Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for freedom of association, and the government interpreted this right as allowing people to form and join independent labor unions. The law neither provides for nor prohibits the right to strike. The law does not specifically prohibit antiunion discrimination, nor does it specifically require the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.
The government enforced freedom of association laws. Penalties take the form of fines and were sufficient to deter violations.
With a small number of major employers, there were few opportunities for workers to unionize. Independent trade unions did not exist, and there were no NGOs promoting the rights of workers.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The constitution prohibits slavery, involuntary servitude, forced labor, and compulsory labor, with exceptions for labor required by the sentence or order of a court, any other labor required of a person lawfully detained if reasonably necessary for the maintenance of the place of detention, and any service required by law in lieu of compulsory military service when such service has been lawfully required of others. The government did not effectively enforce the law. There were no reports of government enforcement, and there were no reported investigations of forced labor. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. There were reports of families holding or attempting to hold extended relatives, including children, in domestic servitude, but there were no known formal allegations made or convictions for this practice.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
There is no law or regulation setting a minimum age, hours of work, or occupational health restrictions for employment of children. The law prohibits exploitation of children under the age of 18, including in the worst forms of child labor, child begging, and child domestic work. Children typically did not work in the wage economy, but it was common for children to assist their families in fishing, agriculture, retailing, and other small-scale enterprises. This was particularly true in the subsistence economies of the more remote atolls where copra production can take children from school and negatively affect educational outcomes.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The constitution states that no person may be treated in a discriminatory manner under law or by public officials. Labor laws and regulations do not specifically prohibit employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, age, disability, language, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, HIV or other communicable disease status. The constitution states that the attorney general, in all cases of violations of the constitution, whether by private or public officials, has the standing to complain of the violation in judicial proceedings. The criminal code does not stipulate any specific penalty in such cases. There were no formal complaints of discrimination during the year to October. No law mandates equal pay for equal work; government employees receive pay equity. Under the law, citizens are given preference in hiring and noncitizen workers are hired only to supplement the local work force when no citizens qualify for the job. The law requires that employers who hire foreign workers pay a fee used for training citizen workers. Many employers willingly paid the fee to hire technically skilled labor, which was not widely available in the country.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The law establishes a minimum wage of $2.50 per hour for both government and private-sector employees, and the government generally enforced wage law. The minimum wage does not apply to casual workers or family employees. The laws apply to foreign workers in the same manner as citizens. There was no official poverty level.
Foreign employees and local trainees of private employers who invested in or established a business in the country are exempt from minimum wage requirements provided the employer receives government authorization. Most foreign workers, who constituted approximately 30 percent of the workforce (excluding agroforestry), and most of the professional and technical classes in the country earned considerably more than the minimum wage. Their earnings were estimated to average at least 50 percent higher than those of local workers.
No legislation provides protection for workers who file official complaints about conditions that endanger their health or safety. The law does not provide for workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
The Board of Inquiry within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has the authority to make recommendations to the Nitijela on working conditions, such as the minimum wage, legal working hours, overtime payments, and occupational health and safety standards for workers. There were no policy recommendations or political initiatives by the Board of Inquiry during the year, however, and the office did not conduct any health and safety inspections of workplaces. The office is empowered to do so, but it does not have dedicated inspectors to carry out inspections to enforce sufficient compliance. The law provides no protections for informal-sector workers, which generally included work on a family farm or in copra production.