Panama

Executive Summary

Panama is a multiparty constitutional democracy. In May voters chose Laurentino Cortizo Cohen as president in national elections that international and domestic observers considered generally free and fair.

The country has no military forces. The Panama National Police (PNP) is principally responsible for internal law enforcement and public order, while additional security forces are responsible for border control and aero naval security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: harsh prison conditions; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including through censorship and criminal libel lawsuits; and forced child labor.

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. The government generally respected this right, but journalists and media outlets noted an increase in criminal and civil libel/slander lawsuits, which they considered a threat to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: In July under the Cortizo administration, security guards from the National Assembly expelled a known television personality from the National Assembly media balcony to prevent her from covering a migration bill. Two days later the National Assembly budget committee met behind closed doors to avoid press coverage, which was not standard practice. Both actions resulted in complaints from opposition deputies and civil society leaders.

Libel/Slander Laws: According to local media, former president Ricardo Martinelli submitted 50 libel/slander lawsuits against local media, 26 of which were issued after he was declared not guilty on August 9 of illegal wiretapping. Reports stated Martinelli’s civil lawsuits against daily newspapers El Siglo, La Prensa, and Mi Diario included media employees whose work was not related to judicial or political reporting (editorial cartoonists and graphic designers).

In May Corprensa (which owns La Prensa and Mi Diario) was found guilty in a libel/slander lawsuit filed by former first lady Marta de Martinelli. The corporation was sentenced to pay $25,000 balboas ($25,000) in damages and 6,000 balboas ($6,000) to cover legal expenses.

On September 2, Martinelli filed a civil lawsuit against TVN Information vice president and television host Sabrina Bacal, seeking one million balboas (one million dollars) in damages for calling him a thief during a public interview.

Following these legal actions, on September 3, media associations Journalism National Council and the Journalists Forum for Freedom of Expression and Information issued a joint statement requesting the Judicial Branch and Public Ministry keep “vigilant” regarding the “growing trend to abuse the justice system, using it as a censorship, intimidation, and persecution tool against journalists and media.”

Media organizations and media leaders claimed these lawsuits hindered reporting on specific cases and individuals and were likely intended to financially damage media corporations.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Panamanian National Office for Refugees (ONPAR) had a backlog of more than 15,000 cases and usually approved only 1 percent of asylum requests. ONPAR processed asylum applications and then referred applications to the National Commission for Refugees, an interagency committee that decides the final status of every case. The process of obtaining refugee status currently takes two to three years, during which only asylum seekers admitted into the process had the right to work. The current asylum application process can take up to one year for applicants to even be admitted into the system, which was not a guarantee of asylum approval.

The government approved and implemented the protocol for identification, referral, and attention for minors requiring international protection; however, the institutional protocol for protecting minors who migrate was pending implementation approval.

The government continued to manage camps in the Darien region to provide food, shelter, and medical assistance to migrants. At least one camp in the Darien did not have regular access to potable water and at times presented unsanitary conditions, especially when dealing with high volumes of migrants. The government reported continued migrations of persons from Cuba, Haiti, South Asia, India, and Africa.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its NGO implementing partners, thousands of persons living in the country were possibly in need of international protection. These included persons in the refugee process, persons denied refugee status, and persons who did not apply for refugee status due to lack of knowledge or fear of deportation.

Employment: Refugees recognized by authorities have the right to work, but recognized refugees complained that they faced discriminatory hiring practices. In an effort to prevent this discriminatory practice, ONPAR removed the word “refugee” from recognized refugees’ identification cards. By law individuals in the process of applying for asylum do not have the right to work; however, beginning in May those who had been formally admitted into the asylum process could request a one-year work permit that could be renewed as many times as needed.

Access to Basic Services: Education authorities sometimes denied refugees access to education and refused to issue diplomas to others if they could not present school records from their country of origin. The Ministry of Education continued to enforce the government’s 2015 decree requiring schools to accept students in the asylum process at the grade level commensurate with the applicants’ prior studies. As a result of the long wait times to be entered into the asylum system, many applicants encountered difficulties accessing basic services such as health care, financial services, and appropriate housing.

Durable Solutions: The law allows persons legally recognized as refugees or with asylum status who have lived in the country for more than three years to seek permanent residency.

The government continued to work with Colombia to recognize approximately 200 stateless persons on the border. The governments of Panama and Costa Rica, with the cooperation of UNHCR, continued to use a mobile registry office on their common border to register indigenous Ngabe and Bugle seasonal workers who travelled between Costa Rica and Panama and whose births had not registered in either country.

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 based on universal and equal suffrage. Naturalized citizens may not hold specified categories of elective office, such as the presidency.

Recent Elections: In May voters chose Laurentino Cortizo Cohen as president in national elections that independent observers considered generally free and fair. Elected at the same time were 71 national legislators, 81 mayors, 679 local representatives, and nine council members. A group of international observers from the Organization of American States, the EU, electoral NGOs, regional electoral authorities, and members of the diplomatic corps considered the elections fair and transparent.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law requires new political parties to meet strict membership and organizational standards to gain official recognition and participate in national campaigns. Political parties must obtain the equivalent of 2 percent of the total votes cast to maintain legal standing.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively. The government used anticorruption mechanisms such as asset forfeiture, whistleblower and witness protection, plea bargaining, and professional conflict-of-interest rules to address corrupt practices among government employees and security forces. Nevertheless, corruption remained a problem in the executive, judicial and legislative branches as well as in the security forces.

Corruption: The Public Ministry continued investigations into allegations of corruption against public officials but many have not resulted in convictions, and in one high-profile case, a court order denied requests for extensions of the legal timelines for more investigations. In a March hearing, an anticorruption prosecutor asked a criminal judge to convict six penitentiary system employees for corruption and six individuals are under fraud charges. Corruption and a lack of accountability among police continued to be a problem. The new administration that took office in July made personnel changes in all public forces agencies. Agents were dismissed on grounds of corruption and were under investigation by the Public Ministry. Mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption in the security forces remain centralized and opaque. The government rarely made cases of police abuse or corruption public, and the National Criminal Statistics Directorate was unable to provide strong data on police internal affairs.

As of September the Public Ministry continued the investigations of the Comptroller General’s Office’s 2018 audits of transactions between 2009 and 2014 by elected local representatives. The comptroller alleged a misuse of public funds through irregular contracts carried out by the Martinelli administration’s National Assistance Program. No charges were filed during the year.

The 2018 corruption cases filed by the Comptroller General’s Office before the Supreme Court against deputies from all political parties represented in the National Assembly were still under investigation by the court as of September.

The case continued against former minister of the presidency Demetrio “Jimmy” Papadimitriu and former minister of public works Jaime Ford, both in the Martinelli administration, detained in 2018 for alleged links to bribes paid by Brazilian multinational construction company Odebrecht. Both individuals faced money laundering and corruption charges. They were released on bail but could not leave the country without a court order. The cases remained under the inquisitorial system. Papadimitriu’s mother, Maria Bagatelas, a private citizen also involved in the Odebrecht case, was under house arrest, but in August the Supreme Court changed the measure and issued an order forbidding her from departing the country without a court’s approval.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires certain executive and judiciary officials to submit a financial disclosure statement to the Comptroller General’s Office. The information is not made public unless the official explicitly gives permission.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman, elected by the National Assembly, has moral but not legal authority. The Ombudsman’s Office received government cooperation and operated without government or party interference; it referred cases to the proper investigating authorities.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, with prison terms of five to 10 years. Rapes continued to constitute the majority of sexual crimes investigated by the National Police Directorate of Judicial Investigation. Eighty percent of the victims were women and 63 percent of those were younger than 17.

The law against gender violence stipulates stiff penalties for harassment and both physical and emotional abuse. The law states that sentencing for femicide is a mandatory 25 to 30 years in prison. Officials and civil society organizations agreed that domestic violence continued to be a serious crime. The PNP Specialized Unit for Domestic and Gender Violence created in 2018 continued to have 190 agents trained to work these cases. In June, Roberto Moreno Grajales was convicted and sentenced to 30 years prison for the 2016 killing of his former girlfriend, Diosila Martinez. He had originally fled to Costa Rica after the killing but was extradited in 2018 to Panama.

The Ombudsman’s Office continued its program Mujer Conoce tus Derechos (Woman, Know Your Rights), which included a wide distribution of flyers. In May the National Institute for Women’s Affairs (INAMU) established 24/7 hotline 182 to give legal guidance to victims of domestic violence. If the caller was at risk during the call, the operator would make a connection with the police.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in cases of employer-employee relations in the public and private sectors and in teacher-student relations. Violators face a maximum three-year prison sentence. The extent of the problem was difficult to determine, because convictions for sexual harassment were rare, pre-employment sexual harassment was not actionable, and there was a lack of formal reports. During the year the Ministry of Labor, UN Development Program, and NGO SUMARSE began to develop a protocol for private sector employers on how to investigate and deal with labor and sexual harassment within companies.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, and women enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men. The law recognizes joint property in marriages. The law mandates equal pay for men and women in equivalent jobs. Although an illegal hiring practice, some employers continued to request pregnancy tests. There were two cases reported in the countryside of temporary workers who terminated their pregnancies once the condition became obvious, presumably due to fear of being fired.

Birth Registration: The law provides citizenship for all persons born in the country, but parents of children born in remote areas sometimes had difficulty obtaining birth registration certificates.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal. The law has several articles pertaining to child abuse and its penalties, which depend on the type of abuse and range from six months to 20 years’ imprisonment if the abuse falls under a crime that carries a higher penalty. Public Ministry statistics as of August reported that 2,090 children were victims of different types of abuse; the Public Ministry believed this figure was underreported. The Ministry of Social Development maintained a free hotline for children and adults to report child abuse and advertised it widely. The ministry provided funding to children’s shelters operated by NGOs and continued a program that used pamphlets in schools to sensitize teachers, children, and parents about mistreatment and sexual abuse of children.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. The government prohibits early marriage even with parental permission.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation, sale, and offering for prostitution of children, in addition to child pornography. Officials from the Ministry for Public Security continued to prosecute cases of sexual abuse of children, including within indigenous communities. Ministry officials believed that commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred, including in tourist areas in Panama City and in beach communities, although they did not keep separate statistics. In September, seven Panamanians were detained for their connections to an international child pornography ring based in Brazil. For two and one-half months, Panama and Brazil worked together with authorities in El Salvador, Paraguay, Chile, Ecuador, and other foreign countries to capture and imprison the individuals responsible for this child pornography ring as part of Operation Luz de la Infancia.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Jewish community leaders estimated there were 15,000 Jews in the country. There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities; however, the constitution permits the denial of naturalization to persons with mental or physical disabilities. The law mandates access to new or remodeled public buildings for persons with disabilities and requires that schools integrate children with disabilities. Despite provisions of the law, persons with disabilities experienced discrimination in a number of these areas.

Most of Panama City’s bus fleet remained wheelchair inaccessible. Media reports in August noted again that Metro elevators were frequently locked and could not be used. A lack of ramps further limited access to the old stations, although the newly inaugurated Metro Line 2 had ramp access. Most businesses had wheelchair ramps and accessible parking spaces to avoid fines, but in many cases they did not meet the government’s size specifications.

In September the National Secretariat for People with Disabilities began a free shuttle service from the city’s largest bus terminal for individuals with disabilities that needed to visit their offices, which were located in a residential neighborhood with limited public transportation.

Some public schools admitted children with mental and physical disabilities, but most did not have adequate facilities for children with disabilities. Few private schools admitted children with disabilities, as they are not legally required to do so. The high cost of hiring professional tutors to accompany children to private schools–a requirement of all private schools–precluded many students with disabilities from attending.

The government-sponsored Guardian Angel program continued to provide a monthly subsidy of 80 balboas ($80) for children with significant physical disabilities living in poor conditions.

As of September, 1,440 individuals with disabilities were hired by local companies per Ministry of Labor statistics. This was an increase from the yearly average number of individuals with disabilities hired between 2014 and 2018. The law stipulates that employers who hire individuals with disabilities receive tax breaks at the end of the fiscal year.

Minority groups were generally integrated into mainstream society. Prejudice was directed, however, at recent legal immigrants, the Afro-Panamanian community, and indigenous Panamanians. Cultural and language differences and immigration status hindered the integration of immigrant and first-generation individuals from China, India, and the Middle East into mainstream society. Additionally, some members of these communities were reluctant to integrate.

The Afro-Panamanian community was underrepresented in positions of political and economic power. Areas where they lived lagged in terms of government services and social investment. The government’s National Secretariat for the Development of Afro-Panamanians focused on the socioeconomic advancement of this community. The secretariat was not supportive of the joint work between government entities and NGOs to ensure an accurate count of the Afro-Panamanian population in the upcoming 2020 census.

The law prohibits discrimination in access to public accommodations such as restaurants, stores, and other privately owned establishments; no complaints were filed. The Ombudsman’s Office intervened in several cases before students with Rastafarian braids were permitted entry into public school classrooms.

There were reports of racial discrimination against various ethnic groups in the workplace. Lighter-skinned persons continued to be overrepresented in management positions and jobs that required dealing with the public, such as bank tellers and receptionists. A July report by the UN Development Program and the National Institute on Women stated that Afro-Panamanian women were 10 times more susceptible to discrimination in the workplace than women from other races.

The law affords indigenous persons the same political and legal rights as other citizens, protects their ethnic identity and native languages, and requires the government to provide bilingual literacy programs in indigenous communities. Indigenous individuals have the legal right to take part in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation and exploitation of natural resources. Nevertheless, they continued to be marginalized in mainstream society. Traditional community leaders governed comarcas (legally designated semiautonomous areas) for five of the country’s seven indigenous groups. The government also unofficially recognized eight other traditional indigenous government authorities. Government institutions recognized these eight regions were traditionally organized indigenous settlements and territories not included when the original comarcas were created.

Government officers continued to meet with traditional organized authorities from the indigenous community, and many requested recognition of their land via collective titles. No collective land titles were granted during the year, however, and land conflicts continued to arise. In March the bill for Naso Comarca was sent to the Supreme Court of Justice to decide if it is constitutional after a veto by the president in December.

The Ngabe and Bugle continued to oppose the Barro Blanco dam project, which became operational in 2017. There were no plans by the government to halt dam operations. The Ngabe-Bugle and the government continued to negotiate details of the dam’s operation.

Although the law is the ultimate authority in indigenous comarcas, many indigenous persons had not received sufficient information to understand their rights and, due to the inadequate system of education available in the comarcas, failed to use available legal channels.

In February the government established the Governing Committee for the National Indigenous Peoples Development Plan, with three representatives of the indigenous groups and government entities to ensure the implementation of the plan.

Societal and employment discrimination against indigenous persons was widespread. Employers frequently denied indigenous workers basic rights provided by law, such as a minimum wage, social security benefits, termination pay, and job security. Laborers on the country’s agricultural plantations (the majority of whom were indigenous persons) continued to work in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. The Ministry of Labor conducted limited oversight of working conditions in remote areas.

Deficiencies in the educational system continued in the comarcas, especially beyond the primary grades. There were not enough teachers in these remote and inaccessible areas, with many schools poorly constructed and lacking running water. Teachers and students in remote areas of the comarcas continued to sporadically protest poor road and school conditions. Access to health care was a significant problem in the indigenous comarcas, despite government investment in more health infrastructure and staff. This was reflected in high rates of maternal and infant mortality, malnutrition, and an increase in HIV rates. The government continued to execute the Indigenous Development Plan jointly developed with indigenous leaders in 2013.

The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. There was societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, which often led to denial of employment opportunities.

The PNP’s internal regulations describe consensual same-sex sexual conduct by its employees as against policy and potentially grounds for dismissal. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) human rights organizations reported harassment of LGBTI persons by security forces as a source of serious concern. On July 5, the new PNP director general stated in a national news interview that members of the LGBTI community can be members of the police force as long as they do not conduct actions that could damage the image of the institution. According to LGBTI NGOs, no changes had been made to internal police policies prohibiting LGBTI persons from serving in the force.

LGBTI NGOs reported hospital personnel refused to provide medical services to a transgender individual in a public hospital in Changuinola, province of Bocas del Toro, early in the year. In June, after attending the Pride Parade, a young man was raped by two men after they saw a rainbow flag in his backpack. The victim sought support from a local NGO and filed a criminal complaint with the Public Ministry. As of November there had been no progress in the case.

As of September the 2016 class-action lawsuit before the Supreme Court of Justice requesting Article 26 of the Family Code, which refers to marriage as “the union of a man and a woman” and thus forbids same-sex legal unions, be declared unconstitutional, was still unresolved.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS in employment and education. Discrimination, however, continued to be common due to ignorance of the law and a lack of mechanisms for ensuring compliance. LGBTI individuals reported mistreatment by health-care workers, including unnecessary quarantines.

Human rights NGOs reported receiving complaints of labor discrimination when employers found out employees were HIV positive, despite the fact that the law prohibits discrimination against persons with sexually transmitted diseases, as well as their immediate relatives. Employees are not obligated to disclose their condition to the employer, but if they do so, the employer must keep the information confidential. LGBTI NGOs reported at least one employer who allegedly sought ways to dismiss an HIV-positive employee who had 15 years of service at the company. Health Ministry representatives made a public call to employers to follow the law and asked laid-off employees to reach out to them for legal advice. Employers can be fined for not keeping an employee’s medical condition confidential.

In September the NGO PROBIDSIDA published concerns about a shortage of antiretroviral medications for treating patients with HIV/AIDS. PROBIDSIDA claimed that bureaucracy and lack of interest from administrative offices at the Ministry of Health and the Social Security clinics led to late purchase orders and late payment of providers, implying systematic prejudice against HIV-positive individuals within the health-care system.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The legal framework of labor laws is based upon the Labor Code of 1971, which provides for private-sector workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. By law the majority of public-sector employees can strike but may not organize unions. Instead, those public-sector employees may organize professional associations that would bargain collectively on behalf of its members, although the public entity is not legally obligated to bargain with the association. Under the previous Varela administration, the Ministry of Labor registered more than 10 public-sector unions within a few ministries, such as the Ministry of Public Works, Ministry of Economy and Finance, Maritime Authority, among others. As a result the government is not obligated to engage in negotiations with the professional associations within these entities. The National Federation of Public Servants (FENASEP), an umbrella federation of 25 public-sector worker associations, traditionally fought for the establishment of rights similar to those of private-sector unions. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers terminated for union activity but does not provide adequate means of protecting from rights violations.

Unions and associations are required to register with the Ministry of Labor. If the ministry does not respond to a private-sector union registration application within 15 calendar days, the union automatically gains legal recognition, provided the request is submitted directly with supported documentation established by law. In the public sector, professional associations gain legal recognition automatically if the General Directorate for Administrative Public Sector Careers does not respond to registration applications within 30 days. From January to September, the General Directorate approved seven public and 10 private union formation applications.

The Ministry of Labor Board of Appeals and Conciliation has the authority to resolve certain labor disagreements, such as internal union disputes, enforcement of the minimum wage, and some dismissal issues. The law allows arbitration by mutual consent, at the request of the employee or the ministry, in the case of a collective dispute in a privately held public utility company. It allows either party to appeal if arbitration is mandated during a collective dispute in a public-service company. The Ministry of Labor Board of Appeals and Conciliation has sole competency for disputes related to domestic employees, some dismissal issues, and claims of less than $1,500. The Minister of Labor initiated biennial minimum wage negotiations in August and was to act as a moderator between union and private-sector stakeholders.

Government-regulated union membership policies place some restrictions on freedom of association. The constitution mandates that only citizens may serve on a union’s executive board. In addition, the law requires a minimum of 40 persons to form a private-sector union (either by a company across trades or by trade across companies) and allows only one union per business establishment. The International Labor Organization criticized the 40-person minimum as too large for workers wanting to form a union within a company. Many domestic labor unions, as well as the public and private sectors, reiterated their support for keeping the figure at 40 individuals.

In the public sector, professional associations represent the majority of workers. The law stipulates only one association may exist per public-sector institution and permits no more than one chapter per province. At least 50 public servants are required to form a professional association. No law protects the jobs of public-sector workers in the event of a strike. FENASEP contended there was no political will to allow all public servants within ministries to form unions, because this could eliminate positions for political appointees.

The law prohibits federations and confederations from calling strikes, as well as strikes against the government’s economic and social policy. Individual professional associations under FENASEP may negotiate on behalf of their members, but the Ministry of Labor can order compulsory arbitration. FENASEP leaders noted that collective bargaining claims were heard and recognized by employers but did not result in tangible results or changes, particularly in cases of dismissals without cause.

According to the labor code, the majority of private-sector employees must support a strike, and strikes are permitted only if they are related to the improvement of working conditions, a collective bargaining agreement, for repeated violations of legal rights, or in support of another strike of workers on the same project (solidarity strike). In the event of a strike, at least 20 to 30 percent of the workforce must continue to provide minimum services, particularly public services as defined by law, such as transportation, sanitation, mail delivery, hospital care, telecommunications, and public availability of essential food.

Strikes in essential transportation services are limited to those involving public passenger services. The law prohibits strikes for Panama Canal Authority (ACP) employees but allows professional associations to organize and bargain collectively on issues such as schedules and safety, and it provides arbitration to resolve disputes. (The ACP is an autonomous entity, with independence from the central government).

The Ministry of the Presidency Conciliation Board hears and resolves public-sector worker complaints. The board refers complaints it cannot resolve to an arbitration panel, which consists of representatives from the employer, the professional association, and a third member chosen by the first two. If the dispute cannot be resolved, it is referred to a tribunal under the board. Observers, however, noted that the Ministry of the Presidency had not designated the tribunal judges. The alternative to the board is the civil court system.

Cases presented in the courts tend to favor employers. FENASEP noted that one public-sector institution had appealed more than 100 complaints to the Supreme Court, only two of which resulted in rulings in favor of the public-sector employee. While Supreme Court decisions are final, labor organizations may appeal their case results in international human rights courts.

One labor strike and labor protest occurred during the year. Workers at the Balboa port conducted a July 17-28 strike against Panama Ports’ decision to appeal collective agreement negotiations in the Supreme Court. (Note: Panama Ports was previously owned by the state but was privatized, and a Hong Kong-based company won the concession. End note). According to reports, these appeals subsequently delayed salary increases and working condition improvements. The strike ended on July 29, after the Ministry of Labor mediated an agreement between port workers and employers that promoted worker safety regulations and business economic welfare.

The Allied Association of Transport Port Ex-Employees’ (ASOTRAP) hosted an August labor walk to the Panamanian Presidency to pressure both the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and the Cortizo Administration to address claims that terminated Balboa and Cristobal port workers did not receive severance pay guaranteed by law when those ports were privatized. ASOTRAP asserted that because the termination occurred after August 15, former workers were entitled to the Panamanian 13th Month Bonus, a program in which workers receive one month’s wages annually (one-third paid April 15, one-third paid August 15, and the last third on December 15). ASOTRAP also contended that the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights had not made a ruling on the case. Although the commission sent ASOTRAP a letter acknowledging receipt of the case in 2015, ASOTRAP contended that the commission had not made a final case ruling.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced labor of adults or children, as well as modern-day slavery and human trafficking. The law establishes penalties sufficiently stringent to deter violations. The government effectively enforced the law. There continued to be reports of Central and South American and Chinese men exploited in forced labor in construction, agriculture, mining, restaurants, door-to-door peddling, and other sectors; traffickers reported using debt bondage, false promises, lack of knowledge of the refugee process and irregular status, restrictions on movement, and other means. There also were reports of forced child labor (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 14, although children who have not completed primary school may not begin work until 15. The family code permits children ages 12 to 14 to perform domestic and agricultural work with regard to schedule, salary, contract, and type. The law allows children ages 12 to 15 to perform light work in agriculture if the work is outside regular school hours. The law also allows a child older than 12 to perform light domestic work and stipulates employers must ensure the child attends school through primary school. The law neither defines the type of light work children may perform nor limits the total number of light domestic work hours these children may perform. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from engaging in hazardous work but allows children as young as 14 to perform hazardous tasks in a training facility, in violation of international standards.

Minors younger than 16 may work no more than six hours per day or 36 hours per week, while those ages 16 and 17 may work no more than seven hours per day or 42 hours per week. Children younger than 18 may not work between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The National Commission for the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents conducted 59 awareness meetings in vulnerable communities, with the participation of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social Development. Its actions focused on regions sensitive to sexual exploitation of minors in tourism locations, including Panama City, Bocas del Toro, Cocle, and Chiriqui. Criminal enforcement agencies investigated 398 reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children during 2018, compared with 920 in the previous year. The country is a source, transit point, and destination for men and women exploited in forced labor. Children were exploited in forced labor, particularly domestic servitude, and sex trafficking. The law includes punishment of up to 12 years’ imprisonment for anyone who recruits children younger than 18 or uses them to participate actively in armed hostilities.

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  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination regarding race, gender, religion, political opinion, citizenship, disability, social status, and HIV status. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Although the country is a member of the International Equal Pay Coalition, which promotes pay equality between women and men, a gender wage gap continued to exist.

Despite legal protections, discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, sex, gender, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, and HIV-positive status. During the job interview process, applicants, both citizens and migrants, must complete medical examinations, including HIV/AIDS testing. The law requires all laboratories to inform applicants an HIV test will be administered, but private-sector laboratories often did not comply. It was common practice for private-sector human resources offices to terminate applications of HIV-positive citizens without informing the applicant. While private laboratories often informed law enforcement of HIV-positive migrants, the National Immigration Office did not engage in deportation procedures specifically based on a migrant’s HIV status. NGOs noted that during job interviews, women were often asked if they were married, pregnant, or planned to have children in the future. It was common practice for human resources offices to terminate the applications of women who indicated a possibility of pregnancy in the near future (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage only for private sector workers. The wage was above the poverty line. Public servants received lower minimum wages than their private-sector counterparts. Most workers formally employed in urban areas earned the minimum wage or more. As of August 2018, approximately 43 percent of the working population worked in the informal sector, and some earned well below the minimum wage. The agricultural sector, as well as the maritime and aviation sectors, received the lowest and highest minimum wages, respectively. The Ministry of Labor was less likely to enforce labor laws in most rural areas (see section 6, Indigenous People).

The law establishes a standard workweek of 48 hours, provides for at least one 24-hour rest period weekly, limits the number of hours worked per week, provides for premium pay for overtime, and prohibits compulsory overtime. There is no annual limit on the total number of overtime hours allowed. If employees work more than three hours of overtime in one day or more than nine overtime hours in a week, excess overtime hours must be paid at an additional 75 percent above the normal wage. Workers have the right to 30 days’ paid vacation for every 11 months of continuous work, including those who do not work full time.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for setting health and safety standards. Standards were generally current and appropriate for some of the industries in the country. The law requires employers to provide a safe workplace environment, including the provision of protective clothing and equipment for workers.

The Ministry of Labor generally enforced these standards in the formal sector. The inspection office consists of two groups: The Panama City-based headquarters group and the regional group. The number of inspectors and safety officers was insufficient to enforce labor laws adequately. As of July the Ministry of Labor had conducted 9,397 safety inspections nationwide. Fines were low and generally insufficient to deter violations. During the year, however, the government levied fines according to the number of workers affected, resulting in larger overall fines.

Reports of violations relating to hours of work were frequent, especially in the maritime sector, where unions reported shifts of 14 to 24 hours. There were allegations indicating that neither the Panamanian Maritime Authority nor the Ministry of Labor conducted inspections of working conditions in the maritime sector. The ACP unions and workers experienced difficulties accessing the justice system to adjudicate complaints due to delays and other deficiencies of the Labor Relations Board, which is the court of first instance on labor matters for the autonomous ACP. Reports also indicated violations relating to hours of work for coffee harvest workers, who often lacked formal contracts and were vulnerable to coercion from employers.

Employers often hired employees under short-term contracts to avoid paying benefits that accrue to long-term employees. Employers in the maritime sector also commonly hired workers continuously on short-term contracts but did not convert them to permanent employees as required by law. The law states that employers have the right to dismiss any employee without justifiable cause before the two-year tenure term. As a result, employers frequently hired workers for one year and 11 months and subsequently dismissed them to circumvent laws that make firing employees more difficult after two years of employment. This practice is illegal if the same employee is rehired as a temporary worker after being dismissed, although employees rarely reported the practice.

Inspectors from the Ministry of Labor and the occupational health section of the Social Security Administration reported conducting periodic inspections of hazardous employment sites. The law requires the resident engineer and a ministry safety officer to remain on construction sites, establish fines for noncompliance, and identify a tripartite group composed of the Chamber of Construction, the construction union SUNTRACS, and the ministry to regulate adherence.

Some construction workers and their employers were occasionally lax about basic safety measures, frequently due to their perception that it reduced productivity. Equipment was often outdated, broken, or lacking safety devices, due in large part to a fear that the replacement cost would be prohibitive. In August a construction worker died in the city of David after falling 39 feet off a beam while working on a shopping center construction project. After his death, the Union of Construction Workers announced a temporary work stoppage on the project.

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.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The country has no blanket laws covering internet blocking, but the courts have issued blocking injunctions against various categories of content such as depictions of child sexual abuse, promotion of extremism and terrorism, and materials infringing on copyrights.

By law the electronic surveillance powers of the country’s intelligence community and police, allow them, among other things, to check internet communications records as part of an investigation without a warrant.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

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.

Not applicable.

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.

Not applicable.

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.

Recent Elections: UK general parliamentary elections were held on December 12. Bermuda held elections to the House of Assembly in July 2017. Elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly were held in March 2017. Independent observers reported no abuses or irregularities in any of the elections.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape. The maximum legal penalty for rape is life imprisonment. The law also provides for injunctive relief, personal protection orders, and protective exclusion orders (similar to restraining orders) for female victims of violence. The government enforced the law effectively in reported cases. Courts in some cases imposed the maximum punishment for rape. The government provided shelters, counseling, and other assistance for survivors of rape or violence. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), from April 2017 to March 2019, police in England and Wales recorded 53,977 rapes; however, the proportion of offenses prosecuted fell to 1.7 percent, the lowest level since records began a decade ago. NGOs warned that police and Crown Prosecutorial Services have raised the bar for evidence needed, causing victims to drop out of the justice process.

The law criminalizes domestic violence. Those who abuse spouses, partners, or family members face tougher punishment than those who commit similar offenses in a nondomestic context.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C. The law also requires health and social care professionals and teachers to report to police cases of FGM/C on girls less than 18 years of age. It is also illegal to take a British national or permanent resident abroad for FGM/C or to help someone trying to do this. The penalty is up to 14 years in prison. An FGM protection order, a civil measure that can be applied for through a family court, offers the means of protecting actual or potential victims from FGM/C under the civil law. Breach of an FGM protection order is a criminal offense carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison.

FGM/C is practiced in the country, particularly within some diaspora communities where FGM/C is prevalent. There were 298 FGM prevention orders issued to protect children perceived as at-risk of FGM/C. In March a court sentenced a Ugandan woman to 11 years for performing FGM/C on her three-year-old daughter in 2017. Her Ghanaian partner was acquitted of all charges. This was the first FGM/C conviction in the UK.

The government took nonjudicial steps to address FGM/C, including awareness-raising efforts, a hotline, and requiring medical professionals to report FGM/C observed on patients. The National Health Service reported 4,495 newly recorded cases between April 2017 and March 2018.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment at places of work. Authorities used different laws to prosecute cases of harassment outside the workplace. In July the government launched a consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace “to gather evidence that the current laws on protecting people… are effective.” The consultations were a response to a campaign started in June by an alliance of NGOs including Action Aid, Amnesty International, and Time’s Up UK calling for employers to be found liable if they fail to protect their staff from sexual harassment at work.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. Women were subject to some discrimination in employment.

Birth Registration: A child born in the UK receives the country’s citizenship at birth if one of the parents is a UK citizen or a legally settled resident. Children born in Northern Ireland may opt for UK, Irish, or dual citizenship. A child born in an overseas territory is a UK overseas territories citizen if at least one of the child’s parents has citizenship. All births must be registered within 42 days in the district where the baby was born; unregistered births were uncommon.

A Northern Ireland citizen undertook legal action against the UK Home Office for a claimed breach of rights in relation to citizenship and the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. The citizen identified only as Irish and not as British but was told that under the law she is also a British citizen and legally registered as such despite her objection.

Child Abuse: There are laws preventing the abuse of children punishable up to a maximum sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment. Social service departments in each local authority in the country maintained confidential child protection registers containing details of children at risk of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse or neglect. The registers also included child protection plans for each child.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 16. In England, Northern Ireland, and Wales, persons younger than 18 require the written consent of parents or guardians, and the underage person must present a birth certificate. The legal minimum age to enter into a marriage in Scotland is 16 and does not require parental consent.

Forcing someone to marry against his or her will is a criminal offense throughout the UK with a maximum prison sentence of seven years. Forcing a UK citizen into marriage anywhere in the world is a criminal offense in England and Wales. In 2018 the joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office Forced Marriage Unit provided support in more than 1,764 cases of potential or confirmed forced marriage cases involving UK citizens, which represented a 47-percent increase from the previous year. Assistance included safety advice as well as “reluctant spouse cases” in which the UK government assisted forced marriage victims in preventing their unwanted spouse from moving to the UK. The government offers lifelong anonymity for victims of forced marriage to encourage more to come forward.

In Scotland 30 cases of forced marriage were reported in 2018, up from 18 in 2017. The Forced Marriage Unit stated that the increase in cases might have been due to an increased awareness of the criminality of forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penalties for sexual offenses against children and the commercial sexual exploitation of children range up to life imprisonment. Authorities enforced the law. The minimum age of consensual sex in the UK is 16. The law prohibits child pornography in all parts of the UK.

International Child Abductions: The UK including Bermuda is party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

The 2011 census recorded the Jewish population at 263,346. Some considered this an underestimate, and both the Institute for Jewish Policy Research and the British Board of Deputies suggested that the actual figure was approximately 300,000.

Almost two-thirds of the anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in Greater London and Greater Manchester–the two largest Jewish communities in the UK. The CST recorded 947 anti-Semitic incidents in Greater London in 2019, three fewer than the 950 incidents recorded in London in 2018. The CST recorded a fall of 11 percent in anti-Semitic incidents in Greater Manchester, from 251 incidents in 2018 to 223 incidents in 2019.

In February several MPs left the Labour Party, some of whom cited the alleged “institutionalized anti-Semitism” as a reason for their decision. In the same month, the Labour Party released figures showing that the party received 673 accusations of anti-Semitism committed by party members between April 2018 and January 2019.

In May the EHRC launched a formal probe to investigate whether the party has “unlawfully discriminated against harassed or victimized people because they are Jewish.” The investigation continued and was expected to be concluded before the year’s end. The Labour Party released a statement to say it is committed to fully cooperating with the investigation.

On July 10, the BBC’s highly regarded investigative program, Panorama, detailed allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and the party’s alleged mishandling of the problem. The program focused on the testimony of eight former members of the party’s Disputes Team staff and Jewish party activists. In the program former party staffers claimed the Leader’s Office interfered in the handling of anti-Semitism cases and said General Secretary Jennie Formby interfered in the party’s top disciplinary body, the National Constitutional Committee. Later in July a YouGov poll for The Times showed that 70 percent of Labour members viewed anti-Semitism as a “genuine” problem.

On November 25 in The Times newspaper, the chief rabbi of the country’s Orthodox Jewish community, Ephraim Mirvis, called the Labour Party’s claims to be confronting anti-Semitism “a mendacious fiction.” He called anti-Semitism “a new poison–sanctioned from the top” of the party. The Labour Party spokesperson denied the rabbi’s assertions, and, in a BBC interview on November 26, party leader Jeremy Corbyn defended the party’s record on addressing anti-Semitic remarks by its members and welcomed a dialogue with the chief rabbi.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government effectively enforced the law.

The EHRC, contended persons with disabilities were still treated as “second-class citizens,” because progress in promoting improvements by governments, businesses, and the wider community had stalled.

Bermudian law protects the rights of persons with disabilities in the workplace. The law does not include any protection from discrimination on mental health grounds.

Government figures showed a steep rise in official complaints about its disability benefit assessment process, which was last reformed in 2013. In the year ending in February, the Personal Independent Payment was the subject of 9,320 complaints, versus 1,391 in 2016-17. NGOs stated the figures proved that the process was “completely inadequate” for persons with disabilities, adding that the claimant won 73 percent of cases appealed at tribunal.

The Scottish Crime and Justice Survey for 2017-18 reported that persons with disabilities were more likely to be victims of crime than persons without disabilities. The survey estimated 14.9 percent of persons with disabilities were victims of at least one crime, compared to 12.5 percent of the total respondents.

The EHRC provided legal advice and support to individuals, a hotline, and could conduct formal investigations, arrange conciliation, require persons or organizations to adopt action plans to ensure compliance with the law, and apply for injunctions to prevent acts of unlawful discrimination.

The law prohibits racial and ethnic discrimination, but Travellers, Roma, and persons of African, Afro-Caribbean, South Asian, and Middle Eastern origin at times reported mistreatment on racial or ethnic grounds.

Racially motivated crime remained the most commonly reported hate crime. On October 15, the Home Office reported 78,991 racial hate crimes in England and Wales in 2018/19, an increase of 11 percent over 2017/18.

In Scotland racial or other discriminatory motivation may be an “aggravating factor” in crimes. Race-based hate crime remained the most common form of hate crime in Scotland for 2018-19, accounting for 67 percent of all hate crimes.

In Northern Ireland there were 702 racially motived hate crimes between April 2018 and March 2019, an increase of 93 (13 percent) over the previous year. “Right to Rent” rules require all landlords in England to check the immigration documents of prospective tenants to verify they were not irregular or undocumented migrants. Landlords can be fined up to 3,000 pounds ($3,800) for noncompliance. In May the UK High Court ruled that the Right to Rent scheme is incompatible with human rights law and found that it discriminates against anyone without a British passport, including foreign nationals, who have a right to rent. Nevertheless, the rules remain in force.

“Right to Rent” rules require all landlords in England to check the immigration documents of prospective tenants to verify they were not irregular or undocumented migrants. Landlords can be fined up to 3,000 pounds ($3,800) for noncompliance. In May the UK High Court ruled that the Right to Rent scheme is incompatible with human rights law and found that it discriminates against anyone without a British passport, including foreign nationals, who have a right to rent. Nevertheless, the rules remain in force.

In Bermuda, where 54 percent of residents describe themselves as black, arrests of black persons constituted 84 percent of all arrest cases in 2017.

The law in England and Wales prohibits discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation. It encourages judges to impose a greater sentence in assault cases where the victim’s sexual orientation was a motive for the hostility, and many local police forces demonstrated an increasing awareness of the problem and trained officers to identify and moderate these attacks. On October 15, the Home Office reported an increase of 25 percent in hate crimes against sexual orientation compared with 2017-18.

Scottish law criminalizes behavior that is threatening, hateful, or otherwise offensive at a regulated soccer match. In Scotland sexual motivation may be an “aggravating factor” in crimes. Crime aggravated by sexual orientation was the second most common type of hate crime in Scotland. Hate crime against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons remained the same as in 2016-17, representing 16 percent of all reported hate crimes.

Hate speech, notably against Muslims, in some traditional media, particularly tabloid newspapers, continued to be a problem, with dissemination of biased or ill-founded information. On October 15, the Home Office reported 3,530 religious hate crimes against Muslims in England and Wales in 2018/19. Online hate speech also was a problem. A man posted racist anti-Islamic comments with Nazi terminology on Instagram in August.

Scottish law criminalizes behavior that is threatening, hateful, or otherwise offensive at a regulated soccer match, and penalizes any threat of serious violence and threats to incite religious hatred through the mail or the internet.

In Northern Ireland crimes related to faith or religion totaled 23 for the same period, marking a reduction of 17 (43 percent) over the previous year. Sectarian crimes increased by 46 (8 percent).

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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