Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but does not specifically address spousal rape. Prison sentences for rape range from five to 10 years and, although sex crimes are rarely reported due to cultural norms, authorities generally enforced the law. A provision of the penal code allows an adult accused of “corruption of a minor” to avoid prosecution if the accused subsequently marries his or her victim and if the crime did not involve violence, threats, or fraud. The law stipulates sentences of one year to life imprisonment for “anyone who voluntarily causes injury or blows to his or her spouse.” It also introduced penalties for verbal and psychological violence, sexual assault, harassment, and indecent assault.
Domestic violence remains a society-wide problem. The law states that a person claiming domestic abuse must visit a “forensic physician” for an examination to document injuries and that the physician must determine the injuries suffered “incapacitated” the victim for 15 days. The law prescribes up to a 20-year imprisonment for the accused, depending on the severity of injuries. If domestic violence results in death, a judge may impose a life sentence.
For the first quarter of the year, the Ministry for National Solidarity, Family, and Women reported that there were 260 logged cases of violence against women, down from 1,734 cases in 2019. The Minister of Solidarity provides psychological care, guidance, and administrative and legal support through their Social Action and Solidarity Departments (DASS) teams, which are in all the country’s provinces. The National Security General Directorate (DGSN) reported there were 6,121 complaints related to violence against women.
According to statistics from women’s advocacy groups published in the local press, between 100 and 200 women die each year from domestic violence. The government maintained two regional women’s shelters and finished building a third shelter in Annaba, which the government said will be operational by the end of the year. These shelters assisted with 300 cases of violence against women during 2019. The Information and Documentation Center on the Rights of Children and Women, a network of local organizations that promoted the rights of women, managed call centers in 15 provinces.
Femicides Algeria, an advocacy group which tracks and publicizes femicides, reported 38 women have been killed because of their gender in the country since the start of the year.
In April media reported several femicides. In Bouzareah a police officer shot and killed his wife in front of their four children. In Zahana a man threw his wife from the window of their second-floor apartment. In Relizane a 25-year-old man stabbed his mother. The women died in these three cases and police arrested the perpetrators. Their cases are still pending.
In October a 19-year-old woman, Chaima Sadou, was kidnapped, raped, and murdered. Authorities arrested a suspect, who confessed to killing Sadou. The suspect previously served three years in prison after authorities convicted him for sexually assaulting and stalking Sadou when she was 15 years old. Sadou’s remains were burned beyond recognition.
During the year a women’s advocacy group, the Wassila Network, received 200 cases of domestic violence. The Wassila Network stated information on domestic violence remains sparse and public authorities have not provided exact statistics on violence against women since 2012. The Wassila Network noted this number is a fraction of actual cases since victims of domestic violence rarely report the abuse to authorities and because of a forgiveness clause provided in the legal code. The clause stipulates that, if the victim forgives his or her aggressor, legal action ceases. The Wassila Network described situations in which a victim goes to police to report a domestic violence incident and family members convince the victim to forgive the aggressor, resulting in no charges.
The Wassila Network reported 16 femicides during the COVID-19 lockdown. According to the NGO, the figure is likely much higher, since many cases are not reported. Women’s groups expressed concerns about the consequences of the lockdown. NGO Femmes Algeriennes vers un Changement pour l’Egalite (FACE) issued a statement highlighting the increase of violence against women within the home. FACE called for authorities to implement emergency measures to protect women from violence.
Two women’s rights activists, Wiam Arras and Narimene Mouaci, launched a Facebook initiative called “Feminicides Algerie” to track femicide in the country. As of August 18, they documented 36 cases of femicide. The initiative’s goal is to publicize the extent of violence against women, specifically violence resulting in death. They began their publicity initiative in 2019, after seeing the discrepancy between official statistics and NGO statistics, the latter of which were almost double that of the authorities.
Women’s rights NGOs maintained call centers and counseling sessions throughout the COVID-19 lockdown. The Wassila Network, which usually averages between 20 calls a week, received an average of 70 calls per week since the COVID-19 lockdown began in March.
The law provides for sentences of one to 20 years’ imprisonment for domestic violence and six months to two years’ incarceration for men who withhold property or financial resources from their spouses.
In 2018 the Ministry for National Solidarity, Family, and Women and UN Women launched an administrative database, named AMANE, to collect information on violence against women. UN Women is using the information collected to assist the government in developing targeted programs to support and protect women in vulnerable situations, including violence, as part of one of its programs funded by the Belgian government. The government reported it uses the data to identify patterns of violence against women, specifically collecting data on family situations, types of violence, and relationship to the perpetrators. The 2019 AMANE data showed women aged 36-50 represent 47 percent of reported cases; women aged 19-35 represent 30 percent of cases; and the most frequent perpetrators are women’s husbands.
Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C): This was not generally practiced in the country but was widely present among immigrant communities in southern sectors, particularly among Sub-Saharan African migrant groups. While this abuse is considered a criminal offense punishable by up to 25 years in prison, there were no reports of any related convictions, nor any official pronouncements by religious or secular leaders proscribing the practice.
Sexual Harassment: The punishment for sexual harassment is one to two years’ imprisonment and a fine; the punishment doubles for a second offense. Women’s groups said that most reported cases of harassment occurred in the workplace.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, timing, and spacing of their children; have the right to manage their reproductive health; and had access to the information and means to do so. Societal and family pressure restricted women from making independent decisions about their health and reproductive rights.
Conservative elements of society challenged the government’s family planning program, including the provision of free contraception. A 2018 Oran hospital survey showed that a husband’s prohibition or religious disapproval influenced women’s contraceptive practices. Married and unmarried women had access to contraceptives, although some clinics required a prescription before dispensing birth control pills to unmarried women. A doctor in Oran said anecdotally that her colleagues more frequently questioned young women’s motives for seeking birth control, compared to past practice. Women did not need permission to obtain birth control pills, but doctors required permission of the partner for women who sought tubal ligation.
Civil society organizations such as the Wassila Network coordinated medical, psychological, and legal support to victims of sexual violence.
According to World Health Organization (WHO) data, the maternal mortality rate gradually dropped from 179 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1998 to 112 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017 (the most recent available annual data). The WHO attributed the decline to increased medical training, investments in health care, and specific government initiatives aimed at reducing maternal deaths. A 2018 study by a prominent women’s group found that 75 percent of women who used nonbarrier birth control opted for the birth control pill, while 11 percent opted for an intrauterine device. These figures coincided with the United Nations Population Fund’s most recent data.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for gender equality, aspects of the law and traditional social practices discriminated against women. In addition some religious elements advocated restrictions on women’s behavior, including freedom of movement. The law prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims, although authorities did not always enforce this provision.
Women may seek divorce for irreconcilable differences and violation of a prenuptial agreement. In a divorce the law provides for the wife to retain the family’s home until the children reach age 18. Authorities normally awarded custody of children to the mother, but she may not make decisions about education or take the children out of the country without the father’s authorization. The government provided a subsidy for divorced women whose former husbands failed to make child support payments.
The law affirms the religiously based practice of allowing a man to marry as many as four wives. The law permits polygamy only upon the agreement of the previous and future wife, and the determination of a judge as to the husband’s financial ability to support an additional wife. It was unclear whether authorities followed the law in all cases since local authorities had significant discretion and the government did not maintain nationwide statistics.
Women suffered from discrimination in inheritance claims and were entitled to a smaller portion of an estate than male children or a deceased husband’s brothers. Women did not often have exclusive control over assets that they brought to a marriage or that they earned.
Women may own businesses, enter into contracts, and pursue careers similar to those of men. Women enjoyed rights equal to those of men concerning property ownership, and property titles listed female landowners’ names.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The constitution allows workers to join and form unions of their choice, provided they are citizens. The country has ratified the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining but failed to enact legislation needed to implement these conventions fully.
The law requires that workers obtain government approval to form a union, and the Ministry of Labor must approve or disapprove a union application within 30 days. To form a union, an applicant must be Algerian by birth or have held Algerian nationality for 10 years. The law also provides for the creation of independent unions, although the union’s membership must account for at least 20 percent of an enterprise’s workforce. Unions have the right to form and join federations or confederations, and the government recognized four confederations. Unions may recruit members at the workplace. The law prohibits discrimination by employers against union members and organizers and provides mechanisms for resolving trade union complaints of employers’ antiunion practices.
The law permits unions to affiliate with international labor bodies and develop relations with foreign labor groups. For example the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA), which represented most public-sector workers, is an affiliate of the International Trade Union Confederation. Nevertheless, the law prohibits unions from associating with political parties and receiving funds from foreign sources. The courts are empowered to dissolve unions that engage in illegal activities. The government may invalidate a union’s legal status if authorities perceive its objectives to be contrary to the established institutional system, public order, good morals, law, or regulations in force.
The law provides for collective bargaining by all unions, and the government permitted the exercise of this right for authorized unions. Nevertheless, the UGTA remained the only union authorized to negotiate collective bargaining agreements during the annual tripartite meeting. Other authorized unions can bargain with specific ministries but are excluded from the tripartite meeting.
The law provides for the right to conduct legal strikes, and workers exercised this right, subject to conditions. Striking requires a secret ballot of the whole workforce. The decision to strike must be approved by majority vote of workers at a general meeting. The government may restrict strikes on a number of grounds, including economic crisis, obstruction of public services, or the possibility of subversive actions. Furthermore all public demonstrations, including protests and strikes, must receive prior government authorization. By law workers may strike only after 14 days of mandatory conciliation or mediation. The government occasionally offered to mediate disputes. The law states that decisions reached in mediation are binding on both parties. If mediation does not lead to an agreement, workers may strike legally after they vote by secret ballot to do so. The law requires that a minimum level of essential public services must be maintained during public-sector service strikes, and the government has broad legal authority to requisition public employees. The list of essential services included banking, radio, and television. Penalties for unlawful work stoppages range from eight days to two months’ imprisonment. The law protects union members from discrimination or dismissal based on their union activities. Penalties for abusing union members’ rights are not sufficient to deter abuses. The law says any firing or other employment action based on discrimination against union members is invalid. The government did not effectively enforce these laws.
The government affirmed there were 91 registered trade unions and 47 employers’ organizations, the same number as reported in 2019. The government registered 11 new trade unions between January and September. Many trade unions remained unrecognized by the government; they identified delayed processing and administrative hurdles as the primary obstacles to establishing legal status. The ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations reiterated in 2017 that the lengthy registration process seriously impedes the establishment of new unions.
Attempts by new unions to form federations or confederations suffered similar challenges. Representatives of the National Autonomous Union for Public Administration Personnel (SNAPAP) stated that the union continued to function without official status.
The government continued to deny recognition to the General Autonomous Confederation of Workers in Algeria (CGATA), an independent trade union confederation that includes public and economic sector unions and committees. CGATA membership included workers from unions representing government administrators, diplomatic personnel, state electricity and gas employees, university professors, public transport and postal workers, and lawyers. The confederation also included migrants working in the country. In December 2019 authorities shut down CGATA’s offices and authorities arrested and jailed an executive member of CGATA, Kaddour Chouicha. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) called for Chouicha’s immediate release, and described his arrest as “a flagrant violation of Algeria’s obligations to respect freedom of association,” and “a deeply troubling indictment of those in power.”
SNAPAP and other independent unions faced government interference throughout the year, including official obstruction of general assembly meetings and police harassment during sit-in protests. Furthermore, the government restricted union activities and the formation of independent unions in certain critical public services sectors, such as oil and gas and telecommunications. The International Trade Union Confederation reported that judicial abuse of trade union leaders had intensified.
On August 11, Numilog company, a subsidiary of Cevital, laid off 196 workers at its facility in Bejaia. The workers were the target of dismissal decisions following a series of cyclical three-day strikes during which they demanded the right to join a trade union.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. NGOs reported that irregular migrants sometimes worked in forced labor and that their lack of work permits made them more vulnerable to exploitation. For example, female migrants were subjected to debt bondage as they worked to repay smuggling debts through domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced prostitution. Designated penalties under this statute were not commensurate with penalties for kidnapping. Construction workers and domestic workers were reportedly vulnerable. The government did not effectively enforce the law.
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 employment by minors in dangerous, unhealthy, or harmful work or in work considered inappropriate because of social and religious considerations, yet the country has not determined by national law or regulation the types of work that are hazardous for children. The country does not bar all of the worst forms of child labor. Under the law there is no legislative provision prohibiting the use, procuring, or offering of a child under 18 years of age for the production and trafficking of drugs. The minimum legal age for employment is 16, but younger children may work as apprentices with permission from their parents or legal guardian. The law prohibits workers younger than 19 from working at night. The ILO noted, however, that the country’s standard of “night” for children is only eight hours, less than the 11 hours recommended by the ILO.
Although specific data was unavailable, children reportedly worked mostly in the informal sales market, often in family businesses. There were isolated reports that children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation.
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and refers violators to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution. There is no single office charged with this task, but all labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing laws regarding child labor. The Ministry of Labor conducted inspections and, in some cases, investigated companies suspected of hiring underage workers. The ministry’s Labor Inspector Service in 2019 conducted 124,698 inspections and reported 10 children were found working illegally. The Ministry of Labor attributed the low figure to the fact that most children work in the informal economy, and inspections are limited to registered businesses. The law for the protection of the child criminalizes anyone who economically exploits a child, but the penalties are neither sufficiently stringent nor commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes. Monitoring and enforcement practices for child labor were ineffective and hampered by an insufficient number of inspectors to examine the formal and informal economy.
The Ministry of National Solidarity, Family, and Women leads a national committee composed of 12 ministries and NGOs that meets yearly to discuss child labor issues. The committee was empowered to propose measures and laws to address child labor as well as conduct awareness campaigns.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment, salary, and work environment based on age, gender, social and marital status, family links, political conviction, disability, national origin, and affiliation with a union. The law restricts women from working during certain hours of the day, and does not permit women to work in jobs deemed arduous. In addition to the legislative provisions in force, employers must ensure that the work entrusted to women, minors, and persons with disabilities does not “require an effort exceeding their strength.”
Women reported facing employment discrimination with job offers being extended to less qualified male applicants. Although the law states women should receive a salary equal to men, leaders of women’s organizations reported that discrimination was common, and women were less likely to receive equal pay for equal work or promotions, particularly in the private sector.
Few businesses abided by the law requiring that they reserve 1 percent of jobs for persons with disabilities. NGOs reported that the government did not enforce payment of fines for failing to abide by the law. The government usually highlights its efforts in March to coincide with the National Day of the Disabled. The ministry, however, reported it had increased efforts to enforce the 1-percent quota during the year. From January 2019 to September 2019, the Ministry of Labor audited 160,218 organizations and found that 2,389 companies did not respect the 1-percent quota.
The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination with respect to employment based on sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, or religion. The government did not adequately enforce the law, since discrimination reportedly existed, specifically against migrant workers in the informal economy who lacked a legal means to address unfair working conditions. Particularly vulnerable were women, girls, and young men from sub-Saharan Africa who were lured into the country to accept jobs in restaurants and hair salons, but were forced to work in prostitution or engage in other forced labor conditions. The recent roundups and expulsions mark the sharpest spike in these operations since the start of the pandemic in March.
On August 9, President Tebboune directed authorities to monitor and assess foreign traders and their activities, specifically targeting refugees’ activities.
Men held a large percentage of positions of authority in government and the private sector. NGOs reported instances in which unaccompanied migrant female youth were exploited as domestic workers and were known to be loaned out to families for extended periods to work in homes or exploited as prostitutes.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
A tripartite social pact among business, government, and the official union established a national, monthly minimum wage which is above the poverty income level. In June President Tebboune directed the Ministry of Labor to increase minimum wage from 18,000 to 20,000 Algerian dinars ($140-$155) per month. He also eliminated tax obligations for low-income workers.
The standard workweek was 40 hours, including one hour for lunch per day. Half of the lunch hour is considered compensated working time. Employees who worked longer than the standard workweek received premium pay on a sliding scale from time-and-a-half to double time, depending on whether the overtime occurred on a normal workday, a weekend, or a holiday.
The law contains occupational health and safety standards that were not fully enforced. There were no known reports of workers dismissed for removing themselves from hazardous working conditions. If workers face such conditions, they may renegotiate their contract or, failing that, resort to the courts. While this legal mechanism exists, the high demand for employment in the country gave an advantage to employers seeking to exploit employees. Labor standards do not formally allow refugee employment or adequately cover migrant laborers; therefore, many economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere who worked in the informal sector, primarily in construction and as domestic workers, were at risk of labor exploitation due to their lack of legal status.
The government requires employers to declare their employees to the Ministry of Labor and to pay social security benefits. Penalties for noncompliance are insufficient to deter abuses. The government allowed undeclared workers to gain credit for social security and retirement benefits for time spent in the informal economy if they repay any taxes owed after registering. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Labor Ministry did not employ sufficient inspectors to deter abuses.
On March 22, the government placed 50 percent of its civil servants and private workers on mandatory leave, with full compensation, in accordance with COVID-19 lockdown measures.
The government prioritized pregnant women and women raising children, as well as individuals with chronic illnesses and those with health vulnerabilities, for exceptional leave. On March 24, authorities extended exceptional leave to the private sector.
On August 2, the government enacted a law intended to protect health-care workers following an increase in “physical and verbal attacks” during the COVID-19 pandemic. The law also sanctions acts of violence against public assets and medical equipment, with the maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Although prohibited by law, rape of men or women, including spousal rape, remained a serious problem. The law provides for sentences ranging from eight to 30 years’ imprisonment for violent sexual assault. For acts of spousal sexual violence, the law mandates prison sentences of six months to two years. By law femicide is punishable with penalties of 21 to 50 years in prison, longer than the minimum sentence of 13 years for homicide.
Violence against women, as well as impunity for perpetrators, continued to be a problem. Members of illegal armed groups continued to rape and abuse women and children sexually. Family-violence hotlines reported a 160 percent increase in calls during the COVID-19 national quarantine.
The government continued to employ the Elite Sexual Assault Investigative Unit interagency unit in Bogota, which was dedicated to the investigation of sexual assault cases. From January through July, the Attorney General’s Office opened 58,000 investigations into domestic violence, with women identified as the victim in 39,000 of those investigations.
The law requires the government to provide victims of domestic violence immediate protection from further physical or psychological abuse.
The Ministry of Defense continued implementing its protocol for managing cases of sexual violence and harassment involving members of the military. The district secretary of women in Bogota and the Ombudsman’s Office offered free legal aid for victims of gender violence and organized courses to teach officials how to treat survivors of gender violence respectfully.
The law augments both imprisonment and fines if a crime causes “transitory or permanent physical disfigurement,” such as acid attacks, which have a penalty of up to 50 years in prison.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, but isolated incidents were reported in several indigenous communities in different parts of the country. Two-thirds of women from the Embera community had undergone FGM/C, according to the UN Population Fund.
Sexual Harassment: The law provides measures to deter and punish harassment in the workplace, such as sexual harassment, verbal abuse or derision, aggression, and discrimination, which carries a penalty of one to three years’ imprisonment. Nonetheless, NGOs reported sexual harassment remained a pervasive and underreported problem in workplaces and in public.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Contraception was widely available. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive services for survivors of sexual violence, including survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.
The law criminalizes abortion except in cases of rape, danger to the life of the mother, or serious health problems of the fetus.
Coercion in Population Control: Coerced abortion is not permitted under the law, and there were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The law, however, allows the involuntary surgical sterilization of children with cognitive and psychosocial disabilities in certain cases.
Through August 31, the Attorney General’s Office reported opening five investigations related to cases of forced abortion.
Discrimination: Although women have the same legal rights as men, discrimination against women persisted. The Office of the Advisor for the Equality of Women has primary responsibility for combating discrimination against women, but advocacy groups reported that the office remained seriously underfunded. The government continued its national public policy for gender equity.
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, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, and it prohibits antiunion discrimination. Members of associated workers’ cooperatives are not allowed to form unions, since the law recognizes members of a cooperative as owners. The law prohibits members of the armed forces and police from forming or joining unions. The law provides for automatic recognition of unions that obtain 25 signatures from potential members and that comply with a registration process. Public-sector employees have the right to bargain collectively. The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and collective bargaining in practice.
The law permits associated workers’ cooperatives (CTAs), collective pacts, and union contracts. Under collective pacts, employers may negotiate accords on pay and labor conditions with workers in workplaces where no union is present or where a union represents less than one-third of employees. Law and regulations prohibit the use of CTAs and collective pacts to undermine the right to organize and bargain collectively, including by extending better conditions to nonunion workers through such pacts. Through a union contract, a company may contract a union, at times formed explicitly for this purpose, for a specific job or work; the union then in essence serves as an employer for its members. Workers who belong to a union that has a union contract with a company do not have a direct employment relationship with either the company or the union. Labor disputes for workers under a union contract may be decided through an arbitration panel versus labor courts if both parties agree.
The law does not permit members of the armed forces, police, and persons performing “essential public services” to strike. Before conducting a strike, unions must follow prescribed legal procedures, including entering into a conversation period with the employer, presenting a list of demands, and gaining majority approval in the union for a strike. The law limits strikes to periods of contract negotiations or collective bargaining and allows employers to fire trade unionists who participate in strikes or work stoppages ruled illegal by the courts.
The government has the authority to fine labor rights violators. The law stipulates that offenders repeatedly misusing CTAs or other labor relationships shall receive the maximum penalty and may be subject to losing their legal status to operate. Employers who engage in antiunion practices may also be imprisoned for up to five years, although government officials acknowledged a fine was more likely than imprisonment. Prohibited practices include impeding workers’ right to strike, meet, or otherwise associate, and extending better conditions to members of collective pacts than to union members. The penalties under the law, which are commensurate with those prescribed for other violations regarding denials of civil rights such as discrimination, would be sufficient to deter violations but were not levied consistently.
Government enforcement of applicable laws was inconsistent. Despite steps by the Ministry of Labor to strengthen its labor law inspection system, the government did not establish a consistent national strategy to protect the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. The government did not have in place a system to ensure timely and regular collection of fines related to these protections. Structural challenges adversely affected prosecutions, which resulted in a continued high rate of impunity for violators of these rights, including in cases of threats and violence against unionists.
In March and April, the Ministry of Labor passed multiple resolutions requiring the Vice Ministry of Labor Relations and Inspections and other labor law enforcement agencies to comply with national mandates aiming to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as to ensure proper oversight of petitions stemming from the labor and employment impacts of the pandemic and national lockdown. These resolutions stipulated that the labor inspectorate suspend activities entailing physical contact with parties during the national health emergency, including field-based inspections and activities of the mobile inspection units as well as hearings related to the conciliation of labor conflicts, with exceptions as determined by regional- and national-level officials. The resolutions also suspended the labor inspectorate’s review and adjudication of labor complaints, including conducting investigations and adjudicating fines and appeals, for violations not directly related to the pandemic, including illegal labor intermediation (abusive subcontracting) and freedom of association violations.
Excepted from these measures were COVID-19-related priorities such as Ministry of Labor outreach on labor law compliance, including on occupational safety and health issues, as well as administrative actions related to petitions regarding layoffs and furloughs stemming from the pandemic and lockdown. The measures established that because furloughs and layoffs had a national economic and social impact, all petitions, including those filed with the ministry’s regional offices, were centralized and handled by the ministry’s Special Investigations Unit for rigorous oversight (see section 7.e.). This unit, which is part of the labor inspectorate, has the power to investigate and impose sanctions in any jurisdiction. Under normal circumstances, the vice minister of labor relations and inspections decides on a case-by-case basis whether to assign the unit or the regional inspectors to investigate a particular worksite or review a particular case. Prior to the onset of COVID-19, the unit was reportedly overburdened with cases, resulting in denials of union requests for review. In September the Ministry of Labor passed a resolution lifting the suspension of the review and adjudication of non-COVID-19-related labor cases.
As part of its commitments under the 2011 labor action plan, the government continued to take steps to protect internationally recognized labor rights. Inspections by the Ministry of Labor for abusive subcontracting in the five priority sectors of palm oil, sugar, ports, mines, and cut flowers were, however, infrequent, prior to the COVID-19-related suspension of inspections. Critics claimed inspections lacked necessary rigor, assessed fines were not collected, and abusive subcontracting continued. Prior to the onset of COVID-19, it was unclear whether there were any new fines assessed for abusive subcontracting or for abuse of freedom of association in any of the five priority sectors. The government continued to engage in regular meetings with unions and civil society groups on these and related issues.
The Ministry of Labor, in collaboration with the International Labor Organization (ILO), continued to train labor inspectors through a virtual training campus to prepare labor inspectors to identify abusive subcontracting and antiunion conduct, among other violations. It also implemented methods, including contract and process maps, as strategic planning tools to prioritize interventions. The ministry continued to employ a telephone- and internet-based complaint mechanism to report alleged labor violations. Union members complained that the systems did not allow citizens to register anonymous complaints and noted that complaints registered through the telephone and internet systems did not result in action.
The Ministry of Labor leads a tripartite Interinstitutional Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Human Rights of Workers, with participation by the government, organized labor groups, and the business community. As of August the commission met virtually two times during the year, once in Bogota and once in Pasto.
Judicial police, the Technical Investigation Body, and prosecutors investigating criminal cases of threats and killings are required to determine during the initial phase of an investigation whether a victim is an active or retired union member or is actively engaged in union formation and organization, but it was unclear whether they did so. It could take several months to transfer cases from regional field offices of the Attorney General’s Office to the Attorney General’s Human Rights Directorate, and cases are transferred only with the approval of the attorney general in response to direct requests, instead of automatically.
The government continued to include in its protection program labor activists engaged in efforts to form a union, as well as former unionists under threat because of their past activities. As of August the NPU was providing protection to 301 trade union leaders or members. Less than 1 percent of the NPU’s budget was dedicated to unionist protection as of August. Between January 1 and July 31, the NPU processed 193 risk assessments of union leaders or members; 150 of those individuals were assessed as facing an “extraordinary threat,” and the NPU provided them protection measures. The NPU reported that the average time needed to implement protection measures upon completion of a risk analysis was 60 days in regular cases or five days for emergency cases. NGOs complained that this length of time left threatened unionists in jeopardy.
The protection and relocation of teachers falls under the Ministry of National Education and the departmental education secretaries, but the NPU retains some responsibilities for the risk analysis and protection of family members. According to the Attorney General’s Office, through July 31, one unionized teacher was registered as a victim of homicide.
In cases of unionist killings from previous years, the pace of investigations and convictions remained slow, and high rates of impunity continued, although progress was made in the rate of case resolution. The Attorney General’s Office reported receiving 217 cases of homicides of unionists between January 2011 and July 2020. Whereas between January 2011 and August 2016, there were 20 sentences for homicides issued, between September 2016 and July 2020, an “elite group” working under a national strategy to prioritize cases of homicides against unionists reached 40 sentences. Labor groups stated more needed to be done to address impunity for perpetrators of violence against trade unionists and the large number of threat cases.
The Attorney General’s Office reported the killing of eight trade unionists through July. In 2019 the Attorney General’s Office reported 10 trade unionists killed, down from 24 in 2018. The National Union School (ENS), a labor rights NGO and think tank, reported 14 trade unionists were killed through August. The ENS and other labor groups stated that focusing on killings alone masked the true nature and scope of the violence against labor activists. Labor groups noted that in some regions, nonlethal violations continued to increase. Through August the ENS reported 38 death threats, nine nonlethal attacks, one case of forced disappearance, and seven cases of harassment.
Violence, threats, harassment, and other practices against trade unionists continued to affect the exercise of the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
Unions cited multiple instances in which companies fired employees who formed or sought to form new unions. Some employers continued to use temporary contracts, service agencies, and other forms of subcontracting, including cooperatives, to limit worker rights and protections. Fines assessed by the government did little to dissuade violators because fines were often not collected. The government continued to reach formalization agreements with firms engaged in abusive subcontracting or that had labor conflict during the year. In the first two months of the year, prior to the onset of COVID-19 and the related suspension of administrative actions by the Ministry of Labor, the Vice Ministry of Labor Relations and Inspections reported 62 workers benefited from six formalization agreements that the Ministry of Labor reached with employers in key sectors, including commerce, agriculture, health, and transport. During this time, however, there were no formalization agreements reached in any of the five priority sectors. Labor rights groups expressed concern that previously signed formalization agreements were not sufficiently monitored by the ministry.
Labor confederations and NGOs reported that business owners in several sectors used “simplified stock corporations” (SAS), union contracts, foundations, or temporary-service agencies in attempts to circumvent legal restrictions on cooperatives. While in theory SAS workers may exercise their right to organize and bargain collectively with SAS management, it appeared that in some cases the SAS had little or no control over the conditions of employment. The Ministry of Labor stated that a SAS, like any corporate structure, may be fined for labor violations. Labor confederations and NGOs reported these enforcement actions did not address the scope of abusive subcontracting and illegal labor intermediation in the country.
The port workers’ labor union reported Buenaventura port operators engaged in abusive subcontracting through SAS and that Ministry of Labor inspections and adjudication of cases at the Buenaventura port were ineffective in safeguarding the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law in all cases, and there were reports that such practices occurred. The law prescribes punishments sufficient to deter violations. The ILO noted the law permits military conscripts to be compelled to undertake work beyond that of a military nature, such as activities designed to protect the environment or natural resources.
There were reports ELN guerrillas and organized-crime gangs used forced labor, including forced child labor, in coca cultivation and illegal mining in areas outside government control as well as forced criminality, such as extortion, in urban areas. The ICBF indicated that between November 16, 1999, and July 31, 2019, the number of children and adolescents who had demobilized from illegal armed groups was 6,860, of whom 11 percent were indigenous and 8 percent Afro-Colombian.
Forced labor in other sectors, including organized panhandling, mining, agriculture (especially near the coffee belt), cattle herding, crop harvesting, forced recruitment by illegal armed actors, and domestic service, remained a serious problem. Afro-Colombians, indigenous persons, Venezuelan migrants, and inhabitants of marginalized urban areas were at the highest risk of forced labor, domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced recruitment. Authorities did not make efforts to investigate cases or increase inspections of forced labor, and officials did not have a protocol to connect labor inspectors with police or to provide guidance for front-line personnel on indicators of forced labor. This resulted in impunity for forced labor and unidentified victims without protection in critical sectors, such as floriculture, coffee production, and extractive industries.
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 sets the minimum age for employment at 15 and for hazardous work at 18. Children ages 15 and 16 years may work no more than 30 hours per week, and children age 17 may work no more than 40 hours per week. Children younger than 15 may work in arts, sports, or recreational or cultural activities for a maximum of 14 hours per week. In all these cases, working children and adolescents must have signed documentation filed by their parents and be approved by a labor inspector or other local authority.
The law prohibits child workers from working at night or where there is a risk of bodily harm or exposure to excessive heat, cold, or noise. The law authorizes inspectors to issue fines that would be sufficient to deter violations, but the government did not enforce the law effectively in all cases. A violation deemed to endanger a child’s life or threaten moral values may be punished by temporary or permanent closure of the establishment. Nationwide, labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing child labor laws and supervising the formal sector through periodic inspections. An estimated 80 percent of all child labor, however, occurred in the informal sector of the economy. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law effectively.
Government agencies carried out several activities to eradicate and prevent exploitative child labor. Prior to the COVID-19-related suspension of labor inspections in March, the Ministry of Labor conducted 215 worksite inspections to ensure that adolescent workers were employed with proper authorization and received proper protections. Through these inspections, 17 authorizations were revoked for noncompliance. With ILO assistance the government continued to improve cooperation among national, regional, and municipal governments on child labor problems. It also continued to employ a monitoring system to register working children, although the system was not always regularly updated. The government also sought to reduce demand for child labor through public awareness and training efforts, often working with international and civil society organizations.
The government, through the Ministry of Labor, followed the National Policy to Prevent and Eliminate Child Labor and Protect the Young Worker. It also continued its roundtable discussion group, which included government representatives, members of the three largest labor confederations, and civil society. The group concentrated its efforts on formalizing an integrated registration system for information on child labor that would permit public and private entities to register information about child workers.
The government, including through a cooperative agreement between the Ministry of Mines and Energy and the ICBF, continued to combat illegal mining and formalize artisanal mining production, with goals including the elimination of child labor and forced labor. Regional ICBF offices led efforts to combat child labor in mining at the local level, working with the Ministry of Labor and other government agencies to coordinate responses. The Department for Social Prosperity continued to implement the More Families in Action Program to combat poverty through conditional cash transfers, which included a specific focus on addressing child labor. In interagency child labor meetings, the Ministry of Labor reported that whichever government presence was available in the area–whether police, the ICBF, teachers, or the Administrative Department for Social Prosperity–attended to children found working in illegal mining operations. While all agencies had directives on how to handle and report child labor cases, it was unclear whether all cases were referred to the ICBF.
The ICBF continued to implement several initiatives aimed at preventing child labor, including producing an extensive section of its website designed specifically for young audiences to educate children on child labor, their rights, and how to report child labor. The Ministry of Labor continued its work with the Network against Child Labor in which the ministry operated alongside member businesses that pledged to work within the network to prevent and eradicate child labor.
Child labor remained a problem in the informal and illicit sectors. The National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) collected and published information on the economic activities of children between the ages of five and 17 through a module in its Comprehensive Household Economic Survey during the fourth quarter of each calendar year. According to DANE’s most recent survey, conducted in 2019, 5.4 percent of children were working, with 42 percent of those engaged in agriculture, livestock raising, fishing, and hunting, and 30 percent in commerce, hotels, and restaurant work. To a lesser extent, children were engaged in the manufacturing and transport sectors. Children also routinely performed domestic work, where they cared for children, prepared meals, tended gardens, and carried out shopping duties. DANE reported that 46 percent of children who were engaged in an employment relationship did not receive remuneration.
Significant rates of child labor occurred in the production of clay bricks, coal, coffee, emeralds, gold, grapes, coca, pome and stone fruits, pornography, and sugarcane. Forced child labor was prevalent in the production of coca. Children were also engaged in street vending, domestic work, begging, and garbage scavenging. There were reports that children engaged in child labor in agriculture, including coffee production and small family production centers in the unrefined brown sugar market. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children). Penalties for crimes related to the worst forms of child labor were commensurate with penalties in law for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
Prohibitions against children working in mining and construction were reportedly largely ignored. Some educational institutions modify schedules during harvest seasons so that children may help on the family farm. Children worked in the artisanal mining of coal, clay, emeralds, and gold under dangerous conditions and in many instances with the approval or insistence of their parents. The government’s efforts to assist children working in illegal mining focused on the departments of Amazonas, Antioquia, Bolivar, Boyaca, Caldas, Cauca, Cesar, Choco, Cordoba, Cundinamarca, La Guajira, Narino, Norte de Santander, and Valle del Cauca.
There continued to be instances of child trafficking with the purpose of forced labor in informal mines and quarries, and in private homes. According to government officials and international organizations, illegal drug traders and other illicit actors recruited children, sometimes forcibly, to work in their illegal activities. The ELN and organized crime gangs forced children into sexual servitude or criminality to serve as combatants or to harvest coca (see section 1.g.). Children working in the informal sector, including as street vendors, were also vulnerable to forced labor. The ICBF identified children and adolescents who qualified for and received social services.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on race, ethnicity, sex, religion, political preference, national origin or citizenship, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or infection with other communicable diseases, or social status. Complaints of quid pro quo sexual harassment are filed not with the Ministry of Labor but with the criminal courts. There are legal restrictions against women being in employed in the construction section. The government did not effectively enforce the law in all cases. Penalties were not commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.
Unemployment disproportionately affected women, who faced hiring discrimination and received salaries that generally were not commensurate with their education and experience. Media reported that on average women earned 12 percent less than men for the same work. In a previous year, a senior government official estimated that 85 percent of persons with disabilities were unemployed. Afro-Colombian labor unions reported discrimination in the port sector.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The legal minimum monthly wage is approximately twice the amount of the poverty line; however, almost one-half of the total workforce earned less than the minimum wage.
The law provides for a regular workweek of 48 hours and a minimum rest period of eight hours within the week. Exceptions to this may be granted by the Ministry of Labor and were frequently granted in the mining sector. The law stipulates that workers receive premium compensation for nighttime work, hours worked in excess of 48 per week, and work performed on Sundays. The law permits compulsory overtime only in exceptional cases where the work is considered essential for the company’s functioning.
The law provides for workers’ occupational safety and health (OSH) in the formal sector. The legal standards were generally up to date and appropriate for the main formal industries. The government did not effectively enforce OSH laws in all cases. The law does not cover informal-sector workers, including many mining and agricultural workers. In general the law protects workers’ rights to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, although some violations of this right were reported during the year. In cases of formal grievances, authorities generally protected employees in this situation.
The Ministry of Labor is required to enforce labor laws in the formal sector, including OSH regulations, through periodic inspections by labor inspectors. Inspectors have the authority to perform unannounced inspections and may also initiate sanction procedures, including after opening investigations. The number of inspectors during the year was approximately the same as in 2019 and was insufficient to enforce the law effectively. The Ministry of Labor reported that as of January, 211 inspectors were in provisional status. Individual labor violations can result in penalties insufficient to deter violations. Unionists stated that more fines needed to be collected to impact occupational safety and health problems.
While the government’s labor inspectors undertook administrative actions to enforce the minimum wage in the formal sector, the government did not effectively enforce the law in the informal sector.
The government continued to promote formal employment generation. Eligibility to enroll and pay into the traditional social security system, which includes health and pension plans, is conditioned on earning the legal minimum monthly wage. In August the Ministry of Labor issued a decree implementing a National Development Plan, allowing those that earn less than the legal minimum monthly wage, often because of part-time, informal, or own-account work, to contribute to a new, parallel “social protection floor” system that includes a subsidized health plan and retirement savings plan. While employer abuse of this new system is prohibited, labor unions complained it opens the door for employers to move full-time workers into part-time positions to take advantage of the new system and announced they would legally challenge the measure.
DANE reported that in February, prior to the onset of COVID-19, 50.4 percent of workers employed in 13 principal cities and metropolitan areas were paying into the pension system. The proportion of informal workers in 23 cities and metropolitan areas surveyed was 47.9 percent, according to DANE. In February, DANE reported the national unemployment rate was 12.2 percent. The government continued to support complementary social security programs to increase the employability of extremely poor individuals, displaced persons, and the elderly. The economic impacts related to COVID-19 were significant. DANE reported that the national unemployment rate reached 19.8 percent in June, down from 21.4 percent in May, with the rate reaching 24.9 percent in the country’s 13 principal cities and metropolitan areas.
The Ministry of Labor reported being inundated with cases related to the labor and employment impacts of COVID-19. In May the ministry reported 3,271 requests from employers for permissions to lay off or furlough workers and 3,510 labor complaints related to such actions taken by employers. Labor unions, NGOs, and workers’ organizations alleged a range of labor abuses related to the fulfillment of labor contracts during the pandemic, including employers forcing workers to sign unpaid leaves of absence in lieu of authorized furloughs, dismissals without severance pay, salary reductions under threats of dismissal, and the imposition of part-time, temporary, or hourly work with negative consequences for workers’ entitlement to social security benefits. In April the Minister of Labor reported opening 2,413 investigations into these and other practices.
Nonunion workers, particularly those in the agricultural and port sectors, reportedly worked under hazardous conditions because they feared losing their jobs through subcontracting mechanisms or informal arrangements if they reported abuses. Some unionized workers who alleged they suffered on-the-job injuries complained that companies illegally fired them in retaliation for filing workers compensation claims. Only the courts may order reinstatement, and workers complained the courts were backlogged, slow, and corrupt. The Ministry of Labor may sanction a company found to have broken the law in this way, but it may offer no other guarantees to workers.
Security forces reported that illegal armed actors, including FARC dissidents, the ELN, and organized-crime groups, engaged in illegal mining of gold, coal, coltan, nickel, copper, and other minerals. Illegal mines were particularly common in the departments of Antioquia, Boyaca, Choco, Cundinamarca, and Valle del Cauca.
According to the National Mining Agency, through June 30, a total of 80 workers died as a result of accidents in the mines, the majority due to explosions, poisoned atmosphere, cave-ins, and floods. The National Mining Agency reported 82 workers killed in 2019.