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United Kingdom

Executive Summary

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the UK) is a constitutional monarchy with a multiparty, parliamentary form of government. Citizens elect members of Parliament to the House of Commons (MPs), the lower chamber of the bicameral Parliament. They last did so in free and fair elections on December 12. Members of the upper chamber, the House of Lords, occupy appointed or hereditary seats. Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Bermuda all have elected legislative bodies and devolved administrations, with varying degrees of legislative and executive powers. The Northern Ireland devolved government was not in operation throughout the year. The UK has 14 overseas territories, including Bermuda. Each of the overseas territories has its own constitution, while the UK government is responsible for external affairs and defense.

Except in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the national police maintained internal security and reported to the Home Office. The army, under the authority of the Ministry of Defence, is responsible for external security and supports police in extreme cases. The National Crime Agency (NCA) investigates serious crime in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and it has a mandate to deal with organized, economic, and cybercrimes as well as border policing and child protection. The NCA director general has independent operational direction and control over the NCA’s activities and is accountable to the home secretary.

Scotland’s judicial, legal, and law enforcement system is fully separate from that of the rest of the UK. Police Scotland reports to the Scottish justice minister and the state prosecutor and coordinates cross-border crime and threat information to the national UK police and responds to UK police needs in Scotland upon request.

Northern Ireland also maintains a separate police force, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). The PSNI reports to the Northern Ireland Policing Board, a public body composed of members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and independent members of the community.

The Bermuda Police Service (BPS) is responsible for internal security on the island. The BPS reports to the governor appointed by the UK but is funded by the elected government of the island.

Civilian authorities throughout the UK and its territories maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

The government investigated, prosecuted, and punished allegations of official abuse.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government routinely respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits expressions of hatred toward persons because of their color, race, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation as well as any communication that is deemed threatening or abusive and is intended to harass, alarm, or distress a person. The penalties for such expressions include fines, imprisonment, or both.

Press and Media Freedom, Including Online Media: The law’s restrictions on expressions of hatred apply to the print and broadcast media. In Bermuda the law prohibits publishing written words that are threatening, abusive, or insulting, but only on racial grounds; on other grounds, including sexual orientation, the law prohibits only discriminatory “notices, signs, symbols, emblems, or other representations.”

Violence and Harassment: On April 18, freelance reporter Lyra McKee was shot and killed by an unknown assailant in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, while she was covering disturbances related to a police operation. In August, three men were charged with the physical assault on Owen Jones of The Guardian newspaper. The motive for the attack was unknown.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government routinely respected these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government routinely respected these rights.

In-country Movement: The home secretary may impose terrorism prevention and investigation measures (TPIMs) based on a “balance of probabilities.” TPIMs are a form of house arrest applied for up to two years to those thought to pose a terrorist threat but who cannot be prosecuted or deported. The measures include electronic tagging, reporting regularly to the police, and facing “tightly defined exclusion from particular places and the prevention of travel overseas.” A suspect must live at home and stay there overnight, possibly for up to 10 hours. Suspects can be sent to live up to 200 miles from their normal residence. The suspect may apply to the courts to stay elsewhere. The suspect may use a mobile phone and the internet to work and study, subject to conditions.

Exile: The law permits the home secretary to impose “temporary exclusion orders” (TEOs) on returning UK citizens or legal residents if the home secretary reasonably suspects the individual in question is or was involved in terrorism-related activity and considers the exclusion necessary to protect persons in the UK from a risk of terrorism. TEOs impose certain obligations on the repatriates, such as periodic reporting to police. The measure requires a court order and is subject to judicial oversight and appeal. Home Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed the Home Office served nine TEOs in 2017; this figure has not been publicly updated.

Citizenship: The law allows the home secretary to deprive an individual of citizenship if officials are satisfied this is “conducive to the public good,” but not if this renders a citizen stateless.

In February the home secretary started the process of revoking the citizenship of Shamima Begum, a 19-year-old from east London. Begum was one of three teenage friends who left the UK in 2015 to join ISIS. She was detained in a Syrian refugee camp. Because Begum was British by birth, the home secretary could only cancel her British citizenship if she were a dual national. The home secretary believed that Begum held dual citizenship with Bangladesh because she was of Bangladeshi heritage. Begum’s lawyers disputed that she had Bangladeshi citizenship.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Home Office officials have the power to detain intending asylum seekers and unauthorized migrants who do not enter the asylum system. There was no maximum time limit for the use of detention. Immigration detention was used to establish a person’s identity or basis of claim, to remove a person from the country, or to avoid a person’s noncompliance with any conditions attached to a grant of temporary admission or release.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: In England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Bermuda’s constitution and laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government does not have an established system for providing protection to refugees.

The UK-wide system for processing asylum applications faced criticism in the media. Asylum seekers in Scotland have to travel 220 miles to Liverpool in order to submit evidence for their application, generally at their own expense. This has led to delays and increased hardship on those seeking asylum in Scotland, according to media reports.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country is subject to the EU’s Dublin III regulation and considers all other EU member states to be countries of safe origin or transit. The regulation permits authorities to remove an asylum applicant to another country responsible for adjudicating an applicant’s claim. The government places the burden of proof on asylum seekers who arrive from safe countries of origin, who pass through a country where they are not considered to be at risk, or who remained in the country for a period before seeking asylum.

Employment: Except in limited circumstances, asylum applicants are not allowed to work while their asylum application is under consideration. If the applicant has waited longer than 12 months for the government to make an initial decision on an asylum claim, the applicant may request permission to work. For the duration of their asylum application, asylum seekers are eligible for government support at 30 percent below the normal rate for their family size, an amount which NGOs continued to deem inadequate. NGOs continued to criticize the government for cutting off benefits 28 days after a person is granted refugee status, which they say left some destitute.

In Scotland the devolved government funded the Refugee Doctors’ Program, to help 38 asylum seekers and refugees to work for the National Health Service Scotland. The program offers doctors advanced English lessons, medical classes, and placements with general practitioners or hospitals, providing them with the skills needed to get their UK medical registration approved.

Temporary Protection: The government may provide temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the categories of humanitarian protection and discretionary leave. According to EU data, in 2018 it extended subsidiary protection to 1,295 persons and humanitarian protection to another 1,160.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government implemented the law effectively. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: An inquiry continued into allegations of large-scale corruption in the Northern Ireland Assembly (Stormont) concerning renewable energy incentive payments which led to the collapse of the Northern Ireland government in 2017.

Financial Disclosure: All MPs are required to disclose their financial interests. The Register of Members Interests was available online and updated regularly. These public disclosures include paid employment, property ownership, shareholdings in public or private companies, and other interests that “might reasonably be thought to influence” the member in any way. The Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the Bermudian Parliament have similar codes of conduct for members. The ministerial code issued by the Prime Minister’s Office sets standards of conduct, including on the disclosure of gifts and travel. The national government publishes the names, grades, job titles, and annual pay rates for most civil servants with salaries greater than 150,000 pounds ($190,000). Government departments publish the business expenses of their most senior officials and hospitality received by them.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings of human rights cases. Government officials were routinely cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Parliament has a Joint Committee on Human Rights composed of 12 members selected from the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The committee investigates human rights matters in the country and scrutinizes legislation affecting human rights. It may call for testimony from government officials, who routinely comply.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is an independent, nondepartmental public body that promotes and monitors human rights and protects, enforces, and promotes equality across nine “protected” grounds: age, disability, gender, race, religion and belief, pregnancy and maternity, marriage and civil partnership, sexual orientation, and gender reassignment. The sponsoring department is the Government Equalities Office. The commission was considered effective.

The Scottish Human Rights Commission, which is accountable to the Scottish Parliament, monitors and protects human rights in the region. In addition, the First Minister’s Advisory Group on Human Rights Leadership set up a National Taskforce in June to create a statutory framework for enhancing human rights protections in Scotland.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, sponsored by the Northern Ireland Office, and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, sponsored by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, monitored human rights in that province. These entities were considered effective.

In Bermuda the Human Rights Commission is an independent body that effectively administered human rights law by the investigation and resolution of complaints lodged with it.

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

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, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The government routinely respected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and protects employees from unfair dismissal while striking, provided the union has complied with the legal requirements governing such industrial action.

The law allows strikes to proceed only when at least 50 percent of workers who participate in a secret ballot support it. For “important public services,” defined as health services, education for those younger than 17, fire services, transport services, nuclear decommissioning and the management of radioactive waste and spent fuel, and border security, an additional threshold of support by 40 percent of all eligible union members must be met for strike action to be legal.

The law does not cover workers in the armed forces, public sector security services, police forces, and freelance or temporary work. According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the right to strike in the UK is “limited” due to prohibitions against political and solidarity strikes, lengthy procedures for calling strikes, and the ability of employers to seek injunctions against unions before a strike has begun if the union does not observe all proper steps in organizing the strike.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Remedies were limited in situations where workers faced reprisal for union activity, and the ITUC stated that the law does not provide “adequate means of protection against antiunion discrimination,” and noted that legal protections against unfair labor practices only exist within the framework of organizing a recognition ballot. Penalties range from employers paying compensation to reinstatement and were sufficient to deter violations.

The government and employers routinely respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Unions and management typically negotiated collective “agreements,” which were less formal and not legally enforceable. The terms of the agreement could, however, be incorporated into an individual work contract with legal standing.

The law does not allow independent trade unions to apply for derecognition of in-house company unions or to protect individual workers seeking to do so.

Various labor NGOs advocated for worker’s rights freely within the UK and acted independently from trade unions. NGOs advocated for improvements in paid family leave, a minimum or living wage, and worker safety among other problems.

According to the ONS, approximately 6.2 million employees were trade union members in 2017. The level of overall union members increased by 19,000 (0.3 percent) from 2016. Membership levels were below the 1979 peak of more than 13 million.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced and compulsory labor, but such practices occurred despite effective government enforcement. Resources and inspections were generally adequate, and penalties were sufficiently stringent compared to other sentences for serious crimes.

The law permits punishment of up to life imprisonment for all trafficking and slavery offenses, including sexual exploitation, labor exploitation, and forced servitude. Firms with a global turnover of 36 million pounds ($45.7 million) that supply goods or services in the UK must by law publish an annual statement setting out what steps they are taking to ensure that slave labor is not being used in their operations and supply chain. Foreign companies and subsidiaries that “carry on a business” in the UK also have to comply with this law. The law allows courts to impose reparation orders on convicted exploiters and prevention orders to ensure that those who pose a risk of committing modern slavery offenses cannot work in relevant fields, such as with children.

Forced labor in the UK involved both foreign and domestic workers, mainly in sectors characterized by low-skilled, low-paid manual labor and heavy use of flexible, temporary workers. Those who experienced forced labor practices tended to be poor, living on insecure and subsistence incomes and in substandard accommodations. Victims of forced labor included men, women, and children. Forced labor was normally more prevalent among the most vulnerable, minorities or socially excluded groups. The majority of victims were British nationals. Albania, Nigeria, Vietnam, Romania, and Poland were the most likely foreign countries of origin. Most migrants entered the UK legally. Many migrants used informal brokers to plan their journey and find work and accommodation in the UK, enabling the brokers to exploit the migrants through high fees and to channel them into forced labor situations. Many with limited English were trapped in poverty through a combination of debts, flexible employment, and constrained opportunities. Migrants were forced to share rooms with strangers in overcrowded houses, and often the work was just sufficient to cover rent and other charges. Sexual exploitation was the most common form of modern slavery reported in the UK, followed by labor exploitation, forced criminal exploitation, and domestic servitude. Migrant workers were subject to forced labor in agriculture (especially in marijuana cultivation), construction, food processing, service industries (especially nail salons), and on fishing boats. Women employed as domestic workers were particularly vulnerable to forced labor.

In Bermuda the Department of Immigration and the Director of Public Prosecutions confirmed there were no cases of forced labor during the year, although historically there were some cases of forced labor, mostly involving migrant men in the construction sector and women in domestic service. Penalties for forced labor were generally adequate to deter violations. The law requires employers to repatriate work-permit holders. Failure to do so had been a migrant complaint. The cases of worker exploitation largely consisted of employers requiring workers to work longer hours or to perform work outside the scope of their work permit. The government effectively enforced the law.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. UK law prohibits the employment of children younger than 13 with exceptions for sports, modeling, and paid performances, which may require a child performance license. The law prohibits those younger than 16 from working in an industrial enterprise, including transportation or street trading. Children’s work hours are strictly limited and may not interfere with school attendance. Different legislation governs the employment of persons younger than 16, and, while some laws are common across the UK, local bylaws vary. If local bylaws so require, children between the ages of 13 and 16 must apply for a work permit from a local authority. The local authority’s education and welfare services have primary responsibility for oversight and enforcement of the permits.

The Department for Education has primary regulatory responsibility for child labor, although local authorities generally handled enforcement. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

In Bermuda children younger than 13 may perform light work of an agricultural, horticultural, or domestic character if the parent or guardian is the employer. Schoolchildren may not work during school hours or more than two hours on school days. No child younger than 15 may work in any industrial undertaking, other than light work, or on any vessel, other than a vessel where only family members work. Children younger than 18 may not work at night, except that those ages 16 to 18 may work until midnight; employers must arrange for safe transport home for girls between ages 16 and 18 working until midnight. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The BPS reported no cases of child labor or exploitation of children during the year.

The government of Saint Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha passed a bill to restrict child labor and improved services for vulnerable children. The governments of Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), Montserrat, and St. Helena-Ascension-Tristan da Cunha have not developed a list of hazardous occupations prohibited for children. On Anguilla the minimum age for labor is 12 and for hazardous work 14.

There are legislative gaps in the prohibition of trafficking in children for labor exploitation and the use of children for commercial sexual exploitation on the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) and St. Helena-Ascension-Tristan da Cunha. While criminal laws prohibit trafficking in children for sexual exploitation, they do not address trafficking in children for labor exploitation. Laws do not exist in Monserrat regarding the use of children in drug trafficking and other illicit activities. Traffickers subjected children to commercial sexual exploitation in Turks and Caicos. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties are not sufficient to deter violations.

Also see 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  for information on UK territories.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment or occupation regarding race, color, sex, religion or belief, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, being pregnant or on maternity leave, age, language, or HIV or other communicable disease status. Legal protection extends to others who are associated with someone who has a protected characteristic or who have complained about discrimination or supported someone else’s claim. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, gender, and sexual orientation and gender identity. Complainants faced higher fees in discrimination cases than in other types of claims made to employment tribunals or the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

The law requires equal pay for equal work. The law requires employers to publish gender pay gap data annually. The government enacted mandatory gender pay reporting, aimed at closing the gender pay gap, a separate concept from the equal pay principle. Businesses with more than 250 employees are required to measure, and then report, on how they pay men and women. This affected 8,000 businesses employing approximately 11 million persons. The gap has narrowed over the long term for low earners but has remained largely consistent over time for high earners. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is charged with enforcing pay gap reporting requirements.

The finance sector has the highest pay gap of all sectors, with the average woman earning 35.6 percent less than the average man.

In Northern Ireland all employers have a responsibility to provide equal opportunity for all applicants and employees. Discrimination based on religion or political affiliation is illegal. Employers must register with the Northern Ireland Equality Commission if they employ more than 10 persons. Registered employers are required to submit annual reports to the Commission on the religious composition of their workforce.

The Scottish government introduced a plan in March 2019 to address the gender pay gap. This plan set a goal of reducing the gender pay gap by 2021 and includes 50 actions to provide resources and support for working women and mothers. The pay gap in Scotland also decreased from 6.6 percent in 2017 to 5.7 percent in 2018.

During the year the Glasgow City Council settled a 12-year equal pay dispute with thousands of female council workers. The settlement followed a strike of more than 8,000 current and former employees in Glasgow.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage for workers age 25 or older, known as the National Living Wage, is above the poverty level.

Although criminal enforcement is available, most minimum wage noncompliance is pursued via civil enforcement. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.

The law limits the workweek to an average of 48 hours, normally averaged over a 17-week period. The law does not prohibit compulsory overtime, but it limits overtime to the 48-hour workweek restriction. The 48-hour workweek regulations do not apply to senior managers and others who can exercise control over their own hours of work. There are also exceptions for the armed forces, emergency services, police, domestic workers, sea and air transportation workers, and fishermen. The law allows workers to opt out of the 48-hour limit, although there are exceptions for airline staff, delivery drivers, security guards, and workers on ships or boats.

The government set appropriate and current occupational safety and health standards. The law stipulates that employers may not place the health and safety of employees at risk. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is responsible for identifying unsafe situations, and not the worker. By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.

The HSE, an arm of the Department for Work and Pensions, effectively enforced occupational health and safety laws in all sectors including the informal economy. The fine for violations was sufficient to deter violations. The HSE conducted workplace inspections and may initiate criminal proceedings. HSE inspectors also advise employers on how to comply with the law. Employers may be ordered to make improvements, either through an improvement notice, which allows time for the recipient to comply, or a prohibition notice, which prohibits an activity until remedial action has been taken. The HSE issued notices to companies and individuals for breaches of health and safety law. The notice may involve one or more instances when the recipient failed to comply with health and safety law, each of which was called a “breach.” The HSE prosecuted recipients for noncompliance with a notice while the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) prosecuted similar cases in Scotland.

Figures for 2017-18 show that the HSE and COPFS prosecuted 517 cases with at least one conviction secured in 493 of these cases, a conviction rate of 95 percent. Across all enforcing bodies, 11,522 notices were issued. HSE and COPFS prosecutions led to fines totaling 72.6 million pounds ($92.2 million) compared with the 38.3 million pounds ($48.7 million) in 2015-16.

According to the HSE’s annual report, 147 workers were killed at work in 2017-18. An estimated 555,000 workers sustained a nonfatal injury at work according to self-reports in 2017-18. A total of 71,062 industrial injuries were reported in 2017-18 in the UK.

Bermuda’s legislation does not provide a minimum or living wage; however, in July the Bermuda government introduced a Wage Commission tasked with gathering information to establish new guidelines. The proposal to introduce a living wage was introduced in the House of Assembly in July 2018 to ensure all workers could afford food, housing, clothes, medical care, and education. The Bermuda Department of Labor and Training enforces any contractually agreed wage. Regulations enforced by the department extensively cover the safety of the work environment and occupational safety and health standards and are current and appropriate for the main industries. By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

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