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Malaysia

Executive Summary

Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy. It has a parliamentary system of government selected through regular, multiparty elections and is headed by a prime minister. The king is the head of state, serves a largely ceremonial role, and has a five-year term. Sultan Muhammad V resigned as king on January 6 after serving two years; Sultan Abdullah succeeded him that month. The kingship rotates among the sultans of the nine states with hereditary rulers. In 2018 parliamentary elections, the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition defeated the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, resulting in the first transfer of power between coalitions since independence in 1957. Before and during the campaign, then opposition politicians and civil society organizations alleged electoral irregularities and systemic disadvantages for opposition groups due to lack of media access and malapportioned districts favoring the then ruling coalition.

The Royal Malaysian Police maintain internal security and report to the Ministry of Home Affairs. State-level Islamic religious enforcement officers have authority to enforce some criminal aspects of sharia. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government or its agents; reports of torture; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; reports of problems with the independence of the judiciary; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, censorship, site blocking, and abuse of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on and intolerance of religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; refoulement of refugees to a country where they would face a threat to their life or freedom; acts of corruption; trafficking in persons; violence against transgender persons; criminalization of consensual adult same-sex sexual activities; and child labor.

The government arrested and prosecuted some officials engaged in corruption, malfeasance, and human rights abuses, although civil-society groups alleged continued impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution allows restrictions on the freedom of expression “in the interest of the security of the Federation…[or] public order.” The government regularly restricted freedom of expression for members of the public, media, and civil society, citing reasons such as upholding Islam and the special status of ethnic Malays, protecting national security, maintaining public order, and preserving friendly relations with other countries.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits sedition and public comment on issues defined as sensitive, including racial and religious matters or criticism of the king or ruling sultans.

In July a sessions court upheld the sedition conviction of Wan Ji, an Islamic preacher and former political aide, for insulting the sultan of Selangor State in 2012, and sentenced him to three months in jail in addition to the nine-month sentence a lower court imposed. Upon his release from custody pending appeal, Wan Ji said a police warden punched him three times while he was detained; he speculated that the attack was politically motivated but said he could not be sure. Following the session court’s decision, Amnesty International Malaysia stated, “The restrictions on the right to freedom of expression imposed in the Sedition Act are phrased in an excessively broad and vague manner, potentially resulting in both an overreach of the law and potential for abusive application of the law. The law should have been abolished by now, as per Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto.”

In August police banned Islamic preacher Zakir Naik from speaking in public and posting on social media after he made comments insulting ethnic Chinese and Indian minority groups. Zakir Naik was banned from preaching in several other countries under antihate laws. The Inspector General of Police said the ban “is only temporary,” adding that “if the situation doesn’t change, the order will remain.” Police said they “ordered” law enforcement officers to “advise” organizers of any events involving Naik to cancel his participation. Police justified their action citing a law authorizing them to maintain “law and order” and preserve “peace and security.” Some lawyers argued police did not have the authority to ban someone from speaking in public under such a provision. Referring to the section of law cited by police, one lawyer told media, “That section is just to identify the role of the police force. It does not give explicit power to do anything specific.”

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Political parties and individuals linked to the former Barisan Nasional ruling coalition owned or controlled a majority of shares in almost all English and Malay language print and broadcast media, many of which were overtly pro-opposition. Online media outlets were more independent but were often the target of legal action and harassment.

Despite many restrictions and official pressure, opposition parties, social action groups, unions, internet news sites, and other private groups actively covered opposition activity and frequently printed views critical of government policies. Online media and blogs provided views and reported stories not featured in the mainstream press.

The government maintained and at times exerted control over news content, both in print and broadcast media. The government banned, restricted, or limited circulation of publications believed a threat to public order, morality, or national security. The government has the power to suspend publication for these reasons and retained effective control over the licensing process.

In October parliament repealed the law against “fake news,” which criminalized the “malicious” production or dissemination of “any news, information, data or reports, which is or are wholly or partly false.” Parliamentarians voted to repeal the law in August 2018, but the opposition-controlled Senate overturned the decision, postponing the law’s repeal.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subject to harassment and intimidation. In September police summoned Dennis Ignatius, a columnist and former Malaysian diplomat, as they investigated his August 16 column in Free Malaysia Today criticizing Zakir Naik, a controversial Islamic preacher. Referring to India’s attempt to extradite Naik, an Indian national, and Naik’s police report against him for defamation, Ignatius told reporters, “I think it’s so ironic that in this era of Malaysia Baru (New), I am now being summoned to the police to give a statement because of a report filed by a fugitive.” In August police detained a foreign journalist who had been taking photographs of a blockade set up by indigenous-rights activists in Perak state. The journalist was released after the intervention of the state’s chief minister.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government maintained the ability to censor media but did not use this power as frequently as did its predecessor. The law requires a permit to own a printing press, and printers often were reluctant to print publications critical of the government due to fear of reprisal. Such policies, together with antidefamation laws, inhibited independent or investigative journalism and resulted in self-censorship in the print and broadcast media.

According to the NGO Reporters Without Borders, “The general environment for journalists is much more relaxed, self-censorship has declined dramatically, and the print media are now offering a fuller and more balanced range of viewpoints, including support for the new ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, and support for the old ruling coalition, now in the opposition.” Reporters Without Borders said the lack of progress amending or annulling controversial legislation that limited freedom of expression continued to “pose a constant threat to media personnel, who still cannot express themselves with complete freedom, despite all the progress.”

The government occasionally censored foreign magazines, newspapers, and news programming, most often due to sexual content.

Government restrictions on radio and television stations mirrored those on print media, and the electronic media predominantly supported the government. Television stations censored programming to follow government guidelines.

The government generally restricted publications it judged might incite racial or religious disharmony. The Ministry of Home Affairs maintained a list of 1,715 banned publications as of November. In April the high court upheld a previous ban on three books by the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) because the books “are likely to be prejudicial to public order and interest and likely to alarm public opinion.” IRF’s director, Farouk Musa, said, “It seems to me the minister of home affairs has the absolute discretion in banning books that do not conform” to the version of Islam preferred by Islamic authorities. The same month, the high court lifted the previous government’s ban on the book, Breaking Silence: Voices of ModerationIslam in a Constitutional Democracy, by the NGO G25.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law includes sections on civil and criminal defamation. Criminal defamation is punishable by a maximum two years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. True statements can be considered defamatory if they contravene the “public good.” The government and its supporters used these laws, along with provisions against sedition, to punish and suppress publication of material critical of government officials and policies.

National Security: Authorities under the former government occasionally cited national security laws to restrict media distribution of material critical of government policies and public officials. The current government maintained the ability to impose these restrictions.

Nongovernmental Impact: NGOs sympathetic to the former government sought to limit freedom of expression through criminal complaints of allegedly seditious speech. Such NGOs also sometimes attempted to intimidate opposition groups through demonstrations.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association but allows restrictions deemed necessary or expedient in the interest of security, public order, or (in the case of association) morality. Abiding by the government’s restrictions did not protect some protesters from harassment or arrest.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, emigration, and repatriation, but these rights were often restricted by federal and state government officials, particularly in eastern Sabah and Sarawak States.

In-country Movement: Sabah and Sarawak States controlled immigration into their areas and required citizens from peninsular Malaysia and foreigners to present passports or national identity cards for entry. State authorities continued to deny entry to certain national leaders to these states. Sarawak maintained its ban on Zakir Naik, a controversial Islamic preacher; Mandeep Karpal Singh, formerly of the fair-election NGO coalition Bersih; current Bersih chair Thomas Fann; former chairs Maria Chin and Ambiga Sreenevasan; Wong Chin Huat, an academic and Bersih resource chair; Jerald Joseph, a SUHAKAM commissioner; and activists Colin Nicholas and Jannie Lasimbang, among others. The Sabah state government lifted its ban on political activists.

Foreign Travel: Travel to Israel is subject to approval and limited to religious purposes.

In May the Immigration Department lifted travel restrictions on former attorney general Apandi Ali after Apandi challenged them, arguing that he had not been charged with any criminal offense and did not face any pending legal actions. In 2016, while attorney general with the previous government, Apandi cleared Prime Minister Najib Razak of any wrongdoing in a corruption scandal.

f. Protection of Refugees

As of August, 177,690 refugees and asylum seekers were registered with UNHCR in Malaysia, of whom more than 153,000 were from Burma.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government generally did not impede organizations providing protection and assistance to migrants, refugees, and stateless persons, most of whom lived intermingled with the general public. The government cooperated to a limited extent with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers. As there is no legal framework for dealing with refugees and asylum seekers in the country, UNHCR conducted all activities related to protection, including registration and status determination. Most migrants, refugees, and stateless persons lived in private accommodations and survived on support from UNHCR, NGOs, or illegal casual labor. The government held thousands in immigration detention centers and other facilities. Access to those in detention centers was often significantly limited.

NGOs and international organizations involved with these populations made credible allegations of overcrowding, inadequate food and clothing, lack of regular access to clean water, poor medical care, improper sanitation, and lack of bedding in the immigration detention centers. In July the Philippine civil society organization Migrante International accused Malaysian immigration officials of keeping detained migrants in inhumane conditions, with inadequate food and water and subject to verbal abuse. The group claimed one detainee showing signs of psychosis was tied to the wall and forced to stand for long periods. NGOs provided most medical care and treatment in the detention centers.

Local and international NGOs estimated the population at most of the country’s 17 immigration detention centers was at or beyond capacity, with some detainees held for a year or longer. The number detained in these centers was not publicly available.

Human rights organizations expressed serious concerns about the lack of access to fair legal process and adequate representation during immigration court hearings. The Malaysian Bar Council strongly criticized the immigration courts in detention centers as facilitating a legal process where migrant workers were not provided with a clear understanding of the charges against them in their own language and were effectively denied the right to legal counsel. At court hearings, 15 to 20 migrants were often tried together, grouped by the offense with which they were charged. If found guilty, the cost of deportation generally fell to the detainee, which led to prolonged detention for those unable to pay.

Refoulement: The government at times forcibly returned refugees to countries where their lives or freedom were at risk. In May Malaysian authorities forcibly returned Praphan Pipithnamporn, a Thai national registered as an asylum seeker with UNHCR and considered a “person of concern,” to Thailand at the request of Thai authorities. According to media, the Thai government issued a warrant for her arrest in January, “accusing her of sedition and organized crime for her involvement with the Organization for Thai Federation, a peaceful antimonarchy group.” In a statement, Human Rights Watch said, “Malaysia’s flouting of international law has placed a Thai activist at grave risk of arbitrary detention and an unjust prosecution in Thailand.”

The wife of Abdallah Mahmoud Hisham, deported to Egypt in March, said her husband had gone missing after returning to Egypt. Human Rights Watch stated that Abdallah Mahmoud Hisham, along with Abdelrahman Abdelaziz Ahmed, Mohamed Fathy Eid, and Azmy al-Sayed Mohamed, who were deported at the same time for their alleged membership in the Muslim Brotherhood, were at “serious risk of torture and ill-treatment in Egypt.”

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Migrants, refugees, and stateless persons receive no government support. The government allows UNHCR and NGOs to work with these populations, but government cooperation with UNHCR was inconsistent.

As “illegal immigrants,” refugees and others are subject to deportation at any time. They also face a maximum five years’ imprisonment, a fine of RM10,000 ($2,400), or both, and mandatory caning with a maximum six strokes if convicted of immigration-law violations.

Freedom of Movement: The government generally tolerated the presence of undocumented refugees and asylum seekers but sometimes detained them for a variety of causes in police jails or immigration detention centers until they could be deported or UNHCR established their bona fides. Some refugees holding UNHCR identification cards nonetheless reported limited ability to move throughout the country because authorities sometimes did not recognize the UNHCR card.

Employment: Although the government does not authorize UNHCR-registered refugees to work, it typically did not interfere if they performed informal work. UNHCR reported the government brought charges, in a few cases, against employers for hiring them. Refugees employed in the informal sector were paid lower wages than comparable employees and were vulnerable to exploitation.

Access to Basic Services: The government provided access to health care at a discounted foreigner’s rate of 50 percent to UNHCR-registered refugees, but not to persons without UNHCR registration cards. NGOs operated static and mobile clinics, but their number and access were limited. Refugees did not have access to the public education system. Access to education was limited to schools run by NGOs and ethnic communities, and UNHCR estimated no more than 40 percent of refugee children attended school. A lack of resources and qualified teachers limited opportunities for the majority of school-age refugee children. UNHCR staff members conducted numerous visits to prisons and immigration detention centers to provide counseling, support, and legal representation for refugees and asylum seekers.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary, renewable residence permits to a group of Syrian refugees. The permit allows for legal residency and conveys work rights, but must be renewed annually.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. In 2018 the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition unseated the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition in general elections, marking the first federal transition of power between coalitions since independence in 1957. Prior to the elections, then opposition political parties were disadvantaged due to government control over traditional media outlets and malapportionment of constituencies, among other issues.

While authorities generally recorded votes accurately, there were irregularities perpetrated by the former government that affected the fairness of elections. A special election court ruled on August 16 that there were serious breaches in the Kimanis parliamentary district in Sabah State during the May 2018 general election, including “manipulation” of ballot boxes and more than 300 “improperly cast” ballots. Former foreign minister Anifah Aman, who has held the Kimanis seat since 1999, won in 2018 by 156 votes; he appealed the court’s decision.

The constitution fixes the number of seats in parliament assigned to each state to the advantage of rural states and regardless of population shifts over time. Moreover, it does not require equal populations in electoral constituencies in any given state. Each constituency elects one member of parliament. The Electoral Commission has established constituencies with widely varying populations, further to the advantage of rural populations. For example, the rural district of Igan had 18,000 registered voters, while the urban district of Kapar had more than 144,000 registered voters. Local and municipal officials are appointed at the state or federal level.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; prior to the 2018 change of government, however, enforcement generally focused on relatively small-scale, low-level crime. After the change, the government charged several former government officials with corruption, including the former prime minister, although there remained a broadly held perception of widespread corruption and cronyism in government institutions. Media outlets reported numerous cases of alleged official corruption.

The Malaysian Anticorruption Commission is responsible for investigating corruption in both private and public bodies but does not have prosecutorial authority. An auditor general is responsible, per the constitution, for auditing the accounts of the federal and state governments, government agencies, and other public authorities.

Responding to questions in parliament on March 28, a deputy minister confirmed that the report on governance and the economy drafted by the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP), an advisory body established by Prime Minister Mahathir, would remain classified because it contained confidential information. Civil society criticized the decision, as did some members of parliament. According to the Center for Independent Journalism, “any document can be classified secret once it has been certified as such by a public officer” and “the courts have no jurisdiction to review whether or not the document should be considered secret.”

Corruption: Corruption was a key campaign issue in the 2018 general elections.

Suits filed in 2018 against former prime minister Najib Razak and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, remained ongoing. Najib was charged with criminal breach of trust, abuse of power as a public officer, and money laundering; Rosmah was charged with 19 counts of money laundering and tax evasion.

According to the federal government, authorities arrested 418 civil servants for bribery in 2018; as of April, 140 had been charged. In January Prime Minister Mahathir said reports of alleged corruption were increasing because individuals no longer feared filing complaints with the Malaysian Anticorruption Commission, adding that most of the reports were linked to the previous government.

The federal government launched a national anticorruption plan in January. The plan is composed of 115 initiatives, including sweeping changes to how government officials are appointed and to the procurement process; requirements that legislators publicly declare their assets; and new laws regulating political financing and lobbying.

Financial Disclosure: Cabinet members must declare their assets to the prime minister. Senior civil servants are required to declare their assets to the chief secretary of the government. Junior civil servants must declare their assets to the head of their department. The assets, liabilities, and interests public officials must declare are clearly defined and do not include the assets and incomes of spouses and dependent children, except in the case of members of parliament. Public officials must declare their assets annually, but not upon entering or leaving office. Those who refuse or fail to declare their assets face disciplinary actions and are ineligible for promotion. The government did not make public these declarations.

In a unanimous voice vote, lawmakers passed a regulation on July 1 compelling all members of parliament, their immediate family members, and trustees to declare their assets by October 1. Those who did not abide by the requirement could be held in contempt of parliamentary regulations, while those found to have provided false information could be subject to criminal proceedings. Prime Minister Mahathir said the initiative would deter members of parliament from abusing their positions. Although opposition members did not vote against it, the deputy president of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party claimed the measure is unnecessary and against Islam, arguing, “If God gives us wealth, you do not reveal it to the public, because it will create attention and envy.” Former prime minister Najib Razak said the decision was “unfair” because many parliamentarians derive income from sources in addition to their government salary.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Domestic and international human rights groups operated subject to varying levels of government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases; however, the government was not always cooperative or responsive to their views. In October Michelle Bachelet became the first UN high commissioner for human rights to visit Malaysia, at the invitation of the Malaysian government.

In April police summoned Numan Afifi, an LGBTI activist and president of the NGO PELANGI Campaign, to question him about statements he made during Malaysia’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations in Geneva in March. Numan said the police action was “designed to intimidate and harass human rights defenders.”

Outside the political and human rights fields, the government generally allowed NGOs to function independently, met with representatives from some NGOs, and responded to some NGO requests. The government, however, also took action against some NGOs. In an August 27 ruling, the high court dismissed the argument by the NGO Sisters in Islam that a 2014 Selangor state fatwa deeming the organization “deviant” represented an infringement on the group’s and members’ constitutional rights. The fatwa stated that Sisters in Islam deviated from the teachings of Islam because it subscribed to the principles of liberalism and pluralism, ruling that its books and materials could be seized, although the court did not define “liberalism” or “pluralism.” At a press conference outside the courtroom the NGO’s executive director said she was “very disappointed” in the decision, adding, “We are looking at really dark hours ahead for Malaysia.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: Created by an act of parliament, the official human rights commission SUHAKAM is headed by a chairperson and commissioners appointed by the king on the recommendation of the prime minister. Observers generally considered SUHAKAM a credible human rights monitor. It conducted training, undertook investigations, issued reports, and made recommendations to the government. SUHAKAM may not investigate court cases in progress and must cease its inquiries if a case becomes the subject of judicial action.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for limited freedom of association and for some categories of workers to form and join trade unions, subject to a variety of legal and practical restrictions. The law provides for the right to strike and to bargain collectively, but both were severely restricted. The law prohibits employers from interfering with trade union activities, including union formation. It prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for legal union activities and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law prohibits defense and police officials, retired or dismissed workers, or workers categorized as “confidential, managerial, and executive” from joining a union. The law also restricts the formation of unions to workers in “similar” trades, occupations, or industries. Foreign workers may join a trade union but cannot hold union office unless they obtain permission from the Ministry of Human Resources. In view of the absence of a direct employment relationship with owners of a workplace, contract workers may not form a union and cannot negotiate or benefit from collective bargaining agreements.

The director general of trade unions and the minister of human resources may refuse to register or withdraw registration from some unions without judicial oversight. The time needed for a union to be recognized remained long and unpredictable. Union officials expressed frustration about delays in the settlement of union recognition disputes; such applications were often refused. If a union’s recognition request was approved, the employer sometimes challenged the decision in court, leading to multi-year delays in recognizing unions.

Most private-sector workers have the right to bargain collectively, although these negotiations cannot include issues of transfer, promotion, appointments, dismissal, or reinstatement. The law restricts collective bargaining in “pioneer” industries the government has identified as growth priorities, including various high-technology fields. Public-sector workers have some collective bargaining rights, although some could only express opinions on wages and working conditions instead of actively negotiating. Long delays continued in the treatment of union claims to obtain recognition for collective bargaining purposes. The government also had the right to compel arbitration in the case of failed collective bargaining negotiations.

Private-sector strikes are severely restricted. The law provides for penal sanctions for peaceful strikes. The law prohibits general strikes, and trade unions may not strike over disputes related to trade-union registration or illegal dismissals. Workers may not strike in a broad range of industries deemed “essential,” nor may they hold strikes when a dispute is under consideration by the Industrial Court. Union officials claimed legal requirements for strikes were almost impossible to meet; the last major strike occurred in 1962.

The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting employers from seeking retribution for legal union activities and requiring reinstatement of workers fired for trade union activity. Penalties included fines but were seldom assessed and generally not sufficient to deter violations. In July the Federal Court upheld a lower-court ruling that two banks had promoted clerical staff to executive positions without giving them any executive powers in order to exclude the employees from the National Union of Bank Employees (Nube). The union’s lawyer called the decision “groundbreaking.”

Freedom of association and collective bargaining were not fully respected. National-level unions are prohibited; the government allows three regional territorial federations of unions–peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, and Sarawak–to operate. They exercised many of the responsibilities of national-level labor unions, although they could not bargain on behalf of local unions. The Malaysian Trade Unions Congress is a registered “society” of trade unions in both the private and government sectors that does not have the right to bargain collectively or strike but may provide technical support to affiliated members. Some workers’ organizations were independent of government, political parties, and employers, but employer-dominated or “yellow” unions were reportedly a concern.

The inability of unions to provide more than limited protection for workers, particularly foreign workers who continued to face the threat of deportation, and the prevalence of antiunion discrimination created a disincentive to unionize. In some instances, companies reportedly harassed leaders of unions that sought recognition. Some trade unions reported the government detained or restricted the movement of some union members under laws allowing temporary detention without charging the detainee with a crime. Trade unions asserted some workers had wages withheld or were terminated because of union-related activity.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Five agencies, including the Department of Labor of the Ministry of Human Resources, have enforcement powers under the law, but their officers performed a variety of functions and did not always actively search for indications of forced labor. NGOs continued to criticize the lack of resources dedicated to enforcement of the law.

The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting forced labor in some cases, and large fines as penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. In July a court overruled an earlier labor department ruling that there was no remedy for undocumented domestic workers to pursue claims of unpaid wages and ordered an Indonesian domestic worker’s case against her employer to receive a full hearing. The Indonesian employee, filing her case under the pseudonym “Nona,” claimed her employer failed to pay her for five years. The executive director of the NGO Tenaganita stated, “with this precedent, there is hope for undocumented workers to seek redress in court.”

In 2018 the government established an Independent Committee on Foreign Workers to provide comprehensive reform plans to the government regarding foreign-worker management and labor policy. The committee presented its final report to cabinet in July with recommendations on streamlining policies related to foreign workers, but the report was not made public.

A variety of sources reported occurrences of forced labor or conditions indicative of forced labor in plantation agriculture, the fishing industry, electronics factories, garment production, construction, restaurants, and domestic service among both adults and children (also see section 7.c.).

Employers, employment agents, and labor recruiters subjected some migrants to forced labor or debt bondage. Many companies hired foreign workers using recruiting or outsourcing companies, creating uncertainty about the legal relationship between the worker, the outsourcing company, and the owner of the workplace, making workers more vulnerable to exploitation and complicating dispute resolution. Labor union representatives noted that recruiting agents in the countries of origin and in Malaysia sometimes imposed high fees, making migrant workers vulnerable to debt bondage.

In August three nonprofit organizations filed a formal complaint with a foreign government urging it to ban imports of products from FGV Holdings Berhad, a Malaysian palm oil company, due to reports of forced labor at FGV plantations. Another petition filed earlier in the year accused FGV of using child labor. An FGV spokesperson told media in August, “We are committed to ensure respect for human rights. We are very serious in handling this.” The trial of former deputy prime minister Zahid Hamidi for his role in a fraudulent scheme involving hundreds of thousands of Nepali workers seeking jobs in the country continued as of November. Private companies linked to the then deputy prime minister’s brother and brother-in-law reportedly charged Nepali workers more than RM185 million ($46.3 million) for medical tests and to submit visa applications during the prior five years. These medical and visa processing services increased the cost tenfold without offering additional protections or benefits. Zahid denied involvement in or knowledge of the scam, but the Malaysian Anticorruption Commission charged him in October 2018 with 45 counts of corruption, bribery, and money laundering, three of which concern RM3 million ($750,000) he allegedly received in bribes from a company that ran a visa center for Nepali workers. Critics of the former government had long characterized the foreign-worker recruitment system as corrupt.

Nonpayment of wages remained a concern. Passport confiscation by employers increased migrant workers’ vulnerability to forced labor; the practice was illegal but widespread and generally went unpunished. Migrant workers without access to their passports were more vulnerable to harsh working conditions, lower wages than promised, unexpected wage deductions, and poor housing. NGOs reported that agents or employers in some cases drafted contracts that included a provision for employees to sign over the right to hold their passports to the employer or an agent. Some employers and migrant workers reported that workers sometimes requested employers keep their passports, since replacing lost or stolen passports could cost several months’ wages and leave foreign workers open to questions about their legal status.

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 of the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 14 but permits some exceptions, such as light work in a family enterprise, work in public entertainment, work performed for the government in a school or in training institutions, or work as an approved apprentice. There is no minimum age for engaging in light work. For children between the ages of 14 and 18, there was no list clarifying specific occupations or sectors considered hazardous and therefore prohibited.

The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting child labor. Those found contravening child labor laws faced penalties that were not sufficient to deter violations.

Child labor occurred in some family businesses. Child labor in urban areas was common in the informal economy, including family food businesses and night markets, and in small-scale industry. Child labor was also evident among migrant domestic workers.

NGOs reported that stateless children in Sabah were especially vulnerable to labor exploitation in palm oil production, forced begging, and work in service industries, including restaurants. Although the National Union of Plantation Workers reported it was rare to find children involved in plantation work in peninsular Malaysia, others reported instances of child labor on palm oil plantations across the country. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred (see section 6, Children).

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 prohibit discrimination with respect to hiring; the director general of labor may investigate discrimination in the terms and conditions of employment for both foreign and local employees. The director general may issue necessary directives to an employer to resolve allegations of discrimination in employment, although there were no penalties under the law for such discrimination.

Employers are obligated to inquire into most sexual harassment complaints in a prescribed manner. Advocacy groups such as the Association of Women Lawyers stated these provisions were not comprehensive enough to provide adequate help to victims.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women; members of national, racial, and ethnic minorities; and persons with disabilities. A code of practice guides all government agencies, employers, employee associations, employees, and others with respect to placement of persons with disabilities in private-sector jobs. Disability-rights NGOs reported that employers were reluctant to hire persons with disabilities. A regulation reserves 1 percent of public-sector jobs for persons with disabilities.

Migrant workers must undergo mandatory testing for more than 16 illnesses as well as pregnancy. Employers may immediately deport pregnant or ill workers. Migrant workers also faced employment discrimination (see sections 7.b. and 7.e.). Employers were unilaterally able to terminate work permits, subjecting migrant workers to immediate deportation.

Women experienced some economic discrimination in access to employment. Employers routinely asked women their marital status during job interviews. The Association of Women Lawyers advocated for passage of a separate sexual harassment bill making it compulsory for employers to formulate sexual harassment policies. The law prohibits women from working underground, such as in sewers, and restricts employers from requiring female employees to work in industrial or agricultural work between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. or to commence work for the day without having 11 consecutive hours of rest since the end of the last work period.

The government reserved large quotas for the bumiputra majority for positions in the federal civil service as well as for vocational permits and licenses in a wide range of industries, which greatly reduced economic opportunity for minority groups (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage applied to both citizen and foreign workers in most sectors, with the exception of domestic service (see below). The minimum wage rates were less than Ministry of Finance-published poverty income levels in Sabah and Sarawak.

Working hours may not exceed eight per day or 48 per week, unless workers receive overtime pay. The law specifies limits on overtime, which vary by sector, but it allows for exceptions. The law protects foreign domestic workers only with regard to wages and contract termination. The law excludes them from provisions that would otherwise stipulate one rest day per week, an eight-hour workday, and a 48-hour workweek. Instead, bilateral agreements or memoranda of understanding between the government and some source countries for migrant workers include provisions for rest periods, compensation, and other conditions of employment for migrant domestic workers, including prohibitions on passport retention.

In January 2018 employers became responsible for paying a levy for their foreign workers, a move designed to better protect low-wage foreign workers and to encourage the hiring of local employees. Previously, employers regularly passed the costs on to employees and withheld as much as 20 percent of a worker’s annual salary to cover the levy.

The Ministry of Human Resources began enforcing amendments to the Private Employment Agencies Act (PEAA) in 2018. The measure aims to make the cost of business too high for small-scale recruiting agencies that have been sources of abuses in the past. Employment agencies must now pay as much as RM250,000 ($62,500) to operate a business that recruits foreign workers, a significant increase from the RM1,000 ($250) required under the original PEAA. In addition, agencies must secure a guaranteed bank note for as much as RM250,000 ($62,500) that would be liquidated (and used for victim repatriation costs) if they are found to be in violation of the law. Under a new amendment, agencies found operating without a license face tough new penalties, including a RM200,000 ($50,000) fine and a maximum three years in prison, an increase from the previous RM5,000 ($1,250) fine.

Migrant workers often worked in sectors where violations were common, performed hazardous duties, and had no meaningful access to legal counsel in cases of contract violations and abuse. Some workers alleged their employers subjected them to inhuman living conditions and physically assaulted them. Employers of domestic workers sometimes failed to honor the terms of employment and subjected workers to abuse. Employers reportedly restricted workers’ movement and use of mobile telephones; provided substandard food; did not provide sufficient time off; sexually assaulted workers; and harassed and threatened workers, including with deportation.

Occupational health and safety laws cover all sectors of the economy except the maritime sector and the armed forces. The law requires workers to use safety equipment and cooperate with employers to create a safe, healthy workplace, but it does not specify a right to remove oneself from a hazardous or dangerous situation without penalty. Laws on worker’s compensation cover both local and migrant workers but provide no protection for migrant domestic workers.

The National Occupational Safety and Health Council–composed of workers, employers, and government representatives–creates and coordinates implementation of occupational health and safety measures. It requires employers to identify risks and take precautions, including providing safety training to workers, and compels companies with more than 40 workers to establish joint management-employee safety committees.

The Department of Labor of the Ministry of Human Resources enforces wage, working condition, and occupational safety and health standards. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The number of labor enforcement officers was insufficient to enforce compliance in businesses and households that employ domestic help. Department of Labor officials reported they sought to conduct labor inspections as frequently as possible. Nevertheless, many businesses could operate for years without an inspection.

Penalties for employers who fail to follow the law begin with a fine assessed per employee and can rise to imprisonment. Employers can be required to pay back wages plus the fine. If they refuse to comply, employers face additional fines per day that wages are not paid. Employers or employees who violate occupational health and safety laws are subject to fines, imprisonment, or both. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Employers did not respect laws on wages and working hours. The Malaysian Trade Union Congress reported that 12-, 14-, and 18-hour days were common in food and other service industries.

According Department of Occupational Safety and Health statistics, 127 workers died, 3,491 acquired a nonpermanent disability, and 131 acquired permanent disability in work-related incidents in the first half of the year.

North Korea

Executive Summary

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) is an authoritarian state led by the Kim family since 1949. Shortly after Kim Jong Il’s death in 2011, his son Kim Jong Un was named marshal of the DPRK and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army. His titles also include chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Worker’s Party of Korea, chairman of the State Affairs Commission, and Supreme Representative of the Korean People. Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, the late Kim Il Sung, remains “eternal president.” The most recent national elections, held in March, were neither free nor fair.

Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. The internal security apparatus includes the Ministries of People’s Security and State Security and the Military Security Command. A systematic and intentional overlap of powers and responsibilities existed between these organizations in order to prevent any potential subordinate consolidation of power and assure that each unit provides a check and balance on the other.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings; forced disappearances by the government; torture by authorities; arbitrary detentions by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, including in political prison camps; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; no judicial independence; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions of religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; widespread corruption; coerced abortion; trafficking in persons; the outlawing of independent trade unions; the use of forced or compulsory child labor; the use of domestic forced labor through mass mobilizations and as a part of the re-education system; and the imposition of forced labor conditions on DPRK overseas contract workers.

The government took no credible steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses. As of year’s end, the government still had not accounted for the circumstances that led to the death of Otto Warmbier, who had been held in unjust and unwarranted detention by the authorities, and who died soon after his release in 2017. Impunity continued to be a widespread problem.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government prohibited the exercise of these rights.

Freedom of Expression: There were numerous instances of persons interrogated or arrested for saying something construed as negative towards the government. Australian citizen Alek Sigley was detained in June and later deported after the government cited “antistate incitement” in articles Sigley published in international publications. In its September report entitled North Koreas Organization and Guidance Department: The Control Tower of Human Rights Denial, HRNK asserts that all citizens are required to participate in monitored political meetings and regular self-criticism sessions in order to demonstrate their loyalty to the Kim family, and that failure to participate enthusiastically can be punished including through forced labor, internal exile, detention, or denial of food and medical attention.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The government sought to control virtually all information; independent media do not exist. Domestic journalists had no freedom to investigate stories or report freely. The government tightly controlled print media, broadcast media, book publishing, and online media through the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK). Within the department, the Publication and Broadcasting Department controls all media content, including content used on television, in newspapers, and on the radio. The law allows for up to one-year sentences to a labor camp for North Koreans who access or disseminate unapproved broadcasts or content, and up to five years for multiple offenses.

The government carefully managed visits by foreigners, especially journalists, and has expelled or denied entry to foreign journalists. During visits by foreign leaders, authorities permitted groups of foreign journalists to accompany official delegations and file reports. In all cases the state strictly monitored journalists. Government officials generally prevented journalists from talking to officials or to persons on the street.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Strict enforcement of domestic media censorship continued, with no toleration for deviation from official messages. The government prohibited listening to foreign media broadcasts except by the political elite, and violators were subjected to severe punishment. Radios and television sets, unless altered, received only domestic programming; radios obtained from abroad were altered for the same end. Elite citizens and facilities for foreigners, such as hotels, had access to international television broadcasts via satellite. The government continued attempts to jam all foreign radio broadcasts, but HRNK’s Digital Trenches: North Koreas Information Counter-Offensive, released in December, noted that a proliferation of foreign broadcaster transmitters has in recent years begun to overwhelm the jamming effort. Officials imprisoned and punished citizens for listening to foreign radio or watching foreign television broadcasts and, in some cases, for simply owning radio or television sets able to receive nongovernment broadcasts.

National Security: Defector and NGO reports included accounts of North Koreans detained and punished, including by execution, for antistate crimes including criticism of the government and Kim Jong Un.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government severely restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for the “freedom to reside in or travel to any place;” however, the government did not respect this right.

In-country Movement: The government restricted freedom of movement for those lawfully within the state. Those who violated travel regulations were subject to warnings, fines, or forced labor. Only members of a very small elite class and those with access to remittances from overseas reportedly had access to personal vehicles. Security checkpoints on main roads at entry and exit points from every town hampered movement. KINU’s white paper for 2019 reported that individuals were able to move more freely within their own province as the use of bribery as a means to circumvent the law became more widespread. An increasing number of people traveled without a permit, only to pay a bribe when caught.

The government strictly controlled permission to reside in, or even to enter, Pyongyang, where food availability, housing, health, and general living conditions were much better than in the rest of the country. Foreign officials visiting the country observed checkpoints on the highway leading into Pyongyang.

Foreign Travel: The government restricted foreign travel. The government limited issuance of exit visas for foreign travel to officials and trusted businesspersons, artists, athletes, academics, and workers. Short-term exit papers were available on a very limited basis for some residents to visit relatives, undertake short-term work opportunities, or to engage in small-scale trade.

The government did not allow emigration, and reports stated that it continued to tighten security on the border during the year, dramatically limiting the flow of persons crossing into China without required permits. NGOs reported strict patrols and surveillance of residents of border areas and a crackdown on border guards who may have been aiding border crossers in return for bribes.

The law criminalizes defection and attempted defection. Individuals, including children, who cross the border with the purpose of defecting or seeking asylum in a third country are subject to a minimum of five years of “labor correction.” In “serious” cases, the state subjects asylum seekers to indefinite terms of imprisonment and forced labor, confiscation of property, or death. According to KINU’s white paper for 2018, most repatriated defectors are detained at kyohwasos in Jeongeori, North Hamgyeong Province, or Gaechon, South Pyeongan Province.

Many would-be refugees who returned involuntarily from foreign states received imprisonment under harsh conditions. Some sources indicated authorities reserved particularly harsh treatment for those who had extensive contact with foreigners, including those with family members resettled in South Korea.

Media reported in May 2018 that Kim Jong Un ordered government agencies to exert greater pressure on family members of defectors to pressure them to return home. Defectors reported that family members in North Korea contacted them to urge their return, apparently under pressure from North Korean officials. According to the South Korean Ministry of Unification, the number of North Korean defectors remained nearly the same from 2017 to 2018, and projected numbers were similar for 2019, according to a November Yonhap report.

Past reports from refugees noted the government differentiated between persons who crossed the border in search of food (who may be sentenced only to a few months of forced labor or in some cases merely issued a warning), and persons who crossed repeatedly for “political” purposes (who were sometimes sentenced to harsher punishment), including those who had alleged contact with religious organizations based near the Chinese border. The law stipulates a sentence of up to two years of “labor correction” for illegally crossing the border.

Exile: The government reportedly forced the internal exile of some citizens. In the past it forcibly resettled tens of thousands of persons from Pyongyang to the countryside. Sometimes this occurred as punishment for offenses and included those judged to be politically unreliable based on the social status of their family members.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government did not cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection for refugees. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum. The government had no known policy or provision for refugees or asylum seekers and did not participate in international refugee fora.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Citizens do not have the ability to choose their government peacefully.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Verifiable information was not available on whether criminal penalties for official corruption were actually applied. International organizations widely reported senior officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: Corruption was reportedly widespread in all parts of the economy and society and endemic in the security forces. A 2016 meeting chaired by Kim Jong Un marked the first public recognition of systemic abuse of power and reportedly addressed the practice of senior officials who sought privileges, misused authority, abused power, and manifested “bureaucratism” in the party. Defectors interviewed for the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights report, The Price Is Rights, published in May, said workers paid off guidance officers at government factories so that they would not have to report to work and could engage in outside commercial activity.

Reports of diversion of food to the military and government officials were further indicators of corruption.

Multiple ministries and party offices were responsible for handling issues of corruption.

Financial Disclosure: Information was not publicly available on whether the state subjects public officials to financial disclosure laws and whether a government agency is responsible for combating corruption.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

There were no independent domestic organizations to monitor human rights conditions or comment on the status of such rights. The government reported many organizations, including the Democratic Lawyers’ Association, General Association of Trade Unions, Agricultural Workers Union, and Democratic Women’s Union, engaged in human rights activities, but observers could not verify the activities of these organizations.

The international NGO community and numerous international experts continued to testify to the grave human rights situation in the country. The government decried international statements regarding human rights abuses in the country as politically motivated interference in internal affairs. The government asserted criticism of its human rights record was an attempt by some countries to cover up their own abuses and that such hypocrisy undermined human rights principles.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government emphasized it had ratified a number of UN human rights instruments, but it continued to refuse to cooperate with UN representatives. The government prevented the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK from visiting the country to carry out his mandate, which it continued to refuse to recognize. The UN special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities has not visited the DPRK since 2017. The visit did not focus on allegations of human rights abuses, and the DPRK continues to resist the special rapporteur’s mandate.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government’s DPRK Association for Human Rights Studies denied the existence of any human rights violations.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Workers do not have the right to form or join independent unions, bargain collectively, or strike. There were no known labor organizations other than those created and controlled by the government. While the law stipulates that employees working for foreign companies may form trade unions and that foreign enterprises must provide conditions for union activities, the law does not protect workers who might attempt to engage in union activities from employer retaliation, nor does it provide penalties for employers who interfere in union activities. Unlawful assembly may result in five years of correctional labor.

The WPK purportedly represents the interests of all labor. The central committee of the WPK directly controls several labor organizations in the country, including the General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea and the Union of Agricultural Workers of Korea. Operating under this umbrella, unions functioned according to a classic Stalinist model, with responsibility for mobilizing workers to support production goals and for providing health, education, cultural, and welfare facilities.

The government controlled all aspects of the formal employment sector, including assigning jobs and determining wages. Joint ventures and foreign-owned companies were required to hire their employees from government-vetted lists. The government organized factory and farm workers into councils, which purportedly afforded a mechanism for workers to provide input into management decisions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor. Nonetheless, the government mobilized the population for construction and other labor projects. “Reformatory labor” and “re-education through labor,” sometimes of entire families, were common punishments for political offenses. Forced and compulsory labor in such activities as logging, mining, tending crops, and manufacturing continued to be the common fate of political prisoners.

The law requires all citizens of working age to work and “strictly observe labor discipline and working hours.” There were numerous reports that farms and factories did not pay wages or provide food to their workers. Forced labor continued to take place in the brick making, cement manufacturing, coal mining, gold mining, logging, iron production, agriculture, and textile industries. The South Korean NGO Open North Korea estimated that North Koreans perform $975 million worth of forced labor each year. The Walk Free Foundation, in its 2018 Global Slavery Index, estimated that one of every 10 individuals, or approximately 2.6 million persons, in North Korea were in situations of modern slavery.

According to reports from an NGO, during the implementation of short-term economic plans, factories and farms increased workers’ hours and asked workers for contributions of grain and money to purchase supplies for renovations and repairs. By law failure to meet economic plan goals may result in two years of “labor correction.” In 2018 workers were reportedly required to work at enterprises to which the government assigned them and then failed to compensate or undercompensated them for their work. Media reported an increasing number of urban poor North Koreans moved to remote mountains to hide from authorities and avoid mass mobilizations.

The May UN report The Price Is Rights noted work “outside the State system, in the informal sector, has become a fundamental means to survival [but] access to work in the informal sector has become contingent on the payment of bribes.”

In 2018 the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea noted that in 2017 authorities reportedly evicted up to 600 families in villages in Ryanggang Province to allow for the construction of a new railway line and high-rise apartment blocks. Some of those evicted were reportedly mobilized alongside local youth shock brigades to help with the railway construction.

According to Open North Korea’s report Sweatshop, North Korea, 16- or 17-year-olds from the low loyalty class were assigned to 10 years of forced labor in military-style construction youth brigades called dolgyeokdae. One worker reportedly earned a mere 120 won (less than $0.15) per month. During a 200-day labor mobilization campaign in 2016, for example, these young workers worked as many as 17 hours per day. State media boasted that the laborers worked in subzero temperatures. One laborer reported conditions were so dangerous while building an apartment building that at least one person died each time a new floor was added. Loyalty class status also determines lifelong job assignments, with the lowest classes relegated to dangerous mines.

Human Rights Watch reported the government operated regional, local, or subdistrict level “labor training centers” and forced detainees to work for short periods doing hard labor, with little food and subject to abuse, including regular beatings. Authorities reportedly sent individuals to such centers if suspected of engaging in simple trading schemes or unemployed. In October 2018 the HRNK reported that tens of thousands of citizens, including children, were detained in prisonlike conditions in these centers and suggested that satellite imagery indicated the number and size of such camps were expanding.

At the end of the year, tens of thousands of North Korean citizens were working overseas, primarily in Russia and China. Workers were also reportedly present during the year in the following countries: Algeria, Angola, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Italy, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Mali, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Oman, Poland, Qatar, Republic of the Congo, Senegal, Tanzania, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Some of these countries subsequently removed most or all North Korean workers during the year. However, reports suggested several countries either had not taken action or had resumed issuing work authorizations or other documentation, allowing North Koreans to resume work. Russia reportedly issued more than five times as many tourist and study visas to DPRK residents as it did during the previous year, strongly suggesting that these visas are being used as a workaround for workers. Similarly, there were reports that previously closed factories in China had resumed operations with new North Korean workers.

Numerous NGOs noted North Korean workers abroad were subjected to forced labor. NGO reports indicated the government managed these laborers as a matter of state policy and that they were under constant and close surveillance by DPRK security agents. Laborers worked between 12 and 16 hours per day, and sometimes up to 20 hours per day, with only one or two rest days per month. Employers stated the average wage was 270,000 to 900,000 won per month ($300 to $1,000), but in most cases employing firms paid salaries directly to the DPRK government, which took between 70 percent and 90 percent of the total earnings, leaving approximately 90,000 won ($100) per month for worker take-home pay. The government reportedly has received hundreds of millions of dollars from this system each year. The state reportedly withheld some wages in certain instances until the laborers returned home after the completion of their three-year contracts. Workers reportedly worked in a range of industries, including but not limited to apparel, construction, footwear manufacturing, hospitality, information technology services, logging, medical, pharmaceuticals, restaurant, seafood processing, textiles, and shipbuilding.

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

By law the state prohibits work by children younger than age 16 but does restrict children 16 to 17 from hazardous labor conditions. The law criminalizes forced child labor, but there were reports such practices occurred. NGOs reported government officials held thousands of children and forced them to work in labor camps with their parents.

Officials occasionally sent schoolchildren to work in factories or fields for short periods to assist in completing special projects, such as snow removal on major roads or meeting production goals. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has noted its concern children were also sometimes subjected to mass mobilizations in agriculture away from their families, with long working hours per day, sometimes for periods of a month at a time. Human Rights Watch published North Korean students’ reports that their schools forced them to work without compensation on farms twice a year for one month each time. Human Rights Watch also reported schools required students under the minimum working age to work in order to raise funds for faculty salaries and maintenance costs for school facilities. According to media reports in August, students ages 14-15 were required to work in WPK opium fields.

Children ages 16 and 17 were enrolled in dolgyeokdae (military-style construction youth brigades) for 10-year periods and subjected to long working hours and hazardous work. Students suffered from physical and psychological injuries, malnutrition, exhaustion, and growth deficiencies as a result of required forced labor.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

While the law provides that all citizens “may enjoy equal rights in all spheres of state and public activities” and all “able-bodied persons may choose occupations in accordance with their wishes and skills,” the law does not prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, or other factors. There is no direct reference to employment discrimination in the law; classification based on the songbun loyalty system has a bearing on equal employment opportunities and equal pay.

Despite the law according women equal social status and rights, societal and legal discrimination against women continued. Labor laws and directives mandate sex segregation of the workforce, assigning specific jobs to women while impeding their access to others. Women’s retirement age is also set at 55 years, compared with 60 years for men, which has material consequences for women’s pension benefits, economic independence, and access to decision-making positions.

Persons with disabilities also faced employment discrimination. Most of the approximately 1,200 workshops or light factories for persons with disabilities built in the 1950s were reportedly no longer operational; there were limited inclusive workplaces.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no legal minimum wage in the country. No reliable data were available on the minimum wage paid by state-owned enterprises. Wages are sometimes paid at least partially in kind rather than in cash.

The law stipulates an eight-hour workday, although some sources reported that laborers worked longer hours, perhaps including additional time for mandatory study of the writings of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. The law provides all citizens with a “right to rest,” including one day’s rest per week (Sunday), paid leave, holidays, and access to sanitariums and rest homes funded at public expense. The state’s willingness and ability to provide these services were unknown, however.

The law recognizes the state’s responsibility for providing modern and hygienic working conditions. The law criminalizes the failure to heed “labor safety orders” pertaining to worker safety and workplace conditions, but only if the conditions result in the loss of lives or other “grave loss.” Workers themselves do not have a designated right to remove themselves from hazardous working conditions. No information is available on enforcement of labor laws.

Mandatory participation in mass events on holidays and practice sessions for such events sometimes compromised leave or rest from work. Workers were often required to “celebrate” at least some part of public holidays with their work units and were able to spend an entire day with their families only if the holiday lasted two days. Failures to pay wages were common and reportedly drove some workers to seek income-generating activity in the informal or underground economy.

Many worksites were hazardous, and the industrial accident rate was high.

Singapore

Executive Summary

Singapore is a parliamentary republic where the People’s Action Party (PAP), in power since 1959, overwhelmingly dominated the political scene. The Elections Department declared Halimah Yacob president in 2017; she was the only candidate who qualified for the ballot, which was reserved that year for an ethnic Malay. Observers considered the 2015 general election free and open. The PAP won 83 of 89 parliamentary seats with 70 percent of the vote. The president subsequently reappointed PAP leader Lee Hsien Loong as prime minister.

The Singapore Police Force (SPF) under the direction of the Ministry of Home Affairs, maintains internal security. The Singapore Armed Forces, under the Ministry of Defense, have trained for deployment alongside the Home Affairs Ministry for certain homeland security operations, including joint deterrence patrols with SPF in instances of heightened terrorism alerts. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: preventive detention by the government under various laws that dispense with regular judicial due process; monitoring private electronic or telephone conversations without a warrant; significant restrictions on the press and internet, including criminal libel laws; significant legal and regulatory limitations on the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; and a law criminalizing sexual activities between men, although this was not enforced.

The government prosecuted officials who committed human rights abuses in previous years. There were no reports of impunity for such abuses in the year to November.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression but allows parliament to impose such restrictions on freedom of speech as it “considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of the country or any part thereof, friendly relations with other countries, public order or morality and restrictions designed to protect the privileges of Parliament or to provide against contempt of court, defamation or incitement to any offence.”

Freedom of Expression: The government significantly restricted any public statements that it contended would undermine social or religious harmony, or that did not safeguard national or public interest. Government pressure to conform resulted in self-censorship among some journalists and users of the internet.

In August police issued warnings to YouTube star Preeti Nair and her brother, rapper Subhas Nair, for promoting racial disharmony through a rap video in which they criticized the ethnic Chinese community. The siblings’ video mocked a recent “Brownface” advertisement in which an ethnic Chinese actor played four different characters, including an Indian man with artificially darkened skin, and a Malay Muslim woman wearing a hijab. Four ministers criticized the siblings’ “offensive” video, which included vulgarities, and the government issued a takedown notice for it to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

In April activist Jolovan Wham and opposition politician John Tan Liang Joo, of the Singapore Democratic Party, were each fined S$5,000 ($3,630) plus legal costs for contempt of court. They were convicted in October 2018 after Wham posted on Facebook that “Malaysia’s judges are more independent than Singapore’s for cases with political implications” and, when Wham was prosecuted, Tan commented that the case “only confirms that what he said is true.”

In April the Court of Appeal ruled that papers for contempt of court proceedings were properly served on Li Shengwu, a nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in 2017. Li had posted private Facebook comments in 2017 criticizing the “litigious” nature of the government and the “pliant court system.” The case was ongoing as of November. While media and internet users have shared the facts of the case, many have been circumspect in commenting further because publishing material that prejudges a pending issue in court proceedings may constitute contempt of court.

The law gives the minister for home affairs discretion to authorize special police powers if a “serious incident” such as a terrorist attack is occurring or there is a threat that it could. These powers allow the commissioner of police to prohibit anyone from taking or transmitting photographs or videos in a defined area, or from making text or audio messages about police operations. A breach of the order may lead to imprisonment for up to two years, a fine of up to S$20,000 ($14,500), or both. Some civil society groups expressed concern that authorities could use the law to stop activists documenting the abuse of police powers, such as in the instance that authorities used force to break up a large but peaceful demonstration.

The law prohibits the public display of any foreign national emblems, including flags or symbols of political organizations or leaders. The law restricts the use of the coat of arms, flag, and national anthem.

The government-approved Speakers’ Corner was the only outdoor venue where citizens could give public speeches without a Public Entertainment License. Speakers’ Corner may be used for exhibitions, performances, assemblies and processions, and citizens do not need a police permit to hold these events. All event organizers must, however, preregister online with the National Parks Board and must provide the topic of their event. Regulations state that the event should not be religious in nature or cause feelings of enmity, ill will, or hostility between different racial or religious groups. The commissioner of parks and recreation has the right to cancel or disallow any event or activity that he or she believes may endanger, cause discomfort to, or inconvenience other park users or the general public.

Citizens need a permit to speak at indoor public gatherings outside of the hearing or view of nonparticipants if the topic refers to race or religion. Indoor, private events are not subject to the same restrictions. Organizers of private events, however, must prevent inadvertent access by uninvited guests, or they could be cited for noncompliance with the rules regarding public gatherings.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: According to the ISA, the government may restrict or place conditions on publications that incite violence, counsel disobedience to the law, have the potential to arouse tensions in the country’s diverse population, or threaten national interests, national security, or public order.

Government leaders openly urged news media to support its goals and help maintain social and religious harmony. The government enforced strict defamation and press laws, including in what it considered personal attacks on officials, resulting in journalists and editors moderating or limiting what was published. The government sued journalists or online bloggers for defamation or for stories that authorities believed undermined racial and religious harmony.

There were no legal bans on owning or operating private press outlets, although in practice government managerial and financial control strongly influenced all print and some electronic media. Two companies, Singapore Press Holdings Limited (SPH) and MediaCorp, owned all general circulation newspapers in the four official languages of English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. SPH is a publicly listed company with close ties to the government, which must approve (and may remove) the holders of management shares, who appoint or dismiss SPH management. The government investment company Temasek Holdings wholly owned MediaCorp. As a result, coverage of domestic events and reporting of sensitive foreign relations topics usually closely reflected official government policies and views.

Government-linked companies and organizations operated all domestic broadcast television channels and almost all radio stations. Only one radio station, the BBC’s World Service, was completely independent of the government. Residents could receive some Malaysian and Indonesian television and radio programming, but with a few exceptions authorities prohibited satellite dishes. Cable television was widespread, and subscribers had access to numerous foreign television shows and a wide array of international news and entertainment channels. The government did not censor international news channels but did censor entertainment programs to remove or edit representations of intimate gay and lesbian relationships. Residents routinely accessed uncensored international radio and television content via the internet.

The government may limit broadcasts or the circulation of publications by “gazetting” (listing) them under the Broadcasting Act and may ban the circulation of domestic and foreign publications. The law empowers the minister for communications and information to gazette or place formal restrictions on any foreign broadcaster deemed to be engaging in domestic politics.

The government may require a gazetted broadcaster to obtain express permission from the minister to continue broadcasting in the country. The government may impose restrictions on the number of households receiving a broadcaster’s programming and may fine a broadcaster up to S$100,000 ($72,500) for failing to comply.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) under the Ministry of Communications and Information regulates broadcast, print, and other media, including movies, video materials, computer games, and music. Most banned publications were sexually oriented materials but also included some religious and political publications. The IMDA develops censorship standards including age appropriate classification of media content with the help of various citizen advisory panels. The law allows the banning, seizure, censorship, or restriction of written, visual, or musical materials if authorities determine that such materials threaten the stability of the state, contravene moral norms, are pornographic, show excessive or gratuitous sex and violence, glamorize or promote drug use, or incite racial, religious, or linguistic animosities. The law gives IMDA officers power to enter and search premises and seize evidence without a warrant for “serious offenses,” such as those involving films prohibited on public interest grounds or the unlicensed public exhibition of a film. The IMDA has the power to sanction broadcasters for transmitting what it believed to be inappropriate content. All content shown between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. must be suitable for viewers of all ages.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense, and conviction on criminal defamation charges may result in a maximum prison sentence of two years, a fine, or both. Critics charged that government leaders used defamation lawsuits or threats of such actions to discourage public criticism, coerce the press, and intimidate opposition politicians.

In September, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sued Terry Xu, editor of the sociopolitical website The Online Citizen, for defamation following Xu’s refusal to take down and apologize for an article about a dispute between Lee and his two siblings. In a separate case, Xu was charged in December 2018 for criminal defamation after he published a reader’s letter in which the author accused the PAP leadership of “corruption at the highest echelons.” The letter’s author, Daniel De Costa, was also charged with criminal defamation. De Costa lodged a constitutional challenge against the charge, with hearings scheduled for November.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, although it limited them in certain circumstances.

In-country Movement: The ISA permits authorities to restrict a person’s movement, and they did so in the case of some former ISA detainees. Several dozen suspected terrorists were subject to such restrictions.

Foreign Travel: The government may refuse to issue a passport; in practice this was done primarily on security grounds.

Persons with national service reserve obligations (male citizens and permanent residents between ages 18 and 40 (for enlisted men) or 50 (for officers)) are required to advise the Ministry of Defense of plans to travel abroad. Men and boys age 13 and older who have not completed national service obligations are required to obtain exit permits for international travel if they intend to be away for three months or more.

In June a permanent resident, Thirumal Pavithran (an Indian national), was jailed for 10 weeks after he remained outside the country for more than five years after his exit permit expired. Those convicted of remaining outside the country without a valid exit permit can be jailed for up to three years and fined up to S$10,000 ($7,250) for each charge.

The law allows the government to deprive naturalized citizens of citizenship if they have resided outside of the country for more than five consecutive years or have engaged in activities deemed harmful to public safety and order.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status. The government may, on a case-by-case basis, cooperate with organizations such as UN High Commissioner for Refugees to repatriate or send refugees to a third country.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in open and free periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. In five decades of continuous rule, however, the PAP has employed a variety of measures that effectively limited the ability of the opposition to mount a serious challenge to its hold on power. In recent years, the opposition won additional seats, although it still held a small fraction of seats in parliament.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government implemented these laws effectively.

Corruption: Media reported one new case of serious public sector corruption during the year. In October, Immigration and Checkpoints Authority customer service officer Lucy Teo was charged with receiving bribes from a Malaysian national who applied to become a permanent resident. Teo was charged with two counts of engaging in a conspiracy to obtain corruptly S$1,500 ($1,090) from the Malaysian. Two other individuals, including the Malaysian, were also charged with corruption-related offenses.

In September the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau reported that of the 112 persons prosecuted for corruption in court in 2018, five were public sector employees. In one case, former general manager of the Ang Mo Kio town council Victor Wong Chee Meng, who was charged in 2018 with 55 counts of corruption, pleaded guilty in March to receiving S$86,000 ($62,400) in inducements from the directors of two building and repair companies, and was sentenced to 27 months’ imprisonment.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires civil servants to declare their investments, properties, and indebtedness to their respective permanent secretaries. According to the code of conduct for ministers, ministers make financial disclosures to the prime minister. Declarations are not made public. If evidence surfaces that a declaration is fraudulent, administrative “disciplinary measures” may be imposed. The salaries of ministers and senior officials were public information.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction and these organizations investigated and published their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. NGOs were subject to registration according to the Societies Act or the Companies Act.

Some international human rights NGOs criticized the government’s policies in areas such as capital punishment, migrant workers’ rights, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and protection of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. They charged that the government generally ignored such criticisms or published rebuttals.

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

Parliament passed the Criminal Law Reform Act in May. The law has been formally gazetted (published), but implementation was pending as of December. Under the new law, individuals convicted under the Penal Code for any offenses committed against vulnerable victims–children below the age of 14, persons with mental or physical disabilities, and domestic workers–will be liable to up to twice the maximum penalty. The law will abolish marital immunity for rape, expand the definition of rape to make it gender neutral, increase the penalties for offenses committed against unmarried partners, and introduce new criminal offenses for technology-related crimes such as voyeurism. These and other provisions of the new law will significantly change many of the legal provisions reported below.

The Protection from Harassment (Amendment) Act became law in June–implementation was pending as of December–makes doxing an offense and improves judicial procedures for victims of online harassment.

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 trade unions. Workers have the legal right to strike and to bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination.

Parliament may impose restrictions on the right of association based on security, public order, or morality grounds. The Ministry of Manpower also has broad powers to refuse to register a union or to cancel a union’s registration. Laws and regulations restrict freedom of association by requiring any group of 10 or more persons to register with the government. The law also restricts the right of uniformed personnel and government employees to organize, although the president may grant exemptions. Foreigners and those with criminal convictions generally may not hold union office or become employees of unions, but the ministry may grant exemptions.

The law requires more than 50 percent of affected unionized workers to vote in favor of a strike by secret ballot, as opposed to 51 percent of those participating in the vote. Workers in “essential services” are required to give 14 days’ notice to an employer before striking, and there is a prohibition on strikes by workers in the water, gas, and electricity sectors.

Unions were unable to carry out their work without interference from the government or political parties. The law limits how unions may spend their funds, prohibiting, for example, payments to political parties or the use of funds for political purposes, and restricts the right of trade unions to elect their officers and choose their employees.

Almost all unions were affiliated with the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC), an umbrella organization with a close relationship with the government and the ruling PAP. The NTUC secretary-general was a cabinet minister and four PAP members of parliament were in NTUC leadership positions. NTUC policy prohibited union members who supported opposition parties from holding office in its affiliated unions.

Collective bargaining was a routine part of labor-management relations in all sectors. Because nearly all unions were its affiliates, the NTUC had almost exclusive authority to exercise collective bargaining power on behalf of employees. Union members may not reject collective agreements negotiated between their union representatives and an employer. Although transfers and layoffs are excluded from the scope of collective bargaining, employers consulted with unions on both issues.

Foreign workers constituted approximately 15 percent of union members. Labor NGOs also filled an important function by providing support for migrant workers, including legal aid and medical care, especially for those in the informal sector.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not define “forced labor,” but the government used the definition found in International Labor Organization Convention 29. Under the law, destitute persons can be compelled to work.

The government enforced the law, although it was more likely to prosecute employers for less serious employment infringements than those of domestic servitude or bonded labor. Penalties included prison terms and fines, which were usually sufficient to deter violations. The government took law enforcement action against employers for workplace violations, including for nonpayment of salaries, serious safety violations, and abuse or mistreatment of foreign domestic workers. It also investigated and imposed fines on some employment agencies for committing other illegal practices. The Ministry of Manpower reported, for example, that in March an employment agency lost its license and was fined S$48,000 ($34,800) for advertising 49 foreign domestic workers on an online marketplace in an undignified light, as if they were commodities. Given the number of low-paid foreign workers in the country, however, outside observers believe that many cases of abuse were undetected.

Practices indicative of forced labor, including the withholding of wages and passports, occurred. Migrant workers in low-wage and unskilled sectors such as domestic work, hospitality, and construction were vulnerable to labor exploitation.

The law caps the fees payable by foreign domestic workers to employment agencies in the country at one month’s salary per year of the employment contract not to exceed two months’ salary, irrespective of the duration of the contract. Observers noted that unscrupulous agencies in migrant workers’ countries of origin could charge exorbitant fees.

Some observers also noted that the country’s employer sponsorship system made legal migrant workers vulnerable to forced labor because there are limited circumstances in which they may change employers without the consent of their employer.

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 of the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits employment of children younger than 13 years. A child age 13 or older may engage in light work in a nonindustrial undertaking, subject to medical clearance. Exceptions include work in family enterprises; a child 13 or older may only work in an industrial undertaking that employs members of his or her family. Ministry of Manpower regulations prohibit night employment of children and restrict industrial work for children between 15 and 16. Children younger than 15 may not work on commercial vessels, with moving machinery, on live electrical apparatus lacking effective insulation, or in any underground job, and normally they are prohibited from employment in the industrial sector.

The Ministry of Manpower effectively enforced these laws and regulations. Employers who violated laws related to child labor were subject to fines, imprisonment, or both, penalties that were sufficient to deter violations. Government officials asserted that child labor was not a significant problem.

The incidence of children in formal employment was low, although some children worked in family enterprises.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution provides for equality in employment. No specific antidiscrimination legislation exists, although some statutes prohibit certain forms of discrimination. For example, employers may not dismiss female employees during pregnancy or maternity leave, and employers may not dismiss employees solely due to age, gender, race, religion, nationality, marital status, family responsibilities, disability, or medical condition.

The Ministry of Manpower’s Fair Consideration Framework requires all companies to comply with the Tripartite Guidelines on Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices and have employment practices that are open, merit based, and nondiscriminatory. These guidelines call for eliminating language referring to age, race, gender, religion, marital status, family responsibilities, and disability in employment advertisements. Employers are required to provide explanations for putting requirements such as specific language skills in the job advertisement. Penalties for violation of government guidelines are at the discretion of the ministry. There were no similar government guidelines with respect to political opinion, sexual orientation, or HIV or other communicable disease status.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices received complaints of employment discrimination, largely due to the preference to hire foreigners over citizens.

In January, President Halimah Yacob announced the formation of a Council for Board Diversity, which aims to increase the proportion of women on the boards of listed companies, public sector entities, nongovernmental organizations and charities. The council replaced a committee that focused on women’s representation on large listed companies. As of June the council reported that women’s representation on boards of the largest 100 companies listed on the Singapore Exchange was 15.7 percent, while women filled 24.5 percent of positions on statutory boards, and 27.4 percent of those on registered nongovernment organizations and charities.

Some ethnic Malays and Indians reported that discrimination limited their employment and promotion opportunities. There were also some reports of discrimination based on disability, pregnancy, and sexual orientation or gender identity. Pregnancy is a breach of the standard work permit conditions for foreign workers, and the government cancels work permits and requires repatriation of foreign domestic workers who become pregnant.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law does not specify a national minimum wage for all sectors of the economy. The government has set minimum wages in the cleaning, landscaping, elevator maintenance, and security services sectors as a requirement to obtain a business license. The majority of these wages were below the unofficial poverty line determined by the National University of Singapore’s Social Service Research Center.

The law sets the standard legal workweek at 44 hours, and requires employers to apply for an overtime exception from the Ministry of Manpower for employees to work more than 72 hours of overtime per month. Workplace protection including paid sick leave, mandatory annual leave, and protection against wrongful dismissal is available to all private sector employees, except domestic workers and seafarers who are covered under separate laws. The law also mandates benefits for part-time employees, defined as those working 35 hours or less.

The law establishes a framework for workplaces to comply with occupational safety and health standards, and regular inspections enforced the standards. Officials encouraged workers to report situations that endanger health or safety to the ministry, but the law does not specifically protect the right of workers to remove themselves from a hazardous working environment.

The Ministry of Manpower effectively enforced laws and regulations establishing working conditions and comprehensive occupational safety and health regulations. Penalties for violating these regulations–fines and stop-work orders–were sufficient to deter violations. The number of inspectors was sufficient to deter violations. During the year, the ministry continued to promote training to reduce the frequency of job-related accidents in high-risk sectors such as construction, and authorities provided tax incentives to firms who introduced hazard control measures. Workplace fatalities in the first six months of the year were the lowest since 2006, when statistics first became publicly available. This continues a downward trend in the number of workplace fatalities, although the number of reported injuries has been relatively constant. The government also enforced requirements for employers to provide one rest day per week or compensation for foreign domestic workers.

In September, Ong Chin Chong, the sole proprietor of a transport firm, was fined S$140,000 ($102,000) for a fatal accident resulting from unsafe lifting operations that he supervised. Authorities found that Ong used unsafe equipment and had not provided training for the men on how to perform their roles. Authorities also issued a S$60,000 ($43,500) fine to Unipac, the firm for which Ong was a contractor, and a S$160,000 ($116,000) fine to Sunway, the occupier of the worksite, for failing to ensure that lifting operations were properly conducted on its premises. Ong’s fine was the highest imposed on an individual prosecuted for unsafe working conditions, for which the maximum sentence is a S$200,000 ($145,000) fine, up to two years’ imprisonment, or both.

In September parliament passed the Work Injury Compensation Act, which will take full effect in September 2020. The new law incentivizes companies to prevent workplace injuries by permitting employers with better safety records to pay lower premiums, expedites the benefit claim process for workers, and increases the size of benefit payouts to injured workers.

The Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management, which includes the Ministry of Manpower, unions, and the employers’ federation, offers advice and mediation services to help employees and employers to manage employment disputes. The Labor Relations and Workplaces Division of the Ministry of Manpower provided free advisory services to both foreign and local workers who experienced problems with employers; it provided mediation services for a fee. The ministry operated a hotline for foreign domestic workers.

The majority of foreign workers were concentrated in low-wage, low-skill jobs and were often required to work long hours in construction, shipbuilding, services, and domestic work.

The majority of foreign domestic workers, mainly from the Philippines and Indonesia, worked under clearly outlined contracts. Any employer of a foreign domestic worker or a member of the employer’s family, if convicted of certain offenses against the worker, such as causing hurt or insulting the modesty of the worker, is liable to a maximum penalty of one and one-half times the mandated penalty when the victim is not a domestic worker. Nevertheless, there were reports of employers abusing or mistreating such workers (see section 7.b.).

South Korea

Executive Summary

The Republic of Korea (South Korea) is a constitutional democracy governed by a president and a unicameral legislature. Observers considered the presidential election in 2017 and legislative elections in 2016 free and fair. Moon Jae-in was elected president in an early election following the impeachment of former president Park Geun-hye. The government held free and fair local elections in June 2018.

The Korean National Police Agency (KNPA), under the supervision of the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, is responsible for internal security. The National Intelligence Service (NIS) investigates suspected criminal activity related to national security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces, and the government utilized effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse of power.

Significant human rights issues included: the existence of criminal libel laws; laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults in the military; and corruption.

In December the National Assembly passed legislation outlining alternative service options for conscientious objectors. The government ceased detaining, charging, or imprisoning conscientious objectors, but prosecutors continued to appeal “not guilty” verdicts of some Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the disposition of trials of 935 conscientious objectors was undetermined as of December 30.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. Nonetheless, the government’s interpretation and implementation of the NSL and other laws and provisions of the constitution limited freedom of speech and expression, and restricted access to the internet as described below.

Freedom of Expression: Although the law provides for freedom of speech, under the NSL and other laws the government may limit the expression of ideas that promote or incite the activities of “antistate” individuals or groups. During the year, prosecutions under the NSL for speech that allegedly supported or praised the DPRK government continued. Two persons were charged under the NSL for praising or supporting the DPRK from January to July. There were nine such cases in 2017 and one in 2018.

Human Rights Watch contended the government maintained “unreasonable restrictions on freedom of expression,” citing the use of defamation laws, the NSL, and other laws.

In August a district court upheld a professor’s six-month prison sentence for defamation after he told his class that some women “probably knew exactly what they were signing up for” when they “volunteered” to be comfort women (women subjected to sexual servitude for the Japanese military during World War II). The court also upheld Sunchon National University’s decision to fire him. The professor said he did not intend to defame the women but was trying to provoke an academic discussion of the historical issue in his class.

Under the election law, the government may limit the expression of ideas that the National Election Commission deems to be false.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, within the constraints cited above.

In March the spokesperson of the ruling Democratic Party criticized a Bloomberg journalist for her September 2018 article that called President Moon the “top spokesman” of North Korea. The spokesperson also called out a New York Times journalist the following day for expressing a similar opinion. The spokesperson later apologized and had the journalists’ names removed from transcripts of his statements.

The NGO Reporters without Borders expressed concerns about criminal libel and national security laws that invoke severe penalties for the dissemination of sensitive information, especially when it involves North Korea. Conservative politicians complained that the Moon administration placed political pressure on media outlets.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government and individual public figures used libel and slander laws, which broadly define and criminalize defamation, to restrict public discussion and harass, intimidate, or censor private and media expression. The law allows punishment of up to three years in prison for statements found to be “slander” or “libel,” even if factual, and up to seven years for statements found to be false. The law punishes defamation of deceased persons as well; the maximum punishment if convicted is two years’ imprisonment. NGOs and human rights attorneys noted several cases of politicians, government officials, and celebrities using the libel laws to deter victims of workplace sexual harassment from coming forward or to retaliate against such victims. In January a film director asked prosecutors to investigate journalists under the nation’s defamation laws for reporting allegations that he sexually and physically abused actresses working under his direction. Prosecutors ultimately rejected the director’s request. Subsequently, the director filed a civil libel suit seeking one billion won ($830,000) in damages from a news agency and one of the actresses. As of September, that case had not been resolved.

National Security: The NSL criminalizes actions interpreted to be in support of North Korea or otherwise against the state. The government used this law to arrest and imprison civilians and to deport foreigners. The Supreme Court ruled the NSL constitutional in 2015.

In July a district court overruled the 2018 conviction of a Syrian migrant for recruiting individuals to join ISIS. The man had been living in the country for more than 10 years on a temporary humanitarian stay permit after the government denied his asylum application. According to a local NGO, when he traveled to the Middle East for the birth of his child, investigators assumed he was meeting with ISIS. Prosecutors accused him of having ISIS recruitment material on his phone; the man said the material automatically downloaded from his social media feed. The district court found that the prosecutors failed to prove that the defendant encouraged others to join ISIS or proposed a way to join the group. Nevertheless, the court rejected his request to determine the constitutionality of the law. Prosecutors appealed the decision to overturn the 2018 verdict and the case was pending as of November.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel (except to North Korea), emigration, and repatriation; the government generally respected these rights.

Foreign Travel: Citizens traveling to North Korea must obtain prior authorization from the Ministry of Unification. The travelers must demonstrate their trip has no political purpose. Visiting North Korea without government authorization is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment under the NSL.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Local NGOs reported cases of abuse against migrant workers, including physical abuse, confiscation of passports, inadequate housing, and sexual harassment. The government cooperated to a limited extent with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In June the NHRCK and rights activists called for better treatment of asylum seekers at the airport. They noted for example that an Angolan couple and their four children had spent more than eight months in the departure area of Incheon Airport as of September. They arrived in December 2018 and requested refugee status, alleging torture and sexual abuse at the hands of Angolan police. In January the Incheon Airport Office of Immigration denied the family’s preliminary petition, based on a “clear absence of grounds for applying for refugee status, including a possible attempt to gain refugee status for purely economic reasons,” and disqualifying the family from formally applying for refugee status. Fearing for their lives if repatriated, the family filed a lawsuit to appeal the denial. They lost the appeal in April, but afterward filed additional appeals. A journalist who visited the family reported their condition was worsening and that they were surviving on food and daily essentials donated by departing passengers.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status.

The government considers refugees from North Korea under a separate legal framework and does not include them in refugee or asylum statistics. The government continued its longstanding policy of accepting refugees or defectors from North Korea, who by law are entitled to citizenship. Some NGOs focused on assisting North Korean defectors said their budget decreased by up to 80 percent from previous years due to cuts in government funding. In June the Ministry of Unification stated that overall spending on North Korean defectors had increased each year of the Moon administration, but that spending included the cost of administering the Hanawon centers that house and process newly arrived defectors, the government stipend provided to them, and all other related expenditures.

Justice ministry staffing of its 10 immigration offices increased from 39 refugee officers in 2018 to 94 officers as of September. NGOs had previously pointed to understaffing as a major obstacle to accommodating the rising number of refugee and asylum applications. Among cases completed from January through July, the MOJ stated the average time to complete the initial review of a refugee application fell to 12.3 months and for the second review fell to 11.3 months. The government operated refugee application counters at airports and harbors to allow asylum seekers to file applications for refugee status upon entering the country. These immigration offices screen applications and determine if a case is eligible to proceed for refugee status review. The Justice Ministry operated an Immigration Reception Center in Incheon to receive refugees, asylum seekers awaiting adjudication, and temporary humanitarian stay permit holders. The center had a maximum capacity of 82 persons.

The law protects asylum seekers’ right to an attorney. Asylum seekers may ask for interpretation and legal aid services from the government and for services to adjust to living in the country while their application is pending. Some NGOs and asylum seekers, however, stated applicants faced difficulty finding qualified interpreters or worried that interpreters were loyal to the very governments from which they sought protection. Applicants may receive a work permit six months after submitting an application that is valid for the duration of their lawful stay in the country.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law provides grounds on which an asylum seeker at a port of entry may be denied referral for full asylum procedures. These include arrival “from a safe country of origin or a safe third country, in which little possibility of persecution exists.”

Access to Basic Services: Cultural, linguistic, and social differences made adjustment difficult for refugees and asylum seekers. Many migrants from North Korea and other countries alleged societal discrimination and were not always provided access to basic services. These cases were often underreported. In August a janitor found the bodies of a 42-year-old North Korean woman and her six-year-old son in Seoul. Police suspected they had died two months earlier. The family had lived in extreme poverty; there was no food in the refrigerator and the water had been shut off. A local social worker tasked with helping North Korean defectors said they had tried to contact the mother by telephone 10 months prior, but they did not follow up after the call went unanswered.

In July the government removed construction work from the list of approved jobs for asylum seekers whose cases are pending adjudication.

Most of the 552 Yemenis who sought asylum in Jeju in 2018 remained in the country. The government denied all except two asylum applications; however, it extended humanitarian stay permits to the majority of those refused. Approximately 400 of the Yemenis moved to the mainland after receiving their status. The Yemenis who remained in Jeju reported improving relationships with the island’s population. Those who moved to the mainland, however, were more likely to clash with employers and believed they needed to keep to themselves. In meetings throughout the year, police, immigration officials, Yemenis, and NGOs blamed inaccurate media reports for the public’s virulent opposition to the small number of Yemeni asylum seekers. In June an online newspaper suggested Yemeni refugees might be to blame for reddish tap water at an apartment complex, citing anonymous sources who said members of Houthi rebels might have poisoned the water.

Temporary Protection: Government guidelines offer renewable one-year short-term humanitarian status to those who do not qualify as “refugees” but have reasonable grounds to believe their life or personal freedom may be violated by torture or otherwise egregiously endangered. Temporary humanitarian stay permit holders do not have the same access to basic services as refugees and therefore rely heavily on NGOs for housing and support. Due to the government’s restrictions on the type of jobs humanitarian stay permit holders may hold, many of them faced difficulty in securing jobs. Those who did find jobs were largely limited to poorly paid “3-D” (dirty, difficult, and dangerous) jobs. The MOJ reported that the government does not provide temporary refugee status.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government, prodded by media and civil society groups, generally implemented the law effectively. Nonetheless, officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and there were numerous reports of government corruption. Ruling and opposition politicians alike alleged that the judicial system was used as a political weapon.

Corruption: According to the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, the government was in year two of a five-year anticorruption plan, a road map aimed at fighting corruption in both the public and private sector. Commission members included the Ministry of Justice, the Board of Audit and Inspection, the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office, and the KNPA, among others. The plan includes establishing a system for avoiding conflicts of interest among public officials, preventing corruption within the military, and curbing corruption in public procurement. The government also operated an anticorruption policy council chaired by President Moon. Since its inception, the council has uncovered 124 cases of corruption involving 519 persons. Of the 124 cases, nine resulted in indictments, 38 were under investigation, and 506 individuals received disciplinary action.

On October 14, Cho Kuk, the Minister of Justice, resigned 35 days after his appointment amid allegations that he and his family used his positions unfairly and, in some cases, fraudulently to gain academic benefits for his daughter and inappropriate returns on investments. On October 24, prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Cho’s wife for allegedly destroying evidence and falsifying credentials for her daughter’s medical school application. Prosecutors continued to investigate Cho as of November and barred him from leaving the country.

In February the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency raided Burning Sun, a nightclub, after receiving reports of Gangnam police covering up sexual assaults at the club. The investigation into police corruption resulted in the arrest of a senior police officer for abuse of power for pulling strings for the club’s owners, and the sentencing of another police officer to one year in prison for taking 20 million won ($16,600) in bribes from the club. Critics argued that the focus of police on investigating recreational drug use, as opposed to abuse of power and private and public corruption, highlighted the systematic corruption in the country.

Financial Disclosure: By law public servants above a specified rank, including elected officials, must publicly declare their income and assets, including how they accumulated them. Failure to disclose assets fully is punishable by up to one year in prison and a 10 million won ($8,300) fine.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views.

Some NGOs reported that government contacts were more receptive to calls to prevent trafficking in persons than in previous years. During the year, government officials and NGO leaders traveled overseas for training on best practices, policies, and interagency cooperation when combatting labor trafficking. The training encouraged new, creative ways to fight trafficking in persons in the country. Trainees included prosecutors, police officers, labor inspectors, and NHRCK representatives, among others.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NHRCK, established as an independent government body to protect and promote the human rights enumerated in the constitution, does not have enforcement power, and its recommendations and decisions are nonbinding. It investigates complaints, issues policy recommendations, trains local officials, and conducts public awareness campaigns. In 2017 when he assumed office, President Moon instructed each ministry to adopt more of the NHRCK’s recommendations. Within the KNPA, a committee of nine members, six of whom are representatives of human rights organizations, investigates alleged police violations of human rights. According to the NHRCK, in previous years ministries typically adopted the NHRCK’s recommendations, either directly or after further review. The NHRCK did not, however, report specific case or statistical information for the reporting year. Local media reported that the NHRCK chairperson instructed staff not to raise LGBTI rights until after the election, which observers suggested showed the commission was trying to keep human rights issues out of the spotlight for political purposes.

The Ombudsman’s Office reports to the independent Anticorruption and Civil Rights Commission and had adequate resources to fulfill its duties. The Ombudsman’s Office issued annual reports and interacted with various government institutions, including the Office of the President, the National Assembly, and ministries.

The government was slow to establish the North Korean Human Rights Foundation, mandated by legislation in 2016. The Unification Ministry stated that the National Assembly had delayed recommending members of the board of directors despite the government’s request to expedite the process. The ministry further stated that the government was prepared to launch the foundation as soon as the National Assembly recommends the board members. Observers also noted that the position of ambassador-at-large on North Korean human rights had been vacant since 2017.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, conduct strikes within strict limits, and bargain collectively, but certain limitations apply to public officials and teachers.

The law recognizes workers’ right to strike; workers in essential services are required to provide “minimum service” during strikes to protect the public interest. Essential services are defined by law to include railroads, air transport, communications, water supply, and hospitals. The trade union law prohibits the use of replacement workers to conduct general business disrupted by strikes, but it permits essential service providers to hire replacement workers within the limit of up to 50 percent of the strike participants.

By law parties involved in a “labor dispute” must first undergo third-party mediation through the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) or seek a labor-management settlement before registering to strike. Strikes initiated following this period are legal if they obtain majority support from union membership. The law narrowly defines “labor dispute,” which makes strikes on many issues falling under managerial control, such as downsizing and layoffs, illegal. Strikes not specifically pertaining to labor conditions, wages, benefits, or working hours are illegal. Stakeholders noted strike procedures were overly burdensome. Participating in strikes deemed to be illegal may result in imprisonment or a fine for the organizers and participants, depending on the offense.

The law places some restrictions on unions’ ability to organize their administration, including restricting the ability of union leaders to receive pay for time spent on union work. Laws banning education workers from engaging in certain political activities, such as joining a political party or openly endorsing a political party or candidate, also constrained unions’ abilities to advocate for their positions. The law also prohibits dismissed workers from remaining in unions.

The law permits workers to file complaints of unfair labor practices against employers who interfere with union organizing or who discriminate against union members. The NLRC may require employers to reinstate workers fired for union activities. The law prohibits retribution against workers who conduct a legal strike. Labor organizations asserted that the inability of full-time labor union officials to receive wages and the onerous registration requirements for individuals involved in collective bargaining effectively limited legal protections against unfair labor practices.

The government generally enforced legislation related to freedom of association, collective bargaining, and collective action, including legal strikes. Employers may be imprisoned or fined for unfair labor practices. In addition an employer may be penalized for noncompliance with a NLRC order to reinstate a worker. The law sets penalties in the form of fines or imprisonment against employers who refuse unions’ legitimate requests for bargaining.

Labor organizations generally operated without government interference.

In June police arrested the president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), Kim Myeong-hwan, after three months of KCTU protestors clashing with riot police at the National Assembly, which was deliberating a law to change working hours. The government has arrested five KCTU leaders since the confederation was founded in 1995. In May 2018 former KCTU president Han Sang-gyun was released on parole after having served more than two years of a three-year sentence for participating in an illegal assembly. Three other senior KCTU leaders were released during the year after serving prison sentences for convictions related to their union activities.

The UN special rapporteur noted examples of antiunion practices by companies, including encouraging the formation of management-supported unions; undermining employee unions through various means including surveillance, threats, and undue pressure on members; disguised subcontracting to avoid certain employer responsibilities and dismissal of members; firing union leaders and workers following strike action; and assigning union leaders demeaning jobs to demoralize them. He noted employers allegedly used labor relations consultancy firms to obtain advice that facilitated the erosion of trade union rights.

Undocumented foreign workers faced difficulties participating in union activities due to fear of exposing themselves to arrest and deportation.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government generally enforced the law effectively but did not consistently identify cases of forced labor; penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

NGOs reported some migrant workers were subject to forced labor, particularly those who had incurred thousands of dollars in debt for payment of recruitment fees, making them vulnerable to debt bondage. Some migrant workers in the agriculture, livestock, and fishing industries faced conditions indicative of forced labor, including deceptive recruiting practices, confiscation of passports, and nonpayment of wages.

International and domestic NGOs alleged that fishing vessels known for using forced labor often stopped in Busan and picked up foreign laborers. Photographs and interviews obtained by a foreign NGO showed that migrants faced dangerous working conditions and often went unpaid or underpaid for years of work on the ships. Although NGOs reported in the past that law enforcement authorities and prosecutors historically resisted investigating the ships because the laborers were not South Korean and the ships only stopped in South Korean waters temporarily, during the year maritime police began an intensive crackdown on human and labor rights abuses on both South Korean-flagged and international fishing vessels.

The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries helped law enforcement authorities investigate the working conditions of foreign sailors from April to May, focusing on labor contracts, crimes committed against migrants on the ships, and delays in payment of wages. It also announced in April that it would routinely include deep-sea vessels in its investigations, as opposed to only nearshore vessels. The coast guard conducted a crackdown on suspected human rights abuses from June to July, arresting 90 persons. Investigators said the arrests were the result of reports made by victims who had heard that the maritime police were conducting intensive crackdowns on human rights abuses.

One of those arrested was a captain of a South Korean fishing boat who pushed a Vietnamese crewmember off his boat and forced him to drift at sea before allowing him to return on board, according to NGOs. He also threatened the Vietnamese crew with knives and both physically and verbally abused them. NGOs stated that when the crewmember thrown overboard tried to transfer to another job, the ship’s owner demanded a payment of 5,000,000 won ($4,150). In February a new employment law came into effect that allowed foreign workers to change jobs without the permission of the employer for reasons including sexual harassment, sexual violence, assault, and habitual verbal abuse by an employer, the employer’s family members, or coworkers.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of minors younger than age 15 without an authorization certificate from the Ministry of Employment and Labor. Authorities issued few such certificates for full-time employment because education is compulsory through middle school (approximately age 15). Children ages 15 to 18 may work with the consent of at least one parent or guardian. Employers in industries considered harmful or hazardous to a minor’s morals or health may not hire them and face fines or imprisonment for violations. Inspections and penalties were generally sufficient to ensure compliance. The government reported two violations of child labor laws in 2017, the latest year for which such data were available.

There were some reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, “Children”).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment or occupation. No law explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of language or HIV or other communicable disease status.

The law requires equal pay for equal work. The government’s Sixth Basic Plan on Equal Employment and Work-Life Balance provides a roadmap for a policy on women’s employment that consists of three pillars: creating nondiscriminatory working environments, preventing interruptions in women’s careers, and providing re-employment for “career-interrupted” women. Labor laws generally provide foreign migrant workers the same legal protections as nationals but are not effectively enforced.

The law prohibits discrimination against informal or irregular workers (those who do not have full-time, permanent employment and who do not receive benefits at the same level as permanent workers) and requires the conversion of those employed longer than two years to permanent status. Employers, however, often laid off irregular workers shortly before their two-year anniversary. This practice was the cause of protests by more than 20,000 temporary employees in July, who contended the layoffs were timed to avoid having to hire them permanently. In order to encourage businesses to hire temporary workers on a permanent basis, the government provides subsidies and tax breaks for companies that convert irregular employees to regular status, according to the labor ministry. Subcontracted workers (known as “dispatched workers”) and temporary workers comprised approximately one-third of wageworkers in the labor force and faced discriminatory working conditions. NGOs and local media reported irregular workers were at greater risk for discrimination because of their employment status. The International Labor Organization (ILO) noted that the disadvantaged status of irregular workers contributed to discrimination against women given that women are overrepresented among these workers.

Discrimination occurred against persons with HIV/AIDS, women, persons with disabilities, and migrant workers.

Discrimination against women in the work place continued. On average, women earned only 63 percent of what men earned, and a higher percentage of women filled lower-paying, low-skilled, contract jobs. Women often faced difficulties returning to the workforce after childbirth.

In July workplace antibullying and “blind hiring” laws were introduced. The antibullying law requires employers to take action to fight harassment in the workplace. According to a July report by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, 70 percent of those surveyed said they had faced harassment at work. By law employers convicted of failing to take action to protect bullied employees face a fine up to 30 million won ($24,900) and up to three years in prison. The “blind hiring” law prohibits companies with more than 30 employees from asking job applicants about family members, place of origin, marital status, age, or property ownership. The law also prohibits companies from asking about weight and height when it is not relevant to the work.

Many migrant workers faced workplace discrimination. The maximum length of stay permitted under the Employee Permit System (EPS) is four years and 10 months, just under the five years needed to apply for permanent residency. NGOs and civil society groups asserted this explicitly excludes foreign workers from permanent residence or citizenship eligibility. NGOs stated it remained difficult for migrant workers to change employers (see sections 7.b. and 7.e).

The law allows for reduced wage payment to foreign workers on South Korean-flagged ship. For example, the minimum wage for foreign crewmembers is 1,640,000 won ($1,360) per month, 76-percent less than the minimum wage paid to a South Korean crewmember. Further, unlike citizen crewmembers, foreign crews are not entitled to profit sharing, resulting in foreign crew working longer hours for less pay.

The law prohibits recruiters, agents, employers, or managers from receiving money or other valuables or benefits from job seekers or employees in exchange for securing employment, “whatever the pretext may be” (see section 7.b.). Nevertheless, NGOs reported South Korean-flagged vessel owners routinely demanded security deposits of up to $5,000 from foreign crewmembers to discourage them from transferring jobs.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

During the year, the minimum wage increased 2.9 percent and was above the official poverty line. The government generally enforced minimum wage law and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The law allowed a flexible system under which employees may work more than eight hours during certain days and more than 40 hours per week during certain weeks (up to a maximum of 52 hours in a single week), so long as average weekly work hours for any two-week period do not exceed 40 hours and workers have a mandatory day of rest each week. For employers who adopt a flexible system, hours exceeding 80 in a two-week period constitute overtime. Foreign companies operating in export processing zones are exempt from labor regulations that mandate one day of rest a week. The law limits overtime of ordinary workers to 12 hours a week.

The government generally effectively enforced laws on wages and acceptable conditions of work for all sectors. It also conducted educational programs to prevent accidents in the workplace. The labor ministry was responsible for enforcement of these laws and the number of labor inspectors was sufficient to deter violations. Inspections covered businesses with foreign workers, particularly in the agriculture, livestock, fisheries, and construction sectors, which generally had poor working conditions.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards and is responsible for monitoring industry adherence. Under the law, workers in every sector have the right to remove themselves from situations of danger without jeopardizing their employment. The Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency is responsible for enforcement of these laws and had inspected approximately 49,500 workplaces as of September. The ILO observed, however, that the number of labor inspectors was insufficient and that unannounced inspections were rare. Worker organizations also expressed concerns about the insufficient number of labor inspections to identify potential violations of labor laws. Penalties for violations of occupational safety and health standards and overtime regulations included imprisonment and fines and were generally sufficient to deter violations.

A set of regulations outlines legal protections for migrant (those under the EPS) and foreign workers. Permit holders may work only in certain industries and had limited job mobility, but most enjoyed the same protections under labor law as citizens. Contract workers, irregular workers, and part-time workers accounted for a substantial portion of the workforce, particularly in the electronics, automotive, and service sectors.

Workers under the EPS faced multiple restrictions on employment mobility. Such workers lose their legal status if they lose their job and do not find another employer within three months. If a migrant worker is not able to get another job within three months, authorities may cancel his or her work permit, forcing the worker either to return home or to remain in the country illegally. This situation was particularly difficult for seasonal workers, such as those involved in agriculture or construction. Migrant workers did not have access to lists of companies that were hiring when they wanted to change jobs, which made it more difficult for these workers to change jobs freely. Migrant laborers were required to return to their country of origin after a maximum of four years and 10 months in the country but could apply to re-enter after three months.

To prevent violations and improve working conditions for migrant and foreign workers, the government provided pre-employment training to newly arrived foreign workers, workplace adaptation training to those who changed workplaces, and training to employers who hired foreign workers. The government funded 44 Foreign Workers Support Centers nationwide, a call center that provided foreign workers with counseling services in 16 languages, Korean language and cultural programs, shelter, and free health care services. The government also funded Multicultural Family and Migrant Plus Centers to provide foreign workers, international marriage immigrants, and other multicultural families with a one-stop service center providing immigration, welfare, and education services.

The law requires severance payments to migrant workers who have worked in the country for at least one year. Many workers, however, reported difficulty in receiving severance pay prior to their departure and stated they did not receive payments even after returning to their country of origin due to banking regulations and delinquent employers. NGOs reported many departing migrants never received these payments. An NGO supporting foreign workers reported 80 percent of their cases involved migrant workers seeking overdue wages or complaining of insufficient severance pay. It also reported 63.5 percent of migrant workers were unfamiliar with how to calculate severance pay, making them vulnerable to exploitation.

NGOs reported that while the minimum wage increased, employers tried to curb rising minimum wages for workers by reducing work hours, listing employees as “on-call” at home when they were in fact at work, employing undocumented foreign workers, and charging migrant workers for their accommodations and board.

Some NGOs reported migrant workers were particularly vulnerable to exploitation because the law excludes regulations on working hours, holidays, and benefits for the agricultural, livestock, and fisheries industries that had large numbers of migrant workers. An NGO stated migrant agricultural workers complained of receiving only one day off work per month, making it difficult for them to attend cultural education programs or language courses. Other NGOs reported foreign laborers sometimes faced physical abuse and exploitation by employers in the form of longer working hours and lower wages than their local counterparts. NGOs reported little change in conditions for migrant workers and expressed concern about the lack of improvement.

NGOs reported that although employers are prohibited from providing makeshift accommodations, such as vinyl greenhouses for migrant workers, some circumvented this prohibition and provided migrant workers with substandard accommodations made of plastic panels. For example, NGOs reported that some migrant crews were housed in shipping containers on barges. These “dormitories” were fire hazards and lacked proper heating and air conditioning. One vessel reportedly put a shipping container on a deserted island and dropped off a migrant worker on the island between shifts, according to NGOs. The case only became known after a different fishing boat visited the island, allowing the migrant to leave the island after three months of isolation. In July the government revised the law to require employers to provide information on accommodations to the employee before the signing of the employment contract. The labor ministry stated the law allows foreign workers to change their job when employer-provided accommodations fail to meet the legal standard. The ministry inspected accommodations at 1,700 workplaces in the first six months of the year, issuing 10 corrective orders to workplaces that provided substandard lodgings.

In January the government passed broad reforms to the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) that were scheduled to go into effect in January 2020. Some of the revisions included higher fines for workplace fatalities and increased penalties for health and safety violations. The revised OSHA regulations also prohibited companies from subcontracting out specific types of dangerous work such as metalplating that involve harmful heavy metals such as mercury and lead.

In January the NHRCK launched an investigation into working conditions at coal-fired power plants after a 24-year-old mechanic, a temporary worker, died in a conveyer belt accident in December 2018. The mechanic was working an overnight shift alone, contrary to regulations. According to the KCTU, 97 percent of industrial accidents and 92 percent of deaths that took place at the five major power companies since 2008 involved temporary workers. Critics argued the OSHA restrictions did not go far enough to protect temporary workers.

According to the ministry, there were 102,305 work-related accidents (an increase of 13.8 percent) and 2,142 fatalities in 2018, an increase of 9.4 percent from 2017. In January the government enacted a law that provides compensation to the families of the deceased and contributes to funeral expenses when a foreign worker dies in the country.

Taiwan

Executive Summary

Taiwan is a democracy governed by a president and parliament selected in multiparty elections. In 2016 voters elected President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to a four-year term in an election considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. The National Police Agency (NPA), under the Ministry of Interior (MOI), maintains internal security. The NPA, the military services, and the Coast Guard Administration report to the premier, who is appointed by the president.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

Authorities enforced laws prohibiting human rights abuses and prosecuted officials who committed them. There were no reports of impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression.

Press and Media Freedom, Including Online Media: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. There were no reports authorities in Taiwan restricted media freedom.

Concerns about censorship were limited to efforts by the authorities in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to censor Taiwan media outlets based on the business interests of their parent companies in the PRC.

In May senior PRC officials used the fourth Beijing-Taiwan Media Forum to call on Taiwan media outlets to shape their coverage to promote PRC political priorities. Wang Yang, Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, pressured Taiwan journalists to use their media platforms to advocate in favor of PRC policies such as the “1992 Consensus,” “one country, two systems,” and the “peaceful unification” of Taiwan and China. Wang also invoked the possibility of war if progress was not made toward these goals. Experts considered Wang’s remarks to be the most open and direct case of a PRC official exerting pressure on Taiwan’s media organizations to date. More than 200 representatives from 100 media organizations in Taiwan and China attended the summit in Beijing, which was co-organized by the state-run Beijing Daily Group and Taiwan’s Want Want Group.

In July the Want Want Group, which has substantial operations in the PRC, filed a criminal defamation lawsuit against a Taiwan-based journalist for the Financial Times in apparent retaliation for a report she authored exposing coordination between Want Want media outlets in Taiwan and the PRC Taiwan Affairs Office regarding the content of Want Want publications. The Want Want Group also filed suit against Taiwan’s state-run Central News Agency for citing the Financial Times report in question, and further threatened to sue any other outlets that cite the Financial Times report. The Financial Times reporter suffered harassment on social media, by phone, and in person, including from Want Want Group reporters attempting to videotape her at private events without her permission. Want Want China Holdings, a subsidiary of Want Want China Times Group, also threatened in April to sue the Apple Daily for a report that claimed the Want Want Group received more than 477 million RMB ($67 million) from PRC authorities between 2017 and 2018. Reporters without Borders called Want Want Group’s legal action against the Financial Times correspondent an “abusive libel suit” against a seasoned journalist whose reporting was credible.

In May Taiwan’s National Security Bureau also reported some local media outlets were receiving editorial instructions from Beijing.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: PRC authorities reinforced corporate pressure on media by using access denial to punish Taiwan media outlets whose coverage they deemed to be insufficiently consistent with PRC policies. One Taiwan commercial airline was reportedly pressured by PRC authorities to provide only newspapers containing favorable coverage of Chinese authorities on flights to and from China. Retaliatory tactics included denial of entry to China, heightened questioning and scrutiny during transits of Hong Kong, and targeted cyberattacks against journalists’ mobile phones and computers. Journalists also reported difficulty publishing content in Taiwan that PRC authorities find politically objectionable because those authorities pressured Taiwan businesses with operations in China to cancel advertisements in Taiwan publications that feature such content.

Journalists said they faced pressure from management to submit news stories to complement or support the content of paid advertisements. Critics said product placement under the guise of news reporting undercut objective journalism, restricted journalists’ freedom, and undermined public trust in the media.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedoms of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and authorities generally respected these rights.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and authorities have not established a system for providing protection to refugees. Due to its unique political status, Taiwan is not eligible to become a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

All PRC citizens unlawfully present are required by law to be returned to the PRC, although Taiwan allows PRC asylum seekers to remain in Taiwan on a case-by-case basis, using the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, the Laws and Regulations Regarding Hong Kong and Macao Affairs, and the guidelines for residence application by Hong Kong and Macao citizens.

In July the National Immigration Agency granted PRC student Li Jiabao an extended six-month stay for study purposes in Taiwan. Li, an exchange student at Chia Nan University of Pharmacy and Science, requested in April a long-term stay permit on grounds of political asylum, after he openly criticized PRC President Xi Jinping on Twitter in March and his student visa expired in April.

In July the National Immigration Agency approved the request of a family of six, who were members of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, China, and who had traveled to Taiwan to seek medical care, to extend their stay in Taiwan while they sought political asylum in another country. PRC authorities had recently raided the church, forcibly closed it, and imprisoned several of its key members, including its pastor.

Taiwan authorities provided medical treatment and humanitarian assistance to refugees and asylum seekers held in third countries. In June 2018 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs acknowledged Taiwan and Australia signed a memorandum of understanding in September 2017 allowing Australia to transfer refugees and asylum seekers in Nauru to Taiwan for urgent medical treatment. The ministry said the emergency treatments began in January 2018, and as of June 2018, Taiwan hospitals had treated 10 refugees from Nauru.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their elected officials in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and authorities generally implemented the law effectively. There were reports of official corruption during the year. In the year to August, nine ranking officials, 72 mid-level, 115 low-level, and 11 elected people’s deputies had been indicted for corruption.

Corruption: The MOJ and its subordinate Agency against Corruption are in charge of combating official corruption. The ministry received sufficient resources and collaborated with civil society within the scope of the law. Some legal scholars and politicians said the justice ministry was insufficiently independent and conducted politically motivated investigations of politicians. The Control Yuan is responsible for impeaching officials in cases of wrongdoing.

In December 2018 incumbent legislator Gao Jyh-peng of the DPP was convicted of corruption and sentenced to four years and six months in jail. In addition Gao was deprived of civil rights for four years, thereby losing his seat in the legislature. Gao filed for retrial and appeal, both of which were dismissed by the court in August.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires specific appointed and elected officials and candidates in national and local elections to disclose their income and assets to the Control Yuan, which makes the disclosures public. Those making false declarations with the intent to conceal properties are subject to a fine ranging from NT$200,000 to NT$4 million ($6,510 to $130,000). The law also requires civil servants to account for abnormal increases in their assets and makes failure to do so a punishable offense, and there are criminal and administrative sanctions for noncompliance.

In May the Legislative Yuan amended the Act on Property Declaration by Public Servants, requiring central and local election commissions to make public on the internet property declarations by candidates for local and national elected office within 10 days of submission. The amendment also specified agencies that are responsible for imposing penalties should violations of the property declarations occur.

The law stipulates 18 categories of politically exposed persons (PEPs) subject to strict oversight for money laundering activities. The PEPs include the president, vice president, heads of the central and local governments, legislators, and leadership of state-owned enterprises, as well as family members and close associates of PEPs.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Authorities were generally cooperative and responsive to their views.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct strikes, and bargain collectively. The law allows foreign workers to form and join unions and to serve as union officers. The law establishes three types of unions: enterprise unions, industrial unions, and professional unions. Enterprise unions are responsible for negotiating the immediate labor rights and entitlements of enterprise-level “collective agreements.” A minimum of 30 members is required to form an enterprise union; there may only be one union per enterprise. Employees in companies with fewer than 30 workers may only join a professional union or an industrial union to exercise their rights. This applied to approximately 78 percent of employees of small and medium sized enterprises. Industrial unions help to link workers in the same industry. Professional unions are geographically constrained within municipal boundaries.

The law prohibits discrimination, dismissal, or other unfair treatment of workers for union-related activities and requires reinstatement of workers fired for trade union activity. Employees hired through dispatching agencies (i.e., temporary workers) do not have the right to organize and bargain collectively in the enterprises where they work. In May the Labor Standards Act was modified to provide job security measures to, and identify the liability of enterprises and dispatching agencies for, temporary workers, particularly the responsibility for occupational injury and the presumption of indefinite and nontransferrable contract.

The right to strike remained highly regulated. Teachers, civil servants, and defense industry employees do not have the right to strike. Workers in industries such as utilities, hospital services, and telecommunication service providers are allowed to strike only if they maintain basic services during the strike. Authorities may prohibit, limit, or break up a strike during a disaster. For all workers, the law divides labor disputes into “rights disputes” and “adjustment disputes.” Workers are allowed to strike only in adjustment disputes, which include issues such as compensation and working schedules. The law forbids strikes in rights disputes related to violations of collective agreements and employment contracts.

The law requires mediation of labor disputes when authorities deem them sufficiently serious or involving unfair practices. Most labor disputes involved wage and severance issues. Local labor authorities were the usual venue to settle disputes by either mediation or arbitration, which is referred to as the alternative dispute resolution. Mediation, which accounted for 95 percent of all cases in 2018, provided a civil resolution and cost-effective way to reach a settlement, usually within 20 days. Arbitration, with legally binding obligations, generally took between 45 and 79 working days to finalize, which was often too lengthy for cases requiring urgent remedies. The law prohibits labor and management from conducting strikes or other acts of protest during conciliation or arbitration proceedings. Labor organizations said this prohibition impeded workers’ ability to exercise their right to strike.

The Ministry of Labor oversees implementation and enforcement of labor laws, in coordination with local labor affairs bureaus. Authorities effectively enforced laws providing for the freedom of association and collective bargaining. A labor ministry arbitration committee reviewed cases of enterprises using discriminatory or improper action to repress union leaders and their activities, and authorities subjected violators to fines or restoration of employee’s duties. Such fines, however, generally were not sufficient to deter violations, especially for financial sectors. Among 12 arbitrated cases with China Airlines as of October, six were appealed by the enterprise; two of them, with a restoration order, have yet to be complied with.

Large enterprises frequently made it more difficult for employees to organize an enterprise union by using such methods as blacklisting the union organizers from promotion or relocating them into other work divisions. These methods were particularly common in the technology sector. For example, there was only one enterprise union in the entire Hsinchu Science Park. With the exception of the banking industry, industrial unions were also underdeveloped.

Authorities encouraged collective bargaining agreements to provide better terms and conditions than the law stipulates. For example, the High-Speed Rail Trade Union successfully won back overtime payments through collective bargaining. The implementation of collective bargaining is still inconsistent. For example, after inspections, the Financial Supervisory Commission removed the chairpersons of certain financial holdings companies from their firms’ independent salary review committees.

Professional unions have grown more influential in collective bargaining. For example, the Taoyuan pilots’ professional union began a strike in February to win better safety provisions for pilots on “red-eye” routes. In August the Taoyuan flight attendants’ professional union went on strike on behalf of EVA Air flight attendants, which became Taiwan’s longest strike on record, lasting 17 days before reaching an agreement.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law prescribes penalties for forced labor, and the government effectively enforced the law, but courts delivered light sentences or fines in most forced labor convictions. Such penalties were inadequate to serve as an effective deterrent. Authorities continued public-awareness campaigns, including disseminating worker-education pamphlets, operating foreign-worker hotlines, and offering Ministry of Education programs on labor trafficking as part of the broader human rights curriculum. According to the National Immigration Agency, 13 forced labor cases were opened, and a further five individuals were convicted in the first seven months of the year.

Labor laws do not cover domestic household workers, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation. Forced labor occurred primarily in the domestic service, fishing, farming, manufacturing, and construction sectors. Foreign workers were most susceptible to forced labor, especially when serving as crew members on Taiwan-flagged fishing vessels. Some labor brokers charged foreign workers exorbitant recruitment fees and used debts incurred from these fees in the source country as tools of coercion to subject the workers to debt bondage (see section 7.e.). Authorities ordered six brokers convicted of illegal activities in 2018 to close; however, there was no legal prohibition against reopening a business through a proxy that registers as a new company. In November 2018 the Employment Services Act was modified to require brokers to report to law enforcement authorities within 24 hours if they learn of an employer mistreating a foreign worker. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations, although authorities sought to 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 all the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits work by children younger than 15 years without approval from appropriate authorities after an evaluation of the nature of the work to be performed, the working environment, and other factors. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from doing heavy or hazardous work. Working hours for children are limited to eight hours per day, and children may not work overtime or on night shifts.

Authorities effectively enforced minimum age laws. Employers who violate minimum age laws face a prison sentence, fines, or both, which was sufficient to deter violations.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. The law prohibits potential employers from requesting medical reports from job candidates to prove they do not have HIV or other communicable diseases. The law forbids termination of employment because of pregnancy or marriage.

Workers who encounter discrimination can file complaints with two independent committees composed of scholars, experts, and officials in city and county departments of labor affairs. Local labor affairs bureaus are empowered to intervene and investigate discrimination complaints. Authorities enforced decisions made by those committees. Employers can appeal rulings to the Ministry of Labor and the Administrative Court.

Latest available statistics showed that among the 201 sex discrimination cases reported in 2017, the majority involved forced resignations due to pregnancy. 141 sexual harassment cases and 118 unfair treatment or work equality cases were reported the same year. Scholars said these numbers significantly understated the problem due to workers’ fear of retaliation from employers and difficulties in finding new employment if the worker has a history of making complaints.

Persons with “minor” disabilities who have not applied for proof of disability from the government are nonetheless protected against employment discrimination. The Ministry of Labor imposes fines of between NT$300,000 and NT$1.5 million ($9,770 and $48,900) on employers who discriminate against this category of disabled workers or job seekers.

The law requires 3 percent of the workforce in the public sector and 1 percent of the workforce in the private sector to be persons with disabilities. In 2018, 4.3 percent of the public sector workforce were persons with disabilities; the private sector continued to fall short of the regulated target. The unemployment rate for persons with disabilities was three times higher than that for persons without disabilities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage is above the poverty line. There is no minimum wage for workers in categories not covered by the law, such as management employees, medical doctors, healthcare workers, gardeners, bodyguards, self-employed lawyers, civil servants, contractors for local authorities, and domestic household workers.

The law stipulates an eight-hour workday and 40-hour work week and allows up to 54 hours per month overtime. The mandatory rest interval for shift work is eight hours in certain sectors, provoking health and safety concerns. The permissible number of consecutive working days is 12 in two weeks. Employees in the “authorized special categories” approved by the Ministry of Labor are exempt from regular working hours stipulated in the law. These categories include security guards, flight attendants, insurance salespersons, real estate agents, nursery school teachers, ambulance drivers, hospital workers, media journalists, and public transport drivers.

Religious leaders continued to raise concerns the law did not guarantee a day off for domestic workers and caregivers, which limited their ability to attend religious services. This problem was particularly salient among the 235,000 foreign caregivers and household workers, predominantly from Indonesia and the Philippines, many of whom are Muslim or Christian and want to, or believe they must, attend religious services on a certain day of the week.

The law sets occupational safety and health standards that are appropriate for the main industries in the country. Employers are not subject to criminal charges if an employee is involved in a fatal accident due to unsafe working conditions. The freight and passenger transportation industries saw higher than average accident rates among drivers working overtime. Their employers often sought to transfer legal liability from the company to the driver.

Labor inspections conducted by local governments and specified agencies are regulated by the labor inspection law; but due to relatively weak enforcement, labor inspections often failed to serve as an effective deterrent against labor law violations and unsafe working conditions. Authorities can fine employers and withdraw their hiring privileges for violations of the law, and the law mandates publicizing the names of offending companies. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to deter violations.

The Ministry of Labor operated a Foreign Worker Direct Hire Service Center and an online platform to allow employers to hire foreign workers without using a broker. The Taiwan International Workers’ Association maintained, however, that red tape in the system continued to enable brokers to extract profits from foreign workers and prevented the Service Center from achieving widespread implementation. Regulations require inspection and oversight of foreign labor brokerage companies.

The Ministry of Labor may also permit foreign workers to transfer to new employers in cases of exploitation or abuse. Authorities also introduced several measures to reduce such exploitation. For example, authorities eliminated the requirement that foreign workers leave Taiwan every three years between re-employment contracts.

Taiwan authorities maintained a 24-hour toll-free “1955” hotline service in five languages (Mandarin, English, Indonesian, Thai, and Vietnamese) available for all foreign workers to obtain free legal advice, request urgent relocation and protection, report abuse by employers, file complaints about delayed salary payments, and make general inquiries. All cases reported are registered in the system for law enforcement to track and intervene if necessary. Among the 187,338 calls, the hotline helped 5,162 foreign workers to reclaim a total of NT$139 million ($4.53 million) in salary payments in 2018. Foreign workers’ associations maintained that in spite of the existence of the hotline and the authorities’ record of effective response, foreign workers often were reluctant to report employer abuses for fear the employer would terminate the contract and deport them, leaving them unable to reimburse debt accrued during the recruitment process.

The approximately 703,000 foreign workers, primarily from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, were vulnerable to exploitation. Foreign workers generally incurred significant debt burdens during the recruitment process due to excessive brokerage fees, guarantee deposits, and higher charges for flights and accommodations. Brokerage agencies, for example, often required their clients to take out loans for “training” and other fees at local branches of Taiwan banks in their home countries at high interest rates. Abuse was common in domestic service; there were several reports of employers raping foreign domestic helpers. In some instances, the victims were unable to leave until they paid off debts to employment brokers. Locally operated service centers, which briefed foreign workers on arrival, maintained a hotline for complaints and assistance and funded and operated shelters to protect abused workers. NGOs reported that the monthly take-home pay of some domestic workers was as low as 6.7 percent of the official poverty level.

Mistreatment and poor working conditions for foreign fishermen remained common. Foreign fishermen recruited offshore were not entitled to the same labor rights, wages, insurance, and pensions as those recruited locally. For example, the Control Yuan in 2018 issued a “correction verdict” to the Fisheries Agency and the Kaohsiung City Marine Bureau for their mismanagement and inaction when it became aware that the fishing vessel Fuh Sheng 11 subjected its Indonesian crewmembers to inhuman treatment.

Regulations only require a minimum monthly wage of $450 for foreign fishermen, significantly below the minimum wage on the island. Moreover, NGOs reported foreign fishing crews on Taiwan-flagged long-haul vessels generally received wages below $450 per month because of dubious deductions for administrative fees and deposits. Several NGOs, including the Taiwan International Workers Association, advocated abolishing the separate hiring system for foreign fishermen. In response the Fisheries Agency dispatched officers to the United States, Samoa, Mauritius, Fiji, Palau, South Africa (Cape Town), and Marshall Islands to monitor labor conditions on Taiwan-flagged long-haul fishing vessels when they dock at these ports. These officers used a multilingual questionnaire to interview foreign fishermen and examine labor conditions on board.

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