Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law grants workers the right to form and join unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and strike. It prohibits employer retribution against employees for engaging in trade union activities. The law places a number of restrictions on these rights, such as requiring that a recognized trade union represent at least 30 workers, prohibiting foreign nationals from holding union offices, and requiring that union officials work in the same substantive area of the business as the workers they represent. In 2016 the STSS administratively ruled that seasonal workers could not hold leadership positions in a union. Labor unions criticized this decision, saying it violated labor rights and international standards. The law prohibits members of the armed forces and police, as well as certain other public employees, from forming labor unions.
The law requires an employer to begin collective bargaining once workers establish a union, and it specifies that if more than one union exists at a company the employer must negotiate with the largest.
The law allows only local unions to call strikes, prohibits labor federations and confederations from calling strikes, and requires that a two-thirds majority of both union and nonunion employees at an enterprise approve a strike. The law prohibits workers from legally striking until after they have attempted and failed to come to agreement with their employer, and it requires workers and employers to participate in a mediation and conciliation process. Additionally, the law prohibits strikes in a wide range of economic activities that the government has designated as essential services or that it considers would affect the rights of individuals in the larger community to security, health, education, and economic and social well-being.
The law prohibits certain public service employees from striking. The law permits workers in public health care, social security, staple food production, and public utilities (municipal sanitation, water, electricity, and telecommunications) to strike as long as they continue to provide basic services. The law also requires that public-sector workers involved in the refining, transportation, and distribution of petroleum products submit their grievances to the STSS before striking. The International Labor Organization (ILO) expressed concerns that restricting strikes in so many sectors was excessive. The law permits strikes by workers in export processing zones and free zones for companies that provide services to industrial parks, but it requires that strikes not impede the operations of other factories in such parks.
The STSS has the power to declare a work stoppage illegal, and employers may discipline employees consistent with their internal regulations, including firing strikers, if the STSS rules that a work stoppage is illegal. The ILO expressed concerns about the government’s authority to end disputes in several sectors, including oil production and transport, because such authority is vulnerable to abuse.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. A new law passed during the year substantially increases fines for labor law violations and updates the authorities of Ministry of Labor inspectors. Under the new law, the STSS can fine companies that violate the right to freedom of association. The law permits a fine of 300,000 lempiras ($12,700) per violation. If a company unlawfully dismisses founding union members or union leaders, the law stipulates that employers must also pay a fine equivalent to six months of the dismissed leaders’ salaries to the union itself. As of October 13, every fine imposed under the new law was under appeal, and no case had been resolved. The new law streamlines the process so that when the STSS imposes fines, inspectors no longer have to clear them through the Central Office of the Inspector General, a requirement that added a year or more to the time between an inspection and a fine. Both the STSS and the courts may order a company to reinstate workers, but the STSS lacked the means to ensure compliance. The reinstatement process in the courts was unduly long, lasting from six months to more than five years.
Workers had difficulty exercising the rights to form and join unions and to engage in collective bargaining, and the government failed to enforce applicable laws effectively. Public-sector trade unionists raised concerns about government interference in trade union activities, including its suspension or ignoring of collective agreements and its dismissals of union members and leaders.
Although there is no legal requirement that they do so, STSS inspectors generally accompanied workers when they notified their employer of their intent to form a union. In some cases STSS inspectors, rather than workers, directly notified employers of workers’ intent to organize. Workers reported that the presence and participation of the STSS reduced the risk that employers would dismiss the union’s founders and later claim they were unaware of efforts to unionize.
Civil servants frequently engaged in illegal work stoppages without experiencing reprisals. Medical professionals and others continued to hold strikes throughout the year to protest arrears in salary and overtime.
Some employers either refused to engage in collective bargaining or made it very difficult to do so. Some companies also delayed appointing or failed to appoint representatives for required STSS-led mediation, a practice that prolonged the mediation process and impeded the right to strike. There were allegations that companies used collective pacts, which are collective contracts with nonunionized workers, to prevent unionization and collective bargaining because only one collective contract can exist in each workplace. Unions also raised concerns about the use of temporary contracts and part-time employment, suggesting that employers used these mechanisms to prevent unionization and avoid providing full benefits. A Supreme Court ruling requires that both unions and employers notify the STSS of new collective agreements before they go into effect. There were some complaints that employers delayed making such notifications.
Antiunion discrimination continued to be a serious problem. The three major union federations and several civil society groups noted that many companies paid the fines that government authorities imposed but continued to violate the law. Some failed to remedy violations despite multiple visits by STSS inspectors. Employers often threatened to close unionized factories and harassed or dismissed workers seeking to unionize. Local unions, the AFL-CIO’s International Solidarity Center, and other organizations reported that some employers dismissed union leaders in attempts to undermine union operations. Civil society organizations regularly raised concerns about practices by agricultural companies, particularly in the south. As of August the Solidarity Center reported that it was aware of 25 cases of individuals fired for union activism. In 2015 the STSS levied 650,000 lempiras ($27,500) in fines on 134 companies for labor rights violations. As part of a bilateral Monitoring and Action Plan signed by the minister of labor in 2015, in March the government increased fines for violations of labor laws through the new labor inspection law.
Employers often failed to comply with STSS orders requiring them to reinstate workers fired for engaging in union activities. The International Solidarity Center reported threats against several labor leaders, including public-sector labor union leaders. Civil society groups reported three labor activists or union leaders had been violently attacked as of August. As of September NGOs documented eight cases of threats or violence against union leaders during the year, including leaders in the agricultural and public sectors.
There was credible evidence that some employers in the manufacturing industry continued to blacklist employees who sought to form unions. Labor activists highlighted one export factory, Petralex, that allegedly closed operations in response to unionization and reopened under a new name, blacklisting former union members. Some companies in other sectors, including the banana industry, established employer-controlled unions that prevented the formation of independent unions because of legal restrictions on the number of unions and collective bargaining agreements allowed per company.
Several companies in export processing zones had solidarity associations that functioned similarly to company unions for the purposes of setting wages and negotiating working conditions.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced labor, but the government did not effectively implement or enforce these laws. Administrative penalties of up to 100,000 lempiras ($4,240) were insufficient to deter violations and were rarely enforced. Penalties for forced labor under antitrafficking laws range from 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment, but authorities often did not enforce them. The government investigated several cases of labor trafficking, including forced begging and domestic service.
Forced labor occurred in street vending, domestic service, the transport of drugs and other illicit goods, and other criminal activity. Victims were primarily impoverished men, women, and children in both rural and urban areas (also see section 7.c.). The 2015 prison labor law requiring prisoners to work at least five hours a day, six days a week, took effect in January 2016. Regulations for implementing the law were still under development as of September. The Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization said it was taking every precaution to protect prisoners’ rights and assure that the work provided opportunities for prisoners to develop skills they could use in legal economic activities after their release.
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
The law regulates child labor, sets the minimum age for employment at 14, and regulates the hours and types of work that minors up to age 18 may perform. By law all minors between 14 and 18 must receive special permission from the STSS to work, and the STSS must perform a home study to verify that there is an economic need for the child to work and that the child will not work outside the country or in hazardous conditions, including in offshore fishing. The STSS approved 132 such authorizations between 2014 and August. The vast majority of children who worked did so without STSS permits. If the STSS grants permission, children between 14 and 16 may work a maximum of four hours a day, and those between 16 and 18 may work up to six hours a day. The law prohibits night work and overtime for minors under the age of 18, but the STSS can grant special permission for minors ages 16 to 18 to work in the evening if such employment does not adversely affect their education.
The law requires that individuals and companies that employ more than 20 school-age children at their facilities provide a location for a school.
The government did not devote adequate resources or sufficient inspectors to monitor compliance with child labor laws or to prevent or pursue violations. Fines for child labor are 100,000 lempiras ($4,240) for a first violation, and as high as 228,000 lempiras ($9,660) for repeat violations. These fines are higher than those for other violations of the labor code. The law also imposes prison sentences of three to five years for child labor violations that endanger the life or morality of a child. The STSS did not effectively enforce child labor laws, except in the apparel assembly sector, and there were frequent violations. The STSS issued 35 fines in 2015 for child labor violations. As of September the STSS had identified 14 small businesses that employed children and fined seven of them.
Estimates of the number of children under age 18 in the country’s workforce ranged from 370,000 to 510,000. Children often worked on melon, coffee, okra, and sugarcane plantations as well as in other agricultural production; rummaged at garbage dumps; worked in the forestry, hunting, and fishing sectors; worked as domestic servants; peddled goods such as fruit; begged; washed cars; hauled goods; and labored in limestone quarrying and lime production. Most child labor occurred in rural areas. Children often worked alongside family members in agriculture and other work, such as fishing, construction, transportation, and small businesses. Some of the worst forms of child labor occurred, including commercial sexual exploitation of children, and NGOs reported that gangs often forced children to commit crimes, including murder (see section 6, Children).
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion or affiliation, marital status, race or national origin, language, nationality, religion, family affiliation, family or economic situation, disability, health, physical appearance, or any other characteristic that would offend the victim’s human dignity. Penalties include prison sentences of up to five years and monetary fines. The law prohibits employers from requiring pregnancy tests as a prerequisite for employment; violators are subject to a 5,000 lempira ($212) fine. The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations.
Many employers discriminated against women. According to a 2013 study by the National Institute for Women, employers paid women an average of 16 percent less than they paid men for comparable work. Female workers in some export-oriented industries and the agricultural sector continued to report being required to take pregnancy tests as a condition of employment. Persons with disabilities, indigenous and Afro-Honduran persons, LGBTI persons, and persons with HIV/AIDS also faced discrimination in employment and occupation (also see section 6, Children). As of August the STSS reported that it had received no formal complaints of work discrimination. The International Solidarity Center reported that the STSS had received 12 complaints of discrimination based on disability.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There are 42 categories of monthly minimum wages, based on the industry and the size of a company’s workforce; the minimums range from 5,869 lempiras ($250) to 10,168 lempiras ($430). The law does not cover domestic workers.
The law applies equally to citizens and foreigners, regardless of gender, and prescribes a maximum eight-hour shift per day for most workers, a 44-hour workweek, and at least one 24-hour rest period for every six days of work. It also provides for paid national holidays and annual leave. The law requires overtime pay, bans excessive compulsory overtime, limits overtime to four hours a day for a maximum workday of 12 hours, and prohibits the practice of requiring workers to complete work quotas before leaving their place of employment. The law does not protect domestic workers effectively.
In 2015 the government approved a new social security law. As part of the new law, employers must deposit at least 50 percent of the severance pay to which an employee is entitled into a bank account in the employee’s name. This provision, however, remained suspended as of September, pending the resolution of several court cases and further clarification of how the law will be implemented.
Occupational safety and health standards were current but not enforced. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing continued employment. Under the new inspection law, the STSS has the authority temporarily to shut down workplaces where there is an imminent danger of fatalities.
The STSS is responsible for enforcing the national minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety laws, but it did so inconsistently and ineffectively. An inspection law (see 7.a., Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining) was passed by the congress, and was in force, but at year’s end the implementing regulations had not been finalized. The new law permits fines of up to 25 percent of the economic damage suffered by workers, 1,000 lempiras ($42) for failing to pay the minimum wage or other economic violations, and 100,000 lempiras ($4,240) for violating occupational safety or health regulations and other labor code violations. As part of the Monitoring and Action Plan, the government nearly doubled the budget for inspectors, from 31.1 million lempiras ($1.32 million) to 59.5 million lempiras ($2.52 million). As of August inspectors had conducted 11,494 inspections, including 3,163 at work sites and 8,331 at STSS offices. As of December the STSS had 148 labor inspectors.
Because labor inspectors continued to be concentrated in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, full labor inspections and follow-up visits to confirm compliance were far less frequent in other parts of the country. Many inspectors asked workers to provide them with transportation so that they could conduct inspections, since the STSS did not have sufficient resources to pay for travel to worksites. Credible allegations of corruption among labor inspectors continued. Inspectors reportedly failed to respond to requests for inspections to address alleged violations of labor laws, conduct adequate investigations, impose or collect fines when they discovered violations, or otherwise abide by legal requirements.
Authorities did not effectively enforce worker safety standards, particularly in the construction, garment assembly, and agricultural sectors, as well as in the informal economy. The STSS conducted 31 reinspections of companies identified as labor rights violators under a Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement complaint filed in 2012 by labor unions. Employers rarely paid the minimum wage in the agricultural sector and paid it inconsistently in other sectors. Employers frequently penalized agricultural workers for taking legally authorized days off.
There were reports of violations of overtime limits, with agricultural workers allegedly working seven days a week for many months. There were credible allegations of compulsory overtime at apparel assembly factories–particularly for women, who made up approximately 65 percent of the sector’s workforce–as well as in the private security sector and among domestic workers. Employers frequently denied workers mandatory benefits, including vacation pay and 13th- and 14th-month bonuses. As of August the STSS had recovered 26.9 million lempiras ($1.14 million) in unpaid severance from four companies and was working with an additional three companies to complete collection of outstanding severance payments from them. There were reports that both public- and private-sector employers failed to pay into the social security system.
Human rights organizations continued to report that workers in the private security and domestic sectors were typically obliged to work more than 60 hours a week, but were paid for only 44. Domestic workers often lacked contracts and received salaries below a living wage. Since many lived in on-site quarters, their work hours varied largely based on the will of individual employers. Private security guards also often worked for salaries below the minimum wage. Many guards worked every two days on 24-hour shifts, in violation of the law. Civil society organizations also reported that employers often forced workers in cleaning services and the fast food industry to work shifts of 12 hours or more, violating the legal limit. The STSS regularly received complaints of failure to pay agreed overtime, especially in the security and cleaning service sectors. As of August the STSS had received 85 formal complaints of failure to pay overtime and fined 57 companies for not doing so. The STSS estimated that more than 60 percent of workers were employed in the informal economy.
There continued to be reports of violations of occupational health and safety laws affecting the approximately 3,000 persons who made a living by diving for seafood such as lobster, conch, and sea cucumber, most from the Miskito indigenous community and other ethnic minority groups in Gracias a Dios Department. These violations included lack of access to appropriate safety equipment. In 2014 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination raised similar concerns, calling the working conditions “deplorable.” Civil society groups reported that most dive boats held more than twice the craft’s capacity for divers and that many boat captains sold their divers marijuana and crack cocaine to help them complete an average of 12 dives a day, to depths of more than 100 feet. In 2014 the government banned compressed air diving for sea cucumbers because of deaths in the dive fisheries. The STSS inspected 45 fishing boats at the opening of the season. As of September 20, the Honduran Miskito Association of Crippled Divers (AMHBLI) reported five deaths and 15 injuries. AMHBLI reported the deaths of 455 divers and the crippling of 1,750 others since 1988.