a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of association and allows workers to form and join trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law bars military and paramilitary members from forming a union or associating with any established union. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers but does not specifically require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.
The Ministry of Human Services and Social Security is required to certify all collective bargaining agreements. Individual unions directly negotiate collective bargaining status.
By law unions must have 40 percent support of workers, a provision the International Labor Organization (ILO) criticized. The government may declare strikes illegal if the union leadership does not approve them or if the union does not meet the requirements specified in collective bargaining agreements. Public employees providing essential services may strike if they provide a one-month notice to the Ministry of Public Service and leave a skeleton staff in place. The ILO noted that not all sectors deemed essential by the government adhered to international definitions, including the services provided by the Transport and Harbors Department and the National Drainage and Irrigation Board. Arbitration is compulsory for public employees, and such employees engaging in illegal strikes are subject to sanctions or imprisonment.
The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Penalties for violation of labor laws are small fines the government frequently did not impose. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Administrative and judicial proceedings regarding violations often were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.
Some public-sector employee unions continued to allege antiunion discrimination by the government, asserting the government violated worker rights and did not effectively enforce the law. The unions were concerned that employers used hiring practices, such as contract labor and temporary labor, to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law criminally prohibits forced labor. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Penalties for forced labor under trafficking-in-persons laws include forfeiture of property gained as a result of the forced labor, restitution to the victim, and imprisonment. Administrative labor law penalties are small monetary fines, deemed insufficient to deter violations and rarely enforced.
Country experts reported that forced and compulsory labor occurred in the gold-mining, agriculture, and forestry sectors, as well as domestic servitude. Children were particularly vulnerable to human trafficking, including forced labor (see section 7.c.).
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the employment of children younger than age 15, with some exceptions, but it does not sufficiently prohibit the worst forms of child labor. Technical schools may employ children as young as age 14, provided a competent authority approves and supervises such work. No person younger than 18 may be employed in industrial work at night. Exceptions exist for those ages 16 and 17 whose work requires continuity through day and night, including certain gold-mining processes and the production of iron, steel, glass, paper, and raw sugar. The law does not specifically prohibit the use, procuring, or offering of a child for the production and trafficking of drugs.
The law permits children younger than 15 to be employed only in enterprises in which members of the same family are also employed. The law prohibits children younger than 15 from working in factories and does not provide adequate protections for those younger than 18 to prevent their being engaged in activities hazardous to their health or safety.
The government did not enforce laws effectively, and penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The Ministry of Human Services and Social Security collaborated with the Ministry of Education, Geology and Mines Commission, Guyana Forestry Commission, National Insurance Scheme, and Guyana Police Force to enforce child labor laws. The government infrequently prosecuted employers for violations relating to child labor.
Child labor occurred and was most prevalent in farming, fishing, bars and restaurants, domestic work, and street vending. Small numbers of children also performed hazardous work in the construction, logging, farming, and mining industries. The government reported that incidences of the worst forms of child labor occurred, mainly in gold mining, prostitution (see section 6), and forced labor activities, including domestic servitude. According to local NGOs, children who worked in gold mines operated dangerous mining equipment and were exposed to hazardous chemicals, including mercury.
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 with respect to employment and occupation based on race, sex, gender, disability, language, social status, and national origin or citizenship. Penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women and to persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and workplace access was limited for persons with disabilities (see section 6). Newspapers frequently carried advertisements seeking gender-specific or age-specific applicants to fill positions in the retail, cosmetology, or security sectors.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The law provides for a national minimum wage for private-sector employees. Minimum wages for regular working hours of all full-time, private-sector employees are set nationally for hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly workers. The national minimum wage for regular working hours of full-time, public-sector employees was above the poverty line. A normal workweek is 40 hours, distributed over no more than five days per week. The law prohibits compulsory overtime, and overtime work must be paid according to rates set in the law or according to any collective bargaining agreement in force where workers are unionized. There is provision for overtime pay. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.
Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards are not appropriate for the main industries, and government did not effectively enforce OSH laws.
The law provides that some categories of workers have the right to remove themselves from unsafe work environments without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in these situations.
The Ministry of Human Services and Social Security is charged with enforcement of the labor law, but the number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law effectively. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections but do not have the authority to initiate sanctions. Labor inspections carried out during the year targeted all sectors, including agriculture, mining, and construction. Ministry follow-up of labor inspection findings varied, and compliance among employers was also inconsistent.
Enforcement of minimum wage legislation was not effective. Although specific data were unavailable, a significant number of workers were employed in the informal economy, and some moved to Brazil. Unorganized workers, particularly women in the informal sector, were often paid less than the minimum wage. Local trade unions and NGOs also reported the Ministry of Social Protection lacked sufficient resources to enforce occupational safety and health laws adequately. The government reported 84 workplace accidents, all of which were investigated. There were 14 fatal workplace accidents reported as of October.
The Guyana Public Service Union condemned actions of public transportation operators who discriminated against health-care workers, mostly nurses, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.