Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, participate in collective bargaining, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. By law, employers may be compelled to reinstate workers illegally fired for union activity. Members of the police force, defense force, fire brigade, and prison guards may not organize or join unions, although police used professional associations to advocate on their behalf in pay disputes. Unions can exist without a majority vote from workers, but to be recognized by the government and act as an “agency shop,” a union must represent 50 percent plus one of the affected workers.
There was no information on the adequacy of enforcement resources. Fines varied widely by case and were not sufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. The government did not provide updated statistics during the year. By law, labor disputes must first be filed with the Ministry of Labor and National Insurance. If not resolved, they are transferred to an industrial tribunal, which determines penalties (fines) and remedies, up to a maximum of 26 weeks of an employee’s pay. The tribunal’s decision is final and may be appealed in court only on a strict question of law. Authorities reported a case backlog of up to three years at the tribunal.
The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, and most employers in the private sector did as well. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not always effectively enforce applicable law, due to lack of capacity. The government received five reports of human trafficking, including six sex trafficking victims, one sex and labor victim, and one labor victim. Local nongovernmental organizations noted that exploited workers often did not report their circumstances to government officials due to fear of deportation and lack of education about available resources. Penalties for forced labor range from three to 10 years’ imprisonment and were sufficiently stringent to deter violations.
Undocumented migrants were vulnerable to forced labor, especially in domestic servitude and in the agriculture sector, and particularly in the outlying Family Islands. There were reports that noncitizen laborers, often of Haitian origin, were vulnerable to compulsory labor and suffered abuses at the hands of their employers, who were responsible for endorsing their work permits on an annual basis. Specifically, local sources indicated that employers required noncitizen employees to ‘work off’ the work permit fees, which ranged from B$750 to B$1,500 for unskilled and semiskilled workers. The risk of losing the permit and the ability to work legally within the country was reportedly used as leverage for exploitation and potential abuse.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
The law prohibits the employment of children under age 14 for industrial work or work during school hours and prohibits the worst forms of child labor. Children younger than 16 may not work at night. Children between ages 14 and 18 may work outside of school hours under the following conditions: on a school day, for not more than three hours; in a school week, for not more than 24 hours; on a nonschool day, for not more than eight hours; in a nonschool week, for not more than 40 hours. The law prohibits persons younger than age 18 from engaging in dangerous work, including construction, mining, and road building. There was no legal minimum age for employment in other sectors. Occupational health and safety restrictions apply to all younger workers.
The government made efforts to enforce the law, with labor inspectors proactively sent to stores and businesses on a regular basis, but resource constraints limited their effectiveness. The Ministry of Labor and National Insurance reported no severe violations of child labor laws, although inspectors reported several instances of children working in small merchant businesses or excess hours in grocery stores. The penalty for violations of child labor law is a fine between B$1,000 and B$1,500, which was sufficient to deter violations.
The law prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, color, national origin, creed, sex, marital status, political opinion, age, HIV status, or disability, but not based on language, sexual orientation or gender identity, religion, or social status. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and while the law allows victims to sue for damages, many citizens were unable to avail themselves of this remedy due to poor availability of legal representation and the ability of wealthy defendants to drag out the process in courts.
In 2015 the Ministry of Labor and National Insurance raised the minimum wage from B$4.00 to B$5.25 per hour, well above the established poverty line of B$4,247 per annum.
The law provides for a 40-hour workweek, a 24-hour rest period, and time-and-a-half payment for hours worked beyond the standard workweek. The law stipulates paid annual holidays and prohibits compulsory overtime. The law does not place a cap on overtime. The government set health and safety standards appropriate to the industries. According to the Ministry of Labor and National Insurance, the law protects all workers, including migrant workers, in areas including wages, working hours, working conditions, and occupational health and safety standards. Workers do not have the right to refuse to work under hazardous conditions, and legal standards do not cover undocumented and informal economy workers.
The ministry is responsible for enforcing labor laws, including the minimum wage, and fielded a team of inspectors that conducted onsite visits to enforce occupational health and safety standards and investigate employee concerns and complaints, although inspections occurred infrequently. The ministry generally announced inspection visits in advance, and employers generally cooperated with inspectors to implement safety standards. It was uncertain whether these inspections were effective in enforcing health and safety standards. The government did not levy fines for noncompliance but occasionally forced a work stoppage. Such penalties were not sufficiently stringent to deter violations. Working conditions varied, and mold was a problem in schools and government facilities.