Section 7. Worker Rights
The country passed a national labor law in January. The government previously operated on a labor law held over from Sudan. The new labor act was not well disseminated or enforced. Under the law every employee has the right to form and join unions, bargain collectively and strike with restrictions. The law does not explicitly prohibit antiunion discrimination nor provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activities. While labor courts adjudicate labor disputes, the minister of labor may refer them to compulsory arbitration.
The 2013 Workers’ Trade Union Act provided a regulatory framework to govern worker trade unions. The largest union, the South Sudan Workers’ Trade Union, had approximately 65,000 members, working mainly in the public sector. Unions were nominally independent of the governing political party.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, with exceptions for compulsory military or community service, or because of a criminal conviction. The law prohibits abduction or transfer of control over a person for the purpose of unlawful compulsory labor. Selling a minor for the purpose of prostitution is a crime. The law prescribes punishments of up to seven years’ imprisonment for abduction and transfer of control over a person for the purpose of unlawful compulsory labor. The law prescribes punishment of up to two years’ imprisonment for compulsory labor without aggravating circumstances. These penalties were not sufficient to deter violations since they were not enforced.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. The government did not investigate or prosecute any trafficking offenses. Forced labor occurred in domestic servitude, in agricultural labor on family farms and at cattle camps, and in prisons. Most of those in situations of forced labor in cattle camps and agricultural activities were family members. Employers subjected women, migrants, and children (see section 7.c.) to forced labor in mines, restaurants, street begging, criminal activities, and sexual exploitation.
Also, see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The minimum age for paid employment is 12 for “light work” or 16 years for “hazardous work.” The law defines light work as work that does not harm the health or development of a child and does not affect the child’s school attendance or capacity to benefit from such. The law provides that the government may issue regulations prescribing limitations on working hours, and occupational safety and health restrictions for children, but these regulations were not available. The law uses international standards (ILO Convention 182) to specify the “worst forms of child labor” and prohibits any person from engaging or permitting the engagement of a child under the age of 18 in these practices.
The law provides penalties of up to five years imprisonment for any breach of the labor act, which was insufficient to deter violations. The government did not enforce child labor laws. The National Steering Committee on Child Labor, led by the Ministry of Labor, was charged with coordinating efforts across government ministries to combat child labor; it did not convene during the year. In addition to the Ministry of Labor, the committee included representatives from the Ministries of Agriculture and Forestry; Health; Gender; General Education; Culture, Youth, and Sports; Animal Resources and Fisheries; and Wildlife Conservation and Tourism, as well as the International Labor Organization (ILO) and union representatives.
Only one of the Ministry of Labor’s five labor investigators was specifically trained to address child labor. Although charged with removing children engaged in work, the investigators did not have the necessary resources and did not conduct proper investigations. Of children between the ages of 10 and 14, 46 percent were engaged in some form of child labor, largely in cattle herding or subsistence farming with family members. Girls rescued from brothels in Juba reported police provided security for the brothels, and SPLA soldiers and government officials were frequent clients of child victims of sexual exploitation.
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on race, tribe, national extraction, color, sex (including pregnancy), religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, disability, age, or HIV/AIDS-positive status. It does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Discrimination occurred on all the bases listed above. Discrimination in employment and occupation led to less hiring of particular ethnic groups such as the Murle, who were under-represented in both the public and private sector. Dinka and Nuer occupied most leadership positions within the national government. Persons from Equatoria were historically over-represented in the civil service at lower ranks. Across the country, local authorities often manipulated the hiring practices of NGOs to favor fellow tribesmen and fire rivals. Disabled persons faced discrimination in hiring and access to work sites. Women had fewer economic opportunities due to employer discrimination and traditional practices.
The new labor act specifies the ministry may establish and publish a minimum wage, or wages for different categories of employees. There was no public information that this occurred. The law specifies normal working hours should not exceed eight hours per day and 40 hours per week and should provide for overtime.
The Ministry of Labor, Public Service, and Human Resource Development has a new Occupational Safety Branch, which only has one staff member, who is also the office director. There are no occupational safety and health (OSH) standards. Workers cannot remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
A Civil Service Provisional Order applies to the public sector and outlines the rights and obligations of public-sector workers, including benefits, salaries, and overtime. The law provides the Ministry of Labor, Public Service, and Human Resources with authority to issue the schedule of salary rates, according to which all civil servants, officials, and employees are to be paid. This pay scale has not been adjusted for several years, and now, due to rapid depreciation of the South Sudanese pound, most civil servants did not receive enough income to support themselves, even when their salaries were delivered on time and in full, which was infrequent. Under the law, only unskilled workers are eligible for overtime pay for work in excess of 40 hours per week. Civil servants, officials, and employees working at higher pay grades were expected to work necessary hours beyond the standard workweek without overtime pay. When exceptional additional hours were demanded, the department head could grant time off in lieu of reimbursement.
The government did not enforce the law. The government neither investigated nor prosecuted cases of violations of wage and OSH standards. Penalties for violations of laws on wages and working conditions were not sufficient to deter violations. Eight employees serve as both labor inspectors and adjudicators of work permits, which was not sufficient to enforce the law.
According to the 2008 census, the latest data on working conditions available, 84 percent of those employed were in nonwage work. Most small businesses operated in the informal economy and widely ignored labor laws and regulations. According to the ILO, less than 12 percent of workers were in the formal sector. The formal sector included security companies, banks, telecommunications companies, a brewery, and other private companies. The majority of workers in the country were agricultural workers, of whom 70 percent were agropastoralists and 30 percent farmers. Fifty-three percent of agricultural workers engaged in unpaid subsistence family farming.