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Slovenia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits hate speech, which it defines as incitement to hatred, violence, and intolerance based on nationality, race, religion, gender, skin color, social status, political or other beliefs, sexual orientation, and disability in a way that could threaten or disrupt public order. The penalty for conviction of hate speech is up to two years’ imprisonment. The penal code also prohibits the expression of ideas of racial superiority and denial of the Holocaust. Due to extensive criteria necessary for the prosecution of hate speech, police or prosecutors investigated only several dozen cases during the year; of the cases prosecuted, there were no reports of convictions.

There were some highly publicized instances of alleged hate speech. For example, the Ministry of Culture reported the weekly publication Demokracija to the media inspectorate for its August cover showing a photo of seven black hands groping and touching a white woman with the title, “With Migrants Comes the Culture of Rape.” The inspectorate referred the case to police, and as of October it remained pending.

In November Prime Minister Marjan Sarec called on state-owned companies to consider removing advertisements from media sources that spread hateful content. Some NGOs, political parties, and journalist associations hailed Sarec’s call as an important step towards combatting hate speech, while others condemned it as inadmissible political pressure on media and corporate autonomy.

The hotline “Spletno oko” (“Web Eye”) received several hundred reports concerning potential cases of hate speech, but there were no reported prosecutions or convictions for online hate speech.

Several media outlets have required journalists to observe certain guidelines in their private social media interactions.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The print and broadcast media, like online newspapers and journals, as well as book publishers, are subject to the laws prohibiting hate speech, libel, and slander.

Violence and Harassment: Journalist associations expressed concern regarding a number of threats and insults against journalists and urged journalists to report threats to police.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Slovenian Association of Journalists and media analysts observed that standards of journalistic integrity suffered because of economic pressure; nonstandard forms of employment, such as freelance or student status; and reduced protections for journalists, leading some to practice self-censorship to maintain steady employment.

Journalists and media representatives stated existing media legislation does not address the problem of excessive concentration of ownership in the media, which limited the diversity of views expressed.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: Based on a proposal from journalist associations and Transparency International, in January parliament passed an amendment to the Public Information Access Act that protects journalists from liability for administrative costs incurred by third parties in rejected freedom of information access requests.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 79 percent of individuals in the country used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

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

Citizenship: Based on a 2012 decision by the ECHR, in 2013 the government introduced a system for providing just satisfaction (i.e., restitution for damages) for the “erased” citizens of other former Yugoslav republics denied the right to reside legally in the country in the 1990s. To date, more than 10,300 “erased” individuals have regularized their legal status in Slovenia. An additional 3,000 were presumed deceased, and approximately 12,000 were believed to be living abroad with no intention of returning to the country.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

In 2017 the Government Office for the Care and Integration of Migrants began operations. By law this office is responsible for ensuring the country meets its international commitments to provide services and protection to refugees, migrants, and displaced persons by coordinating the efforts of national authorities, NGOs, and other organizations. The office provided material support and accommodation to assist refugees through its asylum center and branches, managed reception and support assistance programs, and engaged with NGOs and international organizations to provide services and resettlement options to migrants. It offered medical services and psychological counseling, oversaw integration services for refugees and immigrants, cooperated with legal representatives of unaccompanied minors, and assisted police in deportation proceedings for those whose asylum claims were denied.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

The local Amnesty International (AI) chapter stated that in early June Slovenian border authorities rejected without due process the asylum applications of at least 51 applicants and sent them back to Croatia. AI detailed its findings based on interviews with 70 individuals in late June near the Bosnia-Croatia border. Among those interviewed, 58 individuals said they reached Slovenia, where 51 individuals (mostly families from Syria, Iran, and Iraq and single men from Algeria, Morocco, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Egypt) said they intended to seek asylum. These individuals claimed Slovenian border police failed to provide interpreters and denied or ignored their requests for asylum, forcibly returning them to Croatian police, who then deported them to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

On July 19, former ministry of interior state secretary Bostjan Sefic publicly rejected AI’s allegations and stated border officials behaved professionally and in accordance with all required national and European legislation with respect to human rights and the right to international protection. Slovenian police also rejected accusations of forcibly returning asylum applicants to Croatian police and explained that the returns involved individuals who abused procedures by announcing an intention to file asylum applications but failed to do so.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The Dublin III regulation obligates the country, as a member state of the EU, to consider all EU countries as safe countries of origin and transit. Under the regulation the government may return an asylum seeker entering from another EU country to the country in which the person first entered the EU; however, pursuant to a decision by the ECHR, the government did not return asylum seekers to Greece.

Freedom of Movement: Local NGOs reported unjustifiable limitations on the movement of asylum seekers residing in government-operated integration houses and asserted that no legal grounds existed for these limitations. The NGO Legal Information Center filed a proceeding against the Government Office for the Support and Integration of Migrants on this issue, which was pending at year’s end.

Local NGOs criticized as inappropriate the government’s housing of unaccompanied minor asylum seekers alongside adults in the police-managed Foreigners Home in Postojna. Determining the age of unaccompanied asylum seekers remained a challenge.

Employment: Asylum seekers outside of EU resettlement and relocation programs often waited six or more months for their cases to be adjudicated and were barred from working during the initial nine months of this period, although many reportedly worked illegally. Local NGOs criticized this restriction, asserting it made asylum seekers vulnerable to labor exploitation due to their illegal status, lack of knowledge of local labor laws, and language barriers.

Durable Solutions: In 2016 the government approved an EU plan to relocate 567 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece and to resettle 20 refugees from other non-EU countries. The government also agreed to resettle 40 Syrian refugees from Turkey. As of September, the country had resettled 27 individuals from Turkey. Individuals accepted for resettlement received the same integration services as refugees as well as a three-month orientation program to familiarize them with the country.

Of the 567 refugees that the country agreed to accept in 2016 under the EU relocation plan, 253 lived in the country. In this group 244 have acquired refugee status, and most lived in private homes. In August the government announced the country had fully honored its commitments under the EU relocation plan but was unable to resettle all 567 migrants because Greece and Italy did not submit the necessary documentation. The government provided housing and sufficient resources to meet refugees’ basic needs.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, but the Ministry of Interior did not maintain separate statistics for refugees and those who qualified for subsidiary protection. In the first eight months of the year, the Government Office for Support and Integration of Migrants accepted and housed 2,222 applicants for international protection status. As of late August, there were 523 persons with international protection status in the country.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. In 2016, in the first ruling of its kind, a court ruled to protect the right of workers to unionize. NGOs reported that in practice employers have informally pressured unions to refrain from organizing, particularly workers of new companies in the metal industry and transport sector.

The law requires unionization of at least 10 percent of workers in a sector before the sector may engage in collective bargaining. The law restricts the right to strike for police, members of the military, and some other public employees, providing for arbitration instead. Resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were adequate; penalties for violations were sufficient to deter violations. Judicial and administrative procedures were not subject to lengthy delays or appeals.

The government respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

While the law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government generally enforced the law, forced labor occurred and was most prevalent in the metal and wood industry, construction, hospitality, and transport sectors. Resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were adequate. Penalties for violations were sufficiently stringent to deter violations.

There were reports men, women, and children were subjected to forced labor in the construction sector and forced begging. A report commissioned by the government found minors and migrant workers were particularly vulnerable to forced labor or trafficking conditions and that fraudulent employment and recruitment of migrant workers occurred.

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 legal age of employment is 15. The law limits hours, mandates rest periods, prohibits working in hazardous locations, and specifies adult supervision for workers younger than age 18. While no specific occupations are restricted, hazardous work locations (specified by the law) include those that are underground and underwater and those involving harmful exposure to radiation, toxic or carcinogenic agents, extreme cold, heat, noise, or vibrations. Penalties for labor law violations related to child labor violations range from a fine to one year in prison and were sufficient to deter violations. The government generally enforced child labor and minimum age laws effectively. Nevertheless, children younger than age 15 in rural areas often worked during the harvest season and performed farm chores. Some children were also subjected to sex trafficking and trafficking for forced labor, including forced begging.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law establishes a general framework for equal treatment and prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on race or ethnic origin, sex, color, religion, age, citizenship, disability, or sexual orientation. The law specifically prohibits discrimination based on language or HIV-positive status. The government effectively enforced these laws. Penalties for violations range widely, depending on the type and size of the employing organization, and were sufficient to deter violations. Women’s earnings were 68 percent those of men; in comparable positions women’s earnings were 97 percent those of men.

There were few formal complaints of discrimination, although there were some reports of employment discrimination based on gender, age, and nationality. In certain sectors, foreign workers are required to remain employed with their initial employer for a minimum of one year. Some employers lobbied to change this to a minimum of five years, which local NGOs criticized as enabling labor exploitation through lower salaries, poor living conditions, and longer working hours. Migrant workers enjoyed the same labor rights as citizens but faced discrimination. Many migrants worked in the hospitality sector or in physically demanding jobs. Some migrant workers were not aware of local labor laws regarding minimum wage, overtime, health care, and other benefits, a problem compounded by language barriers. An NGO contact estimated only 2 percent of Roma in the southeastern part of the country worked in the formal economy. Employment in informal sectors made Roma vulnerable to labor law violations, particularly in terms of benefits and procedures for termination of employment. Employment discrimination against Roma was not limited to a specific sector. The government attempted to address issues experienced by Roma (see also section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national monthly gross minimum wage was 843 euros ($970). The official poverty line is set at 636 euros ($730) per month for single-member households. The Ministry of Labor, Family, Social Affairs, and Equal Opportunities monitors minimum wage compliance and has inspection authority. According to NGOs and advocacy groups, authorities enforced the laws effectively, except in some cases involving migrant workers and asylum seekers, who faced conditions of exploitation. Penalties for violations were sufficient to deter violations.

Collective agreements determined whether workers received premium pay for overtime. The law limits overtime to eight hours per week, 20 hours per month, and 170 hours per year. Special commissions under the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labor, Family, Social Affairs, and Equal Opportunities set occupational health and safety standards for workers that are appropriate for the main industries in the country. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. Workers facing hazardous working conditions included professional divers, mountain rescuers, sailors, construction workers, and miners. Workers facing exploitative working conditions included those employed in construction, the transport sector, the wood industry, and exotic dancers.

The law requires employers to protect workers injured on the job. If incapacitated, such workers may perform other work corresponding to their abilities, obtain part-time work, and receive occupational rehabilitation and wage compensation.

The Ministry of Labor, Family, Social Affairs, and Equal Opportunities monitors labor practices and has inspection authority; police are responsible for investigating violations of the law. According to NGOs and advocacy groups, authorities enforced the laws effectively, except in some cases involving migrant workers and asylum seekers, who faced conditions of exploitation. The International Labor Organization’s Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR) observed that conflicts between laws governing inspection could lead to uncertainty regarding whether inspectors have a right of access to work sites. The law requires employers to make social security payments for all workers. The Free Legal Aid Society reported that employers of migrant workers usually did not deduct social security from paychecks, leaving those workers without a future pension or access to social services. The government employed 37 inspectors of labor contracts and 43 for occupational safety and health problems to cover more than 210,000 legal entities in the country. The CEACR and NGOs also observed there was an urgent need to increase the number of inspectors to keep up with the workload. Labor inspectors carried out labor contract and occupational safety and health inspections, found violations, and issued penalties. In both fields the majority of violations took place in the wood-processing industry, metal industry, construction, and bars and restaurants.

There were no major industrial accidents during the year in which workers were injured.

Somalia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The provisional federal constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but neither federal nor regional authorities respected this right. The Somali penal code criminalizes the spreading of “false news,” which it does not define, with penalties including imprisonment of up to six months. The government, government-aligned militias, authorities in Somaliland and Puntland, South West State, Galmudug, Jubaland, ASWJ, al-Shabaab, and unknown assailants killed, abused, and harassed journalists with impunity (see sections 1.a. and 1.g.).

The Somaliland constitution prohibits publication or circulation of exaggerated or tendentious news capable of disturbing public order, and officials used the provision to charge and arrest journalists.

The Puntland constitution limits freedom of opinion and expression through broadly worded limitations–including conformity with moral dignity, national stability, and personal rights of others–and allows for exceptions from the right to freedom of expression in times of war or other public emergency.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals in government-controlled areas risked reprisal for criticizing government officials, particularly for alleged official corruption or suggestions that officials were unable to manage security matters. Such interference remained common outside the capital, particularly in Puntland and Somaliland.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although self-censorship was common due to a history of arbitrary arrest of journalists and search and closure of media outlets that criticized the government. While there were no reports of such interference in Mogadishu since President Farmaajo’s election, it remained common outside the capital, particularly in Puntland and Somaliland.

Somaliland authorities continued to fine and arbitrarily arrest journalists for defamation and other alleged crimes, including meeting with colleagues. Prison terms ranged from a few days to several months, and fines could be as high as 573,000 shillings ($1,000). Journalists were intimidated and imprisoned for conducting investigations into corruption or topics deemed sensitive, such as investment agreements regarding the Berbera Port or the conflict between Somaliland and Puntland over the disputed Sool and Sanaag regions.

Violence and Harassment: Between January and August, the United Nations documented 20 cases of arbitrary arrests and or prolonged detentions of journalists and other media workers, of which 12 occurred in Somaliland. During that same period, five media outlets were closed. On July 26, a Somali soldier in Mogadishu killed a television cameraman; the death allegedly resulted from a personal property dispute. On September 18, another journalist was stabbed to death in Galkayo. Investigations in neither case found evidence that the killings were carried out because of the journalists’ work.

In January, two journalists were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in Somaliland on charges that included conducting propaganda against the state.

On January 13, NISA officers reportedly beat and harassed two journalists at an airport in Galkaayo during a visit by President Farmaajo. No investigation was reported despite requests by the Puntland Media Association.

On February 17, Somaliland police arrested the bureau chief of London-based Universal TV in response to a news report broadcast by the station earlier in February.

In April a journalist was arrested in Middle Shabelle after reporting on a clash between security forces. He was later released through negotiations between journalists and authorities.

In July a civil society activist was arrested in Garowe by Puntland police after making a Facebook post critical of the Puntland Government.

According to the Somaliland Journalists Association, local authorities continued to harass and arbitrarily detain journalists systematically.

Journalists based in the Lower Juba region continued to report that local security authorities harassed them.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists engaged in rigorous self-censorship to avoid reprisals.

In May Somaliland authorities banned two private television stations, accusing them of broadcasting propaganda and false news regarding the dispute between Somaliland and Puntland in Tukaraq, Sool region. Somaliland continued to punish persons who espoused national unification.

On June 13, in the midst of conflict between Somaliland and Puntland, the Puntland Ministry of Information instructed Puntland internet provider DSAT to remove the Somaliland television channel from the list of channels available in Puntland.

On June 19, the Hargeisa Regional Court ordered the suspension of Waaberi, the local newspaper, alleging the paper was not run by its registered owners.

Al-Shabaab banned journalists from reporting news that undermined Islamic law as interpreted by al-Shabaab and forbade persons in areas under its control from listening to international media outlets.

Libel/Slander Laws: Puntland and Somaliland authorities prosecuted journalists for libel.

On April 16, blogger Mohamed Kayse Mohamud was sentenced to 18 months in prison for comments he made in February calling Somaliland President Bihi a local, not national, president. Kayse’s lawyer said that police denied him access to Kayse during pretrial detention, which began February 7, and did not meet him until April 1, the first day of the trial.

National Security: Federal and regional authorities cited national security concerns to suppress criticism and prevent press coverage of opposition political figures.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Authorities restricted access to the internet, but there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Al-Shabaab prohibited companies from providing access to the internet and forced telecommunication companies to shut data services in al-Shabaab-controlled areas.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, less than 2 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Academics practiced self-censorship.

Puntland required individuals to obtain government permits to conduct academic research.

Except in al-Shabaab-controlled areas, there were no official restrictions on attending cultural events, playing music, or going to the cinema. The security situation, however, effectively restricted access to and organization of cultural events in the southern and central regions.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The federal provisional constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government limited this right. A general lack of security effectively limited this right as well. The federal Ministry of Internal Security continued to require its approval for all public gatherings, citing security concerns, such as the risk of attack by al-Shabaab suicide bombers.

In May Somaliland authorities in the Sool region arrested 57 demonstrators for staging a protest in support of Somali unity, including some in support of Puntland. All the demonstrators were later released.

Al-Shabaab did not allow any gatherings without its prior consent.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The provisional federal constitution provides for freedom of association, but government officials harassed NGO workers. There were also reports that regional authorities restricted freedom of association. Al-Shabaab did not allow most international NGOs to operate.

Persons in the southern and central regions outside of al-Shabaab-controlled areas could freely join civil society organizations focusing on a wide range of problems. Citizens generally respected civil society organizations for their ability to deliver social services in the absence of functioning government ministries.

Regional administrations took steps to control or gain benefit from humanitarian organizations, including by imposing duplicative registration requirements at different levels of government; attempting to control humanitarian organization contracting, procurement, and staffing; and using opaque and vague taxation.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The provisional federal constitution provides for the right of every worker to form and join a trade union, participate in the activities of a trade union, conduct legal strikes, and engage in collective bargaining. No specific legal restrictions exist that limit these rights. The law does not provide limits on the scope of collective bargaining. The provisional federal constitution does not address antiunion discrimination or the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Legal protections did not exclude any particular groups of workers. While penalties for violating the provisions of the 1972 labor code included six months in jail, the government lacked the capacity to enforce applicable laws effectively.

Government and employers did not respect freedom of association or collective bargaining rights. The government interfered in union activities. In June the FGS transmitted a memorandum of understanding signed between the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the Federation of Somali Trade Unions (FESTU) agreeing to develop a shared set of enforceable principles, noting that FESTU is the most representative national trade union organization in the country, that the FGS and FESTU should establish a tripartite dialogue, and that the head of FESTU represents as worker delegate for the country. Two affiliated unions claimed that in February government officials called the hotels where they were holding meetings and asked the hotels to cancel the reservations for the unions.

In June FESTU became accredited to the International Labor Organization (ILO’s) International Labor Conference to represent Somali workers after the International Trade Unions Confederation (ITUC) submitted an objection against government-accredited persons who attended as workers’ delegates. The delegates were not trade union representatives and not genuine officials of FESTU. The FGS had accredited representatives over the past four years who FESTU argued were not genuine trade unionists. The ILO’s Credentials Committee agreed with the objection of ITUC and revoked the credentials of individuals accredited by the government as workers representatives, allowing FESTU leaders to be accredited as official delegation, representing workers of Somalia at the conference.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The provisional federal constitution prohibits slavery, servitude, trafficking, or forced labor for any purpose. Authorities did not effectively enforce the law. Under the pre-1991 penal code, applicable at the federal and regional levels, the penalty for slavery is imprisonment for five to 20 years. The penalty for using forced labor is imprisonment for six months to five years. Although the penalties appeared sufficiently stringent, they were rarely enforced. There were no known efforts by the government to prevent or eliminate forced labor in the country. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs did not have an inspectorate and did not conduct any labor-related inspections.

Forced labor occurred. Children and minority clan members were reportedly used as porters to transport the mild narcotic khat (or “miraa”) and in farming and animal herding, crushing stones, and construction. Al-Shabaab forced persons in their camps to move to the countryside, reportedly to raise cash crops for the organization.

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

It was unclear whether there was a minimum age for employment. The pre-1991 labor code prohibits child labor, provides a legal minimum age of 15 for most employment, prescribes different minimum ages for certain hazardous activities, and prohibits those younger than 18 from night work in the industrial, commercial, and agricultural sectors, apart from work that engages family members only. The provisional federal constitution states, “No child may perform work or provide services that are not suitable for the child’s age or create a risk to the child’s health or development in any way.” The provisional federal constitution defines a child as any person younger than 18.

The federal Ministries of Labor and Social Affairs and of Women and Human Rights Development, as well as the Somali National Police, are responsible for enforcing child labor laws. The ministries, however, did not enforce these laws. Many of the laws related to the commercial exploitation of children are included in the 1962 penal code. These laws were not adequate to prevent child labor, as many of the fines were negligible due to inflation. The government participated in campaigns to remove children from participation in armed conflict (see section 1.g.).

Child labor was widespread. The recruitment and use of child soldiers remained a problem (see section 1.g.). Youths commonly worked in herding, agriculture, household labor, and forced begging from an early age. Children broke rocks into gravel and worked as vendors and transporters of cigarettes and khat on the streets. UNICEF estimated that 49 percent of children between the ages of five and 14 were in the workforce between 2009 and 2015.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/ .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, disability, political opinion, color, language, or social status, but the government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations. The labor code requires equal pay for equal work. According to the 1972 labor code, penalties included imprisonment up to six months and/or a fine of not more than 1,000 Somali shillings (less than one dollar). Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The law does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, age, national origin, social origin, sexual orientation or gender identity, or HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases.

Bantu communities, primarily living between the Juba and Shabelle rivers in southern Somalia, continued to face discrimination, including verbal abuse, and being forced to adopt Arabic names. The discrimination was renewed in IDP camps, where Bantu women were not protected by traditional clan structure. Ethnic Bantu Federal Parliamentarian Mohamed Nur spoke before the Parliament about his experiences confronting prejudice in the country.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There was no national minimum wage. According to the World Bank, 69 percent of the population covered by the Somali High Frequency Survey Wave Two lived in poverty.

The labor code provides for a standard workweek of 48 hours and at least nine paid national holidays and 15 days’ annual leave, requires premium pay for overtime, and limits overtime to a maximum of 12 hours per week. The law sets occupational health and safety standards. The law does not specifically address whether workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

There was no organized effort to monitor working conditions. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is responsible at the federal level for establishing occupational safety and health standards and enforcement, although it was not effective. There were no labor inspectors.

Wages and working conditions were established largely through arrangements based on supply, demand, and the influence of workers’ clans. There was no information on the existence or status of foreign or migrant workers in the country. Most workers worked in the informal sector.

Authorities did not have the capacity to protect workers who wished to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety, although no such cases were reported.

Vietnam

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press; however, in practice the government did not respect these rights in practice, and several laws specifically encroach on freedom of expression. The government continued to use broad national security and antidefamation provisions to restrict these freedoms. The law defines the crimes of “sabotaging the infrastructure of socialism,” “sowing divisions between religious and nonreligious people,” and “propagandizing against the state” as serious offenses against national security. It also expressly forbids “taking advantage of democratic freedoms and rights to violate the interests of the state or lawful rights and interests of organizations or individuals.”

Freedom of Expression: The government continued to restrict speech that criticized individual government leaders, criticized the party, promoted political pluralism or multiparty democracy, or questioned policies on sensitive matters, such as human rights, religious freedom, or sovereignty disputes with China. The government also sought to impede criticism by monitoring meetings and communications of journalists and activists, including in academic institutions.

On June 12, the National Assembly adopted the Law on Cybersecurity which included vague national security provisions prohibiting “distortion of history, denial of revolutionary achievements, undermining national solidarity, taking advantage of cybersecurity protection activities to violate national security, national interests or sovereignty, or disrupt public order.” The law states any violation of its regulations would be subject to criminal prosecution.

Numerous groups and individuals criticized current and former local and national officials or members of government affiliates on social media, particularly Facebook.

On July 5, Hanoi authorities arrested blogger Le Anh Hung and charged him with “abusing democratic freedom” for online posts criticizing political leaders. Hung was a regular political writer for the Vietnamese programs of Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, and the British Broadcasting Corporation, and also contributed to the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam’s blog.

Press and Media Freedom: The CPV, government, and party-controlled mass organizations exercised legal authority over all print, broadcast, online, and electronic media, primarily through the Ministry of Information and Communications under the overall guidance of the CPV Propaganda and Education Commission. The law authorizes the government to fine journalists and newspapers, with fines ranging from five million to 10 million Vietnamese dong (VND) ($220 to $440) for journalists who fail to cite their sources of information and for journalists and newspapers that “use documents and materials from organizations and personal letters and materials from individuals.” In July the Ministry of Information and Communications ordered a three-month suspension and 220 million VND ($10,000) fine on Tuoi Tre Online, the online version of top daily Tuoi Tre, for attributing untrue remarks to the president and “disrupting national unity.” The suspension was one of the harshest punishments in years and had a chilling effect throughout the journalism sector.

Many nongovernmental entities produced and distributed publications in a variety of forms, e.g. by subcontracting, joint-publishing, or buying permits from government or public entities that were entitled to media activities and publishing. State-run media reported that private entities produced more than 90 percent of all publications in the country, although outright private ownership or operation of any media outlet or publishing house remained prohibited. Media independent of government authority operated on a limited basis online, primarily via blogs and social media, but independent journalists faced government harassment.

On March 11, the government consolidated several circulars implementing revised Decree 72 which governs on the management, supply, and use of internet services and online information. Decree 72 continues to require media to register and store user’s personal information, facilitate the removal of information that violated laws, and allow the revocation of licenses of violators, among other provisions.

The law allows the government to punish publishers if they publish “untruthful information” in the fields of statistics; atomic energy; management of prices, charges, fees, and invoices; education; civil aviation; vocational training; hydrometeorology; cartography; and health.

The law limits satellite television access to senior officials, foreigners, luxury hotels, and the press, but persons throughout the country continued to be able to access foreign programming via home satellite equipment or cable.

The government permitted foreign-based media outlets although the law requires foreign television broadcasts to run on a 30- to 60-minute delay to enable content monitoring. Such channels ran on a 10-minute delay, however. Viewers reported obstruction of various commentaries, documentaries, and movies on human rights incidents in the country, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Soviet era, or events in China and Venezuela.

Major foreign media outlets reported the government delayed or refused to issue visas for reporters who previously covered sensitive political topics, particularly reporters for the overseas Vietnamese-language press. In November consular officials did not issue a visa to a BBC journalist who intended to report on the anniversary of relations between the UK and Vietnam. His visa application remained pending in December.

Government regulations authorize the information ministry to revoke the licenses of foreign publishers, and each foreign publisher must reapply annually to maintain its license.

Violence and Harassment: There continued to be a significant number of reports of security officials attacking, threatening, or arresting journalists and independent bloggers because of their coverage of sensitive stories.

Plainclothes security officials detained and beat a prominent independent journalist and author Pham Doan Trang with their motorcycle helmets after she attended an unsanctioned concert in Ho Chi Minh City. She sustained a concussion.

Foreign journalists said they continued to be required to notify authorities about travel outside Hanoi when it was to an area considered sensitive, such as the Northwest or Central Highlands, or involved a story the government otherwise might consider sensitive.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Ministry of Information and Communications and the CPV Propaganda and Education Commission frequently intervened directly to dictate or censor a story.

Propaganda officials forced editors of major press outlets to meet regularly to discuss what topics were off-limits for reporting. More often pervasive self-censorship, including among independent journalists and bloggers, due to the threat of dismissal and possible arrest, enabled the party and government to control media content. The government continued its practice of penalizing journalists for failing to self-censor, to include revoking journalists’ press credentials.

In August a managing editor at a leading state-run daily said he was warned that he could be disciplined for what he wrote on Facebook. The newspaper said the contents he posted “undermined national unity” and provided fabricated and libelous information about organizations and individuals. He had written posts about state conglomerate Vinashin’s losses, among other issues.

National Security: The law tightly restricts media freedom and stipulates fines of 20 million to 30 million VND ($880 to $1,330) for journalists, newspapers, and online media that publish or broadcast information deemed harmful to national interests and up to 50 million dong ($2,200) for information considered as distorting history and the revolution’s achievements. In some cases these “violations” may be subject to criminal proceedings.

Citing laws protecting national security, police arrested and charged journalists to restrict criticism of government policies or officials.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet, censored online content, and monitored private online communications without legal authority. The limited number of licensed internet service providers (ISPs) were fully or substantially state-controlled companies. The government monitored Facebook posts and punished those who used the internet to organize protests or publish content critical of the government. On September 22, in separate trials, the People’s Court of Cai Rang district, Can Tho City, convicted Facebook users Nguyen Hong Nguyen and Truong Dinh Khang of “abusing democratic freedoms” and sentenced them to two years’ and one year’ imprisonment respectively. The government sometimes blocked websites it deemed politically or culturally inappropriate, including sites operated by overseas Vietnamese political groups in addition to the websites of Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, and the BBC Vietnamese news service. State-owned ISPs routinely blocked domestic Vietnamese-language websites that contained content criticizing the CPV or promoting political reform.

The law requires all companies and organizations operating websites providing content on “politics, economics, culture, and society” or social networks, including blogging platforms, to register with the government. The government also required such owners to submit detailed plans of their content and scope for approval. Such companies and organizations must locate at least one server in the country to facilitate requests for information from the government and store posted information for 90 days and certain metadata for up to two years.

The government forbids direct access to the internet through foreign ISPs, requires domestic ISPs to store information transmitted on the internet for at least 15 days, and requires ISPs to provide technical assistance and workspace to public security agents to allow them to monitor internet activities. The Ministry of Public Security has long required “internet agents,” including cyber cafes, to register the personal information of their customers, to store records of internet sites visited by customers, and to participate in government investigations of online activity. Internet cafes continued to install and use government-approved software to monitor customers’ online activities. The Ministry of Public Security enforced these and other requirements and monitored selectively.

On June 12, the National Assembly adopted a Law on Cybersecurity–scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2019–that requires foreign firms to store personal data locally and to open offices in the country. Members of the public protested the law and shared concerns that the law would make it easier for the state to pressure social media platforms to remove user-generated content or to hand over user information to security officials. Critics said it could undermine local businesses, which rely heavily on firms providing cross-border services online such as cloud-computing services.

The government continued to pressure firms such as Facebook and Google to eliminate “fake accounts” and content deemed “toxic,” including antistate materials. On July 9, the Ministry of Information and Communications announced that Google removed nearly 6,700 video clips, YouTube blocked six YouTube channels, and Facebook blocked nearly 1,000 links, 107 fake accounts, and 137 accounts that defamed the CPV and government.

Force 47, a special unit within the Ministry of National Defense monitored the internet for misinformation and antistate propaganda.

Authorities also suppressed online political expression by direct action against bloggers such as arrests, short-term detentions, surveillance, intimidation, and the illegal confiscation of computers and cell phones of activists and family members. The government continued to use national security and other vague provisions of the penal code against activists who peacefully expressed their political views online. Political dissidents and bloggers reported that the Ministry of Public Security routinely ordered disconnection of their home internet service. On September 17, the People’s Court of Tu Son town convicted citizen journalist Do Cong Duong of “disrupting public order” for filming a forced eviction, according to an NGO. He was sentenced to four years in prison. Duong was subsequently convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms” and sentenced on October 12 to an additional five years in prison.

Social network and blog users are required to provide their full name, national identification number, and address before creating an account. In-country website and social network operators must allow authorities to inspect local servers upon request and must have a mechanism to remove prohibited content within three hours of detection or notification by authorities.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 49.6 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Foreign academic professionals temporarily working at universities in the country could discuss nonpolitical topics widely and freely in classes, but government observers regularly attended classes taught by both foreigners and nationals. The government continued to require international and domestic organizations to obtain advance approval for conferences involving international sponsorship or participation. The government allowed universities more autonomy over international exchanges and cooperation programs, but visa requirements for visiting scholars and students remained onerous.

The government continued to prohibit any public criticism of CPV and state policy, including by independent scientific and technical organizations, even when the criticism was for a purely academic audience.

The government exerted influence over art exhibits, music, and other cultural activities by requiring significant permission procedures.

Many activists reported Ministry of Public Security officials threatened university leaders if they did not expel activists from their respective universities and pressured them and their family members not to attend certain workshops, although their political activities were peaceful. Multiple activists also reported academic institutions refused to allow them or their children to graduate due to their advocacy of human rights. In March at Hanoi Noi Bai airport authorities denied exit permission to a student from Song Ngoc parish in Nghe An province who was traveling to study overseas due to his involvement in Formosa-related protests.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The government restricted freedom of peaceful assembly. Law and regulations require persons wishing to gather in a group to apply for a permit, which local authorities issued or denied without explanation. Only those arranging publicized gatherings to discuss sensitive matters appeared to require permits, however, and persons routinely gathered in informal groups without government interference. The government generally did not permit any demonstrations perceived to be political. The law permits security forces to detain individuals gathering or protesting outside of courthouses during trials.

The Ministry of Public Security and local police routinely prevented activists from peacefully assembling. There were numerous reports of police dispersing gatherings of environmental activists, anti-China activists, land rights advocates, human rights defenders, bloggers and independent journalists, women’s rights, and former political prisoners.

Social media and multiple activists reported that on June 17, authorities took some 180 people, including those who were involved in protesting the draft SAEZ and cybersecurity laws and those observing the demonstrations, to Tao Dao stadium in Ho Chi Minh City. Some activists including Phan Tieu May said they were not protesting but were taken by authorities from their homes or cafes to the stadium Authorities searched, and beat those detained. Many of those involved said they sustained injuries to the head, and some lost consciousness. One individual required long-term hospitalization for his injuries.

On August 15, Ho Chi Minh City police and plainclothes individuals beat musician Nguyen Tin and other activists at Casanova Cafe in District 3 in Ho Chi Minh City after Nguyen Tin held an unregistered concert. They tied him to a chair and beat him over the head with his guitar, according to other activists.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution affords individuals the right of association, but the government restricted freedom of association severely. The country’s legal and regulatory framework establishes mechanisms for restricting freedom of NGOs to act and organize, including by restricting freedom of association. The government generally prohibited the establishment of private, independent organizations, insisting that persons work within established, party-controlled mass organizations, usually under the aegis of the VFF. The government used complex and politicized registration systems for NGOs and religious organizations to suppress unwelcome political and religious participation.

Laws and regulations governing NGOs restrict their ability to engage in policy advocacy or conduct research outside of state-sanctioned topics and prohibit organizations focused on social science and technology from operating in fields such as economic policy, public policy, political issues, and a range of other areas considered sensitive. Authorities also do not permit them to engage in the public distribution of policy advocacy positions.

The Law on Belief and Religions, which came into effect January 1, still requires religious groups to register with authorities and to inform officials of activities. Authorities had the right to approve or refuse religious activities. Some unregistered religious groups reported an increase in government interference.

Some registered organizations, civil society organizations including governance and environment-focused NGOs, reported increased scrutiny of their activities.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government imposed some limits on the movement of certain individuals, especially those convicted under national security or related charges or outspoken critics of the government.

Religious and ethnic minority groups, including Hmong and Montagnards who fled the Central Highlands for Cambodia or Thailand, some reportedly due to abuse (see Section 6), asserted that authorities pressured them to return by threatening their families that remained in-country. Authorities then abused, detained, or questioned them upon their return.

In-country Movement: Several political activists, amnestied with probation or under house arrest, along with others not facing such legal restrictions were officially restricted in their movements, including Bui Thi Minh Hang and Dinh Nhat Uy. Authorities continued to monitor and selectively restrict the movement of many prominent activists and religious leaders including Nguyen Dan Que, Pham Chi Dung, Pham Ba Hai, Nguyen Hong Quang, Thich Khong Tanh, Le Cong Cau, and Duong Thi Tan. Several activists reported authorities had confiscated their national identification cards, preventing them from traveling domestically by air or conducting routine administrative matters.

Some activists reported authorities prevented them and their family members from leaving their homes during politically sensitive events, (see also section 1.d.).

A government restriction regarding travel to certain areas required citizens and resident foreigners to obtain a permit to visit border areas, defense facilities, industrial zones involved in national defense, areas of “national strategic storage,” and “works of extreme importance for political, economic, cultural, and social purposes.”

Local police required citizens to register when staying overnight in any location outside of their own homes; the government appeared to enforce these requirements more strictly in some Central and Northern Highlands districts. Foreign passport holders also needed to register to stay in private homes, although there were no known cases of local authorities refusing to allow foreign visitors to stay with friends or family. There were multiple reports of police using the excuse of “checking on residency registration” to intimidate and harass activists and prevent them from traveling outside of their place of registration (see sections 1.d. and 1.f.).

Authorities did not strictly enforce residency laws for the general population, and migration from rural areas to cities continued unabated. Moving without permission, however, hampered persons from obtaining legal residence permits, public education, and health-care benefits.

Foreign Travel: Prospective emigrants occasionally encountered difficulties obtaining a passport or exit permission, and authorities regularly confiscated passports of activists, at times indefinitely. There were multiple reports of individuals crossing the land borders with Laos or Cambodia illegally because they were unable to obtain passports or exit permission; in some cases this included persons sought for alleged crimes or wanted for political or other activism.

The Ministry of Public Security continued to use foreign travel prohibitions against certain activists and religious leaders, including Bui Minh Quoc, Dinh Huu Thoai, Do Thi Minh Hanh, Pham Doan Trang, Nguyen Hong Quang, and Le Cong Dinh. Authorities banned and prevented dozens of individuals from traveling overseas, withheld their passports on vague charges, or refused to issue passports to certain activists or religious leaders without clear explanation. Authorities also refused to issue passports to the family members of certain activists.

On September 17, authorities prevented Nguyen Quang A from traveling to Geneva to attend a hearing with members of civil society for Vietnam’s Universal Periodic Review before the UN Human Rights Council. In October Nguyen Quang A was able to travel to Brussels to testify to the EU’s International Trade Committee, but reported having been intimidated by security officials the day of his departure.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to the government, at the end of 2017 there were approximately 29,500 recognized stateless persons and persons of undetermined nationality living in the country. This was a substantial increase from the estimated 11,000 stateless persons acknowledged in 2016 and was due to increased government effort to identify such persons. The bulk of this population lived in border areas, but it also included a number of women who lost their citizenship after marrying a foreigner but then lost their foreign citizenship, primarily because of divorce. In the past the government naturalized stateless ethnic Vietnamese who had lived in Cambodia, but there was no information on naturalization efforts or options for those identified as stateless persons during the year.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution affords the right to association and the right to demonstrate but limits the exercise of these rights, including preventing workers from organizing or joining independent unions of their choice. While workers may choose whether to join a union and at which level (local or “grassroots,” provincial, or national), the law requires every union to be under the legal purview and control of the country’s only trade union confederation, the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL), a CPV-run organization. Only citizens may form or join labor unions.

The law gives the VGCL exclusive authority to recognize unions and confers on VGCL upper-level trade unions the responsibility to establish workplace unions. The VGCL’s charter establishes the VGCL as the head of the multilevel unitary trade union structure and carries the force of law. The law also stipulates that the VGCL answers directly to the CPV’s VFF, which does not protect trade unions from government interference in or control over union activity.

The law also limits freedom of association by not allowing trade unions full autonomy in administering their affairs. The law confers on the VGCL ownership of all trade-union property, and gives it the right to represent lower-level unions. By law trade union leaders and officials are not elected by union members but are appointed.

The law requires that if a workplace trade union does not exist, an “immediate upper-level trade union” must perform the tasks of a grassroots union, even where workers have not so requested or have voluntarily elected not to organize. For nonunionized workers to organize a strike, they must request that the strike “be organized and led by the upper-level trade union,” and if non-unionized workers wish to bargain collectively, the upper-level VGCL union must represent them.

The law stipulates that trade unions have the right and responsibility to organize and lead strikes, and establishes certain substantive and procedural restrictions on strikes. Strikes that do not arise from a collective labor dispute or do not adhere to the process outlined by law are illegal. Contrary to international standards, the law forbids strikes regarding “rights-based” disputes. This includes strikes arising out of economic and social policy measures that are not a part of a collective negotiation process, as they are both outside the law’s definition of protected “interest-based” strikes.

The law prohibits strikes by workers in businesses that serve the public or that the government considers essential to the national economy, defense, public health, and public order. “Essential services” include electricity production; post and telecommunications; maritime and air transportation, navigation, public works, and oil and gas production. The law also grants the prime minister the right to suspend a strike considered detrimental to the national economy or public safety.

The law prohibits strikes among workers across different employers, resulting in a ban on sector- and industry-level protests and prohibits workers and unions from calling for strikes in support of multiemployer contracts.

The law states that the executive committee of a trade union may issue a decision to go on strike only when at least 50 percent of workers support it.

Laws stipulate an extensive and cumbersome process of mediation and arbitration before a lawful strike over an interest-based collective dispute may occur. Unions or workers’ representatives may either appeal decisions of provincial arbitration councils to provincial people’s courts or strike. The law stipulates strikers may not be paid wages while they are not at work. The law prohibits retribution against strikers. By law individuals participating in strikes declared illegal by a people’s court and found to have caused damage to their employer are liable for damages.

The laws include provisions that prohibit antiunion discrimination and interference in union activities while imposing administrative sanctions and fines for violations. The laws do not distinguish between workers and managers, however, and fail to prohibit employers’ agents, such as managers who represent the interests of the employer, from participating or interfering in union activity. Penalties were not adequate to deter violations.

According to the VGCL, more than 73 percent of the 189 strikes that occurred in the first eight months of the year occurred in foreign direct-investment companies (mainly Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese, and Chinese companies), and nearly 40 percent occurred in the southern economic zone area in Binh Duong, Dong Nai, Ba Ria Vung Tau provinces and Ho Chi Minh City. None of the strikes followed the authorized conciliation and arbitration process, and thus authorities considered them illegal “wildcat” strikes. The government, however, took no action against the strikers and, on occasion, actively mediated agreements in the workers’ favor. In some cases the government imposed heavy fines on employers, especially of foreign-owned companies, that engaged in illegal practices that led to strikes.

Because it is illegal to establish or seek to establish independent labor unions, there were no government-sanctioned domestic labor NGOs involved in labor organizing. Local labor NGOs, however, supported efforts to raise awareness of worker rights and occupational safety and health issues and to support internal and external migrant workers. Multiple international labor NGOs collaborated with the VGCL to provide training to VGCL-affiliated union representatives on labor organizing, collective bargaining, and other trade union issues. The International Labor Organization (ILO)-International Finance Corporation (IFC) Better Work project reported management interference in the activities of the trade union was one of the most significant issues in garment factories in the country.

Labor activists and representatives of independent (non-VGCL) worker organizations faced antiunion discrimination. Independent labor activists seeking to form unions separate from the VGCL or inform workers of their labor rights sometimes faced government harassment. In February a court convicted and sentenced peaceful labor and environmental activist Hoang Duc Binh to 14 years’ imprisonment under vague articles of the penal code. Binh, who was arrested in 2017, advocated for compensation for fishermen affected by the 2016 Formosa spill, and posted online content about the government’s response to the spill that significantly affected workers (also see section 1.d.). In July a crowd attacked the house of Do Thi Minh Hanh, chairwoman of the independent Viet Labor Movement, pelting it with stones, fish sauce, and petrol bombs. In addition authorities continued to use foreign travel prohibitions against labor activists, including Do Thi Minh Hanh (also see section 2.d.).

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit forced or compulsory labor. The labor code’s definition of forced labor, however, does not explicitly include debt bondage. In January penal code amendments entered into effect that criminalized all forms of labor trafficking of adults and prescribed penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment and fines of 20 to 100 million VND. The amendments also criminalized labor trafficking of children younger than age 16 and prescribed penalties of seven to 12 years’ imprisonment and fines of 50 to 200 million VND. The law does not provide any penalty for violation of the labor code provisions prohibiting forced labor. ,NGOs continued to report the occurrence of forced labor of men, women, and children within the country (see also section 7.c.).

Labor recruitment firms, most of which were affiliated with state-owned enterprises, and unlicensed brokers reportedly charged workers seeking international employment higher fees than the law allows, and they did so with impunity. Those workers incurred high debts and were thus more vulnerable to forced labor, including debt bondage.

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 constitution prohibits “the employment of persons below the minimum working age.” The law defines underage employees as anyone younger than age 18. The law prohibits children under 18 from working heavy, hazardous, and dangerous jobs. The law limits children between ages 15 and 18 to working a maximum of eight hours per day and 40 hours per week. Children between ages 13 and 15 may work only in light jobs, as defined by the Ministry of Labor, and considerations must be made for schooling, working conditions, labor safety, and hygiene. The law permits children to register at trade training centers, a form of vocational training, from age 14 without parental consent. While the law generally prohibits the employment of children under 13, it allows those under 13 to engage in sectors not deemed to be harmful as regulated by the ministry.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies. Government officials may fine and, in cases of criminal violations, prosecute employers who violate child labor laws. As part of the government’s 2016-20 National Plan of Action for Children and National Program for Child Protection, the government continued efforts to prevent child labor and specifically targeted children in rural areas, disadvantaged children, and children at risk of exposure to hazardous work conditions.

Per the Vietnam National Child Labor Survey 2012, the most recent data available, 1.75 million working children were categorized as “child laborers”, accounting for 9.6 percent of the national child population or 62 percent of children engaged in economic activities. Of child laborers, 40 percent were girls, nearly 85 percent of these children lived in the rural areas and 60 percent belonged to the 15-17 age group. Some children started work as young as age 12 and nearly 55 percent did not attend school (5 percent of whom would never attend school). Agriculture was the most common field for child laborers, with 67 percent of the total population, while 15.7 percent worked in construction/manufacturing and 16.7 percent in services.

There were reports of children between ages 10 and 18–and some as young as six–producing garments under conditions of forced labor. The most recently available information from government raids, NGOs, and media reports indicated that groups of children were laboring in small, privately owned garment factories and informal garment workshops. Reports indicated that these employers were beating or threatening the children with physical violence. In addition, there was evidence that children as young as 12 were working while confined in government-run rehabilitation centers. Employers forced these children to sew garments without pay under threat of physical or other punishments.

International and domestic NGOs noted successful partnerships with provincial governments to implement national-level policies combatting child labor.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment, labor relationships, and work but not explicitly in all aspects of employment and occupation. The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, race, disability, color, social class, marital status, belief, religion, HIV status, and membership in a trade union or participation in trade union activities. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on political opinion, age, language, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

No laws prohibit employers from asking about family or marital status during job interviews.

The government did not effectively enforce laws related to employment discrimination. The government took some action to address employment discrimination against persons with disabilities. Companies with a workforce composed of at least 51 percent employees with disabilities may qualify for special government-subsidized loans.

Discriminatory hiring practices existed, including discrimination related to gender, age, disability, and marital status. Women in the public sector were expected to retire at age 55, compared with age 60 for men, affecting women’s ability to rise to managerial ranks and have higher incomes and pensions.

Women-led enterprises continued to have limited access to credit and international markets. A 2017 report by Oxfam estimated male workers earned on average 33 percent more than their female counterparts. Skilled female workers with university degrees earned 80 percent of male university graduates’ wages. Many women older than age 35 found it difficult to find a job, and there were reports of women receiving termination letters at age 35. The VGCL’s Institute of Workers and Trade Unions noted that women older than age 35 accounted for roughly half of all unemployed workers in the country.

Social and attitudinal barriers and limited access to the workplace remained problems in the employment of persons with disabilities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage for enterprises ranged from 2.76 million VND ($117) per month to 3.98 million VND ($170) per month, depending on the region. In August the National Wages Council agreed to a 5.3 percent increase in the minimum wage, to take effect in 2019, raising the minimum wage range to 2.92 million VND ($124) – 4.18 million VND ($178). The minimum wage exceeds the General Statistics Office-World Bank official poverty income level.

The law limits overtime to 50 percent of normal working hours per day, 30 hours per month, and 200 hours per year, but it provides for an exception in special cases, with a maximum of 300 overtime hours annually, subject to stipulation by the government after consulting with the VGCL and employer representatives.

The law provides for occupational safety and health standards, describes procedures for persons who are victims of labor accidents and occupational diseases, and delineates the responsibilities of organizations and individuals in the occupational safety and health fields. The law provides for the right of workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The law protects “labor subleasing”, a pattern of employment, and thus extends protection to part-time and domestic workers.

The Ministry of Labor is the principal labor authority, and it oversees the enforcement of the labor law, administers labor relations policy, and promotes job creation. The Labor Inspections Department is responsible for workplace inspections to confirm compliance with labor laws and occupational safety and health standards. Inspectors may use sanctions, fines, withdrawal of operating licenses or registrations, closures of enterprises, and mandatory training. Inspectors may take immediate measures where they have reason to believe there is an imminent and serious danger to the health or safety of workers, including temporarily suspending operations, although such measures were rare. The ministry acknowledged shortcomings in its labor inspection system and emphasized the number of labor inspectors countrywide was insufficient.

Government enforcement of labor laws and standards, including in the informal economy, was irregular for many reasons, including low funding and a shortage of trained enforcement personnel.

Credible reports, including from the ILO-IFC Better Work 2017 Annual Report, indicated that factories exceeded legal overtime thresholds and did not meet legal requirements for rest days. The ILO-IFC report stated that, while a majority of factories in the program complied with the daily limit of four hours overtime, 77 percent still failed to meet monthly limits (30 hours) and 72 percent exceeded annual limits (300 hours). In addition and due to the high prevalence of Sunday work, 44 percent of factories failed to provide at least four days of rest per month to all workers.

Migrant workers, including internal economic migrants, were among the most vulnerable workers, and employers routinely subjected them to hazardous working conditions. Members of ethnic minority groups often worked in the informal economy and, according to the ILO, informal workers typically had low and irregular incomes, endured long working hours, and lacked protection by labor market institutions. On-the-job injuries due to poor health and safety conditions and inadequate employee training remained a problem. In 2017, the government reported 8,956 occupational accidents with 9,173 victims, including 898 fatal incidents with 928 deaths.

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