Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the rights of most workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. A trade union can register an industrial dispute with an employer, at which point the trade union enters into negotiations with the employer. In the absence of an agreement, both parties are free to resort to industrial action. The trade union can take industrial actions, which may include slowdowns, wildcat strikes, work-to-rule, strike action for a defined period of time or any other industrial action which the union may deem necessary. The employer may use a “lockout” to protect its interests.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of unfairly dismissed workers, including for legal, nonviolent union activity. Workers have a right to seek redress for alleged antiunion dismissals, although procedures to seek such redress were unclear for certain categories of public sector workers.
Members of the military and law enforcement personnel may join a registered trade union, but the law prohibits strikes by this category of workers. The law does not explicitly prohibit acts of interference by worker or employer organizations in one another’s activities. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), compulsory arbitration continues to limit collective bargaining rights. Arbitration did not take place during the year.
The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties ranged from fines to two years’ imprisonment and were sufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.
Both the government and employers generally respected these rights, and workers freely exercised them during the year. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination or other forms of employer interference in union activities. Trade unions and employers’ organizations may both refer a dispute to the Industrial Tribunal, but it is customary that until the tribunal decides on an award, both parties generally refrain from taking further industrial action.
The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government generally took some steps to prevent and eliminate forced labor and acted quickly to investigate and address complaints. The processing of cases through the courts was slow. Three labor trafficking prosecutions initiated in 2014 remain pending. The law prescribes penalties of imprisonment for forced labor violations; such penalties were considered sufficient to deter violations. Nevertheless, there were reports of adult men and women in bonded labor and domestic servitude. Foreign domestic workers as well as irregular migrant workers were vulnerable to forced labor.
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 as well as employment of children younger than 16 in all sectors. The director general for educational services in the Ministry of Education and Employment may grant an exemption for employment only after determining that it would not harm the health or normal development of the minor. While no legal work is specifically restricted for minors, children granted an exemption may work up to 40 hours per week. Children are not allowed, however, to carry out any night duties or perform work that could be regarded as harmful, damaging, or dangerous to a young person. Minors granted an exemption to work in certain areas such as manufacturing, heavy plant machinery, and construction are required to work under supervision.
The government generally enforced the law in most formal sectors of the economy. Jobs Plus, the former Employment Training Corporation, a government entity under the Ministry for Education and Employment, is responsible for labor and employment issues. While Jobs Plus generally enforced the law in most formal sectors of the economy, it allowed summer employment of underage youth in businesses operated by their families. No assessment was available on the effectiveness with which Jobs Plus monitored the unregistered employment of children as domestic employees and restaurant workers. Fines and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination in any form of employment and occupation. The government effectively enforced the law. However, many foreign workers, including migrants, worked in dangerous, unsanitary jobs, with low social status and little prospect of improvement in their employment conditions. Penalties took the form of fines and were sufficient to deter violations against citizens, and remedies were available to them through the civil court system.
From January to September, the NCPE received seven claims of alleged workplace discrimination, including complaints at the recruitment stage. Following an NCPE investigation, the commissioner may either dismiss the complaint or find the complaint warranted. In the latter case, if the complaint constitutes an offense, the commissioner must submit a report to the police commissioner for action. In instances where the complaint did not constitute an actionable offense, the NCPE followed the law and undertook steps to investigate the cases and refer them to the police or mediate to ensure provision of redress as appropriate.
While women constituted a growing proportion of graduates of higher education and of the workforce, they remained underrepresented in management and generally earned less than their male counterparts. Eurostat reports showed the gender pay gap in 2017, the most recent period for which data was available, was 12 percent. In 2018 labor force participation by women was 63 percent, compared with 86 percent for men.
The country had a national weekly minimum wage that was above the poverty income level. The government effectively enforced the minimum wage. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Early in the year, the country’s second largest trade union, Voice of the Workers, expressed concern about reports that some foreign workers were paid below the minimum hourly rate.
The law mandates a standard workweek of 40 hours, but the norm was 43 or 45 hours in certain occupations such as in health care, airport services, and civil protective services. The law provides for paid annual holidays (i.e., government holidays) and paid annual leave. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime, and employers cannot oblige employees to work more than 48 hours per week, inclusive of overtime.
The government sets occupational safety and health standards, and such standards were current and appropriate for the main industries in the country. Workers have the right to remove themselves from situations dangerous to health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.
The Ministry of Education and Employment generally enforced minimum wage and hours of work requirements effectively in the formal economy. The Occupational Health and Safety Authority (OHSA), a government entity composed of representatives of the government, unions, and employers, conducted regular inspections at worksites and cited a number of offenders. Nevertheless, enforcement of health and safety standards continued to be inconsistent. There were media reports that in at least the construction industry, the number of labor inspectors fell short of the ILO standard.
Workers in the informal economy did not have the same protection but were able to file complaints against companies that failed to provide a safe work environment. Many workers were unaware of their rights and social welfare programs because they avoided state-run agencies over concerns about their work or immigration status.
Authorities did not stringently enforce standards in the informal economy, which consisted of approximately 5 percent of the workforce and encompassed various sectors of working society, including day laborers and self-employed individuals. The OHSA imposed fines on companies that did not comply with minimum safety standards in the formal economy and, to a lesser extent, the informal economy.
Industrial accidents remained frequent, particularly in the manufacturing, building, and construction sectors, with reported incidents up by nearly 4 percent in the first half of 2018, according to the National Statistics Office. The OSHA reported four fatalities in 2018, its most recent published finding. Although the government reported steady progress in improving working conditions, authorities conceded that the labor shortage, coupled with language barriers and lack of required certifications, contributed to unsafe conditions in some workplaces.
Irregular migrant workers, who made up a small but growing percentage of the workforce, sometimes worked under conditions that did not meet the government’s minimum standards for employment. The Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers, in coordination with Jobs Plus, which is administered by the government, organized informational programs to help individuals pursue employment and obtain work permits. The latest economic growth figures require nearly 10,000 new workers annually, so many jobs continued to be filled by regular and irregular migrants.