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 and to bargain collectively. The law provides for the right to strike, with restrictions. Antiunion discrimination is illegal, and the law provides for reinstatement for workers dismissed for union activities. Unions must register with the government to obtain official recognition, and the government routinely grants registration. Agreements negotiated by unions also applied to nonunion workers.
Strikes may be called only after eight days’ advance notification and only after mandatory arbitration fails. Public-sector employees’ right to strike could be restricted where the government determines it poses a threat to public safety. The law does not define the essential-services sectors in which strikes are prohibited; however, the armed services are prohibited from unionizing and striking. The law prohibits government action against strikers who abide by the notification and arbitration provisions and excludes no groups from this protection. There are no special laws or exemptions from general labor laws in the country’s two export-processing zones.
The government generally enforced applicable laws. Resources to protect the right to form unions, bargain collectively, and strike were adequate. Penalties for violations of these rights are compensatory, determined on a case-by-case basis, and commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. Administrative and judicial procedures were sometimes delayed.
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not always respected. Some unions were politically active, and the government accused them of siding with opposition parties. The government sometimes restricted strikes.
Employers created and controlled some unions. Although antiunion discrimination is illegal, some trade unionists in both the public and private sectors complained of occasional discrimination, including the blacklisting of union members, unfair dismissals, and threats to workers who unionized. Trade union representatives complained they experienced hurdles accessing educational establishments during their efforts to represent and defend their members’ interests. Labor union leaders reported the majority of labor violations stemmed from illegal dismissals, including of workers on strike, leaving them without social security and insurance benefits.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits and criminalizes human trafficking for the purposes of servitude or slavery. The government enforced the law more actively to combat forced labor of children. Penalties reflect the serious nature of the offense and were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes.
Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. The lack of sufficient vehicles, capacity, and personnel impeded the ability of labor inspectors to investigate allegations of forced labor. Additionally, labor inspectors found it difficult to access family-owned commercial farms and private households due to inadequate roads. The government did not provide training on trafficking in persons to law enforcement officers during the year.
Boys were subject to forced labor as mechanics, as well as in work in handicraft shops and sand quarries. Boys and men were subject to forced labor in agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing, and mining. Girls and women were exploited in domestic servitude, market vending, restaurants, and commercial sexual exploitation. Conditions included very low pay and long hours. Migrants were especially vulnerable to forced labor (see section 7.c.).
Limited reporting suggested that illegal and unregulated foreign fishing trawlers may have engaged in the forced labor of boys. Widespread poverty resulted in the increased risk of exploitation in the country, but the small scale of artisanal fishing suggested that trafficking was limited to foreign fishing operations. The industrial fishing fleet operating in the country’s territorial waters was composed mostly of illegal, primarily Chinese, industrial-scale fish trawlers, with unknown status of workers on board.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
Child labor remained a problem. The law prohibits employment of children younger than 16 without the expressed consent of the Ministry of Employment, Public Function, Labor, and Professional Development; the Ministry of Education; and the Ministry of Health. By law children younger than age 16 may perform light work with parental permission, but the law does not define the activities considered light work, establish a minimum age for light work, or set hour limits. The law provides for penalties commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes but does not cover children in informal employment.
The Ministry of Employment, Public Function, Labor, and Professional Development is responsible for receiving, investigating, and addressing child labor complaints through inspectors. The Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Fight against Child Trafficking is responsible for filing and responding to complaints but was inactive during the year. Children were sometimes subject to forced and exploitive labor in markets, restaurants, and handicraft shops, as well as on farms and in sand quarries. In September the government organized the repatriation of 42 child victims of trafficking to Benin and Togo with the respective governments and the UN International Office of Migration.
Noncitizen children were more likely than were children of citizens to work in informal and illegal sectors of the economy, where laws against child labor were seldom enforced. An unknown number of children, primarily noncitizens, worked in marketplaces or performed domestic labor. Many of these children were the victims of child trafficking (see section 7.b.). According to NGOs, some citizen children, particularly street children, also worked in the informal sector.
Child laborers generally did not attend school, received only limited medical attention, and often experienced exploitation by employers or foster families. To curb the problem, police often fined the parents of children who were not in school. Laws forbidding child labor covered these children, but the abuses often were not reported.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The labor code prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and work conditions based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, disability, national origin or citizenship, or social background. It does not address discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or language. The government did not effectively enforce the law. No specific law requires equal pay for equal work, and women’s pay lagged that of men. Employment discrimination occurred with respect to indigenous persons, persons with disabilities, persons with HIV and AIDS, and LGBTQI+ persons. There were reports of labor exploitation of indigenous persons by their Bantu neighbors, who paid them much less than the minimum wage. Undocumented foreign workers frequently experienced wage discrimination and poor working conditions.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Wage and Hour Laws: The government established a national monthly minimum wage that was above the official poverty line. Authorities did not enforce wage laws adequately, although workers could file suit if they received less than the minimum wage. Labor inspections were infrequent. Minimum wage laws were not enforced in the informal sector, which accounted for the vast majority of workers.
The Ministry of Employment, Public Function, Labor, and Professional Development is responsible for enforcing minimum wage and overtime standards in the formal sector. The labor code stipulates a 40-hour workweek with a minimum rest period of 48 consecutive hours. The law also provides for paid annual holidays. Employers must compensate workers for overtime work as determined by collective agreements or government regulations. By law the daily limit for compulsory overtime may be extended from 30 minutes to two hours to perform specified preparatory or complementary work, such as starting machines in a factory or supervising a workplace. It also may be extended for urgent work to prevent or repair damage from accidents. The daily limit does not apply to establishments in which work is continuous or to establishments providing retail, transport, dock work, hotel and catering services, housekeeping, security services, medical establishments, domestic work, and journalism. Employers generally respected minimum wage standards. Formal-sector employees could submit complaints regarding overtime, and the ministry’s labor inspectors investigated such complaints. The government penalized violations with a range of fines that were commensurate with those for similar crimes.
Occupational Safety and Health: The Ministry of Health establishes occupational safety and health standards. The Ministry of Labor, Public Administration, and Professional Training is responsible for enforcing safety and health standards in the formal sector. Formal-sector employees could submit complaints regarding health and safety standards, and the ministry’s labor inspectors investigated such complaints. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance and COVID-19-mitigation measures further limited enforcement action. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and recommend that sanctions be imposed. The government penalized violations with a range of fines that were commensurate with those for similar crimes. In the formal sector, workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.
The government did not provide data on industrial accidents.
Informal Sector: Significant numbers of persons worked in the informal sector in the country, mainly in the retail and agriculture sectors. The government did not enforce labor code provisions in the informal economy or in sectors where the majority of the labor force was foreign, such as in the mining and timber sectors and domestic work. Employers obliged foreign workers to work under substandard conditions, dismissed them without notice or recourse, and often physically mistreated them. Employers frequently paid noncitizens less than they paid citizens for the same work and required them to work longer hours, often hiring them on a short-term, casual basis to avoid paying taxes, social security contributions, and other benefits.