Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for freedom of association for all workers (except members of the military, military police, and firefighters), the right to bargain collectively with some restrictions, and the right to strike. The law limits organizing at the enterprise level. By law the armed forces, military police, or firefighters may not strike. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, including the dismissal of employees who are candidates for, or holders of, union leadership positions, and it requires employers to reinstate workers fired for union activity.
New unions must register with the Ministry of Labor, which accepts the registration unless objections are filed by other unions. The law stipulates certain restrictions, such as unicidade (in essence one union per occupational category per city), which limits freedom of association by prohibiting multiple, competing unions of the same professional category in a single geographical area. Unions that represent workers in the same geographical area and professional category may contest registration.
The law stipulates a strike may be ruled “disruptive” by the labor court, and the union may be subjected to legal penalties if the strike violates certain conditions, such as if the union fails to maintain essential services during a strike, notify employers at least 48 hours before the beginning of a walkout, or end a strike after a labor court decision. Employers may not hire substitute workers during a legal strike or fire workers for strike-related activity, provided the strike is not ruled abusive. In April the Supreme Court ruled against the right of civil police to strike, stating all public security organs are prohibited from striking, including civil police, military police, federal police, fire brigades, railway police, and highway police. Civil police officials filed a grievance with the International Labor Organization (ILO).
The law obliges a union to negotiate on behalf of all registered workers in the professional category and geographical area it represents, regardless of whether an employee pays voluntary membership dues. The law permits the government to reject clauses of collective bargaining agreements that conflict with government policy. A July 2017 law includes collective bargaining changes, such as the ability to negotiate remuneration for the commute to and from work, working remotely, and a flexible hours schedule.
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected. Collective bargaining was widespread in establishments in the private sector. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. The Ministry of Labor suspended union registration processes for a period of 90 days beginning on July 23 after a police investigation uncovered evidence that nonexistent unions were being registered fraudulently.
The law prohibits “slave labor,” defined as “reducing someone to a condition analogous to slavery,” including subjecting someone to forced labor, debt bondage, exhausting work hours, and labor performed in degrading working conditions.
Many individuals in slave labor, as defined by the country’s law, were victims of human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation. The government took actions to enforce the law, although forced labor occurred in a number of states. Violations of forced labor laws are punishable by up to eight years in prison, but this was often not sufficient to deter violations. The law also provides penalties for various crimes related to forced labor, such as illegal recruiting or transporting workers or imposing onerous debt burdens as a condition of employment. Every six months the Ministry of Labor publishes a “Dirty List” of companies found to have employed forced labor. Inclusion on the list prevents companies from receiving loans from state-owned financial institutions. The Labor Prosecutor’s Office, in partnership with the ILO, maintained an online platform that identified hotspots for forced labor.
The National Commission to Eradicate Slave Labor coordinated government efforts to combat forced and exploitative labor and provide a forum for input from civil society actors. The commission’s members included representatives from 10 government agencies or ministries–including Human Rights, Justice, Federal Police, Agriculture, Labor, and Environment–and 20 civil society groups and the private sector. The ILO was also a member.
The Ministry of Labor’s Mobile Inspection Unit teams conducted impromptu inspections of properties where forced labor was suspected or reported, using teams composed of labor inspectors, labor prosecutors from the Federal Labor Prosecutor’s Office, and federal police officers. Mobile teams levied fines on landowners who used forced labor and required employers to provide back pay and benefits to workers before returning the workers to their municipalities of origin. Labor inspectors and prosecutors, however, could apply only civil penalties; consequently, many cases were not criminally prosecuted. Workers removed by mobile units were entitled to three months’ salary at the minimum wage. In early August ministry investigators rescued 18 workers who were laboring on coffee plantations in conditions analogous to slavery.
Forced labor, including forced child labor, was reported in jobs such as clearing forests to provide cattle pastureland, logging, producing charcoal, raising livestock, and other agricultural activities. Forced labor often involved young men drawn from the less-developed northeastern states–Maranhao, Piaui, Tocantins, and Ceara–and the central state of Goias to work in the northern and central-western regions of the country. In addition there were reports of forced labor in the construction industry. News outlets reported cases that amounted to forced labor in production of carnauba wax. Cases of forced labor were also reported in the garment industry in the city of Sao Paulo; the victims were often from neighboring countries, particularly Bolivia, Peru, and Paraguay, while others came from Haiti, South Korea, and China.
According to Global Slavery Index 2018 data, an estimated 369,000 persons were living in modern slavery. These individuals were concentrated in areas that had experienced rapid economic development, mainly in the agricultural sector.
In January labor inspectors rescued 10 men working in “slave-like conditions” in a salt production company in the municipality of Araruama in the state of Rio de Janeiro. The laborers were living in filthy and makeshift accommodations and did not have appropriate equipment to work. The Labor Prosecutor’s Office required employers to terminate their contracts, compensate the victims, and pay unemployment insurance for the rescued workers.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
The minimum working age is 16, and apprenticeships may begin at age 14. The law bars all minors younger than age 18 from work that constitutes a physical strain or occurs in unhealthy, dangerous, or morally harmful conditions. Hazardous work includes an extensive list of activities within 13 occupational categories, including domestic service, garbage scavenging, and fertilizer production. The law requires parental permission for minors to work as apprentices.
According to the Ministry of Labor, in the last two decades, the number of underage working children declined from eight million to 2.7 million. The remaining cases were the most difficult to identify because they often took place in inaccessible rural areas or within a family home.
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for inspecting worksites to enforce child labor laws. Penalties for violations range from 402 reais to 1,891 reais ($105 to $500), doubling for a second violation and tripling for a third, and were generally enforced; however, observers asserted fines were usually too small to serve as an effective deterrent. Most inspections of children in the workplace were driven by complaints brought by workers, teachers, unions, NGOs, and media. Due to legal restrictions, labor inspectors remained unable to enter private homes and farms, where much of the child labor allegedly occurred.
In May a study published by Abrinq Foundation, a Sao Paulo-based entity devoted to the protection of children’s rights, found that 3.3 million children and adolescents (ages five to 17) were in a situation of child labor, including in activities involving bananas, cacao, coffee, corn, fish, hogs, poultry, sheep, and sugarcane. The Ministry of Labor’s National Committee for the Eradication of Child Labor continued to implement the country’s National Plan to Combat Child Labor and maintained a database on the worst forms of child labor occurring in the country.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/.
Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, disability, religion, political opinion, natural origin or citizenship, age, language, and sexual orientation or gender identity. Discrimination against individuals who are HIV positive or suffer from other communicable diseases is also prohibited. The government generally enforced the laws and regulations, although discrimination in employment occurred with respect to Afro-Brazilians, women, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, and transgender individuals. The Ministry of Labor implemented rules to integrate promotion of racial equality in its programs, including requiring race be included in data for programs financed by the ministry. According to the ILO, women not only earned less than men but also had difficulties entering the workplace: 78 percent of men held paid jobs, compared with 56 percent of women. Although the law prohibits gender discrimination in pay, professional training, and career advancement, the law was not enforced and discrimination existed.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The law provides for a minimum wage. The minimum wage was greater than the official poverty income level. According to 2016 Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) data, however, the per capita income of approximately 40 percent of workers was below the minimum wage. IBGE data also revealed 6.8 percent of workers (12.9 million) were considered “extremely poor” or earning less than 70 reais ($18.40) per month. The Ministry of Labor verified enforcement of minimum wage laws as part of regular labor inspections. Penalties alone were not sufficient to deter violations.
The law limits the workweek to 44 hours and specifies a weekly rest period of 24 consecutive hours, preferably on Sundays. The law also provides for paid annual vacation, prohibits excessive compulsory overtime, limits overtime to two hours per workday, and stipulates that hours worked above the monthly limit must be compensated with at least time-and-a-half pay; these provisions generally were enforced for all groups of workers in the formal sector. The constitution also provides for the right of domestic employees to work a maximum of eight hours of per day, a maximum of 44 hours’ work per week, a minimum wage, a lunch break, social security, and severance pay.
The Ministry of Labor sets occupational, health, and safety standards that are consistent with internationally recognized norms, although unsafe working conditions were prevalent throughout the country, especially in construction. The law requires employers to establish internal committees for accident prevention in workplaces. It also provides for the protection of employees from being fired for their committee activities. Workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, although those in forced labor situations without access to transportation were particularly vulnerable to situations that endangered their health and safety.
In March the regional labor court in Sao Paulo upheld the conviction of M5 Industria e Comercio, owner of the M.Officer brand, under the state’s antislavery law for dumping. The court found M5 had been contracting its production out to firms that hired immigrant persons, who were forced to work beyond the legal maximum number of hours and in unsafe conditions. The court also confirmed the fine of six million reais ($1.6 million).
The Ministry of Labor addressed problems related to acceptable conditions of work such as long workdays and unsafe or unhygienic work conditions. Penalties for violations include fines that vary widely depending on the nature of the violation; the fines were generally enforced and were sometimes sufficient to deter violations. The National Labor Inspection School held various training sessions for labor inspectors throughout the year. The Ministry of Labor reported the number of labor inspectors (2,367) in the country was insufficient to enforce full compliance nationwide. Inspections continued to take place despite reduced funding, leading to fewer inspectors and inspections.
According to the IBGE, 33.3 million persons were employed in the formal sector as of May 2017. The IBGE also reported 22.9 million persons were working in the informal economy, an increase of 5 percent, compared with 2016.
China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – China
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law does not provide for freedom of association, and workers are not free to organize or join unions of their own choosing. The All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) is the only union recognized under the law. Independent unions are illegal, and the law does not protect the right to strike. The law allows for collective wage bargaining for workers in all types of enterprises. The law further provides for industrial sector-wide or regional collective contracts, and enterprise-level collective contracts were generally compulsory throughout the country. Regulations require the government-controlled union to gather input from workers prior to consultation with management and to submit collective contracts to workers or their congress for approval. There is no legal obligation for employers to negotiate or to bargain in good faith, and some employers refused to do so.
The law provides for legal protections against discrimination against the officially sanctioned union and specifies union representatives may not be transferred or terminated by enterprise management during their term of office. The law provides for the reinstatement of workers dismissed for official union activity as well as for other penalties for enterprises that engage in antiunion activities. The law does not protect workers who request or take part in collective negotiations with their employers independent of the officially recognized union. In several cases reported during the year, workers attempting to do so faced reprisals including forced resignation, firing, and detention.
All union activity must be approved by and organized under the ACFTU, a CCP organ chaired by a member of the Politburo. The ACFTU and its provincial and local branches continued to establish new constituent unions and add new members, especially among migrant workers, in large, multinational enterprises. The law gives the ACFTU financial and administrative control over constituent unions empowered to represent employees in negotiating and signing collective contracts with enterprises and public institutions. The law does not mandate the ACFTU to represent the interests of workers in disputes.
The ACFTU and the CCP used a variety of mechanisms to influence the selection of trade union representatives. Although the law states trade union officers at each level should be elected, ACFTU-affiliated unions appointed most factory-level officers, often in coordination with employers. Official union leaders were often drawn from the ranks of management. Direct election by workers of union leaders continued to be rare, occurred only at the enterprise level, and was subject to supervision by higher levels of the union or the CCP. In enterprises where direct election of union officers took place, regional ACFTU officers and local CCP authorities retained control over the selection and approval of candidates. Even in these cases, workers and NGOs expressed concern about the credibility of elections.
The law does not expressly prohibit work stoppages and does not prohibit workers from striking spontaneously. Although authorities appeared more tolerant of strikes protesting unpaid or underpaid wages, reports of police crackdowns on strikes continued throughout the year. For example, on May 27, police in Lu’an, Anhui Province, suppressed a group of teachers calling for wage parity with local civil servants, as mandated in the 1994 Teachers Law. Wage-related issues constituted 82 percent of the 6,694 strikes and collective protests recorded during 2015-17 by the Hong Kong-based labor rights NGO China Labor Bulletin.
In cases where local authorities cracked down on strikes, they sometimes charged leaders with vague criminal offenses, such as “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” “gathering a crowd to disturb public order,” or “damaging production operations,” or detained them without any charges. The only legally specified roles for the ACFTU in strikes are to participate in investigations and to assist the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security in resolving disputes.
Enforcement was generally insufficient to deter wide-scale violations. Labor inspectors lacked authority and resources to compel employers to correct violations. While the law outlines general procedures for resolving disputes, procedures were lengthy and subject to delays. Local authorities in some areas actively sought to limit efforts by independent civil society organizations and legal practitioners. Some areas maintained informal quotas on the number of cases allowed to proceed beyond mediation to arbitration or the courts. Some local government authorities took steps to increase mediation or arbitration. For example, on March 6, the Maoming Municipal Intermediate Court and Maoming Municipal Trade Union jointly established the Labor Arbitration and Mediation Coordination Office to facilitate better communication and ease tensions in labor disputes. An official from the local People’s Congress noted the increasing number of arbitrations, lengthy legal proceedings, and high litigation costs were not helpful in constructing positive and harmonious labor-capital relations.
Despite the appearances of a strong labor movement and relatively high levels of union registration, genuine freedom of association and worker representation did not exist. The ACFTU constituent unions were generally ineffective in representing and protecting the rights and interests of workers. Workers generally did not view the ACFTU as an advocate, especially migrant workers who had the least interaction with union officials.
China Labor Bulletin reported workers throughout the country engaged in wildcat strikes, work stoppages, and other protest actions and claimed the workers’ actions were indicative of the ACFTU’s inability to prevent violations and resolve disputes. Media reported a number of protests at factories in the southern part of the country.
The government increasingly targeted labor activists, students, and others advocating for worker rights during the year. For example, beginning in July and continuing through the end of the year, the government detained multiple workers, students, NGO representatives, lawyers, and others in response to demonstrations and online posts in support of workers attempting to form a union at Jasic Technology, a manufacturer of industrial welding equipment in Shenzhen. Workers at the factory reportedly tried to establish a trade union in response to complaints of low pay and poor working conditions. Although the lead organizers of the union reportedly received some information and assistance to set up an enterprise-level union from the local ACFTU branch, company management subsequently set up an enterprise union, selected management representatives to serve as union leaders, and fired the workers who had attempted to organize a union. Following protests by the workers in July, the lead organizers were reportedly physically attacked, inciting protests in Shenzhen and elsewhere. Guangdong labor activists, the Maoist organization Wu-You-Zhi-Xiang, leftist university students, and Hong Kong trade unions supported the protests.
Shenzhen police reportedly detained approximately 30 workers and representatives from the Dagongzhe Worker’s Center for their alleged connection with the Jasic protests. Several of the worker activists were charged with “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order.” Authorities also reportedly raided the offices of “Pioneers of the Times” and a Beijing-based publisher “Red Reference,” and criminally detained a staff member of “Red Reference.” On August 24, authorities in Guangdong, Beijing, and other parts of the country detained multiple workers and students from Peking, Renmin, and Nanjing Universities who had been supporting the workers. In early November the government detained nine student organizers and factory workers in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen and three activists in Wuhan. The government also detained two local ACFTU officials in Shenzhen in November. Authorities detained and questioned additional students in December.
Despite restrictions on worker action, joint action across provinces took place in several other sectors. For example, on May 1, a strike by crane drivers in the construction industry spread nationwide as operators demanded pay raises in a number of cities, including Yulin and Chongzuo in Guangxi, and Xiamen, Fujian Province. In June protests by truck drivers over stagnant pay, high fuel costs, and arbitrary fines took place at various locations in Shandong, Sichuan, Chongqing, Anhui, Guizhou, Jiangxi, Hubei, Henan, and Zhejiang Provinces, as well as in the Shanghai Special Municipality.
Coordinated efforts by governments at the central, provincial, and local levels, including harassment, detention, and the imposition of travel restrictions on labor rights defenders and restrictions on funding sources for NGOs, disrupted labor rights advocacy. Labor activist and 1989 prodemocracy movement veteran Liu Shaoming remained in custody after the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court sentenced him to four and one-half years’ imprisonment in 2017 for “inciting subversion of state power.”
The law prohibits forced and compulsory labor. Although domestic media rarely reported forced labor cases and the penalties imposed, the law provides a range of penalties depending on the circumstances, including imprisonment, criminal detention, and fines. It was unclear whether the penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Where there were reports forced labor of adults and children occurred in the private sector, the government reportedly enforced the law.
Although in 2013 the NPC officially abolished the re-education through labor system, an arbitrary system of administrative detention without judicial review, some media outlets and NGOs reported forced labor continued in some drug rehabilitation facilities where individuals continued to be detained without judicial process.
There were anecdotal reports some persons detained in the internment camps (see section 6) were subjected to forced labor. In December a press report stated apparel made at a forced labor camp in Xinjiang was imported by a U.S. athletic gear provider. Local authorities in Hotan prefecture, Xinjiang, also reportedly required some Uighur women and children not in the camps to perform forced labor.
There were several reports small workshops and factories subjected persons with mental disabilities to forced labor.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
The law prohibits the employment of children under the age of 16. It refers to workers between the ages of 16 and 18 as “juvenile workers” and prohibits them from engaging in certain forms of dangerous work, including in mines. The government did not effectively enforce the law.
The law specifies administrative review, fines, and revocation of business licenses of enterprises that illegally hire minors and provides underage working children be returned to their parents or other custodians in their original place of residence. The penalty is imprisonment for employing children younger than age 16 in hazardous labor or for excessively long hours, but a gap remained between legislation and implementation despite annual inspection campaigns launched by local authorities across the country. It was unclear whether the penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
In January two French NGOs filed legal cases against Samsung for the company’s alleged use of child labor and other abuses at its manufacturing plants in China. Samsung’s suppliers in Dongguan had previously been criticized for using child labor from vocational schools.
Abuse of the student-worker system continued; as in past years, there were allegations that schools and local officials improperly facilitated the supply of student laborers. On March 17, for example, parents of students at the Guilin Electronic Vocational School reported to the authorities that more than 100 student interns had been working at an air conditioning manufacturer’s production line as apprentices. The students reportedly worked 12 hours a day with no breaks, no pay, no holidays, and no sick leave. On March 30, the Guilin Municipal Education Bureau issued an administrative warning to the Guilin Electronic Vocational School, ordering the school to recall all students from the air conditioning manufacturer, located in Guangdong’s Jiangmen Municipality, and instructed the school to prevent the situation from recurring.
The law provides some basis for legal protection against employment discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, race, gender, religious belief, disability, age, and infectious or occupational diseases. The government did not effectively implement the laws. Enforcement clauses include the right to pursue civil damages through the courts. Courts were generally reluctant to accept discrimination cases, and authorities at all levels emphasized negotiated settlements to labor disputes. As a result there were few examples of enforcement actions that resulted in final legal decisions. Discrimination in employment was widespread, including in recruitment advertisements that discriminated based on gender, age, height, birthplace, and physical appearance and health status (see section 6).
Workplace discrimination against women was common during the year. The mandatory retirement age for women was 50 for those in blue-collar jobs and 55 for those in white-collar jobs. The retirement age for men was 60 across the board.
A 2015 All China Federation of Women survey in institutions for higher education revealed more than 80 percent of women graduates reported they had suffered discrimination in the recruitment process. Examples of discrimination included job advertisements seeking pretty women, or preferring men, or requiring higher education qualifications from women compared to men for the same job. Survey results showed women were less likely to be invited for interviews or called back for a second round of interviews. In interviews some women were asked whether they had children, how many children they had, and whether they planned to have children or more children if they had a child already.
On March 5, Yuan, a former sales manager of Mead Johnson Nutrition Corporation in Guangzhou, filed a lawsuit against her former employer alleging pregnancy discrimination. Mead Johnson fired Yuan for absenteeism after she traveled and gave birth to a baby in Houston during her maternity leave in September 2016. The company also refused to recognize the hospital’s medical records, citing employees should use maternity leave only to cover medical situations during pregnancy.
The hukou system remained the most pervasive form of employment-related discrimination, denying migrant workers access to the full range of social benefits, including health care, pensions, and disability programs, on an equal basis with local residents.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There is no national minimum wage, but the law generally requires local and provincial governments to set their own minimum wage rates for both the formal and informal sectors according to standards promulgated by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security. By law employees are limited to working eight hours a day and 40 hours per week; work beyond this standard is considered overtime. It also prohibits overtime work in excess of three hours per day or 36 hours per month and mandates premium pay for overtime work.
During the year the government established a new Ministry of Emergency Management that incorporated parts of the former State Administration for Work Safety; the ministry sets and enforces occupational health and safety regulations. The law requires employers to provide free health checkups for employees working in hazardous conditions and to inform them of the results. The law also provides workers the right to report violations or remove themselves from workplace situations that could endanger their health without jeopardy to their employment.
Regulations state labor and social security bureaus at or above the county level are responsible for enforcement of labor laws. Companies that violate occupational, safety, and health regulations face various penalties, including suspension of business operations or rescission of business certificates and licenses.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not adequate to deter violations and were seldom enforced. The number of inspectors was insufficient to monitor working conditions and did not operate in the informal sector. Although the country’s worker safety record improved over the past seven years, there were a number of workplace accidents during the year. Media and NGO reports attributed them to a lack of safety checks, weak enforcement of laws and regulations, ineffective supervision, and inadequate emergency responses.
Nonpayment of wages remained a problem in many areas. Governments at various levels continued efforts to prevent arrears and to recover payment of unpaid wages and insurance contributions.
Unpaid wages have been an acute problem in the construction sector for decades due to the prevalence of hiring subcontracted low-wage migrant workers. This informal hiring scheme made rural laborers susceptible to delayed payment or nonpayment for their work, prompting them to join in collective action. Workers occasionally took drastic measures to demand payment. In July the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security claimed it had helped more than one million workers recover a total of 10.88 billion yuan ($1.62 billion) in unpaid wages owed in the first half of the year. According to the Guangzhou Court, for example, from 2015 to 2017 the city’s courts tried 111 criminal cases for wage arrears disputes involving 4,880 victims and 30.62 million yuan ($4.4 million) in wages. The court reported 116 persons were convicted for malintent refusal to pay their employees’ wages.
Companies continued to relocate or close on short notice, often leaving employees without adequate recourse for due compensation.
Workers in the informal sector often lacked coverage under labor contracts, and even with contracts, migrant workers in particular had less access to benefits, especially social insurance. Workers in the informal sector worked longer hours and earned less than comparable workers in the formal sector. In June truck drivers in multiple cities protested stagnant pay and poor working conditions (also see section 7.a.).
Without providing exact numbers, the Ministry of Emergency Management announced in July the number of workplace accidents fell. The ministry also reported while accident and death rates in most sectors were declining, in the construction sector these rates had steadily increased since 2016, making the sector the one with the highest number of accidents and deaths of any industrial and commercial sector for the last nine years. In January, May, and July, media reported more than 100 former construction workers affected by pneumoconiosis from Hunan made three trips to Shenzhen to petition for long overdue compensation for the occupational illness they contracted while working in the city during the 1990s.
According to several official documents published during the year, occupational diseases were prevalent. Patients came from many industries, including coal, chemical engineering, and nonferrous metals.
Although there were fewer news reports on coal mine accidents during the year, the coal mining industry remained extremely deadly. According to the Ministry of Emergency Management, there were 219 coal mine accidents in 2017, causing 375 deaths, which represented a drop of 12 percent and 28.7 percent year-on-year, respectively. On May 9, five persons died when methane gas exploded in a coal mine in central Hunan Province. On August 6, a coal mine gas explosion in Guiyang Province killed 13 miners. In October a coal mine collapse in Shandong Province left 21 dead.
Work accidents also remained widespread in other industries. On June 5, for example, 11 persons were killed and nine injured in an iron mine blast in Liaoning Province. On August 12, a chemical plant blast in Sichuan Province killed 19 and injured 12.
READ A SECTION: CHINA (ABOVE) | TIBET | HONG KONG | MACAU
Section 7. Worker Rights
The constitution, federal legislation, and government regulations provide for the right of employees to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Wildcat strikes are not allowed. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and offers legal remedies to claim damages, including the reinstatement of unlawfully dismissed workers.
Some laws and regulations limit these labor rights. While civil servants are free to form or join unions, their wages and working conditions are determined by legislation, not by collective bargaining. All civil servants (including some teachers, postal workers, railroad employees, and police) and members of the armed forces are prohibited from striking. In June the Federal Constitutional Court upheld the prohibition on civil servants’ right to strike, rejecting a motion from four teachers seeking permission to strike. The court also held that the prohibition is consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights.
Employers are generally free to decide whether to be a party to a collective bargaining agreement. Even if they decide not to be a party, companies must apply the provisions of a collective agreement if the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs declares a collective bargaining agreement generally binding. Employers not legally bound by collective bargaining agreements often used them to determine part or all of their employees’ employment conditions. Employers may contest in court a strike’s proportionality and a trade union’s right to take strike actions. The law does not establish clear criteria on strikes, and courts often rely on case law and precedent.
The government enforced applicable laws effectively. Actions and measures by employers to limit or violate freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are considered unlawful and lead to fines. Penalties were adequate and remediation efforts were sufficient.
Laws regulate cooperation between management and work councils, including the right of the workers to information about company operations that could affect them. Work councils are independent from labor unions but often have close ties to the sector’s labor movement. The penalty for employers who interfere in work councils’ elections and operations is up to one year in prison or a fine. Findings from 2017 showed that a considerable number of employers interfered with the election of work council members or tried to deter employees from organizing new work councils. This led to calls by labor unions to strengthen legislation that shields employees seeking to exercise their rights under the law.
In response to a parliamentary inquiry submitted in February, North Rhine-Westphalia’s justice ministry disclosed that in 2017 it responded to 47 complaints on the obstruction of work councils. No wrongdoing was found in 38 cases, eight investigations were pending, and one case resulted in an indictment.
The constitution and federal law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for forced labor range from six months to 10 years in prison and were generally sufficient to deter violations.
The government effectively enforced the law when they found violations, but NGOs questioned the adequacy of resources to investigate and prosecute the crime. Some traffickers received suspended sentences, consistent with the country’s sentencing practices for most types of crime.
There were reports of forced labor involving adults, mainly in construction and the food service industry. There were also reported cases in domestic households and industrial plants. In 2017 police completed 11 labor-trafficking investigations that identified 180 victims, mostly from Macedonia (29 percent) Romania (22 percent), and Latvia (22 percent). The nationality of 39 victims (22 percent) was unknown.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and provides for a minimum age of employment, including limitations on working hours and occupational safety and health restrictions for children. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 15 with a few exceptions: Children who are 13 or 14 may perform work on a family-run farm for up to three hours per day or perform services such as delivering newspapers, babysitting, and dog walking for up to two hours per day, if authorized by their custodial parent. Children between the ages of 13 and 15 may not work during school hours, before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m.; or on Saturdays, Sundays, or public holidays. The type of work must not pose any risk to the security, health, or development of the child and must not prevent the child from obtaining schooling and training. Children are not allowed to work with hazardous materials, carry or handle items weighing more than 22 pounds, perform work requiring an unsuitable posture, or engage in work that exposes them to the risk of an accident. Children between the ages of three and 14 may take part in cultural performances, but there are strict limits on the kind of activity, number of hours, and time of day.
The government effectively enforced the applicable laws and penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. Isolated cases of child labor occurred in small, family-owned businesses, such as cafes, restaurants, family farms, and grocery stores. Inspections by the regional inspection agencies and the resources and remediation available to them were adequate to ensure broad compliance.
The law prohibits discrimination in all areas of occupation and employment, from recruitment, self-employment, and promotion to career advancement. Although origin and citizenship are not explicitly listed as grounds of discrimination in the law, victims of such discrimination have other means to assert legal claims. The law obliges employers to protect employees from discrimination at work.
The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations during the year. Employees who believe they are victims of discrimination have a right to file an official complaint and to have the complaint heard. If an employer remains inactive or fails to protect the employee effectively, employees may remove themselves from places and situations of discrimination without losing employment or pay. In cases of violations of the law, victims of discrimination are entitled to injunctions, removal, and material or nonmaterial damages set by court decision. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
In 2017 FADA’s quadrennial report found serious discrimination risks at the country’s employment agencies. For example, staff at government-run local employment agencies discriminated against single parents or persons with disabilities, in some instances, leading to missed opportunities for job seekers. FADA highlighted that applicants of foreign descent and with foreign names faced discrimination even when they had similar or better qualifications than others. FADA stated the majority of complaints concerned the private sector, where barriers for persons with disabilities persisted.
In 2017, three female teachers in Berlin filed separate lawsuits against schools after not being hired, accusing the schools of having rejected them because they wore headscarves. The schools invoked the neutrality act that prohibits teachers from wearing religious symbols at work. In February, one defendant received 8,680 euros ($9,980) after the Berlin labor court concluded the school violated equal opportunity laws. In May the same court found against the second teacher, ruling that the state administration had the right to transfer its teachers to any other post of the same salary level. In July the Berlin labor court decided in favor of the third complainant, ordering compensation of approximately 7,000 euros ($8,050).
In November the State Labor Court of Berlin and Brandenburg awarded approximately 5,000 euros ($5,750) in compensation to a job applicant for discrimination on the grounds of religion. The job applicant, a trained information technology (IT) expert, claimed that her job application to work as a teacher was denied because she wore a headscarf. The trained IT expert had applied for a post as a teacher. In May the local labor court had ruled that because teachers served as a model for young students, the school was justified in limiting her religious freedom and asking her to teach without her headscarf. The state court saw no indication that the teacher wearing a headscarf would have threatened “school peace,” quoting the Federal Constitutional Court’s 2015 decision that this was a necessary condition for prohibiting teacher’s from wearing headscarves.
The law provides for equal pay for equal work. In March the Federal Statistical Office found the gross hourly wages of women in 2017–16.56 euros ($19.04)–were on average 21 percent lower than those of men, which were 21 euros ($24). It blamed pay differences in sectors and occupations in which women and men were employed, as well as unequal requirements for leadership experience and other qualifications as the principal reasons for the pay gap. Women were underrepresented in highly paid managerial positions and overrepresented in some lower-wage occupations (see section 7.d.). FADA reported women were at a disadvantage regarding promotions, often due to career interruptions for child rearing.
The law imposes a gender quota of 30 percent for supervisory boards of certain publicly traded corporations. It also requires approximately 3,500 companies to set and publish self-determined targets for increasing the share of women in leading positions (executive boards and management) by 2017 and to report on their performance. Consequently, the share of women on supervisory boards of those companies bound by the law increased from approximately 20 percent in 2015 to 30 percent in 2017. Meanwhile, the representation of women on management boards in the top 200 companies remained at 8 percent.
There were also reports of employment discrimination against persons with disabilities. The unemployment rate among persons with disabilities decreased to 11.4 percent in 2017, remaining considerably higher than that of the general population (on average 5.7 percent for 2017). Employers with 20 or more employees must hire persons with more significant disabilities to fill at least 5 percent of all positions; companies with 20 to 40 employees must fill one position with a person with disabilities, and companies with 40 to 60 employees must fill two positions. Each year companies file a mandatory form with the employment office verifying whether they meet the quota for employing persons with disabilities. Companies that fail to meet these quotas pay a monthly fine for each required position not filled by a person with disabilities. In 2017 more than 123,000 employers did not employ enough persons with disabilities and paid fines.
The law provides for equal treatment of foreign workers, although foreign workers faced some wage discrimination. For example, employers, particularly in the construction sector, sometimes paid lower wages to seasonal workers from Eastern Europe.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The nationwide statutory minimum wage is 8.84 euros ($10.17) per hour, which represents 47 percent of the median hourly wage for full-time employees in the country, hence below the internationally defined “at-risk-of poverty threshold,” which is two-thirds of the national median wage. The minimum wage does not apply to persons under 18, long-term unemployed persons during their first six months in a new job, or apprentices undergoing vocational training, regardless of age. Sectors setting their own higher minimum wages through collective bargaining, included construction, the electrical trades, painting, scaffolding, roofing, financial services, forestry and gardening, stonemasonry and chimney sweeping, cleaning services, nursing care, meat processing, the vocational training industry, special mining services, and temporary employment agencies.
The government effectively enforced the laws and monitored the compliance with the statutory and sector-wide minimum wages and hours of work through the Customs Office’s Financial Control Illicit Work Unit (FKS). The FKS conducted checks on 52,000 companies in 2017 and initiated 5,442 criminal proceedings. Employees may sue companies if employers fail to comply with the Minimum Wage Act, and courts may sentence employers who violate the provisions to pay a substantial fine.
Federal regulations set the standard workday at eight hours, with a maximum of 10 hours, and limit the average workweek to 48 hours. For the 78 percent of employees who are directly or indirectly affected by collective bargaining agreements, the average agreed working week under current agreements is 37.7 hours. According to the Federal Statistical Office, the actual average workweek of full-time employees was 41.7 hours in 2016. The law requires a break after no more than six hours of work, stipulates regular breaks totaling at least 30 minutes, and sets a minimum of 24 days of paid annual leave in addition to official holidays. Provisions for overtime, holiday, and weekend pay varied, depending upon the applicable collective bargaining agreement. Such agreements or individual contracts prohibited excessive compulsory overtime and protected workers against arbitrary employer requests.
Extensive laws and regulations govern occupational safety and health. A comprehensive system of worker insurance carriers enforced safety requirements in the workplace.
The Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and its state-level counterparts monitored and enforced occupational safety and health standards through a network of government bodies, including the Federal Agency for Occupational Safety and Health. At the local level, professional and trade associations–self-governing public corporations with delegates representing both employers and unions–as well as work councils oversaw worker safety. The number of inspectors was sufficient to ensure compliance.
While the number of work accidents continued to decline among full-time employees, workplace fatalities increased to 451 in 2017, up from 425 in 2016. Most accidents occurred in the construction, transportation, postal logistics, wood, and metalworking industries.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of workers to establish and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Antiunion discrimination is illegal, and employees fired for union activity have the right to request reinstatement, provided their employer has more than 15 workers in a unit or more than 60 workers in the country.
The law prohibits union organization of the armed forces. The law mandates that strikes affecting essential public services (such as transport, sanitation, and health services) require longer advance notification and prohibits multiple strikes within days of each other in those services. The law only allows unions that represent at least half of the transit workforce to call a transit strike.
The government effectively enforced these laws. Employers who violate the law are subject to fines, imprisonment, or both. These penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations, although administrative and judicial procedures were sometimes subject to lengthy delays. Judges effectively sanctioned the few cases of violations.
The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively, although there were instances in which employers unilaterally annulled bargaining agreements. Employers continued to use short-term contracts and subcontracting to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for violations were sufficiently stringent to deter violations. The actual sentences given by courts for forced and compulsory labor, however, were significantly lower than those provided by law. The law provides stiff penalties for illicit middlemen and businesses that exploit agricultural workers, particularly in the case of forced labor but also in cases of general exploitation. It identifies the conditions under which laborers may be considered exploited and includes special programs in support of seasonal agricultural workers. The law punishes illegal recruitment of vulnerable workers and forced work (the so-called caporalato). Penalties range from fines to the suspension of a company’s license to conduct commercial activities. In 2017, the most recent year for which data are available, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies dedicated an increased amount of attention to this problem. Government labor inspectors and the Carabinieri carried out 7,265 inspections of agricultural companies, and identified 5,222 irregular workers, of which 3,549 were undeclared workers (off the books) and 230 were foreign workers without residence permits. These irregularities remained in line with 2016 figures.
Forced labor occurred during the year. Workers were subjected to debt bondage in construction, domestic service, hotels, restaurants, and agriculture, especially in the south, according to the NGO Parsec. There continued to be anecdotal evidence that limited numbers of Chinese nationals were forced to work in textile factories, and that criminal groups coerced persons with disabilities from Romania and Albania into begging. There were also limited reports that children were subjected to forced labor (see section 7.c.).
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
The law prohibits employment of children under the age of 16. There are specific restrictions on employment in hazardous or unhealthy occupations for minors, such as activities involving potential exposure to hazardous substances, mining, excavation, and working with power equipment. Penalties for employing child labor include heavy fines or the suspension of a company’s commercial activities. Government enforcement was generally effective in the formal economy. Enforcement was not effective in the relatively extensive informal economy, particularly in the south and in family-run agricultural businesses.
There were some limited reports of child labor during the year, primarily among migrant or Romani communities. In 2017, the most recent year for which data was available, labor inspectors and Carabinieri officers identified 220 underage laborers. The number of irregular migrants between the ages of 15 and 18 entering the country by sea from North Africa decreased. According to the Ministry of the Interior, the number of unaccompanied minors arriving in the country by sea dropped from 15,779 in 2017 to 3,177 as of September. Most of these minors were from Sub-Saharan Africa. The majority arrived in Sicily, and many remained there in shelters, while others moved to other parts of the country or elsewhere in Europe.
The law provides for the protection of unaccompanied foreign minors, creating a system of protection that manages minors from the time they arrive until they reach the age of majority and can support themselves. As of the end of January, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies had identified 14,939 unaccompanied minors, of whom 4,332 had left the shelters assigned to them. Of those assisted, 93 percent were boys and 84 percent were 16 or 17 years of age. Girls were 7 percent of the total with 60 percent from Eritrea and Nigeria; this group was especially vulnerable to sexual abuse and violence.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Policies recognized that unaccompanied minors were more vulnerable to becoming child laborers and worked to prevent exploitation by placing them in protected communities that provided education and other services. The law also created a roster of vetted and trained voluntary guardians at the juvenile court-level to help protect unaccompanied minors. According to a report by Save the Children, there are still elements of the law that have yet to be fully implemented across the country, but significant progress was made. Over 4,000 volunteers became guardians and supported migrants integrating into local communities.
The law prohibits discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. There were some media reports of employment discrimination based on race or ethnicity. Unions criticized the government for providing insufficient resources to UNAR to intervene in all cases of discrimination and for the lack of adequate legal measures to address new types of discrimination.
Discrimination based on gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity also occurred. The government implemented some information campaigns, promoting diversity and tolerance, including in the workplace.
In many cases victims of discrimination were unwilling to request the forms of protection provided by employment laws or collective contracts, according to labor unions. According to Eurostat, in 2016 (the most recent year for which data was available) women’s gross hourly earnings were on average 5.3 percent lower than those of men performing the same work.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The law does not provide for a minimum wage. Instead, collective bargaining contracts negotiated between unions and employers set minimum wage levels for different sectors of the economy. In 2017 the government set the official poverty line at 1,085 euros ($1,248) per month for a family of two.
Unless limited by a collective bargaining agreement, the law sets maximum overtime hours in industrial firms at no more than 80 hours per quarter and 250 hours annually. The law prohibits compulsory overtime and provides for paid annual holidays. It requires rest periods of one day per week and 11 hours per day. The law sets basic health and safety standards and guidelines for compensation for on-the-job injuries.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Policies is responsible for enforcement and, with regular union input, effectively enforced standards in the formal sector of the economy. Labor standards were only partially enforced in the informal sector, which employed an estimated 16 percent of the country’s workers.
Resources, inspections, and remediation were generally adequate to ensure compliance in the formal sector only. Penalties for violations include incarceration and fines but were not sufficient to deter all violations.
In 2017, the most recent year for which data was available, labor inspectors and Carabinieri officers inspected 160,347 companies (including agricultural companies), identifying 252,659 individual workers whose terms of employment were in violation of labor laws. Of these, 48,073 were undeclared (off the books); and 1,227 were irregular migrants. Inspectors found 12,800 violations of regulations on working hours and suspended approximately 6,932 companies for the specific violation of employing over 20 percent of their workers without a formal contract. The number of companies found to be in violation remained roughly in line with 2016 (7,013).
Informal workers were often exploited and underpaid, worked in unhygienic conditions, or were exposed to safety hazards. According to the main labor confederation, the CGIL, such practices occurred in the service, construction, and agricultural sectors.
In 2016 an independent research center, the Association of Artisans and Small Businesses of Mestre, estimated that there were 3.1 million irregular workers in the country, of whom 40 percent were based in southern regions. Some areas of Calabria, Puglia, Campania, and Sicily reported significant numbers of informal foreign workers living and working in substandard or unsafe conditions. This data was still considered reliable.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements and protects their rights to strike and bargain collectively.
The law places limitations on the right of public-sector workers and employees of state-owned enterprises to form and join unions of their choice. Public-sector employees may participate in public-service employee unions, which may negotiate collectively with their employers on wages, hours, and other conditions of employment. Public-sector employees do not have the right to strike; trade union leaders who incite a strike in the public sector may be dismissed and fined or imprisoned. Firefighting personnel and prison officers are prohibited from organizing and collectively bargaining.
Workers in sectors providing essential services, including electric power generation and transmission, transportation and railways, telecommunications, medical care and public health, and the postal service must give 10 days’ advance notice to authorities before organizing a strike. Employees involved in providing essential services do not have the right to collective bargaining.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activities.
The government effectively enforced laws providing for freedom of association, collective bargaining, and legal strikes. Government oversight and penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. In the case of a violation, a worker or union may lodge an objection with the Labor Committee, which may issue a relief order for action by the employer. A plaintiff may then take the matter to a civil court. If the court upholds the relief order and determines that a violation of that order has occurred, it may impose a fine, imprisonment, or both.
The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, but increasing use of short-term contracts undermined regular employment and frustrated organizing efforts. Collective bargaining was common in the private sector, although some businesses changed their form of incorporation to a holding company structure, not legally considered an employer, to circumvent employee protections under the law.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.
Violations persisted and enforcement was lacking in some segments of the labor market, for example, in sectors where foreign workers were employed; however, in general the government effectively enforced the law. Legal penalties for forced labor varied depending on its form, the victim(s), and the law that prosecutors used to prosecute such offenses. Not all forms of forced or compulsory labor were clearly defined by law, nor did they all carry penalties sufficient to deter violations. For example, the law criminalizes forced labor and prescribes penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, but it also allows for fines in lieu of incarceration. NGOs argued that reliance on multiple and overlapping statutes hindered the government’s ability to identify and prosecute trafficking crimes, especially for cases involving forced labor with elements of psychological coercion.
Reports of forced labor continued in the manufacturing, construction, and shipbuilding sectors, largely in small- and medium-size enterprises employing foreign nationals through the Technical Intern Training Program (TITP). This program allows foreign workers to enter the country and work for up to five years in a de facto guest worker program that many observers assessed to be rife with vulnerabilities to trafficking and other labor abuses.
Workers in these jobs experienced restrictions on freedom of movement and communication with persons outside the program, nonpayment of wages, excessive working hours, high debts to brokers in countries of origin, and retention of identity documents. For example, women from Cambodia and China recounted long hours, poor living conditions, restricted freedom of movement, and nonpayment of wages while they were working in a Gifu textile factory. Workers were also sometimes subjected to “forced savings” that they forfeited by leaving early or being forcibly repatriated. For example, some technical interns reportedly paid up to one million yen ($8,900) in their home countries for jobs and were reportedly employed under contracts that mandated forfeiture of those funds to agents in their home country if workers attempted to leave, both of which are illegal under the TITP. In 2017 the government established an oversight body, the Organization for Technical Intern Training (OTIT), which conducted on-site inspections of TITP workplaces. There is concern that the OTIT is understaffed, insufficiently accessible to persons who do not speak Japanese, and ineffective at prosecuting labor abuse cases.
Workers who entered the country illegally or who overstayed their visas were particularly vulnerable. NGOs maintained government oversight was insufficient.
Despite the prevalence of forced labor within the TITP, no case has ever led to a labor trafficking prosecution.
On December 8, the country enacted legislation that creates new categories of working visas to bring in more skilled and blue-collar workers and upgrades the Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau to an agency that will oversee companies that accept foreign workers. NGOs expressed concern that the new law does not adequately safeguard against the potential for continued labor abuses, such as those that have been present in the TITP.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Children ages 15 to 18 may perform any job not designated as dangerous or harmful, such as handling heavy objects or cleaning, inspecting, or repairing machinery while in operation; however, they are prohibited from working late night shifts. Children ages 13 to 15 years may perform “light labor” only, and children younger than age 13 may work only in the entertainment industry.
The government effectively enforced these laws. Penalties for child labor violations included fines and imprisonment and were sufficient to deter violations.
Children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on religion, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, HIV-positive status, or language.
The law mandates equal pay for men and women; however, the International Labor Organization has noted the law’s protection against such wage discrimination is too limited because it does not capture the concept of “work of equal value.” The June revisions to the Part-timer Labor Law, Labor Contract Law and the Labor Dispatch Law, which passed as part of the “Workstyle Reform Package Bills,” included provisions to obligate employers to treat regular and nonregular workers equally when 1) the job contents are the same and 2) the scope of expected changes to the job content and work location are the same. Enforcement regulations of the equal employment opportunity law also include prohibitions against policies or practices that were adopted not with discriminatory intent but which have a discriminatory effect (called “indirect discrimination” in law) for all workers in recruitment, hiring, promotion, and changes of job type. Enforcement of these provisions was generally weak.
Revisions in 2017 to child-care and nursing-care leave laws offered greater flexibility in taking family-care leave by, for example, allowing employees to divide their permitted leave into three separate instances. The revisions also increased fixed-term contract workers’ eligibility for child-care leave. The revised employment law obligates employers to take measures to prevent what is known as matahara(maternity harassment). The law also allows parents to extend paternity/maternity leave by an additional six months if child-care facilities are not available, enabling parents to take leave for up to two years after a birth. The law requires national and local governments, as well as private-sector companies that employ at least 301 people, to analyze women’s employment in their organizations and release action plans to promote women’s participation and advancement.
The law mandates that both government and private companies hire at or above a designated minimum proportion of persons with disabilities (including mental disabilities). An April revision to the law increased the minimum hiring rate for the government from 2.3 percent to 2.5 percent and for private companies from 2.0 percent to 2.2 percent. The revision also stipulates that the minimum hiring ratio for private companies should be raised further to 2.3 percent before April 2021. By law companies with more than 200 employees that do not comply with requirements to hire minimum proportions of persons with disabilities must pay a fine per vacant position per month. Disability rights advocates claimed that some companies preferred to pay the mandated fine rather than hire persons with disabilities.
In cases of violation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Law, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare may request the employer report the matter, and the ministry may issue advice, instructions, or corrective guidance. If the employer does not follow the ministry’s guidance, the employer’s name may be publicly disclosed. If the employer fails to report or files a false report, the employer may be subject to a fine. Government hotlines in prefectural labor bureau equal employment departments handled consultations concerning sexual harassment and mediated disputes when possible.
There is no penalty for government entities failing to meet the legal minimum hiring ratio for persons with disabilities. In August a large number of ministries and some regional governments admitted they overstated their ratio of employees with disabilities in fiscal year 2017. According to data released by the MHLW, the overall hiring rate for persons with disabilities in the central government was 2.5 percent and for the prefectural government was 2.65 percent as of June 2017. Many government entities, however, were suspected of overstating the figures. MHLW carried out a nationwide survey of all government entities in September to investigate the matter.
Women continued to express concern about unequal treatment in the workforce. Women’s average monthly wage was approximately 73 percent of that of men in 2017.
Reports of employers forcing pregnant women to leave their jobs continued, although there are no recent data on this problem. In December media reported the case of a Vietnamese technical trainee who was told to have an abortion or quit her job.
The government encouraged private companies to report gender statistics in annual financial reports. The government also continued to increase child-care facilities.
In November 2017 the Japanese Trade Union Confederation released a survey on harassment and violence, which said more than 50 percent of respondents reported they had personally experienced or observed workplace harassment.
The MHLW said in 2017, the latest year for which such data were available, that the number of employers or supervisors who abused persons with disabilities fell 13.4 percent in the Japanese fiscal year ending in March. The decrease was attributed to a wider recognition in workplaces of a law aimed at combating abuse of workers with disabilities and to enforcement efforts by labor standards inspectors.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum wage ranged from 737 to 958 yen ($6.50 to $8.50) per hour, depending on the prefecture. The poverty line was 1.22 million yen ($10,900) per year.
The law provides for a 40-hour workweek for most industries and, with exceptions, limits the number of overtime hours permitted in a fixed period. It mandates premium pay of no less than 25 percent for more than eight hours of work in a day, up to 45 overtime hours per month. For overtime of between 45 and 60 hours per month, the law requires companies to “make efforts” to furnish premium pay greater than 25 percent. It mandates premium pay of at least 50 percent for overtime that exceeds 60 hours a month.
The June Workstyle Reform Package Bills included the first-ever legal cap on overtime work and established penalties, including fines and imprisonment, for violations. These provisions come into force in April 2019 for large companies and in April 2020 for small- and medium-sized companies. In principle, overtime work will be permitted only up to 45 hours per month and 360 hours per year. Even in the case of special and temporary circumstances, it must be limited to less than 720 hours per year and 100 hours per month (including holiday work), and the average hours of overtime work over a period of more than two months must be less than 80 hours (including holiday work). The reform package bills also included provisions to introduce the Highly Professional System (the Japanese version of a white-collar exemption), which would eliminate the requirement to pay any overtime (including premium pay for holiday work or late-night work) for a small number of highly skilled professionals earning an annual salary of more than approximately 10 million yen ($89,400).
The government sets industrial safety and health (ISH) standards. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
The MHLW is responsible for enforcing laws and regulations governing wages, hours, and safety and health standards in most industries. The National Personnel Authority covers government officials. The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry covers ISH standards for mining, and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism is responsible for ISH standards in the maritime industry.
The Minimum Wage Law provides for a fine for employers who fail to pay a minimum wage, regardless of the number of employees involved or the duration of the violation. Other labor laws such as the Industrial Safety and Health Standards Law and the Labor Standards Law also provide for fines for employers who fail to comply with the laws. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. In October 2017 a Tokyo court fined a major advertising agency 500,000 yen ($4,460) for failing to prevent excessive overtime worked by its employees. This court decision followed the Tokyo Labor Bureau’s ruling in 2016 that determined that the 2015 death of a young woman was a case of karoshi (death by overwork), after records showed the employee booked 130 hours of overtime in one month and slept just 10 hours per week. This finding against a major advertising agency brought renewed attention to the severe consequences of overwork and led to legislative changes to limit overtime work. Labor unions continued to criticize the government for failing to enforce the law regarding maximum working hours, and workers, including those in government jobs, routinely exceeded the hours outlined in the law.
In general the government effectively enforced applicable ISH law and regulations in all sectors. Penalties for ISH violations included fines and imprisonment and were generally sufficient to deter violations. While inspectors have the authority to suspend unsafe operations immediately in cases of flagrant safety violations, in lesser cases they may provide nonbinding shidou (guidance). MHLW officials frequently stated that their resources were inadequate to oversee more than 4.3 million firms.
Nonregular workers (which include part-time workers, fixed-term contract workers, and dispatch workers) made up approximately 37 percent of the labor force in 2017. They worked for lower wages and often with less job security and fewer benefits than career workers. Some nonregular workers qualified for various benefits, including insurance, pension, and training. Observers reported a rise in four- or five-year contracts and the termination of contracts shortly before the five-year mark, when employees may ask their employer to make them permanent. Workers in academic positions, such as researchers, technical workers, and teachers in universities, were eligible for 10-year contracts.
Reports of abuses in the TITP were common, including injuries due to unsafe equipment and insufficient training, nonpayment of wages and overtime compensation, excessive and often spurious salary deductions, forced repatriation, and substandard living conditions (also see section 7.b.). In addition, observers alleged that a conflict of interest existed, since the inspectors who oversee the TITP working conditions were employed by two ministries that are members of the interagency group administering the TITP. Some inspectors appeared reluctant to conduct investigations that could cast a negative light on a government program that business owners favored.
There were also reports of informal employment of foreign asylum seekers on provisional release from detention who did not have work permits. Such workers were vulnerable to mistreatment and did not have access to standard labor protections or oversight.
Falls, road traffic accidents, and injuries caused by heavy machinery were the most common causes of workplace fatalities. The MHLW also continued to receive applications from family members seeking the ministry’s recognition of a deceased individual as a karoshi victim.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The laws in all parts of the kingdom provide for public- and private-sector workers to form or join independent unions of their own choosing without prior governmental authorization or excessive requirements. The law provides for collective bargaining. Unions may conduct their activities without interference.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and retaliation against legal strikers. It requires workers fired for union activity to be reinstated. The law restricts striking by some public-sector workers if a strike threatens the public welfare or safety. Workers must report their intention to strike to their employer at least two days in advance.
The law provides for penalties, including fines. Such penalties were effective in deterring violations. Government, political parties, and employers respected the freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively. Authorities effectively enforced applicable laws related to the right to organize and collective bargaining.
For the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Netherlands Trade Union Confederation (FNV) alleged temporary workers were used to break strikes. The FNV also raised concerns some employers refused to acknowledge the collective bargaining rights of self-employed workers who work side by side with regular employees.
Throughout the kingdom the law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government enforced it. The penalty for violating the law against forced labor runs from 12 years’ imprisonment in routine cases to 18 years’ imprisonment in cases where the victim incurs serious physical injury and life imprisonment in cases where the victim dies. These penalties were adequate to deter violations.
Enforcement mechanisms and effectiveness varied across the kingdom. In the Netherlands, the Inspectorate for Social Affairs and Employment investigated cases of forced or compulsory labor. The Inspectorate works with various agencies, such as police, and NGOs to identify possible cases. After completion of the investigation, cases are referred to the prosecutor’s office. On the islands of the Dutch Caribbean, labor inspectors together with representatives of the Department for Immigration inspected worksites and locations for vulnerable migrants and to screen for indicators of trafficking. In Sint Maarten front-line responders did not have standard procedures for identifying forced labor victims, which hindered the government’s ability to assist such persons. Authorities investigated the possible exploitation of three Filipino women hired as domestic servants. In September the public prosecutor’s office determined that the case did not amount to forced labor, despite ongoing claims from the Filipino community alleging unfair labor practices and exploitation.
Isolated incidents of forced or compulsory labor occurred in the kingdom. Victims of coerced labor included both domestic and foreign women and men, as well as boys and girls (see section 7.c.) forced to work in, among other sectors, agriculture, horticulture, catering, domestic servitude and cleaning, the inland shipping sector, and forced criminality (including illegal narcotics trafficking).
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
In the Netherlands the law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. No reports of child labor occurred in the Netherlands. The government categorizes children into three age groups for purposes of employment: 13 to 14, 15, and 16 to 17. Children in the youngest group are allowed to work only in a few light, nonindustrial jobs and only on nonschool days. As children become older, the scope of permissible jobs and hours of work increase, and fewer restrictions apply. The law prohibits persons younger than 18 from working overtime, at night, or in hazardous situations. Hazardous work differs by age category. For example, children younger than 18 are not allowed to work with toxic materials, and children younger than 16 are not allowed to work in factories. Holiday work and employment after school are subject to very strict rules set by law. The government effectively enforced child labor laws. Offenders faced fines, which were sufficient to deter violations.
Aruba’s law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. In Aruba the minimum age for employment is 15. The rules differentiate between children and youngsters. Children are boys and girls younger than 15, and youngsters are persons between the ages of 15 and 18. Children age 13 or older who have finished elementary school may work, if doing so is necessary for learning a trade or profession (apprenticeship), not physically or mentally taxing, and not dangerous. Penalties ranged from fines to imprisonment, which were adequate to deter violations. The government enforced child labor laws and policies. It conducted adequate inspections of possible child labor violations.
Curacao’s law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. In Curacao the minimum age for employment is 15. The rules differentiate between children and youngsters. Children are those younger than 15, and youngsters are persons between the ages of 15 and 18. Children age 12 or older who have finished elementary school may work if doing so is necessary for learning a trade or profession (apprenticeship), not physically or mentally taxing, and not dangerous. The penalty for violations is a maximum four-year prison sentence and/or a fine, which was adequate to deter violations.
Sint Maarten’s law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. In Sint Maarten the law prohibits children younger than 14 from working for wages. Special rules apply to schoolchildren who are 16 and 17 years of age. The law prohibits persons younger than 18 from working overtime, at night, or in activities dangerous to their physical or mental well-being. Penalties ranged from fines to imprisonment and were adequate to deter violations. The government effectively enforced the law.
In the Kingdom of the Netherlands, labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation. The law applies to all refugees with residency status. Throughout the kingdom, the government effectively enforced the laws. Penalties took the form of fines and were adequate to deter violations.
The NIHR focused on discrimination in the labor market, such as discrimination in the workplace, unequal pay, termination of labor contracts, and preferential treatment of ethnically Dutch employees. On average, it addressed around 100 labor discrimination cases per year; although its rulings are not binding, they were usually followed. On August 30, for example, the NIHR ruled that a physical therapy office discriminated a female employee by changing her work hours and work location after she returned from maternity leave. Plaintiffs can also take their case to court, but NIHR is often preferred because of a lower threshold. The Inspectorate for Social Affairs and Employment conducted inspections to investigate whether policies are in place on the prevention of discrimination in the workplace. Several companies that were visited in the past, where revisited in 2017. In almost all cases, companies made improvements. In one instance, the Inspectorate handed out a fine for failure to implement new policy. The law addresses adaptations that require employers to accommodate employees with disabilities, and the government worked to improve the position of persons with disabilities in the labor market (see Section 6). The institute also cooperated on several campaigns against discrimination, such as Crossing out Discrimination, launched in 2016 by the Ministry of Interior that focused on raising awareness and encouraging individuals to report incidents of discrimination.
Discrimination occurred in the Netherlands, including on the basis of sex. The Netherlands Human Rights Institute undertook a campaign to counter discrimination in the workplace against pregnant women and women who may become pregnant. Female unemployment was higher than male, and female incomes lagged behind male counterparts. Discrimination in employment and occupation also occurred with respect to race, religion, and disability. Migrant workers also faced discrimination in employment. The International Labor Organization noted, for example, in the Netherlands, non-Western persons with a migration background were more likely to work under flexible contracts, had higher rates of youth unemployment, and continued to encounter discrimination in recruitment against people with a non-Dutch sounding last name.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
In the Netherlands the minimum wage for an adult was sufficient for a single-person household but inadequate for a couple with two children. The government effectively enforced wage laws.
In Aruba there is no official poverty level, and the monthly minimum wage in 2015 was 1,711 Aruban florins ($958). In Curacao the minimum hourly wage was nine Netherlands Antillean guilders ($5.40), and the official poverty level was 2,195 guilders ($1,230). The official minimum hourly wage in Sint Maarten was 8.83 Netherlands Antillean guilders ($5.04); no poverty-level income information was available.
In the Netherlands the law does not establish a specific number of hours as constituting a full workweek, but most workweeks were 36, 38, or 40 hours long. Collective bargaining agreements or individual contracts, not law, regulate overtime. The legal maximum workweek is 60 hours. During a four-week period, a worker may only work 55 hours a week on average or, during a 16-week period, an average of 48 hours a week, with some exceptions. Persons who work more than 5.5 hours a day are entitled to a 30-minute rest period.
In the Netherlands the government set occupational health and safety standards across all sectors. Standards were appropriate for main industries and frequently updated. The situation was similar in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten. In Sint Maarten government established guidelines for acceptable conditions of work in both the public and private sectors covered specific concerns, such as ventilation, lighting, hours, and terms of work. The Ministry of Labor reviewed and updated the guidelines and routinely visited businesses to ensure employer compliance.
The Inspectorate for Social Affairs and Employment effectively enforced the labor laws on conditions of work across all sectors, including the informal economy. Resources, inspectors, and remediation were adequate. The government announced an annual budget increase of 50 million euros ($57.5 million) for additional resources for the Inspectorate. In 2017 labor inspectors imposed an average fine of nearly 10,500 euros ($12,100), which was sufficient to deter violations. The Inspectorate can shut down fraudulent temporary employment agencies, which facilitate labor exploitation.
Most violations in the Netherlands were in temporary employment agencies that mainly hired workers from Eastern Europe, particularly in the construction and transportation sectors, without paying the minimum wage. The situation was similar in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten, although the underpaid workers were generally from Latin America.