a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law protects the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, to conduct legal strikes, and to bargain collectively. There are certain restrictions on the right to strike for government workers, imposed principally for reasons of public safety. The law states that a public sector employee who engages in a strike or any other industrial action is considered “dismissed from…employment.” The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, such as contract conditions that restrict free association. The law addresses a range of fundamental rights and includes the establishment of a national tripartite forum that serves as the governing body for labor and employment matters in the country.
The government effectively enforced laws on unionization, and the government generally respected freedom of association. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The Public Service Association functioned as a union for all government workers. Unions generally conducted their activities free from government interference.
Workers exercised the right to organize and bargain collectively. The Public Service Association engaged in collective bargaining on behalf of government workers, including on wages. Arbitration and mediation procedures were in place to resolve labor disputes, although such disputes rarely arose. The government has the right to dissolve unions without going to court, a provision of the law criticized by the International Labor Organization (ILO).
There were no reports of strikes.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and the government generally enforced such laws. There is an exception in the constitution for service required by local custom. A key feature of the matai system is that non-matai men perform work in their village in service to their families, church, or the village as a whole. Most persons did so willingly, but the matai may compel those who do not wish to work, including children.
The government did effectively enforce the law. The law states that forced labor is punishable by penalties sufficient to deter violations. Aside from the cultural exception noted above and street vending by children, forced labor was not considered a problem. The Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Labor received no complaints and found no violations of forced labor during inspections conducted.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The ILO noted that the law does not effectively prohibit the procuring or offering of children between the ages of 16 and 18 for the production of indecent materials. The law also does not specifically prohibit the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs.
The law prohibits employing children ages 12-14 except in “safe and light work.” The government issued a public notice clarifying the hazardous work occupations prohibited for children under age 18.
The law does not apply to service rendered to family members or the matai, some of whom required children to work for the village, primarily on family farms. The law prohibits any student from engaging in light or heavy industrial activity during school hours of 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The law restricts vending by school-aged children (younger than age 14) if it interferes with their school attendance, participation in school activities, or educational development. This law is effectively enforced in the formal economy, but only minimally enforced in the informal economy in areas such as child street vending, which takes place at all hours of the day and night. Children frequently sold goods and food on street corners. The problem of child street vending attracted significant media coverage and public outcry. There were no reliable statistics available on the extent of child labor, but it occurred largely in the informal sector.
The extent to which children had to work on village farms varied by village, although anecdotal accounts indicated the practice was common. Younger children primarily did yard work and light work such as gathering fruit, nuts, and plants. Some boys began working on plantations as teenagers, helping to gather crops such as coconuts and caring for animals. Some children reportedly had domestic service employment.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination, direct or indirect, against an employee or an applicant for employment based on ethnicity, race, color, sex, gender, religion, political opinion, national extraction, sexual orientation, social origin, marital status, pregnancy, family responsibilities, real or perceived HIV status, and disability.
The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The Labor Ministry received one complaint regarding unfair hiring practices during the year. The hiring and recruiting process for the private sector is outside of the scope of the Labor and Employment Relations Act. No cases drew public attention.
To integrate women into the economic mainstream, the government sponsored numerous programs, including literacy and training programs.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There were separate minimum wage scales for the private and public sectors. Both minimum wages were below the official estimate of the poverty income level for a household. The government effectively enforced wage laws, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Approximately 75 percent of the working population worked in the subsistence economy and had no formal employment.
The law covers private and public sector workers differently. For the private sector, the law specifies overtime pay at time and a half, with double time for work on Sunday and public holidays. For the public sector, there is no paid overtime, but authorities give compensatory time off for overtime work.
The law establishes certain rudimentary safety and health standards for workplaces, which the labor ministry is responsible for enforcing. The law also covers nonworkers who are lawfully on the premises or within the workplace during work hours. The law contains provisions for the identification and assessment of, and risk control for, workplace hazards and hazardous substances. In January the Labor Ministry issued a public notice clarifying the list of hazardous work prohibited for children.
Safety laws do not generally apply to agricultural service rendered to the matai or work in a family enterprise. Government employees have coverage under different and more stringent regulations, which the Public Service Commission enforced adequately.
Independent observers reported that the Labor Ministry did not strictly enforce safety laws, except when accidents highlighted noncompliance. It investigated work accidents when it received reports. The number of inspectors was generally sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
Many agricultural workers had inadequate protection from pesticides and other dangers to health. Government education and awareness programs sought to address these concerns by providing appropriate training and equipment to some agricultural workers.
The Labor Ministry investigates any potential labor law violations in response to complaints. The police and education ministries may assist if needed; the PSC handles all government labor matters.
The commissioner of labor investigates reported cases of hazardous workplaces. Workers are legally able to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.