The Cooperative Republic of Guyana is a multiparty democracy. National and regional elections took place in 2015, and the APNU+AFC coalition parties won both the presidency and a majority of representational seats. The largest APNU+AFC components were A Partnership for National Unity (APNU)–itself a coalition of the major People’s National Congress/Reform party and other minor parties–and the Alliance for Change (AFC) party. Former opposition leader David Granger led the election coalition and became president. International and local observers considered the 2015 elections free, fair, and credible.
The police commissioner heads the Guyana Police Force, which reports to the Ministry of Public Security and is responsible for maintaining internal security. The Guyana Defense Force is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. The defense force, headed by a chief of staff, falls under the purview of the Defense Board, which the president of the country chairs. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police and the military.
Noteworthy human rights issues included harsh prison conditions; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons; and laws that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adult men.
Government officials did not enjoy impunity for human rights abuses. There were independent and transparent procedures for handling allegations of abuses by security forces.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Independent media were active and at times expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: A 2015 directive from the prime minister determines that all headlines in state-owned print media be approved by the Office of the Prime Minister before publication.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: The law requires that local village councils grant permission in advance for travel to indigenous areas, but most individuals traveled in these areas without a permit.
f. Protection of Refugees
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports that some displaced Venezuelan women experienced human rights abuses, including sexual exploitation, by government officials. In May the government charged three police officers for allegedly raping a displaced migrant from Venezuela. The case against the police officers continued as of September. NGOs also reported displaced Venezuelans received a lower standard of health and social care.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to displaced persons.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for protection of asylum seekers. Although the government is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention on Refugees, the government reported that it did not prosecute or deport Venezuelans seeking refuge. In the absence of national legislation and requisite government capacity, UNHCR assumed the main responsibility for determination of refugee status.
Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided it to approximately 10,380 persons during the year.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Elections also take place within indigenous communities, where members elect indigenous leaders every 33 to 36 months.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year, and administration officials responded to the reports. There remained a widespread public perception of corruption involving officials at all levels, including the police and the judiciary.
Corruption: Corruption by police officers was frequent. There were no reports the government prosecuted any members of the police force during the year.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to declare their assets to an integrity commission and sets out both criminal and administrative sanctions for nondisclosure. If a person fails to file a declaration, the daily newspapers and the official gazette can publish that fact. Failure to comply with the law can lead to a summary conviction, fines, and imprisonment for six to 12 months. If property is not disclosed as required, the magistrate convicting the defendant must order the defendant to make a full disclosure within a set time. Although the integrity commission was reconstituted in February 2018, after a 12-year hiatus, it did not appear to be fully functional. No publications or convictions occurred during the first 11 months of the year.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A number of domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. These groups at times complained government officials were uncooperative and unresponsive to their requests and stated that when officials responded, it was generally to criticize the groups rather than to investigate allegations.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The law provides for an ombudsperson to investigate official government actions or actions taken by government officials in exercise of their official duties. Observers reported the ombudsperson operated independently of government interference.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Section 7. Worker Rights
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 Social Protection 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 Department 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. These penalties were insufficient to deter violations. 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 prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government in general did not effectively enforce the law despite an increase in awareness and inspection programs. 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 goldmining, agriculture, and forestry sectors, as well as domestic servitude. Children were particularly vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking (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 are 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 ensure they are not engaged in activities hazardous to their health or safety.
The government did not enforce laws effectively. The Ministry of Social Protection 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. Fines for child labor offenses are low and were not sufficient to deter violations. The government infrequently prosecuted employers for violations relating to child labor.
Child labor occurred and was most prevalent in farming, 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.
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 insufficient to deter violations, and the government did not effectively enforce the law. 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 is 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.
The law establishes workplace safety and health standards. These standards were not current or appropriate for the country’s main industries and were not effectively enforced.
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 Social Protection is charged with enforcement of the labor law, but the number of inspectors was insufficient to effectively enforce the law. Penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations. 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. 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 189 workplace accidents, of which 102 were investigated. There were 18 fatal workplace accidents reported as of October.