Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law protects the right of Kuwaiti workers to form and join trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, with significant restrictions. The government, however, did not always respect these rights.
The law does not apply to public-sector employees, domestic workers, or maritime employees. Discrete labor laws set work conditions in the public and private sectors, with the oil industry treated separately. The law permits limited trade union pluralism at the local level, but the government authorized only one federation, the Kuwait Trade Union Federation (KTUF). The law also stipulates any new union must include at least 100 workers and that at least 15 must be citizens.
The law provides workers, except for domestic workers, maritime workers, and civil servants, a limited right to collective bargaining. There is no minimum number of workers needed to conclude such agreements. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Based on available information, it was unclear whether penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
Public-sector workers do not have the right to strike. Citizens in the private sector have the right to strike, although cumbersome provisions calling for compulsory negotiation and arbitration in the case of disputes limit that right. The law does not prohibit retaliation against striking workers or prevent the government from interfering in union activities, including the right to strike. In November hundreds of workers at Kuwait International Airport held a one-hour strike to demand better working conditions and compensation for daily exposure to pollution and noise. In December cleaners at the Ministry of Education protested missing wages dating back to July.
According to the PAM, there were 2.75 million workers in the country. Only 17.7 percent of the total workforce were citizens. Most citizens (78 percent as of 2018) worked in the public sector, in part because the government provided lucrative benefits to citizens, including generous retirement funding.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference with union functions. It provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Nevertheless, the law empowers the courts to dissolve any union for violating labor laws or for threatening “public order and morals,” although a union can appeal such a court decision. The Ministry of State for Economic Affairs can request the Court of First Instance to dissolve a union. Additionally, the amir may dissolve a union by decree.
The government enforced applicable laws, with some exceptions, and procedures were generally not subjected to lengthy delay or appeals.
The law prohibits and criminally sanctions forced or compulsory labor “except in cases specified by law for national emergency and with just remuneration.” The law allows for forced prison labor as a punishment for expressing certain political views, and in cases of seafarers who breach discipline. Although the law prohibits withholding of workers’ passports, the practice remained common among sponsors and employers of foreign workers, and the government demonstrated no consistent efforts to enforce this prohibition. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.
Employers confined some domestic and agricultural workers to their workspaces by retaining their passports and, in the case of some domestic workers, locked them in their work locations. Workers who fled abusive employers had difficulty retrieving their passports, and authorities deported them in almost all cases. The government usually limited punishment to administrative actions such as assessing fines, shutting employment firms, issuing orders for employers to return withheld passports, or requiring employers to pay back wages. In June the Public Authority for Manpower announced it had shut down 1,600 companies that had received government contracts, for failing to pay workers on time.
In January a number of laborers demonstrated in front of the Ministry of Public Works to protest against the withholding of four months’ back pay. The laborers were employed by a company contracted by the ministry for maintenance services. Similar protests were reported in April against a company that contracted with the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs. It was later reported that the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs distributed all back salaries.
In September a company owner was sentenced by the Court of Appeals to seven years in prison on charges of visa trading. In June a criminal court sentenced a Kuwaiti female lawyer to five years in jail over charges of forced labor and trafficking in persons.
Some incidents of forced labor and conditions indicative of forced labor occurred, especially among foreign domestic and agricultural workers. Such practices were usually a result of employer abuse of the sponsorship system (kafala) for noncitizen workers. Employers frequently illegally withheld salaries from domestic workers and minimum-wage laborers.
Domestic servitude was the most common type of forced labor, principally involving foreign domestic workers employed under kafala, but reports of forced labor in the construction and sanitation sectors also existed. Forced labor conditions for migrant workers included nonpayment of wages, long working hours, deprivation of food, threats, physical and sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement, such as withholding passports or confinement to the workplace. In 2018 employers filed 4,500 “absconding” reports against private sector employees. Domestic workers have filed approximately 240 complaints against their employers in accordance with the domestic labor law. As of September, PAM statistics indicated that 3,793 domestic helper-related complaints had been filed between April and August 2019, including 2,087 in August alone. Numerous domestic workers who escaped from abusive employers reported waiting several months to regain passports, which employers had illegally confiscated when they began their employment.
The PAM operated a shelter for abused domestic workers but still did not allow them to leave the country without permission of their employers. As of October, according to a government source, the shelter had a capacity of 500 victims. It housed as many as 450 residents in April before the residency amnesty that removed travel bans from workers seeking to return home. According to a 2018 report, 145 workers were resident at the shelter.
A government owned company for recruiting domestic workers officially launched its services in 2017 and initially planned to bring 120 domestic workers a month from the Philippines and approximately 100 male workers from India. In February the company announced that it helped bring nearly 900 domestic workers into the country since September 2017 when it started receiving applications. The target recruitment fee depends on domestic workers’ experience and skillset. The government regularly conducted information awareness campaigns via media outlets and public events and otherwise informed employers to encourage compliance by public and private recruiting companies with the new law.
There were numerous media reports throughout the year of sponsors abusing domestic workers or injuring them when they tried to escape; some reports alleged that abuse resulted in workers’ deaths. Female domestic workers were particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse. Police and courts were reluctant to prosecute citizens for abuse in private residences but prosecuted some serious cases of abuse when reported, particularly when the cases were raised by the source country embassies. According to a high-level government official, authorities prosecuted several cases of domestic worker abuse.
In May, Filipina household worker Constancia Lago Daya, died after allegedly suffering physical and sexual assault by her employer. The Kuwaiti Public Prosecutor later filed a felony murder complaint against her employer. In June lawyers for the Philippines Embassy filed charges against a Kuwaiti man for sexually assaulting his Filipina domestic worker. The court subsequently summoned the man for questioning. Media reported in December that a couple, of which the husband was allegedly employed by the Ministry of Interior, was detained for investigation after they brought their 26-year-old Filipina maid to the hospital where she subsequently died with marks of physical abuse visible on her corpse, including missing organs and vaginal lacerations suggesting rape, according to statements made to the press in unofficial preliminary accounts by officials who conducted the autopsy.
Numerous media reports highlighted the problem of visa trading, where companies and recruitment agencies work together to “sell” visas to prospective workers. Often the jobs and companies attached to these visas do not exist, and the workers were left to be exploited and find work in the black market to earn a living and pay the cost of the residency visa. Arrests of traffickers and illegal labor rings occurred almost weekly. In October the PAM announced that it had referred 18 websites and online accounts to the Ministry of Interior’s cybersecurty department for the sale of domestic workers. Since workers cannot freely change jobs, they were sometimes willing to leave their initial job due to low wages or unacceptable working conditions and enter into an illegal residency status with the hope of improved working conditions at another job.
In September a court sentenced two individuals (one a Kuwaiti citizen) to life imprisonment and four others to three-year sentences for selling 400 visas for $5,000 each. Nine other cases of visa trafficking (alleging visas valued between $5,000-6,500) were under investigation at year’s end. These investigations and prosecutions followed a January government policy to begin prosecuting trafficking crimes under antitrafficking laws (vice labor laws) and the appointment of a deputy chairman of the national anti-TIP committee.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The legal minimum age for employment is 18, although employers may obtain permits from the Ministry of State for Economic Affairs to employ juveniles between 15 and 18 years of age in some nonhazardous trades. Juveniles may work a maximum of six hours a day with no more than four consecutive hours followed by a one-hour rest period. Juveniles cannot work overtime or between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Although not extensive, there were credible reports that children of South Asian origin worked as domestic laborers. Some underage workers entered the country on travel documents with falsified birth dates.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Information was unavailable regarding whether penalties were sufficient to deter violations. PAM labor and occupational safety inspectors routinely monitored private firms for labor law compliance. Noncompliant employers faced fines or a forced suspension of their company operations. Nevertheless, the government did not consistently enforce child labor laws in the informal sector, such as in street vending.
The law prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, sex, gender, and disability. The government immediately deports HIV-positive foreign workers, and there is no protection for workers based on sexual orientation. No laws prohibit labor discrimination based on non-HIV communicable diseases, or social status, but there were no reported cases of discrimination in these areas. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to both citizen and noncitizen women. Female domestic workers were at particular risk of discrimination or abuse due to the isolated home environment in which they worked.
The law states that a woman should receive “remuneration equal to that of a man provided she does the same work,” although it prohibits women from working in “dangerous industries” in trades “harmful” to health, or in those that “violate public morals.” Educated women contended the conservative nature of society restricted career opportunities, although there were limited improvements. Media reported that the gender pay gap between male and female workers in the public sector was 28.5 percent for citizens and 7.9 percent for non-Kuwaitis. According to government statistics from 2018, women represented 51 percent of the population, but there was a total female workforce participation rate of 55 percent in the public sector.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with permanent physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, and it imposes penalties on employers who refrain without reasonable cause from hiring persons with disabilities. The law also mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities. The government generally enforced these provisions. Noncitizens with disabilities had no access to government-operated facilities that covered job training, and the government still has not fully implemented social and workplace aides for persons with physical and, in particular, vision disabilities.
Shia continued to report government discrimination based on religion. For example, Shia were not represented, in all branches of the security forces and rarely held leadership positions. Some Shia continued to allege that a glass ceiling prevented them from obtaining leadership positions in public-sector organizations, including the security services. In the private sector, Shia were generally represented at all levels in proportion to their percentage of the population.
The law sets a national monthly minimum wage in the oil and private sector and a minimum monthly wage for domestic workers. Most low-wage employees lived and worked in the country without their families, and employers generally provided at least some form of housing. In July, Kuwait ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment by Public and Private Employers, which will come into effect in July 2020.
The law limits the standard workweek to 48 hours (40 hours for the petroleum industry) and gives private-sector workers 30 days of annual leave. The law also forbids requiring employees to work more than 60 hours per week or 10 hours per day. The law provides for 13 designated national holidays annually. Workers are entitled to 125 percent of base pay for working overtime and 150 percent of base pay for working on their designated weekly day off. The government effectively enforced the law except with regard to domestic workers. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
The government issued occupational health and safety standards that were current and appropriate for the main industries. For example, the law provides that all outdoor work stop between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. during June, July, and August, or when the temperature rises to more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. A worker could file a complaint against an employer with the PAM if the worker believed his safety and health were at risk. As of August 26, the Kuwait Society for Human Rights received 356 complaints of employers violating the summer heat work ban. In May it reported that 12 workers were killed in workplace accidents caused by employer negligence in the preceding 16 months.
The law and regulations governing acceptable conditions of work do not apply to domestic workers. The Public Authority for Manpower has jurisdiction over domestic worker matters and enforces domestic labor working standards.
The Ministry of State for Economic Affairs is responsible for enforcement of wages, hours, overtime, and occupational safety and health regulations of nondomestic workers. Enforcement by the ministry was generally good, but there were gaps in enforcement with respect to unskilled foreign laborers. Several ministry officials cited inadequate numbers of inspectors as the main reason for their inability to better enforce the laws.
Labor and occupational safety inspectors monitored private firms. The government periodically inspected enterprises to raise awareness among workers and employers and to assure that they abided by existing safety rules, controlled pollution in certain industries, trained workers to use machines, and reported violations.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of State for Economic Affairs monitored work sites to inspect for compliance with rules banning summer work and recorded hundreds of violations during the year. Workers could also report these violations to their embassies, the KTUF, or the Labor Disputes Department. Noncompliant employers faced warnings, fines, or forced suspensions of company operations, but these were not sufficient to deter violators.
In the first 10 months of the year, the Labor Disputes Department received approximately 15,150 complaints from workers, of which approximately 5,800 were referred to the courts. These complaints were either about contract issues, such as nonpayment of wages, or about difficulties transferring work visas to new companies. Most of the complaints were resolved in arbitration, with the remaining cases referred to the courts for resolution. In July the Court of Appeals ordered al-Kharafi & Sons to pay heirs of a deceased Egyptian foreign resident (a former employee of the company) as compensation for the company’s negligence and noncompliance to safety and security regulations. The lawsuit indicated employees of the company caused the unintentional death of the victim due to negligence by tasking the employee to clean a six-meter (19.6 feet)-deep manhole without proper gear and without checking for poisonous gases.
At times the PAM intervened to resolve labor disputes between foreign workers and their employers. The authority’s labor arbitration panel sometimes ruled in favor of foreign laborers who claimed violations of work contracts by their employers. The government was more effective in resolving unpaid salary disputes involving private sector laborers than those involving domestic workers. Media reports indicated that the Ministry of Social Affairs won 58 court cases against visa traders by October.
Foreign workers were vulnerable to unacceptable conditions of work. Domestic workers and other unskilled foreign workers in the private sector frequently worked substantially in excess of 48 hours a week, with no day of rest.
Domestic workers had little recourse when employers violated their rights except to seek admittance to the domestic workers shelter where the government mediated between sponsors and workers either to assist the worker in finding an alternate sponsor or to assist in voluntary repatriation. There were no inspections of private residences, which is the workplace of the majority of the country’s domestic workers. Reports indicated employers forced domestic workers to work overtime without additional compensation. In July the PAM announced it was planning to unveil a “blacklist” system that would prevent the sponsorship of domestic workers by recruitment offices or employers that violate workers’ rights.
Some domestic workers did not have the ability to remove themselves from an unhealthy or unsafe situation without endangering their employment. There were reports of domestic workers’ committing or attempting to commit suicide due to desperation over abuse, including sexual violence or poor working conditions. A 2016 law provides legal protections for domestic workers, including a formal grievance process managed by the PAM. A worker not satisfied with the department’s arbitration decision has the right to file a legal case via the labor court.
Several embassies with large domestic worker populations in the country met with varying degrees of success in pressing the government to prosecute serious cases of domestic worker abuse. Severe cases included those where there were significant, life-threatening injuries.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides workers the right to form and join trade unions. The government effectively enforced these rights. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference and provides them the right to organize and bargain collectively. Workers may strike, but the requirement to receive formal approval made striking difficult and complicated. The law on government service prohibits government employees from striking, but the prohibition does not apply to teachers or medical professionals. The law does not prohibit retaliation against striking workers.
Many unions reportedly operated as quasi-official institutions that took state interests into consideration rather than representing workers’ interests exclusively. The Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) remained the only umbrella trade union in the country. The government did not require unions to belong to the FTU. Labor rights advocates reported the existence of several smaller unaffiliated unions.
Workers exercised their right to join and form unions, and unions exercised the right to organize and bargain collectively. Union leaders, however, generally cooperated with the government. International observers judged that unions represented the interests of their members poorly. In past years some unions alleged unfair dismissals of union leaders and the formation of single-company unions.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law specifically prohibits the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of sex or labor exploitation and prescribes penalties that were sufficient to deter violations. Forced labor is also prohibited by the labor code and the code on children. The government did not fully implement legal prohibitions, and victim identification remained a concern.
The 2018 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor reported cases of forced labor, mostly involving children in the agricultural sector, specifically cotton and tobacco (see section 7.c.).
See also 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 and the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law sets the minimum legal age for basic employment at 16, except for work performed without a signed employment contract or work considered to be “light,” such as selling newspapers, in which children as young as 14 may work with the permission of a parent or guardian. The law prohibits employment of persons younger than age 18 at night, underground, or in difficult or dangerous conditions, including in the metal, oil, and gas industries; mining and prospecting; the food industry; entertainment; and machine building. Children ages 14 or 15 may work up to five hours a day, not to exceed 24 hours a week; children ages 16 to 18 may work up to seven hours a day, not exceeding 36 hours a week. These laws also apply to children with disabilities. Violations of the law incur penalties, which are sufficient to deter violations. The government did not effectively enforce the law and a lack of prosecution of violations continued to pose challenges to deterrence. Almost all child labor was in agriculture based on the 2014-2015 National Child Labor Survey.
Despite some advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, it remained a problem. According to recent reports, children continued to be engaged in agricultural work in cotton cultivation; tobacco production; growing rice, potatoes, sugar beets, and wheat; and raising cattle and sheep. Reports indicated children worked in the industrial and services sectors as well. With regard to the industrial sector, children engaged in coal mining; brick making; and construction, including lifting and portering construction materials and cutting metal sheets for roofs. In the services sector, children worked in bazaars, including by selling and transporting goods; washing cars; working in restaurants and cafes; begging and shoe shining as part of street work; and providing domestic work, including child care. Examples of categorical worst forms of child labor in the country included: forced labor in raising cattle and sheep, sometimes as the result of human trafficking; commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking; and illicit activities, including trafficking drugs, as a result of human trafficking (see section 7.b.).
The PGO and the State Inspectorate on Ecological and Technical Safety (Inspectorate) are responsible for enforcing employers’ compliance with the labor code. According to the Inspectorate, inspectors conducted infrequent and ineffective child labor inspections to ensure appropriate enforcement of the labor laws. Since many children worked for their families or were self-employed, the government found it difficult to determine whether work complied with the labor code.
See also 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 .
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, language, origin, property, official status, age, place of residence, religion, and political convictions, membership in public organizations, or other circumstances irrelevant to professional capacities. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and the nature of penalties was insufficient to deter violations. Ethnic Uzbeks in the south also complained that discriminatory practices in licensing and registering a business with local authorities made starting a small business difficult.
On average employers paid women substantially lower wages than they paid to men. Women made up the majority of pensioners, a group particularly vulnerable to deteriorating economic conditions. In rural areas traditional attitudes toward women limited them to the roles of wife and mother and curtailed educational opportunities. Members of the LGBTI community reported discrimination in the workplace when they publicly disclosed their sexual orientation. Persons with HIV/AIDS-positive status faced discrimination regarding hiring and security of employment. Employers discriminated against persons with disabilities in hiring and limited their access to employment opportunities in the workplace.
The law provides for a national minimum wage, which is less than the official government’s 2015 poverty line. The law on minimum wage states it should rise gradually to meet the cost of living. The government did not effectively enforce laws related to the minimum wage. The Ministry of Social Development worked on increasing minimum wage to the minimum living wage, which is 5,292 soms ($76) per month. Recent reforms to administrative and criminal codes eliminated employer liability for late payment of wages, allowance, and other social benefits. It also eliminated liability for violating labor protections and safety regulations.
The standard workweek is 40 hours, usually with a five-day week. For state-owned industries, there is a mandated 24-hour rest period in a seven-day workweek. According to the labor code, overtime work cannot exceed four hours per day or 20 hours per week. The labor code also states workers engaged in overtime work must receive compensatory leave or premium pay of between 150 and 200 percent of the hourly wage. Compliance with these requirements differed among employers. For example, large companies and organizations with strong labor unions often abided by these provisions. Employers of small or informal firms where employees had no union representation often did not enforce these legal provisions.
The National Statistics Committee defined informal economic activity as household units that produce goods and services primarily to provide jobs and income to their members. In 2017 the government estimated that only 28.8 percent of the population worked in the formal sector of the economy, while the rest worked in the informal economy.
Factory operators often employed workers in poor safety and health conditions. The law establishes occupational health and safety standards that were appropriate to main industries, but the government generally did not enforce them. Penalties for violation of the law range from community service to fines and did not sufficiently deter violations. The law does not provide workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment. The State Inspectorate on Ecological and Technical Safety (Inspectorate) is responsible for protecting workers and carrying out inspections for all types of labor problems. The government does not effectively enforce the law because it is not conducting labor inspections following a moratorium on all state inspections that went into force on January 1, 2019, and is set to expire on December 21, 2020. Even prior to the moratorium, the Inspectorate limited labor inspectors’ activities. The Inspectorate did not employ enough inspectors to enforce compliance. According to the International Labor Organization, the Inspectorate also lacked sufficient funding to carry out inspections. The law does not provide for occupational health and safety standards for workers in the informal economy.
Government licensing rules placed strict requirements on companies recruiting citizens to work abroad, and the Ministry of Labor, Migration, and Youth licensed such companies. The government regularly published a list of licensed and vetted firms. Recruiters were required to monitor employer compliance with employment terms and the working conditions of labor migrants while under contract abroad. Recruiters were also required to provide workers with their employment contract prior to their departure.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law does not provide for the right of workers to form and join worker organizations independent of the Lao Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU), an organ of the LPRP. The law defines collective bargaining but does not set out conditions, and it requires the examination of all collective bargaining agreements by the Labor Administration Agency. The law provides for the right to strike, subject to certain limitations. The law does not permit police, civil servants, foreigners, and members of the armed forces to form or join unions. There is a general prohibition against discrimination against employees for reasons unrelated to performance, although there is no explicit prohibition against antiunion discrimination. There is no explicit requirement for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.
The law requires a workforce of 10 or more workers to elect one or more employee representatives. Where a trade union exists, the head of the union is by default the employee representative. Both representatives and trade union heads may bargain collectively with employers on matters including working conditions or recruitment, wages, welfare, and other benefits.
Trade union law allows workers in the informal economy, including workers outside of labor units or who were self-employed, to join LFTU-affiliated unions. It also established rights and responsibilities for “laborer representatives,” which the law defines as “an individual or legal entity selected by the workers and laborers in labor units to be a representative to protect their legitimate rights and interest.”
There was no information on the resources dedicated to enforcement of freedom of association provisions of the labor laws. Penalties under law for infringing on workers’ freedom of association include fines, incarceration, and/or business license revocation; these penalties were sufficient to deter violations, although violations and enforcement were rare.
The government reported the law permits affiliation between independent unions of separate branches of a company but that it does not explicitly allow or disallow affiliation at the industry, provincial, or national levels. There were reports that unions not affiliated with the LFTU existed in some industries, including the garment industry, light manufacturing, and agricultural processing. These unions were not allowed to strike.
Labor disputes reportedly were infrequent, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare generally did not enforce the dispute resolution section of the labor law, especially in dealings with joint ventures in the private sector. In February 2018 the government issued a decree to help resolve labor disputes, including disputes related to salaries and working hours.
According to local law, workers who join an organization that encourages protests, demonstrations, and other actions that might cause “turmoil or social instability” can face prison time. The government’s overall prohibition of activities it considered subversive or demonstrations it considered destabilizing, workers’ lack of familiarity with the provisions of the amended labor law, and general aversion to open confrontation continued to make workers extremely unlikely to exercise their right to strike.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law prohibits private employers from using forced labor, and the penalties for perpetrating forced labor can include fines, suspension from work, revocation of business license, and prosecution. The law allows for prisoners to work. There may be civil or criminal prosecutions for forced labor violations. Penalties for trafficking in persons, which includes forced labor, consist of imprisonment, fines, and confiscation of assets. Such penalties were sufficiently stringent to deter violations. Due to limited numbers of inspectors, among other factors, the government did not effectively enforce the law.
According to civil society organizations, the establishment of large-scale, foreign-financed agricultural plantations led to displacement of local farmers. Unable to continue traditional practices of subsistence agriculture, many farmers sought employment as day laborers through local brokers.
Also, see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. Child labor is outlawed except under very strict, limited conditions that ensure no interference with the child’s education or physical well-being. Age 14 is the minimum for employment. The law allows children from ages 14 to 18 to work a maximum of eight hours per day, provided such work is not dangerous or difficult. Employers may, however, employ children from ages 12 to 14 to perform light work. The law applies only to work undertaken in a formal labor relationship, not to self-employment or informal work.
The Ministry of Public Security and Justice, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, including in the informal economy, but enforcement was ineffective due to the lack of inspectors. The law prescribes penalties of imprisonment and fines, which were not sufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare conducted public awareness campaigns, organized workshops with the National Commission for Mothers and Children in the northern and southern provinces, and collected data on child labor as part of its effort to implement the National Plan of Action for the elimination of the worst forms of child labor.
There were reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children).
The law requires equal pay for equal work, although a gender wage gap persisted, and prohibits discrimination in hiring based on a woman’s marital status or pregnancy, and it protects against dismissal on these grounds. The government enforced prohibitions against employment discrimination or requirements for equal pay; penalties under law included fines but were insufficient to deter violations.
In May 2018 the government raised the monthly minimum wage for all private-sector workers; it is higher than the estimated national poverty line.
The law provides for a workweek limited to 48 hours (36 hours for employment in dangerous activities). Overtime may not exceed 45 hours per month, and each period of overtime may not exceed three hours. Employers may apply to the government for an exception, which the law stipulates workers or their representatives must also approve.
Occupational health and safety standards existed, but inspections were inconsistent. The law provides for safe working conditions and higher compensation for dangerous work, but it does not explicitly protect the right of workers to remove themselves from a hazardous situation. In case of injury or death on the job, employers are responsible to compensate the worker or the worker’s family. The law requires employers to report accidents causing major injury to or death of an employee or requiring an employee to take a minimum of four days off work to the Labor Administration Agency. The law also mandates extensive employer responsibility for workers who became disabled while at work. The law does not specify penalties for noncompliance with occupational safety and health provisions, but they could include warnings, fines, “re-education,” or suspension of business license.
The law also prohibits the employment of pregnant women and new mothers in occupations deemed hazardous to women’s reproductive health. The law requires the transfer of women working in such jobs to less demanding positions, and they are entitled to maintain the same salary or wage.
The government did not always effectively enforce the law.
The Department of Labor Management within the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare is responsible for workplace inspections. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance.
Some piecework employees, especially on construction sites, earned less than the minimum wage. The overtime or wage law was not effectively enforced.
There were a number of undocumented migrant workers in the country, particularly from Vietnam and Burma, who were vulnerable to exploitation by employers in the logging, mining, and agricultural sectors. Migrants from China and Vietnam also worked in construction, plantations, casinos, and informal service industries, sectors where wage and occupational safety and health violations were common.
Section 7. Worker Rights
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. Unions may not have fewer than 15 members or less than 25 percent of the total number of employees in the company (which cannot be fewer than five). The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union functions, and it provides reinstatement for unlawful dismissal, including dismissal for union activity.
There were several limitations on these rights. Uniformed members of the military, members of the State Security Services, and border guards may not form or join unions. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, collective bargaining in the public administration is a formal procedure with no real substance, since all employment conditions are fixed by law.
While the law provides for the right to strike, it requires a strike vote by a three-fourths majority at a meeting attended by at least three-fourths of the union’s members. It prohibits strikes in sectors related to public safety and by personnel classified as essential, including judges, prosecutors, police, firefighters, border guards, employees of state security institutions, prison guards, and military personnel. The law prohibits “solidarity” strikes by workers who are not directly involved in a specific labor agreement between strikers and their employers, a restriction criticized by local labor groups. It also bans political strikes. The law provides arbitration mechanisms for essential personnel not permitted to strike.
The government generally enforced applicable labor laws. EU labor regulations also apply. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate under the law. Penalties for violations ranged from a few hundred to several thousand euros and were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Labor rights organizations expressed concern about employer discrimination against union members.
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected. The law on trade unions requires trade unions to be independent under the law. Anticorruption officials and press reports stated, however, that external funding and support appeared to make some union individuals or groups lack independence. Press reports stated that one of the largest worker unions in the country, LABA, was reportedly under the unofficial control of the Riga City Council. Recent corruption scandals have significantly weakened LABA.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law, although staffing problems hindered more effective enforcement. Penalties range from fines to imprisonment and were generally sufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Welfare’s State Labor Inspectorate, the agency responsible for enforcing labor laws, conducted regular inspections of workplaces, and reported three incidents of forced labor through September. One forced labor case resulted in a September conviction and sentencing. The inspectorate reported a high employee turnover, with approximately 11 percent of positions unfilled, a situation exacerbated by perennial wage issues.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The government effectively enforced child labor and minimum age laws, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The statutory minimum age for employment is 15. Children who are 13 or older may work in certain jobs outside of school hours with written permission from a parent. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from performing nighttime or overtime work. By law children may not work in jobs that pose a risk to their physical safety, health, or development. There were no reports of labor abuses involving children. Through September the State Labor Inspectorate reported four cases of unregistered employment of youth.
Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination. Following Soviet-era russification and relocation programs and the creation of a sizeable Russian-speaking minority, the government required the use of Latvian as the officially recognized language where employment activities “affect the lawful interests of the public.” Citing the continuing political and economic threat posed by Russia to Latvia, the government restricted some sensitive civil service positions for candidates who previously worked for the former Soviet intelligence apparatus.
There were instances of hiring and pay discrimination against women, particularly in the private sector. Because this type of discrimination was underreported, during the first eight months of the year the ombudsman did not open any cases of employment discrimination. According to the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law 2019, women in the country have equal legal standing with men.
Employment discrimination also occurred with respect to sexual orientation, gender identity, and ethnicity. Persons with disabilities experienced limited access to work due to a lack of personal assistance, poor infrastructure, and absence of specialized programs. The Romani community faced discrimination and high levels of unemployment.
The law sets a monthly minimum wage which was above the official poverty line. The government enforced its wage laws effectively.
The law provides for a maximum workweek of 40 hours. The maximum permitted overtime work may not exceed eight hours on average within a seven-day period, which is calculated over a four-month reference period. The law requires a minimum of 100 percent premium pay in compensation for overtime, unless the parties agree to other forms of compensation in a contract; however, this was rarely enforced.
The law establishes minimum occupational health and safety standards for the workplace, which are current and appropriate for the main industries. While the law allows workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, these regulations were not always followed. Workers are able to complain to the State Labor Inspectorate when they believe their rights are violated.
The State Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing minimum wage regulations, restrictions on hours of work, and occupational health and safety standards. These standards were not always enforced in the informal economy. Penalties for violations are monetary and vary widely, depending on the severity and frequency of the violation, but they were generally sufficient to deter violations. The inspectorate had adequate resources to inspect and remediate labor standards problems and effectively enforced labor laws.
Through September the State Labor Inspectorate reported 39 workplace fatalities. The majority of these were classified as due to natural causes. The inspectorate also reported 122 serious workplace injuries. The State Labor Inspectorate commented that most of the injuries were actually minor injuries, such as a broken finger. Workplace injuries and fatalities were primarily in the construction, wood-processing, and lumber industries.
Real wage estimates were difficult to calculate in the sizeable informal economy, which according to some estimates accounted for approximately 24 percent of gross domestic product. Workers in low-skilled manufacturing and retail jobs as well as some public-sector employees, such as firefighters, were reportedly most vulnerable to poor working conditions, including long work hours, lack of overtime pay, and arbitrary remuneration.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join trade unions, bargain collectively, and strike but places restrictions on these rights. The Ministry of Labor must approve the formation of unions, and it controlled the conduct of all trade union elections, including election dates, procedures, and ratification of results. The law permits the administrative dissolution of trade unions and bars trade unions from political activity. Unions have the right to strike after providing advance notice to and receiving approval from the Ministry of Interior. Organizers of a strike (at least three of whom must be identified by name) must notify the ministry of the number of participants in advance and the intended location of the strike, and 5 percent of a union’s members must take responsibility for maintaining order during the strike.
There are significant restrictions on the right to strike. The labor law excludes public-sector employees, domestic workers, and agricultural workers. Therefore, they have neither the right to strike nor to join and establish unions. The law prohibits public-sector employees from any kind of union activity, including striking, organizing collective petitions, or joining professional organizations.
The law protects the right of workers to bargain collectively, but a minimum of 60 percent of workers must agree on the goals beforehand. Two-thirds of union members at a general assembly must ratify collective bargaining agreements. The Association of Banks in Lebanon renewed the collective sectoral agreement with the Federation of Lebanese Bank Employees Unions on December 6 after nearly three months of mediation between the two parties led by the minister of labor. The Association of Banks in Lebanon had initially refused to renew the agreement.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. Under the law, when employers misuse or abuse their right to terminate a union member’s contract, including for union activity, the worker is entitled to compensation and legal indemnity and may institute proceedings before a conciliation board. The board adjudicates the case, after which an employer may be compelled to reinstate the worker, although this protection was available only to the elected members of a union’s board. Anecdotal evidence showed widespread antiunion discrimination in both the public and private sectors, although this issue did not receive significant media coverage. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the most flagrant abuses occurred in banking, private schools, retail businesses, daily and occasional workers, and the civil service. Prime Minister Hariri warned civil servants in May against striking or expressing their opinion about the national budget discussions.
By law foreigners with legal resident status may join trade unions. According to the ILO, however, in practice most unions do not encourage or accept the participation of foreign workers. The migrant law permits migrant workers to join existing unions (regardless of nationality and reciprocity agreements) but denies them the right to form their own unions. They do not enjoy full membership as they may neither vote in trade union elections nor run for union office. Certain sectors of migrant workers, such as migrant domestic workers, challenged the binding laws supported by some unions by forming their own autonomous structures that acted as unions, although the Ministry of Labor has not approved them.
Palestinian refugees generally may organize their own unions. Because of restrictions on their right to work, few refugees participated actively in trade unions. While some unions required citizenship, others were open to foreign nationals whose home countries had reciprocity agreements with Lebanon.
The government’s enforcement of applicable laws was weak, including with regard to prohibitions on antiunion discrimination.
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not always respected. The government and other political actors interfered with the functioning of worker organizations, particularly the main federation, the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers (CGTL). The CGTL is the only national confederation recognized by the government, although several unions boycotted and unofficially or officially broke from the CGTL and no longer recognized it as an independent and nonpartisan representative of workers. Since 2012 the Union Coordination Committee (UCC), a grouping of public and private teachers as well as civil servants, played a major role in pushing the government to pass a promised revised salary scale, largely overshadowing the CGTL. While the UCC is not formally recognized by any government body, it acts as an umbrella organization and guides several recognized leagues of workers in demonstrating and in negotiating demands. During the 2019 national budget debate, both CGTL and UCC failed to successfully take leadership of worker protest actions or to coherently voice the demands and aspirations of working people. CGTL was further weakened when in January union president Antoine Bechara was interrogated by the ISF Anti-Cybercrime Bureau over a complaint filed by Minister of Economy Raed Khoury. In May, Bechara was arrested and pressured to resign after a video was leaked showing him insulting and making offensive comments against the late Maronite patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir. The National Federation of Workers and Employees in Lebanon emerged as another alternative to represent the independent trade union movement.
On April 30, health workers at Saida Public Hospital began a strike that lasted four days, demanding payment of overdue salaries and denouncing the lack of basic materials in the facility. Police used force to end the strike and arrested the leaders of the trade union committee. Antiunion discrimination and other instances of employer interference in union functions occurred. Some employers fired workers in the process of forming a union before the union could be formally established and published in the official gazette.
There was widespread anecdotal evidence of arbitrary dismissals of Lebanese, and their replacement by non-Lebanese, across economic and productive sectors. This action was mainly in the form of Syrian refugees allegedly replacing Lebanese in some sectors. There were no official statistics to quantify the scale of these dismissals.
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, but there is no legislative provision that provides criminal penalties for those employing forced labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law, although the government made some efforts to prevent or eliminate forced labor. The law does not criminally prohibit debt bondage.
Children, foreign workers employed as domestic workers, and other foreign workers sometimes worked under forced labor conditions. The law provides protection for domestic workers against forced labor, but domestic work is excluded from protections under the labor law and vulnerable to exploitation. In violation of the law, employment agencies and employers routinely withheld foreign workers’ passports, especially in the case of domestic workers, sometimes for years. According to NGOs assisting migrant workers, in some instances employers withheld salaries for the duration of the contract, which was usually two years.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Child labor occurred, including in its worst forms. While up-to-date statistics on child labor were unavailable, anecdotal evidence and the accounts of NGOs suggested the number of child workers may have risen during the year and that more children worked in the informal sector. UNHCR noted that commercial, sexual exploitation of refugee children continued to occur.
The minimum age for employment is 14, and the law prescribes the occupations that are legal for juveniles, defined as children between ages 14 and 18. The law requires juveniles to undergo a medical exam by a doctor certified by the Ministry of Public Health to assure they are physically fit for the type of work employers ask them to perform. The law prohibits employment of juveniles for more than seven hours per day or between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., and it requires one hour of rest for work lasting more than four hours. The law prohibits specific types of labor for juveniles, including informal “street labor.” It also lists types of labor that, by their nature or the circumstances in which they are carried out, are likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of children younger than 16, as well as types of labor that are allowed for children older than 16, provided they are offered full protection and adequate training.
Overall, the government did not enforce child labor laws effectively, in part due to inadequate resources. Advocacy groups did not consider penalties for those who violate laws on the worst forms of child labor as sufficient deterrents.
Child labor, including among refugee children, was predominantly concentrated in the informal sector, including in small family enterprises, mechanical workshops, carpentry, construction, manufacturing, industrial sites, welding, agriculture, and fisheries. UN agencies and NGOs reported that Syrian refugee children were vulnerable to child labor and exploitation. According to the ILO, child labor rates have at least doubled since the Syrian refugee influx. The ILO reported that instances of child labor strongly correlated with a Syrian refugee presence. The ILO equally highlighted that the majority of Syrian children involved in the worst forms of child labor–especially forced labor–worked primarily in agriculture in the Bekaa and Akkar regions and on the streets of major urban areas (Beirut and Tripoli). Anecdotal evidence also indicated child labor was prevalent within Palestinian refugee camps.
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor requirements through its Child Labor Unit. Additionally, the law charges the Ministry of Justice, the ISF, and the Higher Council for Childhood (HCC) with enforcing laws related to child trafficking, including commercial sexual exploitation of children and the use of children in illicit activities. The HCC is also responsible for referring children held in protective custody to appropriate NGOs to find safe living arrangements.
A Ministry of Labor unit responsible for inspections of all potential labor violations also investigates child labor issues when a specific complaint is reported or found in the course of their other inspection.
The Ministry of Labor’s Child Labor Unit acts as the government’s focal point for child labor issues, and it oversees and implements the ministry’s national strategy to tackle child labor. The National Steering Committee on Child Labor is the main interministerial body coordinating on child labor across the government.
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 .
The law provides for equality among all citizens and prohibits employment discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status. The law does not specifically provide for protection against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV status, or other communicable diseases. Although the government generally respected these provisions, they were not enforced in some areas, and aspects of the law and traditional beliefs discriminated against women. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, persons with disabilities, foreign domestic workers, and LGBTI and HIV-positive persons (see section 6).
The law does not distinguish between women and men in employment, and it provides for equal pay for men and women. On wage equality for similar work, the 2018 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report indicates that the overall situation in the country remained largely unchanged, despite slight progress on the ratio of women in parliament.
According to the UN Population Fund, the labor law does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace; it merely gives an employee the right to resign without prior notice in the event that the employer or representative committed an indecent offense towards the employee or a family member. There are, however, no legal consequences for the perpetrator.
Employment law defines a “disability” as a physical, sight, hearing, or mental disability. The law stipulates that persons with disabilities fill at least 3 percent of all government and private-sector positions, provided such persons fulfill the qualifications for the position. There was no evidence the government enforced the law. Employers are legally exempt from penalties if they provide evidence no otherwise qualified person with disabilities applied for employment within three months of advertisement.
Migrant workers and domestic workers faced employment hurdles that amounted to discrimination (see section 7.e.).
The legal minimum wage was last raised in 2012. There was no official minimum wage for domestic workers. Observers concluded that the minimum wage is lower than unofficial estimates of the poverty income level. Official contracts stipulated monthly wages for domestic workers, depending on the nationality of the worker. A unified standard contract, which was registered with the DGS for the worker to obtain residency, granted migrant domestic workers some labor protections. The standard contract covered uniform terms and conditions of employment, but not wages.
The law prescribes a standard 48-hour workweek with a weekly rest period that must not be less than 36 consecutive hours. The law stipulates 48 hours work as the maximum per week in most corporations except agricultural enterprises. The law permits a 12-hour day under certain conditions, including a stipulation that overtime pay is 50 percent higher than pay for normal hours. The law does not set limits on compulsory overtime. The law includes specific occupational health and safety regulations and requires employers to take adequate precautions for employee safety.
Domestic workers are not covered under the labor law or other laws related to acceptable conditions of work. Such laws also do not apply to those involved in work within the context of a family, day laborers, temporary workers in the public sector, or workers in the agricultural sector.
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing regulations related to acceptable conditions of work, but it did so inconsistently. The ministry’s enforcement team handled all inspections of potential labor violations, but suffered from a lack of staff, resources, legal tools, and political support for its work. Interference with inspectors affected the quality of inspections and issuance of fines for violators was common. The law stipulates that workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, although government officials did not protect employees who exercised this right.
Workers in the industrial sector worked an average of 35 hours per week, while workers in other sectors worked an average of 32 hours per week. These averages, however, were derived from figures which included part-time work, including for employees who desired full-time work. Some private-sector employers failed to provide employees with family and transportation allowances as stipulated under the law and did not register them with the National Social Security Fund (NSSF).
Some companies did not respect legal provisions governing occupational health and safety in specific sectors, such as the construction industry. Workers could report violations to the CGTL, Ministry of Labor, NSSF, or through their respective unions. In most cases they preferred to remain silent due to fear of dismissal.
Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational health and safety standards were most common in the construction industry and among migrant workers, particularly with foreign domestic workers.
Foreign migrant workers arrived in the country through local recruitment agencies and source-country recruitment agencies. Although the law requires recruitment agencies to have a license from the Ministry of Labor, the government did not adequately monitor their activities. A sponsorship system tied foreign workers’ legal residency to a specific employer, making it difficult for foreign workers to change employers. If employment was terminated, a worker lost residency. This circumstance made many foreign migrant workers reluctant to file complaints to avoid losing their legal status.
Some employers mistreated, abused, and raped foreign domestic workers, who were mostly of Asian and African origin. Domestic workers often worked long hours and, in many cases, did not receive vacations or holidays. Victims of abuse may file civil suits or seek other legal action, often with the assistance of NGOs, but most victims, counseled by their embassies or consulates, settled for an administrative solution that usually included monetary compensation and repatriation. In a typical example, one victim explained that, when she escaped from an employer who was withholding her wages, an NGO helped her file charges against her employer. Authorities reached an administrative settlement with her employer to pay back wages and finance return to her home country but did not seek criminal prosecution of her employer.
Authorities typically did not prosecute perpetrators of abuse against foreign domestic workers for a number of reasons, including the victims’ refusal to press charges and lack of evidence. Authorities settled an unknown number of cases of nonpayment of wages through negotiation. According to source-country embassies and consulates, many workers did not report violations of their labor contracts until after they returned to their home countries, since they preferred not to stay in the country for a lengthy judicial process.
While licensed businesses and factories strove to meet international standards for working conditions with respect to occupational safety and health, conditions in informal factories and businesses were poorly regulated and often did not meet these standards. The Ministry of Industry is responsible for enforcing regulations to improve safety in the workplace. The regulations require industries to have three types of insurance (fire, third party, and workers’ policies) and to implement proper safety measures. The ministry has the authority to revoke a company’s license if its inspectors find a company noncompliant, but there was no evidence this occurred.
The law requires businesses to adhere to safety standards, but authorities poorly enforced the law, and it did not explicitly permit workers to remove themselves from dangerous conditions without jeopardy to their continued employment. Workers may ask to change their job or be removed from an unsafe job without being affected, as per the labor code. The government only weakly implemented the law due to lack of governance, the weak role of the trade union movement, corruption, and lack of trade union rights.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
By law workers in the private sector have the right to join and form trade unions of their own choosing without prior authorization or excessive bureaucratic requirements. The law prohibits civil servants and police from joining or forming unions but allows them to form staff associations for collective bargaining and promoting ethical conduct of their members. All trade unions must register with the Registrar of Trade Unions. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference.
The law significantly limits the right to strike. In the private sector, the law requires workers and employers to follow a series of procedures designed to resolve disputes before the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR), an independent government body, authorizes a strike. A registered union with a 51 percent majority of staff may call a strike on a “dispute of interest” (a demand that goes beyond labor code stipulations). If mandatory negotiations between the employer and employees reach a deadlock, a union may file with the DDPR for permission to embark on a strike. Typically, the employer and employees agree on the strike rules and its duration. Employers may also invoke a lockout clause. The law does not permit civil servants to strike.
The law protects collective bargaining and places no restrictions on it. Government approval is not required for collective agreements to be valid. By law the Public Service Joint Advisory Council provides for due process and protects civil servants’ rights. The council consists of equal numbers of members appointed by the minister of public service and members of associations representing at least 50 percent of civil servants. The council concludes and enforces collective bargaining agreements, prevents and resolves disputes, and provides procedures for dealing with general grievances. Furthermore, the Public Service Tribunal handles appeals brought by civil servants or their associations.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and other employer interference in union functions. The law provides for reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. The law does not exclude particular groups of workers from relevant legal protections.
The government effectively enforces applicable law with cases typically resolved within one to six months at the DDPR. Penalties are sufficient to deter violations. The Labor Court’s independence remained questionable because it is under the authority of the Ministry of Labor and Employment, despite a 2011 law transferring it to the judiciary.
The government and employers generally supported freedom of association and collective bargaining. Although factory workers have bargaining power, the law requires any union entering negotiations with management to represent 50 percent of workers in a factory. Only a few factories met that condition, and unions at factories where union membership is below 50 percent may not represent workers collectively in negotiations with employers. In 2015 the Factory Workers Union (FAWU), the Lesotho Clothing and Allied Workers Union, and the National Union of Textile Workers merged to form the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho to strengthen their bargaining power. The National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union, which separated from FAWU, was active. All worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties except the Lesotho Workers Party-affiliated Factory Workers Union. Most unions focused on organizing apparel workers.
Factory owners in the apparel industry were generally willing to bargain collectively on wages and working conditions but only with trade unions that represented at least 50 percent of workers. Factory decisions concerning labor disputes are determined by companies’ headquarters, which are usually located overseas. In the retail sector, employers generally respected the freedom to associate and the right to bargain collectively, although retail unions complained employers commonly appealed Labor Court rulings to delay their implementation.
Workers exercised their right to strike. In August 2018 factory workers embarked on violent illegal strikes demanding a minimum wage of 2,000 maloti ($139). At the time the minimum wage was 1,237 maloti ($85). In April the government agreed to increase the minimum wage, but it did not address what some labor experts noted was the practice of issuing repeated short-term contracts to the same workers to keep them at the minimum wage. Three labor unions wrote to the International Labor Organization (ILO) and accused the government of violating the ILO’s convention on setting minimum wages and failing to affect retroactive wage payments. In June the ILO recommended talks between the government and labor unions. The talks were pending at year’s end.
The Lesotho National Development Corporation indicated factory workers in June embarked on eight unlawful strikes and one lawful strike. The causes of the strikes were low wage increase increments, underpayments, poor terms of employment, and unsatisfactory work conditions.
In September 2018 the Labor Court overturned the DDPR’s ruling barring teachers from engaging in a strike regarding pay and working conditions. The court instructed the DDPR to award teachers unions an industrial action protection certificate to enable their members to go on a legal strike. The teachers suspended the strike following negotiations with the government. On August 12, the teachers’ strike resumed. On August 26, some teachers went back to work while others remained on strike. The government applied a no-work, no-pay policy to those teachers who continued to strike.
In the public sector, while both police and civil servants had associations, no single association represented 50 percent of civil servants. According to the Lesotho Public Servants Staff Association (LEPSSA), 34 percent of civil servants belonged to the association. LEPSSA reported most civil servants did not register for membership in the association because they were not aware of its existence. This low rate of participation made it difficult for LEPSSA to engage with the government on workers’ rights problems. In July police embarked on a “go-slow” work action and countrywide protest against the government’s failure to pay a risk allowance and 6 percent salary increase. Police also complained of a lack of uniforms and unclear transfer and promotion criteria. The government granted the salary increase. On August 1, a group of National Security Service agents briefly blocked Mpilo Boulevard, demanding review of their salaries, which were last adjusted in 2013. Agents also complained of poor work conditions.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce applicable law. Police reported inadequate resources hampered their investigations and remediation efforts, although penalties for conviction of violations would be sufficient to deter violations if enforced.
The CGPU conducted community outreach on forced labor through community gatherings, lectures, workshops, and radio programs. The police Human Trafficking Unit targeted high schools to raise awareness of human trafficking and other forms of forced labor.
Forced labor, including forced child labor, continued to occur in the sectors of domestic work and agricultural work. Victims of forced labor were either children or workers in the informal sector. The government also continued to use forced prison labor and has not responded to an ILO request for information on the use of forced prison labor by political prisoners. The government did not inspect the informal sector nor prosecute such cases, so the extent of the problem remained obscure.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law defines the legal minimum age for employment as 15, or 18 for hazardous employment. The law prohibits most, but not all, of the worst forms of child labor. It defines hazardous work to include mining and quarrying; carrying heavy loads; manufacturing where chemicals are produced or used; working in places where machines are used, or in places such as bars, hotels, and places of entertainment where a person may be exposed to immoral behavior, herding, and producing or distributing tobacco. Children in domestic work are sometimes exposed to the worst forms of child labor not prevented by existing law and regulations.
The law provides for completion of free and compulsory primary school at age 13, two years before the legal age of employment, rendering children ages 13-15 particularly vulnerable to forced labor. The law prohibits the use of children for illicit activities, including drug trafficking, hawking, gambling, or other illegal activities detrimental to the health, welfare, and educational advancement of the child. The law also states a child has a right to be protected from the use of hallucinogens, narcotics, alcohol, tobacco products, psychotropic drugs, and any other substances declared harmful, and from being involved in their production, trafficking, or distribution. Additionally, the law prohibits the use of children for commercial sexual exploitation. While the law applies to children working in the informal economy, it excludes self-employed children from relevant legal protections.
The government did not effectively enforce minimum age law regarding employment outside the formal economy, since scarce resources hindered labor inspections. The Ministry of Labor and Employment and the CGPU investigated cases of working children. The ministry did not employ enough labor inspectors. Police reported no pending Child Labor Court cases.
The NGO Beautiful Dream Society reported five cases of sexual harassment but no cases of child labor, sex trafficking, or boys being forced to leave school to work as herdboys (boys who look after livestock).
Government regulations on children working as herdboys regulate the work and distinguish between legal “child work” and illegal “child labor.” The guidelines apply to children younger than age 18 and strictly prohibit the engagement of children at a cattle post, the huts where herders stay when in remote mountain rangelands. In line with international conventions and standards, the law considers herding by children to be illegal child labor only if it deprives herdboys of the opportunity to attend school, obliges them to leave school prematurely, or requires them to combine school attendance with excessively long hours and difficult working conditions. The highest estimated percentage of working children was in herding.
Children also engaged in domestic service and street work, including vending.
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 .
The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation, but it occurred. Discrimination based on race is barred, but discrimination based on disability is not explicitly prohibited. The law’s prohibition of gender-based discrimination is ambiguous. Generally, gender-based employment discrimination is prohibited. Nevertheless, in certain sectors, such as mining, what the law refers to as “fair discrimination” permits employers to decline to hire women for dangerous jobs. There is no provision for equal pay for equal work.
According to the NGO Women and Law in Southern Africa, there was no legal basis for discrimination against women in employment, business, and access to credit, although social barriers to equality remained. Both men and women reported hiring practices often aligned with gender, with men preferentially selected for certain positions (such as mechanics) and women preferentially selected for other positions (such as sewing machine operators).
The law prohibits discrimination against those who are HIV-positive. The Ministry of Labor and Employment did not report any such cases during the year.
Migrant workers enjoy the same legal protections, wages, and working conditions as citizens.
There is a sector-specific minimum wage and a general minimum wage. The general minimum monthly wage was above the poverty line. Minimum wage provisions do not cover significant portions of the workforce. Labor law does not apply to workers in agriculture or other informal sectors.
The law stipulates standards for hours of work, including a maximum 45-hour workweek, a weekly rest period of at least 24 hours, a daily minimum rest period of one hour, at least 12 days of paid leave per year, paid sick leave, and public holidays. Required overtime is legal if overtime wages for work in excess of the standard 45-hour workweek are paid. The maximum overtime allowed is 11 hours per week; however, there are exemptions under special circumstances. The law requires the premium pay for overtime be at a rate not less than 25 percent more than the employee’s normal hourly wage rate; any employer who requires excessive compulsory overtime is liable to a fine, imprisonment, or both.
The law empowers the Ministry of Labor and Employment to issue regulations on occupational health and safety standards, and the commissioner of labor is responsible for investigating allegations of labor law violations.
The law requires employers to provide adequate light, ventilation, and sanitary facilities for employees and to install and maintain machinery in a manner that minimizes injury. It also requires each employer to have a registered health and safety officer. Employers must provide first aid kits, safety equipment, and protective clothing. The law also provides for a compensation system for industrial injuries and diseases related to employment. Penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violations. The law holds employers responsible for orienting their employees on safety standards and for providing adequate protective clothing. Workers may be held responsible for accidents if they fail to use provided protective clothing or fail to comply with safety standards.
Labor inspectors worked in all districts and generally conducted unannounced inspections of a random sample of workplaces on a weekly basis. The government did not employ enough labor inspectors. By law the informal sector is not subject to inspection. The Ministry of Labor and Employment’s inspectorate reported employers, particularly in the security, transport, and construction sectors, did not always observe the minimum wage and hours of work laws. Many locally owned businesses did not keep employees’ records to facilitate labor inspections as required by law. Smaller employers failed to establish safety committees, did not have complete first aid kits, and did not provide protective clothing. Except for the mining industry, employers’ compliance with health and safety regulations generally was low. According to the ministry, there was noncompliance with health and safety regulations, especially in construction. Employers took advantage of the fact the ministry failed to prosecute perpetrators.
Trade union representatives described textile sector working conditions as poor or harsh but not dangerous. Union officials stated most textile factories were in prefabricated metal buildings. Unions reported few examples of dangerous health hazards but noted that in government-constructed factories there was usually improper ventilation due to poor planning and design. Employers, who leased factories from the government, were not allowed to change the design of government factory buildings to install ventilation systems. Third-party auditors hired by foreign textile buyers conducted spot checks on many exporting factories, customarily sought labor’s input, and briefed the unions on their findings. Unions believed third-party auditors kept factory owners in line with health and safety regulations.
On August 15, a coalition of labor unions and women’s rights organizations, an apparel supplier, and three apparel brands signed agreements to address GBV in garment factories. In response to allegations of sexual harassment, including some claims of supervisors demanding sexual favors, these agreements provide for the establishment of an independent body to receive complaints of GBV and carry out investigations accordingly.
Many workplace policies covered employees with HIV/AIDS. Some of the larger factories provided health services at the workplace. Where factories did not provide health care, workers had the right to access services at public health centers. Employers provided space for employee examinations and time off for employees to see doctors, receive counseling, and participate in educational and antistigma programs.
The Ministry of Labor and Employment is responsible for enforcing labor law and standards. A study on the rural and informal economy estimated 48 percent of workers were in the informal economy. The ministry’s inspectorate noted penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.
The Ministry of Labor and Employment prepared a report on workplace fatalities and accidents during the year. According to the report, from January through August, there were the following 25 accidents (involving 15 men and 10 women): six in the textile sector, five in the manufacturing sector, four in the security sector, three in the retail sector, three in the construction sector, and four in other sectors.
Working conditions for foreign or migrant workers were like those of residents.
The law does not explicitly provide for workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Nevertheless, code provisions on safety in the workplace and dismissal imply such a dismissal would be illegal. Authorities protected employees when violations of the law were reported.