Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
With certain limitations, labor laws and regulations provide for freedom of association, the right to strike, and collective bargaining. The law prohibits intimidation by employers and other forms of antiunion discrimination. It requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, unless they opt to receive compensation instead. The law allows workers to form unions without seeking prior authorization. By law at least 20 workers must be affiliated to form an enterprise-level union and 50 workers must be affiliated to form a sector-wide union or federation. Some labor activists viewed this requirement as prohibitively high in some instances, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses, which represent 96.5 percent of all businesses. The use of unlimited consecutive short-term contracts in sectors such as textiles, apparel, and agriculture made the exercise of freedom of association and collective bargaining difficult.
The law allows unions to declare a strike in accordance with their governing documents. Private-sector workers must give at least five working-days’ advance notice, and public-sector workers must give at least 10 working-days’ notice. The law allows nonunion workers to declare a strike with a majority vote as long as the written voting record is notarized and announced at least five working days prior to the strike. Unions in essential services are permitted to call a strike but must provide 15 working-days’ notice, receive the approval of the Ministry of Labor, obtain approval of a simple majority of workers, and provide a sufficient number of workers during a strike to maintain operations. Private enterprises and public institutions cannot fire workers who strike legally.
The law requires businesses to monitor their contractors with respect to labor rights, and it imposes liability on businesses for the actions of their contractors. Private-sector labor law sets out nine categories of short-term employment contracts that companies may use. The law sets time limits on contracts in each category and has a five-year overall limit on the consecutive use of short-term contracts. A sector-specific law covering parts of the textile and apparel sectors exempts employers from this five-year limit and allows employers to hire workers indefinitely on short-term contracts. In September, Congress renewed the agricultural promotion law, which provides for hiring, compensation, and vacation benefits for farmers until 2031.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Although the Ministry of Labor and its National Superintendency of Labor Inspection (SUNAFIL) received budget increases in 2017 and 2018, resources remained inadequate to enforce freedom of association, collective bargaining, and other labor laws.
Penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining were insufficient to deter violations and, according to labor experts and union representatives, were rarely enforced. Workers continued to face prolonged judicial processes and lack of enforcement following dismissals for trade union activity. In October the Ministry of Labor created new services to protect unionization and freedom of association.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Forced labor and labor exploitation crimes continued to occur in domestic service, agriculture, forestry, mining, factories, counterfeit operations, brick making, and organized street begging.
Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, and the law was not enforced effectively. The law prescribes penalties of eight to 15 years’ imprisonment for labor trafficking. The government, due in part to weak enforcement and uneven application of the law, failed to deter violations.
SUNAFIL officials conducted inspections to identify forced labor. The Ministry of Labor and SUNAFIL trained SUNAFIL staff and nearly 3,000 regional labor inspectors around the country to raise awareness of forced labor and the applicable law. In September the government approved the National Plan against Forced Labor for 2019-22. The plan aims to identify victims of forced labor, improve the government’s response to violations, restore rights that were violated, and give victims access to basic services, such as legal assistance, health care, and job training. The government also continued to implement the National Plan of Action against Trafficking in Persons 2017-21.
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 most of the worst forms of child labor, but there is no prohibition of child recruitment by nonstate armed groups. The legal minimum age for employment is 14, although children between the ages of 12 and 14 may work in certain jobs for up to four hours per day. Adolescents between the ages of 15 and 17 may work up to six hours per day if they obtain special permission from the Ministry of Labor and certify that they are attending school. In certain sectors of the economy, higher age minimums exist: 15 in nonindustrial agriculture; 16 in industry, commerce, and mining; and 17 in industrial fishing. The law specifically prohibits hiring minors in hazardous occupations, including working underground, lifting or carrying heavy weights, accepting responsibility for the safety of others, and working at night. The law allows a judge to authorize children who are 15 and older to engage in night work not exceeding four hours a day. The law prohibits work that jeopardizes the health of children and adolescents; puts their physical, mental, and emotional development at risk; or prevents regular attendance at school.
A permit from the Labor Ministry is required for persons younger than 18 to work legally. Parents must apply for the permit, and employers must have a permit on file to hire a minor.
The Ministry of Labor and SUNAFIL are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but enforcement was not effective, especially in the informal sector, where most child labor occurred.
In August the Labor Ministry signed a decree that establishes a public accreditation process for companies producing child-labor-free agricultural products.
A 2016 government report on child labor found that more than 26 percent of children between the ages of five and 17 worked. The report noted child labor rates correlated closely with high poverty rates. The report found the rate of child labor was highest, at 46 percent, in rural, agricultural areas, whereas in urban areas the child labor rate was 13 percent.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, social origin, disability, age, language, or social status. The law does not specifically identify discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases. The law prohibits discrimination against domestic workers and prohibits any requirement by employers for their domestic workers to wear uniforms in public places. The law establishes the following employment quotas for persons with disabilities: 3 percent for private businesses with more than 50 employees and 5 percent for public-sector organizations. The National Council for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities oversees compliance with employment quotas for persons with disabilities.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for violations include fines and imprisonment, but they were not sufficient to deter violations. NGOs and labor rights advocates noted that discrimination cases often went unreported.
Societal prejudice and discrimination led to disproportionately high poverty and unemployment rates for women, who earned 30 percent less than their male counterparts. Women were more likely than men to work in the informal sector, such as in domestic work or as street vendors, resulting in lower wages and a lack of benefits. Women were also more likely to work in less safe occupations, such as factory work, exposing them to more occupational injuries and serious accidents.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The law provides for a national minimum wage, which was less than the official estimate for the poverty income level. The government did not effectively enforce wage laws, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations of minimum wage standards.
The law provides for a 48-hour workweek and one day of rest for formal workers. There is no prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime, nor does the law limit the amount of overtime that a worker may work. The law stipulates 15 days of paid annual vacation.
Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards are appropriate for the main industries. SUNAFIL is responsible for the enforcement of OSH standards. The government did not effectively enforce the law, as it did not devote sufficient resources or personnel to enforce OSH standards adequately.
Noncompliance with labor law is punishable by fines. According to a labor NGO and labor experts, many fines went uncollected, in part because the government lacked an efficient tracking system and at times lacked political will.
The law provides for fines and criminal sanctions for OSH violations. In cases of infractions, injury, or death of workers or subcontractors, the penalty is sufficient to deter violations. Criminal penalties are limited to those cases where employers deliberately violated safety and health laws and where labor authorities had previously and repeatedly notified employers who did not adopt corrective measures. The law requires that a worker prove an employer’s culpability before he or she can obtain compensation for work-related injuries.
Representatives of labor, business, and the government reported that the majority of companies in the formal sector generally complied with the law. Many workers in the informal economy, which was approximately 70 percent of the total labor force, received less than the minimum wage. Most informal workers were self-employed. Nearly 90 percent of Venezuelan migrant workers were in the informal sector, most of them in suboptimal conditions due to their lack of proper documentation and inability to validate their academic credentials.