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Uruguay

Executive Summary

The Oriental Republic of Uruguay is a constitutional republic with a democratically elected president and a bicameral legislature. In November 2019 Luis Lacalle Pou won a five-year presidential term in a free and fair election. No political party won a majority in parliament, but the ruling party formed a coalition to pass legislation. Legislative elections were also held in October 2019.

Under the Ministry of Interior, the National Police maintains internal security, and the National Directorate for Migration is responsible for migration and border enforcement. The armed forces, under the Ministry of National Defense, are responsible for external security and have some domestic responsibilities, including perimeter security for six prisons and border security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses and were brought to justice.

Significant human rights abuses included harsh and potentially life-threatening conditions in some prisons.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, and there were no reports of impunity. The judiciary continued to investigate human rights violations committed during the 1973-85 military dictatorship, which the law classifies as crimes against humanity.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices and the government addressed them with appropriate legal action. Authorities sometimes lacked sufficient enforcement resources and mechanisms to identify and address acts of administrative misconduct. The Transparency and Ethics Board lacked the permanent staff needed to operate effectively as an anticorruption agency. The Access to Information Unit intervenes in cases of requests to access classified or sensitive information; however, it has powers only to make recommendations to government bodies, not to force them to disclose information. The unit conducts training and awareness-raising activities on transparency and access to information. Overall, the country was considered to have a low level of corruption.

Corruption: As of December the case continued against former vice president Raul Sendic for abuse of authority and embezzlement. He was also under a separate investigation by the state-owned oil company ANCAP for allegedly making personal expenditures on an official credit card and mismanaging funds. In December the prosecutor’s office requested a prison sentence of 18 months, a four- year disqualification from working in public positions of trust, and a fine.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed and elected officials. Each year the Transparency and Ethics Board lists the names of government officials expected to file a declaration on its website and informs the individuals’ organizations of those expected to comply. The government official, the judiciary, a special parliamentary committee, or the board may access the information in the declarations (by majority vote of the board). The board may direct an official’s office to withhold 50 percent of the employee’s salary until the declaration is presented, and it may publish the names of those who fail to comply in the federal register. There is a requirement for filing, but there is no review of the filings absent an allegation of wrongdoing.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape and domestic violence. The law allows for sentences of three to 16 years’ imprisonment for a person found guilty of rape, and authorities effectively enforced the law. The law criminalizes domestic violence and allows sentences of six months’ to two years’ imprisonment for a person found guilty of committing an act of domestic violence or making continued threats of violence. Civil courts decided most domestic cases, and judges in these cases often issued restraining orders, which were sometimes difficult to enforce.

The government further implemented the gender-based violence law, which builds on existing legislation on domestic violence. The law includes abuse that is physical, psychological, emotional, sexual, based on prejudice for sexual orientation, economic, related to assets, symbolic, obstetric, labor-related, educational, political, or related to media presence. It also includes street sexual harassment and femicide. The law aims to create an institutional response system and establishes specialized courts. It sets minimum standards of support and assistance to be provided by the government, to include shelters for the victims and immediate family members. The law attempts to avoid revictimization in social and legal procedures and seeks to make the judicial process more agile. According to civil society representatives, the law was not being fully implemented due in part to lack of resources. For example, specialized courts provided by the gender law were not established; however, civil society representatives recognized that judges in nonspecialized courts applied criminal definitions included in the new law. NGO representatives underlined the need for more expert training and the need to include gender-based violence in the university curriculum, especially in the health sector.

The criminal procedure code introduced changes to victims’ rights, including guarantees and services during the process, and the creation of a Victims and Witnesses Unit in the Prosecutor General’s Office. Since its establishment, the unit had focused more than 50 percent of its work on victims of gender-based violence. Civil society representatives saw this as a significant improvement for victims, who received support and guidance during criminal proceedings.

A separate femicide law modifies aggravating circumstances for a homicide to include whether the crime “caused the death of a female due to motive of hate or contempt.” The law’s explanatory statement describes femicide as arising from a structural inequality between women and men that uses gender-based violence as a mechanism to oppress women.

The government maintained a Gender-Based Violence Observatory to monitor, collect, register, and analyze data on gender-based violence. During the year the Interior Ministry acquired 700 more electronic anklets, reaching 1,500 anklets in total. The government trained officials on aspects of gender-based violence and sexual assault.

The Ministry of Social Development, some police stations in the interior, the National Institute for Children and Adolescent Affairs (INAU), and NGOs operated shelters where abused women and children could seek temporary refuge. Civil society reported shelters for victims were of good quality, but capacity was insufficient. The ministry also funded the lodging of victims in hotels. The Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Housing operated a program that funded two-year leases for approximately 100 victims, pending more permanent housing solutions. According to NGO representatives, immediate and first-response services focused more on providing advice than on offering close and daily support to victims, mainly due to a lack of staffing. Services for victims in the interior of the country were scarcer and more difficult to access, especially for women in isolated rural areas. The Ministry for Social Development and the state-owned telephone company, Antel, maintained a free nationwide hotline operated by trained NGO employees for victims of domestic violence. Victims could also file a report online or at a police station.

The government’s 2016-19 action plan to combat gender-based violence provided for interagency coordination on violence prevention, access to justice, victim protection and attention, and punishment of perpetrators. It also promoted social and cultural awareness and provided training for public servants. The Prosecutor General’s Office has a specialized gender unit that incorporated greater awareness of gender as it relates to matters of justice, promoted respect for women’s rights, combated violence, and enhanced interagency coordination. The Ministry of Interior’s gender unit seeks to ensure a clear policy on gender-based violence in police forces and trains police staff to handle and respond to cases. The omnibus reform bill passed in July established the creation of a National Gender Policies Directorate within the Ministry of Interior. The Prosecutor General’s Office has special prosecutorial teams to investigate and prosecute gender-based violence cases, separate from those working on domestic violence cases. These units focus on the various forms of violence defined in the new law as well as human trafficking cases.

There is also a National Gender Council headed by the Women’s Institute (Inmujeres) of the Ministry of Social Development and with representatives of 26 government and nongovernmental bodies, including the 12 ministries, judicial branch, health administration, INDDHH, academia, civil society, and other actors. The aim of the council is to contribute to the design, assessment, and implementation of policies with a gendered perspective. The council met in an extraordinary session after the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis to address effects of the pandemic on domestic violence victims. In June it had its first ordinary session, to establish the lines of effort for the 2020-25 period, which would focus on gender-based violence, financial independence of women, decentralization of gender policies, and participation of women in decision-making positions.

With the coronavirus outbreak in March and the resulting isolation measures implemented by the government, civil society began a public messaging campaign warning about the increased risk of gender-based violence and domestic violence victims resulting from confinement. Authorities of the Women’s Institute under the Ministry of Social Development initially detected a drop in reports during the first two weeks of isolation, with a sharp increase after the third week. Measures adopted by the government included strengthening support hotlines, conducting awareness-raising campaigns about reporting channels available, and encouraging the population to be alert to possible abuse cases in their communities. The Ministry of Health designed a protocol to help health staff visiting homes and working in emergency rooms to detect and report possible cases of gender-based violence. The Ministry of Interior and its Gender Policies Division worked to ensure 911 response was available for gender-based violence cases and announced reporting channels for abuses. In addition the Ministry of Social Development increased slots in shelters for mothers with children, and the judicial branch automatically extended precautionary measures that were close to expiration, such as restraining orders that use electronic monitoring anklets.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and punishes it by fines or dismissal. The law establishes guidelines for the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as in student-professor relations, and provides damages for victims. The Ministry of Labor received reports of sexual harassment, its inspectors investigated claims of sexual harassment, and the ministry issued fines as necessary.

Reproductive Rights: The law provides that couples and individuals can decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children.

Under the law, individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health and had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.

The country recognized, protected, and promoted sexual and reproductive rights without discrimination. Challenges remained, however, in the full implementation of these policies, especially in the interior of the country and for marginalized populations. Adolescents, LGBTI persons, persons with disabilities, and Afro-Uruguayans suffered discrimination in fully accessing contraception and reproductive medical care.

The law provides access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on part of the government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Women, however, faced discrimination in employment, pay, credit, education, housing, and business ownership. According to the United Nations, women’s employment was concentrated in a relatively small number of specific occupations and sectors, including services, sales, unskilled labor, domestic work, social services, health services, and education. There are restrictions on women working in factories. According to a study published by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and UN Women in August, women experienced a 42 percent decrease in their monthly salary 10 years after having their first child, compared with women in similar circumstances who did not have any children.

During the year the Ministry of Labor’s Tripartite Equal Employment Opportunities Commission promoted the inclusion of gender equality clauses in the negotiations conducted by the wage boards, emphasizing equal pay for equal work of value, equal access to quality jobs and training, elimination of discrimination in selection and promotion processes, and guarantees and protections for maternity and responsibility sharing.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and the law, including related regulations and statutory instruments, protect the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The government and employers respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining in practice. Civil servants, employees of state-run enterprises, private-enterprise workers, and legal foreign workers may join unions. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires employers to reinstate workers fired for union activities and pay them an indemnity. Workers in the informal sector are excluded from these protections.

An omnibus reform bill passed in July introduced changes that affected the right to strike. The law establishes that strikers may not occupy places of work and prevent nonstrikers and management staff from entering the building. In addition, the law states that pickets that prevent the free circulation of persons, goods, or services in public spaces or private spaces of public use are not allowed. Unions had been vocal in their assertion that this is a limitation to the right to protest.

The government effectively enforced applicable labor laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

Worker organizations operated free of government and political intervention. Labor union leaders were strong advocates for public policies and even foreign policy issues and remained very active in the political and economic life of the country. In June 2019 the International Labor Organization (ILO) selected the country to be analyzed by the ILO Committee on Application of Standards, due to noncompliance with Convention 98 on collective bargaining. According to the committee, tripartite bodies can negotiate only wages, while terms and conditions of work should be negotiated bilaterally between employers and workers organizations. The convention states collective bargaining should be voluntary; however, in practice it was mandatory. During the international labor conference in June 2019, the committee called on the government to review and change the country’s legislation on collective bargaining before November.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced the law. The law establishes penalties of four to 16 years in prison for forced labor crimes. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Information on the effectiveness of inspections and governmental remedies was not available. Foreign workers, particularly from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela, were vulnerable to forced labor in agriculture, construction, domestic service, cleaning services, elderly care, wholesale stores, textile industries, agriculture, fishing, and lumber processing. Domestic workers employed in the less-monitored interior of the country were at greater risk of trafficking. Cuban and Venezuelan migrant workers were subject to forced agricultural labor in Canelon Chico, north of Montevideo. Migrant women were the most vulnerable as they were often exposed to sexual exploitation. Foreign workers aboard foreign-flagged fishing vessels docked at the Montevideo port and in Uruguay’s waters may have been subjected to abuses indicative of forced labor, including unpaid wages, confiscated identification, a complete absence of medical and dental care, and physical abuse. According to an NGO representative, since 2013 an average of one dead crewmember per month from these vessels had been recorded, several due to poor medical care.

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 worst forms of child labor and provides for a minimum age of employment, limitations on working hours, and occupational safety and health restrictions for children. The law sets the minimum age for employment at age 15 but does not apply to all sectors, such as hazardous work. INAU may issue work permits for children ages 13 to 15 under exceptional circumstances specified by law. Minors ages 15 to 18 must undergo physical exams prior to beginning work and renew the exams yearly to confirm that the work does not exceed the physical capacity of the minor. Children ages 15 to 18 may not work more than six hours per day within a 36-hour workweek and may not work between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. The minimum age for hazardous work is 18, and the government maintains a list of hazardous or fatiguing work that minors should not perform and for which it does not grant permits.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for overall compliance with labor regulations, but INAU is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. Due to a lack of dedicated resources, enforcement was mixed and particularly poor in the informal economy, where most child labor occurred. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, or even harsher. Violations of child labor laws by companies and individuals are punishable by fines determined by an adjustable government index. Parents of minors involved in illegal child labor may receive a sentence of three months to four years in prison, according to the penal code. These penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The main child labor activities reported in the interior of the country were work on small farms, maintenance work, animal feeding, fishing, cleaning milking yards, cattle roundup, beauty shops, at summer resorts, and as kitchen aids. In Montevideo the main labor activities were in the food industry, including supermarkets, fast food restaurants, and bakeries, and in services, gas stations, customer service, delivery services, cleaning, and kitchen aid activities. Informal-sector child labor continued to be reported in activities such as begging, domestic service, street vending, garbage collection and recycling, construction, and in agriculture and forestry sectors, which were generally less strictly regulated and where children often worked with their families.

INAU worked with the Ministry of Labor and the state-owned insurance company BSE to investigate child labor complaints and worked with the Prosecutor General’s Office to prosecute cases. According to INAU, there were an estimated 60,000 children and adolescents working in informal and illegal activities.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, HIV status, or other communicable diseases. In general, the government effectively enforced applicable law and regulations, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The Labor and Social Security Inspection Division of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security investigates discrimination and workplace abuse claims filed by union members.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred mostly with respect to sex, race, disability, gender identity, and nationality. According to UN Women, the number of gainfully employed, paid women decreases as they have more children, which did not happen to men. Women earned lower wages than their male counterparts, an average 25 percent less in similar circumstances, and only an estimated 20 percent of companies claimed to have women in leadership positions. According to a study published by ECLAC and UN Women in August, 10 years after having their first child, women experienced a 42 percent decrease in their monthly salary, compared with women in similar circumstances who did not have any children.

According to a report on social exclusion published by the World Bank in August, Afro-Uruguayans earned 20 percent less than the rest of the population for the same work. Afro-Uruguayan women had the highest unemployment rate, amounting to 14.1 percent, compared with 8 percent for the general population. The law requires that 8 percent of government positions be filled with Afro-Uruguayans. The National Office of the Civil Service oversees compliance with the Afro-Uruguayan (and other) employment quota requirements and submits reports to parliament. The office stated that in 2019 the percentage of vacancy announcements for positions calling for Afro-Uruguayan applicants had reached the 8 percent required by the law for the first time in history.

The August World Bank report also stated that participation in the labor market among persons with disabilities amounted to 59.5 percent, compared with 76 percent for persons who did not report disabilities. The law requires a 4 percent quota for hires in the public and private sectors. According to reports of the National Office of the Civil Service, only 1.3 percent of civil service hires were persons with a disability. The requirement for the private sector was very recent and would be implemented gradually, so there were no figures available during the year. Furthermore, the report showed that transgender persons, especially transgender men, had the worst employment indicators in the entire population. Only 66 percent of the transgender population was employed; the unemployment rate among transgender women was 30 percent and 43 percent among transgender men. Among those employed, approximately one-third were sex workers. A law for transgender persons sets an employment quota for transgender persons in the public sector of 1 percent, but the National Office of the Civil Service reported that only 0.03 percent of civil service hires corresponded to transgender persons.

Foreign workers, regardless of their national origin or citizenship status, were not always welcome and continued to face challenges when seeking employment. The International Organization for Migration reported that several foreign workers were removed from positions with face-to-face customer interaction due to complaints by customers about their foreign accents. The government took steps to prevent and eliminate discrimination (see sections 5 and 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage, and the monthly minimum wage for all workers was above the poverty line. The government effectively enforced wage laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. Formal-sector workers, including domestic and migrant workers and workers in the agricultural sector, are covered by laws on minimum wage and hours of work. These laws do not cover workers in the informal sector, who accounted for 24 percent of the workforce. Workers in the construction and agricultural sectors were more vulnerable to labor rights violations.

The law stipulates that persons cannot work more than eight hours a day, and the standard workweek for those in the industrial and retail sectors may not exceed 44 or 48 hours, with daily breaks of 30 minutes to two and one-half hours. The law requires that workers receive premium pay for work in excess of regular work schedule hours. The law entitles all workers to 20 days of paid vacation after one year of employment and to paid annual holidays, and it prohibits compulsory overtime beyond a maximum 50-hour workweek. Employers in the industrial sector are required to give workers either Sunday off or one day off every six days of work (variable workweek). Workers in the retail sector are entitled to a 36-hour block of free time each week. Workers in the rural sector cannot work more than 48 hours in a period of six days.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum monthly wage for both public- and private-sector employees and for enforcing legislation regulating health and safety conditions. The ministry had 120 labor inspectors throughout the country, which was sufficient to enforce compliance. The number of penalties imposed for labor violations was unavailable.

The government monitors wages and other benefits, such as social security and health insurance, through the Social Security Fund and the Internal Revenue Service. The Ministry of Public Health’s Bureau of Environment and Occupational Work is responsible for developing policies to detect, analyze, prevent, and control risk factors that may affect workers’ health. In general authorities effectively enforced these standards in the formal sector but less so in the informal sector.

The Labor Ministry’s Social Security Fund monitors domestic work and may obtain judicial authorization to conduct home inspections, some unannounced, to investigate potential labor law violations and initiate sanctions if necessary. Conditions for domestic workers include labor rights, social security benefits, wage increases, and insurance benefits. Although 37 percent of domestic workers were employed in the informal sector, it was half the percentage of 10 years ago.

By law workers may not be exposed to situations that endanger their health or safety and may remove themselves from such situations without jeopardy to their employment. Government authorities and unions protected employees who removed themselves from such activities. The Ministry of Agriculture is responsible for carrying out safety and health inspections in the agricultural sector.

The Ministry of Labor sets occupational safety and health (OSH) standards, and the standards were current and appropriate for the main industries in the country. The government effectively enforced OSH laws. Penalties for violations of OSH laws were commensurate with those for crimes, such as negligence.

In some cases workers were not informed of specific hazards or employers did not adequately enforce labor safety measures.

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