unable to repay the loans, they fall into situations of debt bondage.
The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum age for employment at 14, and children between ages 14 and 18 may not work in hazardous jobs or jobs that interfere with their education. The prohibition of child labor does not apply to work done in homes, noncommercial farms, vocational technical schools, or other training institutions. The Employment Act provides a list of hazardous work for children and specifies a fine or imprisonment for conviction of violations. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes.
Police and Ministry of Labor officials were responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and child labor occurred.
Child labor, including the worst forms of child labor, remained a serious and widespread problem. The 2015 National Child Labor Survey found 38 percent of children ages five to 17 were involved in child labor. Child labor was most prevalent in agriculture, especially tea, tobacco and livestock herding, brickmaking and construction, and domestic service. Forced child labor also occurred, particularly in agriculture, construction, forced begging and street work, use in illicit activities, and commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children). Children often worked 12-hour days, frequently for little or no pay. Many boys worked as vendors, and young girls in urban areas often worked outside their families as domestic servants, receiving low or no wages. Children who worked in the tobacco industry risked working with hazardous chemicals and sometimes suffered from nicotine poisoning. The closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic led more children into situations of child labor, especially in rural areas.
In February 2019 the Tobacco Industry Act came into force, requiring tobacco growers to report on efforts to eliminate child labor in tobacco farming. As a result of the law, most major tobacco companies put in place systems to address child and forced labor in their supply chain and the Tobacco Commission engaged in awareness-raising activities.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The employment law prohibits discrimination against any employee or prospective employee but does not cover sexual orientation or gender identity, and the government in general did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for laws related to civil rights.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender and disability (see section 6). Despite the law against discrimination based on gender or marital status, discrimination against women was pervasive, and women did not have opportunities equal to those available to men. Women had significantly lower levels of literacy, education, and formal and informal employment opportunities. Few women participated in the limited formal labor market, and underrepresentation in the employment of women in managerial and administrative jobs was especially poor. Households headed by women were overrepresented in the lowest quarter of income distribution. On October 9, protesters criticized the government’s failure to comply with the Gender Equality Act’s requirement to include no less than 40 percent of either men or women in public appointments.
LGBTI individuals faced discrimination in hiring and harassment, and persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace.
The minister of labor sets the minimum wage rate based on recommendations of the Tripartite Wage Advisory Board composed of representatives of labor, government, and employers. The minimum wage was set below the World Bank’s poverty income level. In 2018 the World Bank estimated 69 percent of citizens lived below the poverty line.
Migrant workers are entitled to the same legal protections, wages, and working conditions as citizens if they comply with immigration laws. Those persons not in compliance, however, lacked these protections and were subject to deportation.
The legal workweek is 48 hours, with a mandatory weekly 24-hour rest period. The law requires premium payment for overtime work and prohibits compulsory overtime. The law provides for a period of annual leave of no less than 15 working days.
The law establishes occupational safety and health (OSH) standards that are appropriate for the main industries in the country. The Ministry of Labor houses a Directorate of Occupational Safety and Health responsible for minimum standards, but the number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law effectively. Inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Workers, particularly in industrial jobs, often worked without basic safety clothing and equipment. Workers harvesting tobacco leaves generally did not wear protective clothing and absorbed up to 54 milligrams of dissolved nicotine daily through their skin, the equivalent of 50 cigarettes.
Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment. Workers dismissed for filing complaints regarding workplace conditions have the right to file a complaint at the labor office or sue the employer for wrongful dismissal; however, these processes were not widely publicized, and workers were unlikely to exercise these rights. Authorities did not effectively protect employees in this situation.
The government did not effectively enforce laws related to OSH, wages, or overtime. Workweek and annual leave standards were not effectively enforced and employers frequently violated statutory time restrictions. The Ministry of Labor’s enforcement of health and safety standards was also poor. The law specifies fines and imprisonment for violations, but these penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, and no reports of jail terms were ever reported. Because the law is limited to the formal sector, it did not apply to the more than 88 percent of the working population that worked in the informal sector.
In April prison guards in Blantyre went on strike to demand personal protective equipment and hazard pay amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Police attempts to break the strike resulted in violence and injuries, according to media reporting.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for limited freedom of association and for certain categories of workers to form and join trade unions, subject to a variety of legal and practical restrictions. The law provides for the right to strike and to bargain collectively, but both were severely restricted. The law prohibits employers from interfering with trade union activities, including union formation. It prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for legal union activities and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.
The law prohibits defense and police officials, retired or dismissed workers from joining a union. The law also restricts the formation of unions of workers in similar trades, occupations, or industries. Foreign workers may join a trade union but cannot hold union office unless they obtain permission from the Ministry of Human Resources. In view of the absence of a direct employment relationship with owners of a workplace, contract workers may not form a union and cannot negotiate or benefit from collective bargaining agreements.
The director general of trade unions and the minister of human resources may refuse to register or withdraw registration from some unions without judicial oversight. The time needed for a union to be recognized remained long and unpredictable. Union officials expressed frustration about delays in the settlement of union recognition disputes; such applications were often refused. If a union’s recognition request was approved, the employer sometimes challenged the decision in court, leading to multiyear delays in recognizing unions.
Most private-sector workers have the right to bargain collectively, although these negotiations cannot include issues of transfer, promotion, appointments, dismissal, or reinstatement. The law restricts collective bargaining in “pioneer” industries the government has identified as growth priorities, including various high-technology fields. Trade unions in companies granted pioneer status may not negotiate terms and conditions that are more favorable than the provisions stipulated in labor law unless approved by the minister of human resources. Public-sector workers have some collective bargaining rights, although some could only express opinions on wages and working conditions instead of actively negotiating. Long delays continued in the treatment of union claims to obtain recognition for collective bargaining purposes. The government also had the right to compel arbitration in the case of failed collective bargaining negotiations.
Private-sector strikes are severely restricted. The law provides for penal sanctions for peaceful strikes. The law prohibits general strikes, and trade unions may not strike over disputes related to trade-union registration or illegal dismissals. Workers may not strike in a broad range of industries deemed “essential,” nor may they hold strikes when a dispute is under consideration by the Industrial Court. Union officials claimed legal requirements for strikes were almost impossible to meet; the last major strike occurred in 1962.
The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting employers from seeking retribution for legal union activities and requiring reinstatement of workers fired for trade union activity. Penalties included fines but were seldom assessed and are not commensurate with those of other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.
In June, five members of the National Union of Workers in Hospital Support and Allied Services were arrested while conducting a peaceful protest against their employer’s alleged union-busting tactics. Union officials claimed the company prevented employees from testing for COVID-19, failed to provide proper personal protective equipment, and withheld the monthly special government allowance worth RM 600 ($140) for frontline workers. Union officials further accused the company of forbidding union-related discussions between union worksite committees and workers, intimidation, and arbitrary change of working schedules and locations of union workers to decrease their earnings. The five arrested activists were released the following day. In October the magistrate’s court dropped the charges against the activists for defying the conditional movement control order by gathering in front of the employer’s premises “for social purposes.”
Freedom of association and collective bargaining were not fully respected. National-level unions are prohibited; the government allows three regional territorial federations of unions–peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, and Sarawak–to operate. They exercised many of the responsibilities of national-level labor unions, although they could not bargain on behalf of local unions. The Malaysian Trade Unions Congress is a registered “society” of trade unions in both the private and government sectors that does not have the right to bargain collectively or strike but may provide technical support to affiliated members. Some workers’ organizations were independent of government, political parties, and employers, but employer-dominated or “yellow” unions were reportedly a concern.
The inability of unions to provide more than limited protection for workers, particularly foreign workers who continued to face the threat of deportation, restrictions on the right to strike, and the prevalence of antiunion discrimination created a disincentive to unionize. In some instances companies reportedly harassed leaders of unions that sought recognition. Some trade unions reported the government detained or restricted the movement of some union members under laws allowing temporary detention without charging the detainee with a crime. Trade unions asserted some workers had wages withheld or were terminated because of union-related activity.
In October the court of appeal overturned a high court decision that the dismissal of a trade union leader for issuing a statement highlighting the plight of workers and calling for the CEO’s resignation had been illegal. The court of appeal set aside the award to the trade union leader for wrongful termination of RM 210,000 ($50,300) and instead ordered the trade union leader to pay RM5,000 ($1,200) to the employer MAS Airlines in costs.
The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Five agencies, including the Department of Labor of the Ministry of Human Resources, have enforcement powers under the law, but their officers performed a variety of functions and did not always actively search for indications of forced labor. NGOs continued to criticize the lack of resources dedicated to enforcement of the law.
The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting forced labor in some cases, and large fines as penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
In 2018 the government established an Independent Committee on Foreign Workers to provide comprehensive reform plans to the government regarding foreign-worker management and labor policy. The committee presented its final report to cabinet in July 2019 with 40 recommendations on streamlining policies related to foreign workers, but the report was not made public. On June 23, former minister of human resources M. Kulasegaran stated that “vested interests” had hijacked government policies on the matter as “not a single recommendation has been implemented to date.”
A variety of sources reported occurrences of forced labor or conditions indicative of forced labor in plantation agriculture, electronics factories, garment production, rubber-product industries, and domestic service among both adults and children (also see section 7.c.).
Employers, employment agents, and labor recruiters subjected some migrants to forced labor or debt bondage. Many companies hired foreign workers using recruiting or outsourcing companies, creating uncertainty about the legal relationship between the worker, the outsourcing company, and the owner of the workplace, making workers more vulnerable to exploitation and complicating dispute resolution. Labor union representatives noted that recruiting agents in the countries of origin and in Malaysia sometimes imposed high fees, making migrant workers vulnerable to debt bondage.
In July a nonprofit organization filed a formal complaint with a foreign government urging it to ban imports of products from Sime Darby Berhad, a palm oil company, due to reports of forced labor at Sime Darby plantations. Another petition filed in August 2019 accused palm oil company FGV Holdings of forced labor abuse, including deception, physical and sexual violence, intimidation, and the keeping of worker’s identity documents. FGV subsequently finalized their action plan on enhancing labor practices in April. NGOs maintained the action plan, however, failed to prove FGV’s product was not the result of forced labor.
In July a foreign government discontinued imports of disposable medical gloves made by the world’s largest medical glove maker, Top Glove Corp Bhd, in response to findings of forced labor in their manufacturing facilities. In November more than 5,000 Top Glove workers contracted COVID-19 resulting from substandard and overcrowded working and living conditions.
The trial of former deputy prime minister Zahid Hamidi for his role in a fraudulent scheme involving hundreds of thousands of Nepali workers seeking jobs in the country continued as of September. Private companies linked to the then deputy prime minister’s brother and brother-in-law reportedly charged Nepali workers more than RM185 million ($46.3 million) for medical tests and to submit visa applications during the prior five years. These medical and visa-processing services increased the cost tenfold without offering additional protections or benefits. Zahid denied involvement in or knowledge of the scam, but the Malaysian Anticorruption Commission charged him in 2018 with 45 counts of corruption, bribery, and money laundering, three of which concern RM three million ($750,000) he allegedly received in bribes from a company that ran a visa center for Nepali workers. Critics of the former government had long characterized the foreign-worker recruitment system as corrupt.
Nonpayment of wages remained a concern. Passport confiscation by employers increased migrant workers’ vulnerability to forced labor; the practice was illegal but widespread and generally went unpunished. Migrant workers without access to their passports were more vulnerable to harsh working conditions, lower wages than promised, unexpected wage deductions, and poor housing. NGOs reported that agents or employers in some cases drafted contracts that included a provision for employees to sign over the right to hold their passports to the employer or an agent. Some employers and migrant workers reported that workers sometimes requested employers keep their passports, since replacing lost or stolen passports could cost several months’ wages and leave foreign workers open to questions about their legal status.
The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 14 but permits some exceptions, such as light work in a family enterprise, work in public entertainment, work performed for the government in a school or in training institutions, or work as an approved apprentice. There is no minimum age for engaging in light work. For children between the ages of 14 and 18, there was no list clarifying specific occupations or sectors considered hazardous and therefore prohibited.
The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting child labor. Those found contravening child labor laws faced penalties that were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
Child labor occurred in some family businesses. Child labor in urban areas was common in the informal economy, including family food businesses and night markets, and in small-scale industry. Child labor was also evident among migrant domestic workers.
NGOs reported that stateless children in Sabah were especially vulnerable to labor exploitation in palm oil production, forced begging, and work in service industries, including restaurants. Although the National Union of Plantation Workers reported it was rare to find children involved in plantation work in peninsular Malaysia, others reported instances of child labor on palm oil plantations across the country. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred (see section 6, Children).
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law does not prohibit discrimination with respect to race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, HIV/AIDS status or refugee status in employment and hiring; the director general of labor may investigate discrimination in the terms and conditions of employment for both foreign and local employees. The law prohibits women from working underground, such as in mines, and restricts employers from requiring female employees to work in industrial or agricultural work between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. or to commence work for the day without having 11 consecutive hours of rest since the end of the last work period.
The director general may issue necessary directives to an employer to resolve allegations of discrimination in employment, although there were no penalties under the law for such discrimination and thus penalties were not commensurate to laws related to penalties for civil rights, such as election interference.
Employers are obligated to inquire into most sexual harassment complaints in a prescribed manner. Advocacy groups such as the Association of Women Lawyers stated these provisions were not comprehensive enough to provide adequate help to victims. In June the industrial court upheld the dismissal of a manager for nonphysical sexual harassment, including using a term of endearment, giving of personal gifts, and excessive unwanted attention.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women; members of national, racial, and ethnic minorities; and persons with disabilities. A code of practice guides all government agencies, employers, employee associations, employees, and others with respect to placement of persons with disabilities in private-sector jobs. Disability-rights NGOs reported that employers were reluctant to hire persons with disabilities. A regulation reserves 1 percent of public-sector jobs for persons with disabilities.
Migrant workers must undergo mandatory testing for more than 16 illnesses as well as pregnancy. Employers may immediately deport pregnant or ill workers. Migrant workers also faced employment discrimination (see sections 7.b. and 7.e.). Employers were unilaterally able to terminate work permits, subjecting migrant workers to immediate deportation.
Women experienced some economic discrimination in access to employment. Employers routinely asked women their marital status during job interviews. The Association of Women Lawyers advocated for passage of a separate sexual harassment bill making it compulsory for employers to formulate sexual harassment policies.
The government reserved large quotas for the bumiputra majority for positions in the federal civil service as well as for vocational permits and licenses in a wide range of industries, which greatly reduced economic opportunity for minority groups (see section 6).
The minimum wage applied to both citizen and foreign workers in most sectors, with the exception of domestic service (see below). The minimum wage rates were less than Ministry of Finance-published poverty income levels in Sabah and Sarawak.
Working hours may not exceed eight per day or 48 per week, unless workers receive overtime pay. The law specifies limits on overtime, which vary by sector, but it allows for exceptions.
The law protects foreign domestic workers only with regard to wages and contract termination. The law excludes them from provisions that stipulate one rest day per week, an eight-hour workday, and a 48-hour workweek. Instead, bilateral agreements or memoranda of understanding between the government and some source countries for migrant workers include provisions for rest periods, compensation, and other conditions of employment for migrant domestic workers, including prohibitions on passport retention.
The Department of Labor of the Ministry of Human Resources enforces wage, working condition, and occupational safety and health standards. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The number of labor enforcement officers was insufficient to enforce compliance. Department of Labor officials reported they sought to conduct labor inspections as frequently as possible. Nevertheless, many businesses could operate for years without an inspection.
Penalties for employers who fail to follow the law begin with a fine assessed per employee and can rise to imprisonment. Employers can be required to pay back wages plus the fine. If they refuse to comply, employers face additional fines per day that wages are not paid. Employers or employees who violate occupational health and safety laws are subject to fines, imprisonment, or both. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes.
Employers did not respect laws on wages and working hours. The Malaysian Trade Union Congress reported that 12-, 14-, and 18-hour days were common in food and other service industries.
The Ministry of Human Resources began enforcing amendments to the Worker’s Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act on September 1. The measure aimed to provide foreign workers with better accommodation and employee facilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers and centralized accommodation providers must provide every worker with a single bed measuring not less than 18 square feet, a mattress at least 3.9 inches thick, a pillow, blanket, and a locked cupboard. In addition employers must ensure water, electricity, and basic furniture are supplied, and that amenities, including a bathroom to employee ratio, are observed in the accommodations. Although the punishment for employers was not directly stated in the regulations, Minister of Human Resources M. Saravanan on August 27 stated that employers who failed to comply with the standards could face a significant fine for each offense.
Migrant workers often worked in sectors where violations were common, performed hazardous duties, and had no meaningful access to legal counsel in cases of contract violations and abuse. Some workers alleged their employers subjected them to inhuman living conditions and physically assaulted them. Employers of domestic workers sometimes failed to honor the terms of employment and subjected workers to abuse. Employers reportedly restricted workers’ movement and use of mobile telephones; provided substandard food; did not provide sufficient time off; sexually assaulted workers; and harassed and threatened workers, including with deportation.
While the government mandated that all workers in businesses permitted to stay in operation must be tested for COVID-19, there were concerns for the labor conditions under which migrant workers were forced to work during the pandemic or risk losing their jobs. The Timber Employees Union of Peninsular Malaysia declared that migrant workers now felt “they’re being made to choose between COVID-19 or starvation.” The Malaysian Trade Union Congress claimed to have received more than 500 complaints against employers who continued operations despite the movement control order, with some reportedly threatening to terminate employees who refused to come to work, and not providing personal protection equipment.
Occupational health and safety laws cover all sectors of the economy except the maritime sector and the armed forces. The law requires workers to use safety equipment and cooperate with employers to create a safe, healthy workplace, but it does not specify a right to remove oneself from a hazardous or dangerous situation without penalty. Laws on worker’s compensation cover both local and migrant workers but provide no protection for migrant domestic workers.
The National Occupational Safety and Health Council–composed of workers, employers, and government representatives–creates and coordinates implementation of occupational health and safety measures. It requires employers to identify risks and take precautions, including providing safety training to workers, and compels companies with more than 40 workers to establish joint management-employee safety committees.
According to Department of Occupational Safety and Health statistics, as of October, 174 workers died, 5,705 acquired a nonpermanent disability, and 226 acquired permanent disability in work-related incidents.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The constitution provides for workers’ freedom of association; however, there is no specific law protecting the right to freedom of association, which is required to allow unions to register and operate without interference and discrimination. As a result the court system refused to recognize trade unions officially. Worker organizations are usually treated as civil society organizations or associations without the right to engage in collective bargaining. Police and armed forces do not have the right to form unions. The Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act effectively prohibits strikes by workers in the resort sector, the country’s largest money earner. Employees in the following services are also prohibited from striking: hospitals and health centers, electricity companies, water providers, telecommunications providers, prison guards, and air traffic controllers. The Home Ministry enforces the act by arresting workers who go on strike, but there were no such arrests during the year.
The government did not always enforce applicable laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The Labor Relations Authority (LRA) is mandated to oversee compliance of the Employment Act and its related regulations. The Employment Tribunal examines and adjudicates legal matters arising between employers and employees and other employment problems, but its processes are cumbersome and complicated. In addition, because the LRA does not regularly screen labor violations such as nonpayment of wages for elements of trafficking, the Employment Tribunal adjudicates some potential trafficking cases. Violators who refused to correct violations or pay fines were referred to the courts, whose decisions often were ignored. The cases are heard in the Dhivehi language, which few foreign workers understood. Foreign workers may not file a case with the tribunal unless they appoint a representative to communicate for them in the local language. If an employer fails to comply with a decision of the tribunal, the case must be submitted to the Civil Court, which often delays decisions. The Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) reported the judicial system continued to delay final decisions on numerous such cases, some older than age six. The Employment Tribunal only hears cases submitted within three months for cases involving unfair dismissals and within six months of the alleged offense for all other violations of the Employment Act. A 2018 amendment to the Employment Tribunal regulation that states dismissed or withdrawn appeals may only be resubmitted once, after paying a monetary fine, was still in place. Previously there was no restriction on the number of times such cases could be resubmitted.
Under the law some workers’ organizations were established as civil society organizations, specifically in the tourism, education, health, and shipping (seafarers’) sectors, although these functioned more as cooperative associations and had very limited roles in labor advocacy. The Teachers Association of the Maldives (TAM), TEAM, and the Maldives Trade Union Congress, an umbrella organization formed by TEAM, TAM, Maldivian Ports Workers, and Maldives Health Professionals Union were among the more active workers’ organizations.
All forms of forced or compulsory labor are prohibited, but the government did not effectively enforce applicable laws.
Resources, inspections, and remediation were generally inadequate, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The foreign worker population, especially migrant workers from Bangladesh, were particularly vulnerable to forced labor in the construction industry, as were Sri Lankan and Indian women engaged in domestic work. Maldives Immigration detained undocumented workers at Hulhumale Detention Center, an immigration-processing center near Male, until deportation or repatriation. There were continued reports of bureaucratic delays in receiving passports from foreign missions for undocumented immigrants and substandard facilities at the immigration-processing center. Maldives Immigration reported it did not have in place any mechanisms to screen workers for victims of trafficking prior to repatriation, and there were reports some of the detained and deported undocumented workers should have been identified as trafficking victims. In April the Ministry of Economic Development announced a program to repatriate undocumented workers and had repatriated more than 15,000 workers as of November. Authorities report these workers were not screened for human trafficking.
Under the penal code, conviction of forced labor carries a penalty of up to eight years’ imprisonment. Under section 29 of the Maldives Prevention of Human Trafficking Act, confiscation, alteration, or withholding of identity and travel documents is a crime, and convicted perpetrators are subject to up to five years’ imprisonment. In 2015 parliament approved the National Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons for 2015-19. The penalty for conviction of human trafficking is a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. As of September the MPS and Maldives Immigration reported they were continuing to investigate more than 35 labor recruiters or agencies allegedly engaged in fraudulent practices. In July the MPS launched an investigation into a construction company on suspicion the company “carried out forced labor and acts of exploitation against foreigners, acted in a manner that has led to human trafficking, failed to make payment of fees required to be paid to the government on behalf of these workers and violated the rights of these workers.” The investigation was ongoing as of November. Employee associations continued to report concerns the alleged traffickers were deported with no further action or attempts to identify local traffickers who worked with them to traffic victims.
The LRA, under the Ministry of Economic Development, recommended to the ministry and Maldives Immigration the blacklisting of companies that violated the law, precluding the companies from hiring in additional workers until violations were rectified. The LRA reported, however, that the Ministry of Economic Development and Maldives Immigration did not always take its recommendations to blacklist and allowed companies to continue operations. In addition to blacklisting, the law allows a fine for forced labor and other violations of the Employment Act, but the LRA reported this amount was not sufficient to deter violations by large companies and were not commensurate with other analogous serious crimes which carried sentences of imprisonment.
As of August Maldives Immigration reported the number of documented foreign workers at approximately 117,000. It estimated an additional 63,000 undocumented foreign workers in the country, predominantly men from Bangladesh and other South Asian countries. Some of the foreign workers in the country were subject to forced labor in the construction and tourism sectors. Both the LRA and NGOs noted a continuing trend of resorts hiring third party subcontractors to work in departments such as maintenance, landscaping, and laundry services. These subcontractors reportedly hired undocumented migrant workers who received a lower salary, work longer hours, and often experience delays in payment of salaries and work without a legal employment contract. Most victims of forced labor suffered the following practices: debt bondage, holding of passports by employers, fraudulent offers of employment, not being paid the promised salary, or not being paid at all. Domestic workers, especially migrant female domestic workers, were sometimes trapped in forced servitude, in which employers used threats, intimidation, and in some cases sexual violence to prevent them from leaving.
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and sets the minimum age for employment at 16, with an exception for children who voluntarily participate in family businesses. The law prohibits employment of children under age 18 in “any work that may have a detrimental effect on health, education, safety, or conduct,” but there was no list of such activities. The law prescribes a monetary fine for infractions.
The Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services, the Ministry of Economic Development, and the Family and Child Protection Unit of the MPS are tasked with receiving, investigating, and taking action on complaints of child labor. According to the LRA, the MPS and the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services none of the complaints received related to child labor or employment of minors, but the MPS and Ministry of Gender received reports of children engaged in the worst forms of child labor such as being used for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation and the transport of drugs for criminal gangs. NGOs reported children were also engaged in forced labor in domestic work. The LRA found no cases of child labor during its regular labor inspections during the year. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, because no additional resources were dedicated specifically to uncover additional child labor cases. The penalties for commercial sexual exploitation of children were commensurate with those of other serious crimes, and the Child Rights Protection Act criminalizes the child exploitation including the use of children to sell drugs with penalties for conviction of imprisonment.
Government officials and civil society groups continued to report concerns that some Bangladesh migrant workers in the construction and service sectors were under 18 but possessed passports stating they were older.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, political opinion, religion, social origin, marital status, or family obligations. The government generally enforced those laws and regulations, with some exceptions that included unequal pay for women and discrimination in working and living conditions of foreign migrant workers, especially from Bangladesh.
According to NGOs, no policies were in place to provide equal opportunities for women’s employment, despite provisions in the constitution and the law. The law and constitution prohibit discrimination against women for employment or for equal pay or equal income, but women tended to earn less than men for the same work and also because they tended to work in lower-paying industries. The absence of child-care facilities made it difficult for women with children to remain employed after they had children.
The Employment Act establishes an Employment Tribunal to examine and protect the rights of employers and employees in legal matters and other employment problems.
Discrimination against migrant workers was pervasive (see section 7.b.).
The country does not have a national policy on minimum wage. Wages in the private sector were commonly set by contract between employers and employees and were based on rates for similar work in the public sector.
The law establishes maximum hours of work, overtime, annual and sick leave, maternity leave, and guidelines for workplace safety. Civil servants are allowed six months of maternity leave and one month’s paternity leave. The law provides for a 48-hour per week limit on work with a compulsory 24-hour break if employees work six days consecutively. Certain provisions in the law, such as overtime and public-holiday pay, do not apply to emergency workers, air and sea crews, executive staff of any company, and workers who are on call. Employee associations reported some government schools and hospitals placed a cap on overtime pay. The law mandates implementation of a safe workplace, procurement of secure tools and machinery, verification of equipment safety, use of protective equipment to mitigate health hazards, employee training in the use of protective gear, and appropriate medical care, but there were no national standards for safety measures, and as a result such measures were at the discretion of employers. The LRA also reported difficulties in assessing safety standards during inspections due to the lack of national standards. Safety regulations for the construction industry which requires employers to provide employees with safety equipment such as helmets, belts, and masks, but NGOs reported the government failed to monitor implementation of these standards. All employers are required to provide health insurance for foreign workers.
In 2013 parliament approved the country’s accession to eight core International Labor Organization conventions, but the government had not finalized the bills required for the conventions to be legislated into domestic law as of September.
The LRA and Employment Tribunal are charged with implementing employment law, and the LRA conducted workplace investigations and provided dispute resolution mechanisms to address complaints from workers. The most common findings continued to be related to lack of or problematic provisions included in employment contracts and job descriptions, overtime and other pay, and problems related to leave. The LRA preferred to issue notices to employers to correct problems, because cases were deemed closed once fines were paid. The LRA typically gave employers one to three months to correct problems but lacked sufficient labor inspectors and travel funding to enforce compliance. The government effectively enforced overtime laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.
Migrant workers were particularly vulnerable to exploitation, worked in unacceptable conditions, and were frequently forced to accept low wages to repay their debts with employment agencies, especially within the construction sector. The LRA reported more than 60 percent of the complaints it received were submitted by foreign migrant workers. Between April and August, hundreds of foreign migrant workers employed by several construction companies separately staged protests regarding nonpayment of wages. In July the MPS launched an investigation into one of these companies on suspicion the company “carried out forced labor and acts of exploitation against foreigners, acted in a manner that has led to human trafficking, failed to make payment of fees required to be paid to the government on behalf of these workers and violated the rights of these workers.” The investigation was ongoing as of November.
Migrant workers are treated harshly and the COVID-19 pandemic compounded this. Migrants experienced abuses from employers, including deceptive recruitment practices, wage theft, passport confiscation, unsafe living and working conditions, and excessive work demands, which indicate forced labor and violate domestic and international standards. The spread of COVID-19 and the lockdown to contain it exacerbated these conditions, as workers face job loss, unpaid leave, reduced salaries, and forced work without pay.
NGOs expressed concern that senior government officials made statements characterizing the protests as “a threat to national security,” indicating a lack of political will to address the exploitation of foreign migrant workers. In July the Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Community Empowerment released a statement cautioning registered NGOs against “actions that are detrimental to national security and national interests” after several NGOs expressed solidarity and called for the release of workers arrested during the protests. Female migrant workers, especially in the domestic service sector were especially vulnerable to exploitation. Employers in the construction and tourism industry often housed foreign workers at their worksites or in cramped labor quarters.
The Maldivian Red Crescent reported their inspection of labor quarters in Male found each quarter housed approximately 200 workers, with six to seven individuals sharing rooms of 100 square feet; in some locations, workers were forced to sleep in bathrooms or on balconies due to a lack of space. Most buildings also lacked adequate space for cooking and posed safety risks due to being structurally unsound. In April the government introduced regulations, which came into force in October setting standards for employer provided accommodations for foreign migrant workers for the first time. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Some migrant workers were exposed to dangerous working conditions, especially in the construction industry, and worked in hazardous environments without proper ventilation. The LRA, mandated to oversee compliance of the Employment Act and its related regulations, has the authority to conduct unannounced inspections recommended to the ministry and Maldives Immigration, and to blacklist companies that violated the law precluding companies from hiring additional workers until violations were rectified. The LRA reported, however, that the Ministry of Economic Development and Maldives Immigration did not always take their recommendations to blacklist and allowed companies to continue operations. In addition to blacklisting, the law allows a monetary fine for forced labor and other violations of the Employment Act, but the LRA reported this amount was not sufficient to deter violations by large companies. The LRA discontinued inspections during a COVID-19 lockdown in capital Male between April and September. The country does not have a general occupational health and safety law, but certain industries have compiled their own standards and regulations. There were no reports the government took any action under health and safety regulations during the year. During the year there were multiple accidents at construction sites in Male, including the death of a migrant worker who fell from the 14th floor of a construction site in Male in July. In September the High Court rejected the appeal against the managing director of a construction company who was acquitted in 2019 on charges of negligent homicide raised in relation to the 2018 death of a young girl struck by a cement bag that fell from a construction site. The Employment Act protects workers who remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
Section 7. Worker Rights
Workers, except members of the armed forces, have the right to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. There are restrictions imposed on the exercise of these rights. The law provides that workers must be employed in the same profession before they may form a union. A worker may remain a member of a trade union only for a year after leaving the relevant function or profession. Members responsible for the administration or management of a union must reside in the country and be free of any convictions that could suspend their right to vote in national elections. The process is cumbersome and time consuming, and the government may deny trade union registration on arbitrary or ambiguous grounds.
The minister of labor and public service has the sole authority to decide which union is representative for sectoral collective bargaining and to approve sectoral collective agreements. Employers have the discretionary right to refuse to bargain with representatives of trade unions. The law allows all types of strikes and prohibits retribution against strikers. Unions must exhaust the mandatory conciliation and arbitration procedures set out in the labor code in order to strike legally. Regulations require civil servants and workers in state-owned enterprises to give two weeks’ notice of a planned strike and to enter into mediation and negotiations with the employer and a third party, usually the Ministry of Labor and Public Service. The law does not allow workers in “essential services” sectors to strike, and the minister of labor may order compulsory arbitration for such workers. The law defines “essential services” as services whose interruption would endanger the lives, personal safety, or health of persons; affect the normal operation of the national economy; or affect a vital industrial sector. For example, the law requires striking police to maintain a minimum presence in headquarters and on the street. The government, however, has not identified a list of essential services. Participation in an illegal strike is punishable by harsh penalties, including dismissal and loss of other rights except wages and leave. Civil servants exercised the right to strike. During the year teachers went on strike, calling for higher wages, while health professionals in Bamako and Kayes also called for increased resources and personal protective equipment to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The government did not effectively enforce relevant laws. Penalties for violating antiunion discrimination provisions were commensurate with penalties for comparable offenses. The Ministry of Labor and Public Service did not have adequate resources to conduct inspections or perform mediation. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.
Authorities did not consistently respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, although workers generally exercised these rights. The government did not always respect unions’ right to conduct their activities without interference.
Although unions and worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties, they were closely aligned with various political parties or coalitions. Officials had not renegotiated some collective agreements since 1956.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Forced labor occurred. The law prohibits the contractual use of persons without their consent, and conviction includes fines and imprisonment with compulsory hard labor. Penalties may be doubled if a person younger than 15 is involved. Penalties were seldom enforced and therefore were not sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were commensurate with penalties for comparable crimes. According to NGOs, the judiciary was reluctant to act in forced labor cases. The government made little effort to prevent or eliminate forced labor, although it did allocate funding to its antitrafficking action plan. Government officials reportedly interfered in hereditary slavery cases, threatening and intimidating community members in an effort to have charges dismissed.
Most adult forced labor occurred in the agricultural sector, especially rice, cotton, dry cereal, and corn cultivation, and in artisanal gold mining, domestic services, and in other sectors of the informal economy. Forced child labor occurred in the same sectors. Corrupt religious teachers compelled boys into begging and other types of forced labor or service (see section 7.c.).
The salt mines of Taoudeni in the North subjected men and boys, primarily of Songhai ethnicity, to a longstanding practice of debt bondage. Employers subjected many black Tuaregs to forced labor and hereditary slavery, particularly in the eastern and northern regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal (see section 6).
The labor law sets the minimum employment age at 15. No child may work more than eight hours per day under any circumstance. Girls between ages six and 18 may not work more than six hours per day. The government prohibits some of the worst forms of child labor. The government’s Hazardous Occupations List prohibits certain activities by children younger than 18. This law applies to all children, including those who work in the informal economy and those who are self-employed. Gaps exist in the country’s legal framework to protect children adequately from the worst forms of child labor, and the law does not meet international standards regarding the prohibition of forced labor, the prohibition against using children in illicit activities, and the prohibition of military recruitment by nonstate armed groups.
Responsibility for enforcing child labor laws is shared among the Ministry for the Promotion of Children and Women through the National Committee to Monitor the Fight against Child Labor; the Ministry of Justice through different courts; the Ministry of Security through the Morals and Children’s Brigade of the National Police; the National Social Security Institute through its health service; and the Ministry of Labor and Public Service through the Labor Inspectorate. Interagency coordinating mechanisms were ineffective, inefficient, and cumbersome. Authorities often ignored child labor laws or did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were not adequate. The penalties for violations were commensurate with penalties for similar crimes but were not applied in all sectors.
Child labor, particularly in its worst forms, was a serious problem. Child labor was concentrated in the agricultural sector, especially rice and cotton production, domestic services, gold mining, forced begging organized by Quranic schools, and other sectors of the informal economy.
Approximately 25 percent of children between ages five and 14 were economically active, and employers subjected more than 40 percent of economically active children to the worst forms of child labor. Many were engaged in hazardous activities in agriculture. Armed groups used child soldiers in the northern and central parts of the country (see section 1.g.). Child trafficking occurred. Employers used children, especially girls, for forced domestic labor. Employers forced black Tuareg children to work as domestic and agricultural laborers.
Child labor in artisanal gold mining was a serious problem. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, at least 20,000 children worked under extremely harsh and hazardous conditions in artisanal gold mines. Many children also worked with mercury, a toxic substance used in separating gold from its ore.
An unknown number of primary school-age boys throughout the country, mostly younger than 10, attended part-time Quranic schools funded by students and their parents. Some Quranic teachers (marabouts) often forced their students, known as garibouts or talibes, to beg for money on the streets or work as laborers in the agricultural sector; any money earned was usually returned to their teachers. In some cases talibes were also used as domestic workers without receiving compensation.
The Ministry of Labor and Public Service conducted few surprise or complaint-based inspections. Insufficient personnel, low salaries, and lack of other resources hampered enforcement in the informal sector. Prosecutors in Bamako had several pending investigations of potential abuse charges against marabouts who used children solely for economic purposes.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, gender, religion, political opinion, nationality, disability, social status, HIV-positive status, and color. The government’s Labor Inspection Agency is responsible for investigating and preventing discrimination based on race, gender, religion, political opinion, nationality, or ethnicity, but the law was not effectively enforced.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, sexual orientation, disability, and ethnicity (see section 6). The government was the major formal-sector employer and ostensibly paid women the same as men for similar work, but differences in job descriptions permitted pay inequality. There were legal restrictions to women’s employment in occupations and tasks considered dangerous, and in industries such as mining, construction, and factories. Women are also legally prohibited from working on the creation or sale of writing and images considered contrary to good morals. There were cases where employers from southern ethnic groups discriminated against individuals from northern ethnic groups.
The official minimum wage allows one to live above the World Bank’s poverty line. Minimum wage requirements did not apply to workers in the informal and subsistence sectors, which included the majority of workers. The government supplemented the minimum wage with a required package of benefits, including social security and health care. In 2018 the government increased the salaries of public-sector workers after coming to a collective bargaining agreement with the largest national workers’ union, the National Workers’ Union of Mali. In 2018 banks and insurance companies also increased their employees’ salaries. In September teachers received a pay increase following strikes in 2019 and during the year.
The legal workweek is 40 hours, except for the agricultural sector, where the legal workweek ranges from 42 to 48 hours, depending on the season. The law requires a weekly 24-hour rest period, and employers must pay workers overtime for additional hours. The law limits overtime to eight hours per week. The law applies to all workers, including migrants and domestics, but it was routinely ignored in the informal sector, which included an estimated 93 percent of workers, according to a 2018 International Labor Organization report.
The law provides for a broad range of occupational safety and health standards in the workplace. Workers have the right to remove themselves from work situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment and to request an investigation by the Social Security Department, which is responsible for recommending remedial action where deemed necessary. Authorities, however, did not effectively protect employees in these situations. Workers often were reluctant to report violations of occupational safety regulations due to fear of losing their jobs.
The Ministry of Labor and Public Service did not effectively enforce these standards, did not employ a sufficient number of labor inspectors, and the few inspectors it did employ lacked resources to conduct field investigations. Many employers did not comply with regulations regarding wages, hours, and social security benefits. The ministry conducted few inspections in the three northern regions where the government has suspended services since the 2012 occupation of those regions by armed groups and other organizations. No government agencies provided information on violations or penalties. Labor inspectors made unannounced visits and inspections to worksites only after labor unions filed complaints.
Working conditions varied, but the worst conditions were in the private sector. In small family-based agricultural endeavors, children worked for little or no remuneration. Employers paid some domestic workers as little as 7,500 CFA francs ($14) per month. Violations of overtime laws were common for children working in cities and those working in artisanal gold mines or rice and cotton fields. A government commission conducted an inventory of mercury in artisanal gold mines; mapped artisanal gold mines in the auriferous regions of Kayes, Koulikoro, and Sikasso; and created a professional identification card for artisanal gold miners. Labor organizations reported employers used cyanide and mercury in gold mines, posing a public health risk to workers exposed to them. Inspectors lacked the resources to assemble credible data on dangerous workplaces.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the rights of most workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. A trade union can register an industrial dispute with an employer, at which point the trade union enters into negotiations with the employer. In the absence of an agreement, both parties are free to resort to industrial action. The trade union can take industrial actions, which may include slowdowns, wildcat strikes, work-to-rule, strike action for a defined period of time or any other industrial action which the union may deem necessary. The employer may use a “lockout” to protect its interests.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of unfairly dismissed workers, including for legal, nonviolent union activity. Workers have a right to seek redress for antiunion dismissals, although procedures to seek such redress were unclear for certain categories of public sector workers. There were no reports that workers were dismissed for union activities.
Members of the military and law enforcement personnel may join a registered trade union, but the law prohibits strikes by this category of workers. The law does not explicitly prohibit acts of interference by worker or employer organizations in one another’s activities. According to the International Labor Organization, compulsory arbitration continues to limit collective bargaining rights. Arbitration did not take place during the year.
The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. The courts handed down prescribed fines to perpetrators. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.
Both the government and employers generally respected these rights, and workers freely exercised them during the year. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination or other forms of employer interference in union activities. Trade unions and employers’ organizations may both refer a dispute to the Industrial Tribunal, but it was customary that, until the tribunal decides on an award, both parties generally refrain from taking further action.
The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government took steps to investigate complaints, and to prevent and eliminate forced labor. The processing of cases through the courts, however, was slow. Three labor trafficking prosecutions initiated in 2014 remain pending. The law prescribes penalties of imprisonment for forced labor violations; such penalties were commensurate with penalties for human trafficking and kidnapping. There were reports of men and women in bonded labor and domestic servitude. Many victims of labor trafficking borrowed large sums of money to travel to Malta where they were recruited for certain work and salary. In reality, however, terms of their employment fell short of promises, and the borrowed money was used to keep the victims enslaved. Both foreign domestic workers and irregular migrant workers were vulnerable to forced labor in various sectors that included cleaning, construction, and caring.
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor as well as employment of children younger than 16 in all sectors. The director general for educational services in the Ministry of Education and Employment may grant an exemption for employment only after determining that it would not harm the health or normal development of the minor. While no legal work is specifically restricted for minors, children granted an exemption may work up to 40 hours per week. Children are not allowed, however, to carry out any night duties or perform work that could be regarded as harmful, damaging, or dangerous to a young person. Minors granted an exemption to work in certain areas such as manufacturing, heavy plant machinery, and construction are required to work under supervision.
The government generally enforced the law in most formal sectors of the economy. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Jobs Plus, a government entity under the Ministry for Education and Employment that is responsible for labor and employment matters, allowed summer employment of underage youth in businesses operated by their families.
No assessment was available on the effectiveness with which Jobs Plus monitored the unregistered employment of children as domestic employees and restaurant workers.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination in any form of employment and occupation. The government generally enforced the law effectively, although many foreign workers, including migrants, worked in dangerous, unsanitary jobs, with low social status and little prospect of improvement in their employment conditions. Up to December 2019, the population included more than 65,000 registered foreign workers. Of these, approximately 31,000 were nationals of mainly Arab, African, Asian, and East European countries. The law prohibits discrimination based on race as well as racial hatred. There were no reported offenses related to violations of the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for crimes related to civil rights, such as election interference. Remedies were available through civil court.
From January to September, the NCPE received one claim of alleged workplace discrimination. Following an investigation the commissioner may either dismiss the complaint or find the complaint warranted. In the latter case, if the complaint constitutes an offense, the commissioner must submit a report to the police commissioner for action. In instances where the complaint did not constitute an actionable offense, the NCPE followed the law and undertook steps to investigate the cases and refer them to police or mediate to ensure provision of redress as appropriate.
While women constituted a growing proportion of graduates of higher education and of the workforce, they remained underrepresented in management and generally earned less than their male counterparts. Eurostat reports showed the gender pay gap in 2018, the most recent period for which data was available, was 11.7 percent. In 2018 labor force participation by women was 64 percent, compared with 86 percent for men.
The country had a national weekly minimum wage that was above the poverty income level. The government effectively enforced the minimum wage. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud, and they were imposed on employers who breached the law. Cases mostly involved third country nationals. The law mandates a standard workweek of 40 hours, but the norm was 43 or 45 hours in certain occupations such as in health care, airport services, and civil protective services. The law provides for paid annual holidays (i.e., government holidays) and paid annual leave. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime, and employers cannot oblige employees to work more than 48 hours per week, inclusive of overtime.
The government sets occupational safety and health standards, and such standards were current and appropriate for the main industries in the country. Workers have the right to remove themselves from situations dangerous to health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. The employer is responsible for ensuring and implementing safety measures at the workplace.
The Ministry of Education and Employment generally enforced minimum wage and hours of work requirements effectively in the formal economy and penalties for violations were commensurate with those for crimes like negligence. The Occupational Health and Safety Authority (OHSA), a government entity composed of representatives of the government, unions, and employers, conducted regular inspections at worksites and cited a number of offenders. Nevertheless, enforcement of health and safety standards continued to be inconsistent. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. In an audit report in June, which followed up on an earlier analysis on OHSA’s operations, the National Audit Office noted that, among other shortcomings, OHSA’s lack of an adequate management information system inhibited its efficiency and ability to conduct effective inspections in the construction industry. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and to initiate sanctions, including stopping work they deem to be unsafe.
Workers in the informal economy did not have the same protection as formal workers, but they could file complaints against companies that failed to provide a safe work environment. Many workers, however, were unaware of their rights and social welfare programs, and avoided state-run agencies over fear of being detained or deported based on their immigration status or lack of a work permit.
Reports of abuse of migrants attracted by the country’s unskilled labor shortage, including health and safety matters, workers found living in substandard conditions, and low wages, continued during the year. Authorities did not stringently enforce standards in the informal economy, which consisted of approximately 5 percent of the workforce and encompassed various sectors of working society, including day laborers and self-employed individuals. OHSA imposed fines on companies that did not comply with minimum safety standards in the formal economy and, to a lesser extent, the informal economy.
The National Statistics Office reported that between January and June, nonfatal accidents at the workplace decreased by 29.9 percent when compared to the same period in 2019. There were three reported fatal accidents in the first half of 2020. Industrial accidents occurred mostly in the construction, manufacturing, transportation, and storage sectors. The National Statistics Office reported OHSA’s most recent findings of three fatalities from January to June. Although the government continued to report steady progress in improving working conditions, authorities conceded that unsafe conditions remained.
Irregular migrant workers, who made up a small but growing percentage of the workforce, worked in some cases under conditions that did not meet the government’s minimum standards for employment. The Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers, in coordination with Jobs Plus, which is administered by the government, organized informational programs to help individuals pursue employment and obtain work permits.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for freedom of association, and the government interpreted this right as allowing persons to form and join independent labor unions. The law neither provides for nor prohibits collective bargaining or the right to strike. The law does not specifically prohibit antiunion discrimination, nor does it require the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.
The government enforced freedom of association laws. Penalties take the form of fines and were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.
With a small number of major employers, there were few opportunities for workers to unionize. Independent trade unions did not exist, and there were no NGOs promoting the rights of workers.
The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced labor and prescribes penalties which are commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
The government effectively enforced the law, conducting investigations that did not yield any instances of forced labor.
There were reports some foreign fishermen were subjected to conditions indicative of forced labor on ships in Marshallese waters.
There is no law or regulation setting a minimum age, hours of work, or occupational health restrictions for employment of children. The law prohibits exploitation of children younger than age 18, including in the worst forms of child labor, child begging, and child domestic work. The government effectively enforced the law. Government inspections found no evidence of child labor. Penalties for child exploitation were commensurate with those for other analogous crimes such as kidnapping.
Children typically did not work in the wage economy, but reports persisted that it was common for them to assist their families in fishing, agriculture, retailing, and other small-scale enterprises, particularly in the subsistence economies of the more remote atolls where copra production can take children from school and may reduce educational outcomes. The government reported it found no evidence of this during its inspections.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The constitution states that no person may be treated in a discriminatory manner under law or by public officials. Labor laws and regulations do not specifically prohibit employment discrimination. The constitution states that the attorney general, in all cases of violations of the constitution, whether by private or public officials, has the standing to complain of the violation in judicial proceedings. The criminal code does not stipulate any specific penalty in such cases. There were no formal complaints of employment discrimination during the year. There were no legal restrictions against women in employment. No law mandates equal pay for equal work; government employees receive pay equity. Under the law citizens receive preference in hiring, and noncitizen workers are hired only to supplement the local workforce when no citizens qualify for the job. The law requires that employers who hire foreign workers pay a fee used for training citizen workers. Many employers willingly paid the fee to hire technically skilled labor, which was not widely available in the country.
The law establishes a minimum wage which is not above the poverty line. Foreign employees and local trainees of private employers who invested in or established a business in the country are exempt from minimum-wage requirements provided the employer receives government authorization. Most foreign workers, who constituted approximately 30 percent of the workforce (excluding agroforestry), and most of the professional and technical classes in the country earned considerably more than the minimum wage.
The law provides for a standard workday of eight hours but places no restrictions on the amount of overtime that may be worked. No legislation provides protection for workers who file official complaints about conditions that endanger their health or safety. The law does not provide for workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
Occupational health and safety standards are generally appropriate. The Board of Inquiry within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has the authority to make recommendations to the Nitijela on working conditions, such as the minimum wage, legal working hours, overtime payments, and occupational health and safety standards for workers.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for wage and hour violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. There were no policy recommendations or political initiatives by the Board of Inquiry during the year, and the board did not conduct any health and safety inspections of workplaces. The board is empowered to do so, but it does not have dedicated inspectors to carry out inspections to enforce sufficient compliance.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law allows all workers, except members of police, armed forces, and foreign and migrant workers, to form and join independent unions of their choice at local and national levels and provides for the right to conduct legal strikes and to bargain collectively. Other provisions and laws severely restrict or excessively regulate these rights. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws, and penalties were not commensurate with penalties for similar violations of laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.
Prior authorization or approval by authorities is required before a union may be recognized. The public prosecutor must authorize all trade unions before they enjoy legal status. The public prosecutor may provisionally suspend a trade union at the request of the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization if ministry officials believe the union has not complied with the law. The law also provides that authorities may initiate legal proceedings against union leaders who undermine public order or make false statements. This law in effect authorizes administrative authorities to dissolve, suspend, or deregister trade union organizations by unilateral decision.
Noncitizens do not have the right to become trade union officials unless they have worked in the country and in the profession represented by the trade union for at least five years. Labor unions must obtain government authorization in order to hold labor elections. Despite previous promises, the government has not authorized union elections since 2014.
Bargaining collectively at the national level requires previous authorization or approval by the president, who decides how collective bargaining is organized. No such authorization is required for collective bargaining at the company level. The minister of labor, public service, and modernization of the administration may call for bargaining among employers, employees, labor unions, and the government. In addition the ministry is entitled to take part in the preparation of collective agreements. The law provides that the meeting must occur 15 days following a statement of nonagreement between parties.
The law provides for the right to strike, except for those working in services deemed essential. Aggrieved parties must follow complex procedures before conducting a strike action. If negotiations between workers and employers fail to produce an agreement, the case is referred to the Court of Arbitration. If the court fails to broker a mutually satisfactory agreement, workers may have to wait up to four additional months from the time of the decision before they can legally strike. The government may also dissolve a union for what it considers an illegal or politically motivated strike. The law prohibits workers from holding sit-ins or blocking nonstriking workers from entering work premises. Workers must provide advance notice of at least 10 working days to the Ministry of Labor, Public Service, and Modernization of the Administration for any strike.
The government did not enforce the law effectively and did not provide adequate resources for inspections. While authorities seldom punished violators, on several occasions the government ordered the reinstatement of workers who were wrongfully terminated or directed companies to improve employee benefits and services. While antiunion discrimination is illegal, national human rights groups and unions reported authorities did not actively investigate alleged antiunion practices in some private firms.
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not fully respected, although unions exercised their right to organize workers during the year. Collective bargaining at the company level, however, was rare. On February 5, longshoremen of the Autonomous Port of Nouakchott went on strike to demand the full implementation of agreements reached during a previous strike in 2018. According to the Mauritanian Workers’ Free Confederation, authorities dismissed thousands of longshoremen in 2018 without giving them their rights, adding that the walkout came in response to the “arbitrary policies and decisions” taken against the carriers.
Registration and strike procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Labor ministry officials routinely issued notices calling on all parties to negotiate. Such notices legally restrict workers from striking for a period of four months. Workers and unions organized several strikes and, unlike in previous years, authorities only occasionally employed force to disperse them.
The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children. It also criminalizes the practice of slavery, which includes forced labor and forced child labor, and imposes penalties, both on government officials who do not take action in response to reported cases and on those who benefit from contracting forced labor. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable violations. The constitution and law make the offense “a crime against humanity.” The law grants civil society organizations the right to file complaints in court on behalf of victims as civil parties; however, many civil society organizations reported difficulty in filing complaints on behalf of victims. The law also provides free legal assistance for victims and refers to their right to compensation. Although the government is taking more steps towards ending the practice of slavery, including increased engagement with civil society groups, efforts to enforce the antislavery law were considered inadequate.
The General Delegation for National Solidarity and the Fight against Exclusion, or Taazour, was created in 2019 to intensify government efforts to combat slavery and address the social and economic conditions that have left many citizens vulnerable to forced labor. With a budget of 20 billion ouguiyas ($541.5 million) over the next five years, Taazour is implementing projects to improve living conditions and provide skills to members of historically marginalized communities. The institution has the authority to coordinate projects of other government agencies in order to maximize their impact. Taazour has an agreement with the CNDH to facilitate efforts by beneficiaries of Taazour projects to seek redress for any violation of their civil rights.
Only registered human rights associations that have been legally operating for five years can file criminal cases on behalf of former slaves. During the year the government continued to prevent the registration of certain antislavery organizations and associations that work for the promotion and protection of the Haratine community; these include former slave groups that would have been able to submit complaints once their five-year probationary period had expired.
As of December, IRA, created in 2008 and one of the most active organizations fighting slavery in the country, continued to be prevented from registering. The government’s refusal to register IRA and other human rights NGOs who could help to file complaints on behalf of slavery victims was a contributing factor to the underutilization of the three Specialized Antislavery Courts.
On June 29, the Nema special court ruled on two slavery-related cases. The court ruled that the first case lacked evidence and determined that the case was not slavery related. The second case filed by SOS Esclaves involved a slavery-like practice; however, the court decided to postpone the hearing until the next scheduled court session in order to conduct a more thorough investigation. The Nema special court recommenced operations on November 12 but still did not rule on the second case. On December 3, the Nouadhibou Antislavery Court ruled on three cases, sentencing three persons in absentia to 20 years’ imprisonment and imposing a substantial fine as compensation for the victims. The Nouakchott special court briefly began hearings in December before quickly closing again due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the exception of the June 29 ruling in the Nema special court, the specialized anti-slavery courts stopped hearing cases from March to November along with the rest of the judicial system in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Slavery and slavery-like practices, which typically flowed from ancestral master-slave relationships and involved both adults and children, continued. Although reliable data on the total number of slaves does not exist, local and international experts agreed hereditary slavery and slavery-like conditions affected a substantial portion of the population in both rural and urban settings. Enslaved persons suffered from traditional chattel slavery, including forced labor and forced sexual exploitation. Human rights groups reported that masters coerced persons in slavery and slavery-like relationships to deny to human rights activists that such exploitative relationships existed.
In 2015 the government asked the International Labor Organization (ILO) for a program to assess the scope of forced labor in the country. Among other activities, the Bridge Project supports research in the country on recruitment mechanisms and employment conditions to help identify different types of employment that may involve slavery or slavery-like practices. Most of the Bridge Project’s activities were postponed starting in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In September the project was extended to November 2021.
Former slaves and their descendants remained in a dependent status vis-a-vis their former slave masters due to a variety of factors, including cultural traditions, a lack of marketable skills, poverty, and persistent drought. Some former slaves and descendants of slaves were forced to revert to a de facto slave status by working for their former masters in exchange for some combination of lodging, food, and medical care. Some former slaves reportedly continued to work for their former masters or others under exploitative conditions to retain access to land that they traditionally farmed. Although the law provides for distribution of land to the landless, including to former slaves, authorities rarely enforced the law.
Former slaves in subservient circumstances were also vulnerable to mistreatment. Women with children faced particular difficulties. Because they were particularly vulnerable and lacked the resources to live independently from their former masters, they could be compelled to remain in a condition of servitude, performing domestic duties, tending fields, or herding animals without remuneration.
Some former slaves were coerced into continuing to work for their former masters, who relied on adherence to religious teachings and a fear of divine punishment to keep these individuals enslaved. Former slaves were often subjected to social discrimination and limited to performing manual labor in markets, ports, and airports.
Slavery, including forced labor and de facto slavery, were more prevalent in areas where educational levels were generally low or a barter economy still prevailed, and prevalent to a lesser degree in urban centers, including Nouakchott. The practices commonly occurred where there was a need for workers to herd livestock, tend fields, and do other manual or household labor. Nevertheless, such practices also occurred in urban centers where young children, often girls, were retained as unpaid domestic servants (see section 7.c.).
The law forbids some, but not all of, the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum age for employment at 16. Nevertheless, it allows children as young as 12 to be employed in most forms of family enterprise with authorization from the Ministry of Labor, Public Service, and Modernization of the Administration, as long as the work does not affect the child’s health, exceed two hours per day, or occur during school hours or holidays. The law states employed children between ages 14 and 16 should receive 70 percent of the minimum wage and those who are 17 should receive 90 percent of the minimum wage. Children should not work more than eight hours a day, should be given one or several one-hour breaks, and may not work at night. Children working in unpaid, temporary, or noncontractual work do not have the same protections under the child labor laws and regulations as do children working in contractual employment.
The Ministry of Labor, Public Service, and Modernization of the Administration authorized children as young as 13 to do work in a variety of areas, resulting in children doing hazardous work by government authorization in the areas of agriculture, fishing, construction, and garbage removal. Additionally, the government does not legally prohibit all forms of hazardous work as defined by international law.
The law increases the penalties associated with violations of child labor laws and criminalizes commercial sexual exploitation of children and forced begging. It also increases the prison term for trafficking children. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable violations. The penalties were generally insufficiently enforced to deter violations. The law does not prohibit hazardous occupations and activities in all relevant child labor sectors, including domestic work and agriculture. The law prohibits the use of children for illicit activities, such as the production and trafficking of drugs.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Mechanisms for exchanging information among agencies or assessing the effectiveness of child labor laws were not active during the year. There was no specific mechanism for submitting complaints, other than to labor inspectors or the Special Police Brigade for Minors. NGOs were the only organizations that handled cases of child victims, referred them to the Special Police Brigade for Minors, and pressured the government to adjudicate the cases or integrate the victims in social centers or schools during the year.
The CNDH’s 2016 annual report, which had the most recent numbers available, stated that 26 percent of children between the ages of 15 and 17 worked. The report indicated the proportion of children between the ages of 12 and 14 who performed some work increased to 22 percent. The report also stressed that exploitation of girls was more frequent in domestic work.
An unknown number of talibes (religious students), nearly all from the Halpulaar community, begged in the streets and gave the proceeds to their religious teachers as payment for religious instruction. There were reliable reports that some marabouts (religious teachers) forced their talibes to beg for more than 12 hours a day and provided them with insufficient food and shelter. The government continued a program to reduce the number of talibes and cooperated with NGOs to provide talibes with basic medical and nutritional care.
Child labor in the informal sector was common and a significant problem, particularly in poorer urban areas. Several reports suggested girls as young as age seven, mainly from remote regions, were forced to work as unpaid domestic servants in wealthy urban homes. Young children in the countryside were commonly engaged in cattle and goat herding, cultivation of subsistence crops, fishing, and other agricultural labor in support of their families. Young children in urban areas often drove donkey carts, delivered water and building materials, and were very active in garbage collection. Street gang leaders occasionally forced children to steal, beg, and sell drugs. In keeping with longstanding tradition, many children also served apprenticeships in small-scale industries, such as metalworking, carpentry, vehicle repair, masonry, and the informal sector.
The government continued to operate seven Centers for Protection and Social Integration of Children in Difficult Situations: one in each of the regions of Kiffa, Nouadhibou, Aleg, and Rosso, and three in Nouakchott.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination based on race, disability, religion, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, social origin, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, or language, but the government often did not enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable violations. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race and language. For example in conformity with long-standing practice, the advancement of both Haratines and sub-Saharans in the armed services remained limited.
The law provides that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work. The two largest employers, the civil service and the state mining company, observed this law; most employers in the private sector reportedly did not. In the modern wage sector, women also received family benefits, including three months of paid maternity leave. Women faced widespread employment discrimination, because employers usually preferred to hire men, with women overrepresented in low-paying positions (see section 6). There were known legal restrictions on women’s employment, including limitations on working in occupations deemed dangerous or morally inappropriate and certain industries including mining and construction.
The law provides for a national minimum wage that is more than the most recent estimate for the poverty income level. The law provides that the standard legal nonagricultural workweek must not exceed either 40 hours or six days unless there is overtime compensation, which is to be paid at rates graduated according to the number of supplemental hours worked. Domestic workers and certain other categories could work 56 hours per week. The law provides that all employees must be given at least one 24-hour rest period per week. There are no legal provisions regarding compulsory overtime.
The government sets health and safety standards, and in principle workers have the right to remove themselves from hazardous conditions without risking loss of employment; however, this was rarely applied. The law applies to all workers in the formal economy, and the labor code applies to all formal workers regardless of nationality. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable violations.
The Labor Office of the Ministry of Labor, Public Service, and Modernization of the Administration is responsible for enforcing labor laws but did not do so effectively. The ILO reported that a significant pay gap between staff in the labor inspectorate and staff in other government inspection departments who receive better remuneration (such as tax inspectors or education inspectors) led to attrition of personnel. The number of labor inspectors, however, was sufficient for the labor force. The ILO also reported that the labor inspectorate was subject to undue influence by employers and the government, thereby reducing the effectiveness of inspection activity.
The majority of the working population labored in the informal sector, primarily in subsistence agriculture and animal husbandry. According to the General Confederation of Mauritanian Workers, only 25 percent of workers filled positions accorded regular pay.
Despite the law, labor unions pointed to conditions approaching forced labor in several sectors, including the food processing industry. In these sectors workers did not have contracts or receive pay stubs. Their salaries were below the official minimum wage, and they worked in unfavorable conditions. They occasionally did not receive pay for several months.
Working conditions in the fishing industry were similarly difficult. Commercial fishermen reportedly often exceeded 40 hours of work per week without receiving overtime pay. Additionally, some factory workers employed by fish-processing plants and boat manufacturers did not receive contracts guaranteeing the terms of their employment. Government inspections of fishing vessels, processing plants, and boat factories were rare.
Violations of minimum wage or overtime laws were frequent in many sectors but more common in the informal economy, which includes domestic service, street vending, artisanal fishing, garbage collection, bus fare collection, donkey-cart driving, apprenticeship, auto repair, and other similar types of employment. The National Agency of Social Security registered 204 workplace fatalities or injuries during the year, which was comparable with previous years.