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Bangladesh

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to join unions and, with government approval, the right to form a union, although labor rights organizations reported high levels of rejections for trade union registration and an overly complicated registration process. The law requires a minimum of 20 percent of an enterprise’s total workforce to agree to be members before the Department of Labor under the Ministry of Labor and Employment (MOLE) may grant approval for registration of a union. The department may request a labor court dissolve the union if membership falls below 20 percent. Generally, the law allows only wall-to-wall (entire factory) bargaining units. NGOs reported the Registrar of Trade Unions regularly abused its discretion and denied applications without reason, for reasons not recognized in law or regulation, or by fabricating shortcomings in the application. One union representative explained she had completed all paperwork to form a union and had support from 30 percent of workers, but the union registration was rejected by the Department of Labor because the factory claimed it had hundreds of additional employees. Organizers’ names were shared with the factory owner, and all were fired. Furthermore, the department did not allow more than one union per garment factory. Labor leaders reported unions sympathetic to management received quick approvals to organize

The labor law definition of workers excludes managerial, supervisory, and administrative staff. Firefighting staff, security guards, and employers’ confidential assistants are not entitled to join a union. Civil service and security force employees are prohibited from forming unions.

The law continued to ban trade unions and severely restricted the right to organize and bargain collectively for the nearly 430,000 workers in export-processing zones (EPZs). Worker welfare associations (WWAs), dominated by the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA), continued to replace the function of independent, democratically elected unions in EPZs. The law limits inspection and greatly restricts the right to strike, giving BEPZA’s chairperson discretion to ban any strike viewed as prejudicial to the public interest. The law provides for EPZ labor tribunals, appellate tribunals, and conciliators, but those institutions were not established. Instead, eight labor courts and one appellate labor court heard EPZ cases. More than 50 percent of WWAs in one zone of the EPZ must approve a federation, and they were prohibited from establishing any connection to outside political parties, unions, federations, or NGOs. Except for limitations on the right of association and worker protections in the EPZs, the labor law prohibits antiunion discrimination. A labor court may order the reinstatement of workers fired for union activities, but reinstatement was rarely awarded.

The Department of Labor may deregister unions for other reasons with the approval of a labor court. The law affords unions the right of appeal in the cases of dissolution or denial of registration. Unfair labor practices, including antiunion discrimination, were expressly prohibited, but 2018 amendments to labor law halved penalties for both employers and workers. The labor law and rules amendment process continued, as indicated in a roadmap the government submitted to the International Labor Organization (ILO). Workers were often charged with unfair labor practices; employers rarely were. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. The law provides for the right to conduct legal strikes but with many limitations. For example, the government may prohibit a strike deemed to pose a “serious hardship to the community” and may terminate any strike lasting more than 30 days. The law additionally prohibits strikes for the first three years of commercial production if the factory was built with foreign investment or owned by a foreign investor.

The law establishes mechanisms for conciliation, arbitration, and dispute resolution by a labor court. The Department of Labor has the authority to deal with unfair labor practices, while the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) has the authority to mediate wage-related disputes, but their decisions were not binding. The government reported 20 complaints were filed for unfair labor practices from January to December 1; six were resolved according to the law and standard operating procedures, four investigations were completed, and 10 remained open. Trade union federations reported they have stopped filing unfair labor cases due to the enormous backlog of existing cases in labor courts.

The law establishes that workers in a collective-bargaining union have the right to strike in the event of a failure to reach a settlement. Few strikes followed the cumbersome legal requirements, however, and strikes or walkouts often occurred spontaneously. According to the law, at least 75 percent of union employees must support strike action. Work stoppages, strikes, and workplace actions were prevalent during the year in several sectors, and they generally concerned past-due wages, improper or illegal shutdowns, layoffs, terminations, and discrimination. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these problems.

In July the workers of Style Craft factory in Gazipur agitated in front of the Labor Ministry building for 10 days, demanding arrears. Despite repeated meetings of MOLE with the employers, there was still no progress as to the payment of the arrears. According to the Industrial Police, the factory had 3,200 workers who did not receive wages after the factory announced sudden closure of its operation. The workers stated wages were in arrears for four to nine months and that their total due was more than 700 million taka ($8.14 million); however, the factory owner wanted to pay less than 25 million taka ($290,698).

On June 13, a female ready-made-garments (RMG) factory worker, Jesmin Begum, died and 35 others were injured as police clashed with 500-600 former workers demonstrating peacefully for the payment of arrears in front of the Dhaka EPZ. Police fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and used charged batons and water cannons to disperse the workers of Lenny Fashions Ltd, Lenny Apparels Ltd and A One Fashions Ltd., some of whom in return threw bricks at police, according to a local trade union leader. Union leaders said Begum died after being hit by rubber bullets, although police alleged she critically injured her head as she bumped into a pole while fleeing. In January the three referenced factories allegedly closed without clearing workers arrears, and thereafter former workers periodically demonstrated to protest. Dhaka EPZ authorities stated they were trying to sell the closed factories to clear the workers’ arrears.

On April 17, media reported at least seven workers were killed, and dozens injured after police opened fire on a crowd of workers demanding payment of unpaid wages and a pay raise at a Chinese-backed power plant. Police opened fire after approximately 2,000 protesters began hurling bricks and stones at officers at the construction site of the coal-fired plant in the southeastern city of Chittagong. The workers were protesting regarding unpaid wages, a pay raise, and reduced hours during the holy month of Ramadan, which started the same week as the protest.

According to the labor rights organization Solidarity Center, union registration applications and approvals have declined significantly since 2013 and that workers faced significant challenges registering unions. Despite the adoption of standard operating procedures for union registration in 2017, Solidarity Center reported the process routinely took longer than the 60-day maximum time, and nearly half of all union applications were arbitrarily denied. From January to December 1, Solidarity Center’s partners assisted 10 unions with their registration, and to date only one was approved, three were rejected, and six were pending approval. The government reported receiving 233 total valid applications during the year and approved 190, rejected 31, with the remainder still to be reviewed.

Workers in the RMG sector reported resistance when seeking to establish unions and engage in collective bargaining. In a 2018 survey, the Centre for Policy Dialogue, a local think tank, collected data from 3,856 RMG factories employing 3.6 million workers and found 97.5 percent of them had no union. During the year MOLE reported the RMG sector had 1,006 active trade unions and 1,951 participation committees. Labor leaders claimed much lower numbers of trade unions and asserted while there are perhaps 80 to 90 active unions, only 30 to 40 actually negotiated because intimidation, corruption, and violence continued to constrain union organizing. The ministry reported the shrimp sector had 16 unions. Only 70 tanneries were unionized under the sector’s single union. The tea sector had one union, the largest in the country, representing 95,000 to 100,000 workers. Labor regulations do not clearly provide a legal basis for collective bargaining at the industrial, sectoral, and national levels.

Labor rights groups reported workers routinely faced retaliation and violence for asserting their rights under the law, including organizing unions, raising concerns, or even attending union information sessions. For example, on August 6, the Bangladesh Industrial Police (BIP) filed a criminal case against the general secretary of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation and other union leaders and members that the Solidarity Center characterized as a case of retaliation for attempting to organize. Workers at the Crossline garment factories in the city of Gazipur failed to register two unions and accused factory management of violating labor laws. These deep disagreements with management led to protests, BIP intervention, and violence on both sides; in response, Crossline filed criminal charges against up to 200 of its factory workers and dismissed others who had led the push to unionize.

Workers in unions were subjected to police violence, mass dismissals, and arrests of union leaders for asserting their rights to protest. Police intimidated unions in the RMG sector by frequently visiting their meetings and offices, photographing or recording meetings, and monitoring NGOs supporting trade unions. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) noted major discrepancies in labor legislation that do not align with the standards of the ILO and emphasized concerns regarding police crackdowns on workers protesting wages. ITUC also called for more measures to restrain interference in union elections. In September Geneva-based IndustriALL Global Union reported police first banned several union meetings and then physically stopped participants from joining a meeting where a regional committee of the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council was to be formed. According to labor law, every factory with more than 50 employees is required to have a participation committee (PC). The law states there shall not be any participation committee if any registered trade union exists in a factory. Employers often selected or appointed workers for the PC instead of permitting worker elections to determine those positions. Employers also failed to comply with laws and regulations that provided for the effectiveness and independence of PCs.

Workers from several factories also asserted that since August 2018, Bangladesh Garments Manufacturer and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and factory owners allegedly used a database of RMG workers to blacklist those who brought demands to management or tried to form unions. Although created after the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse to have a record of workers (and potential victims of future disasters), the database served to track known union organizers or anyone who has brought a complaint to management to prevent these staff from finding employment at any other factory. Labor organizations also cited examples of factory owners willing to pay up to one million taka ($11,628) to the Department of Labor to dismiss a union registration application, or to share the names of organizers.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor outside prisons, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Criminal penalties for forced or bonded labor offenses were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. Inspection mechanisms that enforce laws against forced labor did not function effectively. Resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were inadequate. The law also requires that victims of forced labor have access to shelter and other protective services afforded to trafficking victims, but the government did not always provide such services.

During the past year, law enforcement conducted fewer investigations and denied credible reports of official complicity in hundreds of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation cases. The government did not provide sufficient victim protective services, nor did it consistently follow victim identification procedures. There were no government-owned shelters for adult male victims.

Some individuals recruited to work overseas with fraudulent employment offers subsequently were exploited abroad under conditions of forced labor or debt bondage. Many migrant workers assumed debt to pay high recruitment fees imposed legally by recruitment agencies belonging to the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies and illegally by unlicensed subagents.

Children and adults were also forced into domestic servitude and bonded labor that involved restricted movement, nonpayment of wages, threats, and physical or sexual abuse (see section 7.c.). In December 2020 police rescued four workers who were being tortured in confinement at a brickfield and arrested seven individuals, including owners of the kiln. According to DIFE, at least 297 abuse cases were pending at labor courts across the country, while 106 cases were pending in Dhaka and 60 in Narayanganj. The cases were mostly filed under Section 326 of the penal code for voluntarily causing grievous hurt, assault, and torture at brick kilns. According to the ILO, significant number of child laborers were employed in the various chores at the brick kiln. To complete these tasks, which required no special skill, kiln operators and their agents targeted poverty-stricken villages and urban slums to recruit unskilled laborers.

Traffickers exploited workers in forced labor through debt-based coercion and bonded labor in the shrimp and fish-processing industries, aluminum and garment factories, brick kilns, dry fish production, and shipbreaking. NGOs reported officials permit traffickers to recruit and operate at India-Bangladesh border crossings and maritime embarkation points.

The more than 907,000 Rohingya men, women, and children in refugee camps, who did not have access to formal schooling or livelihoods, were vulnerable to forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation, particularly by local criminal networks. International organizations reported that officials took bribes from traffickers to access refugee camps.

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 does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor. The law regulates child employment, and the regulations depended on the type of work and the child’s age. The law establishes the minimum age for work at 14, and the minimum age for hazardous work at 18, with no exceptions. Minors may work up to five hours per day and 30 hours per week in factories and mines or up to seven hours per day and 42 hours per week in other types of workplaces. By law every child must attend school through eighth grade.

In accordance with the law, the government has declared 38 hazardous sectors where child labor is prohibited, but hazardous domestic work, fish drying, brick production, stone collection, and brick and stone-breaking sectors were not included in that list. Even in sectors declared hazardous, child labor persists, with the government declaring only eight of the 38 listed sectors free of child labor. Trade union leaders pointed to domestic work, local garments production for domestic consumption, fish drying, and brick kilns as the biggest users of child and bonded labor.

The government continued to fund and participate in programs to eliminate or prevent child labor, including building schools and a three billion-taka ($35 million) government-funded three-year project that began in 2018 and removed approximately 90,000 children from hazardous jobs. In 2019 the program reintegrated 1,254 children into schools and provided rehabilitation for 3,501 children as well as livelihood support for their parents. In July DIFE stated that in the 2020-21 fiscal year, DIFE had already removed 5,800 child workers. On October 26, MOLE signed agreements with 112 NGOs to eliminate risky child labor. According to the agreements, 100,000 children would be removed from hazardous work in the fourth phase of the project, at a cost of more than 2.85 billion taka ($33.1 million).

MOLE enforcement mechanisms were insufficient for the large, urban informal sector, and authorities rarely enforced child labor laws outside the export-garment and shrimp-processing sectors. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. DIFE enforced child labor laws in 42 sectors, and during the 2020-21 fiscal year it targeted six hazardous sectors, engineering workshops, bakery, transport, plastic, food-processing factories, and restaurants, for complete elimination of child labor. Labor inspectors were not authorized to assess penalties; they have the power only to send legal notices and file cases in court. Even when the courts imposed fines, however, they were too low to deter child labor violations.

Agriculture and other informal sectors that had no government oversight employed large numbers of children. The government found children working eight to 10 hours per day in restaurants, engineering workshops, local transportation, and domestic work. The government also reported underage children were found in almost all sectors except the export-oriented RMG, shrimp, tannery, ship breaking, silk production, ceramic, glass, and export-oriented leather goods and footwear sectors.

Children engaged in the worst forms of child labor in the production of bidis (hand-rolled cigarettes), furniture and steel, matches, poultry, salt, soap, textiles, and jute, including forced child labor in the production of dried fish and bricks. Children also performed dangerous tasks in the production of garments and leather goods bound for the local market, where the Bangladesh Labor Foundation reported 58 percent of workers were younger than 18, and 18 percent were younger than age 15.

According to a 2016 Overseas Development Institute report based on a survey of 2,700 households in Dhaka’s slums, 15 percent of children ages six to 14 were engaged in full-time work and not in school. These children were working well beyond the 42-hour limit set by national legislation. In a 2006 survey conducted by an international organization, more than 400,000 children were found engaged in domestic work. Children engaged in forced labor in the leather industry and in criminal activities, such as forced begging and the production and transport of drugs. In begging rings, traffickers abused children to increase earnings.

Rohingya children residing in refugee camps were vulnerable to forced labor. Rohingya girls were trafficked from the camps to Dhaka or foreign countries for domestic servitude. Rohingya children recruited to work outside the refugee camps were reportedly underpaid or unpaid, subjected to excessive working hours, or in bonded labor as shop hands, domestic workers, fishermen, and rickshaw pullers.

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  and the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits wage discrimination based on sex or disability, but it does not prohibit other discrimination based on sex, disability, social status, caste, sexual orientation, or similar factors. The constitution prohibits adverse discrimination by the state based on religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth and expressly extends that prohibition to government employment; it allows affirmative action programs for the benefit of disadvantaged populations. The law does not describe a penalty for discrimination. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and the penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes.

The garment sector traditionally offered greater employment opportunities for women. Women represented most garment-sector workers, making up more than 50 percent of the total RMG workforce, according to official statistics, although statistics were unreliable and varied widely due to a lack of data. Women were generally underrepresented in supervisory and management positions and generally earned less than their male counterparts, even when performing similar functions. A 2017 Oxford University and Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education Economics Institute study found women earned lower wages in export-oriented garment factories, even after controlling for worker productivity. According to the study, approximately two-thirds of the wage gap remained even after controlling for skills, which the study attributed to higher mobility for male workers. Additionally, former BGMEA president Rubana Haq noted the perception women were less able to adapt to increasing automation in the garment sector, leading factories to lay off many female workers. Women were also subjected to abuse in factories, including sexual harassment. Solidarity Center partners reported there were no antiharassment committees in garment factories, but the Garment Exporters’ Association announced it had visited more than 1,100 factories to confirm the committees had been established.

In the tea industry, female workers faced discrimination. Male workers received rice rations for their female spouses, but female tea-workers’ spouses were not given rice rations, as they were not considered dependents.

Some religious, ethnic, and other minorities reported discrimination, particularly in the private sector (see section 6).

The laws prohibiting adolescents from participating in dangerous work specify that women are equal to adolescents and are, therefore, prohibited from working with hazardous machinery, cleaning machinery in motion, working between moving parts, or working underground or underwater.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

China (Includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet)

Egypt

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike, but it imposes significant restrictions. The constitution provides for freedom of association. The law prescribes union elections every four years and imposes a strict hierarchy for union formation consisting of a company-level trade union committee, a profession or industry-level general union, and a national-level union. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws or levy penalties commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. However, penalties for engaging in illegal strikes were more stringent. The law requires centralized tripartite negotiations that include workers, represented by a union affiliated with the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (Union Federation), business owners, and the Ministry of Manpower overseeing and monitoring negotiations and agreements. The government seldom followed the requirement for tripartite negotiations in collective disputes, leaving workers to negotiate directly with employers, typically after resorting to a strike. In March 2020 workers from al-Masryia Company for Weaving and Textile struck for alleged unpaid raises and bonuses. Media reported in late December 2020 that management and worker representatives reached an agreement on compensation and back pay without the participation of the Ministry of Manpower.

The constitution provides for the right to “peaceful” strikes, and the law permits them but imposes significant restrictions, including prior approval by a general trade union affiliated with the Union Federation. In April the International Labor Organization (ILO) removed the country from the preliminary list of cases for discussion by the ILO Committee on the Application of Standards, which discusses discrepancies between a country’s law and practice and ILO conventions the country has ratified.

In July more than 1,200 workers at the Nile Linen Group, based in Alexandria’s special economic zone, went on strike concerning the company’s refusal to implement agreed-upon wage increases and add workers’ family members to company health insurance policies. Four days later, local media reported that the Nile Linen Group’s union committee reached an agreement with management regarding certain aspects of the wage dispute and agreed to resume negotiations on the remaining demands.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. In March the head of the union at the Alexandria Spinning and Weaving Company, Ashraf Abdel Moneim, alleged that the company had transferred seven committee members to new positions in retaliation for the workers’ refusal to implement the company’s decision to stop production and dismiss workers. According to media reports, Lord International Company terminated 84 workers in August following strikes by approximately 2,000 workers demanding that the company comply with the country’s minimum wage laws.

The Ministry of Manpower and affiliated directorates did not allow trade unions to adopt any bylaws other than those provided in the law. This position, according to local workers’ rights organizations, was contrary to the law, which states that unions may use the statutory bylaws as guidance to develop their own.

The government occasionally arrested workers who staged strikes or criticized the government, and it rarely reversed arbitrary dismissals. On January 22, local media reported that the government released two doctors arrested in 2020 for posting comments to Facebook critical of the government’s coronavirus response. Labor union activist Khalil Rizk was released on May 21 pending trial on charges of spreading false news, misuse of social media, and membership in a banned group. Authorities had first arrested Rizk in 2019 while he was advocating for workers in a pharmaceutical factory engaged in a dispute with management concerning wages.

In March the Ministry of Manpower announced, without stating when, that it had previously established a trade union grievance committee to examine complaints submitted by trade union organizations and provide unions with technical assistance in meeting regulatory requirements.

Independent unions continued to face pressure to dissolve. In many cases the Ministry of Manpower delayed responding to unions’ applications for legal status, leaving many in legal limbo. In other instances the Ministry of Manpower refused to legalize proposed unions if a Union Federation-affiliated counterpart existed.

Workers sometimes staged sit-ins on government and private property, often without obtaining the necessary permits. In July the Court of Cassation ruled that prison sentences for organizing protests without permits would apply to protest organizers and participants.

For a period of 12 months ending in August, a monthly 1 percent deduction was made from the net income of all public-sector employees and 0.5 percent of the net income of pensioners to fund efforts to address the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution states no work may be compulsory except by virtue of a law. The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the prohibition. The government conducted awareness-raising activities for migrant laborers, and domestic workers, a population vulnerable to trafficking, and worked with NGOs to provide some assistance to survivors of human trafficking, including forced labor. Penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

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 does not prohibit or criminalize all the worst forms of child labor or provide sufficient protection for children from exploitation in the workplace, including limitations on working hours, and occupational safety and health restrictions.  Children were subjected to the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking, quarrying limestone, and organized begging.  The law sets the minimum age for regular employment at age 15 and at age 13 for seasonal employment.  The constitution defines a child as anyone younger than 18.  A Ministry of Manpower decree bars children younger than 18 from 44 specific hazardous occupations, while the law prohibits employment of children younger than 18 from work that “puts the health, safety, or morals of the child into danger.”  Provincial governors, with the approval of the minister of education, may authorize seasonal work (often agricultural) for children age 13 and older, provided duties are not hazardous and do not interfere with schooling.  The law limits children’s work hours and mandates breaks.

The government did not effectively enforce child labor laws.  The maximum penalties for violating laws against child labor were fines and therefore not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.  The Ministry of Manpower, in coordination with the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and the Interior Ministry, enforced child labor laws in state-owned enterprises and private-sector establishments through inspections and supervision of factory management.  Labor inspectors generally operated without adequate training on child labor matters, although the Ministry of Manpower offered some child labor-specific training.  The government did not inspect noncommercial farms for child labor, and there were very limited monitoring and enforcement mechanisms for children in domestic service.  Authorities implemented several social, educational, and poverty reduction programs to reduce children’s vulnerability to exploitative labor.  The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, working with the Ministries of Education and Technical Education and of Social Solidarity, sought to provide working children with social security safeguards and to reduce school dropout rates by providing families with alternative sources of income.

Estimates on the number of child laborers varied. According to the 2012 joint International Labor Organization and Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics child labor survey, of the 1.8 million children working, 1.6 million were engaged in hazardous or unlawful forms of labor, primarily in the agricultural sector in rural areas but also in domestic work and factories in urban areas, often under hazardous conditions. Children also worked in light industry, the aluminum industry, limestone production, construction sites, brick production, and service businesses such as auto repair. According to government, NGO, and media reports, the number of street children in Cairo continued to increase due to deteriorating economic conditions. Such children were at greater risk of sexual exploitation or forced begging. In some cases employers abused or overworked children.

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 constitution states all citizens “are equal in rights, freedoms, and general duties without discrimination based on religion, belief, gender, origin, race, color, language, disability, social class, political or geographic affiliation, or any other reason.” It does not specify age, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV-positive or other communicable disease status. The law does not specifically protect some categories of workers, including agricultural and domestic workers, and other sectors of the informal economy. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

No law grants or prohibits refugees the right to work. Those seeking employment were hampered by lack of jobs and societal discrimination, particularly against Sudanese and other sub-Saharan Africans. Refugees who found work took low-paying jobs in the informal market, such as domestic servants, and were vulnerable to exploitation by employers.

Labor laws provide for equal rates of pay for equal work for men and women in the public but not the private sector. Educated women had employment opportunities, but social pressure against women pursuing a career was strong. On April 19, the Ministry of Manpower issued new labor regulations that removed gender-based restrictions preventing women from working in the evenings and performing jobs related to manufacturing spirits, fireworks, fertilizers, pesticides, asphalt, painting metals, radioactive substances, and moving machines. The new regulations require employers to provide women safe transportation and working conditions at night and grant women the right to perform any job function except in fields with chemical, physical, biological, and engineering risks during pregnancy and lactation periods.

Large sectors of the economy controlled by the military excluded women from high-level positions. While the law provides for persons with disabilities to gain access to vocational training and employment, the government did not effectively enforce prohibitions against such discrimination. Discrimination also occurred against women and migrant workers (see sections 2.d. and 6), as well as workers based on their political views.

An employee facing discrimination may file a report with the local government labor office. If the employee and the employer are unable to reach an amicable settlement, they may file their claim in administrative court, which may order the employer to redress the complaint or to pay damages or legal fees. According to local rights groups, implementation of the law was inadequate. Additionally, the lengthy and expensive litigation process could deter employees from filing claims. On January 21, the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development announced the creation of an Equal Opportunities Unit to prevent discrimination and promote gender equity and inclusiveness in the ministry. On July 3, the Supreme Administrative Court reversed a decision by the Health Insurance Board to terminate a female worker for being sexually harassed in the street. The board had previously said the employee’s termination was necessary since she would be “offensive to her colleagues” as a woman who had been sexually harassed.

Local rights groups reported several cases of employers dismissing workers or depriving them from work for expressing antigovernment opinions. On August 1, President Sisi ratified new amendments to the civil service law that authorize the government to summarily dismiss public employees who commit certain acts against the state. The minister of transportation had asked parliament to pass such a law to enable the ministry to terminate 162 employees, whom the minister claimed were members of the Muslim Brotherhood and had contributed to several railway crashes. According to progovernment media reports, the Supreme Council for Universities tasked university presidents on July 26 with compiling a list of “terrorist employees” to terminate pursuant to the new law. The law allows employees to appeal termination decisions to the Administrative Court and protects the pension and severance pay of terminated individuals.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The government sets a monthly minimum wage for government employees and public-sector workers, which is above the poverty line. The law stipulates a maximum 48-hour workweek for the public and private sectors and provides for premium pay for overtime and work on rest days and national holidays. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. According to labor rights organizations, the government implemented the minimum wage for public-sector workers but applied it only to direct government employees and included benefits and bonuses in calculating total salaries. For government employees and public business-sector workers, the government also set a maximum wage limit per month. The government sets worker health and safety standards, for example, by prohibiting employers from maintaining hazardous working conditions. The law excludes agricultural, fisheries, and domestic workers from regulations concerning wages, hours, and working conditions.

The law does not require equal pay for equal work. Penalties for violating laws on acceptable conditions of work were not commensurate with crimes such as fraud, which are punishable by imprisonment.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health standards were not always appropriate for the main industries, such as agriculture, manufacturing, and services. The Ministry of Manpower is responsible for enforcing labor laws and standards for working conditions. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for violations included imprisonment and fines, but they were not effectively enforced. It was unclear whether such penalties were commensurate with laws such as negligence. Labor inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to employment, although authorities did not reliably enforce this right. Little information was available on workplace fatalities and accidents. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts and the employer and not the worker.

On November 10, the medical syndicate announced that approximately 633 doctors had died of COVID-19 since March 2020. According to media reports, laborers in some remote areas worked in extremely dangerous environments. In March, 20 persons were killed (and 24 others injured) when a fire broke out in a garment factory north of Cairo. In the following month, approximately eight individuals died (with two others injured) when a 10-story building housing a garment factory collapsed. On August 14, five persons were killed in an oil refining plant in the Abu Rawash Industrial Zone. Local media reported the arrest of the plant owners by authorities following an investigation, which revealed that the plant had been operating unlicensed and illegally for four years. In North Sinai workers’ movements were restricted by local government-established curfews and checkpoints run by both the military and nonstate armed groups in the area due to the military’s campaign against militants.

The government provided services, such as free health care, to all citizens, but the quality of services was often poor. Other benefits, such as social insurance, were available only to employees in the formal sector. Many private-sector employers reportedly required workers to sign undated resignation letters as a condition of employment, which the employers could use to terminate employees at will. On June 18, the minister of manpower utilized an emergency fund created to pay workers’ wages in the event of economic hardship to assist 257 workers of the Egyptian Company for Modern Food Industries.

Informal Sector: The Ministry of Manpower did not attempt to apply labor standards to the informal sector. Many persons throughout the country faced poor working conditions, especially in the informal economy, which employed up to 40 percent of workers, according to some estimates. According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, approximately 11.9 million of the 25.7 million workers in the labor force did not have formal contracts with employers and were categorized as “informal” workers. Obstacles to improving working conditions in both the private sector and informal sector included uneven application or lack of regulations and restrictions on engaging in peaceful protests as a means of negotiating resolutions to workplace disparities. Domestic workers, agricultural workers, workers in rock quarries, and other parts of the informal sector were most likely to face hazardous or exploitative conditions. There were reports of employer abuse of citizen and undocumented foreign workers, especially domestic workers, particularly Sudanese and other sub-Saharan Africans.

Hong Kong

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for workers to form and join unions, but the SAR and PRC authorities took repeated actions that violated the principle of union independence. The law does not protect the right to collective bargaining or obligate employers to bargain. The law prohibits civil servants from bargaining collectively.

The law prohibits firing an employee for striking and voids any section of an employment contract that punishes a worker for striking. The commissioner of police has broad authority to control and direct public gatherings, including strikes, in the interest of national security or public safety.

By law an employer may not fire, penalize, or discriminate against an employee who exercises his or her union rights and may not prevent or deter the employee from exercising such rights. Penalties for violations of laws protecting union and related worker rights include fines as well as legal damages paid to workers. Penalties were commensurate with those under other laws involving the denial of civil rights.

The law was not effectively enforced, and the government repressed independent unions and their confederations. SAR and national authorities publicly claimed that strikes and other union-organized activities during the prodemocracy movement in 2019-20 were “anti-China” in nature, and pressure from officials and from PRC-supported media outlets led many unions to disband.

In August, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, the city’s largest professional trade union with approximately 95,000 members, decided to dissolve after facing pressure from PRC-supported media, which called the union a “poisonous tumor” to be eradicated, and the announcement hours later by the Hong Kong Education Bureau that it would cease working with the union.

On October 3, the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions voted to dissolve. Founded in 1990, the confederation included more than 80 unions from a variety of trades and grew to more than 100,000 members. Chairman Wong Tik-yuen reported that union members received threats against their personal safety if union operations were to continue.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, nor do laws specifically criminalize forced labor. Instead, the SAR uses its Employment and Theft Ordinances to prosecute forced labor and related offenses. Because these violations are typically civil offenses with fines, penalties for these offenses were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, which violate the Crimes Ordinance and carry prison terms.

NGOs expressed concerns that some migrant workers, especially domestic workers in private homes, faced high levels of indebtedness assumed as part of the recruitment process, creating a risk they could be subjected to forced labor through debt-based coercion. Domestic workers in the SAR were mostly women and mainly came from the Philippines, Indonesia, and other Southeast and South Asian countries. The SAR allows for the collection of maximum placement fees of 10 percent of the first month’s wages, but some recruitment firms required large up-front fees in the country of origin that workers struggled to repay. Some locally licensed employment agencies were suspected of colluding with local money lenders and agencies overseas to profit from debt schemes, and some local agencies illegally withheld the passports and employment contracts of domestic workers until they repaid the debt.

SAR authorities stated they encouraged aggrieved workers to file complaints and make use of government conciliation services, and that they actively pursued reports of any labor violations (see section 7.e., Acceptable Conditions of Work).

See also 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. Regulations prohibit employment of children younger than 15 in any industrial establishment. Children younger than 13 are prohibited from taking up employment in all economic sectors. Children who are 13 or older may be employed in nonindustrial establishments, subject to certain requirements, such as parental written consent and proof the child has completed the required schooling.

The Labor Department effectively enforced these laws and regularly inspected workplaces to enforce compliance with the regulations. Penalties for child labor law violations include fines and legal damages and were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, that violate the Crimes Ordinance and carry prison terms.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit employment discrimination based on race or ethnicity, disability, family status (marital status or pregnancy), or sex. The law stipulates employers must prove that proficiency in a particular language is a justifiable job requirement if they reject a candidate on those grounds. Regulations do not prohibit employment discrimination on the grounds of age, color, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV or other communicable disease status, or social status. The law authorizes the Equal Opportunities Commission to work towards the elimination of discrimination and harassment as well as to promote equal opportunity for men and women.

The government generally enforced these laws and regulations. In cases in which employment discrimination occurred, SAR courts had broad powers to levy penalties on those violating these laws and regulations. Although the government generally enforced these laws, women reportedly faced some discrimination in employment, salary, welfare, inheritance, and promotion.

Human rights activists and local scholars continued to raise concerns about job prospects for minority students, who were more likely to hold low-paying, low-skilled jobs and earn below-average wages.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The statutory minimum wage was below the poverty line for an average-sized household. The law does not regulate working hours, paid weekly rest, rest breaks, or compulsory overtime for most employees. Several labor groups reported that employers expected extremely long hours and called for legislation to address that concern.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law includes occupational safety and health standards for various industries. Workplace health and safety laws allow workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Employers are required to report any injuries sustained by their employees in work-related accidents.

The Occupational Safety and Health Branch of the Labor Department is responsible for safety and health promotion, identification of unsafe conditions, enforcement of safety management legislation, and policy formulation and implementation. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate investigations and prosecutions. For the first half of the year, the Labor Department reported 14,368 cases of occupational accidents.

The government effectively enforced the law, and the number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance except in the cases of nonpayment or underpayment of wages to, and working conditions of, domestic workers. There were many press reports regarding poor conditions faced by, and underpayment of wages to, domestic workers. Labor inspectors have the authority to conduct unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Penalties for violations of the minimum wage or occupational safety and health standards include fines, damages, and worker’s compensation payments. These penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes. The Labor Tribunal adjudicated disputes involving nonpayment or underpayment of wages and wrongful dismissal.

India

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to form and join unions and to bargain collectively, but there is no legal obligation for employers to recognize a union or engage in collective bargaining. In Sikkim, trade union registration was subject to prior permission from the state government. The law limits the organizing rights of federal and state government employees.

The law provides for the right to strike but places restrictions on this right for some workers. As an example, in export-processing zones (EPZs), a 45-day notice is required because of the EPZs’ designation as a “public utility.” The law also allows the government to ban strikes in government-owned enterprises and requires arbitration in specified “essential industries.” Definitions of essential industries vary from state to state. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and retribution for involvement in legal strikes and provides for reinstatement of employees fired for union activity. Union leaders generally operated free from threats and violence from government and employers. Employers rarely refused to bargain with worker led unions.

On February 3, industrial workers across the country observed a day of protest against the government’s plans to privatize state-owned companies and to press for the repeal of labor codes passed by parliament in September 2020. In September approximately 25 million workers across the country went on a day-long strike in support of the farmers’ protest demanding the repeal of farm reform legislation.

Enforcement of the law varied from state to state and from sector to sector. Enforcement was generally better in the larger, organized-sector industries. Authorities generally prosecuted and punished individuals responsible for intimidation or suppression of legitimate trade union activities in the industrial sector. Civil judicial procedures addressed abuses because the Trade Union Act does not specify penalties for such abuses. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Specialized labor courts adjudicate labor disputes, but there were long delays and a backlog of unresolved cases.

Employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively in the formal industrial sector but not in the larger, informal economy. Most union members worked in the formal sector, and trade unions represented a small number of agricultural and informal-sector workers. Membership-based organizations such as the Self-Employed Women’s Association successfully organized informal-sector workers and helped them to gain higher payment for their work or products.

An estimated 80 percent of unionized workers were affiliated with one of the five major trade union federations. Unions were independent of the government, but four of the five major federations were associated with major political parties.

State and local authorities sometimes impeded registration of unions, repressed independent union activity, and used their power to declare strikes illegal and force adjudication. Labor groups reported that some employers continued to refuse to recognize established unions, and some instead established “workers’ committees” and employer-controlled unions to prevent independent unions from organizing. EPZs often employed workers on temporary contracts. Additionally, employee-only restrictions on entry to the EPZs limited union organizers’ access.

In November 2020 a nationwide general strike took place. More than 250 million public- and private-sector workers participated in the strike, called by 10 central trade unions and hundreds of worker associations and federations. Trade union leaders demanded that the government repeal certain labor codes and three recently passed farm laws. In November parliament passed a law to repeal three agricultural reform laws after farmers largely concentrated in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh protested for their repeal. The Indian National Trade Union Congress congratulated the farmers’ union for their protests.

In January labor and Dalit activists Shiv Kumar and Nodeep Kaur were arrested after their protest against the alleged harassment of factory workers in the Kundli Industrial Area in the state of Haryana, which turned violent on January 12. While in police custody, the families of both activists alleged they were subject to physical abuse. Nodeep Kaur was granted bail on February 26, and on March 4, a judge granted bail to Shiv Kumar.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but forced labor, including bonded labor for both adults and children (see section 7.c.), remained widespread. Internal forced labor constituted the country’s largest labor-trafficking problem; traffickers use debt-based coercion (bonded labor) to compel men, women, and children to work in agriculture, brick kilns, rice mills, embroidery and textile factories, and stone quarries. Women and children from the Dalit and tribal communities were vulnerable to forced labor, as were children of migrant laborers. The increase in economic insecurity and unemployment due to the pandemic further increased vulnerability to forced labor.

Enforcement and compensation for victims is the responsibility of state and local governments and varied in effectiveness. Some local governments did not effectively enforce laws related to bonded labor or labor trafficking laws, such as the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act. When inspectors referred violations for prosecution, court backlogs, inadequate preparation, and a lack of prioritization of the cases by prosecuting authorities sometimes resulted in acquittals. In addition, when authorities reported violations, they sometimes reported them to civil courts to assess fines and did not refer them to police for criminal investigation of labor trafficking. Legal penalties varied based on the type of forced labor and included fines and prison terms; penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. For example, bonded labor is specifically criminalized by the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which prescribes sufficiently stringent penalties, and the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act, which prescribes penalties that were not sufficiently stringent.

Investigations, prosecutions, and case convictions of traffickers decreased in 2020. NGOs estimated at least eight million trafficking victims in the country, mostly in bonded labor, and reported that police often did not file reports. Authorities penalized some adult and child victims for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit.

On July 22, officials in Tamil Nadu’s Virudhunagar District rescued 14 adolescent bonded laborers from two plastics factories; three had been trafficked from Bihar.

On August 26, Thane District officials in Maharashtra rescued 43 individuals belonging to a traditional tribal group who were kept in bondage at a stone quarry. Police also opened an investigation after two of the rescued women accused the quarry owners of sexual abuse.

Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe members lived and worked under traditional arrangements of servitude in many areas of the country. The central government had long abolished forced labor servitude, but these social groups remained impoverished and vulnerable to forced exploitation.

In May the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued three advisories to states and union territories, recommending measures to address the mental health of vulnerable populations, release and rehabilitation of bonded laborers, and safeguarding rights of informal workers. The NHRC noted that all levels of government must ensure that medical resources are provided to bonded laborers.

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

All the worst forms of child labor were prohibited. The law prohibits employment of children younger than 14. The law also bans the employment of children between 14 and 18 in hazardous work. Children are barred from using flammable substances, explosives, or other hazardous material, as defined by the law. In 2017 the Ministry of Labor and Employment added 16 industries and 59 processes to the list of hazardous industries where employment of children younger than 18 is prohibited and where children younger than 14 are precluded from helping, including family enterprises.

Despite evidence that children worked in unsafe and unhealthy environments for long periods of time in spinning mills, garment production, carpet making, and domestic work, not all children younger than 18 are prohibited from working in occupations related to these sectors. The law permits employment of children in family-owned enterprises involving nonhazardous activities after school hours. Nevertheless, child labor remained common.

Law enforcement agencies took actions to combat child labor. State governments enforced labor laws and employed labor inspectors, while the Ministry of Labor and Employment provided oversight and coordination. Nonetheless, gaps existed within the operations of the state government labor inspectorate that hindered adequate labor law enforcement. Violations remained common. The law establishes penalties that are not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, and authorities sporadically enforced them. The fines collected are deposited in a welfare fund for formerly employed children.

The International Labor Organization estimated there were 10 million child workers between ages five and 14 in the country. Most of the child labor occurred in agriculture and the informal economy, particularly in stone quarries, in the rolling of cigarettes, and in informal food-service establishments. Children were also exploited in domestic service and in the sugarcane, construction, textile, cotton, and glass-bangle industries in addition to begging.

Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children).

Forced child labor, including bonded labor, also remained a serious problem. Employers engaged children in forced or indentured labor as domestic servants and beggars, as well as in quarrying, brick kilns, rice mills, silk-thread production, and textile embroidery. Children typically entered debt bondage along with their entire family, and trafficked children were also employed in cotton farms, home-based embroidery businesses, and roadside restaurants.

In July, Telangana police rescued 172 child workers as part of a campaign to detect child labor and locate missing children. Police arrested 37 persons for employing children and filed 18 cases against employers.

In June, UNICEF reported it expected that COVID-19 and subsequent economic distress would have increased the risk of child labor. The closure of 1.5 million schools due to the pandemic and lockdowns increased the risk of child labor and unsafe migration for children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools.

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  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods 

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, or social status with respect to employment and occupation. A separate law bans discrimination against individuals suffering from HIV or AIDs. The law does not forbid employment discrimination against individuals with communicable diseases or based on color, religion, political opinion, national origin, or citizenship.

The law prohibits women from working in jobs that are physically or morally harmful.

The government effectively enforced the law and regulations within the formal sector; however, penalties were not sufficient to defer violations. The law and regulations do not protect informal-sector workers (industries and establishments that do not fall within the purview of the Factories Act), who made up an estimated 90 percent of the workforce.

Discrimination occurred in the informal sector with respect to Dalits, indigenous persons, and persons with disabilities. The American Bar Association report, Challenges for Dalits in South Asia, noted, “Dalits have been provided with reservations (or quotas) for government jobs; however, reservations do not apply to private sector jobs.” Gender discrimination with respect to wages was prevalent. Foreign migrant workers were largely undocumented and typically did not enjoy the legal protections available to workers who are nationals of the country.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: State government laws set minimum wages and hours of work. The daily minimum wage varied but was more than the official estimate of poverty level income. State governments set a separate minimum wage for agricultural workers. Laws on wages, hours, and occupational health and safety do not apply to the large informal sector.

The law mandates a maximum eight-hour workday and 48-hour workweek as well as safe working conditions, which include provisions for restrooms, cafeterias, medical facilities, and ventilation. The law mandates a minimum rest period of 30 minutes after every four hours of work and premium pay for overtime, but it does not mandate paid holidays. The law prohibits compulsory overtime and limits the amount of overtime a worker may perform. Occupational safety and health standards set by the government were generally up to date and covered the main industries in the country.

State governments are responsible for enforcing minimum wages and hours of work. The number of inspectors generally was insufficient to enforce labor law. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. State governments often did not effectively enforce the minimum wage law for agricultural workers.

To boost the economy following the COVID-19-induced lockdown, many state governments relaxed labor laws to permit overtime work beyond legislated limits. The state governments of Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat passed executive orders to suspend enforcement of most labor laws for a period of up to three years to promote industrial production.

Occupational Safety and Health: Federal law sets safety and health standards. State governments enforced additional state-specific regulations. Enforcement of safety and health standards was poor, especially in the informal sector, but also in some formal-sector industries. Penalties for violation of occupational safety and health standards were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence.

Small, low-technology factories frequently exposed workers to hazardous working conditions. Undocumented foreign workers did not receive basic occupational health and safety protections. In many instances workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.

On February 23, two workers were killed, and 26 others injured in a blast at the United Phosphorous Limited plant in Jhagadia, Gujarat. State authorities shut down the plant following the blast.

On June 7, a fire at the SVS Aqua Technologies chemical plant near Pune in Maharashtra killed 18 persons. Preliminary investigations revealed that flammable materials had been stored in the plant without following prescribed safety norms. On June 8, police arrested the factory director on charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and subsequently released him on bail. In March, Geneva-based IndustriALL noted high accident rates continued in factories, chemical plants, and mines. According to IndustriALL, the 14 accidents reported during the year resulted in 42 workers’ deaths and approximately 100 workers being injured.

Informal Sector: Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards were common in the informal sector. The World Bank reported most of the labor force is employed in the informal sector. A report issued by the State Bank of India in October estimated the size of the informal sector was more than 52 percent of the total labor sector, but other estimates placed the percentage much higher. On August 26, the Ministry of Labor and Employment launched the e-Shram portal to develop a national database of unorganized workers including migrant workers, construction workers, and gig and platform workers. The portal will facilitate the extension of social-sector benefits to workers in the unorganized sector. More than 30 million unorganized workers registered on the portal as of October 8, nearly half of them women.

According to the World Bank’s Shifting Gears: Digitization and Services-Led Development report, low-skilled and urban workers faced the brunt of employment shocks due to the second wave of COVID-19, and their earnings have yet to return to 2019 levels. In December 2020 a World Bank economist for South Asia and other experts noted more than 44 percent of the country’s informal workers were unemployed in April 2020. In 2020 the International Labor Organization connected the high rate of informal work to a low level of education and skill levels of the overall workforce. Within the informal sector, casual or temporary wage workers were more likely to lose employment than self-employed workers, regardless of industry, location, education, or caste.

Indonesia

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, with restrictions, provides for the rights of workers to join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination.

Workers in the private sector have, in law, broad rights of association and formed and joined unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. The law places restrictions on organizing among public-sector workers. Civil servants may only form employee associations with limitations on certain rights, such as the right to strike. Employees of state-owned enterprises may form unions, but because the government treats most such enterprises as essential national interest entities, their right to strike is limited.

The law stipulates that 10 or more workers have the right to form a union, with membership open to all workers, regardless of political affiliation, religion, ethnicity, or gender. The Ministry of Manpower records, rather than approves, the formation of a union, federation, or confederation and provides it with a registration number.

The law allows the government to petition the courts to dissolve a union if it conflicts with the constitution or the national ideology of Pancasila, which encompasses the principles of belief in one God, justice, unity, democracy, and social justice. Authorities may compel a union to dissolve if its leaders or members, in the name of the union, commit crimes against the security of the state, and they may receive a minimum of five years in prison. Once a union is dissolved, its leaders and members may not form another union for at least three years. The International Labor Organization remained concerned that dissolving a union could be disproportionate to the seriousness of the violation.

The law includes some restrictions on collective bargaining, including a requirement that a union or unions represent more than 50 percent of the company workforce or receive a vote of more than 50 percent of all workers to negotiate a collective labor agreement. Workers and employers have 30 days to conclude a collective labor agreement. Such agreements have a two-year lifespan that the parties may extend for one year. Unions noted that the law allows employers to delay the negotiation of collective labor agreements with few legal repercussions.

The right to strike is legally restricted. By law workers must give written notification that includes the location and start and end time to authorities and employer seven days in advance for a strike to be legal. Before striking, workers must engage in mediation with the employer and then proceed to a government mediator or risk having the strike declared illegal. In the case of an illegal strike, an employer may make two written requests within a period of seven days for workers to return. Workers who do not return to work after these requests are considered to have resigned.

All strikes at “enterprises that cater to the interests of the general public or at enterprises whose activities would endanger the safety of human life if discontinued” are deemed illegal. Regulations do not specify the types of enterprises affected, leaving this determination to the government’s discretion. Presidential and ministerial decrees enable companies or industrial areas to request assistance from police and the military in the event of disruption of or threat to “national vital objects” in their jurisdiction. The International Labor Organization believes that the regulatory definition of “national vital objects” imposed overly broad restrictions on legitimate trade union activity, including in export-processing zones. Human rights activists and unions alleged that the government continues to label companies and economic areas as “national vital objects” to justify the use of security forces to restrict strike activity.

The government did not always effectively enforce provisions of the law protecting freedom of association or preventing antiunion discrimination. Antiunion discrimination cases moved excessively slowly through the court system. Bribery and judicial corruption in workers’ disputes continued, and unions claimed that courts rarely decided cases in the workers’ favor, even in cases in which the Ministry of Manpower recommended in favor of the workers. While such workers sometimes received severance pay or other compensation, they were rarely reinstated. Authorities used some legal provisions to prosecute trade unionists for striking, such as the crime of “instigating a punishable act” or committing “unpleasant acts,” which criminalized a broad range of conduct.

Penalties for criminal violations of the law protecting freedom of association and the right to enter into collective labor agreements include a prison sentence and fines and were generally commensurate with similar crimes. Local Ministry of Manpower offices were responsible for enforcement, which was particularly difficult in export-promotion zones. Enforcement of collective bargaining agreements varied based on the capacity and interest of individual regional governments.

Several common practices undermined freedom of association. Antiunion intimidation most often took the form of termination, transfer, or filing unjustified criminal charges. Unions alleged that employers commonly reassigned labor leaders deemed to be problematic. For example, on May 21, union leader Zulkarnain (one name only) was dismissed by PT Schneider Electric; the company said it was for inability to do his work. The company in May 2020 transferred Zulkarnain from his position of 10 years as a metrology engineer to a supplier quality engineer and said he could either take the offer or leave. On March 10, management gave him both a first and second warning letter alleging underperformance. The company allegedly threatened to cut his severance payment if he appealed the dismissal through the union. The district labor department said underperformance could not be grounds for dismissal. As of October 14, there were no additional updates on this case.

Labor activists claimed that companies orchestrated the formation of multiple unions, including “yellow” (employer-controlled) unions, to weaken legitimate unions. Some employers threatened employees who contacted union organizers. Companies often sued union leaders for losses suffered in strikes.

Many strikes were unsanctioned or “wildcat” strikes that broke out after a failure to settle long-term grievances or when an employer refused to recognize a union. Unions reported that employers also used the bureaucratic process required for a legal strike to obstruct unions’ right to strike. Unions noted that employers’ delays in negotiating collective labor agreements contributed to strike activity and legal measures taken against union members in the event of a failed agreement negotiation.

The 2020 Omnibus Law on Job Creation and the subsequent implementing regulations allowed for increased use of contract labor and eliminated restrictions on outsourcing labor. Both changes affected workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively. Under the law, outsourcing contract labor can be done for any business activity without limitation. The provider company, rather than the user company, is solely responsible for the working conditions and wages of contract workers. The user company may source contract workers from multiple outsourcing companies, making it impossible for workers to bargain collectively at the workplace.

The Omnibus Law provides vague limits to the use of fixed-term contracts. For example, fixed-term contracts can be used for any work that is temporary in nature or can be completed in “not too long a time.” The implementing regulations also increased the maximum duration of fixed contracts from three years to 10 years. These broad guidelines made it difficult to ensure that the threat of contract renewal was not used to inhibit freedom of association and collective bargaining. In March workers at two unions, PTTEL security union and PTTEL care and service union, went on strike after failing to negotiate a new collective agreement with management. Part of the dispute was a result of the company outsourcing workers at the factory, and the dismissal of 38 of those workers. The union reported that police violently dispersed the picket line.

In 2020 the Indonesian Trade Union Confederation and the Confederation of Indonesian Workers Welfare Union, the two largest labor unions, filed requests for judicial review of the constitutionality of the 2020 Omnibus Law with the Constitutional Court due to the adverse impact of the law on workers. In June the Constitutional Court refused the judicial review request from the Confederation of Indonesian Workers Welfare Union; however, the request from the Indonesian Trade Union Confederation was still under consideration as of October 25.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, prescribing penalties of imprisonment and a fine, which were commensurate with similar crimes.

To prevent forced labor among Indonesian workers abroad, the National Social Security Administration enrolls these migrant workers and their families in the national social security program, enables authorities to prosecute suspects involved in illegal recruitment and placement of workers, and limits the role of private recruitment and placement agencies by revoking their authority to obtain travel documents for migrant workers. Government agencies may suspend the licenses of recruitment agencies for coercive or deceptive recruitment practices and contract signings, sending migrant workers to an unauthorized destination country, document forgery, underage recruitment, illegal fees (such as requesting several months of workers’ salaries), and other violations.

The government continued its moratorium on sending domestic workers to certain countries where its citizens had been subjected to forced labor. Some observers noted this moratorium resulted in an increasing number of workers seeking the services of illegal brokers and placement agencies to facilitate their travel, increasing their vulnerability to human trafficking. The government asserted such moratoriums were needed until receiving countries can guarantee protections against the abuse and exploitation of its migrant workers.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. There were credible reports that forced labor occurred, including forced and compulsory labor by children (see section 7.c.). A May Greenpeace report released covering a period of six years indicated a significant increase in reports of forced labor on fishing vessels at sea in 2020. Forced labor also occurred in domestic servitude and in the mining, manufacturing, fish processing, construction, and plantation agriculture sectors.

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

Law and regulations prohibit all labor by children between the ages of five and 12. Children ages 13 and 14 may work up to 15 hours per week; children ages 15 to 17 may work up to 40 hours per week (not during school or evening hours and with written permission from parents). The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, as defined by the International Labor Organization. It does not, however, extend to the informal economy, where most child labor takes place. Companies which legally employ children for the purpose of artistic performances and similar activities are required to keep records of their employment. Companies that legally employ children for other purposes are not required to keep such records. In 2020 through its Family Hope Program, the government removed 9,000 children from child labor.

The government did not effectively enforce the law prohibiting the worst forms of child labor. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes.

Child labor commonly occurred in domestic service, rural agriculture, light industry, manufacturing, and fishing. There were reports of child labor on palm oil plantations. The worst forms of child labor occurred in commercial sexual exploitation, including the production of child pornography (also see section 6, Children); other illicit activities, including forced begging and the production, sale, and trafficking of drugs; and in fishing and domestic work.

According to a National Statistics Agency report, in August 2020 there were approximately 1.17 million children ages 10 to 17 working, primarily in the informal economy. The International Labor Organization estimated 1.5 million children between ages 10 and 17 work in the agricultural sector.

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  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, ethnicity, religion, sex, national origin, and disability but not specifically with respect to sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, or HIV or other communicable disease status. There were no legal restrictions against women in employment to include limiting working hours, occupations, or tasks.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for violations of similar laws, but they were not applied outside the formal sector. According to NGOs, antidiscrimination protections were not always observed by employers or the government. Human rights groups reported some government ministries discriminated against pregnant women, persons with disabilities, LGBTQI+ individuals, and HIV-positive persons in hiring. For example, on June 23, the chief of staff of the navy stated that he would dismiss any naval personnel involved in LGBTQI+ activities. The Ministry of Manpower, the Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Agency, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the National Development Planning Board worked in partnership to reduce gender inequality, including supporting equal employment opportunity task forces at the provincial, district, and municipal levels. , however, still lagged behind men in wages.

In January courts dismissed a suit filed by a gay police officer in Central Java Province for reinstatement into the police force. In 2018 he was fired after being seen with his same-sex romantic partner.

In March a West Sumatran man with a disability lost his appeal to be admitted as a civil servant for the National Audit Board. The man passed the required test but was told he was not healthy enough in mind and body. The man appealed this initial decision and submitted complaints to the National Commission of Human Rights and the Ombudsman.

Migrant workers and persons with disabilities commonly faced discrimination in employment and were often only hired for lower status jobs.

In June IndustriAll reported that the Ministry for Women’s Empowerment and Children agreed to the establishment of an additional 10-15 “protection houses” in key industrial zones where women employees can report gender-based violence, discrimination, and noncompliance with maternity protection. Government agencies provided physical, mental and rehabilitation support. The program began in 2020 and included six protection houses.

Some activists said that in manufacturing, employers relegated women to lower paying, lower-level jobs. Jobs traditionally associated with women continued to be significantly undervalued and unregulated. NGOs reported discriminatory behavior toward domestic workers continued to be rampant.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: Minimum wages varied throughout the country since provincial governors had authority to set a minimum wage floor and district heads had authority to set a higher rate. Minimum wages were above the official poverty line.

Most workers are not covered by the minimum wage laws. Government regulations exempt employers in certain sectors, including small and medium enterprises and labor-intensive industries such as textiles, from minimum wage requirements. Implementing regulations issued from February to April for the 2020 Omnibus Law require that sectors exempt from minimum wage rules should pay workers at least 50 percent of the average public consumption or 25 percent above the poverty level of their province. The new regulations also make part-time workers eligible for hourly wages.

For certain sectors, the overtime rate for work in excess of a 40-hour workweek was 1.5 times the normal hourly rate for the first hour and twice the hourly rate for additional overtime, with a maximum of four hours of overtime per day and a maximum of 18 hours per week. The 2020 Omnibus Law allows certain businesses that require temporary employees to be exempt from the 40-hour workweek. According to the February implementing regulation related to this provision, the sectors exempt from the 40-hour workweek include, but are not limited to, energy and natural resources, mining, natural gas and oil, agribusiness, and fisheries.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law requires employers to provide a safe and healthy workplace and to treat workers with dignity and provides appropriate standards for the main industries. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

There were no reliable national estimates for workplace deaths or injuries. Unions continued to urge the government, especially the Ministry of Manpower, to do more to address the country’s poor worker safety record and lax enforcement of health and safety regulations, particularly in the construction sector. NGOs and unions reported that many businesses continued to operate in defiance of government lockdown orders, at times resulting in COVID-19 outbreaks. In August the Ministry of Manpower released guidance for business-labor relations during the pandemic and items that should be covered in collective labor agreements to avoid disruptions and disputes.

Local officials from the Ministry of Manpower are responsible for enforcing minimum wage, work hours, and health and safety regulations. Penalties for violations include fines and imprisonment (for violation of the minimum wage law), which were generally commensurate with those for similar crimes. Government enforcement was inadequate, particularly at smaller companies, and supervision of labor standards was not fully enforced. Provincial and local officials often did not have the technical expertise needed to enforce labor law effectively. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and can initiate sanctions in the formal sector. The Ministry of Manpower employed 1,352 labor inspectors in 2020 and allocated IDR 191 billion ($13.3 million) for the labor inspections, down from IDR 231 billion ($16.1 million) in 2019. The number of inspectors was inadequate to enforce compliance.

Informal Sector: Authorities enforced labor regulations, including minimum wage regulations, only for the estimated 43 percent of workers in the formal sector. Workers in the informal sector did not receive the same protections or benefits as workers in the formal sector, in part because they had no legal work contract that labor inspectors could examine. The law does not mandate that employers provide domestic workers with a minimum wage, health insurance, freedom of association, an eight-hour workday, a weekly day of rest, vacation time, or safe work conditions.

Plantation agriculture workers often worked long hours without government-mandated health insurance benefits. They lacked proper safety gear and training in pesticide safety. Most plantation operators paid workers by the volume of crop harvested, which resulted in some workers receiving less than minimum wage and working extended hours to meet volume targets.

Gig workers were not protected under wage, work hours, and occupational safety and health regulations. This led to several large work stoppages by gig workers. For example, on April 6, approximately 1,000 Shopee Express couriers conducted a one-day work stoppage in Bandung following a cut in their pay that meant drivers would earn less than the minimum wage. In June drivers at GoKilat and LalaMove held two major work stoppages related to working conditions.

Pakistan

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Most of the labor force is under the jurisdiction of provincial labor laws. In 2012 parliament passed an industrial relations act that took International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions into account but, due to the 18th amendment, it applied only to the Islamabad Capital Territory and to trade federations that operated in more than one province. The only federal government body with any authority over labor matters was the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development, whose role in domestic labor oversight was limited to compiling statistics to demonstrate compliance with ILO conventions. At the provincial level, laws providing for collective bargaining rights excluded banking- and financial-sector workers, forestry workers, hospital workers, self-employed farmers, and persons employed in an administrative or managerial capacity.

Without any federal government entity responsible for labor, the continued existence of the National Industrial Relations Commission remained in question. The law stipulates that the commission may adjudicate and determine industrial disputes within the Islamabad Capital Territory to which a trade union or federation of trade unions is a party and any other industrial dispute determined by the government to be of national importance. This provision does not provide a forum specifically for interprovincial disputes but appears to allow for the possibility that the commission could resolve such a dispute. Worker organizations noted the limited capacity and funding for labor relations implementation at the provincial level.

The law prohibits state administrators, workers in state-owned enterprises and export-processing zones, and public-sector workers from collective bargaining and striking. Nevertheless, state-owned enterprises planned for privatization faced continuous labor strikes. Provincial industrial relations acts also address and limit strikes and lockouts. For example, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Act specifies that, for power distribution, gas, and other essential public service providers, when a “strike or lockout lasts for more than 30 days, the government may, by order in writing, prohibit the strike or lockout” and must refer the dispute to a labor court. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws, and the penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

Federal law defines illegal strikes, picketing, and other types of protests as “civil commotion,” which carries a penalty if convicted of up to life imprisonment. The law also states that gatherings of four or more persons may require police authorization, which is a provision authorities could use against trade union gatherings. Unions were able to organize large-scale strikes, but police often broke up the strikes, and employers used them to justify dismissals. Enforcement of labor laws remained weak, in large part due to lack of resources and political will. Most unions functioned independently of government and political party influence. Labor leaders raised concerns regarding employers sponsoring management-friendly or only-on-paper worker unions – so-called yellow unions – to prevent effective unionization.

There were no reported cases of the government dissolving a union without due process. Unions could be administratively “deregistered,” however, without judicial review.

Labor NGOs assisted workers by providing technical training and capacity-building workshops to strengthen labor unions and trade organizations. They also worked with established labor unions to organize workers in the informal sector and advocated policies and legislation to improve the rights, working conditions, and wellbeing of workers, including laborers in the informal sector. NGOs also collaborated with provincial governments to provide agricultural workers, brick kiln workers, and other vulnerable workers with national identification so they could connect to the country’s social safety net and access the benefits of citizenship (such as voting, health care, and education). The federal government, with financial support from the World Bank, created approximately 100,000 jobs for youth to plant trees in their local areas.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, cancels all existing bonded labor debts, forbids lawsuits for the recovery of such debts, and establishes a district “vigilance committee” system to implement the law. The ILO raised concerns, however, that laws prohibiting some workers in essential services from leaving their employment without the consent of the employer allowed for criminal penalties that included prison labor.

The law defines trafficking in persons as recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining another person (or attempting to do so) through force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of compelled labor or commercial sex. The penalty for conviction of trafficking in persons is sufficient to deter violations. Regarding sex trafficking, however, by allowing for a fine in lieu of imprisonment, penalties were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. Lack of political will, the reported complicity of officials in labor trafficking, as well as federal and local government structural changes, contributed to the failure of authorities to enforce federal law relating to forced labor. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate.

The use of forced and bonded labor was widespread and common in several industries across the country. An NGO focusing on bonded labor estimated that 4.5 million workers nationwide were trapped in bonded labor, primarily in Sindh and Punjab, but also in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The UN Development Program reported an estimate that more than 70 percent of bonded laborers were children. Traffickers also targeted lower-caste Hindus as well as Christians and Muslims with lower socioeconomic backgrounds especially for forced and bonded labor. Bonded labor was reportedly present in the agricultural sector, including the cotton, sugarcane, and wheat industries, and in the brick, coal, and carpet industries. Bonded laborers often were unable to determine when their debts were paid in full, in part, because contracts were rare, and employers could take advantage of bonded laborers’ illiteracy to alter debt amounts or the price laborers paid for goods they acquired from their employers. In some cases landowners restricted laborers’ movements with armed guards or sold laborers to other employers for the price of the laborers’ debts.

Ties among landowners, industry owners, and influential politicians hampered effective elimination of the problem. For example some local police did not pursue landowners or brick kiln owners effectively because they believed higher-ranking police, pressured by politicians or the owners themselves, would not support their efforts to carry out legal investigations. Some bonded laborers returned to their former status after authorities freed them, due to a lack of alternative employment options. In Sindh the Bonded Labor Act of 2015 has no accompanying civil procedure to implement the law. Of the 29 district vigilance committees charged with overseeing bonded labor practices, 14 were active as of November, and the Sindh Government had signed an MOU with the International Labor Organization for the purpose of activating the remaining committees.

Boys and girls were bought, sold, rented, or kidnapped to work in illegal begging rings, as domestic servants, or as bonded laborers in agriculture and brickmaking (see section 7.c.). Illegal labor agents charged high fees to parents with false promises of decent work for their children and later exploited them by subjecting the children to forced labor in domestic servitude, unskilled labor, small shops, and other sectors.

The government of Punjab funded the Elimination of Child Labor and Bonded Labor Project, under which the Punjab Department of Labor worked to combat child and bonded labor in brick kilns. They did this by helping workers obtain national identity cards and interest-free loans and providing schools at brick kiln sites. NGO contacts noted that the Punjab government’s 2020 order setting standard wages for brick kiln laborers wages continued to be poorly implemented. In addition, many brick kiln laborers continued to lack national identity cards.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Sindh ministries of labor reportedly worked to register brick kilns and their workers to regulate the industry more effectively and provide workers access to labor courts and other services. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, kilns with fewer than 10 employees do not qualify as “factories,” so many employed fewer than 10 workers to avoid registration.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/ and 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 /.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The federal government prohibited child domestic labor and other hazardous labor via an amendment in 2020 to the Child Employment Act of 1991, which covers the Islamabad Capital Territory but requires the same amendment be passed by each province to be adopted. No province had adopted similar legislation as of October 19. The constitution expressly prohibits the employment of children younger than age 14 in any factory, mine, or other hazardous site. The national law for the employment of children sets the minimum age for hazardous work at 14, which does not comply with international standards. Provincial laws in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Sindh set the minimum age for hazardous work at 18, meeting international standards.

In August, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa raised the minimum wage for daily wage workers (from (16,000 rupees ($103) to 17,900 rupees ($115) per month), and mandated women and transgender workers receive pay equal to that of male workers. The government also banned child employment in domestic home-based jobs.

In May the Balochistan government passed the Balochistan Forced and Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Bill of 2021. The law defines and prohibits bonded and forced labor and provides for two to five years’ imprisonment and fine as punishment for the crime.

On April 26, the Balochistan Assembly passed the Balochistan Employment of Children Prohibition and Regulation Act, providing protections for children, setting the minimum age for hazardous work at 14 years and setting the minimum age for coal mining at 15 years. Despite these restrictions, there were nationwide reports of children working in areas the law defined as hazardous, such as leather manufacturing, brick making, and deep-sea fishing. Most domestic workers were still hired informally with no limits put on their hours.

By law the minimum age for nonhazardous work is 14 in shops and establishments and 15 for work in factories and mines. The law does not extend the minimum age limit to informal employment. The law limits the workday to seven hours for children, including a one-hour break after three hours of labor, and sets permissible times of day for work and time off. The law does not allow children to work overtime or at night, and it specifies they should receive one day off per week. Additionally, the law requires employers to keep a register of child workers for labor inspection purposes. These national prohibitions and regulations do not apply to home-based businesses or brickmaking.

Federal law prohibits the exploitation of children younger than 18 and defines exploitative entertainment as all activities related to human sports or sexual practices and other abusive practices. Parents who exploit their children are legally liable.

Child labor remained pervasive, with many children working in agriculture and domestic work. There were also reports that small workshops employed many child laborers, which complicated efforts to enforce child labor laws. Poor rural families sometimes sold their children into domestic servitude or other types of work, or they paid agents to arrange for such work, often believing their children would work under decent conditions. Some children sent to work for relatives or acquaintances in exchange for education or other opportunities ended in exploitative conditions or forced labor. Children also were kidnapped or sold into organized begging rings, domestic servitude, militant groups and gangs, and child sex trafficking. Media reported that due to COVID-19, more children were dropping out of school and that many children turned to the workforce to lessen the economic burden their parents experienced due to the pandemic. The NGO Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child claimed that more than 12 million children were forced to practice child labor.

School closures resulting from the pandemic affected more than 30 million children, with the school dropout rate in urban areas increasing from 10 percent to 25 percent during the year.

Coordination of responses to child labor problems at the national level remained ineffective. Labor inspection was the purview of provincial rather than national government, which contributed to uneven application of labor law. Enforcement efforts were not adequate to meet the scale of the problem. Inspectors had little training and insufficient resources and were susceptible to corruption. Authorities registered hundreds of child labor law violations, but they often did not impose penalties on violators; when they did, the penalties were not a significant deterrent. Authorities generally allowed NGOs to perform inspections without interference.

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/  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods /.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

While regulations prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status, the government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations. Discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on these factors persisted. Women constituted only 22.5 percent of the labor force despite representing 49.2 percent of the population. The Special Economic Zones Act of 2012 provides for limited protections, and the status of national laws dealing with labor rights, antidiscrimination, and harassment at the workplace remained ambiguous. Penalties were not commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The 2010 passage of the 18th amendment to the constitution dissolved the federal Ministry of Labor and Manpower and devolved labor matters to the provinces. Some labor groups, international organizations, and NGOs remained critical of the devolution, contending that certain labor matters – including minimum wages, worker rights, national labor standards, and observance of international labor conventions – should remain within the purview of the federal government. Observers also raised concerns regarding the provinces’ varying capacity and commitment to adopt and enforce labor laws. Some international organizations, however, observed that giving authority to provincial authorities led to improvements in labor practices, including inspections, in some provinces.

Wage and Hour Laws: The minimum wage as set by the government exceeded its definition of the poverty line income for an individual, which was 9,500 rupees ($60) per month. The minimum wage was 20,000 rupees ($127) per month. The minimum wage was greater than the World Bank’s estimate for poverty-level income. Authorities increased the minimum wage in the annual budget in 2020, and both federal and provincial governments implemented the increase. Minimum wage laws did not cover significant sectors of the labor force, including workers in the informal sector, domestic servants, and agricultural workers; enforcement of minimum wage laws was uneven.

The law provides for a maximum workweek of 48 hours (54 hours for seasonal factories) with rest periods during the workday and paid annual holidays. The labor code also requires time off on official government holidays, overtime pay, annual and sick leave, health care, education for workers’ children, social security, old-age benefits, and a workers’ welfare fund. Many workers, however, were employed as contract laborers with no benefits beyond basic wages and no long-term job security, even if they remained with the same employer for many years. Furthermore, these national regulations do not apply to agricultural workers, workers in establishments with fewer than 10 employees, or domestic workers. Workers in these types of employment also lacked the right to access labor courts to seek redress of grievances and were extremely vulnerable to exploitation. The industry-specific nature of many labor laws and the lack of government enforcement gave employers in many sectors relative impunity regarding working conditions, treatment of employees, work hours, and pay.

Provincial governments have primary responsibility for enforcing national labor regulations. Enforcement was ineffective due to limited resources, corruption, and inadequate regulatory structures. The number of labor inspectors employed by the provincial governments was insufficient for the approximately 64 million persons in the workforce. Many workers, especially in the informal sector, remained unaware of their rights. Due to limited resources for labor inspections and corruption, inspections and penalties were insufficient to deter violations of labor laws. Minimum wages and labor law disputes are settled by internal dispute resolution mechanisms as opposed to being dealt with national courts, further contributing to corruption. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

The 2019 Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Act recognizes the rights of women who work in farming, livestock, and fisheries. The law provides for minimum wages, sick and maternity leave, set working hours, written work contracts, the right to unionize, collective bargaining, and access to social security and credit, among other protections.

The comprehensive occupational health and safety law enacted by Sindh Province in 2017 had not been implemented by year’s end. In 2020 the Punjab government enacted the Medical Teaching Institute (Reform) Ordinance, which amended several existing pieces of health-care legislation and instituted boards of governors composed of private-sector professionals for state-run teaching hospitals. Mayo Hospital Lahore, Punjab’s largest state-run teaching institute, became the first public-sector teaching institute where the ordinance was enforced. A newly formed board of governors took over the administrative and financial control of the hospital.

Occupational Safety and Health: Implementation and enforcement of health and safety standards in multiple sectors of labor remained weak, particularly at provincial levels throughout the country. Given weak implementation of health and safety standards in various sectors of labor, this raised doubts abroad as to its reliability as a source country, for imports, particularly in the garment and textile sectors. The country’s failure to meet international health and safety standards raised doubts abroad as to its reliability as a source for imports. There was a serious lack of adherence to mine safety and health protocols. Many mines had only one opening for entry, egress, and ventilation. Workers could not remove themselves from dangerous working conditions without risking loss of employment. Informal-sector employees, such as domestic and home-based workers, were particularly vulnerable to health and safety dangers. There were no statistics on workplace fatalities and accidents during the year. Factory managers were often unable to ascertain the identity of fire or other work-related accident victims because these individuals were contract workers and generally did not appear in records.

On February 10, a fire in a thread-manufacturing factory in Baldia Town, Karachi, killed three workers. Fire officials stated the deaths occurred due to lack of emergency exits in the building. On August 27, a fire in a Karachi luggage factory, where exits and windows had been barred shut, killed 18 workers. Investigators said the factory had no emergency exits nor fire alarm system, and its fire-extinguishing system was nonfunctional. Labor rights activists claimed the factory was not registered with the government labor department. Police arrested the owners and a supervisor, and the trial continued at year’s end.

Labor rights activists observed that workers often had to work in dangerous conditions and that private-sector mining companies failed to provide workers with health and safety facilities. On March 12, six coal miners died and two miners were rescued in the Marwar coal mine field in Balochistan. The miners were trapped approximately 1,000 feet below ground when a buildup of methane gas exploded. Coal mine workers were also targets of attacks by militants due to their ethnicity or religious affiliation. On January 3, militants killed 11 Hazara Shia coal miners in Macch, Balochistan. On April 9, the remains of 16 coal miners abducted by militants in September were recovered from a mass grave in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. On August 23, militants killed three Pashtun coal miners at a coal mine near Quetta.

According to the Pakistan Mine Worker Federation’s statistics, more than 200 coal miners died nationwide in 2020. The government did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health laws; penalties for violations of such laws were not commensurate with those for crimes like negligence.

Informal Sector: There was a significant number of workers in the informal sector. Although recent data on the size and sectors were unavailable, in 2019 the ILO reported the informal economy was large and that workers had limited access to labor welfare services. A labor force survey from 2017-18 stated that the informal sector accounted for 71.7 percent of the employment in main jobs outside agriculture – more in rural areas (75.6 percent) than in urban areas (68.1 percent). Occupational health and safety laws and inspections do not apply to the informal sector.

Portugal

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The government generally respected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The government effectively enforced applicable laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination.

While the law provides for freedom of association and collective bargaining, several restrictions limit these rights. The rights of police officers and members of the armed forces are limited. The Judiciary Police, the Foreigners and Borders Service, and prison guards may strike; the Public Security Police and the Republican National Guard may not. If a long strike occurs in a sector deemed essential, such as justice, health, energy, or transportation, the government may order strikers back to work for a specified period. Unions considered the list of essential sectors to be overly broad. Unions reported that compulsory conciliation and arbitration as prerequisites to strikes, restrictions on the scope of strikes, and restrictions on the types of strike actions permitted could limit the effectiveness of strikes.

The law requires unions to represent at least 50 percent of workers in a sector for collective bargaining units to be extended beyond the enterprise level. Public-sector employee unions have the right to discuss and consult with their employers on conditions of work, but they do not have the right to negotiate binding contracts. There remained a lack of clarity regarding criteria for union representation in the Permanent Commission for Social Partnerships, a tripartite advisory body. The law names specific unions, rather than giving participation rights to the most representative unions.

The government was generally effective in enforcing these laws. Resources, including inspections and remediation, were adequate. Penalties for violations range from fines to imprisonment and were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays or appeals.

Authorities generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Worker organizations could generally operate free from government interference. Requirements for enterprise-level bargaining by work councils sometimes prevented local union representatives from bargaining directly on behalf of workers. There were instances of employers undermining strikes using last-minute minimum-service requirements. According to labor union representatives, some workers received threats that union participation would result in negative performance reviews. In 2019 cabin crew members at Ryanair airline went on strike to protest exploitation through low wages and job insecurity, and the company threatened workers with a freeze of career prospects. The government decreed that minimum services were required during the stoppage, which the union considered an attempt to eliminate the right to strike.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced and compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law, but penalties were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes. The law places responsibility for complying with legal provisions on temporary employment agencies and employers of temporary workers. It provides that the contractor and the developer, company, or farm, as well as the respective managers, administrators, or directors, and companies with which they are connected are jointly liable for violations of the legal provisions relating to the health and safety of temporary workers and are responsible for entitlements, social security contributions, and the payment of the respective fines. Civil society, however, noted a need to strengthen monitoring and regulation of temporary employment and recruitment agencies, especially those employing and recruiting workers for agriculture, construction, and domestic service. The government did not report investigating or prosecuting any labor recruitment agencies for fraudulent recruitment or trafficking. Most victims were from India, Moldova, Pakistan, and Romania, but victims also originated from West Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Brazil.

Government resources dedicated to prevention of forced labor, including inspections and remediation, and enforcement of the law remained inadequate. Penalties ranging from three to 15 years’ imprisonment were sufficient to deter violations, but convictions remained few. Convicted offenders frequently avoided imprisonment, undercutting enforcement efforts and victim protections, according to NGOs and media. Government efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor during the year included a countrywide awareness campaign and training security forces to identify, flag, and direct victims to assistance services. In 2020 courts convicted and sentenced 24 traffickers, compared with 26 convictions in 2019.

According to the Portuguese Observatory on Trafficking in Human Beings, foreign labor trafficking victims were exploited in agriculture, construction, and domestic service, while Portuguese victims were exploited in restaurants, agriculture, and domestic service.

In May media outlets reported alleged cases of illegal immigration networks and slave labor in the Alentejo town of Odemira. The majority of the 9,600 legal immigrants living in Odemira were from Nepal and India, with several hundred additional from Bulgaria, Thailand, and Germany, according to data from the SEF. The SEF reported 32 investigations underway into human trafficking, hiring of illegal labor, document falsification, and fraudulent relations to obtain document legalization in Alentejo against 17 farm owners. In addition the Odemira Public Prosecutor’s Office claimed it was conducting more than a dozen investigations into alleged aid for illegal immigration for exploiting labor. Since 2018 authorities arrested 11 suspects in connection to labor exploitation and identified 134 victims of human trafficking in the Alentejo, according to the SEF.

Traffickers subjected children to forced labor (see section 7.c.).

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at 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. The statutory minimum age for employment is 16. The law prohibits the employment of persons younger than 18 at night, for overtime work, or in sectors considered hazardous. The Working Conditions Authority (ACT) in the Ministry of Solidarity, Employment, and Social Security has primary responsibility for enforcement of the minimum age law and enforced it effectively in major industries and the service sector. The government effectively enforced the applicable laws and penalties were commensurate with those for other serious crimes. Resources and inspections were adequate.

Child labor occurred in very limited cases. Children of Romani descent were subjected to labor trafficking through forced begging and forced criminality by coercing them to commit property crimes (also see section 6, Children). Sub-Saharan trafficking networks increasingly used the country as a route into the Schengen area to exploit children in sex trafficking and forced labor.

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

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation, and the government effectively enforced these laws. Penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

The law requires equal pay for equal work. According to the Ministry of Solidarity, Employment, and Social Security, however, women’s average salaries were approximately 14.4 percent lower than those of men. On January 16, the government announced the Equality Platform and Standard, a government project to combat inequalities between women and men in the workplace.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The minimum wage covers full-time workers, rural workers, and domestic employees who are at least 18 years of age and is above the poverty income level.

The legal workday may not exceed 10 hours, and the maximum workweek is 40 hours. The public sector has a 35-hour workweek. The maximum is two hours of paid overtime per day and 200 hours of overtime per year, with a minimum of 12 hours’ rest between workdays. Premium pay for overtime worked on a rest day or public holiday is 100 percent; overtime performed on a normal working day is paid at a premium of 50 percent for the first hour and 75 percent for subsequent time worked. Unions raised concerns regarding working hour provisions on flexibility schemes and time banking, which the government noted were designed to make working hours more flexible and increase productivity.

ACT was responsible for enforcement of minimum wage, which was above the poverty level, and for hours of work and safety standards in the formal sector. ACT effectively enforced these measures. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. Penalties ranged from fines to prison sentences, were commensurate with those for similar crimes, and were sufficient to deter violations and to enforce compliance. Inspectors had authority to conduct unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions and did not face moratoriums on inspections during the year.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health standards set by ACT were current and appropriate.

The government effectively enforced occupational safety and health (OSH) laws, and penalties for violations of OSH laws were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence. ACT reported 37 deaths from work-related accidents in the first five months of the year, with the construction sector being the most affected (15 cases), followed by the manufacturing sector (10 cases). Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.

Workers have the right to lodge confidential grievances with ACT regarding hazardous conditions or circumstances they believe endanger their health. Inspectors have the right to conduct inspections at any private or public company at any time without warning, and they may shut down a workplace or a business permanently or temporarily if there is imminent danger to the workers’ health or safety. Workers are registered with social security services, whose funds cover their mandatory insurance for occupational diseases and work-related accidents. ACT conducts studies on labor accidents, salaries, and working conditions. It may impose administrative penalties and file lawsuits against employers. It has the right to access company records, files, and archives, and it may provide mediation services to resolve individual or group labor disputes. Labor enforcement tended to be less rigorous in sectors such as construction and agriculture, where there were many small or family businesses and where most immigrant workers were employed, according to NGOs.

Informal Sector: Information on enforcement of the law in the small informal economy was not available.

Sri Lanka

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions of their choice. Exceptions include members of the armed forces, police officers, judicial officers, and prison officers. Workers in nonessential services industries, except for workers in public-service unions, have the legal right to bargain collectively. The law does not explicitly recognize the right to strike, but courts recognized an implied right to strike based on the Trade Unions Ordinance and the Industrial Disputes Act. Nonunion worker councils tended to represent labor in export-processing zone (EPZ) enterprises, although several unions operated in the zones. According to the Board of Investment, which operated the EPZs, if both a recognized trade union with bargaining power and a nonunion worker council exist in an enterprise, the trade union would have the power to represent the employees in collective bargaining.

Under emergency regulations of the public-security ordinance, the president has broad discretion to declare sectors “essential” to national security, the life of the community, or the preservation of public order and to revoke those workers’ rights to conduct legal strikes. In addition to the public-security ordinance, the law allows the president to declare services provided by government agencies as “essential” public services. The law prohibits retribution against striking workers in nonessential sectors. Seven workers may form a union, adopt a charter, elect leaders, and publicize their views, but a union must represent 40 percent of workers at a given enterprise before the law obligates the employer to bargain with the union. Unions that do not meet the 40 percent threshold can merge with others and operate as one. The International Trade Union Confederation reported that employers used the 40 percent threshold to refuse to bargain with unions. The law does not permit public-sector unions to form federations or represent workers from more than one branch or department of government. The Labor Ministry may cancel a union’s registration if it fails to submit an annual report for three years.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. Labor laws do not cover domestic workers employed in the homes of others or informal-sector workers.

The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference, but the government enforced the law unevenly. Violations for antiunion discrimination may result in a fine of 100,000 rupees ($500). The law requires an employer found guilty of antiunion discrimination to reinstate workers fired for union activities, but it may transfer them to different locations. These penalties were commensurate with those under other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Only the Labor Ministry has legal standing to pursue an unfair labor practice case, including for antiunion discrimination.

Only the Department of Labor may bring antiunion discrimination cases before a magistrate court, not victims of such discrimination. From 1999 to year’s end, the Labor Ministry filed 14 cases against companies for unfair labor practices under the Industrial Disputes Act. Citing routine government inaction on alleged violations of labor rights, some unions pressed for standing to sue for such practices, while some smaller unions did not want that ability because of the cost of filing cases. Workers brought some labor violations to court under the Termination of Employment and Workmen Act and the Payment of Gratuity Act. Lengthy delays hindered judicial procedures. The Industrial Dispute Act does not apply to the public sector, and public-sector unions had no formal dispute resolution mechanism. In addition, most large-scale private firms in the services sector, other than banks and tourist hotels, prohibited forming or joining a labor union within work premises and included it as a binding clause in the letter of appointment or contracts signed between the employee and the firm; this practice transgresses the country’s legal framework.

The government generally respected workers’ freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively. Public-sector unions staged numerous work stoppages on several issues, ranging from government moves to privatize state-owned enterprises to wage issues. The International Labor Organization expressed concern that EPZ enterprises refused to recognize the right of unions to bargain collectively.

In November 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, President Rajapaksa issued an “extraordinary gazette” order making port workers essential employees. Under the essential services act, any port employee not attending work faces “conviction after summary trial before a magistrate” and is “liable to rigorous imprisonment” of two to five years, a fine between 2,000 and 5,000 rupees ($10 and $25), or both. The essential service acts were previously used to break strikes and protests and negatively impacted workers deemed “essential.” When emergency laws are declared, essential service orders can be extended to the private sector as well.

While some unions in the public sector were politically independent, most large unions were affiliated with political parties and played a prominent role in the political process. Unions alleged that employers often indefinitely delayed recognition of unions to avoid collective bargaining, decrease support for unionization, or identify, terminate, and sometimes assault or threaten union activists. The Ministry of Labor requires labor commissioners to hold union certification elections within 30 working days of an application for registration if there was no objection or within 45 working days if there was an objection.

Seven unions representing EPZ employees made a series of proposals to the labor minister to protect their rights and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. The labor unions that wrote the proposals were supported by 20 civil society organizations. Apparel unions also wrote open letters requesting the government do more to protect their workforce from the global pandemic, including expediting vaccination efforts among garment workers, increasing COVID-19 testing at factories, providing personal protective equipment, and including the industry in general COVID-related lockdowns. While the government took steps to implement a 5,000-rupee ($25) COVID-19 subsidy for EPZ employees, there were reports the subsidy was insufficient, with most workers out of work for months.

On July 7, police arrested former Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna provincial councilors Samantha Vidyaratna and Mahinda Jayasinghe, All-Ceylon Farmers Federation national organizer Namal Karunaratne, Frontline Socialist Party member and Center for Labor Struggles coordinating secretary Duminda Nagamuwa for allegedly violating quarantine regulations. They were arrested for protesting on July 1 in Badulla against the government’s chemical fertilizer ban, protesting with the workers of the State Engineering Corporation of Sri Lanka demanding their salaries be paid on time, and protesting the destruction of the Muthurajawela wetlands north of Colombo. According to the police media spokesman, the suspects were released on bail on July 7.

The forced quarantine of trade union leaders including Ceylon Teachers’ Union general secretary Joseph Stalin, Frontline Socialist Party politburo member Duminda Nagamuwa, and several others following their arrest on July 7-8 for participating in an education-related protest elicited a strong backlash from the opposition and civil society. According to press reports, the Colombo Magistrate Court released all the protesters on bail after rejecting the police’s request to direct them into quarantine, something the courts were not authorized to do. On July 10, the public-health inspectors stated they did not recommend protesters be quarantined, as there were strict guidelines on who can be quarantined and on what grounds. Despite this, press reported police forcibly took the protesters to a government-run quarantine center in Mullaitivu in the northern province. Following pressure by trade unions across the country, lawsuits against the members’ detention, and public criticism at the forced quarantine as a violation of the union leaders’ civil liberties, the government released the members before the standard 14-day period on July 16.

On August 4, police arrested 44 teachers and principals after a protest outside the presidential secretariat in Colombo and detained them at the Harbor police station, releasing them a day later. Other activists and leaders, including leaders from the Progressive Women’s Collective and the Ceylon Teachers’ Union, were arrested for their involvement in protests in July and then later released on bail. The protesters were demanding a solution to salary anomalies and, according to the police spokesperson, were charged with unlawful assembly, obstruction of vehicular movement and main roads, as well as violating quarantine regulations.

According to trade union leaders and worker’s rights organizations, nearly 250,000 teachers participated in more than two months of strikes, and protests and strikes led by railway, postal, plantation, fishermen, and health workers were held throughout the year. Numerous protesters were arrested and charged with violating quarantine regulations, unlawful assembly, or both, while other demonstrators said they faced continued threats and reprisals for leading or participating in protests. Activists noted the quarantine regulations were selectively applied to movements criticizing the government and that the emergency regulations directly impacted workers’ and their ability to strike or protest without fear of reprisals.

On November 10, the prime minister agreed to a two-decade demand by teachers and principals for salary increases, including agreeing to their demand that the entire raise be provided in a single increment, ending months of union strikes and protests (see section 2.b.). Teachers ended their strike on October 25 and returned to teaching, but they refused to participate in nonacademic activities until the prime minister’s November 10 decision.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced and compulsory labor, but penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The government did not effectively enforce the laws due to inadequate resources, inspections, and remediation efforts, as well as a lack of identification of forced labor cases. Labor Ministry inspections did not extend to domestic workers except in the event of a report of underage domestic workers. The government sporadically prosecuted labor agents who fraudulently recruited migrant workers yet appeared to sustain its monthly meetings to improve interministerial coordination.

Children between the ages of 16 and 18 and women working as live-in domestic workers in some homes were vulnerable to forced labor (see section 7.c.).

Traffickers exploited men, women, and children in forced labor. Traffickers recruited women from rural areas with promises of urban jobs in the hospitality sector, salons, spas, and domestic work but exploited some in forced labor. While conditions for most tea plantation workers on larger corporate tea estates met international certification standards, such as Fair Trade, some smaller tea estate owners exploited men and women in bonded labor. Some NGOs documented cases in which employers “sold” workers’ debts to another estate and forced the workers to move. The same reports stated that some tea estates illegally deducted more than 75 percent of workers’ daily earnings for miscellaneous fees and repayment of debts, including charging workers for the pay slip itself. Three international organizations reported that forced labor continued at approximately nine tea estates.

Police continued to arrest trafficking victims for vagrancy, prostitution, and immigration offenses. Police allegedly accepted bribes to permit commercial sexual exploitation, and NGOs reported that workers in government and private shelters for trafficking victims abused and exploited residents. 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 minimum age for employment was raised from 14 to 16 in January, although the law permits the employment of younger children by their parents or guardians in limited family agricultural work or technical training. The government increased the compulsory age of education from 14 to 16 in 2016. The law prohibits hazardous work for persons younger than 18. The law limits the working hours of children ages 16 and 17 to 10 hours per day. The government estimated less than 1 percent of children – approximately 40,000 – were working, although employment was often in hazardous occupations. The government classifies 71 activities as hazardous. Although the government did not effectively enforce all laws, existing penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The Labor Ministry made some progress in eliminating the worst forms of child labor. The government appointed district coordinators with responsibility for reducing child labor in all 25 districts and provided new guidelines for district officials. The Department of Labor continued its efforts to monitor workplaces on the list of hazardous work for children. The government reported there were 11 shelters for child victims of trafficking at the provincial level.

Children worked in the construction, manufacturing, mining, transport, street vending, and fishing industries and as cleaners and helpers, domestic workers, and street vendors. Children also worked in agriculture during harvest periods. Children displaced by the war were especially vulnerable to employment in hazardous labor.

The government amended the Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act to prohibit the employment of persons younger than 18 as domestic servants. Family enterprises, such as family farms, crafts, small trade establishments, restaurants, and repair shops, commonly employed children. Criminals reportedly exploited children, especially boys, for child sex trafficking in coastal areas catering to sex tourists (see section 6, Children).

On July 15, a domestic worker age 16 died at the home of former minister and leader of the Muslim political party All Ceylon Makkal Congress Rishad Bathiudeen. The girl reportedly died of self-inflicted burns, but a coroner’s postmortem revealed the victim had been sexually abused over a long period of time. A magistrate court ordered exhumation of the victim’s body for a second postmortem on July 30; announcement of the findings was pending as of December 12.

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 constitution prohibits discrimination, including with respect to employment and occupation, based on race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, or place of birth. The law does not prohibit employment or occupational discrimination based on color, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, HIV-positive status, or status regarding other communicable diseases.

Women have a range of workforce restrictions, including caps on overtime work and limits on nighttime shifts. Women are restricted from certain jobs. Women are prohibited from working in mines, except under certain circumstances, and are equated with young persons in laws prohibiting cleaning of transmission machinery while in motion. A previous effort to remove these prohibitions was unsuccessful in the face of opposition from many trade unions. The retirement age for women was raised in November to match that of men.

Employers are required to bear the full cost of providing maternity-leave benefits to their employees for 12 weeks. The labor market was characterized by high female unemployment and low female labor force participation. Unemployment rates for women younger than age 40 were much higher than they were for men, and this discrepancy was also connected to age. A woman between the age of 25 and 39 seeking employment was 3.8 times more likely to be unemployed than a man seeking employment in the same age cohort. An estimated 55 percent of employees in the public sector were men and 45 percent were women. In contrast, 70 percent of employees outside the public sector were men and only 30 percent were women. According to civil society, some groups in the north and east reported experiencing employment and occupation barriers.

The government did not always effectively enforce these laws, and discrimination based on the above categories occurred with respect to employment and occupation. Penalties were commensurate with those under laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. For example, some employers specified positions requiring male or female applicants, and women often earned less than men for equal work. The earnings gap between men and women was 15.9 percent. Companies also openly evaded paying legally mandated maternity benefits through hiring discrimination of young women. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs also described widespread social stigma and harassment and minimal child-care services. The Ministry of Women worked with the World Bank in 2019 to open career centers for women business owners to offer technical and vocational training for in-demand occupations. The ministry also expanded day-care centers across the country and offered tax incentives to cover the salaries for women on maternity leave in 2019, but these centers were not able to operate during the global coronavirus pandemic.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: Parliament passed its first-ever national minimum wage law in 2015 and revised it during the year to include a daily minimum wage and raise the monthly minimum by 12.5 percent. The Department of Labor’s wage boards continued to set minimum wages and working conditions by sector and industry in consultation with unions and employers. The minimum private-sector and public-sector wages were above the government’s official poverty line.

The law prohibits most full-time workers from regularly working more than 45 hours per week (a five-and-one-half-day workweek). In addition, the law stipulates a rest period of one hour per day. Regulations limit the maximum overtime hours to 15 per week. Overtime pay is 1.5 times the basic wage and is paid for work beyond 45 hours per week and work on Sundays or holidays. The provision limiting basic work hours is not applicable to managers and executives in public institutions. The law provides for paid annual holidays.

Enforcement of minimum wage and overtime laws was insufficient. Under the Shop and Office Act, penalties for violating hours of work laws are a fine of 500 rupees ($2.50), six months’ imprisonment, or both. The law provides for a fine of 50 rupees ($0.25) per day if the offense continues after conviction. These penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. In 2018 amendments to the factory’s ordinance and the wages board ordinance increased fines for nonpayment of salaries to workers under the purview of the wages board to between 5,000 rupees ($25) and 10,000 rupees ($50), along with imprisonment not exceeding one year.

Labor Ministry inspectors verified whether employers fully paid employees and contributed to pension funds as required by law. Unions questioned, however, whether the ministry’s inspections were effective. The Labor Department used a computerized labor information system application designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of inspections, but officials and trade unions noted concerns that the system was not well maintained.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government sets occupational health and safety standards. Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous situations, but many workers had no knowledge of such rights or feared that they would lose their jobs if they did so. Authorities did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health standards in all sectors. Penalties for violations of occupational safety and health laws were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence. The Labor Ministry’s resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were insufficient. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient for the country’s workforce. Occupational health and safety standards in the rapidly growing construction sector, including infrastructure development projects such as port, airport, and road construction, as well as high-rise buildings, were insufficient. Employers, particularly those in the construction industry, increasingly used contract employment for work of a regular nature, and contract workers had fewer safeguards. Labor regulations apply whenever a company has at least one permanent employee, but seasonal workers are not necessarily covered.

When the government imposed a countrywide lockdown on March 20 due to COVID-19, employers in free-trade zones required workers to continue working until cases spread and workers protested. After one month, several large companies resumed work, putting workers in unsafe conditions amid rising COVID-19 infections. There were reports that wages were not paid or were delayed.

The Industrial Safety Division of the Department of Labor compiles annual information on workplace safety. During 2020, 71 fatal and 1,116 nonfatal workplace accidents were reported to the Department of Labor. Similar data for 2021 were not available at year’s end.

Informal Sector: According to the 2019 Labor Survey, approximately 62 percent of the country’s workforce was employed informally, and legal entitlements enjoyed by formal-sector workers such as Employees Provident Fund, Employees Trust Fund, paid leave, gratuity payments, and security of employment were not available to a large majority of the aggregate workforce in the country. Labor inspectors did not monitor wages or working conditions or provide programs or social protections for informal-sector workers. In November media reported most of those working in the informal economy were self-employed and that the informal sector accounted for 87.5 percent of the total employment in agriculture. Local media reported that employees in the informal sector lacked job protections.

Tibet

Section 7. Worker Rights

See section 7, Worker Rights, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2021 for China.

Turkey

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, but it places significant restrictions on these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and discourages employers for terminating workers involved in union activities. In particular, the law requires employers to either reinstate a worker fired for participating in union activity or pay enhanced compensation of at least one year of the affected worker’s salary if a court finds the worker was unfairly terminated for participating in union activities. If the employer opts not to reinstate the worker to their formal role, the law requires the employer to pay union compensation and an additional fine of a minimum of four months’ wages and a maximum of eight months’ wages. Some public-sector employees, such as senior officials, magistrates, members of the armed forces, and police, may not form or join unions.

In July the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations filed a complaint with the ILO alleging that the option for employers to pay an additional fine rather than reinstate workers allowed employers to dismiss workers for union activity at little cost. The complaint cited several examples of companies, including Cargill, Olam Group and Dohler Group, that opted to pay fines rather than reinstate workers after courts ruled their termination was unlawful.

The law provides some workers the right to strike. Public-sector workers who are responsible for safeguarding life and property as well as workers in the essential areas (coal mining and petroleum industries, hospitals and funeral industries, urban transportation, energy and sanitation services, national defense, banking, and education) do not have the right to strike. Instead, while the law allows some essential workers to bargain collectively, it requires workers to resolve disputes through binding arbitration rather than strikes.

A 2014 Constitutional Court ruling that bankers and municipal transport workers have the right to strike remains in force. The law further allows the government to deny the right to strike in any situation that represents a threat to public health or national security.

The government also maintains restrictions on the right of association and collective bargaining. The law requires labor unions to notify government officials prior to meetings or rallies, which must occur in officially designated areas, and allows government representatives to attend their conventions and record the proceedings.

The law requires a minimum of seven workers to establish a union without prior approval. To become a bargaining agent, a union must represent 40 percent of the worksite employees and 1 percent of all workers in that industry. The law prohibits union leaders from becoming officers of or otherwise performing duties for political parties. The law also prohibits union leaders from working for or being involved in the operation of any profit-making enterprise. As of July, 65 percent of public-sector employees and 14 percent of private-sector employees were unionized. Migrant workers and domestic servants without legitimate work permits were prohibited from joining unions and nonunionized workers were not covered by collective bargaining laws.

The government did not enforce laws related to collective bargaining and freedom of association effectively, and penalties for violations were not consistently commensurate with those provided under other laws involving denials of civil rights. Labor courts functioned effectively and relatively efficiently, although as with other courts, the appeals process could often last for years.

The 19 unions and confederations shut down under the 2016-18 state of emergency, some due to alleged affiliations with the Gulen movement, remained closed.

The government and employers interfered with freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Government restrictions and interference limited the ability of some unions to conduct public and other activities. Police frequently attended union meetings and conventions. In addition, some unions reported that local authorities prohibited public activities, such as marches and press conferences.

Employers used threats, violence, and layoffs in unionized workplaces. Unions stated that antiunion discrimination occurred regularly across sectors. Service-sector union organizers reported that private-sector employers sometimes ignored the law and dismissed workers to discourage union activity. Many employers hired workers on revolving contracts of less than a year’s duration, making them ineligible for equal benefits or bargaining rights. In September employees at a smartphone manufacturer in Istanbul went on strike to protest the dismissal of 170 workers, mainly women, who were seeking to unionize following allegations of abusive labor practices.

The government instituted a ban on lay-offs during the COVID-19 crisis that in some cases resulted in the employees being compelled to take leave without pay or earn less than minimum wage. The ban expired at the end of June, resulting in a spike in the unemployment rate. Some companies instituted COVID-19 precautions, including prohibiting workers from leaving and returning to a worksite for extended periods of time.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law generally prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government enforced such laws unevenly. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes. Forced labor generally did not occur, although some local and refugee families required their children to work on the streets and in the agricultural or industrial sectors to supplement family income (see section 7.c.).

Women, refugees, and migrants were vulnerable to forced labor. Although government efforts to prevent forced labor continued with mixed effect, authorities made improvements in identifying victims nationwide. The government did not release data on the number of arrests and convictions related to forced labor.

The government implemented a work permit system for adult temporary protection beneficiaries (Syrians); however, applying for a work permit was the responsibility of the employer, and the procedure was sufficiently burdensome and expensive that relatively few employers pursued legally hiring refugees. As a consequence, the vast majority of both international protection status holders and temporary protection beneficiaries remained without legal employment options, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation, including illegally low wages, withholding of wages, and exposure to unsafe work conditions.

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 all the worst forms of child labor. The law allows children to perform light work that does not interfere with their school attendance from the age of 14 and establishes 16 as the minimum age for regular employment. The law prohibits children younger than 16 from performing arduous or dangerous work. The government prohibited children younger than 18 from working in certain professions or under hazardous conditions.

The government did not effectively enforce child labor laws but made efforts to address the problem. Penalties for violations were sufficiently stringent compared with those for other serious crimes. Resources and inspections were insufficient to effectively monitor and enforce prohibitions against the use of child labor. In the absence of a complaint, inspectors did not generally visit private agricultural enterprises that employed 50 or fewer workers, resulting in enterprises vulnerable to child labor exploitation.

Illicit child labor persisted, including in its worst forms, fostered in part by large numbers of Syrian refugees and the pandemic driving more family members to seek employment. Child labor primarily took place in seasonal agriculture (e.g., hazelnuts), street work (e.g., begging), and small or medium industry (e.g., textiles, footwear, and garments), although the overall scale of the problem remained unclear according to a wide range of experts, academics, and UN agencies engaged on the issue. Parents and others sent Romani children to work on the streets selling tissues or food, shining shoes, or begging. Such practices were also a significant problem among Syrian and Afghan refugee children. The government implemented a work permit system for adult temporary protection beneficiaries (Syrians), but many lacked access to legal employment; some refugee children consequently worked to help support their families, in some cases under exploitative conditions. According to data from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, a total of 285 workplaces were fined for violating rules prohibiting child labor in 2015-20.

Also see the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law does not explicitly address discrimination due to sexual orientation, gender identity, color, national origin or citizenship, social origin, communicable disease status, or HIV-positive status. The labor code does not apply to discrimination in the recruitment phase. Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred with regard to sex, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, and presence of a disability. Sources also reported frequent discrimination based on political affiliation and views. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other civil rights violations.

Women faced discrimination in employment and were generally underrepresented in managerial-level positions in business, government, and civil society, although the number of women in the workforce increased compared with previous years. According to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK), the labor participation rate for men was 78 percent, and 35 percent for women. A joint 2020 study by TUIK and the ILO estimated the gender pay gap in the country at 15.6 percent. Women were prohibited from working in select industries that require intensive physical labor. There was no prohibition against gender-based discrimination in access to credit, which remains a barrier to women’s entrepreneurship.

Women in the country were disproportionately affected economically by the COVID-19 pandemic. Research by Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey Research Center and the ILO’s Turkey office concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionally affected women’s labor force participation.

For companies with more than 50 workers, the law requires that at least 3 percent of the workforce consist of persons with disabilities, while in the public sector, the requirement is 4 percent. Despite these government efforts, NGOs reported examples of discrimination in employment of persons with disabilities.

LGBTQI+ individuals in particular faced discrimination in employment. Employment laws allow the dismissal of public-sector employees found “to act in a shameful and embarrassing way unfit for the position of a civil servant,” while some statutes criminalize the vague practice of “unchastity.” KAOS-GL and other human rights organizations noted that some employers used these provisions to discriminate against LGBTQI+ individuals in the labor market, although overall numbers remained unclear. Given the situation, some labor unions created commissions to strengthen efforts to combat discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The national minimum wage was greater than the estimated national poverty level.

The law establishes a 45-hour workweek with a weekly rest day. Overtime is limited to three hours per day and 270 hours a year. The law mandates paid holiday and leave and premium pay for overtime but allows for employers and employees to agree to a flexible time schedule.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security’s Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing wage and hour laws. The government effectively enforced wage and hour provisions in the unionized industrial, service, and government sectors but not in other sectors. Workers in nonunionized sectors had difficulty receiving overtime pay to which they were entitled by law. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. Labor inspectors conducted scheduled and unannounced inspections and had the authority to initiate sanctions. In 2020, the latest year for which data was available, inspectors conducted 9,170 inspections, the majority of which were unannounced. The number of labor inspectors, however, was insufficient to enforce full compliance. Penalties for wage and hour violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes.

Occupational Safety and Health: Government-set occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were not always up to date or appropriate for specific industries. OSH violations were particularly common in the construction and mining industries, where accidents were frequent, and regulations inconsistently enforced. The Assembly for Worker Health and Safety reported at least 1,494 workplace deaths during the first eight months of the year. These figures included COVID-19-related deaths. In many sectors, including mining, workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect vulnerable employees. The same labor inspectors that cover wage and hour are also responsible for enforcing occupational safety and health laws. The number of labor inspectors remained insufficient to enforce compliance with labor laws across the country. The government did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health in all sectors, and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those of similar crimes.

Informal Sector: Wage and hour laws did not cover workers in the informal economy, which accounted for an estimated 25 percent of GDP and more than one-quarter of the workforce. OSH laws and regulations covered both contract and unregistered workers but did not sufficiently protect them. Migrants and refugees working in the informal sector remained particularly vulnerable to substandard work conditions in a variety of sectors, including seasonal agriculture, industry, and construction. A majority of international protection status holders and temporary protection beneficiaries were working informally, as employers found the application process for work permits too burdensome (see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees).

Uzbekistan

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law allows workers to form and join independent unions and bargain collectively. Despite their legal status, no independent labor unions operated in the country. The law neither provides for nor prohibits the right to strike, but it prohibits antiunion discrimination. The law on trade unions states that workers may not be fired due to trade union membership, but it does not clearly state whether workers fired for union activity must be reinstated. Volunteers in public works and workers employed by individuals without documented contracts do not have strong legal protections of their rights.

Government officials imposed restrictions on the registration of independent trade unions. Although the country ratified the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 87 on Freedom of Association, little progress had been achieved in this field, as workers, farmers and cotton pickers have not been able to exercise the right of collective bargaining and representation of their interests through independent trade unions. The state-controlled Federation of Trade Unions of Uzbekistan (FTUU) is the only operating labor union of any kind in the country.

Despite the adoption of a law on trade unions in 2019, which prohibits the interference of government bodies in the trade union activities, the state still retains significant control. Local critics noted that the protection of workers’ rights and interests in organizations and the freedom to elect union leaders had been withheld.

The law provides penalties for violating freedom of association laws. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. The government amended the law on “professional unions, rights, and guarantees of their activities.” Despite legal protections for professional unions, workers had not successfully formed or joined independent unions. Workers believed that attempts to create independent alternative unions would be repressed. FTUU unions remained centralized, controlled by, and dependent on the government.

The FTUU included in its ranks more than 35,000 primary organizations and 14 regional trade unions, according to official reports. Regional and industrial trade unions remained managed by the state.

Government-organized unions did not undertake independent bargaining on behalf of their members. Government ministries, including the Ministry of Agriculture, in consultation with the Federation of Trade Unions, continued to set wages for government employees and production quotas in certain sectors. The government moved toward letting the market determine prices in a larger number of sectors than in previous years. In the private sector, management established wages or negotiated them individually with persons who contracted for employment. Labor arbitration was underdeveloped.

On March 19, more than 200 workers at Indorama Argo in the Syrdarya Region met to establish an independent trade union Xalq Birligi (People’s Unity). It was subsequently registered as Trade Union Under Indorama Agro under the FTUU. In 2020 and during the year, the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) provided $130 million in loans to Indorama Agro to support the company’s operations, including the economic inclusion of young men and women. Company employees complained of massive job cuts, poor working conditions, unfair payment, gender discrimination and retaliation against complaints. The workers lacked collective bargaining power against the company, while state-controlled trade unions like FTUU failed to provide support. The trade union registration process resulted in intimidation from the government and pressure from the FTUU to join as a member, which is ultimately what occurred. Twelve international organizations, including the EBRD and the IFC, released a joint statement urging the government to register the first independent trade union. The effort to form this union was ultimately unsuccessful and the proposed union leader, Roza Agaydarova, was subjected to pressure both by Indorama and the government to cease her labor organizing activities.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except as legal punishment for conviction of such offenses as robbery, fraud, or tax evasion or as specified by law. Certain sections of the criminal code allow for compulsory labor as a punishment for conviction of offenses including defamation and incitement of national, racial, ethnic, or religious enmity. The government effectively enforced the law, but penalties were not commensurate with those for conviction of other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Inspectors from the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations have authority to enforce laws on forced labor. The lead for matters related to forced labor or trafficking in persons is the special rapporteur of the National Commission on trafficking in persons and forced labor. The ILO increased the scope of its third-party monitoring on child and forced labor in the cotton harvest during the year.

Government-compelled forced labor of adults remained in other sectors as well. Despite a government prohibition against forced labor, reports continued of local officials forcing rural farmers to work in noncotton agriculture and other adults to clean parks, streets, and buildings. Officials occasionally compelled labor by labeling these tasks as hashar, voluntary work for the community’s benefit.

Men were most likely to be exploited abroad as migrant laborers and women were most likely to be forced to labor in country. Instances of child exploitation continued to be reported in country. The government increased its efforts to combat all forms of forced labor. During the year the government informed the public of the prohibition against forced labor, including in the annual cotton harvest. Harvesters typically came from groups such as impoverished families, unemployed persons, and housewives.

With the elimination of government-mandated cotton production quotas, local officials are no longer officially responsible for mobilizing sufficient labor to meet established production targets in the harvest, which in previous years had been a key driver of forced labor. The government continued to take steps towards privatizing the cotton sector by expanding cotton “clusters.” Cotton clusters are private, vertically integrated enterprises (from farm to finished product) that receive land concessions from the government to either farm cotton directly or contract with cotton farmers in each district.

Activists noted that many of these “clusters” are headed by district khokims which left open many opportunities for abuse and left populations vulnerable to forced labor.

The ILO found no evidence of systemic forced labor in the annual cotton harvest. Responsibility for overseeing government efforts to end forced labor and trafficking in persons resides with the National Commission on Trafficking in Persons and Forced Labor. The commission is divided into subcommittees for trafficking in persons, chaired by the minister of internal affairs, and for forced labor, chaired by the minister of employment and labor relations. Both act as deputy chairs to the commission itself. Tanzila Narbaeva, who also served as chair of the Senate, continued to fulfill the role of special rapporteur for the commission. The government-empowered special rapporteur reports directly to the president. Regional-level bodies report to the commission on implementation of laws and regulations related to forced labor and trafficking in persons.

The government maintained formal prohibitions on the use of forced labor in all economic sectors and worked to enforce these provisions. Administrative penalties against the use of forced labor include a monetary fine for first offense. Secondary offenses are criminalized. The Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations reported five cases of forced labor were under investigation at year’s end. The ministry also reported 154 trafficking crimes were identified, of which 94 involved sexual exploitation.

The government allowed the ILO access in real time to a government feedback mechanism for reporting labor violations to assess how well it responded to complaints. Additionally, the government made efforts to meet with international organizations, NGOs, civil society organizations, and local activists to discuss the problem of forced labor publicly and to receive feedback, including suggestions and criticism to enable it to improve its approach to forced labor in the cotton harvest. The government acknowledged its problem with forced labor and sought assistance to eliminate it.

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. The law sets the minimum working age at 16 and provides that work must not interfere with the studies of those younger than 18. The law does not allow children younger than 15 to work, but this provision was not always observed. Children at age 15, with permission from their parents, may work a maximum of 24 hours per week when school is not in session and 12 hours per week when school is in session. Children ages 16 through 18 may work 36 hours per week while school is out of session and 18 hours per week while school is in session. Decrees stipulate a list of hazardous activities forbidden for children younger than 18 and prohibit employers from using children to work under specified hazardous conditions, including underground, underwater, at dangerous heights, and in the manual harvesting of cotton, including cotton harvesting with dangerous equipment.

Children were employed in small-scale family agriculture; in family businesses, such as bakeries and convenience stores; and in the provision of some kinds of services.

Inspectors from the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations have authority to enforce laws on child labor, and they effectively enforced the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for conviction of analogous crimes, such as kidnapping. Reports indicated that child labor was not widespread, although cotton harvest monitors identified isolated instances of child labor violations in the production and harvest of cotton as well as commercial sexual exploitation.

There was no evidence of any government-compelled child labor. The government prohibition against the use of students in the cotton harvest remains in force.

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

Laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, gender, religion, and language. The labor code states that differences in the treatment of individuals deserving of the state’s protection or requiring special accommodation, including women, children, and persons with disabilities, are not to be considered discriminatory. The law prohibits women from working in 355 professions in 98 different industries, because of possible adverse effect to women’s health. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, age, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, or social origin. HIV-positive individuals are legally prohibited from being employed in certain occupations, including those in the medical field that require direct contact with patients or with blood or blood products as well as in cosmetology or haircutting. There were insufficient publicly available data to determine government enforcement of these laws and regulations and no data were available on instances of government actions to deal with cases of illegal discrimination. Penalties were commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

The labor code prohibits refusing employment based on an applicant’s criminal record or the criminal record of a close relative.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage. In 2020 the president publicly acknowledged that between 12 percent and 15 percent of the population (between four and five million persons) lived at or below the poverty level. The law establishes a standard workweek of 40 hours and requires a 24-hour rest period. The law provides for paid annual holidays. The law provides overtime compensation as specified in employment contracts or as agreed with an employee’s trade union. Such compensation may be provided in the form of additional pay or leave. The law states that overtime compensation should not be less than 200 percent of the employee’s average monthly salary rate. Additional leave time should not be less than the length of actual overtime work. An employee may not work more than 120 hours of overtime per year, but this limitation was not generally observed, particularly in the public sector. The law prohibits compulsory overtime. The government effectively enforced these laws in the formal economy. Penalties for violations of wage and overtime laws were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. No data were available on enforcement of these laws in the informal economy.

Occupational Safety and Health: The Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations establishes and enforces occupational health and safety standards in consultation with unions. According to the law, health and safety standards should be applied in all sectors. The government effectively enforced these laws in the formal economy. No data were available on enforcement of these laws in the informal economy. Penalties for violations of occupational health and safety laws were not commensurate with those for crimes, such as negligence.

The law provides that workers may legally remove themselves from hazardous work if an employer fails to provide adequate safety measures for the job, and the employer must pay the employee during the time of the work stoppage or provide severance pay if the employee chooses to terminate employment. Workers generally did not exercise this right because it was not effectively supported, and employees feared retribution by employers. The law requires employers to protect against civil liability for damage caused to the life or health of an employee in connection with a work injury, occupational disease, or other injury to health caused by the employee’s performance on the job. In addition a company’s employees have the right to demand, and the administration is obliged to provide them with, information on the state of working conditions and safety at work, available personal protection means, benefits, and compensations.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations maintains protocols requiring investigation into labor complaints within five business days. The ministry or a local governor’s office could initiate a selective inspection of a business, and special inspections were conducted in response to accidents or complaints. Inspectors do have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Reports suggested that enforcement was uneven because of the difficulty and size of the informal economy, where employment was usually undocumented. Despite an increase in the number of labor inspectors in prior years, the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations lacked adequate staff to enforce compliance and prevent many violations in the informal sector. The most common labor violations were working without contracts, receiving lower than publicly announced payments, delayed payments, and substandard sanitary or hygienic working conditions. The government did not provide statistics on industrial accidents.

Informal Sector: Many employees had official part-time or low-income jobs and many continued to work informally. In April the International Monetary Fund estimated the informal sector employed approximately 40 percent of the workforce and produced one-third of GDP. The government worked to shift more of the economy from informal to the formal economy and to provide labor and social protections to those working informally.

The most common violations committed by private sector employers were violations of wage, overtime, and occupational health and safety standards. Although regulations provide standards for workplace safety, workers reportedly worked without necessary protective clothing and equipment at some hazardous job sites. More specific information was not available on sectors in which occupational safety violations were common, as well as on specific groups of workers who worked in dangerous conditions or without needed safety equipment. In March 2020 the country joined the Commonwealth of Independent States’ Interstate Council for Industrial Safety to improve its industry safety standards.

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