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Afghanistan

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The pre-August 15 government’s law provides for the right of workers to join and form independent unions and to conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively, and the government generally respected these rights, although it lacked enforcement tools. The law, however, provided no definition of a union or its relationship with employers and members, nor did it establish a legal method for union registration or penalties for violations. The law did not prohibit antiunion discrimination or provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Other than protecting the right to participate in a union, the law provided no other legal protection for union workers or workers seeking to unionize. International NGOs noted that unions were largely absent from the informal and agricultural sectors, which accounted for the majority of Afghan workers.

Although the law identifies the Labor High Council in the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled (Ministry of Labor) as the highest decision-making body on labor-related matters, the lack of implementing regulations prevented the council from performing its function. The ministry contained an inspection office, but labor inspectors could only advise and make suggestions. Inspectors lacked the authority to enter workplaces freely, conduct inspections, and assess fines for violations. As a result, application of the law remained limited because of a lack of central enforcement authority, implementing regulations that describe procedures and penalties for violations, funding, personnel, and political will. The Taliban’s so-called interim minister of labor and social affairs has not made any statements on workers’ unions since he assumed the office.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law narrowly defines forced labor and does not sufficiently criminalize forced labor and debt bondage. Men, women, and children were exploited in bonded labor, where an initial debt assumed by a worker as part of the terms of employment was used to entrap other family members, sometimes for multiple generations. This type of debt bondage was common in the brickworks industry. Some families knowingly sold their children into sex trafficking, including for bacha bazi (see section 7.c.).

Government enforcement of the labor law was ineffective; resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate; and the government made minimal efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor. Penalties were not commensurate with analogous crimes, such as kidnapping.

Men, women, and children (see section 7.c.) were exploited in bonded and forced labor. Traffickers compelled entire families to work in bonded labor, predominantly in the carpet and brickmaking industries in the eastern part of the country and in carpet weaving countrywide. Some women who were sold to husbands were exploited in domestic servitude by their husbands. Men were subjected to forced labor and debt bondage in agriculture and construction.

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 labor law sets the minimum age for employment at 15 but permits 14-year-old children to work as apprentices, allows children ages 15 and older to do light, nonhazardous work, and permits children 15 to 17 to work up to 35 hours per week. The law prohibits children younger than 14 from working under any circumstances. The law was openly flouted, with poverty driving many children into the workforce. The law also bans the employment of children in hazardous work that is likely to threaten their health or cause disability, including mining and garbage collection; work in blast furnaces, waste-processing plants, and large slaughterhouses; work with hospital waste; drug-related work; security-guard services; and work related to war. The Taliban made no public statements on child labor and has not purported to alter the existing labor law, but reports indicated that child labor continued in poverty-stricken areas.

Poor institutional capacity was a serious impediment to effective enforcement of the law. Labor inspectors had legal authority to inspect worksites for compliance with child-labor laws and to impose penalties for noncompliance. But deficiencies included the lack of authority to impose penalties for labor inspectors, inadequate resources, labor inspector understaffing, inspections, remediation, and penalties for violations.

Child labor remained a pervasive problem. Most victims of forced labor were children. Child laborers worked as domestic servants, street vendors, peddlers, and shopkeepers. There was child labor in the carpet industry, brick kilns, coal mines, and poppy fields. Children were also heavily engaged in the worst forms of child labor in mining, including mining salt; commercial sexual exploitation including bacha bazi (see section 6, Children); transnational drug smuggling; and organized begging rings. Some forms of child labor exposed children to land mines. Children faced numerous health and safety risks at work. There were reports of recruitment of children by the ANDSF during the year (see section 1.g.). Taliban forces pressed children to take part in hostile acts (see section 1.g.).

Some children were forced by their families into labor with physical violence. Families sold their children into forced labor, begging, or sex trafficking to settle debts with opium traffickers. Some parents forcibly sent boys to Iran to work to pay for their dowry in an arranged marriage. Children were also subject to forced labor in orphanages run by NGOs and overseen by the government.

According to the International Labor Organization and UNICEF, millions more children were at risk of child labor due to COVID-19 because many families lost their incomes and did not have access to social support. Child labor was a key source of income for many families and the rising poverty, school closures, and decreased availability of social services increased the reliance on child labor. Many children already engaged in child labor experienced a worsening of conditions and worked longer hours, posing significant harm to their health and safety. Aid and human rights groups reported child labor laws were often violated, and noted that children frequently faced harassment and abuse and earned very little or nothing for their labor. In November UNICEF reported 9.7 million children needed humanitarian assistance and that child labor was likely to increase as humanitarian coping mechanisms were exhausted. The number of child laborers increased both due to general impoverishment of families and the arrival of more IDPs, according to a December statement by a Social Affairs Directorate officer in Herat Province.

Gender inequities in child labor were also rising, since girls were particularly vulnerable to exploitation in agriculture and domestic work. The UN Security Council reported that nine violent attacks against schools occurred between April 1 and June 30. Poverty and security concerns frequently led parents to pull girls out of school before boys, further increasing the likelihood that girls could be subjected to child labor.

In August international aid organizations noted that, without sufficient humanitarian aid, families would be forced to resort to child labor and child marriage. In November UN officials noted that a worsening economic situation was leading households to resorting to dangerous practices, such as child labor and early marriage, in order to survive.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/ , and 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 2004 constitution prohibits discrimination and notes that citizens, both “man and woman,” have equal rights and duties before the law. It expressly prohibits discrimination based on language. The constitution contains no specific provisions addressing discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, disability, or age. The law prescribes a term of imprisonment of not more than two years for anyone convicted of spreading discrimination or factionalism, which was commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. A 2018 law criminalizes physical, verbal, and nonverbal harassment, punishable with a fine, but the law remained largely ineffective due to underreporting.

Under the pre-August 15 government, women faced discrimination and hardship in the workplace. Women made up only 22 percent of the workforce. Many women faced pressure from relatives to stay at home and encountered hiring practices that favored men. Older and married women reported it was more difficult for them than for younger, single women to find jobs. Women who worked reported they encountered insults, sexual harassment, lack of transportation, and an absence of day-care facilities. Gender-based violence escalated with targeted killings of high-profile women in the public sector. Salary discrimination existed in the private sector. Men earned 30 percent more on average in the same occupations as women and 3.5 times more in agriculture and forestry, where women occupied two-thirds of the workforce. Female journalists, social workers, LGBTQI+ persons, and police officers reported they were often threatened or abused. Persons with disabilities also suffered from discrimination in hiring.

The pre-August 15 government’s Ministries of Labor and Public Health jointly adopted a regulation listing 244 physically arduous and harmful occupations prohibited to women and children, of which 31 are identified as the worst forms of child labor that are prohibited to children younger than 18. Under the regulation, it is not permissible for women and children to engage in types of work that are physically arduous, harmful to health, or carried out in underground sites, such as in the mining sector.

In September the Taliban-appointed “Kabul mayor” instructed the city’s female staff (amounting to approximately one-third of Kabul’s 3,000 municipal employees) to stay at home, with the exception of women whose jobs could not be replaced by men. Taliban leaders stated they would implement their version of sharia, prohibiting women from working alongside men, but gave no indication when female employees would be able to return to work. A similar Taliban ruling kept public universities from opening in September, as they were not configured to meet the Taliban’s gender-segregation standards, which effectively barred women from obtaining a secondary education, disenfranchising them from professional employment.

In October, media reported Taliban representatives stated women would continue to work at police stations and in passport offices. The Taliban further stated they were trying to provide working conditions for women in the sectors where they were needed, according to Islamic law. Taliban representatives also stated women were banned from most employment while saying women could keep their jobs only if they were in a role a man could not fill. In a December 16 interview, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid claimed no women had been fired from public-sector jobs and that they continued to receive salaries at home.

As of December the UN OCHA mapped the agreements between aid agencies and the Taliban in each of the country’s 34 provinces, showing where female staff members would be permitted to work. The document, reviewed by HRW, indicated that, as of October 28, Taliban representatives in only three provinces had provided a written agreement unconditionally permitting women aid workers to do their jobs. Ethnic Hazaras, Sikhs, and Hindus faced discrimination in hiring and work assignments, in addition to broader social discrimination (see section 6, Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law for the pre-August 15 government established a minimum wage of 6,000 afghanis ($78) per month for permanent (unlimited duration, paid leave) government employees and 5,500 afghanis ($71) per month for workers in the nonpermanent private sector (fixed-term contracts, temporary agency work and casual or seasonal work). The country did not have minimum wage rules for permanent workers in the private sector. In 2020 the Ministry of Economy established a poverty line of two dollars per day. The afghani devalued from 77 afghanis per U.S. dollar to more than 105 afghanis per U.S. dollar from June to year’s end, putting all minimum wage earners below the poverty line.

The law for the pre-August 15 government defined the standard workweek for both public- and private-sector employees as 40 hours: eight hours per day with one hour for lunch and noon prayers. The government regulated night and overtime work. Night work (between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m.) qualified production workers for a 25 percent increase in wages; service and administrative workers earned a 15 percent increase. Overtime work earned employees a 25 percent increase in wages for the hours worked, 50 percent if those hours were during a public holiday. The law provides workers with the right to receive wages, annual vacation time in addition to national holidays, compensation for on-the-job injuries, overtime pay, health insurance for the employee and immediate family members, and other incidental allowances. The law prohibits compulsory work without establishing penalties and stipulates that overtime work be subject to the agreement of the employee. The law requires employers to provide day care and nurseries for children.

The Ministry of Labor, in cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior, was responsible for enforcement of wage and hour laws. The Ministry of Labor was responsible for conducting inspections and responding to complaints; the Interior Ministry would enforce the law with fines and prison sentences. In 2020 the government did not report the number of labor inspectors; however, as of December 2018 the Labor Ministry had 27 inspector positions, 21 of which were filled. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient for the size of the country’s workforce, which included more than 7.9 million workers. According to the International Labor Organization’s technical advice of a ratio approaching one inspector for every 40,000 workers in less developed economies, the country should employ more than 200 labor inspectors. Government officials and NGOs acknowledged the number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Officials within the Ministry of Labor indicated that labor inspections took place only in Kabul. Ministry inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections but could not initiate sanctions or assess penalties themselves. The Labor Ministry would pass findings to the Interior Ministry, whose prosecutors would decide how and whether to prosecute. No data were available on Labor Ministry funding or the number of inspections conducted during the year.

The pre-August 15 government did not effectively enforce minimum wage and overtime laws. Neither the Ministry of Labor nor the Ministry of Interior made data available on penalties assessed for violation of labor laws, making comparisons with similar crimes (fraud) impossible. Media reporting suggested the Labor Ministry had focused its inspections on public organizations, ignoring worksites in the private sector as well as in the informal economy. International NGOs and Afghan media reported that violations of wage, hour, and overtime laws were especially prominent in the brickmaking and carpet-making sectors.

Occupational Safety and Health: The country has no occupational safety and health (OSH) regulations or officially adopted standards. There were no government inspectorates to investigate unsafe conditions or respond to workers’ complaints. Workers could not remove themselves from health-endangering situations without risking their employment.

The law provides for reduced standard workweeks for children ages 15 to 17, pregnant women, nursing mothers, miners, and workers in other occupations that presented health risks. Inspectors for compliance for reduced hours for at-risk employees were the same as those responsible for wage enforcement. The pre-August 15 government did not effectively enforce wage, workweek, or OSH laws. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance, and inspectors have no legal authority to impose penalties for violations. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, and penalties for violations were nonexistent.

With no formal OSH laws in place, the government did not track sector-specific deaths and injuries. Media reports suggested that workers in the construction, metalworking, and mining industries were especially vulnerable to death or injury, because adherence to OSH principles was not compulsory.

Informal Sector: Even before August 15, employers often chose not to comply with the pre-August 15 government labor requirements and often preferred to hire workers informally. Most employees worked longer than 40 hours per week, were frequently underpaid, and worked in poor conditions, particularly in the informal sector. In October the UN secretary-general noted 80 percent of the country’s economy was informal, with women dominating the informal economy. Workers in the informal sector were covered by minimum wage and workweek-hour laws, but informal workers were generally unaware of the full extent of their labor rights.

The pre-August 15 government did not provide additional social protections for workers in the informal economy. The Labor Ministry, however, was responsible for the operation of Child Protection Action Network (CPAN) units, a coalition of government agencies, NGOs, and community and religious leaders designed to combat child labor which occurred primarily in the informal sector. CPAN units received complaints of child labor, investigated, and referred cases to NGO and government shelters that provided social services. CPAN operated in 171 districts and processed more than 3,500 cases in 2020. No data were available on cases during the year or whether CPAN would continue under the Taliban.

Albania

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law and related regulations and statutes provide the right for most workers to form independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law prohibits members of the military and senior government officials from joining unions and requires that a trade union have at least 20 members to be registered. The law provides the right to strike for all workers except indispensable medical and hospital personnel, persons providing air traffic control or prison services, and fire brigades. Strike action is prohibited in “special cases,” such as a natural catastrophe, a state of war, extraordinary situations, and cases where the freedom of elections is at risk.

The law provides limited protection to domestic and migrant workers. Labor unions were generally weak and politicized. Workers who engage in illegal strikes may be compelled to pay for any damages due to the strike action.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources for conducting inspections and remedying violations were not adequate. The labor inspectorate inspected 8 percent of businesses in the country. Penalties were rarely enforced and were not commensurate with those under other laws related to the denial of civil rights. Of 45 fines that were imposed, only 17 were collected as of July. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Arbitration procedures allowed for significant delays that limited worker protections against antiunion activity.

Civilian workers in all fields have the constitutional right to organize and bargain collectively, and the law establishes procedures for the protection of workers’ rights through collective bargaining agreements. Unions representing public-sector employees negotiated directly with the government. Effective collective bargaining remained difficult because employers often resisted union organizing and activities. In this environment, collective bargaining agreements, once reached, were difficult to enforce.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not always effectively enforce the law. Lack of coordination among ministries and the sporadic implementation of standard operating procedures hampered enforcement. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other serious crimes but were seldom enforced. Some law enforcement organizations and the victim advocates at the prosecutors’ offices received training in a victim-centered approach to victims of human trafficking. The government continued to identify victims of forced labor and prosecuted and convicted a small number of traffickers.

The Labor Inspectorate reported no cases of forced labor in the formal sector during the year. (See section 7.c. for cases involving children in forced labor in the informal sector.) 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 most of the worst forms of child labor, but gaps exist in the legal framework, such as lack of prohibitions for using children in illicit activities. The law sets the minimum age of employment at 16 but allows children at the age of 15 to be employed in “light” work that does not interfere with school. Children younger than 18 may generally only work in jobs categorized as “light.” Children may work up to two hours per day and up to 10 hours per week when school is in session, and up to six hours per day and 30 hours per week when school is not in session. Children who are 16 or 17 may work up to six hours per day and up to 30 hours per week if the labor is part of their vocational education. By law the State Inspectorate for Labor and Social Services (SILSS) under the Ministry of Finance and Economy is responsible for enforcing minimum age requirements through the courts, but it did not adequately enforce the law. Penalties for violations were rarely assessed and were not commensurate with those of other serious crimes.

Labor inspectors investigated the formal labor sector, whereas most child labor occurred in the informal sector. Children engaged in gathering recyclable metals and plastic, small-scale agricultural harvesting, selling small goods in the informal sector, serving drinks and food in bars and restaurants, the clothing industry, and mining. There were reports that children worked as shop vendors, vehicle washers, textile factory workers, or shoeshine boys. The number of children engaged in street-related activities (such as begging or selling items) increased during the summer, particularly around tourist areas. The NGO Nisma ARSIS reported an increasing number of children in street situations used for drug distribution.

Children were subjected to forced begging and criminal activity. Some children begging on the street were second- or third-generation beggars. Research suggested that begging started as early as the age of four or five. While the law prohibits the exploitation of children for begging, police generally did not enforce it, although they made greater efforts to do so during the year. In several cases, police detained parents of children found begging in the street and referred children for appropriate child services care. The State Agency on Children ’s Rights continued to identify and manage cases of street children identified by mobile identification units.

In 2013, the most recent year for which statistics were available, the government’s statistical agency and the International Labor Organization estimated that 54,000 children were engaged in forced labor domestically. An estimated 43,000 children worked in farms and fishing, 4,400 in the services sector, and 2,200 in hotels and restaurants. Nearly 5 percent of children were child laborers. The State Agency for Protection of Children Rights identified 166 children in street situations as of June.

SILSS did not carry out inspections for child labor unless there was a specific complaint. Most labor inspections occurred in shoe and textile factories, call centers, and retail enterprises; officials found some instances of child labor during their inspections. As of July, SILSS reported 91 children younger than 18 registered to work, of whom 40 were employed in manufacturing enterprises and 42 in the hotel, bar, and restaurant industry.

The NGO Terre des Hommes reported that the COVID-19 pandemic may have worsened child labor violations. Restriction of movement and other measures against COVID-19 produced new exploitation trends, such as door-to-door begging and afternoon and night street work.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws prohibit employment discrimination based on race, skin color, gender, age, physical or mental disability, political beliefs, language, nationality, religion, family, HIV or AIDS status, or social origin. The government did not enforce the law, and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those under other laws related to denials of civil rights. The commissioner for protection from discrimination reported that most allegations of discrimination involved race, sexual orientation, economic status, or disability.

There are laws prohibiting women from engaging in work that requires lifting more than 44 pounds.

According to the labor force survey, women were less likely to participate in the labor market. The participation in the labor force of women between the ages of 15 and 64 decreased slightly, from 61.6 percent in 2019 to 61.2 percent in 2020. The most common reasons given for nonparticipation in the paid labor market included school attendance (20.9 percent) or unpaid housework (18.8 percent). For men not active in the paid labor market, 25.7 percent cited school attendance and 0.6 percent cited housework as the reason.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Algeria

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution allows for the right of workers to join and form unions of their choice, provided they are citizens. The country has ratified the ILO’s conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining but failed to enact legislation needed to implement these conventions fully. It was unclear whether the government enforced applicable laws commensurate with those for other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination. The law requires that workers obtain government approval to form a union, and the Ministry of Labor must approve or disapprove a union application within 30 days. To form a union, an applicant must be Algerian by birth or have held Algerian nationality for 10 years. The law also provides for the creation of independent unions, although the union’s membership must account for at least 20 percent of an enterprise’s workforce. Unions have the right to form and join federations or confederations, and the government recognized four confederations. Unions may recruit members at the workplace. The law prohibits discrimination by employers against union members and organizers and provides mechanisms for resolving trade union complaints of employers’ antiunion practices.

The law permits unions to affiliate with international labor bodies and develop relations with foreign labor groups. For example, the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA), which represented most public-sector workers, is an affiliate of the International Trade Union Confederation. Nevertheless, the law prohibits unions from associating with political parties and receiving funds from foreign sources. The courts are empowered to dissolve unions that engage in illegal activities. The government may invalidate a union’s legal status if authorities perceive its objectives to be contrary to the established institutional system, public order, good morals, law, or regulations in force.

The law provides for collective bargaining by all unions, and the government permitted the exercise of this right for authorized unions. Nevertheless, the UGTA remained the only union authorized to negotiate collective bargaining agreements during the annual tripartite meeting. Other authorized unions can bargain with specific ministries but are excluded from the tripartite meeting.

The law provides for the right to conduct legal strikes, and workers exercised this right, subject to conditions. Striking requires a secret ballot of the whole workforce. The decision to strike must be approved by majority vote of workers at a general meeting. The government may restrict strikes on several grounds, including economic crisis, obstruction of public services, or the possibility of subversive actions. Furthermore, all public demonstrations, including protests and strikes, must receive prior government authorization. By law workers may strike only after 14 days of mandatory conciliation or mediation. The government occasionally offered to mediate disputes. The law states that decisions reached in mediation are binding on both parties. If mediation does not lead to an agreement, workers may strike legally after they vote by secret ballot to do so. The law requires that a minimum level of essential public services must be maintained during public-sector service strikes, and the government has broad legal authority to requisition public employees. The list of essential services included banking, radio, and television. Penalties for unlawful work stoppages range from eight days’ to two months’ imprisonment. The law protects union members from discrimination or dismissal based on their union activities. Penalties for abusing union members’ rights are not sufficient to deter abuses. The law says any firing or other employment action based on discrimination against union members is invalid. The government did not effectively enforce these laws.

The government reported 99 registered trade unions and 59 employers’ organizations, up from 91 and 47, respectively, in 2020. Many trade unions remained unrecognized by the government; they identified delayed processing and administrative hurdles as the primary obstacles to establishing legal status. The ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations reiterated in 2017 that the lengthy registration process seriously impeded the establishment of new unions.

Attempts by new unions to form federations or confederations suffered similar challenges. Representatives of the National Autonomous Union for Public Administration Personnel (SNAPAP) stated that the union continued to function without official status.

The government continued to deny recognition to the General Autonomous Confederation of Workers in Algeria (CGATA), an independent trade union confederation that includes public and economic-sector unions and committees. CGATA membership included workers from unions representing government administrators, diplomatic personnel, state electricity and gas employees, university professors, public transport and postal workers, and lawyers. The confederation also included migrants working in the country. In 2019 authorities shut down CGATA’s offices and authorities arrested and jailed an executive member of CGATA, Kaddour Chouicha. On April 29, authorities arrested Chouicha, journalists Jamila Loukil and Said Boudour, and 12 others on charges of “enlistment in a terrorist or subversive organization active abroad or in Algeria.” The court in Oran heard the case on May 18 but did not notify the defendants’’ lawyers. The court granted Chouicha and Loukil’s provisional release and placed Boudour under judicial supervision.

SNAPAP and other independent unions faced government interference throughout the year, including official obstruction of general assembly meetings and police harassment during sit-in protests. Furthermore, the government restricted union activities and the formation of independent unions in certain critical public services sectors, such as oil and gas and telecommunications. The International Trade Union Confederation reported that judicial abuse of trade union leaders had intensified.

On April 5, authorities arrested Mourad Ghedia, president of the SNAPAP/CGATA Justice Sector Workers. A judge placed Ghedia in pretrial detention. Ghedia did not have access to a lawyer, and the judge did not inform him of the charges.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

NGOs reported that irregular migrants sometimes worked in forced labor and that their lack of work permits made them more vulnerable to exploitation. For example, migrant women were subjected to debt bondage as they worked to repay smuggling debts through domestic servitude, forced begging, and exploitation. Construction workers and domestic workers were reportedly vulnerable. 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 does not prohibit and criminalize all the worst forms of child labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The law prohibits employment by minors in dangerous, unhealthy, or harmful work or in work considered inappropriate because of social and religious considerations, yet the country has not determined by national law or regulation the types of work that are hazardous for children. Under the law there is no legislative provision prohibiting the use, procuring, or offering of a child younger than age 18 for the production and trafficking of drugs. The minimum legal age for employment is 16, but younger children may work as apprentices with permission from their parents or legal guardian. The law prohibits workers younger than 19 from working at night. The ILO noted, however, that the country’s standard of “night” for children is only eight hours, less than the 11 hours recommended by the ILO.

Although specific data were unavailable, children reportedly worked mostly in the informal sales market, often in family businesses. There were isolated reports that children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and refers violators to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution. There is no single office charged with this task, but all labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing laws regarding child labor. The Ministry of Labor conducted inspections and, in some cases, investigated companies suspected of hiring underage workers. The ministry’s Labor Inspector Service in 2019 conducted 124,698 inspections and reported 10 children were found working illegally but did not provide updated statistics for the year. The Ministry of Labor attributed the low figure to the fact that most children worked in the informal economy, and inspections were limited to registered businesses. Monitoring and enforcement practices for child labor were ineffective.

The Ministry of National Solidarity, Family, and Women led a national committee composed of 12 ministries and NGOs that meets yearly to discuss child labor issues. The committee was empowered to propose measures and laws to address child labor as well as conduct awareness campaigns.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment, salary, and work environment based on age, gender, social and marital status, family links, political conviction, disability, national origin, and affiliation with a union. It was not clear whether penalties for violations were commensurate with other laws on civil rights, such as election interference. The law restricts women from working during certain hours of the day and does not permit women to work in jobs deemed arduous. In addition to the legislative provisions in force, employers must ensure that the work entrusted to women, minors, and persons with disabilities does not “require an effort exceeding their strength.”

Men held a large percentage of positions of authority in government and the private sector, and women reported facing employment discrimination with job offers being extended to less qualified male applicants. Although the law states women should receive a salary equal to men, leaders of women’s organizations reported discrimination was common and that women were less likely to receive equal pay for equal work or promotions, particularly in the private sector.

Few businesses abided by the law requiring that they reserve 1 percent of jobs for persons with disabilities. NGOs reported that the government did not enforce payment of fines for failing to abide by the law. The government usually highlighted its efforts in March to coincide with the National Day of the Disabled. The ministry, however, reported it had increased efforts to enforce the 1 percent quota during the year. The ministry reported it inspected 276 businesses, encompassing 88,718 workers, to verify compliance with the 1 percent quota. The ministry issued 44 formal notices to 68 noncompliant employers for failure to adhere to the quota.

The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination with respect to employment based on sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, or religion. The government did not adequately enforce the law, since discrimination reportedly existed, specifically against migrant workers in the informal economy who lacked a legal means to address unfair working conditions. Particularly vulnerable were women, girls, and young men from sub-Saharan Africa who were lured into the country to accept jobs in restaurants and hair salons but were subjected to forced labor conditions. NGOs reported instances in which unaccompanied migrant girls were exploited as domestic workers and were known to be loaned out to families for extended periods to work in homes or exploited as prostitutes.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: A tripartite social pact among business, government, and the official union established a national, monthly minimum wage which is above the poverty income level. In June 2020 President Tebboune directed the Ministry of Labor to increase the monthly minimum wage. He also eliminated tax obligations for low-income workers.

The standard workweek was 40 hours, including one hour for lunch per day. Half of the lunch hour is considered compensated working time. Employees who worked longer than the standard workweek received premium pay on a sliding scale from time-and-a-half to double time, depending on whether the overtime occurred on a normal workday, a weekend, or a holiday. It was unclear whether penalties for violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were appropriate for the main industries in the country. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with OSH experts and not the worker based on hazards inherent to the nature of work. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts and not the worker. It was not clear whether the law provides workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment. There were no known reports of workers dismissed for removing themselves from hazardous working conditions. If workers face such conditions, they may renegotiate their contracts or, failing that, resort to the courts. While this legal mechanism existed, the high demand for employment in the country gave an advantage to employers seeking to exploit employees. The government did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health laws. It was unclear whether penalties for violations were commensurate with those for crimes like negligence.

Informal Sector: The government’s labor laws do not formally allow refugee employment or adequately cover migrant laborers; therefore, many economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere who worked in the informal sector, primarily in construction and as domestic workers, were at risk of labor exploitation due to their lack of legal status.

The government requires employers to declare their employees to the Ministry of Labor and to pay social security benefits. The government allowed undeclared workers to gain credit for social security and retirement benefits for time spent in the informal economy if they repay any taxes owed after registering. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Labor Ministry did not employ sufficient inspectors.

The government prioritized pregnant women and women raising children, as well as individuals with chronic illnesses and those with health vulnerabilities, for exceptional leave. In 2020 authorities extended exceptional leave to the private sector.

On August 8, the government increased the unemployment allowance. The government set an age limit for qualified job seekers and introduced a system to control unemployment cards.

Andorra

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and law provide for workers to form and join independent trade unions. The law also regulates the relations between trade unions and employer associations as well as mechanisms of collective conflict. The law provides for the rights to bargain collectively and to strike. Alternate dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation and arbitration exist. The law neither prohibits antiunion discrimination nor requires the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

While the government effectively enforced the law, the county’s main union Unio Sindical d’Andorra (USdA) criticized the law, alleging it does not effectively protect workers, especially those with short-term contracts. The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic increased the vulnerability of some workers who had precarious contract terms. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other laws involving the denial of civil liberties.

The government and employers respected freedom of association. Collective bargaining did not occur during the year. There were no official reports of or investigations into any antiunion discrimination. Workers continued to be reluctant to admit to union membership due to fear of retaliation by their employers and arbitrary dismissal.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties were commensurate with penalties for similar crimes.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits children younger than age 14 from working and all of the worst forms of child labor. Children ages 14 or 15 may work up to two months per year during school holidays following strict regulations contained in the law. The law limits work by children who are ages 14 or 15 to no more than six hours per day, limits work by children ages 16 or 17 to eight hours per day, provides for safety restrictions, restricts the types of work children may perform, and outlines other conditions. According to the law, children may not work overtime, work overnight, or work in dangerous occupations, especially in the construction sector. The law provides for protection of children from exploitation in the workplace. Penalties were commensurate with those for other similar crimes. The government effectively enforced the law.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation, and the government effectively enforced the law. Penalties were commensurate with other laws related to civil rights. Some cases of discrimination against persons with disabilities, persons based on sexual orientation, and women occurred with respect to employment or occupation. Discrimination against persons with disabilities existed in the form of social and cultural barriers, as well as disadvantages in the labor market. The Ministry of Social Affairs favored the hiring of persons with disabilities and promoted the Network of Inclusive Businesses. Member companies received fiscal and social incentives for participating.

Women represented 49 percent of the workforce. The law requires equal pay for equal work. No cases were filed during the year, but the ADA and trade union representatives from the USdA reported cases of gender discrimination, especially relating to unequal salaries for the same work and workplace bullying. Victims were reluctant to file a complaint due to fear of reprisal from employers. The government’s Department of Statistics estimated that women earned on average 20 percent less than men for comparable work. In the financial sector, this percentage increased to 28 percent. The government tried to combat pay discrimination in general, and it applied pay equality within the government.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The national minimum wage was above the poverty level but not sufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The national ombudsman reported that the minimum wage was not enough to make housing affordable. The government generally enforced minimum wage laws. The number of individuals living in a vulnerable situation increased because of the medical crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The government enacted legislation creating mechanisms to assist companies and workers to deal with the economic impact of COVID-19. In an April study by the Social Observatory of Andorra, 38 percent of the population reported having financial difficulties. Youth and women as well as temporary workers were among the most vulnerable groups.

Workers may work up to two overtime hours per day or 15 hours per week, 50 hours per month, and 426 hours per year. Penalties for wage and overtime violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes. The Labor Inspection Office, within the Ministry of Presidency and Economy, has the authority to levy sanctions and fines against companies violating standards and enforced compliance. The office had enough inspectors and resources to enforce compliance. Inspectors had the authority to conduct unannounced inspections.

Occupational Safety and Health: The responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts, not the worker. The law covers agricultural, domestic, and migrant workers. The Labor Inspection Office has the authority to levy sanctions and fines against companies violating standards and enforced compliance. The office had enough inspectors and resources to enforce compliance. Inspectors had the authority to conduct unannounced inspections. Inspections for occupational safety and health were conducted by the same inspectors under the same authorities as wage and hours. The government effectively enforced occupational safety and health laws, and the penalties for violations were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence.

As of the end of August, the Labor Inspection Office had received 41 complaints. In 2020 the Andorran Social Security Fund had registered 5,870 workplace accidents, which led to 4,563 persons on sick leave from their workplace for an average of 24 days. One death was registered.

Angola

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, except members of the armed forces, police, firefighters, members of sovereign bodies, and public prosecutors to form and join independent unions. To establish a trade union, at least 30 percent of workers in an economic sector in a province must follow a registration process and obtain authorization from government officials. The law provides for the right to collective bargaining except in the civil service. The law prohibits strikes by members of the armed forces, police, prosecutors and magistrates of the Attorney General’s Office, prison staff, fire fighters, public-sector employees providing “essential services,” and oil workers. Essential services are broadly defined, including the transport sector, communications, waste management and treatment, and fuel distribution. In exceptional circumstances involving national interests, authorities have the power to requisition workers in the essential services sector. The law does not explicitly prohibit employer interference with union activity.

While the law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference, it also places some restrictions on their ability to strike. Before engaging in a strike, workers must negotiate with their employer for at least 20 days prior to a work stoppage. Should they fail to negotiate, the government may deny the right to strike. The government may intervene in labor disputes that affect national security and energy sectors. Collective labor disputes are to be settled through compulsory arbitration by the Ministry of Public Administration, Labor, and Social Security (Ministry of Labor). The law prohibits employer retribution against strikers, but it does not contain effective measures to deter such retribution. The law permits the government to force workers back to work for “breaches of worker discipline” or participation in unauthorized strikes. Nonetheless, the law prohibits antiunion discrimination and stipulates that worker complaints should be adjudicated in the labor court. The Ministry of Labor had a hotline and two service centers in Luanda for workers who believed their rights had been violated. By law employers are required to reinstate workers who have been dismissed for union activities.

During the year there were several strikes in the public and private sector over disputes between employers and workers. There were also allegations of retribution against strikers during the year. On August 9, workers of the National Company of Electricity Distribution (ENDE) went on strike to demand better working conditions and for an increase in salary and benefits. Union delegates reported that ENDE threatened to fire workers if they joined the strike, in particular workers hired within the last two years.

The government generally did not effectively enforce labor laws. Labor courts functioned but were overburdened by a backlog of cases and inadequate resources. The law provides for penalties for violations of the law and labor contracts, which are commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, but the penalties were not an effective deterrent due to the inefficient functioning of the courts.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not generally respected. Government approval is required to form and join unions, which were hampered by membership and legalization issues. Labor unions, independent of those run by the government, worked to increase their influence, but the ruling MPLA party dominated the labor movement because of its historical close relationship with labor unions and from the strong financial base of the nation’s largest union, of which the MPLA is a part.

The government was the country’s largest employer, and the Ministry of Labor mandated government worker wages with no negotiation with the unions. In September 2020 President Joao Lourenco created an advisory body, the Economic and Social Council, with 45 members representing large sectors of the country’s society but did not include labor representatives. Public-sector labor unions used strikes and protests to advance labor rights. For example, in May a group of public-sector labor unions began a strike in four provinces to protest salaries that the unions said had remained too low for 10 years. In September the Angola Union of Justice Clerks announced a general strike over staff shortages, salary stagnation, and working conditions. After the government agreed to start negotiations with these groups, the unions called off the strikes.

On July 30, municipal and provincial judges and public prosecutors protested in Luanda and Malanje Provinces against the deterioration of working conditions and benefit cuts, including health insurance. The president of the National Union of Public Prosecutors said that although the law did not allow them to strike, they would use protests and other means to pressure the government to solve their problems.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and sets penalties commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes. The government did not effectively enforce the law due in part to an insufficient number of inspectors and to systemic corruption.

Forced labor of men and women occurred in fisheries, agriculture, construction, domestic service, and artisanal diamond-mining sectors, particularly in Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul Provinces. Migrant workers were subject to seizure of passports, threats, denial of food, and confinement. Forced child labor occurred (see section 7.c.).

See also 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 worst forms of child labor and provides for a minimum age of employment (age 14), which applies to all sectors. To obtain an employment contract, the law requires youth to submit evidence they are 14 or older. Children may work from age 14 to age 18 with parental permission, or without parental consent if they are married, and the work does not interfere with schooling or harm the physical, mental, and moral development of the minor. Children ages 14 to 16 may work no more than six hours per day or 34 hours per week; children ages 16 to 18 may work up to seven hours per day or 39 hours per week. Children are also prohibited from working between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. and are prohibited from performing shift work. The law also allows orphan children who want to work to get official permission in the form of a letter from “an appropriate institution,” but it does not specify the type of institution. The Ministry of Labor, Ministry of Social Assistance, Ministry of Interior, INAC, and the national police are responsible for enforcement of child labor laws.

In August the Council of Ministers approved a redesigned National Action Plan for the Eradication of Child Labor for 2021-2025 with the goal of combatting and preventing child labor through social assistance, education, victim advocacy, and finance the enforcement and prosecution of child labor.

The government did not effectively monitor the large informal sector, where most child labor occurred. Penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes. The government did not consistently enforce the law, and child labor remained a problem, especially in the informal sector. Between January and March, INAC registered more than 3,000 cases of hazardous child labor on farms involving the handling of chemicals, stones, and bricks, as well as working as street vendors and beggars, and reported the cases to law enforcement but acknowledged that the real number was likely much higher. The Ministry of Labor has oversight of formal work sites in all 18 provinces, but it was unknown whether inspectors examined the age of workers or conditions of work sites. If the ministry determined a business was using child labor, it transferred the case to the Ministry of Interior to investigate and possibly press charges. It was not known whether the government fined any businesses for using child labor.

Child labor occurred in agriculture on family and commercial farms as well as in fishing, brick making, artisanal diamond mining, charcoal production, domestic labor, construction, and street vending. Exploitive labor practices included involvement in the sale, transport, and offloading of goods in ports and across border posts. Children were forced to work as couriers in the illegal cross-border trade with Namibia. Adult criminals sometimes used children for forced criminal activity, since the justice system prohibits minors younger than 12 from being tried in court.

Street work by children was common, especially in the provinces of Luanda, Benguela, Huambo, Huila, and Kwanza Sul. Investigators found children working in the streets of Luanda. Most of these children shined shoes, washed cars, carried water and other goods, or engaged in other informal labor, but some resorted to petty crime and begging. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred as well (see section 6).

The incidence of child labor increased in the southern provinces due to a severe drought. In Cunene Province, children were forced to leave school and work as herders or dig wells and fetch water. The drought and the accompanying economic devastation increased the risk of exploitation of vulnerable persons in the province; one NGO in Cunene said the drought led many boys to seek work in urban areas and led girls to engage in commercial sexual exploitation.

The government, through INAC, worked to create, train, and strengthen child protection networks at the provincial and municipal levels in all 18 provinces. No central mechanism existed to track cases or provide statistics. The government also dedicated resources to the expansion of educational and livelihood opportunities for children and their families.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/ .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, ethnic origin, country origin and social condition, religion, political opinion, union membership, disability, or language, and the government in general effectively enforced the law in the formal sector. The International Labor Organization, however, noted the law did not clearly define discrimination. The constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination, although it does not specifically address HIV or AIDS status, sexual orientation, or gender identity (see section 6). The law provides for equal pay for equal work, but gender pay disparities in the country existed. The law provides that both employers and workers are treated with respect, but there were no provisions prohibiting harassment in the workplace. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations considered dangerous, in factories, and in industries such as mining, agriculture, and energy.

The law provides working mothers nine weeks of maternity leave and four weeks of prematernity leave before childbirth and one day of leave each month in the next 15 weeks after the birth, while working fathers receive leave on the day of the child’s birth.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, although penalties, when applied, were commensurate with those for other laws related to civil rights. There were no known prosecutions of official or private-sector gender-based discrimination in employment or occupation. Persons with disabilities found it difficult to gain access to public or private facilities, and it was difficult for such persons to participate in the education system and thus find employment. In 2020 there were reports that persons with albinism experienced discrimination in employment and access to public services. In the past there were also complaints of discrimination against foreign workers. There were no known prosecutions for discrimination in employment. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: A minimum wage for the formal sector exists and varies by sector. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights raised concerns regarding the wide disparities of minimum wage by sector and the possibility this may undervalue work in female-dominated sectors. The lowest minimum wage was for agricultural work and was set below the UN Development Program’s official line of poverty. The minimum wage for the formal sector may be updated annually or when the government assesses economic conditions warrant. The minimum wage had not been updated since 2019. The minimum wage law does not cover workers in informal sectors, such as street vendors and subsistence farmers.

The standard workweek in the private sector is 44 hours, while in the public sector it is 37 hours. In both sectors the law mandates at least one unbroken period of 24 hours of rest per week. In the private sector, when employees engage in shift work or a variable weekly schedule, they may work up to 54 hours per week before the employer must pay overtime. In the formal sector, there is a prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime, defined as more than two hours a day, 40 hours a month, or 200 hours a year. The law also provides for paid annual holidays. By law employers must provide, at a minimum, a bonus amounting to 50 percent of monthly salary to employees each year in December and an annual vacation. The law does not cover domestic workers, but a 2016 presidential decree extended some protections and enforcement standards to domestic workers. Workweek standards were not enforced unless employees filed a formal complaint with the Ministry of Labor. The law protects foreign workers with permanent legal status or a temporary work visa.

The government effectively enforced the minimum wage law within the formal labor sector, and penalties were commensurate with those for similar infractions. The Ministry of Labor is charged with implementing and enforcing the law. An insufficient number of adequately trained labor inspectors hampered enforcement efforts. Inspectors have the authority to conduct unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions, but some companies received advance warning of impending labor inspections.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health standards are required for all sectors of the economy. Employees have the right to remove themselves from hazardous working conditions without jeopardy to their employment. The government did not always proactively enforce occupational safety and health standards nor investigate private company operations unless complaints were made by NGOs and labor unions. Inspections were reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020 there were 1,151 labor accidents that caused the death or serious injury of workers.

Informal Sector: As much as 80 percent of the workforce was employed in the informal economy. The rate was higher in rural areas than urban areas (93 and 67 percent, respectively). Even in the country’s rapidly growing urban areas, self-employed informal workers provided essential services such as water, food, and transportation. Other common types of informal work included agriculture, commerce and trading, domestic work, security guards, and raising cattle. The government began job skills training programs to reduce informal employment, as well as efforts to reduce barriers to formalization and promote greater awareness of the advantages and protection that come with the formalization.

Government regulation and closure of market stalls during COVID-19 forced many informal workers to set up shop in the streets, apartment building entrances, or their own doorsteps to sell food, handcrafts such as leather sandals, furniture, and imported goods. Informal markets were the main source of food goods for most of the population. Informal money changers operated a parallel financial system to exchange weak local currency for dollars. This practice was not as widespread as years past due to the devaluation of the kwanza, which reduced the gap between the official and unofficial exchange rates. Some informal-sector workers joined unions, such as the National Federation of Unions of Food Industry, Commerce, and Hotels. Most workers in the informal sector were not covered by wage or occupational safety standards or social protections.

Antigua and Barbuda

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of public-sector and private-sector workers to form and join independent unions. The law also provides for the right to bargain collectively and conduct legal strikes, but it imposes several restrictions on the right to strike. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers but does not specifically require reinstatement of workers illegally fired for union activity.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected for Antiguan workers as well as migrant laborers. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination, nor were there any reports of violations of collective bargaining rights.

Workers who provide essential services (including water, electricity, hospital, fire, prison, air traffic control, meteorology, telecommunications, government printing office, and port authority) must give two weeks’ notice of intent to strike. If either party to a dispute requests court mediation, strikes are prohibited under penalty of imprisonment for any private-sector worker and some government workers. The Industrial Relations Court may issue an injunction against a legal strike when the national interest is threatened or affected. The law prohibits retaliation against strikers.

Penalties for violating labor laws range from a minor fine to two months in prison and were adequate to deter violations. The government enforced the right of association and collective bargaining. Administrative and judicial procedures, however, were often subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government reported that it did not receive any forced labor complaints during the year; however, it opened an investigation into the case of a Chinese national charged with arson as a possible forced labor case.

Media reported that Chinese national Tian Zhao Feng was arrested in June and charged with arson in the burning down of a local supermarket. Although initial media reports said that Feng’s passport was being held at the Chinese embassy, the Ministry of Labour denied this and stated Feng’s passport was in his employer’s possession. The government stated Feng had a valid work permit and was authorized to work in the country. Ministry of Labour officials stated an investigation was underway. Feng was denied bail and as of September was being held in police custody.

The Office of National Drug and Money Laundering Control Policy investigates cases of trafficking in persons, including forced labor allegations. The law prescribes penalties of 20 to 30 years’ imprisonment and significant fines.

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

Laws collectively prohibit the worst forms of child labor, but specific details are not in any single statute. The government enforced child labor laws effectively, and there were no reports of child labor law violations.

The law stipulates a minimum working age of 16, although work prohibitions do not apply to family businesses. In some circumstances children younger than 16 are eligible for employment with restrictions, such as not working during school hours and working a maximum number of hours. Persons younger than 18 may not work past 10 p.m., except in certain sectors, and in some cases must have a medical clearance to obtain employment. No list of types of hazardous work exists for the protection of those younger than 18.

The law requires the Ministry of Labour to conduct periodic inspections of workplaces. There were no reports of illegal child labor; however, there were no child labor inspections. The government said that inspections were reduced because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The law allows for a small financial penalty or three months in prison for violations; these were adequate to deter violations.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, skin color, sex, age, national origin, citizenship, political beliefs, and disability. Penalties include a fine and up to 12 months in prison. The Ministry of Labour did not receive any discrimination complaints during the year.

The law does not prohibit employment discrimination based on religion, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV or other communicable disease status, or social status, but the government encouraged employers not to discriminate on these grounds.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The government does not have an established poverty income level. Most workers earned substantially more than the minimum wage.

The law provides that workers are not required to work more than a 48-hour, six-day workweek. The law requires that employees be paid for overtime work at one and one-half times the employees’ basic hourly wage after exceeding 40 hours in the workweek. The Ministry of Labour put few limitations on overtime, allowing it in temporary or occasional cases, but did not allow employers to make regular overtime compulsory. Penalties for illegal overtime did not always effectively deter labor violations.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law includes occupational safety and health (OSH) provisions, but some are out of date. The Ministry of Labour reported that workers were allowed to remove themselves from unsafe situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. The ministry has the authority to require special safety measures not otherwise defined in the law for worker safety. Penalties for violations of OSH laws were not always commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as negligence.

Informal Sector: The government estimated that 15 percent of the workforce was in the informal sector and that the informal sector contributed 25-30 percent of economic output. Informal-sector employment is unregulated and unreported. Labor inspectors from the Ministry of Labour and the Industrial Court are responsible for enforcement of labor laws in the formal and informal sectors. The government reported there were eight labor inspectors, which was insufficient to enforce full compliance per International Labor Organization benchmarks. No safety violations were reported. The government reported that it reduced the number of inspections and investigations to ensure the safety of the inspectors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The “law” protects the rights of workers, except members of police and other Turkish Cypriot security forces, to form and join independent unions of their own choosing without prior authorization. The “law” allows unions to conduct their activities without interference and provides for their right to strike, with the provision that a union notify authorities in writing if members planned to strike for longer than 24 hours. The “law” does not permit “judges,” members of the police force, or other Turkish Cypriot security forces to strike. The “council of ministers” has the power to prohibit a strike in any individual sector twice a year for up to 60 days if it affects the general health, security, or public order, or if it prevents the provision of essential services. There is no list of what constitutes essential services.

The “law” provides for collective bargaining. The “Ministry of Labor and Social Security” reported that employers could not condition employment on membership or non-membership in a union or participation in strikes. The “law” does not provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activities.

The “government” did not effectively enforce applicable “laws.” Despite having freedom of association and the right to engage in collective bargaining, very few private-sector workers were unionized, according to labor union representatives. A union representative stated that if private-sector workers affected business operations while exercising their rights, employers would likely dismiss them. Some companies pressured workers to join unions that the company led or approved. Officials of independent unions claimed authorities created public-sector unions as rivals to compete with and weaken independent unions.

KTAMS reported that 35 percent of public sector and 0.5 percent of private sector workers were members of labor unions. According to KTAMS approximately 28 percent of the workforce in Turkish Cypriot administered areas was unionized.

Labor authorities did not effectively enforce the “law.” Penalties for employers convicted of violating the “law” were not commensurate with those for violating other “laws” involving the denial of civil rights and were sporadically enforced.

Public and semipublic employees benefited from collective bargaining agreements. Semipublic employees worked for companies run jointly by public and private enterprises where, for example, the “government” handled administration while the company’s budget came from private sources.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The “law” prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the “government” did not effectively enforce it. Penalties for violations of the “law” were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes.

Authorities reported they did not receive any complaints regarding forced labor during the year. NGOs and unions stated there were reports of forced labor during the year, primarily in agriculture, construction, and the industrial sector. A labor union representative reported migrant workers in the construction and agricultural sectors were subjected to reduced wages, nonpayment of wages, beatings, and threats of deportation. Another labor union reported that some foreign workers, mainly in the construction and industrial sectors, were forced to work long periods up to 12 hours without additional compensation or pay. The union also reported that some foreign workers were paid less than the minimum wage.

A researcher reported that universities were used to smuggle or traffic large numbers of Africans and South Asians. Some foreign students who could not pay their tuition after arriving in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots became vulnerable to exploitation, including forced labor, and victims of labor and human trafficking.

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 worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for restricted employment is 15, the last year at which education is compulsory. Employers may hire children between the ages of 15 and 18 in apprentice positions under a special status. Children older than 15 are restricted to no more than six hours of work per day and 30 hours per week. The “law” prohibits children between the ages of 15 and 18 from working during mealtimes, at night, in heavy physical labor, and under dangerous conditions. The “law” also states that every six months the employer must prove, with medical certification, that the physical work done by a child is suitable for children. Written parental consent is also required, and children are entitled to the hourly wage of a full-time employee.

Authorities reported they received three complaints to the child labor hotline in 2020 but that subsequent inspections did not reveal any children working onsite.

The “Ministry of Labor and Social Security” is responsible for enforcing child labor “laws” and policies. Inspections were not sufficient and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those of other serious crimes.

Authorities did not always effectively enforce the “laws,” and NGOs reported that primarily children of Turkish immigrants often worked alongside their families in the agricultural, manufacturing, automotive, and construction sectors. NGOs reported that some children worked in dangerous conditions, such as on construction sites, and were subjected to heavy physical work despite “legal” prohibitions.

Child labor in the urban informal economy was also a problem, but to a lesser extent than in agriculture and manufacturing. In family-run businesses, it was common for children to work after school in shops and for young children to work on family farms.

In July the Turkish Cyprus Pediatric Institution reported there was lack of inspection and supervision at workplaces and inadequate laws to protect against child labor in the area administrated by Turkish Cypriots. The institution also reported the death of a 15-year-old boy who died in July while working at a car mechanic’s garage in the Morphou region. The “Ministry of Labor” announced an investigation into the incident. The investigation continued at year’s end.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The “law” generally prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation on the basis of race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, and social status. The “law” does not specifically address discrimination with respect to religion, political opinion, or HIV-positive status, which were addressed by general “regulations.” Authorities did not effectively enforce the “law,” and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for violating other “laws” related to civil rights. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, ethnicity, sex, disability, and gender.

Authorities reported there were more than 38,340 registered foreign workers (24,711 Turkish citizens and 13,629 from other countries) in the area administrated by Turkish Cypriot authorities. These workers were mainly from Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines, Turkey, and Turkmenistan. Foreign migrant workers faced societal discrimination based on their ethnicity, race, and religious belief. Although it was uncommon for Greek Cypriots to seek employment in northern Cyprus, they faced social and employment discrimination when they did.

Women faced sexual harassment in the workplace, but most instances of sexual harassment went unreported. Women held far fewer managerial positions than men.

LGBTQI+ individuals often concealed their sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace to avoid discrimination. Persons with disabilities routinely found it physically difficult to access workplaces.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The “government” increased the minimum wage during the year, but it remained below the poverty level for a family of four, as inflation and the cost of living outpaced the increase. The “Ministry of Labor and Social Security” is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage, but it did not effectively do so. The number of inspectors was not sufficient for enforcement. The penalties for noncompliance were not commensurate with those for other similar crimes.

As of September the minimum monthly wage in the area administrated by Turkish Cypriots was 4,324 Turkish lira ($470 as of mid-October). According to labor unions, this is below the poverty line. As of September KTAMS reported the poverty line for family of four was 4,470 Turkish lira ($485 as of mid-October).

According to a labor union, per capita income fell from $12,649 to $10,055, a level not seen since 2005.

There was premium pay for overtime in the public sector. Premium pay for overtime is also required in the private sector, but it is frequently not paid. The “law” prohibits compulsory overtime and provides for paid annual holidays.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health standards were insufficient. Authorities did not effectively enforce safety and health standards, and the number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Multinational companies reportedly met health and safety standards. Workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. Authorities could conduct unannounced inspections or initiate sanctions, but according to unions and associations, inspections were not adequately or routinely carried out. Authorities commonly deported migrant workers who reported violations. Authorities did not penalize violators, and inspections were not adequate to protect worker rights. Accommodations for migrant workers, either as part of their compensation or for those made to pay, were substandard.

Authorities reported there were 143 major industrial accidents during the year that caused five deaths.

In April, six public sector worker unions filed a case at the “Constitutional Court” to obtain an interim order to stop a “government” statutory decree from freezing cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for four months. Public sector worker unions, including KTAMS, KAMUSEN, KAMU-IS, GUC-SEN, VERGI-SEN, and the Nurses Union, claimed the COLA freeze was illegal. In June the “Constitutional Court” decided in favor of the unions and cancelled the decree.

Informal Sector: The “government” has not established social protections for workers in the informal economy.

Argentina

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes; the government generally respected these rights. The law prohibits discrimination against unions and protects workers from dismissal, suspension, and changes in labor conditions. It also prohibits military and law enforcement personnel from forming and joining unions. The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Complaints of unfair labor practices can be brought before the judiciary. Violations of the law may result in a fine imposed on the employer or the relevant employers’ association, as appropriate.

The law allows unions to register without prior authorization, and registered trade union organizations may engage in certain activities to represent their members, including petitioning the government and employers. The law grants official trade union status to only one union deemed the “most representative,” defined by law as the union that has the highest average proportion of dues-paying members to number of workers represented, per industrial sector within a specific geographical region. Only unions with such official recognition receive trade union immunity from employer reprisals against their officials, are permitted to deduct union dues directly from wages, and may bargain collectively with recourse to conciliation and arbitration. The most representative union bargains on behalf of all workers in each sector, and collective agreements cover both union members and nonmembers in the sector. The law requires the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security (Ministry of Labor) to ratify collective bargaining agreements.

The Argentine Workers’ Central Union and other labor groups not affiliated with the General Confederation of Labor continued to contend that the legal recognition of only one union per sector conflicted with international standards, namely International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, and it prevented these unions from obtaining full legal standing.

Civil servants and workers in essential services may strike only after a compulsory 15-day conciliation process, and they are subject to the condition that unspecified “minimum services” be maintained. Once the conciliation term expires, civil servants and workers in essential services must give five days’ notice to the administrative authority and the public agency against which they intend to strike. If “minimum services” are not previously defined in a collective bargaining agreement, all parties then negotiate which minimum services will continue to be provided and a schedule for their provision. The public agency, in turn, must provide clients two days’ notice of the impending strike.

Employers generally respected the right to bargain collectively and to strike.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government generally enforced the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Despite being prohibited by law, forced labor, including forced child labor, occurred. The Ministry of Labor carried out regular inspections across the country. Efforts to hold perpetrators accountable continued. The Special Prosecutor’s Office for Human Trafficking and Exploitation continued to investigate forced labor complaints; in 2020 it reported four convictions for labor trafficking and indictments of 19 individuals.

Employers subjected a significant number of Bolivians, Paraguayans, and Peruvians, as well as Argentines from poorer northern provinces, to forced labor in the garment sector, agriculture, street vending, charcoal and brick production, construction, domestic work, and small businesses (including restaurants and supermarkets). Traffickers exploited victims from China and South Korea. Chinese citizens working in supermarkets were vulnerable to debt bondage. Traffickers compelled trafficking victims to transport drugs across the country’s borders. Men, women, and children were victims of forced labor, although victims’ typical gender and age varied by employment sector (see section 7.c.).

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 minimum age for employment is 16. In rare cases labor authorities may authorize a younger child to work as part of a family unit. Children ages 16 to 18 may work in a limited number of job categories and for limited hours if they have completed compulsory schooling, which normally ends at age 18. Children younger than 18 cannot be hired to perform perilous, arduous, or unhealthy jobs. The law requires employers to provide adequate care for workers’ children during work hours to discourage child labor.

Provincial governments and the municipal government of Buenos Aires are responsible for labor law enforcement. Penalties for employing underage workers were generally sufficient to deter violations.

While the government generally enforced applicable laws, observers noted some inspectors were acquainted or associated with the persons they inspected, and corruption remained an obstacle to compliance, especially in the provinces. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. In August the Ministry of Labor’s National Program to Build Capacity of Provincial Committees for the Eradication of Child Labor continued during the year, with the goal of improving national-provincial coordination. By year’s end the ministry reported that it had provided advanced tools to combat child labor to 20 of the country’s 24 provinces.

Children were engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes because of human trafficking, including forced labor in domestic servitude, agriculture, and production of garments, and illicit activities such as the transport and sale of drugs. In 2018 the government published the final report from its 2016-17 national child labor survey. The survey found 20 percent of children in rural areas performed at least one form of labor, while 8 percent of children in urban areas did so.

Similar patterns emerged with adolescents, which the report defined as children ages 16 and 17. The report found 44 percent of adolescents in rural areas and 30 percent in urban areas engaged in at least one form of labor. Principal activities were helping in a business or office; repair or construction of homes; cutting lawns or pruning trees; caring for children, the elderly, or the infirm; helping in a workshop; making bread, sweets, or other food for sale; gathering paper, boxes, cans, and other recyclable material in the street; handing out flyers or promotional materials for a business; cleaning homes and businesses or washing and ironing clothes for others; and cultivating or harvesting agricultural products.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and 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 prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, religion, nationality, gender, physical characteristics, social or economic status, or political opinion, and the government generally enforced the law. Penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights. The most prevalent cases of workplace discrimination were based on disability, gender, and age. Discrimination also occurred based on HIV-positive status and against individuals of indigenous origin. Women are prohibited from working in certain industries; for example, there are restrictions on their employment in the mining, manufacturing, and transportation sectors. There are also restrictions on women working in jobs deemed hazardous or arduous.

Although women enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men, they continued to face economic discrimination, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Women held a disproportionately high proportion of low-paying, informal jobs and significantly fewer executive positions in the private sector than men, according to several studies. Although equal pay for equal work is constitutionally mandated, women earned approximately 30 percent less than men earned for equal or similar work.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The minimum wage remained below the official poverty income level for a family of four, despite a 35 percent increase announced in August. Most workers in the formal sector earned significantly more than the minimum wage. The minimum wage generally served to mark the minimum pay an informal worker should receive.

Federal law sets standards in workhours and occupational safety and health (OSH). The maximum workday is eight hours, and the maximum workweek is 48 hours. Overtime pay is required for hours worked in excess of these limits. The law prohibits excessive overtime and defines permissible levels of overtime as three hours a day. Labor law mandates between 14 and 35 days of paid vacation, depending on the length of the worker’s service.

The Ministry of Labor, through the National Work Regularization Plan, coordinates law enforcement efforts with the labor authorities at the provincial level in each of the 23 provinces and the city of Buenos Aires. The National Ministry’s labor inspection payroll had 324 staffers in 2020, a number ILO estimated insufficient for the workforce size. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and to impose fines. Inspectors have a referral process to direct labor crimes, including child labor and forced labor, to the courts.

The law sets premium pay for overtime, adding an extra 50 percent of the hourly rate on ordinary days and 100 percent on Saturday afternoons, Sundays, and holidays. Employees cannot be forced to work overtime unless work stoppage would risk or cause injury, the need for overtime is caused by force majeure, or other exceptional reasons affecting the national economy or “unusual and unpredictable situations” affecting businesses occur. The government enforced these regulations through routine labor inspections and by investigating complaints. Violations were more common among workers in the informal sector, as registered workers often negotiated bargaining agreements through their respective unions. Penalties for violations were commensurate with similar crimes such as fraud.

Occupational Safety and Health: The Ministry of Labor has responsibility for enforcing legislation related to working conditions. The government sets OSH standards, which were current and appropriate for the main industries in the country. The government effectively enforced OSH laws. Penalties for violations of OSH laws were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence. The law requires employers to insure their employees against accidents at the workplace and when traveling to and from work. The law requires employers either to provide insurance through a labor-risk insurance entity or to provide their own insurance to employees to meet requirements specified by the national insurance regulator. The law limits the worker’s right to file a complaint if the worker does not exhaust compulsory administrative proceedings before specified medical committees.

Laws governing acceptable conditions of work were not enforced universally, particularly for workers in the informal sector (approximately 35 percent of the labor force). The Ministry of Labor continued inspections to ensure companies’ workers were registered and formally employed. Inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections and to initiate sanctions. The ministry conducted inspections in various provinces, but the Labor Inspectorate employed well below the number of inspectors recommended by the ILO, given the size of the workforce. The Superintendence of Labor Risk served as the enforcement agency to monitor compliance with OSH laws and the activities of the labor risk insurance companies.

Workers could not always recuse themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect employees in these circumstances. During the first quarter of the year, the Ministry of Labor reported receipt of 110,307 occupational safety complaints related to COVID-19, especially in the manufacturing sector. As a result, the sector surpassed the traditionally more dangerous manufacturing and mining sectors in the number of complaints received.

Informal Sector: The government estimated the share of informal employment at approximately 45 percent of total employment. Domestic workers remained the most affected by the lack of social protections and enforcement of labor laws. According to some estimates from the ILO, as many as 85 percent of domestic workers were not enrolled in social security. The garment sector had high rates of informal employment, as did small businesses, farms, and construction projects. Analysts reported that the official minimum wage, which is regularly updated to keep pace with inflation, was typically used as the basis for informal-sector wages.

During a government-facilitated drive for registration in the second half of 2020, more than two million workers registered in the government’s National Registry for Workers of the Popular Economy. Registration enables workers to benefit from social programs, family subsidies, retirement contributions, coverage for work accidents, and unemployment insurance. In addition, the government began offering a variety of social protection programs for informal workers aimed at securing food nutrition for their children, subsidies for school termination, medical assistance, and monetary incentives to take occupational training. According to a recent National Registry survey, however, only 25 percent of informal sector worker were receiving these benefits.

The government also dissuaded informal employment through penalties for employers, including by limiting their access to government loans and tax exemptions.

Armenia

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law protects the right of all workers to form and to join independent unions, except for noncivilian personnel of the armed forces and law enforcement agencies. The law also provides for the right to strike, with the same exceptions, and permits collective bargaining. The law mandates seven days’ notification and mandatory mediation before a strike as well as the agreement of two-thirds of the workforce obtained in a secret vote. The law stipulates that worker rights may not be restricted due to union membership. The list of justifiable grounds for firing a worker, enumerated in the labor code, does not include union activity.

On July 1, amendments to the labor code came into effect that revived the state oversight function of the Health and Labor Inspection Body (HLIB) over the full scope of labor legislation. These changes, as well as amendments to HLIB bylaws, allowed the HLIB to act upon labor law violations based on written complaints. The HLIB is required to provide prior notification to employers when conducting an inspection. To implement its new functions, the HLIB added 60 inspectors to its staff list, bringing the total number of labor inspectors to 92, of whom 50 had been hired by the end of the year.

The government did not effectively protect freedom of association and relevant laws were insufficient, although penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other denials of civil rights. Labor organizations remained weak because of employer resistance, high unemployment, and poor economic conditions. Experts reported that the right to strike, although provided in the constitution, was difficult to realize due to mediation and voting requirements.

On August 20, the government issued new regulations requiring workers either to present a COVID-19 vaccination certificate or to submit the results of a PCR test every 14 days starting from October 1, and every week starting from December 1. The regulations apply to all government workers and a long list of private-sector businesses. Pregnant women and those who are unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons are exempted. Applicable employers were responsible for collection of employees’ vaccination and test records. The Confederation of Trade Unions of Armenia and Republican Union of Employers of Armenia stated that the cost of biweekly COVID-19 tests, approximately 15,000 drams ($30) per month, was a serious burden for workers. It noted the new regulations were not discussed with the Tripartite Commission, as required by the Tripartite Agreement signed in October 2020. According to other observers, the new regulation was in violation of the labor code, which mandates employers pay for any mandatory work-related medical examinations. On December 10, parliament approved legal amendments that would allow employers to dismiss their employees for failure to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or take a coronavirus test once every seven days. On December 23, the Constitutional Court ruled the formulation in the government decisions stating that the employees must pay for testing was unconstitutional but did not reject the requirement for testing. According to the government, the court’s decision did not create an obligation for the state or the employer to pay for an employee’s COVID-19 test, and unvaccinated workers would continue to have to submit weekly test results.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced and compulsory labor, although it does not define forced labor. The HLIB can detect instances of forced labor and issue fines, but law enforcement agencies are responsible for enforcing forced labor laws. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Prosecutions were not proactive and heavily relied on victim self-identification. In December the first labor-trafficking conviction occurred since 2014. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate to identify forced labor cases. Penalties for labor-trafficking violations were commensurate with those for other serious crimes but were seldom applied.

In December, a 63-year-old woman received a seven-year sentence for labor trafficking (subjecting a minor to forced begging). The sentence was changed to a two-year conditional sentence due to the perpetrator’s serious health problems, her guilty plea, and her cooperation with authorities. Several investigations into additional forced labor cases were underway at year’s end. In one of the most egregious cases, in December 2020 the Investigative Committee reported a case of labor exploitation in Vardenis Neuropsychological Retirement Home. According to the Investigative Committee, a retirement home staffer had exploited a 70-year-old resident with cognitive problems to work as a salesperson in a grocery shop opened by the official at the retirement home. The victim had worked there unpaid five days a week for seven and one-half hours each day without breaks for 16 years. As of the end of the year, the trial continued in Martuni.

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. In most cases the minimum age for employment is 16, but children may work from age 14 with permission of a parent or a guardian. The law allows children younger than 14 to work in the entertainment sector. The maximum duration of the workweek is 24 hours for children who are 14 to 16 and 36 hours for children who are 16 to 18. Persons younger than 18 may not work overtime; in harmful, strenuous, or dangerous conditions; at night; or on holidays. Authorities did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Despite HLIB outreach in 2020 to educate supermarket chains regarding child labor regulations, on December 25, Hetq media reported on its investigation of large Yerevan supermarket chains Evrika, Yerevan City, Nor Zov, and SAS, which found stores that did not follow labor code requirements for minors, including minors ages 14 to 17 working in excess of 40 hours per week. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other serious crimes but did not compel compliance. The absence of unannounced inspections impeded the enforcement of child labor laws, although the HLIB conducted announced inspections related to the protection of the labor rights of minors.

Children younger than 14 worked in a variety of areas, including agriculture, construction, and begging. Children living in rural areas were more vulnerable to forced labor in the agricultural sector. In addition, while the government made an effort to reduce institutionalization of children with disabilities, those living in institutions were more vulnerable to being exploited for labor.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and the labor code prohibit discrimination based on sex, race, skin color, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion, political opinion, belonging to a national minority, property status, birth, disability, age, or other personal or social circumstances. Other laws and regulations specifically prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation based on gender. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws, and there were no effective legal mechanisms to implement applicable regulations. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred based on gender, age, presence of a disability, sexual orientation, HIV/AIDS status, and religion, although there were no statistics on the scale of such discrimination. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for violations of similar laws involving the denial of civil rights.

Women generally did not have the same professional opportunities or wages as men, and employers often relegated them to more menial or lower-paying jobs. While providing for the “legal equality” of all parties in a workplace relationship, the labor code does not explicitly require equal pay for equal work. The International Monetary Fund cited the gender pay gap in the country as being strikingly large. A study by Marjan Petreski and the Statistical Committee of Armenia published by UN Women in 2020 estimated the residual gender pay gap (after adjustments for hours worked and personal and job characteristics) at approximately 10 percent, a number that reflected labor-market discrimination and unobservable factors. The top 1 percent of earners additionally faced a gender pay gap of approximately 19 percent. According to a 2019 Asian Development Bank report, the labor force participation rate was lower for women than men, and women were more likely to work in part-time positions. The report also stated that occupational stereotypes limited women’s choices, and more than 60 percent of women worked in just three sectors: agriculture, education, and health. Women were underrepresented in management positions, and only one in five small or medium-sized enterprises had a female owner.

Many employers reportedly practiced discrimination, most commonly requiring job applicants to be of a specific gender, age, and appearance. Such discrimination appeared to be widespread, but there were no reliable surveys, and authorities did not take any action to mitigate the problem. While there was little awareness of and no comprehensive reporting to indicate the scale of sexual harassment in the workplace, media reports suggested such abuse was common. Vacancy announcements specifying young and attractive women for various jobs were common. Unemployed workers, particularly women, who were older than 40 had little chance of finding jobs appropriate to their education or skills. LGBTQI+ persons, persons with disabilities, and pregnant women also faced employment discrimination. Religious minorities reportedly also faced discrimination in public employment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The monthly minimum wage was above the poverty income level. The law provides for a 40-hour workweek, 20 days of mandatory paid annual leave, and compensation for overtime and nighttime work. The law prohibits compulsory overtime in excess of four hours on two consecutive days and limits it to 180 hours in a year.

The HLIB was responsible for the enforcement of wage and work hour laws. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance, according to International Labor Organization recommendations. The inspectors could initiate sanctions but could not make unannounced inspections. Authorities did not effectively enforce labor standards in either the formal or informal sectors. Penalties for violations of wage and hour laws were commensurate with those for other similar crimes, but still less costly for employers than abiding by the law in some cases. The newness of labor inspections, together with the lack of independent trade unions, continued to leave workers’ rights largely unprotected. Nonetheless, according to the HLIB, the fact that many of the labor-related complaints were resolved by employers without waiting for the HLIB’s ruling attested to some improvement in the area as well as to the HLIB’s existence serving as deterrent against violations. While administrative courts have a mandate to rule on labor-related cases within three months, few employees applied to the courts to reinstate their rights due to legal costs, the complexity of the application process, and distrust of the judiciary. It was unclear if the overloaded courts were able to meet the legally required three-month window for resolving those labor disputes that were submitted to them.

According to an interview with the head of the HLIB broadcast in July, the majority of complaints conveyed to the agency referred to nonpayment of wages and failure to pay wages within the timeframe required under the law.

Many employees of private companies, particularly in the service and retail sectors, were unable to obtain paid leave and were required to work more than eight hours a day without additional compensation.

On June 22, Hetq’s Mediafactory project published an article on the neglected rights of waiters, based on interviews with 30 current and former waiters. The article revealed recurring labor abuses, including long hours without overtime or proper breaks, a system of financial fines for any perceived or actual violation of rules, absence of signed contracts or unavailability of the copy of the contract, no provisions for vacation or paid vacation, and minimal pay or no pay, with income from tips at times unfairly distributed among waiters in an establishment. On December 25, Hetq published the results of a Mediafactory investigation into large Yerevan supermarket chains, in which reporters took jobs at stores run by the Evrika, Yerevan City, Nor Zovk, and SAS chains. They found numerous labor violations, including a lack of written contracts or the inability of workers to read or have a copy of the contract; a lack of required work breaks; fines on workers for perceived faults such as talking to other workers, being late, not wearing makeup, sitting down, or customers’ discovery of expired products; and failure to pay overtime or holiday pay.

The OSCE/ODIHR observation mission to the June parliamentary elections as well as local monitors noted incidents of pressure by political actors and employers on both private-sector and public employees to attend campaign events. Some of the country’s major employers, such as Gazprom Armenia, Electric Networks of Armenia, and Zangezur Copper and Molybdenum Combine, were implicated, as well as a number of municipal governments and subordinate structures. According to several civil society representatives, some employers threatened to dismiss employees for noncompliance. On June 18, the SIS arrested Armen Charchyan, director of the Izmirlian medical center and a candidate from the opposition Armenia Alliance, on charges of obstructing the exercise of a voter’s free will, after a recording was leaked in which Charchyan pushed his employees to participate in the elections with the alleged implication that they should vote for the Armenia Alliance.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government established occupational and health standards by decree, although safety and health conditions remained substandard in numerous sectors. For example, in the agricultural sector heat and the use of pesticides are unaddressed. In 2020 the government reported 24 workplace accidents that had resulted in injuries and three that resulted in deaths. As of October the HLIB reported six deaths in the mining and manufacturing sectors as well as in the electric industry. The Investigative Committee reported that it had launched 18 criminal cases in the construction, energy, mining, and service industries as of October, of which two were dropped due to the lack of a crime, and seven because the perpetrator could not have known his or her actions were dangerous. Given high unemployment in the country, workers generally did not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety and were unlikely to report violations of their rights.

During the year the HLIB, which has authority over occupational safety and health laws, continued to conduct preplanned inspections for sanitary-epidemiological safety, health care and services, and pharmaceuticals as well as for worker occupational safety and health. The HLIB also conducted inspections in the mining sector, which it assessed as high risk for violations.

The government did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health laws, although penalties were commensurate to those for similar crimes.

In June 2020 the Ombudsperson’s Office released a brief on the nature of labor violation complaints it received in 2019. Reported problems included employers failing to pay what they owed to terminated employees, unjustified dismissals from work, violations of disciplinary action procedures vis-a-vis employees, retaining unjustified amounts of money from the workers’ salaries, and transferring workers to other jobs without their consent. The Ombudsperson’s Office also identified widespread and systemic violations, such as an absence of signed contracts, forcing employers to submit resignation letters, and failure to pay for overtime work. The NGO Helsinki Citizens Assembly Vanadzor, in a report released in June 2020, noted similar problems based on its monitoring of the labor rights situation in 2019.

Informal Sector: Managers of enterprises that were the primary employers in certain poor geographic areas frequently took advantage of the absence of alternative jobs and did not provide adequate pay or address job safety and environmental concerns. A 2019 World Bank report found that approximately 13 percent of the country’s wage employees did not have a written contract and did not have access to any form of benefits related to paid leave, childcare, or sick leave. Informal-sector workers were covered by wage, hour, and occupational safety and health laws; however, they were not covered by inspections. The agricultural orientation of the country’s economy tended to drive informal employment.

According to official statistics, the government’s anticorruption efforts and active efforts by tax authorities led to a notable increase in the number of officially registered employees in the country. The COVID-19 pandemic spotlighted the problem of informal employment. While the government offered benefits to registered workers or those who had lost their work due to pandemic, unregistered or self-employed workers received much lower benefits. The government admitted there was a problem identifying informal employees and the self-employed due to the absence of a universal income declaration system and ultimately decided to provide assistance to families based on indicators such as the presence of underage children or situations where both parents did not have formal employment before the pandemic. Some of those who lost their livelihoods, however, were not captured by any of the additional assistance programs.

Australia

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions and associate freely domestically and internationally, to bargain collectively, and to conduct strikes under certain conditions. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law requires that employers act in “good faith” when most employees want a collective agreement, although it places some restrictions on the scope of collective bargaining. Prohibited terms include requiring payment of a bargaining services fee. Furthermore, the law prohibits multienterprise agreements or “pattern bargaining,” although low-paid workers can apply for a “low-paid bargaining stream” to conduct multienterprise bargaining. When deciding whether to grant a low-paid authorization and the right to multienterprise collective bargaining, the Fair Work Commission looks at factors including the terms and conditions of employment, the bargaining strength of employees, and whether employers and employees are bargaining for the first time. A bargaining agent may represent either side in the process. The law designates collective agreements as being between employers and employees directly; trade unions are the default representatives of their members but, with some exceptions, are not official parties to collective agreements.

The law restricts strikes to the period when unions are negotiating a new enterprise agreement and specifies that strikes must concern matters under negotiation. The law provides for “protected action” and grants employers, employees, and unions legal immunity from claims of losses incurred by industrial action. Industrial action must be authorized by a secret ballot of employees; unions continued to raise concerns this requirement was unduly time consuming and expensive to implement. The law subjects strikers to penalties for taking industrial action during the life of a collective bargaining agreement and prohibits sympathy strikes.

The law permits the government to stop strikes judged to have caused “significant economic harm” to the employer or third parties. Some jurisdictions have further restrictions. For example, in New South Wales, the state government may cancel a union’s registration if the government proclaims a state of emergency concerning an essential service and the “industrial organization whose members are engaged in providing the essential service has, by its executive, members, or otherwise, engaged in activities which are contrary to the public interest.”

The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining protections for individuals and for corporations were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. The Fair Work Commission is the national independent industrial relations management institution. Its functions include facilitating dispute resolution; if dispute resolution is unsuccessful, the parties may elect the commission to arbitrate the dispute, or the applicant may pursue a ruling by a federal court. Procedures were not subject to lengthy delays or appeals.

Unions reported concerns that the scope of collective bargaining had narrowed in recent years, including through decisions by the Fair Work Commission. Over the last few years, the number of industrial disputes (a category that includes strikes) has declined.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by migrant workers. Penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Companies of a certain size must file annual statements identifying risks for modern slavery in their supply chains and efforts to address those risks.

The government effectively enforced applicable labor laws. Suspected crimes of forced labor and other forms of criminal labor exploitation in the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995 are investigated by the Australian Federal Police and can result in prosecution by the Office of the Director of Commonwealth Prosecutions and criminal penalties. In June a Sydney court convicted a couple of keeping a woman in forced labor at their home and business for more than three years. One defendant was sentenced to three years’ and three months’ imprisonment and ordered to pay the victim more than AU$45,000 ($34,000) in reparations. The second defendant was sentenced to two and one-half years, including one year of home detention and 500 hours of community service. and the defendant was ordered to pay the victim more than AU$25,000 ($19,000) in reparations. In July a Melbourne court convicted a couple for keeping a woman in forced labor at their home for nearly nine years and sentenced the defendants to six and eight years of imprisonment respectively. Some foreign nationals who came to the country for temporary work were subjected to forced labor in sectors such as agriculture, cleaning, construction, and domestic service.

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

Not all the worst forms of child labor are prohibited. Not all state and territorial jurisdictions prohibit the use, procuring, or offering of a child younger than age 18 for certain illicit activities. There is no federally mandated minimum age of employment. In Victoria the minimum age of employment is 15 (with exceptions for children working in a family business or in the entertainment industry, both of which do not have minimum ages of employment). Children are not permitted to work during school hours in any state or territory. States and territories have established 18 years as the minimum age for hazardous work.

There are laws and regulations pertaining to hazardous work across sectors. For example, under the law in Western Australia, an underground worker may not be younger than age 18 unless he or she is an apprentice or a cadet working underground to gain required experience; a person handling, charging, or firing explosives may not be younger than age 18; and a person younger than 21 may not obtain a winding engine driver’s certificate.

Federal, state, and territorial governments effectively monitored and enforced the laws. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman actively sought to educate young workers about their rights and responsibilities. Compulsory educational requirements effectively prevented most children from joining the workforce full-time until they were age 17. Although some violations of these laws occurred, there was no indication of a child labor problem in any specific sector. There were some reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children).

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  for information on the territories of Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Island, and Norfolk Island.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV/AIDS status, or refugee or stateless status. Federal, state, and territory laws provide for protections against employment discrimination.

The law requires organizations with 100 or more employees to establish a workplace program to remove barriers to women entering and advancing in their organization. The law requires equal pay for equal work. The government continued efforts to encourage persons under the Disability Support Pension program to enter the workforce when they have the capacity to do so, including by requiring compulsory workforce activities for its recipients younger than age 35 who can work for more than eight hours per week.

The government enforced laws prohibiting employment discrimination and penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference; however, employment discrimination against women, indigenous persons, and persons with disabilities occurred. According to the government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the full-time gender pay gap was 14 percent. The International Labor Organization noted its concern that, despite several government initiatives, indigenous peoples continued to be disadvantaged and that employment targets were not met.

In 2019-20, the latest year for which such data were available, approximately 20 percent of the complaints about disability discrimination received by the Human Rights Commission were related to employment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: For a single adult living alone, the minimum wage exceeded the poverty line defined as 50 percent of median income. Most workers received higher compensation than the minimum wage through enterprise agreements or individual contracts.

By law maximum weekly hours are 38 plus “reasonable” additional hours, which, by law, must consider factors such as an employee’s health, family responsibilities, ability to claim overtime, pattern of hours in the industry, and amount of notice given. An employee may refuse to work overtime if the request is “unreasonable.”

Occupational Safety and Health: Federal or state occupational health and safety laws apply to every workplace, including in the informal economy. By law both employers and workers are responsible for identifying health and safety hazards in the workplace. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. The law includes an antibullying provision. The law also enables workers who are pregnant to transfer to a safe job regardless of their time in employment.

The government effectively enforced laws related to minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health. The Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman provides employers and employees advice on their rights and has authority to investigate employers alleged to have exploited employees unlawfully. The ombudsman also has authority to prosecute employers who do not meet their obligations to workers. Ombudsman inspectors may enter work sites unannounced if they reasonably believe it is necessary to ensure compliance with the law. The number of ombudsman inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance and penalties were commensurate with those for crimes like negligence. Inspectors can order employers to compensate employees and sometimes assess fines. There were some reports violations continued in sectors employing primarily migrant workers.

Workers exercised their right to a safe workplace and had recourse to state health and safety commissions, which investigate complaints and order remedial action. Each state and territory effectively enforced its occupational health and safety laws through dedicated bodies that have powers to obtain and initiate prosecutions, and unions used right-of-entry permits to investigate concerns.

Safe Work Australia, the government agency responsible for developing and coordinating national workplace health and safety policy, cited a preliminary estimate that, in the year to August 19, 73 workers died while working. Of these fatalities, 28 were in the transport, postal, and warehousing sectors; 11 in construction; eight in manufacturing; and seven in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors.

Temporary workers include both part-time and casual employees. Part-time employees have set hours and the same entitlements as full-time employees. Casual employees are employed on a daily or hourly wage basis. They do not receive paid annual or sick leave, but the law mandates they receive additional pay to compensate for this, which employers generally respected. Migrant worker visas require that employers respect employer contributions to retirement funds and provide bonds to cover health insurance, worker’s compensation insurance, unemployment insurance, and other benefits.

There continued to be reports of employers exploiting immigrant and foreign workers (also see section 7.b.). As part of the 2018 Fair Work Ombudsman’s Harvest Trail inquiry into the exploitation of overseas workers in the agricultural sector, the ombudsman continued to operate a system for migrant workers to report workplace issues anonymously in 16 languages.

Austria

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. It prohibits antiunion discrimination or retaliation against strikers and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. The Austrian Trade Union Federation was the exclusive entity representing workers in collective bargaining. Unions were technically independent of government and political parties, although unions in some sectors were closely associated with parties.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws that covered all categories of workers. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. Penalties for violations were of a civil nature, with fines imposed, and were commensurate with those under other laws involving denials of civil rights. Administrative, registration, and judicial procedures were not overly lengthy.

There were few reports of antiunion discrimination or other forms of employer interference in union functions. The government and employers recognized the right to strike and respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Authorities effectively enforced laws providing for collective bargaining and protecting unions from interference and workers from retaliation for union activities.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law, and resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. Labor inspectors and revenue authorities conducted routine site visits to identify forced labor. The government initiated forced labor awareness campaigns and workshops. Penalties ranged from six months to five years imprisonment for offenses involving an adult victim and from one to 10 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim and were commensurate with those for similar crimes.

NGOs noticed an upward trend in labor trafficking in recent years due to organized crime in Eastern Europe. Traffickers were reported to exploit men and women from Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and China in forced labor, primarily in restaurants, construction, agriculture, health care, and domestic service, including in diplomatic households. Seasonal migrants were especially vulnerable to labor trafficking, particularly during the harvest seasons. Traffickers exploited children, persons with physical and mental disabilities, and Roma in forced begging.

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 minimum legal working age is 15, with the exception that children who are at least 13 may engage in certain forms of light work on family farms or businesses. Children who are 15 and older are subject to the same regulations on hours, rest periods, overtime wages, and occupational health and safety restrictions as adults, but they are subject to additional restrictions on hazardous forms of work or work that is detrimental to ethics and morals. Restrictions for hazardous jobs include work with materials considered dangerous for children, work in the sawmill business, on high-voltage pylons, and specified jobs in the construction business.

The labor inspectorate of the Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies in the workplace and did so through regular and thorough checks of workplaces and special youth advisors in companies. Penalties in the form of fines may be doubled in cases of repeated violations of the child labor code. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous crimes.

Child labor occurred. Children were trafficked to the country and subjected to forced begging and occasionally sexual exploitation. Forced labor or exploitation of minors is treated under the criminal code as trafficking in persons, with criminal penalties of one to 10 years in prison, double the penalty for forced labor or exploitation of adults.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations related to employment or occupation prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV-positive (or other communicable disease) status, religion, age, or world view. The law does not address national origin. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations. Penalties for violations were commensurate with laws relating to civil rights.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, persons with disabilities, and members of certain minorities. Muslim women wearing headscarves sometimes encountered discrimination when trying to obtain a retail or customer service position. Companies sometimes preferred to pay a fine rather than hire a person with a disability.

The law requires equal pay for equal work, but women occasionally experienced discrimination in remuneration. Persons with disabilities had difficulty accessing the workplace. Women employees in the private sector may invoke laws prohibiting discrimination against women by filing a court case or registering a complaint with the Federal Equality Commission, which can award the equivalent of up to four months’ salary to women found to have experienced gender discrimination in promotion, despite being better qualified than their competitors. The courts may also order compensation for women denied a post despite having equal qualifications.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: There is no legislated national minimum wage. Instead, nationwide collective bargaining agreements covered between 98 and 99 percent of the workforce and set minimum wages by job classification for each industry. Where no such collective agreements existed, such as for domestic workers, custodial staff, and au pairs, wages were generally lower than those covered by collective bargaining agreements. The agreements set wages above the poverty line except in a few cases.

The law in general provides for a maximum workweek of 40 hours, although collective bargaining agreements establish 38- or 38.5-hour workweeks for more than half of all employees. Regulations to increase workhour flexibility allowed companies to increase the maximum regular time from 40 hours to 50 hours per week with overtime. A law that entered into force in 2019 allows work hours to be increased to a maximum of 12 hours per day and 60 hours per week, including overtime, but employees can refuse, without providing a reason, to work more than 10 hours per day.

Overtime is officially limited to 20 hours per week and 60 hours per year. The period worked must not exceed an average of 48 hours per week over a period of 17 weeks. Some employers, particularly in the construction, manufacturing, and information technology sectors, exceeded legal limits on compulsory overtime. Collective bargaining agreements can specify higher limits. An employee must have at least 11 hours off between workdays. Wage and hour violations can be brought before a labor court, which can fine employers who commit violations. Penalties were commensurate with other similar crimes.

Sectors with immigrant and migrant workers were particularly affected by violations in wage and hour regulations. Foreign workers in both the formal and informal sectors made up 19 percent of the country’s workforce. They constituted 20 percent of officially employed persons and 35 percent of unemployed persons. There were concerns that some migrant workers, especially those in the childcare industry, were misclassified as independent contractors instead of employees. Consequently, these workers did not have access to social safety net benefits, such as unemployment insurance, as well as other benefits, such as paid leave.

Occupational Safety and Health: The labor inspectorate effectively enforced mandatory occupational safety and health standards, which were appropriate for the main industries. The number of inspectors was sufficient to deter violations. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Resources and remediation remained adequate. In cases of violations resulting in serious injury or death, employers may be prosecuted under the penal code. Penalties are commensurate with those for other crimes, such as negligence.

In 2020 a total of 113 workers died in industrial accidents, down from 126 in 2019. Hazardous sectors where the most accidents occurred include construction, agriculture, and forestry.

Workers could file complaints anonymously with the labor inspectorate, which could in turn sue the employer on behalf of the employee. Workers rarely exercised this option and normally relied instead on the nongovernmental workers’ advocacy group and the Chamber of Labor, which filed suits on their behalf.

Workers could remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety, without jeopardy to their employment. The Employment and Labor Relations Federal Public Service protected employees in this situation.

Informal Sector: Authorities did not effectively enforce wage, hour, and occupational safety and health standards in the informal sector. Workers in the small informal economy generally did not benefit from social protections. Workers generally had to pay into the system to receive health-care benefits, unemployment insurance, and pensions, and such payments were rare in the informal sector. Economists estimated the size of the country’s informal sector at approximately 7 percent of GDP.

Azerbaijan

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to form and join independent trade unions. Uniformed military, police, and managerial staff are prohibited from joining unions. While the law provides workers the right to bargain collectively, unions could not effectively negotiate wage levels and working conditions because government-appointed boards ran major state-owned firms and set wages for government employees.

The law provides most private-sector workers the right to conduct legal strikes but prohibits civil servants from striking. Categories of workers prohibited from striking include high-ranking executive and legislative officials, law enforcement officers, court employees, fire fighters, and health, electric power, water supply, telephone, railroad, and air traffic control workers.

The law prohibits discrimination against trade unions and labor activists and requires the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law also prohibits retribution against strikers, such as dismissal or replacement. Striking workers convicted of disrupting public transportation, however, may be sentenced to up to three years in prison. No strikes occurred during the year.

The government did not effectively enforce laws related to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those under other laws involving denial of civil rights. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Most unions were not independent, and the overwhelming majority remained tightly linked to the government, with the exception of some journalists’ unions. The Azerbaijan Trade Unions Confederation (ATUC) was the only trade union confederation in the country. Although ATUC registered as an independent organization, it was closely aligned with the government. ATUC reported it represented 1.1 million members in 26 sectors. Increased bureaucratic scrutiny limited the right to form unions and conduct union activities. Both local and international NGOs claimed that workers in most industries were largely unaware of their rights and afraid of retribution if they exercised those rights or initiated complaints. This was especially true for workers in the public sector.

Collective bargaining agreements were often treated as formalities and were not enforced. Although labor law applies to all workers and enterprises, the government may negotiate bilateral agreements that effectively exempt multinational enterprises from it. For example, production-sharing agreements in the oil and gas sector supersede domestic law and often do not include provisions for employee participation in a trade union. While the law prohibits employers from impeding the collective bargaining process, employers engaged in activities that undercut the effectiveness of collective bargaining, such as subcontracting and using short-term employment agreements. For example, the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic used one-year employment contracts that made employees vulnerable and less willing to advocate for their rights.

The state oil company’s 50,000 workers were required to belong to the Union of Oil and Gas Industry Workers, and authorities automatically deducted union dues from paychecks. Many of the state-owned enterprises that dominated the formal economy withheld union dues from worker pay but did not deposit the dues into union accounts. Employers officially withheld one-quarter of the dues collected for the oil workers’ union for “administrative costs” associated with running the union. Unions and their members had no means of investigating how employers spent their dues.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except in circumstances of war or in the execution of a court decision under the supervision of a government agency. Penalties for violations, including imprisonment, were commensurate with those for analogous crimes. The government did not effectively enforce applicable law. Resources and inspections were inadequate, due in part to a moratorium on all routine and unannounced labor inspections.

Broad provisions in the law provide for the imposition of compulsory labor as a punishment for expressing political views or views ideologically opposed to the established political, social, or economic system. In 2018 the International Labor Organization Committee of Experts noted its concern with a growing trend of using various provisions of the criminal code to prosecute journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders, and others who expressed critical opinions under questionable charges that appeared politically motivated, resulting in long periods of corrective labor or imprisonment, both involving compulsory labor.

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. In most cases the law permits children to work from age 15 with a written employment contract. Children who are 14 may work in family businesses or, with parental consent, in daytime after-school jobs that pose no hazard to their health. Children younger than 16 may not work more than 24 hours per week; children who are 16 or 17 may not work more than 36 hours per week. The law prohibits employing children younger than 18 in difficult and hazardous conditions and identifies specific work and industries in which children are prohibited, including work with toxic substances and underground, at night, in mines, and in nightclubs, bars, casinos, or other businesses that serve alcohol.

The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting child labor and setting a minimum age for employment. The government maintained a moratorium on routine and unannounced inspections, which may have prevented effective enforcement of child labor laws. Resources and inspections were inadequate to enforce compliance, and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. Although the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection could receive and respond to complaints, its responses did not include worksite inspections. Instead, the State Labor Inspection Service within the ministry investigated complaints by requesting information from the employer in question. Inspectors identified violations and imposed appropriate penalties based on the information they received.

In July 2020 the president approved the National Action Plan for 2020-2024 on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings. The plan tasked the relevant government bodies to continue efforts to: identify victims of human trafficking and forced labor, including children; carry out special work with children engaged in begging; develop general standards of communication with child victims or potential victims of human trafficking; conduct training on the identification and protection of child victims or potential victims of human trafficking; and conduct awareness-raising work with entrepreneurs and employers in order to prevent the exploitation of child labor.

Authorities reported no instances of investigating child labor in formal sectors of the economy. There were reports of children engaging in child labor, including commercial sexual exploitation, forced begging, and agriculture. Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation, based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex (including pregnancy), ethnicity, disability, age, and HIV or AIDS status, but the government did not always enforce the law effectively. Legal penalties for discrimination in employment existed under various articles and laws but were patchwork in nature and not commensurate with those under other laws related to civil rights. The law excludes women from 678 occupations in 38 industries that are framed as inherently dangerous jobs. Many of these positions were higher ranked and better paid than positions that women were permitted to occupy in the same industries. Women were also not permitted to work at night in the same way as men.

Employers generally hesitated to hire persons with disabilities, and workplace access was limited. Discrimination in employment and occupation also occurred with respect to sexual orientation. LGBTQI+ individuals reported employers found other reasons to dismiss them, because they could not legally dismiss someone because of their sexual orientation. Women were underrepresented in high-level jobs, including top business positions. Traditional practices limited women’s access to economic opportunities in rural areas. According to the State Statistics Committee, in 2020 the average monthly salary for women was 63 percent of the average monthly salary for men. According to gender experts, gender-based harassment in the workplace was a problem.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The national minimum wage was higher than the poverty income level (minimum living standard). Experts stated government employers complied with the minimum wage law in the formal sector. The law requires equal pay for equal work regardless of gender, age, or other classification, although women’s pay lagged behind that of men.

The law provides for a 40-hour workweek. Workers in hazardous occupations may not work more than 36 hours per week. Information was not available on whether local companies provided the legally required premium compensation for overtime, although international companies generally did. There is no prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime. The law provides equal rights to foreign and domestic workers.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection is responsible for enforcing wage and hour laws. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance, and inspectors did not have the authority to make unannounced inspections. Inspectors could initiate sanctions in limited circumstances. During the year the government extended its moratorium on scheduled and unannounced labor inspections through 2022. Although inspectors were permitted to request information from employers and relevant employees in order to investigate complaints, complaint response did not include worksite inspections. The ministry identified 1,508 violations of labor law.

The government did not effectively enforce the laws on acceptable conditions of work, and penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health standards are appropriate for the main industries, although employers were known to ignore them. Failure to provide acceptable conditions of work in the construction and oil and gas sectors remained a problem. A local NGO reported that oil workers were forced to work lengthy shifts at sea because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Inspection of working conditions by the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection’s labor inspectorate was weak and ineffective due to the moratorium. Workers cannot remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Local human rights groups, including the Oil Workers Rights Defense Organization, an NGO dedicated to protecting worker rights in the petroleum sector, maintained that employers, particularly foreign oil companies, did not always treat foreign and domestic workers equally. Domestic employees of foreign oil companies reportedly often received lower pay and worked without contracts or private health-care insurance. Some domestic employees of foreign oil companies reported violations of labor law, noting they were unable to receive overtime payments or vacations.

The government did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health laws, largely due to the extended moratorium on worksite inspections. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. According to official statistics, 51 workers died on the job during the year, none from the oil and gas sector.

Informal Sector: According to most estimates, the informal sector accounted for 30 to 40 percent of the economy, especially in the service and construction sectors. Informal workers are covered by wage, hour, and OSH laws and inspections, although these laws were commonly ignored.

Bahamas

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, participate in collective bargaining, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. To be recognized, trade unions must register with the Ministry of Labour and Immigration (hereafter Ministry of Labour); the registrar has authority to refuse registration. Union representatives said the registration process caused delays but was otherwise not a barrier to union formation. By law employers may be compelled to reinstate workers illegally fired for union activity. Members of the police force, defense force, fire brigade, and prison guards may not organize or join unions, although police used professional associations to advocate on their behalf. To be recognized by the government, a union must represent at least 50 percent plus one of the affected workers.

By law labor disputes must first be filed with the Ministry of Labour. If not resolved there, disputes are transferred to an industrial tribunal which determines penalties and remedies, up to a maximum of 26 weeks of an employee’s pay. The tribunal’s decision is final and may be appealed in court only on a question of law.

There are significant restrictions on the right to strike.  To proceed with a strike action, the law first requires negotiations between the employer and union leaders.  If there is a stalemate, the union must notify the minister of labor at least two days before a vote to strike.  The employer and union leaders sometimes engaged for months before the minister got involved.  The minister of labor can supervise a secret strike ballot.  The government has the authority to intervene in a strike action to ensure the delivery of essential services and uphold the “national interest.”  Workers who engage in illegal strikes can be subject to imprisonment for up to two years.

The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, and so did most private-sector employers. The government did not restrict union activity or use targeted layoffs during the COVID-19 pandemic for union busting. Union leaders, however, complained the government did not consult them on policy decisions that affected redundancy, furlough, and nonpayment to staff. One union leader said some government entities did not consult with unions or the Ministry of Labour as legally required before deciding which employees to make redundant during layoffs caused by the pandemic.

The government generally enforced the law, although the Ministry of Labour stated the government, in coordination with labor unions, relaxed labor laws and standards due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Penalties for violating labor laws varied by case but were generally commensurate with penalties for similar violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. The ministry provided its annual report to Parliament during the national budget debate but did not include updated statistics on enforcement.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government took no significant action to combat forced labor and did not enforce the law in all sectors. Penalties for forced labor were commensurate with those for analogous crimes, such as kidnapping.

Isolated incidents of forced labor occurred. Local NGOs noted that exploited workers often did not report their circumstances to government officials due to fear of deportation and ignorance of available resources. Irregular migrants, especially domestic employees and agricultural workers, were vulnerable to forced labor, particularly in outlying islands. There were reports that migrant laborers, often of Haitian origin, were vulnerable to compulsory labor and suffered abuse at the hands of their employers, who were responsible for endorsing work permits on an annual basis. The risk of losing the permit and the desire to work legally within the country were reportedly used as leverage for exploitation and created the potential for abuse.

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 worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than age 14 for industrial work and any work during school hours or between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Children ages 14-17 may work between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. but only in hotels, restaurants, food stores, general merchandise stores, and gas stations. Children ages 14-17 may work outside school hours under the following conditions: on a school day, for not more than three hours; in a school week, for not more than 24 hours; on a nonschool day, for not more than eight hours; and in a nonschool week, for not more than 40 hours. The government did not have a list of jobs that were considered dangerous, although it intervened when children were working in dangerous environments, such as selling peanuts at a dangerous intersection. The government did not have a list of light work activities permitted for children ages 12 and older.

The government generally enforced the law. The penalties for violating child labor laws on forced labor were generally commensurate with those for analogous crimes.

Incidents of child labor occurred in the informal sector. Children worked on family farms and as street vendors. The Ministry of Labour lacked sufficient inspectors to follow up on reports of child labor.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, skin color, national origin, creed, sex, marital status, political opinion, age, HIV status, and disability, but not based on language, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or social status. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with laws related to civil rights. Women’s pay lagged behind men’s pay in the private sector. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to the workspace. While the law allows victims to sue for damages, most lacked the financial resources to counter wealthy defendants in court. The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. There was a significant backlog of cases, with delays reportedly lasting years. The government suspended jury trials due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hindering its efforts to address the backlog.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The minimum wage was above the established poverty income level.

The law provides for a 40-hour workweek, a 24-hour rest period, and time-and-a-half payment for hours worked beyond the standard workweek. The law stipulates paid annual holidays and prohibits compulsory overtime. The law does not place a limit on overtime.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government set health and safety standards appropriate to the main industries. According to the Ministry of Labour, the law protects all workers, including migrant workers, with respect to wages, working hours, working conditions, and occupational health and safety standards. Workers cannot remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.

The Ministry of Labour is responsible for enforcing labor laws, including minimum wage, work hours, safety, health, and child labor. The ministry enforced the law inconsistently, especially in the informal sector. Ministry inspectors conducted random site visits to enforce occupational health and safety standards and to investigate employee concerns and complaints. Inspections occurred infrequently. Penalties for violations of occupational health and safety laws were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Labour conducted additional workplace inspections to enforce compliance with the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 workplace guidelines. Inspectors have the right to conduct unannounced visits and levy fines, but the ministry sometimes announced inspection visits in advance. Employers generally cooperated with inspectors to implement safety standards. Some employees who worked in the construction, agriculture, hospitality, engineering, and informal sectors endured hazardous conditions. In addition officials at the main prison complex complained of a lack of hazard pay for working close to inmates with communicable diseases, including HIV, AIDS, and COVID-19.

Informal Sector: The law protects all workers and calls for decent work standards for all, even outside legal employment structures. Where informal work contravened labor laws, the government effectively enforced the law. The informal sector accounted for an estimated 25 percent of the country’s GDP. The primary job sector in the informal segment consisted of home-based workers, such as hair braiders, clothing vendors, domestic workers, beauticians, tailors, and seamstresses. Persons in the informal sector were typically not employed, were self-employed, or worked more than one job. Many irregular migrants worked in landscaping and agriculture.

Bahrain

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and labor code recognize the right to form and join independent trade unions, as well as the right to strike, but with significant restrictions. The law does not provide for the right to collective bargaining. The government did not effectively enforce all applicable laws, including prohibitions on antiunion discrimination. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

The law prohibits trade unions in the public sector. Public sector workers may join private sector trade unions and professional associations, although these entities may not bargain on their behalf. The law also prohibits members of the military services and domestic workers from joining unions. Foreign workers, composing nearly 80 percent of the civilian workforce, may join unions if they work in a sector that allows unions, although the law reserves union leadership roles for citizens. The law prohibits unions from engaging in political activities.

The law specifies that only an official trade union may organize or declare a strike, and it imposes requirements for legal strikes. The law prohibits strikes in 12 “vital” sectors, the scope of which exceeds international standards, including the oil, gas, education, telecommunications, transportation, and health sectors, as well as pharmacies and bakeries. The law makes no distinction between “vital” and “nonvital” employees within these sectors. Workers must approve a strike with a simple majority and provide 15 days’ notification to the employer before conducting a strike.

The law allows multiple trade union federations but prohibits multisector labor federations. The law bars individuals convicted of violating criminal laws that lead to trade union or executive council dissolution from holding union leadership posts. The law gives the labor minister, rather than the unions, the right to select the federation to represent workers in national-level bargaining and international forums. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination; however, independent unions faced government resistance. The law does not require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

Some workers and union affiliates complained union pluralism resulted in company management interfering in union dues collection and workers’ chosen union affiliation. They stated that management chose to negotiate with the union it found most favorable to the detriment of collective bargaining agreements and the legitimate voice of workers.

In 2020 the government reported that it considered completed efforts at reinstatement, which had been required by a 2014 tripartite agreement with the International Labor Organization (ILO). Union representatives reported that nearly all the roughly 5,000 cases of arbitrary dismissal or labor discrimination had been resolved through either reinstatement or by financial compensation. Human rights organizations and activists questioned the government’s claims and reported continuing, systemic labor discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor except in national emergencies; however, the government did not enforce the law effectively. The antitrafficking law prescribes penalties ranging from three to 15 years’ imprisonment, a significant fine, and the cost of repatriating the victim(s), which were sufficiently stringent, and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

There were reports of forced labor in the construction and service sectors. The labor law covers foreign workers other than domestic workers. Enforcement was lax, and cases of debt bondage were common. There were also reports of forced labor practices among domestic workers and others working in the informal sector; labor laws did not protect most of these workers. Domestic workers from third countries have the right to see the terms of their employment contract before leaving their home countries or upon arrival. The law requires domestic workers hired through employment offices to have a tripartite contract, with the signature of the employer, recruitment office, and employee. In the case of direct hiring of a domestic worker, the employer must submit a pledge of the employer’s obligations to the Ministry of Labor and Social Development.

According to reports by third-country labor officials and human rights organizations, employers withheld passports illegally, restricted movement and communication, substituted contracts, or did not pay wages. Some employers also threatened workers and subjected them to physical, psychological, and sexual abuse.

In 2016 the ministry instituted procedures that allow workers to change the employer associated with their visa without permission from their former employer or without their passport, under certain conditions including abuse or withheld wages. The ministry threatened employers who withheld passports with criminal and administrative violations and prohibited at-fault employers from hiring new workers. The PPO did not prosecute any individuals for withholding their employees’ passports. During the year the government shut down recruitment agencies and revoked licenses of others for infringing on workers’ rights. Recruitment agencies complicit in illegal practices may be subject to license revocation, legal action, shutdown of business operations, or a forfeit of license deposits.

The ministry’s Protective Inspection Directorate (PID) employed 70 inspectors who were responsible for enforcement of employment violations, immigration violations, and worksite inspections. The PID reported conducting 2,264 inspections during the reporting year, 152 of those for recruitment agencies. Through these inspections the government permanently shut down six companies and suspended one recruitment agency. It also suspended 15 additional companies due to noncompliance with regulations and having workers without legal status employed in the establishments.

The ministry employed inspectors who were sworn officers of the court, with the authority to conduct official investigations. Inspector reports may result in fines, court cases, loss of work permits, and termination of businesses. These inspectors focus on the legal and administrative provisions under which individuals fall, including work permits, employer records, and licenses.

In July the Ministry of Interior launched two new hotlines – one to report human trafficking cases and another to report sponsors who demand money from workers before transferring sponsorship. Complaints from both hotlines fed into the National Referral Mechanism for trafficking victims.

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

Laws and regulations related to child labor generally meet international standards. After thorough consultations with local government officials, diplomats of labor-sending countries, representatives from local civil society organizations, and the International Organization for Migration, experts determined that child labor occurred but was not a prevalent problem in the country. The government generally enforced the law. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The minimum age for employment is 15, and the minimum age for hazardous work is 18. Children younger than 18 may not work in industries the Ministry of Health deems hazardous or unhealthy, including construction, mining, and oil refining. They may work no more than six hours a day and no more than four consecutive workdays and may not be present on the employment premises more than seven hours a day. Child labor regulations do not apply to family-operated businesses in which the only other employees are family members.

The law requires that before the Ministry of Labor makes a final decision on allowing a minor to work, the prospective employer must present: documentation from the minor’s guardian giving the minor permission to work; proof the minor underwent a physical fitness examination to determine suitability; and assurance from the employer the minor would not work in an environment the ministry deemed hazardous.

There was evidence that children continued to engage in domestic work and sell items on the street. The government did not conduct research to determine the nature and extent of child labor in the country.

The law does not allow expatriate workers younger than 18 to work in the country.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: There is no national private sector minimum wage law. A standardized government pay scale covers public sector workers, with a set minimum monthly wage. While the minimum wage for citizens is generally considered a living wage, there is no minimum wage for foreign workers in the public sector; however, the government issued “guidelines” advising employers in the public and private sectors to pay a minimum monthly wage. There was no official poverty level.

Subject to the provisions of the private-sector law, employers may not employ a worker for more than 48 hours per week without including contract provisions for overtime pay. Employers may not employ Muslim workers during the month of Ramadan for more than six hours per day or 36 hours per week. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

On May 1, the government launched the Wage Protection System (WPS) for employees working in the private sector. The government implemented WPS in phases, which required wages be paid through licensed commercial banks, based on the number of workers employed by businesses. According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Development, WPS secures workers’ rights, combats trafficking in persons, protects employers’ rights by documenting money transfers, and provides documentation to settle labor disputes. The ministry stated it would penalize employers who fail to pay monthly salaries on time and per contractual obligations.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were not appropriate for the main industries in the country; the government did not effectively enforce existing OSH standards. Workers risked jeopardizing their employment for refusal to work in hazardous conditions or if they took legal action against employers who retaliated against them for exercising their right to remove themselves from such conditions.

The Ministry of Labor sets occupational safety and health standards. The labor law and relevant protections apply to citizens and noncitizens alike, with the exception of domestic workers. The law stipulates that companies in violation of occupational safety standards may be subject to fines. Penalties for violations of occupational, safety, and health laws were not commensurate with those for similar crimes such as negligence.

The Ministry of Labor employed general inspectors and occupational safety inspectors. Their roles are to inspect workplaces, occupational health and safety conditions, and the employer/employee work relationship. The ministry used a team of engineers from multiple specialties primarily to investigate risks and standards at construction sites, which were the vast majority of worksites. Inspectors have the authority to levy fines and close worksites if employers do not improve conditions by specified deadlines. A judge determines fines per violation, per worker affected, or both. A judge may also sentence violators to prison. For repeat violators, the court may double the penalties. NGOs expressed concern that resources for enforcement of the laws would be inadequate for the number of worksites and workers, that worksites would not be inspected, and that violations would continue despite the new regulations.

A ministerial decree prohibits outdoor work between noon and 4 p.m. during July and August because of heat conditions. Authorities enforced the ban with regard to large firms, but according to local observers, violations by smaller businesses were common and without consequences. Employers who violate the ban are subject to up to three months’ imprisonment, fines, or both, but enforcement was inconsistent. The ministry documented 27 companies that violated the summer heat ban during the year.

On February 25, a criminal court sentenced an official found guilty of causing the death of construction workers at a sewage treatment plant to three years in prison and a fine.

The government and courts generally worked to rectify labor abuses brought to their attention. The government published pamphlets on foreign workers’ rights in several languages and provided manuals on these rights to local diplomatic missions. Workers could file complaints with the government via email, in person, or through government hotlines. The Ministry of Interior reported it received 450 calls to its hotline since its establishment in July. There were 6,769 combined and individual labor-related complaints during the year, including complaints filed by domestic workers. The vast majority of cases involving abused domestic workers, however, did not reach the ministry or the public prosecutor. The government provided victims with a range of services, including shelter, food, clothing, medical and psychological care, legal counsel, and grants from the Victim Assistance Fund. The National Committee for Combating Trafficking in Persons provided shelter and services to victims and potential victims on a case-by-case basis.

Local organizations reported that they visited unregistered camps and accommodations, including accommodations of irregular “free visa” workers, who they observed often lived in overcrowded apartments with poor safety standards.

Informal Sector: Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards were common in sectors employing informal foreign workers, such as construction, automotive repair, and domestic service. Unskilled foreign workers, mostly from South and Southeast Asia, constituted approximately 60 percent of the total workforce, and many were employed informally. These workers were vulnerable to dangerous or exploitive working conditions. According to NGOs workplace safety inspection and compliance were substandard.

The labor law does not fully protect domestic workers, and this group was particularly vulnerable to exploitation due to the difficulties of oversight and access to private residences. Additionally, NGOs report employers and recruitment agencies provided employees contracts with differing terms in different languages.

The Ministries of Labor and Interior acknowledge severe underreporting of abuse and labor exploitation. NGOs and activists provided credible reports that employers forced many of the country’s 86,000 domestic workers, most of them women, to work 12- to 16-hour days, and illegally seized their passports and cell phones. Some domestic workers reported that their employers permitted very little time off, left female workers malnourished, and subjected them to verbal and physical abuse, including sexual molestation and rape. The press, embassies, and police received numerous reports of abuse of domestic workers. As a response the National Committee for Combating Trafficking in Persons provided workers with shelter. Most women in these cases sought assistance with unpaid wages and complaints of physical abuse.

On October 11, the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs reported that 91 distressed Filipino workers had been repatriated, including minors, pardoned prisoners, individuals without residency status, pregnant women, medical patients, and others who had sought refuge in the Philippines Embassy.

The Flexi Permit, a renewable one- or two-year permit that allows foreign workers to remain in the country and work without a sponsor, authorizes previously out-of-status workers to legalize their residency; the government issues these permits as an alternative to the kafala work sponsorship system. In December an NGO noted that its high cost precludes many from enrolling in the program.

According to NGOs the construction sector employed more Indians, Bangladeshis, and Pakistanis than other nationalities. Worker deaths generally were due to a combination of inadequate enforcement of standards, violations of standards, inadequate safety procedures, worker ignorance of safety procedures, and inadequate safety standards for equipment. The level of freedom foreign workers enjoyed directly related to the type of work they performed.

A Ministry of Labor order requires employers to register any living accommodations provided to employees. The order also mandates minimum housing standards for employer-provided accommodations. Of the 14,000 labor accommodations, 62 percent of them were in unauthorized areas. Many migrant workers lived in unregistered accommodations that included makeshift housing in parking garages, apartments rented by employers from private owners, family houses modified to accommodate many persons, and single beds for rent. Conditions in the many unregistered or irregular worker camps were often squalid and overcrowded. Inspectors do not have the right to enter houses or apartment buildings not registered as work camps to inspect conditions.

Bangladesh

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to join unions and, with government approval, the right to form a union, although labor rights organizations reported high levels of rejections for trade union registration and an overly complicated registration process. The law requires a minimum of 20 percent of an enterprise’s total workforce to agree to be members before the Department of Labor under the Ministry of Labor and Employment (MOLE) may grant approval for registration of a union. The department may request a labor court dissolve the union if membership falls below 20 percent. Generally, the law allows only wall-to-wall (entire factory) bargaining units. NGOs reported the Registrar of Trade Unions regularly abused its discretion and denied applications without reason, for reasons not recognized in law or regulation, or by fabricating shortcomings in the application. One union representative explained she had completed all paperwork to form a union and had support from 30 percent of workers, but the union registration was rejected by the Department of Labor because the factory claimed it had hundreds of additional employees. Organizers’ names were shared with the factory owner, and all were fired. Furthermore, the department did not allow more than one union per garment factory. Labor leaders reported unions sympathetic to management received quick approvals to organize

The labor law definition of workers excludes managerial, supervisory, and administrative staff. Firefighting staff, security guards, and employers’ confidential assistants are not entitled to join a union. Civil service and security force employees are prohibited from forming unions.

The law continued to ban trade unions and severely restricted the right to organize and bargain collectively for the nearly 430,000 workers in export-processing zones (EPZs). Worker welfare associations (WWAs), dominated by the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA), continued to replace the function of independent, democratically elected unions in EPZs. The law limits inspection and greatly restricts the right to strike, giving BEPZA’s chairperson discretion to ban any strike viewed as prejudicial to the public interest. The law provides for EPZ labor tribunals, appellate tribunals, and conciliators, but those institutions were not established. Instead, eight labor courts and one appellate labor court heard EPZ cases. More than 50 percent of WWAs in one zone of the EPZ must approve a federation, and they were prohibited from establishing any connection to outside political parties, unions, federations, or NGOs. Except for limitations on the right of association and worker protections in the EPZs, the labor law prohibits antiunion discrimination. A labor court may order the reinstatement of workers fired for union activities, but reinstatement was rarely awarded.

The Department of Labor may deregister unions for other reasons with the approval of a labor court. The law affords unions the right of appeal in the cases of dissolution or denial of registration. Unfair labor practices, including antiunion discrimination, were expressly prohibited, but 2018 amendments to labor law halved penalties for both employers and workers. The labor law and rules amendment process continued, as indicated in a roadmap the government submitted to the International Labor Organization (ILO). Workers were often charged with unfair labor practices; employers rarely were. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. The law provides for the right to conduct legal strikes but with many limitations. For example, the government may prohibit a strike deemed to pose a “serious hardship to the community” and may terminate any strike lasting more than 30 days. The law additionally prohibits strikes for the first three years of commercial production if the factory was built with foreign investment or owned by a foreign investor.

The law establishes mechanisms for conciliation, arbitration, and dispute resolution by a labor court. The Department of Labor has the authority to deal with unfair labor practices, while the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) has the authority to mediate wage-related disputes, but their decisions were not binding. The government reported 20 complaints were filed for unfair labor practices from January to December 1; six were resolved according to the law and standard operating procedures, four investigations were completed, and 10 remained open. Trade union federations reported they have stopped filing unfair labor cases due to the enormous backlog of existing cases in labor courts.

The law establishes that workers in a collective-bargaining union have the right to strike in the event of a failure to reach a settlement. Few strikes followed the cumbersome legal requirements, however, and strikes or walkouts often occurred spontaneously. According to the law, at least 75 percent of union employees must support strike action. Work stoppages, strikes, and workplace actions were prevalent during the year in several sectors, and they generally concerned past-due wages, improper or illegal shutdowns, layoffs, terminations, and discrimination. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these problems.

In July the workers of Style Craft factory in Gazipur agitated in front of the Labor Ministry building for 10 days, demanding arrears. Despite repeated meetings of MOLE with the employers, there was still no progress as to the payment of the arrears. According to the Industrial Police, the factory had 3,200 workers who did not receive wages after the factory announced sudden closure of its operation. The workers stated wages were in arrears for four to nine months and that their total due was more than 700 million taka ($8.14 million); however, the factory owner wanted to pay less than 25 million taka ($290,698).

On June 13, a female ready-made-garments (RMG) factory worker, Jesmin Begum, died and 35 others were injured as police clashed with 500-600 former workers demonstrating peacefully for the payment of arrears in front of the Dhaka EPZ. Police fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and used charged batons and water cannons to disperse the workers of Lenny Fashions Ltd, Lenny Apparels Ltd and A One Fashions Ltd., some of whom in return threw bricks at police, according to a local trade union leader. Union leaders said Begum died after being hit by rubber bullets, although police alleged she critically injured her head as she bumped into a pole while fleeing. In January the three referenced factories allegedly closed without clearing workers arrears, and thereafter former workers periodically demonstrated to protest. Dhaka EPZ authorities stated they were trying to sell the closed factories to clear the workers’ arrears.

On April 17, media reported at least seven workers were killed, and dozens injured after police opened fire on a crowd of workers demanding payment of unpaid wages and a pay raise at a Chinese-backed power plant. Police opened fire after approximately 2,000 protesters began hurling bricks and stones at officers at the construction site of the coal-fired plant in the southeastern city of Chittagong. The workers were protesting regarding unpaid wages, a pay raise, and reduced hours during the holy month of Ramadan, which started the same week as the protest.

According to the labor rights organization Solidarity Center, union registration applications and approvals have declined significantly since 2013 and that workers faced significant challenges registering unions. Despite the adoption of standard operating procedures for union registration in 2017, Solidarity Center reported the process routinely took longer than the 60-day maximum time, and nearly half of all union applications were arbitrarily denied. From January to December 1, Solidarity Center’s partners assisted 10 unions with their registration, and to date only one was approved, three were rejected, and six were pending approval. The government reported receiving 233 total valid applications during the year and approved 190, rejected 31, with the remainder still to be reviewed.

Workers in the RMG sector reported resistance when seeking to establish unions and engage in collective bargaining. In a 2018 survey, the Centre for Policy Dialogue, a local think tank, collected data from 3,856 RMG factories employing 3.6 million workers and found 97.5 percent of them had no union. During the year MOLE reported the RMG sector had 1,006 active trade unions and 1,951 participation committees. Labor leaders claimed much lower numbers of trade unions and asserted while there are perhaps 80 to 90 active unions, only 30 to 40 actually negotiated because intimidation, corruption, and violence continued to constrain union organizing. The ministry reported the shrimp sector had 16 unions. Only 70 tanneries were unionized under the sector’s single union. The tea sector had one union, the largest in the country, representing 95,000 to 100,000 workers. Labor regulations do not clearly provide a legal basis for collective bargaining at the industrial, sectoral, and national levels.

Labor rights groups reported workers routinely faced retaliation and violence for asserting their rights under the law, including organizing unions, raising concerns, or even attending union information sessions. For example, on August 6, the Bangladesh Industrial Police (BIP) filed a criminal case against the general secretary of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation and other union leaders and members that the Solidarity Center characterized as a case of retaliation for attempting to organize. Workers at the Crossline garment factories in the city of Gazipur failed to register two unions and accused factory management of violating labor laws. These deep disagreements with management led to protests, BIP intervention, and violence on both sides; in response, Crossline filed criminal charges against up to 200 of its factory workers and dismissed others who had led the push to unionize.

Workers in unions were subjected to police violence, mass dismissals, and arrests of union leaders for asserting their rights to protest. Police intimidated unions in the RMG sector by frequently visiting their meetings and offices, photographing or recording meetings, and monitoring NGOs supporting trade unions. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) noted major discrepancies in labor legislation that do not align with the standards of the ILO and emphasized concerns regarding police crackdowns on workers protesting wages. ITUC also called for more measures to restrain interference in union elections. In September Geneva-based IndustriALL Global Union reported police first banned several union meetings and then physically stopped participants from joining a meeting where a regional committee of the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council was to be formed. According to labor law, every factory with more than 50 employees is required to have a participation committee (PC). The law states there shall not be any participation committee if any registered trade union exists in a factory. Employers often selected or appointed workers for the PC instead of permitting worker elections to determine those positions. Employers also failed to comply with laws and regulations that provided for the effectiveness and independence of PCs.

Workers from several factories also asserted that since August 2018, Bangladesh Garments Manufacturer and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and factory owners allegedly used a database of RMG workers to blacklist those who brought demands to management or tried to form unions. Although created after the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse to have a record of workers (and potential victims of future disasters), the database served to track known union organizers or anyone who has brought a complaint to management to prevent these staff from finding employment at any other factory. Labor organizations also cited examples of factory owners willing to pay up to one million taka ($11,628) to the Department of Labor to dismiss a union registration application, or to share the names of organizers.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor outside prisons, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Criminal penalties for forced or bonded labor offenses were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. Inspection mechanisms that enforce laws against forced labor did not function effectively. Resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were inadequate. The law also requires that victims of forced labor have access to shelter and other protective services afforded to trafficking victims, but the government did not always provide such services.

During the past year, law enforcement conducted fewer investigations and denied credible reports of official complicity in hundreds of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation cases. The government did not provide sufficient victim protective services, nor did it consistently follow victim identification procedures. There were no government-owned shelters for adult male victims.

Some individuals recruited to work overseas with fraudulent employment offers subsequently were exploited abroad under conditions of forced labor or debt bondage. Many migrant workers assumed debt to pay high recruitment fees imposed legally by recruitment agencies belonging to the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies and illegally by unlicensed subagents.

Children and adults were also forced into domestic servitude and bonded labor that involved restricted movement, nonpayment of wages, threats, and physical or sexual abuse (see section 7.c.). In December 2020 police rescued four workers who were being tortured in confinement at a brickfield and arrested seven individuals, including owners of the kiln. According to DIFE, at least 297 abuse cases were pending at labor courts across the country, while 106 cases were pending in Dhaka and 60 in Narayanganj. The cases were mostly filed under Section 326 of the penal code for voluntarily causing grievous hurt, assault, and torture at brick kilns. According to the ILO, significant number of child laborers were employed in the various chores at the brick kiln. To complete these tasks, which required no special skill, kiln operators and their agents targeted poverty-stricken villages and urban slums to recruit unskilled laborers.

Traffickers exploited workers in forced labor through debt-based coercion and bonded labor in the shrimp and fish-processing industries, aluminum and garment factories, brick kilns, dry fish production, and shipbreaking. NGOs reported officials permit traffickers to recruit and operate at India-Bangladesh border crossings and maritime embarkation points.

The more than 907,000 Rohingya men, women, and children in refugee camps, who did not have access to formal schooling or livelihoods, were vulnerable to forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation, particularly by local criminal networks. International organizations reported that officials took bribes from traffickers to access refugee camps.

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 does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor. The law regulates child employment, and the regulations depended on the type of work and the child’s age. The law establishes the minimum age for work at 14, and the minimum age for hazardous work at 18, with no exceptions. Minors may work up to five hours per day and 30 hours per week in factories and mines or up to seven hours per day and 42 hours per week in other types of workplaces. By law every child must attend school through eighth grade.

In accordance with the law, the government has declared 38 hazardous sectors where child labor is prohibited, but hazardous domestic work, fish drying, brick production, stone collection, and brick and stone-breaking sectors were not included in that list. Even in sectors declared hazardous, child labor persists, with the government declaring only eight of the 38 listed sectors free of child labor. Trade union leaders pointed to domestic work, local garments production for domestic consumption, fish drying, and brick kilns as the biggest users of child and bonded labor.

The government continued to fund and participate in programs to eliminate or prevent child labor, including building schools and a three billion-taka ($35 million) government-funded three-year project that began in 2018 and removed approximately 90,000 children from hazardous jobs. In 2019 the program reintegrated 1,254 children into schools and provided rehabilitation for 3,501 children as well as livelihood support for their parents. In July DIFE stated that in the 2020-21 fiscal year, DIFE had already removed 5,800 child workers. On October 26, MOLE signed agreements with 112 NGOs to eliminate risky child labor. According to the agreements, 100,000 children would be removed from hazardous work in the fourth phase of the project, at a cost of more than 2.85 billion taka ($33.1 million).

MOLE enforcement mechanisms were insufficient for the large, urban informal sector, and authorities rarely enforced child labor laws outside the export-garment and shrimp-processing sectors. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. DIFE enforced child labor laws in 42 sectors, and during the 2020-21 fiscal year it targeted six hazardous sectors, engineering workshops, bakery, transport, plastic, food-processing factories, and restaurants, for complete elimination of child labor. Labor inspectors were not authorized to assess penalties; they have the power only to send legal notices and file cases in court. Even when the courts imposed fines, however, they were too low to deter child labor violations.

Agriculture and other informal sectors that had no government oversight employed large numbers of children. The government found children working eight to 10 hours per day in restaurants, engineering workshops, local transportation, and domestic work. The government also reported underage children were found in almost all sectors except the export-oriented RMG, shrimp, tannery, ship breaking, silk production, ceramic, glass, and export-oriented leather goods and footwear sectors.

Children engaged in the worst forms of child labor in the production of bidis (hand-rolled cigarettes), furniture and steel, matches, poultry, salt, soap, textiles, and jute, including forced child labor in the production of dried fish and bricks. Children also performed dangerous tasks in the production of garments and leather goods bound for the local market, where the Bangladesh Labor Foundation reported 58 percent of workers were younger than 18, and 18 percent were younger than age 15.

According to a 2016 Overseas Development Institute report based on a survey of 2,700 households in Dhaka’s slums, 15 percent of children ages six to 14 were engaged in full-time work and not in school. These children were working well beyond the 42-hour limit set by national legislation. In a 2006 survey conducted by an international organization, more than 400,000 children were found engaged in domestic work. Children engaged in forced labor in the leather industry and in criminal activities, such as forced begging and the production and transport of drugs. In begging rings, traffickers abused children to increase earnings.

Rohingya children residing in refugee camps were vulnerable to forced labor. Rohingya girls were trafficked from the camps to Dhaka or foreign countries for domestic servitude. Rohingya children recruited to work outside the refugee camps were reportedly underpaid or unpaid, subjected to excessive working hours, or in bonded labor as shop hands, domestic workers, fishermen, and rickshaw pullers.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the 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 labor law prohibits wage discrimination based on sex or disability, but it does not prohibit other discrimination based on sex, disability, social status, caste, sexual orientation, or similar factors. The constitution prohibits adverse discrimination by the state based on religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth and expressly extends that prohibition to government employment; it allows affirmative action programs for the benefit of disadvantaged populations. The law does not describe a penalty for discrimination. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and the penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes.

The garment sector traditionally offered greater employment opportunities for women. Women represented most garment-sector workers, making up more than 50 percent of the total RMG workforce, according to official statistics, although statistics were unreliable and varied widely due to a lack of data. Women were generally underrepresented in supervisory and management positions and generally earned less than their male counterparts, even when performing similar functions. A 2017 Oxford University and Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education Economics Institute study found women earned lower wages in export-oriented garment factories, even after controlling for worker productivity. According to the study, approximately two-thirds of the wage gap remained even after controlling for skills, which the study attributed to higher mobility for male workers. Additionally, former BGMEA president Rubana Haq noted the perception women were less able to adapt to increasing automation in the garment sector, leading factories to lay off many female workers. Women were also subjected to abuse in factories, including sexual harassment. Solidarity Center partners reported there were no antiharassment committees in garment factories, but the Garment Exporters’ Association announced it had visited more than 1,100 factories to confirm the committees had been established.

In the tea industry, female workers faced discrimination. Male workers received rice rations for their female spouses, but female tea-workers’ spouses were not given rice rations, as they were not considered dependents.

Some religious, ethnic, and other minorities reported discrimination, particularly in the private sector (see section 6).

The laws prohibiting adolescents from participating in dangerous work specify that women are equal to adolescents and are, therefore, prohibited from working with hazardous machinery, cleaning machinery in motion, working between moving parts, or working underground or underwater.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Barbados

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions and conduct legal strikes but does not specifically recognize the right to bargain collectively. Moreover, the law does not obligate employers to recognize unions or to accept collective bargaining. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and protects workers engaged in union activity. A tribunal may order reinstatement, rehiring, or compensation for antiunion discrimination. The law permits all private-sector employees to strike but prohibits strikes by workers in essential services such as police, firefighting, electricity, and water. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

A labor union representative reported that the government generally tried to enforce labor laws but did not have enough labor and safety inspectors to enforce all labor regulations effectively. Generally, the government effectively enforced labor law in the formal sector. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The law gives persons the right to have allegations of unfair dismissal tried before the Employment Rights Tribunal. The process often had lengthy delays.

A tripartite group of labor, management, and government representatives met regularly to discuss labor topics. The group dealt with social and economic problems, formulated legislative policy, and worked towards harmonious workplace relations.

Although employers were under no legal obligation to recognize unions, most major employers did so when more than 50 percent of the employees made a request. Companies were sometimes hesitant to engage in collective bargaining with a recognized union, but in most instances they eventually did so. Smaller companies often were not unionized.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. A union official said the government generally enforced such laws, which were sufficient to deter violations.

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 governing child labor states that education is compulsory for children up to age 16 or 17, depending on when the student took the secondary school entrance exam. Exemptions to educational requirements are allowed for children receiving special education; children receiving instruction at home in a manner and to a standard satisfactory to the minister of education; children unable to attend school because of illness or health reasons; sudden or serious illness of a parent; or religious observance. The law also states that no child shall be allowed to work during school hours or between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m. in any occupation.

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law provides for a minimum working age of 16 in certain sectors but does not cover sectors such as agriculture or family businesses. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from engaging in work likely to harm their health, safety, or morals, but it does not specify which occupations fall under this prohibition. The law was effectively enforced, and child labor laws were generally observed. Parents are culpable under the law if their children younger than 16 are not in school. By law children ages 14-16 may engage in light work with parental consent. The law does not provide a list of occupations constituting light work.

Ministry of Labor inspectors may initiate legal action against an employer found employing underage workers. Employers found guilty of violating this law may be fined or imprisoned for up to 12 months. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/ .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination on grounds of age, skin color, creed, disability, domestic partnership status, marital status, medical condition, physical features, political opinion, pregnancy, race, trade, gender, sexual orientation, social status, or union affiliation. A union official said employment discrimination was not a serious concern. The government generally enforced the law.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: There is a minimum wage for housekeepers and shop assistants. There is no official poverty income level. The standard legal workweek is 40 hours in five days. The law provides employees with three weeks of paid holiday annually for persons with less than five years of service and four weeks of paid holiday annually after five years of service. The law requires overtime payment of time and a half for hours worked more than the legal standard and prescribes that all overtime must be voluntary. The law does not set a maximum number of overtime hours.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government set occupational safety and health standards that were current and appropriate for its industries.

The Ministry of Labor was responsible for minimum wage, work hour, and health and safety standards. According to a union official, the government does not have sufficient inspectors to enforce compliance as effectively as they should. The ministry used routine inspections, accident investigations, and union membership surveys to monitor and prevent labor violations, and to verify that wages and working conditions met national standards. Penalties include small fines, imprisonment for up to three months, or both. These penalties were inadequate to ensure compliance. Penalties for occupational safety and health violations are higher than penalties for analogous violations, such as negligence.

Trade unions monitored safety problems to verify the enforcement of safety and health regulations, as well as the correction of problems by management. Labor inspectors are required during an inspection to notify employers of their presence, except where the inspectors consider that such a notification would impinge on the performance of their duties. The law gives inspectors the power to initiate proceedings against employers for any violation or offense.

The law provides for the right of workers to refuse dangerous work without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities generally protected employees in this situation. A labor union representative reported there were no formal complaints concerning hazardous or exploitative working conditions during the year nor did the union receive any complaints about workplace fatalities or accidents.

Informal Sector: An Inter-American Development Bank study estimated the informal economy in the country at approximately 33 percent of total economic activity. The informal economy was not subject to government labor or safety regulations. Informal workers may apply for public assistance or public housing but are not guaranteed any benefits.

Belarus

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Although the law provides for the rights of workers, except state security and military personnel, to form and join independent unions and to strike, it places serious restrictions on the exercise of these rights. The law provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively but does not protect against antiunion discrimination. Workers who say they are fired for union activity have no explicit right to reinstatement or to challenge their dismissal in court, according to trade union activists.

The government did not enforce the law, in part because the government and state enterprises did not respect the legal right of freedom of association. The law provides for civil penalties against employers in the form of fines for violations of the freedom of association or collective bargaining. Fines against employers were not commensurate with penalties for other crimes related to civil rights. The government severely restricted independent unions. The Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP), with four constituent trade unions, made up of approximately 10,000 workers, was the largest union umbrella organization not affiliated with the government. The BKDP, however, did not represent the majority of workers at any of the country’s largest state employers. Tight government control over registration requirements and public demonstrations made it difficult for the BKDP to organize or conduct strikes.

The government did not respect collective bargaining. Prohibitive registration requirements, mandating that any new union unaffiliated with the government have a large membership and cooperation from state employers, continued to present significant obstacles to independent union formation. Trade unions may be deleted from the register by a decision of the registrar, without any court procedure. The registrar may remove a trade union from the register if, following the issuance of a written warning to the trade union that it is violating legislation or its own statutes, the violations are not corrected within one month. Authorities continued to resist attempts by workers to leave official unions and join independent unions. Government restrictions on freedom of association made it difficult for independent trade unions to participate in collective bargaining. Authorities require a single labor union position ahead of bargaining, which at state enterprises where the BKDP is present requires both labor organizations to collaborate in collective bargaining. Labor activists reported, however, that this benefited the BKDP because agreements negotiated with the participation of independent unions were more favorable to workers than those agreements solely negotiated by the government-controlled Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, the largest union federation, which claimed more than four million members.

The requirements to conduct a legal strike are high. For example, strikes may only be held three or more months after dispute resolution between the union and employer fails. The duration of the strike must be specified in advance. In addition a minimum number of workers must continue to work during the strike. Nevertheless, these requirements were largely irrelevant, since the unions that represented almost all workers remained under government control. Government authorities and managers of state-owned enterprises routinely interfered with union activities and hindered workers’ efforts to bargain collectively, in some instances arbitrarily suspending collective bargaining agreements. Management and local authorities blocked workers’ attempts to organize strikes on many occasions by declaring them illegal.

Some union members who participated in political protests, which authorities generally considered unauthorized mass events, were detained, and a smaller percentage of politically active workers lost their jobs. Despite government pressure, after the 2020 election, some workers protested and attempted to organize strikes, but a majority of workers did not because of the extreme pressure authorities put on them and potential strike leaders. Government pressure included making examples of strike leaders by jailing them, subjecting them to physical violence, firing them, detaining or fining workers who discussed conducting strikes, refusing to renew employment contracts of workers involved in strikes, and applying psychological pressure by threatening workers with the removal of parental rights over their children and stressing the impact lost wages would have on their children and families. The inability to convince a majority of workers to hold a general strike led significant minorities of workers at large state-owned factories to conduct work-to-rule action as a sign of protest.

Workers encountered politically related pressure, including for attempting to exercise their freedoms of speech, assembly, and association or expressing their political opinions. Authorities detained more than 16 factory workers on September 22-23, most of whom had joined strike groups at their workplaces, including at the Hrodna-based Azot factory, Zhlobin-based Belarusian Steel Works, and Minsk-based Belarus Railroads. Authorities alleged that pro-opposition workers were “scoundrels” who spied for the West and passed information on how Minsk planned to bypass Western sanctions. Six workers were released after searches and interrogations, and two Belarus Railroads employees were sentenced to 15 days’ detention. The human rights group Vyasna reported that police moved seven individuals to the KGB pretrial holding facility on purported charges of “treason.” On September 21, security officers searched the offices and residence of Naftan oil refinery independent trade union leader Volha Brytsikava, who was interrogated and released. Two other union activists received up to 15 days of detention for allegedly propagating calls for extremist activity.

The law on mass events also seriously limited demonstrations, rallies, and other public action, constraining the right of unions to organize. No foreign assistance may be offered to trade unions for holding seminars, meetings, strikes, pickets, etc., or for “propaganda activities” aimed at their own members, without authorities’ permission.

Government efforts to suppress independent unions included frequent refusals to extend employment contracts for members of unions unaffiliated with the government and refusals to register independent unions. According to the BKDP, the only registration of a nongovernment union since 1999 occurred in 2019 when authorities approved the third registration application of a branch of the independent trade union of miners; chemical, oil refinery, energy, transport, construction industries; and other workers in Salihorsk. The registration followed the restructuring of the state-owned potash fertilizer producer Belaruskali, which established a number of separate subsidiaries, and workers wanted to keep their membership in the BKDP’s labor unions. Authorities attempted to pressure or fire workers who were deemed protest or strike leaders, or became involved in opposition political activities, which hindered this union’s ability to conduct regular union activities and disrupted workers’ rights to strike and express freely their political opinions.

On June 30, the government amended labor law, making it easier to fire workers who had participated in a strike or had been arrested, for example for participating in protests. The amendment also allows unions to be punished if any of their members participate in a public demonstration that did not receive prior approval from government authorities.

Workers at state-owned enterprises were fired, arrested, and in some cases criminally prosecuted for participating in strikes. For example, after workers at the Belarus Metallurgical Plant attempted to strike in August 2020, four workers were detained and in February sentenced to more than two years in prison for the “organization of actions in gross violation of public order.” The conviction was upheld when appealed in March.

On February 16, authorities searched offices and residences of four Radio and Electronics Trade Union leaders on charges of group activities that grossly violated public order, and confiscated computer equipment.

The BKDP-affiliated Radio and Electronics Trade Union chairman Genadz Fedynich and chief accountant Ihar Komlik were released from house arrest in December 2020 and January, respectively, following their 2018 conviction for evading taxes and sentencing to four years of house arrest. The court also banned the trade unionists from holding any administrative positions for five years.

Most contracts at state enterprises are one-year contracts. State employees, who constituted approximately 70 percent of the workforce, may have contracts with terms of up to five years, but most contracts expire after one year. The BKDP and NGOs alleged this practice gave the government, through state employers, the ability to fire state employees by declining to renew their contracts. Some state employees (including medical professionals) who protested the government’s COVID-19 response or participated in protests against the government’s handling of the election reportedly were not rehired. Members of nongovernment-affiliated unions, political parties, and civil society groups lost their jobs due to their one-year contracts lapsing. A government edict provides the possibility for employers to sign open-ended work contracts with an employee only after five years of good conduct and performance by the employee. Longer contracts, however, reportedly also restrict the ability of employees to leave for other jobs. Workers are generally protected during the terms of their contracts.

Opposition political party members and democratic activists sometimes had difficulty finding work at state-affiliated employers due to government pressure on these employers.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, with the exception of court rulings that may require work or services as part of a sentence, and which may include penal labor.

Parents who have had their parental rights stripped and are unemployed or are working but fail to compensate state child-care facilities for the maintenance of their children, may be subject to forced employment by court order. Individuals who refuse forced employment may be held criminally liable and face community service or corrective labor for a period of up to two years, imprisonment for up to three years, or other freedom restrictions, all involving compulsory labor and garnishment of 70 percent of their wages to compensate for expenses incurred by the government.

Minsk authorities required officially registered unemployed individuals to perform paid community service one day a month. Individuals who performed fewer than 12 working days of paid community service during a year were prohibited from receiving some unemployment benefits. Individuals with disabilities, single parents, and parents of three or more children as well as parents of children with disabilities and younger than 18 were exempt.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Regulations against forced labor were seldom enforced, and resources and inspections dedicated to preventing forced and compulsory labor were minimal. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other serious crimes.

The country largely served as a source country for labor trafficking. Aside from border restrictions enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic, Belarusians were able to freely travel to and work in Russia, reportedly the largest destination country. Compared to NGOs, the government rarely identified victims of labor trafficking, and prosecution of those responsible for forced labor remained minimal. NGOs in 2020 identified 26 labor trafficking victims, compared with the government’s identification of two. Authorities reportedly did not recognize claims by Belarusians who returned from Russia and complained they had endured forced labor there. Government efforts to prevent and eliminate labor trafficking did not improve during the year.

There were no reported examples of government reprisals identified against individuals who abstained from community work activities (commonly called subbotniks) during the year.

Former inmates stated their monthly wages were as low as three to four rubles ($1.50 to $2.00). Senior officials with the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Internal Affairs Ministry stated in 2015 that at least 97 percent of all work-capable inmates worked in prison as required by law, excluding retirees and persons with disabilities, and that labor in prison was important and useful for rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates.

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 minimum age for employment is 16. Children as young as 14 may conclude a labor contract with the written consent of one parent or a legal guardian. The Prosecutor General’s Office is responsible for enforcement of the law. Persons younger than 18 are allowed to work in nonhazardous jobs but are not allowed to work overtime, on weekends, or on government holidays. Work may not be harmful to children’s health or hinder their education.

The government generally enforced these laws, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other serious crimes.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

There is no penalty for discrimination in general. The law prohibits employer discrimination only when employers refuse to hire a person who was referred by the government’s Labor, Employment, and Social Welfare Agency as part of a quota system. In these cases the government may charge the employer with a civil penalty if the discrimination was on the basis of the person’s race, age, gender, language, political or religious beliefs, membership in a trade union, social status, or place of residence. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those of other violations related to civil rights.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to political preferences, ethnicity, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, and HIV-positive status (see section 6, HIV and AIDS Social Stigma). In addition some members of the Romani community complained that employers often discriminated against them and either refused to employ them or did not provide full-time jobs. The government did not take any action during the year to prevent or eliminate employment discrimination. Employment discrimination happened across most economic sectors and in both private and public workplaces.

The law requiring equal pay for equal work was not regularly enforced, and in December 2020 the country’s National Statistics Committee reported that average salaries for women were 26.7 percent less than salaries for men.

The government maintained a list of 181 “physically demanding” jobs “in hazardous or dangerous conditions” that women are not permitted to occupy. Women are also not permitted to work in all the same employment sectors as men. Very few women were in the upper ranks of management or government, and most women were concentrated in the lower-paid public sector. There are no laws that prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, and without criminal or civil remedies to sexual harassment in the workplace, it remained a significant problem. There is no legal prohibition against gender-based discrimination in access to credit. Although the law grants women the right to three years of maternity leave with assurance of a job upon return, employers often circumvented employment protections by using short-term contracts, then refusing to renew a woman’s contract when she became pregnant.

A government prohibition against workdays longer than seven hours for persons with disabilities reportedly made companies reluctant to hire them. Local NGOs reported that up to 85 percent of persons with disabilities were unemployed. Authorities provided minimal welfare benefits for persons with disabilities. Pension calculations should consider disability status under the law; however, authorities were not always willing to provide higher pensions warranted by disability status. Members of the country’s Paralympic teams received half the salaries and prize money of athletes without disabilities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: As of October 1, the national minimum monthly wage exceeded the poverty line.

The law establishes a standard workweek of 40 hours and provides for at least one 24-hour rest period per week. The law provides for mandatory overtime and nine days of holiday pay and restricts overtime to 10 hours a week, with a maximum of 180 hours of overtime each year.

The State Labor Inspection Department at the Labor and Social Welfare Ministry was responsible for the enforcement of wage and overtime laws. Authorities effectively enforced minimum wage and overtime laws, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other similar crimes. In June 2020 Labor and Social Protection Minister Iryna Kastevich noted that the ministry was monitoring companies and organizations for compliance with employee dismissal regulations during COVID-19. Kastevich reported the volume of total working hours fell following the start of the pandemic, as employers attempted to keep workers employed by shortening working hours or placing persons on leave. Government COVID-19 support reportedly largely went to state enterprises, which received financial support such as loans, rather than to workers or the private sector.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law establishes minimum conditions for workplace safety and worker health, but employers did not always follow the standards or require workers to wear minimal safety gear.

The State Labor Inspection Department at the Labor and Social Welfare Ministry is responsible for workplace safety and worker health. The state labor inspectorate lacked authority to enforce employer compliance and often ignored violations. Although inspectors could make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions, the number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance.

The law provides workers the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. According to the State Labor Inspection Department of the Labor and Social Welfare Ministry, employees have the right to refuse to perform work if they are not provided with personal protective equipment that directly ensures labor safety. The list of required personal protective equipment was approved by the ministry. In order to refuse to perform assigned work due to a lack of equipment, an employee must inform the employer or an authorized official of the reasons for refusal in writing.

According to the most recent data available, authorities reported 2,042 workplace injuries and 141 deaths in 2019, compared with 2,115 injuries and 144 deaths in 2018.

The same inspectors who have authority over wage and working hour laws are also responsible for enforcing occupational safety and health laws. The State Labor Inspection Department maintained labor hotlines for each region and also provided separate contact details for matters associated with labor inspections, labor protection, and labor violations. The department also maintained a hotline for problems involving the illegal dismissal of workers. The government did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health laws. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other similar crimes.

Informal Sector: Independent experts reported the informal economy constituted up to 30 percent of the total economy, which had a workforce of 4.3 million persons. Labor law does not cover informal workers.

Belgium

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

For companies with more than 50 employees, the law provides workers the right to form and join independent unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements and to conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively. Workers in smaller companies were able to choose representatives to affiliate with a union but did not enjoy the same level of protection. Apart from the armed forces, civil servants in general, including members of the police force, and all private-sector employees are entitled to engage in strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Workers exercised these rights. Citizen and noncitizen workers enjoyed the same rights. Work council elections are mandatory in enterprises with more than 100 employees, and safety and health committee elections are mandatory in companies with more than 50 employees. Essential workers must declare their intention to participate in strike action at least 72 hours in advance, a requirement that unions said exposed workers to undue pressure from employers.

The government effectively enforced the law, but freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively were not consistently respected by employers. Employers often resorted to the courts when strikes were announced, and courts often preemptively prohibited strikes. Employers can fire union representatives if they pay them compensation. Union representatives were seldom reinstated, as employers chose to pay statutory severance instead. Unions also denounced a practice among employers of dismissing worker representatives just before union elections. According to the International Trade Union Conference, 96 representatives were fired under these circumstances in 2019. Penalties for violating the law were commensurate with those for other violations. Worker organizations were generally free to function outside of government control. Unions complained that judicial intervention in collective disputes undermined collective bargaining rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but such practices occurred. The government generally enforced the law; resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were adequate. Legal penalties included fines and prison terms and were commensurate with similar serious crimes.

In a report published in December 2020, the Interfederal Center for Migration (Myria) reported that the COVID-19 pandemic had the potential to protect human traffickers and render cases of forced labor less visible. Myria reported a decreased capacity for detection because the social security labor inspection services were unable to safely complete field checks. The report also noted that it was often impossible to solicit support from police forces, which were overwhelmed with enforcing health and safety measures because of the pandemic. There was a significant drop in reports of cases of forced labor, from 3.15 cases per day in 2019 to 0.55 during 2020.

Instances of forced and compulsory labor included men, generally undocumented migrants, who were forced to work in restaurants, bars, sweatshops, horticulture, fruit farms, construction, cleaning businesses, and retail shops. Men and women were subjected to forced domestic service, including in the diplomatic community. Forced begging continued, particularly in the Romani community.

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 worst forms of child labor. The minimum age of employment is 15. Persons between the ages of 15 and 18 may participate in part-time work/study programs and work full time up to a limited number of hours during the school year. The Ministry of Employment regulated industries that employ juvenile workers to ensure that labor laws were followed; it occasionally granted waivers for children temporarily employed by modeling agencies and in the entertainment business. Waivers were granted on a short-term basis and for a clearly defined performance or purpose that had to be listed in the law as an acceptable activity. The law clearly defines, according to the age of the child, the maximum amount of time that may be worked daily and the frequency of performances. A child’s earnings must be paid to a bank account under the name of the child, and the money is inaccessible until the child reaches 18 years of age.

There are laws and policies to protect children from exploitation in the workplace. The government generally enforced these laws with adequate resources and inspections; such practices reportedly occurred mainly in restaurants. Persons found in violation of child labor laws face penalties that were commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations related to employment or occupation prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status, but permit companies to prohibit outward displays of religious affiliation, including headscarves (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/).

The law requires companies with at least 50 employees to provide a clear overview of their compensation plans, a detailed breakdown by gender of their wages and fringe benefits, a gender-neutral classification of functions, and the possibility of appointing a mediator to address and follow up on gender-related problems. The law requires that one-third of the board members of publicly traded companies be women.

The Employment and Labor Relations Federal Public Service generally enforced regulations effectively. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations. Trade unions or media sometimes escalated cases, and UNIA often took a position or acted as an intermediary to find solutions or to support alleged victims in the courts.

Some employers discriminated in employment and occupation against women, persons with disabilities, and members of certain minority groups as well as against internal and foreign migrant workers. The government took legal action based on antidiscrimination laws. UNIA facilitated arbitration or other settlements in some cases of discrimination. Settlements could involve monetary payments, community service, or other penalties.

The Federal Institute for the Equality of Men and Women is responsible for promoting gender equality and may initiate lawsuits if it discovers violations of equality laws. Most complaints received during the year were work related and concerned the termination of employment due to pregnancy. Economic discrimination against women continued. According to the EU statistical office Eurostat, women’s hourly wage rates were 5.8 percent less than those of their male colleagues in 2019.

The employment rate for persons with disabilities in the public sector was much lower than the quotas and targets set by public authorities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wages and Hour Laws: There is a monthly national minimum wage, and it is higher than the official poverty income level.

The standard workweek is 38 hours, and workers are entitled to four weeks of annual leave. Departure from these norms can occur under a collective bargaining agreement, but work may not exceed 11 hours per day or 50 hours per week. A rest period of at least 11 hours is required between work periods. Overtime is paid at a time-and-a-half premium on Monday through Saturday and double time on Sundays. The law forbids or limits excessive overtime. Without specific authorization, an employee may not work more than 65 hours of overtime during any one quarter. The Employment and Labor Relations Federal Public Service generally enforced wage and hour regulations effectively.

On September 24, some unions led a protest of several thousand workers over the “1996 law,” which prevents wages from rising faster than in neighboring countries.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health standards were appropriate for the main industries. Inspectors from both the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Social Security enforced labor regulations. These ministries jointly worked to ensure that standards were effectively enforced in all sectors and that wages and working conditions were consistent with collective bargaining agreements. Inspectors have the authority to conduct unannounced visits and levy sanctions. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The primary responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with inspectors and not with the worker. The Employment and Labor Relations Federal Public Service protected employees in this situation. Wage, overtime, and occupational safety violations were most common in the restaurant, construction, and logistics industries. Some employers still operated below legal standards.

On September 29, a man died at the AccelorMittal factory in Ghent while work was being carried out on a conveyor belt. According to media reports, a roller broke off the conveyor belt and hit the victim in the head. AccelorMittal reported leading an investigation into the circumstances of the accident. Media also reported that the labor inspection services were onsite and could designate a technical expert to lead an independent investigation if deemed necessary.

Civil society organizations, such as advocacy groups and media outlets, raised concerns about the effectiveness of the government’s efforts to ensure worker safety during the COVID-19 crisis. According to Amnesty International, the government failed to preserve individuals’ right to health, life, and nondiscrimination due to several factors, including but not limited to the insufficient provision of personal protective equipment for care workers. In addition, there were serious concerns about migrant workers’ safety and well-being. Nearly 150,000 undocumented migrant workers who had lived in the country for years, if not decades, lacked access to social safety net programs and routinely worked long hours for little pay in the informal economy. The lack of access to social safety net programs was particularly problematic, since many migrant workers lost their jobs and struggled to find other employment opportunities due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Informal Sector: Workers in the informal economy are covered by the same wage, hours, and safety regulations as workers in the formal economy, but regulations were not consistently enforced. As of 2017, informal labor was estimated to make up approximately 3.6 percent of the country’s GDP and often consisted of undocumented migrants and students. A specialized governmental department, the Information and Social Research Service, created to oversee the informal economy, conducted more than 10,000 inspections in 2020 and initiated investigations, mainly in the construction, restaurant and hotel, and cleaning sectors. Infringements of workers’ rights were found in 42 percent of inspections; of those, 41 percent were in the construction sector, 55 percent in bars and restaurants, and 64 percent in carwash businesses. Authorities may fine employers for poor working conditions but may also treat such cases as trafficking in persons.

Belize

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law generally provides for the right to establish and join independent trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The Ministry of Rural Transformation, Community Development, Labor, and Local Government (Ministry of Labor) recognizes unions and employers associations after they are registered. The law establishes procedures for the registration and status of trade unions and employer organizations and for collective bargaining. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, dissolution or suspension of unions by administrative authority, and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The unions, under their umbrella organizations the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) and the Civil Society Steering Group (CSG), are represented in the legislature by a senator designated by the NTUC and CSG. This senator provides direct input into the political and legislative process for labor organizations.

In disputes involving public- and private-sector employees who provide “essential services,” the law allows authorities to refer the dispute to compulsory arbitration, prohibit strikes, and terminate labor actions. The postal service, monetary and financial services, civil aviation, petroleum sector, port authority personnel (stevedores and ship pilots), and security services are deemed essential services by local laws. This list was more extensive than the International Labor Organization’s definition of essential services.

On April 1, the PSU, Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU), and Nurses Association of Belize (NAB) jointly initiated industrial action against the government to protest a 10 percent salary reduction and a three-year salary freeze as part of the government’s COVID-19 pandemic austerity plan. These organizations collectively represented 85 percent of government employees and public-school teachers across the country. The industrial action included go-slows at government offices and hospitals, public demonstrations, and teachers not teaching. The government implemented the measures despite the protests and after five weeks, the PSU, NAB and BNTU members returned to work. During the strike, the government ministries instructed its departments to compile a daily list of absent employees. While employees feared retaliation, the chief executive officer of the Ministry of Human Development, Tanya Santos, stated the procedure was to collect information to ensure that critical government services remained available. In August the nurses at the central health region returned to industrial action in protest of the government’s failure to pay overtime for more than three months.

In February, Director of Health Marvin Manzanero was placed on administrative leave (suspension) after he refused to accept a demotion to make way for an appointee by the new government administration. Manzanero, who was recovering from COVID-19, returned to his job to find his post occupied and was offered a demotion. When Manzanero refused the demotion, Ministry of Health and Wellness CEO Deysi Mendez informed Manzanero he would be placed on administrative leave while he was investigated for misconduct. The law requires the PSC to review demotions. In October the government introduced a law to replace Manzanero’s position as director of health services with two separate positions: director of public health and wellness, and director of hospital services. This legal change would effectively lower the rank of Manzanero’s position without formally demoting him.

Reports abounded of government employees who were unfairly terminated from central government and municipal posts when the new government administration came into power. PSU president Dean Flowers said the terminations were for “political reasons.” A memorandum from the government’s accountant general instructed administrative officers not to pay certain retirement benefits for terminated long-term government employees originally hired as general “open vote” workers and thus classified as temporary employees rather than as public servants; the law provides those benefits only for permanent government employees who retire or resign. Flowers noted that the PSU was providing legal counsel to the affected employees and formal complaints were being filed with the Labor Department. Through October no decision had been made on the cases. Prominent among the terminated officers was National Sports Director Ian Jones. In February, Jones announced that he was suing the government for breach of contract and wrongful termination.

Workers may file complaints with the Ministry of Labor or seek redress from the courts for wrongful termination because of union activity, although it was difficult to prove that terminations were in retaliation for union activity. The ministry’s Labor Department generally handled labor cases without lengthy delays and dealt with appeals through arbitration outside the court system. The court did not apply the law requiring reinstatement of workers fired for union activity but provided monetary compensation instead.

The government generally enforced labor law in the formal sector but did not effectively enforce it in the large informal sector due to lack of registration from employers. There were complaints of administrative and judicial delays relating to labor complaints and disputes. Penalties were not commensurate with other violations.

On July 16, the Christian Workers Union (CWU) initiated a go-slow at the Port of Belize Limited (PBL) after the CWU was unable to resolve issues with PBL. Among the issues were salary reductions due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the PBL not being willing to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with CWU members, and the decision of American Sugar Refining to export a substantial portion of its sugar through another port. On October 6, the CWU and the PBL signed a new collective bargaining agreement for PBL staff. Both entities continued to engage on resolving outstanding matters on behalf of the stevedores.

Antiunion discrimination and other forms of employer interference in union functions sometimes occurred and, as a result, on several occasions unions threatened or carried out strikes. NGOs working in migrant communities in the informal sector asserted that in certain industries, particularly the banana, citrus, and construction sectors, employers often did not respect due process, did not pay minimum wages, and classified workers as contract and nonpermanent employees to avoid providing certain benefits. An NGO noted that both national and migrant workers continued to be denied labor rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for forced or compulsory labor are covered under the antitrafficking law and are commensurate with those for similar crimes. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources and inspections to enforce compliance were insufficient. Forced labor of both Belizean and foreign women occurred in bars, nightclubs, and domestic service. Migrant men, women, and children were at risk for forced labor in agriculture, fishing, and the service sector, including restaurants and shops, particularly in the South Asian and Chinese communities.

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 does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum age for employment at 14, except for work in wholesale or retail businesses, for which the minimum age is 12. “Light work,” which is not defined in the law, is allowed for children ages 12 and 13. Children ages 14 to 17 may be employed only in an occupation that a labor officer determines is “not injurious to the moral or physical development of nonadults.” Children older than 14 are explicitly permitted to work in certain “industrial undertakings,” which can include mining, manufacturing, and construction. Children younger than 16 are excluded from work in factories, and those younger than 18 are excluded from working at night and in certain kinds of employment deemed dangerous. The Labor Department used a list of dangerous occupations for young workers as guidance, but the list was not adopted as law.

The law permits children to work on family farms and in family-run businesses from the age of 10, taking into consideration the well-being of the child and continued enrollment in school. National legislation does not address a common situation in which child labor is contracted between a parent and an employer. The National Child Labor Policy distinguishes between children engaged in work that is beneficial to their development and those engaged in the worst forms of child labor. The policy identifies children involved in the worst forms of child labor as those engaged in hazardous work, human trafficking, child slavery, commercial sexual activities, and illicit activities.

The Labor Department has primary responsibility for implementing labor policies, but it did not effectively enforce the law. Inspectors from the Labor and Education Departments are responsible for enforcing these regulations, with the bulk of the enforcement falling to truancy officers. Penalties were not criminal nor commensurate with those for similar crimes. There is a National Child Labor Committee under the National Committee for Families and Children, a statutory interagency group that advocates for policies and legislation to protect children and eliminate child labor.

Schooling is mandatory until age 14, and many poorer parents withdrew their children from school on their 14th birthday to put them to work in the informal sector. Children working for their parents are exempt from many of the protections provided in the formal system. Officers of the Ministry of Education are unable to act legally against parents who withdraw their child from school against their child’s wishes.

Some children were vulnerable to forced labor, particularly in informal agriculture and the service sector. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children). According to the most recent data available (2013) from the Statistical Institute of Belize, the country’s child labor rate was 3.2 percent, with half of those children involved in hazardous work. The problem was most prevalent in rural areas. Boys accounted for 74 percent of children illegally employed, mostly engaged in hazardous activities.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment based on race, sex, gender, language, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. The government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination in employment with respect to age, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

There were reports that discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to hiring persons with disabilities and LGBTQI+ applicants. One NGO reported that members of the LGBTQI+ community often had problems gaining and retaining employment due to discrimination in the workplace.

There were no officially reported cases of discrimination at work based on ethnicity, culture, or skin color, although anecdotal evidence suggested such cases occurred. NGOs note that in most cases victims did not make formal reports due to fear of further victimization such as loss of employment.

The law mandates equal pay for equal work, but women lagged men in wages and promotions (see section 6). There were also restrictions on women working in certain industries, including mining, construction, factories, energy, water, and transportation.

There were no formal reports of antiunion discrimination, but there were reports that workers were intimidated into either not joining a union or dropping union membership if they had joined. This situation occurred predominantly in the agricultural sector, where a significant number of the workers were from Central America, working in the country on temporary work permits.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The national minimum wage was above the poverty-limit income level. The law sets the workweek at no more than six days or 45 hours and requires premium payment for overtime work. Workers are entitled to two workweeks of paid annual holiday. Additionally, there are 13 days designated as public and bank holidays. Employees who work on public and bank holidays are entitled to pay at time-and-a-half, except for Good Friday and Christmas, which are paid at twice the normal rate. In June the government implemented fiscal austerity measures that shortened the workweek for government employees by 10 percent along with reducing their pay by 10 percent. While employees in the private sector also received salary cuts, reportedly their working hours remained the same.

Occupational Safety and Health: Health and safety regulations for all industries provide that the employer must take “reasonable care” for the safety of employees. The regulations further provide that every employer who provides or arranges accommodation for workers to reside at or near a place of employment shall provide and maintain sufficient and hygienic housing accommodations, a sufficient supply of wholesome water, and sufficient and proper sanitary arrangements.

The Ministry of Labor did not consistently enforce minimum wage, hour, and health and safety regulations. Inspectors could make unannounced visits and initiate penalties, but the number of inspectors was not sufficient to secure compliance, especially in the more remote areas. Fines varied according to the infraction but generally were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. Inspections were curtailed during the year because of COVID-19 mitigation measures but were slowly reinstated at the end of the year as health measures were lifted.

The minimum wage was generally respected. Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence from NGOs and employers suggested that undocumented Central American workers, particularly young service workers and agricultural laborers, were regularly paid below the minimum wage.

Workers have the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. As of October, no major accidents caused death or serious injury.

Informal Sector: The International Monetary Fund in 2015 estimated the informal economy generated 47 percent of GDP. In September the Statistical Institute of Belize estimated there were 72,433 persons in informal employment, approximately 42 percent of the total employed population.

Most labor violations pertaining to acceptable conditions of work occurred in the informal sector, but authorities were not able to properly monitor and carry out inspections. Workers in the informal economy were not afforded social protection by government entities. The country does not have a specific occupational safety and health law, but the Factories Act and the Labour Act contain provisions in relation to occupation, safety, and health in the workplace.

Benin

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers, except certain civil servants and public employees, to form and join independent unions with some restrictions. Unions must register with the Ministry of Interior, a three-month process, or risk a fine. The law does not establish clear grounds on which registration of a trade union may be denied or approved, and official registration may be denied without the union having recourse to a court. The law provides that a trade union federation must be made up of at least five enterprise-level trade unions in the same sector or branch of activity. Additionally, the law requires that a trade union confederation must be composed of at least three trade union federations of different sectors or branches of activities and that only trade union confederations may have affiliation at a national or international level. There were no reports of significant barriers to international affiliation.

The right to strike is carefully regulated. The law restricts the maximum duration of a strike to 10 days per year for all employees, except workers who are barred from striking. By law health-sector staff and military, police, customs, and water, forest and game and wildlife officers are barred from striking. Minimum service is required for workers who carry out essential responsibilities such as judges, prison and justice system personnel, and staff of the sectors of energy, water, maritime and air transport, financial administration, and telecommunication and authorities may requisition workers if minimum services are not provided.

Authorities may declare strikes illegal for reasons such as threatening social peace and order and may requisition striking workers to maintain minimum services. The government may prohibit any strike on the grounds it threatens the economy or the national interest. Laws prohibit employer retaliation against strikers, except that a company may withhold part of a worker’s pay following an illegal strike.

The law provides for the rights of workers to bargain collectively. By law collective bargaining agreements are negotiated within a joint committee including representatives of one or several unions and or representatives of one or several employers’ associations. A labor inspector, a secretary, and one or two rapporteurs preside over the committee. The minister of labor has the authority to determine which trade unions may be represented in the negotiation at the enterprise level. The minister has the power to extend the scope of coverage of a collective agreement. The law imposes compulsory conciliation and binding arbitration in the event of disputes during collective bargaining in all sectors, “nonessential service” sectors included. The National Permanent Commission for Consultation and Collective Bargaining, and the Social Sector-based Dialogue Committee were active in each ministry to foster dialogue between the government and unions.

Two government decrees of 2017 established the National Social Dialogue Council and appointed its members to replace the National Permanent Commission for Consultation and Collective Bargaining. On September 10, the council held its first ordinary session of the year. During the session eight ministers of the government and trade unionists discussed issues, including conditions for the recruitment of new primary and secondary education teachers, arrangements for a smooth start of the academic year 2021-2022, and COVID 19 prevention in schools. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Employers may not take union membership or activity into account in hiring, work distribution, professional or vocational training, or dismissal. In addition to certain civil servants and public employees, domestic workers, agricultural workers, migrant workers, and those in export processing zones are excluded from relevant legal protections.

The government generally respected the right to form and join independent unions and the right to collective bargaining. The government did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in the informal sector and regarding the provisions on antiunion discrimination and reinstatement. There were reports that employers threatened individuals with dismissal for union activity. No violations related to collective bargaining rights were reported. Penalties were commensurate with similar crimes.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, with certain exceptions. The law allows for imprisonment with compulsory labor. By law authorities may exact work not of a purely military character from military conscripts. Laws regulating various acts or activities relating to the exercise of freedom of expression allow imposition of prison sentences involving obligation to perform social rehabilitation work. Penalties for conviction of forced labor were generally commensurate with similar serious crimes.

The government did not consistently enforce the law, particularly in the large informal sector. Forced labor occurred, including domestic servitude and bonded labor by children. Forced labor was mainly found in the agricultural (e.g., cotton and palm oil), artisanal mining, quarrying, fishing, commercial, and construction sectors. Many traffickers were relatives or acquaintances of their victims, exploiting the traditional system of vidomegon whereby a child, usually a daughter, is sent to live as a servant with a wealthier family, despite NGO and government efforts to raise awareness of the risks associated with this practice.

The Ministry of Labor conducted child labor inspections throughout the year for apprenticeship agreements, most notably in the construction sector, where they issued warnings and conducted follow up inspections upon discovery of child labor. In some cases, the Ministry of Labor shut down construction operations until contractors complied with forced labor norms.

The government repatriated 14 victims of labor trafficking who had been trafficked to Gabon. The victims were identified in January and returned to Benin on September 29.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The List of Hazardous Occupations sets the minimum age for employment in hazardous work at age 18. The list identifies 21 trades prohibited for children and defines 74 related hazardous activities. Specific trades noted on the list include mining and quarrying, domestic service, and agriculture.

The labor code prohibits the employment or apprenticeship of children younger than age 14 in any enterprise; children between ages 12 and 14, however, may perform domestic work and temporary or light seasonal work if it does not interfere with their compulsory schooling. Children 14 and older may be employed as an apprentice in a trade if the apprentice has a formal contract with the tradesperson overseeing the apprenticeship. While apprenticeships are common, contracts are rare. The law bans night work for workers younger than age 18 unless the government in consultation with the National Labor Council grants a special dispensation. Workers younger than 18 are entitled to a minimum 12-hour uninterrupted break including the nighttime period.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Labor Office, under the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service, enforced the labor code only in the formal sector. Inspection was inadequate, and the total number of inspections conducted during the year was unavailable. Penalties for those convicted of violating laws in the formal sector were commensurate with similar crimes but were not consistently enforced. There were no reports of prosecutions or convictions during the year.

Despite the government’s limited capacity to enforce child labor laws, the government took steps to educate parents on the labor code and prevent compulsory labor by children, including through media campaigns, regional workshops, and public pronouncements on child labor problems. These initiatives were part of the Labor Office’s traditional sensitization program. The government also worked with a network of NGOs and journalists to educate the population regarding child labor and child trafficking. The Ministries of Justice and Labor supported capacity building for officials and agencies responsible for enforcing child labor laws.

To help support their families, children of both sexes, including those as young as age seven, worked on family farms, in small businesses, on construction sites in urban areas, in public markets as street vendors, and as domestic servants under the practice of vidomegon. Many rural parents sent their children to cities to live with relatives or family friends to perform domestic chores in return for receiving an education.

Host families did not always honor their part of the vidomegon arrangement, and abuse and forced labor of child domestic servants were a problem. Children often faced long hours of work, inadequate food, and sexual exploitation, factors indicative of forced labor and exploitation of children in domestic servitude. Sometimes the child’s parents and the urban family that raised the child divided the income generated by the child’s activities. Up to 95 percent of children in vidomegon were young girls. Several local NGOs led public education and awareness campaigns to decrease the practice.

Most children working as apprentices were younger than the legal age of 14 for apprenticeship, including children working in construction, car and motorbike repair, hairdressing, and dressmaking. Children worked as laborers with adults in quarries, including crushing granite, in many areas. Children were at times forced to hawk goods and beg, and street children engaged in prostitution (see section 6). Children younger than age 14 worked in either the formal or informal sectors in the following activities: agriculture, hunting and fishing, industry, construction and public works, trade and vending, food and beverages, transportation, and other services, including employment as household staff.

Primary education is compulsory for all children between ages six and 11. Children ages 12 to 13 were particularly vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor, as they may have completed primary school but were younger than the minimum legal working age of 14.

Some parents indentured their children to “agents” recruiting farm hands or domestic workers, often on the understanding that the children’s wages would be sent to the parents. In some cases these agents took the children to neighboring countries to work, including Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, and Ghana.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and 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 constitution and labor code prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, and disability. The laws, however, do not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV or other communicable disease status. In general, the government effectively enforced these laws and regulations in the formal sector. Women, however, experienced extensive discrimination because of legal restrictions on working in certain occupations (see section 6) and societal attitudes. Women’s wages consistently lagged those of men. According to the International Labor Organization Global Wage Report, in 2017 women on average earned 45 percent less per hour than men. Employment discrimination occurred in the private and public sectors. The prohibitions on discrimination did not apply to the large informal sector.

The labor code includes provisions to protect the employment rights of workers with disabilities, but many experienced discrimination in hiring and access to the worksite.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hours Laws: The government set minimum wage scales for several occupations in the formal sector that were slightly higher than the poverty level. The minimum wage was 40,000 CFA francs ($72) per month and had not been amended since 2016. According to the UN Development Program, 60 percent of the population, predominantly in the informal sector, lives on an income of $1.90 a day or less, a poverty-level income that is less than the minimum wage.

The labor code sets workweek hours at 40 to 60 hours, depending on the type of work, and provides for paid holidays and at least one 24-hour rest period per week. The labor code also mandates premium pay for overtime and prohibits excessive compulsory overtime.

The Ministry of Labor and Civil Service and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Microcredit were responsible for enforcement of the minimum wage and hours of work standards. Authorities generally enforced legal limits on workweeks in the formal sector but did not effectively monitor or enforce these standards in the large informal sector. Domestic and agricultural workers frequently worked 70 hours or more per week, above the maximum of 12 hours per day or 60 hours per week provided for by the labor code. Significant parts of the workforce and foreign migrant workers working in the informal sector did not benefit from minimum wage scales.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law establishes appropriate occupational safety and health standards (OSH). Provisions of the law related to acceptable conditions of work apply to all formal-sector workers including migrants. Penalties for violating the labor code were commensurate with those for similar violations.

The Ministry of Labor and Civil Service and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Microcredit were responsible for enforcement of OSH standards. The ministries did not effectively enforce these standards, especially in the large informal sector. The government has the authority to require employers to remedy dangerous work conditions but did not effectively do so. Significant parts of the workforce and foreign migrant workers working in the informal sector did not benefit from minimum wage scales. Government efforts were impeded by the insufficient number of labor inspectors and lack of resources to implement inspections. Random inspections were conducted in some sectors, but no information was available on the number of violations identified or convictions of persons tried for violations. The law does not provide workers with the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment.

Violations of OSH standards mostly occurred in informal-sector trades, including hairdressing, dressmaking, baking, mechanics, and carpentry, where workers faced biological, chemical, physical, and psychological risks. Children involved in these trades as apprentices worked long hours and were more vulnerable to hazardous working conditions. In some mechanical and carpentry shops, children worked near dangerous tools and equipment, and some adults and children lacked adequate protective gear. No data on workplace fatalities and accidents were available.

Informal Sector: According to various sources, informal workers accounted for more than 90 percent of workers in the country. Informal workers faced numerous challenges and vulnerabilities, including long working hours, wages below the poverty level, and no social security coverage. They often endured substandard working conditions and were exposed to occupational risks in agriculture, construction, and mining.

Bhutan

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides workers the right to form and join independent unions. Workers may form a union with the participation of at least 12 employees from a single workplace. There is no national trade union. The law does not mention the right to conduct legal strikes. Most of the country’s workforce engages in agriculture, a sector that is not unionized.

The law provides for the right of workers to bargain collectively with employers. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Violators may face misdemeanor charges and be compelled to pay damages commensurate with other forms of workplace discrimination.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Resources and remediation were adequate, and penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations. The law grants workers the right to pursue litigation.

Freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively were respected by the government and employers, although there were few employee unions. No unions were formed during the year.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not always effectively enforce applicable laws. The law makes exceptions regarding prison labor, work that might be required during an emergency, and work required for “important local and public” celebrations. The law criminalizes trafficking for illegal, but not exploitative, purposes. Violations of law with respect to the worst forms of child labor, forced and compulsory labor, nonpayment of compensation, minimum working age, employing foreigners without a permit, and noncompliance with permits issued by the government are felonies for which the penalties for conviction are sentences of three to five years’ imprisonment. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate, and penalties were commensurate with other analogous crimes. In addition labor inspectors often mediated cases of nonpayment of wages and withholding passports in lieu of civil or criminal investigations. Penalties for forced or compulsory labor were commensurate with other analogous crimes.

Officials relied on citizens to report forced labor of domestic workers directly to police.

Due to the worsening COVID-19 pandemic in neighboring countries, in April the government temporarily suspended the admission of foreign workers. The Ministry of Labor and Human Resources is responsible for registering foreign migrant workers, monitoring working conditions and recruitment agencies, and producing and disseminating pamphlets advising workers of their rights, including full and prompt payment of wages and their legal right to retain personal identity documents. While drayangs (karaoke bars) continued to be a sector where women were vulnerable to sex trafficking, forced labor, and labor rights abuses, during the year legislation was passed that mandated contracts for drayang employees that incorporated provision against abuse. Also see the Department of State’s annual 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 worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment is 13, and the minimum age for hazardous work is 18. Children younger than age 18 are prohibited from working in dangerous occupations, including mining, construction, sanitary services, carpet weaving, and serving in bars.

While child labor laws were generally enforced, the Ministry of Labor and Human Resources reported that a shortage of inspectors trained specifically in child labor violations placed constraints on the number of child-labor inspections conducted during the year. Penalties for conviction included up to nine years’ imprisonment, commensurate with sentences for conviction of analogous crimes.

Education is not compulsory, which contributed to the number of children working. Children performed agricultural work, completed chores on family farms, or worked in shops and restaurants after school and during holidays. Child labor also occurred in hotels and automobile workshops. Girls were employed primarily as domestic workers, where they were vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/ .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination for employees and job applicants based on race, color, sex, marital status, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, social origin, or involvement in a workers’ association, including as an occupational health and safety representative, and mandates equal pay for equal work. The law does not address discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or HIV/AIDS status. There are no categories or lists of jobs from which employment is prohibited to certain types of persons, and women are free to work in the same professions as men.

The government did not consistently enforce the law. Some Nepali-speaking citizens could not obtain police security clearances, which are required to enroll in higher education and to obtain passports, government jobs, and licenses to run private businesses. The government did not permit NGOs to work on matters involving the status of ethnic Nepalis, and ethnic Nepalis sometimes faced employment discrimination.

Amnesty International reported that many LGBTQI+ individuals, especially those from marginalized backgrounds, faced discrimination in hiring and employment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The national minimum wage is above the official poverty income level. According to the Ministry of Labor and Human Resources, there are two wage rates in the country: the national minimum wage rate and the national workforce wage rate. The national minimum wage rate applies to anyone working in the country, irrespective of nationality. The national workforce wage rate is higher but applies only to citizens.

The law defines the workday as eight hours per day with a one-hour lunch break, and employers are required to grant regular rest days, including a minimum of nine public holidays each year. Work of more hours than the legal workday is mandated to be paid at 1.5 times the normal rate.

Occupational Safety and Health: Government occupational safety and health standards are current and appropriate. Inspectors have the right to conduct unannounced inspections and are responsible for identifying unsafe conditions. Labor regulations grant workers the right to leave work situations that endanger their health and safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Department of Labor generally enforced minimum wage, work hours, and occupational health and safety standards effectively in the formal sector. Penalties, including payment of damages, were generally commensurate with other types of workplace violation fines, and inspection was sufficient.

Informal Sector: There was no information available on any informal sector activity in the country.

Bolivia

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the freedom of association, the right to organize and bargain collectively, and the right to strike. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The constitution provides for protection of general strikes and solidarity strikes and for the right of any working individual to join a union. The law protects the right to strike but stipulates that a strike may not be indefinite. According to legal experts, this stipulation was in reaction to health-care workers threatening to strike for an indefinite amount of time. As a result of the ruling, health-care workers may strike but must organize themselves in shifts to avoid putting the general population at risk.

Workers may form a union in any private company of 20 or more employees, but the law requires that at least 50 percent of the workforce be in favor. The law requires that trade unions register as legal entities, obtain prior government authorization to establish a union, and confirm its elected leadership. The law permits only one union per enterprise and allows the government to dissolve unions by administrative fiat. The law also requires that members of union executive boards be citizens. The labor code prohibits most public employees from forming unions, including the military, police, and other public security forces. Some public-sector workers (including teachers, transportation workers, and health-care workers) were legally unionized and actively participated without penalty as members of the Bolivian Workers’ Confederation, the country’s chief trade union federation.

The National Labor Court handled complaints of antiunion discrimination but took one year or more to issue rulings. The court ruled in favor of discharged workers in some cases and required their reinstatement. Union leaders stated problems had often been resolved or were no longer relevant by the time the court ruled. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws, and penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

The ineffectiveness of labor courts and the lengthy time to resolve cases and complaints limited freedom of association. Moreover, the 20-worker threshold for forming a union proved an onerous restriction, since an estimated 72 percent of enterprises had fewer than 20 employees.

On July 11, the Departmental Federation of Oil Workers of Santa Cruz brought a freedom of association complaint to the International Labor Organization (ILO). The ILO did not make further details on the case publicly available.

Labor inspectors may attend union meetings and monitor union activities. Collective bargaining and voluntary direct negotiations between employers and workers without government participation were common. Most collective bargaining agreements were restricted to addressing wages.

On September 22, Armin Lluta, a vocal government critic and the leader of the coca growers’ union known as Adepcoca, disappeared and was found the next day, bloody and beaten but alive on the side of a road. During his disappearance a rival coca growers leader, Arnold Alanez, took over the union’s facilities with public support from Minister of Government Eduardo del Castillo and Minister of Rural Development Remmy Gonzalez, although the government lacked an official role in the union’s organization, as experts noted. Lluta publicly held the government responsible for his ordeal.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, yet they remained serious problems. Ministry of Labor officials were not effective in enforcement efforts or provision of services to victims of forced labor. Penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous crimes, such as kidnapping. The ministry held workshops to educate vulnerable workers of their rights, levied penalties against offending employers, and referred cases of suspected forced labor to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution.

Men, women, and children were victims of sex trafficking and forced labor in domestic servitude, mining, ranching, and agriculture. Forced criminality continued to be a problem; media outlets reported cases of children forced to commit crimes such as robbery and drug production, and others were exploited in forced begging. Indigenous populations were especially vulnerable to forced labor in the agriculture sector and to deceptive employment opportunities that may amount to forced labor in neighboring countries.

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 worst forms of child labor. Ministry of Labor inspectors were responsible for identifying situations of child labor and human trafficking for the purposes of forced child labor. When inspectors suspected such situations, they referred the cases to the municipal offices of the child and adolescent advocate for further investigation in coordination with the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The law states that work should not interfere with a child’s right to education and should not be dangerous or unhealthy. By law dangerous and unhealthy work includes work in sugarcane and Brazil nut harvesting, mining, brickmaking, hospital cleaning, selling alcoholic beverages, and working after 10 p.m., among other conditions.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for authorizing work activity for adolescents older than 14 who work for a third-party employer. The ministry is responsible for identifying such cases through inspections and referring them to the offices of the child and adolescent advocates.

Municipal governments, through their respective offices of the child and adolescent advocates, are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, including laws pertaining to the minimum age and maximum hours for child workers, school completion requirements, and health and safety conditions for children in the workplace. The municipal offices of the child and adolescent advocate must answer a request for an underage work permit within 72 hours. Reports indicated that up to 15 percent of municipalities lacked an Office of the Child Advocate, and many more were reported to lack sufficient resources and the capacity to perform their mandate and raise awareness of children’s rights and parents’ obligations under the law.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous crimes, such as kidnapping. In 2020 the country made moderate advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. The number of inspectors was insufficient to deter violations, although Labor Ministry officials stated inspectors conducted investigations throughout the year and referred cases for prosecution. Ministry officials did not have statistics on the number of children they had removed from hazardous situations, nor did they provide detailed information on the penalties for violation of child labor laws or the effectiveness of such penalties.

The ministry collaborated with the Inter-American Development Bank to implement a program that identifies and employs unemployed parents who have children in the workforce. A ministry official stated that while there were varying reasons why children as young as 10 were subjected to work, one main reason was because their parents could not find steady employment. This program sought to secure jobs for underemployed parents on the condition their children stop working. The ministry also provided the parents’ salaries for the first three months to avoid burdening the businesses that provided employment.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, sex, gender, disability, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. Penalties were not commensurate with analogous laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. The government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors, and discrimination with respect to employment and occupation occurred. Women in governmental positions and female politicians faced high levels of political violence and harassment, according to Coordinadora de la Mujer, a network of domestic nonprofit organizations that advocated for women’s rights. Civil society leaders reported credible instances of employment discrimination against indigenous peoples, women, Afro-Bolivians, persons with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQI+ community. By law employers found using discriminatory practices must offer restitution to affected employees, but no cases were reported.

Formal-sector labor laws provide women with maternity benefits, breastfeeding hours, permission to work fewer hours, and more holidays than their male counterparts. Critics contended these gender-based laws encouraged companies to give preference to men in hiring.

While the minimum wage law treats men and women equally, women generally earned less than men for equal work. Antidiscrimination laws were not uniformly or effectively implemented to protect women from harassment and political violence (see also section 3, Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups). The law stipulates the official workweek for women is eight hours shorter than it is for men, prohibits women from working at night (with exceptions), and prohibits women from performing tasks that are “dangerous, unhealthy, heavy, or that harm their morals or good customs.” Low-wage workers engaged in domestic service were predominantly women. Approximately 40 percent of them received a salary below the national minimum wage and worked without a contract, health insurance, or other relevant benefits. A July 2020 report by UN Women highlighted the increased vulnerability of domestic workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both in terms of economic vulnerability from quarantine measures and wage loss, and to health vulnerabilities if they commuted to work.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The monthly minimum wage was greater than the government’s official poverty income. The World Bank estimated that for fiscal year 2018, approximately 35 percent of the population lived below the poverty line.

The law mandates rest periods and requires premium pay for work beyond a standard workweek. For men the official workweek is 48 hours, and the workday is eight hours. For women the law sets a 40-hour workweek and prohibits women from working at night. The law stipulates a minimum of 15 days of annual leave. Penalties for violating wage and hour laws were not commensurate with those for similar crimes such as fraud. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcement of wage and hour laws. The law mandates that the standards apply uniformly to all industries and sectors. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and may initiate sanctions. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

Occupational Safety and Health: The Ministry of Labor’s Bureau of Occupational Safety has responsibility for the protection of workers’ health and safety, but penalties for violations of occupational safety and health (OSH) laws were not commensurate with those for similar crimes such as negligence. The law mandates that the standards apply uniformly to all industries and sectors. Inspections for OSH were conducted by the same inspectors under the same authorities as wage and hour laws. The number of inspectors was insufficient to provide effective workplace inspection.

A national tripartite committee of business, labor, and government representatives was responsible for monitoring and improving OSH standards and enforcement. The Ministry of Labor maintained offices for worker inquiries, complaints, and reports of unfair labor practices and unsafe working conditions, but it was unclear if the offices were effective in regulating working conditions.

The law prohibits dismissing employees for removing themselves from work conditions they deem hazardous and provides for the Ministry of Labor to mandate the employees be rehired following an inspection.

Informal Sector: Workers in informal part-time and hourly jobs did not have labor protections. Many companies and businesses preferred workers hired on an hourly or part-time basis to avoid paying required maternity and pension benefits. According to labor law experts, the informal sector constituted approximately 65 to 75 percent of the economy. These experts claimed labor regulations meant to protect employees in effect promoted the large informal sector, because the regulations reportedly resulted in employers not hiring full-time employees due to the higher costs their employment entailed.

Civil society leaders and media reported Chinese companies employed workers in substandard conditions. NGOs documented the growing role of Chinese companies, which expanded their presence in the mining, hydrocarbon, and infrastructure sectors since 2010. There were also allegations that Chinese companies brought in prisoners from China to work in exchange for their eventual freedom.

On September 7, a total of 250 employees of the China State Construction Engineering Corporation working on the San Jose de Chiquitos-San Ignacio de Velasco road project went on strike because they alleged the company abused many of their rights. The strikers claimed the company failed to provide adequate medical attention and overtime and transportation pay, as required by law. Strikers also protested “deplorable” housing conditions at construction sites. They alleged the company crammed employees into small, tin facilities that were hot and lacked ventilation. Those who lived offsite claimed they were ferried to the campsite in crammed trucks, “worse than animals.” Conditions described by the workers could amount to forced labor.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Federation and RS labor laws provide for the right of workers in both entities to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Employers in the private sector did not always respect these rights, and public sector unions were generally stronger and achieved better outcomes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not adequately enforce these protections. The labor inspectorates and courts did not deal effectively with employees’ complaints of antiunion discrimination. Unions themselves complained that their own union leaders had been coopted by the company and politicians and that they mostly protect their own privileges. For example, representatives of 16 branch unions at the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Bosnia and Herzegovina (SSS BiH) claimed that Selvedin Satorovic, the president of the union, was illegally representing the union. A group of workers accused BiH Telecom Union president Fikret Alic of embezzlement, antistatutory actions, and arbitrariness in work, which Alic denied.

The law prescribes reinstatement of dismissed workers in cases where there is evidence of discrimination, whether for union activity or other reasons. Entity-level laws in the Federation and the RS prohibit the firing of union leaders without prior approval of their respective labor ministries.

The law in both entities and in the Brcko District provides for the right to strike. The law in the Federation contains burdensome requirements for workers who wish to conduct a strike. Trade unions may not officially announce a strike without first reaching an agreement with the employer on which “essential” personnel would remain at work.

In 2020 the Federation government prepared changes to the labor law to address the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. The government claimed the changes were needed to allow employers flexibility to preserve businesses and save jobs. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many workers in the private sector lost their jobs, while public-sector workers were protected by general collective agreement and no cuts in their benefits were allowed. Despite public sector protections, there were strikes of health workers in 2020 related to the pandemic. Authorities may declare a strike illegal if no agreement is reached; this provision effectively allowed employers to prevent strikes.

Laws governing the registration of unions give the minister of justice powers to accept or reject trade union registration on ambiguous grounds. In addition, in the Federation there were two parallel leaderships of the unions, each alleging the other was illegal. Both groups represented themselves as the legal representatives of the unions, and it was unclear which should participate in social dialogue with the government. The government believed that it benefited from internal fighting within the trade unions and used opportunities to challenge “representation” of the factions of unions.

Although the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) prescribes discussion of legislation between three social partners – the government, employers, and unions – before it is sent to parliament, such dialogue was not scheduled regularly, and therefore input from the unions was often missing. The last example in the Federation was the adoption in July of the Federation Law on Bankruptcy, which was very important for employees in public companies.

The lack of workers’ rights was more pronounced in the private sector largely due to weaker unions in the private sector and to the broad and pronounced weakness of the rule of law.

The government did not effectively enforce all applicable labor laws. Authorities did not impose sanctions against employers who prevented workers from organizing. Inspections related to worker rights were limited. Ministry inspectors gave low priority to violations of worker rights; state officials focused instead on bolstering revenues by cracking down on unregistered employees and employers who did not pay taxes. Some unions reported that employers threatened employees with dismissal if they joined a union, and in some cases fired union leaders for their activities. Entity-level penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for similar violations of civil rights. Judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced and compulsory labor at the state level and in the RS and the Brcko District. Federation laws, however, do not criminalize all forced labor activities. The government did not enforce the law effectively, but there was little verified evidence that forced labor occurred in the country due to the limited number of inspections into forced labor allegations. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other serious crimes.

The prosecution of 13 BiH nationals for collusion in forced labor involving 672 victims of forced labor in Azerbaijan in 2015 ended in February with the Court acquitting all defendants and rejecting the appeal. On October 7, the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in favor of 33 BiH citizens who sued Azerbaijan in 2012 for trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation and ordered Azerbaijan to pay approximately 5,000 euros ($5,750) to each victim. According to the verdict, the applicants were recruited in BiH to travel to Azerbaijan as foreign construction workers. All spent six months or more in Azerbaijan working without contracts or working permits, had their documents seized, and did not receive salaries from May 2009. Other potential cases of forced labor were investigated during the year, but none resulted in an indictment to date. The government failed to prosecute organized crime syndicates that forced Romani children to beg on the streets, alleging that it was Romani custom to beg. There were reports that individuals and organized crime syndicates trafficked men, women, and children for begging and forced labor (see section 7.c.).

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 and criminalizes the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment of children in both entities is 15; minors between the ages of 15 and 18 must provide a valid health certificate to work. RS and Brcko District laws penalize employers for hiring persons younger than age 15. The labor codes of the Federation, the RS, and the Brcko District also prohibit minors between the ages of 15 and 18 from working at night or performing hazardous labor, although forced begging is not considered a hazardous task for all entities. Entity governments are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, and both entities and the Brcko District enforced them. Boys and girls were subjected to forced begging and involuntary domestic servitude in forced marriages. Sometimes forced begging was linked to other forms of human trafficking. In the case of Romani children, family members or organized criminal groups were usually responsible for subjecting girls and boys to forced begging and domestic servitude in forced marriages. Several of the worst forms of child labor occurring in the country included the use of children for illicit activities, commercial sexual exploitation of children, and the use of children to produce pornography (see section 6, Children).

During the year the government did not receive reports of child labor at places of employment. Neither entity had inspectors dedicated to child labor inspections; authorities investigated violations of child labor laws as part of a general labor inspection. The labor inspectorates of both entities reported that they found no violations of child labor laws, although they did not conduct reviews of children working on family farms. The government did not collect data on child labor because there were no reported cases. The general perception among officials and civil society was that the exploitation of child labor was rare. RS law imposes fines for employing children younger than 15 but does not specify the exact amount. The government did not effectively enforce the law, although penalties for violations were commensurate with those for similar serious crimes.

NGOs running day centers in Banja Luka, Tuzla, Mostar, Bijeljina, Bihac, and Sarajevo in cooperation with the country’s antitrafficking coordinator continued to provide services to at-risk children, many of whom were involved in forced begging on the streets.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations related to employment or occupation prohibit discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sex, gender, age, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status, other communicable diseases, social status (including refugee status), religion, and national origin. The government often failed to enforce these laws and regulations effectively. Penalties were commensurate with those for other violations of civil rights, but they were seldom applied.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, gender, disability, language, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity, HIV-positive status, and social status. Labor laws and regulations are adequate to protect women’s rights, but authorities did not effectively enforce them in all cases. For example, employed women are often exposed to different types of discrimination and harassment, including sexual harassment. Furthermore, there is a discrepancy in salaries between male and female employees, as well as unequal possibility for promotion. Most discrimination against women occurs in processing industries and trade. For example, women were unable to take maternity leave for the period of one year and were often unable to return to their work position after maternity leave or take advantage of the entitlement to work part time. Unsanctioned cases of employment termination for pregnant women and new mothers continued to occur.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Botswana

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers, except police, military, and prison personnel, to form and join independent unions and to bargain collectively. The law provides some workers with the right to strike. The COVID-19 state of emergency barred all industrial actions by unions, although workers at some companies did conduct short work stoppages concerning wage matters without government interference. The law allows registered unions to conduct their activities without interference. Layoffs were prohibited under the COVID-19 state of emergency.

The law limits the right to organize. Police, military, and prison personnel belong to employee associations that communicate collective needs and concerns to their government employer. Union representatives reported employee associations were generally not as effective as unions in resolving labor disputes.

Trade unions failing to meet formal registration requirements are automatically dissolved and banned from carrying out union activities. The law does not protect members of unregistered trade unions and does not fully protect union members from antiunion discrimination; thus those trying to establish, join, or register a trade union were not protected from antiunion discrimination.

The law imposes several substantive requirements on the constitutions and rules of trade unions and federations of trade unions. An association must have more than 30 worker members to be a union. The law also authorizes the registrar to inspect accounts, books, and documents of a trade union at “any reasonable time” and provides the minister of defense, justice, and security with the authority to inspect a trade union “whenever he considers it necessary in the public interest.” It also allows the registrar or attorney general to apply for an order to restrain any unauthorized or unlawful expenditure of funds or use of any trade union property. Employers and employer associations have the legal right to ask the registrar to withdraw recognition of a union, and the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development has the right to suspend a union if it is “in the public interest,” although the former practice was uncommon and the latter has never been employed. Any person acting or purporting to act as an officer of a trade union or federation that fails to apply for registration within 28 days of its formation is subject to sanctions.

The law provides for collective bargaining only for unions that have enrolled at least one-third of an employer or industry’s workforce. The law does not allow employers or employers’ organizations to interfere in the establishment, functioning, or administration of trade unions. The law provides a framework for either employers or unions to nullify collective bargaining agreements and provides a mechanism for the other party to dispute the nullification. The law also permits an employer or employers’ organization to apply to the government to withdraw the recognition granted a trade union if it establishes that the trade union refuses to negotiate in good faith with the employer.

The law prohibits employees who provide “essential services” from striking. The law limits its definition of essential services to aviation, health, electrical, water and sanitation, fire, and air traffic control services.

The law empowers two officials within the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development (the minister and the commissioner of labor) to refer a dispute in essential services to arbitration or to the Industrial Court for determination.

Civil service disputes are referred to an ombudsman for resolution, and the ombudsman generally made decisions without government interference. Labor commissioners mediate private labor disputes, which, if not resolved within 30 days, may be referred to the Industrial Court.

Workers who are members of registered unions may not be terminated for legal union-related activities. Dismissals may be appealed to civil courts or labor officers, which have rarely ordered payment of more than two months’ severance pay. The law does not provide for reinstatement of workers, but a judge may order reinstatement if the termination is deemed to be related to union activities. The law does not provide protection to public employees’ organizations from acts of interference by public authorities in their establishment or administration.

The government enforced some labor laws but did not protect the freedom of association for workers. In addition, the government placed significant barriers to union organizing and operations, and there were some restrictions on the right to collective bargaining. The government has not acted to revive the Public Sector Bargaining Council. Workers exercised the right to form and join unions, and employers generally did not use hiring practices to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights. Legal penalties for violations of laws governing freedom of association were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights.

The law severely restricts the right to strike, and strikes were rare. When unions followed legal requirements, exhausted arbitration, and notified the government in advance of a planned strike, the government permitted strikes and did not use force on strikers. Due to strike requirements, however, many strikes were ruled illegal, and striking workers often risked dismissal. The law prohibits sympathy strikes. Compulsory arbitration was rare and only applied in cases involving a group dispute of workers in essential services. The law prohibits an employer from hiring workers to replace striking or locked-out workers and prohibits workers from picketing only if the parties have an agreement on the provision of minimum services or, if no such agreement has been made, within 14 days of the commencement of the strike. The Botswana Federation of Trade Unions reported to the International Confederation of Trade Unions that employers dismissed union members in the mining sector for union activity.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit and criminalize all forms of forced and compulsory labor, including by children, with an exception for compulsory labor as part of a prison sentence for civil and political offenses.

The law allows compulsory prison labor in the case of a willful breach of a contract of employment by an employee who is acting either alone or in combination with others if such breach affects the operation of essential services. Sentences of imprisonment involving compulsory prison labor may be imposed on any person who prints, makes, imports, publishes, sells, distributes, or reproduces any publication prohibited by the president “in his absolute discretion” as being “contrary to the public interest.” Similar sentences may be imposed concerning seditious publications and on any person who manages, or is a member of, or in any way takes part in the activity of an unlawful society, particularly of a society declared unlawful as being “dangerous to peace and order.” The provisions are worded in terms broad enough to allow punishment for the expression of views, and insofar as they are enforceable with sanctions involving compulsory labor, they are incompatible with international standards. A prisoner may be employed outside a prison under the immediate order and for the benefit of a person other than a public authority.

Apart from this exception, labor inspectors from the Ministry of Employment, Labor, Productivity and Skills referred cases of forced labor to the BPS for prosecution. The government did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in remote areas, and compulsory and forced labor occurred in several sectors. There were no prosecutions for forced labor during the year. Members of the San community, including children, were sometimes subjected to forced labor conditions on farms and ranches in the Ghanzi District. The law prescribed penalties that were not commensurate with comparable serious crimes.

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 worst forms of child labor but does not criminalize all the worst forms of child labor.

The minimum age for work is 15, but children as young as 14 may be employed in light work that is “not harmful to (their) health and development” and is approved by a parent or guardian. The law, however, does not define the types of permitted light work activities. The law provides that work shall not exceed six hours per day when a child is not in school and five hours when a child is in school, but only on vacation days between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Although the law prohibits night work and hazardous underground work for children, it does not cover hazardous activities, such as the use of dangerous machinery, tools, and equipment. In addition, the law establishes the right of children to be protected from commercial sexual exploitation, including child sex trafficking and the production of pornography (see section 6).

The Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies in all sectors, but its resources were too limited for effective enforcement in remote areas. District and municipal councils have child welfare divisions, which are also responsible for enforcing child labor laws. Other involved government entities included offices within the Ministry of Basic Education and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. Government officials continued to publicly caution against the worst forms of child labor.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in remote areas, and child labor occurred in several sectors. Officials prosecuted three individuals for forced labor and continued prosecutions against 11 alleged traffickers from previous years. The government did not convict any traffickers, contrasted with conviction of five traffickers in two cases in 2020. The law continued to allow fines in lieu of imprisonment during the reporting period. Penalties were not criminal nor commensurate with those for comparable serious crimes.

There were anecdotal reports of forced child labor in cattle herding and in domestic servitude. Child labor occurred mostly on small-scale cattle posts or farms, where employees lived with their children in family units, particularly in the Ghanzi District. Child labor also occurred in domestic work and street vending. Civil society representatives noted in such cases where it was likely to exist, child labor resulted from a lack of awareness of the law among their parents and employers.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws prohibit discrimination based on race, color, tribe, place of origin, including national origin, social origin, sex, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV status, marital status, religion, creed, or social status. The law does not address discrimination based on age. The government generally enforced these regulations in the public and formal sectors. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable violations.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: According to the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development, the minimum hourly wage for full-time labor in the private sector was determined by sector. The minimum wage for all sectors was higher than the official estimate of the poverty income level. Formal-sector jobs generally paid well above minimum wage.

The law permits a maximum 48-hour workweek, exclusive of overtime, which is payable at one-and-a-half times the base hourly rate. In May the government froze payment for overtime work of public servants as a measure to address a budget shortfall during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to union representatives, some workers were required to perform overtime duties without compensation.

Occupational Safety and Health: There were limited occupational safety and health (OSH) requirements. The government’s ability to enforce OSH legislation remained limited due to inadequate staffing and lack of clear ministerial jurisdictions. Inspectors did have authority to conduct unannounced inspections and could demand that an employer suspend the use of hazardous materials or equipment. Inspectors could not initiate sanctions on their own but could require employers to meet in a public office to discuss matters. The government curtailed inspections because of the pandemic and health restrictions on movement to the pandemic.

The law provides protection against termination for workers who verbally complain regarding hazardous conditions, but no specific provisions in the law allow workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. There were no figures available on the number of industrial accidents during the year that caused the death or serious injury of workers. The Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development is responsible for enforcing wage, hour, and OSH standards, but the number of inspectors was not sufficient to effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes.

Informal Sector: The August 2020 National Informal Sector Recovery Plan estimated that the country had approximately 190,000 informal workers who contributed approximately 5.3 percent of all economic activity. Informal work sectors included wholesale and retail trade (45 percent), manufacturing (15 percent), and construction of buildings (12 percent). More women and young persons worked in the informal sector. Some workers in the informal sector received only housing and food, particularly in the agricultural and domestic service areas. Wages in the informal sector were frequently below the minimum wage. Informal-sector workers generally were covered by the same legal protections available to formal-sector workers, but enforcement in the informal sector was rare.

Foreign migrant workers were vulnerable to exploitative working conditions like working excessive hours or having their wages withheld, mainly in domestic labor.

Brazil

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for freedom of association for all workers (except members of the military, military police, and firefighters); the right to bargain collectively with some restrictions; and the right to strike. The law limits organizing at the enterprise level. By law the armed forces, military police, and firefighters may not strike. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, including the dismissal of employees who are candidates for, or holders of, union leadership positions, and it requires employers to reinstate workers fired for union activity.

New unions must register with the Ministry of Economy, which accepts the registration unless objections are filed by other unions. The law stipulates certain restrictions, such as unicidade (in essence, one union per occupational category per city), which limits freedom of association by prohibiting multiple, competing unions of the same professional category in a single geographical area. Unions that represent workers in the same geographical area and professional category may contest registration.

The law stipulates that a strike may be ruled “disruptive” by the labor court, and the union may be subjected to legal penalties if the strike violates certain conditions, such as if the union fails to maintain essential services during a strike, notify employers at least 48 hours before the beginning of a walkout, or end a strike after a labor court decision. Employers may not hire substitute workers during a legal strike or fire workers for strike-related activity, provided the strike is not ruled abusive.

The law obliges a union to negotiate on behalf of all registered workers in the professional category and geographical area it represents, regardless of whether an employee pays voluntary membership dues. The law permits the government to reject clauses of collective bargaining agreements that conflict with government policy, and it includes collective bargaining rights, such as the ability to negotiate a flexible hourly schedule and work remotely.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected. Collective bargaining was widespread in establishments in the private sector. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. In the view of expert NGOs working in this field, the government usually effectively enforced applicable laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits “slave labor,” defined as “reducing someone to a condition analogous to slavery,” including subjecting someone to forced labor, debt bondage, exhausting work hours, and labor performed in degrading working conditions.

Many individuals in slave labor, as defined by the country’s law, were victims of human trafficking for the purpose of forced labor. The government took actions to enforce the law, although forced labor occurred in a number of states. Violations of forced labor laws are punishable by up to eight years in prison, but this was often not sufficient to deter violations. The law also provides penalties for various crimes related to forced labor, such as illegal recruiting or transporting workers or imposing onerous debt burdens as a condition of employment. Every six months the Ministry of Economy publishes a “dirty list” of companies found to have employed forced labor. Although fewer names were included during the year due to COVID-related processing delays, in April the updated list included 19 new companies and owners from a range of sectors such as cattle ranching and livestock, agriculture, mining, and construction; in October an additional 13 entities were added, including a retired attorney, a former mayor, and a construction service company. Public and private banks use the list to conduct risk assessments, and inclusion on the list prevents companies from receiving loans from state-owned financial institutions. The Labor Prosecutor’s Office, in partnership with the International Labor Organization (ILO), maintained an online platform that identified hotspots for forced labor. The Ministry of Economy’s Mobile Labor Inspection Unit teams conducted impromptu inspections of properties where forced labor was suspected or reported, using teams composed of labor inspectors, labor prosecutors from the Federal Labor Prosecutor’s Office, and Federal Police officers. Mobile teams levied fines on landowners who used forced labor and required employers to provide back pay and benefits to workers before returning the workers to their municipalities of origin. Labor inspectors and prosecutors, however, could apply only civil penalties; consequently, many cases were not criminally prosecuted.

Forced labor, including forced child labor, was reported in jobs such as clearing forests to provide cattle pastureland, logging, producing charcoal, salt industries, mining, raising livestock, and other agricultural activities. Forced labor often involved young men, notably Afro-Brazilian men, drawn from the less-developed northeastern states – Maranhao, Piaui, Tocantins, and Ceara – and the central state of Goias to work in the northern and central-western regions of the country. In addition there were reports of forced labor in the construction industry. News outlets reported cases that amounted to forced labor in production of carnauba wax. Cases of forced labor were also reported in the garment industry in the city of Sao Paulo; the victims were often from neighboring countries, such as Venezuela, Bolivia, and Paraguay, while others came from Haiti, South Korea, and China.

Media also reported cases of forced labor of domestic workers in wealthy urban households. In November 2020 the Public Ministry rescued 48-year-old Madalena Gordiano from domestic servitude 38 years after she began working for a Minas Gerais family as a child. The victim was exploited by a university professor and his family, working from 2 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily without a salary, benefits, or days off. Later, in her twenties, she was forced to marry an elderly relative of the employer with a pension, which was taken by her employers after his death. Although the total amount due to the victim was calculated to be R$2.2 million ($394,000), at a July virtual regional labor court hearing, she accepted an offer of R$690,100 ($124,000) to be fulfilled by the transfer of the family’s apartment to her, the purchase of a new car, and an additional R$20,000 ($3,600). The victim was also to receive the monthly pension to which she is entitled through the marriage, worth R$8,400 ($1,500) per month. The agreement was the largest individual agreement made to a person rescued from slave labor. The victim filed administrative and criminal proceedings against other family members, which the Federal Public Ministry was investigating.

During the first six months of the year, labor inspectors rescued 772 victims of slave labor – 80 percent of the previous year’s total. In 2020 authorities conducted 266 labor inspections and identified 942 victims of labor exploitation, compared with 280 labor inspections and the identification of 1,130 victims of labor exploitation in 2019. According to expert NGOs working in this field, penalties for slave labor were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping. A study published in 2020 by the Slave Labor and Trafficking in Persons Clinic of the Federal University of Minas Gerais showed that only 4.2 percent of those accused were held criminally responsible for the crime of subjecting workers to contemporary slavery.

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 definitions of crimes involving child sex trafficking require the use of threats, violence, coercion, fraud, or abuse, which does not meet international standards. The minimum working age is 16, but apprenticeships may begin at age 14. The law bars all minors younger than 18 from work that constitutes a physical strain or occurs in unhealthy, dangerous, or morally harmful conditions. Hazardous work includes an extensive list of activities within 13 occupational categories, including domestic service, garbage scavenging, and fertilizer production. The law requires parental permission for minors to work as apprentices. The Ministry of Economy’s Special Mobile Inspection Group is responsible for inspecting worksites to enforce child labor laws. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Most inspections of children in the workplace were driven by complaints brought by workers, teachers, unions, NGOs, and media. Due to legal restrictions, labor inspectors remained unable to enter private homes and farms, where much of the child labor allegedly occurred. The government did not always effectively enforce the law.

In 2020 labor inspectors found situations of child labor during 279 investigations, involving 810 children. According to data collected by UNICEF in Sao Paulo among vulnerable families, child labor worsened during the pandemic. UNICEF conducted a survey of data on the income and work situation of 52,744 vulnerable families from different regions of Sao Paulo who received donations from the organization and its partners. The data collected from April to July 2020 identified a 26 percent increase in child labor when comparing May and July.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, gender, disability, religion, political opinion, natural origin or citizenship, age, language, and sexual orientation or gender identity. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Discrimination against individuals who are HIV positive or suffer from other communicable diseases is also prohibited. The government generally enforced the laws and regulations, although discrimination in employment occurred with respect to Afro-Brazilians, women, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, and transgender individuals. The Ministry of Economy implemented rules to integrate promotion of racial equality in its programs, including requiring race be included in data for programs financed by the ministry. According to the ILO, women not only earned less than men but also had difficulties entering the workplace: 78 percent of men held paid jobs, compared with 56 percent of women. Although the law prohibits gender discrimination in pay, professional training, working hours, occupations, tasks, and career advancement, according to NGO representatives, the law was rarely enforced, and discrimination existed.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a minimum wage. The minimum wage was greater than the official poverty income level. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, however, in 2019 approximately 60 percent of workers had incomes below the minimum wage. The Ministry of Economy verified enforcement of minimum wage laws as part of regular labor inspections. Penalties alone were not sufficient to deter violations.

The law limits the workweek to 44 hours and specifies a weekly rest period of 24 consecutive hours, preferably on Sundays. The law also provides for paid annual vacation, prohibits excessive compulsory overtime, limits overtime to two hours per workday, and stipulates that hours worked above the monthly limit must be compensated with at least time-and-a-half pay; these provisions generally were enforced for all groups of workers in the formal sector. The constitution also provides for the right of domestic employees to work a maximum of eight hours per day and 44 hours per week, a minimum wage, a lunch break, social security, and severance pay.

In July a labor inspection at a coffee farm in Minas Gerais State found that farm owners were illegally deducting nearly one-third of workers’ wages to cover the cost of the machinery workers use to harvest coffee beans, which should have been provided to workers for free under the law. The farm owners signed an agreement with the Labor Prosecution Service and the Public Defender’s Office agreeing to pay the deductions back to the 19 affected workers, along with an additional R$2,000 ($350) payment to each worker for moral damages.

Occupational Safety and Health: The Ministry of Economy sets occupational, health, and safety (OSH) standards that are consistent with internationally recognized norms, although unsafe working conditions were prevalent throughout the country, especially in construction. The law requires employers to establish internal committees for accident prevention in workplaces. It also provides for the protection of employees from being fired for their committee activities. Workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, although those in forced labor situations without access to transportation were particularly vulnerable to situations that endangered their health and safety. In the view of expert NGOs working in this field, officials enforced OSH laws. Penalties for violations of OSH laws were commensurate with those for crimes, such as negligence. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

The Ministry of Economy addressed problems related to acceptable conditions of work such as long workdays and unsafe or unhygienic work conditions. Penalties for violations include fines that vary widely depending on the nature of the violation. Fines were generally enforced and were sometimes sufficient to deter violations. The National Labor Inspection School held various virtual training sessions for labor inspectors throughout the year. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to deter violations. During the year the Ministry of Economy launched an online database to monitor workplace accidents nationwide.

Informal Sector: According to data collected by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics as a part of its August Continuous National Household Survey, 37 million Brazilians participated in the informal sector, representing 41 percent of the employed population. Although workers in the informal sector enjoyed some labor protections, including minimum wage, hour limitations, and OSH laws and workplace inspections, they lacked access to unemployment insurance and social safety nets.

Brunei

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, with significant oversight by the Registrar of Trade Unions. It does not provide for collective bargaining and prohibits strikes. The law prohibits employers from discriminating against workers for union activities, but it does not provide for reinstatement for dismissal related to union activity. There were no unions or worker organizations in the country.

By law unions must register with the government under the same process and are subject to the same laws as other organizations (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association). All unions that do not register with the Trade Union Registrar face penalties. The registrar is prohibited from registering unions whose pursuit is unlawful, where there is already a union deemed to be representative, or if it represents more than one industry. While the law permits the formation of trade union federations if their member unions are from the same economic sector, it forbids affiliation with international labor organizations unless the minister of home affairs and the ministry’s Department of Labor consent. The law prescribes the use of trade union funds, prohibiting contributions to political parties or payment of court penalties. The law requires officers of trade unions to be “bona fide” (without explanation), which has been interpreted to allow authorities broad discretion to reject officers and require that such officers have been employed in the trade for a minimum of two years.

Penalties for violating laws on unions include fines, imprisonment, or both. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights.

Given the absence of unions or worker organizations, there were no reports of government enforcement of laws respecting their establishment or operation. NGOs were involved in labor issues, such as wages, contracts, and working conditions. These NGOs largely operated openly in cooperation with relevant government agencies, but they reported avoiding confrontation with the government and engaged in self-censorship.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, although the government did not effectively enforce the law, and forced labor occurred. Convictions for forced labor could lead to penalties including fines, imprisonment, and caning, but most cases alleging forced labor were settled out of court. Penalties were seldom applied. Penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping. An interagency committee under the Prime Minister’s Office coordinated government efforts to counter human trafficking.

The government did not effectively investigate any cases of debt bondage or forced labor and has not successfully prosecuted a trafficking in persons cases since 2016. The heads of specialist trafficking units within the police department continued to meet regularly to coordinate antitrafficking policy and implement the national action plan to combat trafficking, including for forced labor.

Some of the approximately 100,000 foreign migrant workers in the country faced involuntary servitude, debt bondage, nonpayment of wages, passport confiscation, abusive employers, or confinement to the home. Although it is illegal for employers to withhold wages, some employers, notably of domestic and construction workers, did so to recoup labor broker or recruitment fees or to compel continued service.

Although the government forbade wage deductions by employers to repay in-country agencies or sponsors and mandated that employees receive their full salaries, many migrant workers arrived in debt bondage to actors outside the country. Bangladeshi media reports indicated that widespread fraud in work visa issuance made many migrant worker – particularly an estimated 20,000 Bangladeshi nationals working mostly in the construction industry – vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. Providing false information to the government in forced labor cases carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison and a substantial fine.

Due to COVID-19, inspections have been curtailed. At one surprise inspection of the Immigration and Labor Department in October 2020, the sultan addressed what he called “shortcomings” in the trustworthiness and efficiency of both departments. Among his concerns, the sultan raised the case of a syndicate selling fake national identification cards, intimating that immigration officials must have been complicit in the operation. In a rare explicit reference to Bangladeshi workers, the ruler also attributed the “uncontrolled influx” of foreign labor to government mismanagement in issuing employee visas.

Although prohibited by law, retention of migrant workers’ travel documents by employers or agencies remained a common practice.

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

Various laws prohibit the employment of children younger than 16. Parental consent and approval by the Labor Commission are required for those aged between 16 and 18 to work. Female workers younger than 18 may not work at night or on offshore oil platforms.

The law does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor. The law on procuring or offering children younger than 18 for prostitution or illicit intercourse refers only to girls and not to boys.

The Department of Labor, which is part of the Ministry of Home Affairs, effectively enforced child labor laws. Penalties for child labor violations include a fine, imprisonment, or both, and were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. There was no list of hazardous occupations prohibited for children. There is also no list of types of light work activities legal for children ages 14 to 16.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. There is no law requiring equal pay for equal work. The law limits employment in certain government positions and the military based on ethnic origin (see section 6). The law restricts women from serving in certain military combat roles, such as infantry. Women are prohibited from working in uncertain jobs, at night, or on offshore oil platforms.

The government’s executive training program for middle managers introduced several initiatives to increase public awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace, including discussion and outreach to members of the government and private sectors as well as NGOs.

Reflecting government policy, most public and many private employers showed hiring biases against foreign workers, particularly in key sectors such as oil and gas. Many foreign workers had their wages established based on national origin, with those from certain foreign countries receiving lower wages than others.

Some LGBTQI+ job applicants faced discrimination and were often asked directly about their sexual identity.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour: The law does not set a minimum wage. Wages were set by contract between the employee and employer and were sometimes calculated based on national origin. Many employed citizens received adequate salaries with numerous allowances, but complaints about low wages were common, especially in entry-level positions. The standard workweek for most government agencies and many private companies is Monday through Thursday and Saturday. The law provides for overtime more than 44 hours per week. The law also stipulates an employee may not work more than 72 hours of overtime per month.

Occupational Safety and Health: Government regulations establish and identify appropriate occupational safety and health standards. The law clarified that the responsibility for identifying unsafe conditions lies with occupational safety and health experts, not workers. Individuals were encouraged to report violations of health and safety standards, but the law does not explicitly protect the right to remove oneself from a hazardous workplace.

The government does not effectively enforce laws on working hours or occupational safety and health. The commissioner of the Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing labor laws. The Department of Labor inspected working conditions both on a routine basis and in response to complaints. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. The number of labor inspectors in the department was adequate to conduct mandated inspections, but inspectors failed to bring charges against some employers who violated the law. For example, following numerous inspections of workers’ accommodations, many of which were found to be unsuitable, labor inspectors did not prosecute any employers. The focus was primarily on detecting undocumented foreign workers rather than worker protection. The department has the power to terminate the licenses of abusive employers and revoke their foreign labor quotas, and it did so occasionally.

The high numbers of COVID-19 cases in workers dormitories led the Ministry of Health to focus on laborers’ living conditions in the public health context and raised awareness of unsuitable living conditions for migrant workers. Following a joint inspection by health ministry and labor officials in November, an employer was ordered to find suitable accommodation for his staff as the staff house was deemed uninhabitable.

Employers who violate laws regarding conditions of service – including payment of wages, working hours, leave, and holidays – may be fined for a first offense and, for further offenses, be fined, imprisoned, or both. Penalties for violations of wage, hour, and health and safety standards were not commensurate with those such as fraud or negligence.

Foreign laborers (predominantly Filipinos, Indonesians, and Bangladeshis) dominated most low-wage professions, such as domestic service, construction, maintenance, retail, and food service, in which violations of wage, overtime, and health and safety regulations most frequently occurred.

Government enforcement in sectors employing low-skilled labor in small-scale construction or maintenance projects was inadequate. This was especially true for foreign laborers at construction sites, where complaints of wage arrears, inadequate safety, and poor, unsafe living conditions were reported.

There were some reports of industrial accidents, most commonly in the construction sector, where the labor force is overwhelmingly foreign. In August a road worker was killed by a car while laying traffic cones on a bridge.

Bulgaria

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 labor unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, provides for workers to receive up to six months’ salary as compensation for illegal dismissal, and provides for the right of the employee to demand reinstatement for such dismissal. Workers alleging discrimination based on union affiliation can file complaints with the Commission for Protection against Discrimination. According to the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions, despite the constitutional recognition of the right of association, the law did not protect it, which prevented parties to a dispute from seeking redress in administrative court. In November medical workers protested in front of St. Sofia hospital against the firing of the hospital’s chief nursing officer, Veselina Gancheva, alleging she had been dismissed for “union activity and defending the rights of hospital workers.” According to press reports, Gancheva was the fifth member of the Labor Union of Bulgarian Medical Specialists fired since the union’s establishment in 2019.

There are some limitations on these rights. The law prohibits Interior Ministry and judicial system officials from membership in national union federations. When employers and labor unions reach a collective agreement at the sector level, they must obtain the agreement of the minister of labor to extend it to cover all enterprises in the sector. The law prohibits most public servants from engaging in collective bargaining. The law also prohibits employees of the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Interior, the State Agency for Intelligence, the National Protection Service, the courts, and prosecutorial and investigative authorities from striking. Those employees may take the government to court to provide due process in protecting their rights.

The law gives the right to strike to other public service employees, except for senior public servants, if at least 50 percent of the workers support the strike. The law also limits the ability of transport workers to organize their administrative activities and formulate their programs. Labor unions stated that the legal limitations on the right to strike and the lack of criminal liability for employers who abuse their workers’ right of association are contrary to the constitution.

Authorities did not always respect freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively. Labor unions continued to report cases of employer obstruction, harassment, and intimidation of employees, including relocation, firing, and demotion of union leaders and members. Labor unions also alleged that some employers negotiated similar terms to those contained in the respective collective bargaining agreement with individual workers to erode unionism and discourage membership in a labor union. The Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria accused employers of “dumping” labor unions by negotiating better terms with workers who are not union members. In January the Autonomous Worker Confederation alleged that the management of the public transportation company in Varna had been hiding the collective agreement from company employees and labor union members. The government did not effectively enforce the labor law, and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those under other laws related to denials of civil rights. Penalties for discrimination carry lower fines than the fines for labor law violations. The law does not effectively protect against interference by employers in labor union activities. Judicial and administrative procedures were adequate in settling claims.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other serious crimes, but the government lacked resources to cope with the growing number of cases of international labor trafficking. In addition, labor inspectors lacked the legal authority and sufficient training to identify and pursue cases of forced labor. NGOs criticized the country’s institutions for failing to identify and prosecute cases of severe labor exploitation, alleging that the government focused instead on labor law violations that carry administrative sanctions. The government, through its central and local antitrafficking commissions, held forced labor prevention campaigns and training sessions for magistrates, law enforcement officers, and volunteers. Law enforcement officials did not have adequate capacity to investigate forced labor cases, and investigations took a long time.

There were some reports of families and criminal organizations subjecting children to forced work (see section 7.c.). As of November the national antitrafficking commission reported receiving 11 labor exploitation complaints, similar to 2020, but they involved a larger number of victims who were all exploited outside the country. Labor trafficking victims were often of Roma origin, particularly Romani children, or from rural regions. Traffickers exploited Romani children in forced begging and pickpocketing and others in agriculture, construction, hospitality, and the service sector.

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 sets the minimum age for employment at 16 and the minimum age for hazardous work at 18. To employ children younger than 18, employers must obtain a work permit from the government’s General Labor Inspectorate. Employers can hire children younger than 16 with special permits for light work that is not hazardous or harmful to the child’s development and does not interfere with the child’s education or training.

The government did effectively enforce child labor laws. Employment of children without a work permit is a criminal offense but it is not a serious crime and carries a penalty of up to one year imprisonment or a fine. Penalties for the worst forms of child labor, however, are commensurate with those for other serious crimes. The General Labor Inspectorate was generally effective in inspecting working conditions at companies seeking and holding child work permits and applying sanctions regarding child labor in the formal sector. The inspectorate reported a 71 percent increase in legal employment of children. In 2020 the inspectorate uncovered 180 cases of children working without prior permission, a nearly 24 percent decrease from 2019.

The latest national program to eliminate the worst forms of child labor expired at the end of 2020; as of the end of the year, the government had not approved a new one.

NGOs continued to report the exploitation of children in certain industries, particularly small family-owned shops, textile production, restaurants, construction businesses, and periodical sales, and by organized crime – notably for commercial sexual exploitation, pickpocketing, and the distribution of narcotics. Children living in vulnerable situations, particularly Romani children, were exposed to harmful and exploitative work in the informal economy, mainly in agriculture, construction, and the service sector.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on nationality, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, race, skin color, age, social origin, language, political and religious beliefs, membership in labor unions and civil society organizations, family, and marital status, and mental or physical disabilities. Although the government usually effectively enforced these laws, discrimination in employment and occupation occurred across all sectors of the economy with respect to gender, sexual orientation, disability, and minority group status. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination reported receiving discrimination complaints during the year concerning union membership and employment of persons with disabilities, citing examples in which employers refused to hire an employee, despite passing initial hiring processes, after discovering the person had a disability.

The government funded programs to encourage employers to overcome stereotypes and prejudice when hiring members of disadvantaged groups, such as persons with disabilities, as well as to provide for workplace accommodation and training. The government effectively enforced the law and penalties for violations were commensurate to laws related to civil rights.

The law requires the Interior Ministry, the State Agency for National Security, and the State Agency for Technical Operations to allot 1 percent of their public administration positions to persons with disabilities. Enforcement was poor, however, and the agencies were not motivated to hire persons with disabilities, citing inaccessible infrastructure, lack of sufficient funding for modifying workplaces, and poor qualifications by the applicants. The Center for Independent Living and other NGOs criticized the system of evaluating persons with disabilities based on the degree of their disability, which effectively prevented many persons with disabilities who were able to work from being hired. According to the NGO Center for Liberal Strategies, establishing hiring quotas for persons with disabilities did not effectively support their real employment, since employers would focus on checking the box and appointing a person who holds a disability assessment certificate but does not necessarily need workplace accommodation. The NGO criticized the legal framework for providing incentives for employers but neglecting practical support – for example, providing transportation or personal assistance in the workplace – for persons with disabilities who wish to find work.

The law requires equal pay for equal work. According to the National Statistical Institute, men received 13.7 percent more pay than women. As a result of the gender pay gap, according to the National Social Security Institute, women received 23.7 percent lower pensions. Women continued to face discrimination in pension benefits and retirement. The age at which women and men can access both full and partial pension benefits was not equal, nor was the legal retirement age. According to the Financial Supervision Commission, men had accumulated eight percent more money in their mandatory second pension accounts.

Workplace discrimination against minorities continued to be a problem. Locating work was more difficult for Roma due to public mistrust, coupled with low average level of education of Roma. According to the National Statistical Institute, 66.2 percent of Roma lived in poverty, compared with 29.5 percent of Turks and 17.8 percent of ethnic Bulgarians.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wages and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage for all sectors of the economy that was higher than the government’s official poverty line. In August the government changed the methodology for determining the official poverty line, resulting in a 12 percent increase in the estimate for 2022. In May the National Statistical Institute reported that 23.8 percent of the population lived below the poverty line.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy is responsible for enforcing both the minimum wage and the standard workweek. Labor inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions, but the number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. In 2020 the General Labor Inspectorate reported that the cases of unpaid wages decreased by 38 percent, compared with the previous year. The inspectorate maintained that its authority to initiate bankruptcy proceedings against employers who owed more than two months’ wages to at least one-third of their employees for three years contributed to the effective enforcement of correct payment of wages. In 2020 labor inspectors compelled employers to pay 5.5 million levs ($3.18 million) out of an identified 10.8 million levs ($6.24 million) of unpaid wages. In May the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria reported receiving numerous complaints of employers illegally punishing workers for work-related violations by cutting their wages.

The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime and prohibits any overtime work for children younger than 18 and for pregnant women. Persons with disabilities, women with children younger than six, and persons undertaking continuing education may work overtime at the employer’s request if the employee provides written consent. The government effectively enforced minimum wage and overtime laws, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those of similar violations. In 2020 violations related to overtime work constituted 17 percent of the total number of violations. Most violations occurred in the retail, catering, and building construction sectors. The Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria criticized the legal provision allowing calculation of cumulative working time over a 12-month period, alleging that employers abused it to hide unpaid overtime work.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards are appropriate for the main industries, and OSH experts actively identified unsafe conditions and responded to workers’ OSH complaints. A national labor safety program provides employees the right to healthy and nonhazardous working conditions. Each year the government adopts a program that outlines its goals and priorities for occupational safety and health.

The General Labor Inspectorate, which had 28 regional offices, is responsible for monitoring and enforcing occupational safety and health requirements. Of the violations identified by the inspectorate, 51.9 percent involved safety and health requirements. According to the labor inspectorate, its activity over the previous several years increased the compliance rate to 94 percent of the companies inspected. The government generally enforced occupational safety and health laws, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other similar laws. Most violations occurred in the construction sector as well as in retail, catering, crop and animal production, and hunting.

Conditions in sectors such as construction, mining, chemicals, and transportation continued to pose risks for workers. The number of work-related accidents registered in the first six months of the year increased by 5 percent over the same period in 2020. Retail business violations were the most common causes of occupational accidents. The government strictly enforced the law requiring companies to conduct occupational health and safety risk assessments and to adopt measures to eliminate or reduce any identified risks. Approximately 95 percent of companies inspected in 2020 had such risk assessments, and 98 percent of those had programs to eliminate the risks identified.

As of October there were a total 47 work-related deaths during the year across many sectors of the economy, compared to 55 deaths reported from January through September 2020.

Informal Sector: Legal protections and government inspections did not cover informal workers in the gray-market economy which, according to the National Statistical Institute, accounted for 21 percent of the country’s GDP in 2019. According to a survey by the Bulgarian Industrial Capital Association presented in February, the share of undeclared work in the country decreased by 41.4 percent over the previous 10 years. During the two-month COVID-19 state of emergency in 2020, the law allowed employers to assign teleworking and work at home and permitted them to force workers to use half of their accrued annual leave. The law also lifted the ban on overtime work for workers and civil servants who assisted the health-care system and police.

Burkina Faso

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law allows workers to form and join independent unions, except for public employees and essential workers, such as magistrates, police, military, and other security personnel. The law provides unions the right to conduct their activities without interference.

The law provides for the right to strike, although it significantly limits that right. For strikes that call on workers to stay home and that do not entail participation in a rally, the union is required to provide eight to 15 days’ advance notice to the employer. If unions call for a march, they must provide three days’ advance notice to the city mayor. Authorities hold march organizers accountable for any property damage or destruction that occurs during a demonstration. The law strictly prohibits all strikes that include occupying the workplace, including nonviolent strikes. The law also gives the government extensive requisitioning powers, authorizing it to requisition private- and public-sector workers to secure minimum service in essential services. The government defined essential services more broadly than international standards, including services such as mining and quarrying, university centers, and slaughterhouses.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows a labor inspector to reinstate immediately workers fired because of their union activities. Relevant legal protections cover all workers, including migrants, workers in the informal sector, and domestic workers. International organizations reported that contract workers and agency workers faced antiunion discrimination from employers. The law provides for freedom of association and collective bargaining. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The law lists sanctions for violations, including warnings, penalties, suspension, or dissolution. Penalties consist of imprisonment and fines and vary depending on the gravity of the violation. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable offenses. Amendments to the law award a legal existence to labor unions of NGOs, create a commission of mediation, and require that associations abide by the law concerning funding terrorism and money laundering. The law also states that no one may serve as the head of a political party and the head of an association at the same time.

The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The government generally respected the right of unions to conduct activities without interference. Unions have the right to bargain directly with employers and industry associations for wages and other benefits. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. There were no reports of strikebreaking during the year. Government resources to enforce labor laws were not sufficient to protect workers’ rights.

Employers did not always respect freedom of association and sometimes discouraged union membership. For example, workers in the mining industry were often intimidated, transferred, or fired when they chose to join a union. According to union officials, workers in the domestic service, contract worker, or informal sector who attempted to join unions lost their jobs if their employers learned of their action.

There were no reports of government restrictions on collective bargaining during the year. There was extensive collective bargaining in the formal wage sector, where workers utilized complaint processes to report worker rights violations. National unions reported that domestic workers, workers hired through employment agencies and subcontractors, and other contract workers were fired for joining unions and were unable to utilize complaint mechanisms because they were employed in the informal wage sector. No official records counted violations in the informal sector.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law considers forced or compulsory any labor or service provided by an individual under the threat of any type of sanction and not freely offered. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. The government did not have a significant, effective program in place to address or eliminate forced labor. There were no reported forced labor prosecutions or convictions. The government continued to conduct antitrafficking advocacy campaigns and operated a toll-free number for individuals to report cases of violence and trafficking. Penalties for forced labor were commensurate with those for comparable offenses, such as kidnapping.

Forced child labor occurred in the agricultural (particularly cotton), domestic labor, forced begging, and animal husbandry sectors, as well as at gold panning sites and stone quarries. Women from other West African countries were fraudulently recruited for employment and subsequently subjected to sex trafficking, forced labor in restaurants, or domestic servitude in private homes. Traffickers also exploited Burkinabe women in domestic servitude in the Middle East.

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 worst forms of child labor, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children, child pornography, mining, and jobs that harm the health of a child. The law sets the minimum age for employment at 16 and prohibits children younger than age 18 from working at night, except in times of emergency. The minimum age for employment is consistent with the age for completing educational requirements, which is 16. In the domestic labor and agricultural sectors, the law permits children who are 13 and older to perform limited activities for up to four and one-half hours per day. The law does not define the kinds of work appropriate for children younger than 16. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable offenses.

The government undertook activities to implement the national action plan to combat the worst forms of child labor and to reduce significantly exploitative child labor. The plan coordinated the efforts of several ministries and NGOs to disseminate information in local languages, increase access to services such as rehabilitation for victims, revise the penal code to address the worst forms of child labor, and improve data collection and analysis. The government organized workshops and conferences to inform children, parents, and employers of the dangers of exploitative child labor.

The government did not consistently enforce the law, in part due to the insecurity imposed by violent extremist groups. The Ministry of Civil Service, Labor, and Social Security, which oversees labor standards, lacked transportation and access and other resources to enforce worker safety and the minimum age law. No data were available on number of prosecutions and convictions during the year.

Child labor took place in the agricultural sector or in family-owned small businesses in villages and cities. There were no reports of children younger than age 15 employed by either government-owned or large private companies. Children also worked in the mining, trade, construction, and domestic labor sectors. Some children, particularly those working as cattle herders and street hawkers, did not attend school. Many children younger than 15 worked long hours. A study by the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported that children working in artisanal mining sometimes worked six or seven days a week and up to 14 hours per day. Street beggars often worked 12 to 18 hours daily. Educators forced some children, sent to Quranic schools by their parents, to engage in begging. Such children suffered from occupational illnesses, and employers sometimes physically or sexually abused them. Child domestic servants worked up to 18 hours per day. Employers often exploited and abused them. Criminals transported Burkinabe children to Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, and Niger for forced labor or sex trafficking.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and 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 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, social origin, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social status with respect to employment and occupation. The government did not effectively enforce the laws and regulations. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable offenses but were seldom applied.

There were legal restrictions to women’s employment in occupations deemed arduous or “morally inappropriate” and in industries such as construction. Women were forbidden from doing work that was determined to have a health risk for their health or reproductive capacity.

Discrimination occurred based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, social origin, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social status with respect to employment and occupation. Women were paid less than men and prohibited from holding certain positions (see section 6). Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace. The government took few actions during the year to prevent or eliminate employment discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law mandates a minimum monthly wage in the formal sector, which does not apply to subsistence agriculture or other informal occupations. The minimum wage was less than the poverty income level.

The law mandates a standard workweek of 40 hours for nondomestic workers and a 60-hour workweek for household employees. The law provides for overtime pay, and there are regulations pertaining to rest periods, limits on hours worked, and prohibitions on excessive compulsory overtime. The Ministry of Civil Service, Labor, and Social Security is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage and hours of work standards.

Employers often paid less than the minimum wage. Employees usually supplemented their income through reliance on extended family, subsistence agriculture, or trading in the informal sector.

Occupational Safety and Health: Existing occupational safety and health (OSH) standards provide general, not industry-specific guidance, and do not actively identify unsafe conditions in particular industries. Although the labor law requires employers to take measures to provide for worker safety, to protect the physical and mental health of their workers, and to verify that the workplace, machinery, materials, substances, and work processes under their control do not present health or safety risks to the workers, the ILO noted in 2020 that the government had not yet formulated a national OSH policy, conducted periodic reviews, nor developed a national OSH program.

The law requires every company with 30 or more employees to have a work safety committee. The law provides that employees in such companies have the right to remove themselves from dangerous situations without jeopardy to their employment. If an employee working for a company with fewer than 30 employees decides to remove himself or herself due to safety concerns, a court rules on whether the employee’s decision was justified.

Ministry inspectors and labor tribunals are responsible for overseeing occupational health and safety standards in the small industrial and commercial sectors, but these standards do not apply in subsistence agriculture and other informal sectors.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for comparable offenses, but the penalties were seldom applied. Inspectors lacked transport and training, and the number of inspectors was insufficient. There were no reports of effective enforcement of inspection findings during the year for wage, hour, and safety regulations. No official data was available on work-related injuries or death, but police reported in September the death of seven informal gold miners and injuries to others when the miners entered the closed Bissa gold mine in northern Bam. Mining officials noted increasing mining accidents related to illegal gold mining.

Informal Sector: The labor law applies to the informal sector, but it was seldom enforced. Workers in the informal sector represented more than 80 percent of all workers and contributed approximately 50 percent of all economic production. Almost all economic activity outside of the gold and cotton industries was small-scale and informal work. Informal-sector work included subsistence agriculture, trade, services, hotels, tourism, artisanal mining, transport, and private education. Researchers noted the strong participation of women in the informal sector, including in activities such as market trading, manufacturing millet beer (dolo), selling fruit and vegetables, sewing, hairdressing, managing kiosks, and operating restaurants. The ILO reported that informal workers were more severely impacted than formal workers by the COVID-19 pandemic, when most markets were closed for weeks and 22 percent of informal workers lost their livelihoods. Informal workers were more vulnerable to violations of wage, overtime, and OSH standards. Because they were largely self-employed and worked for their own subsistence, they could not benefit from worker protections. Safety violations were prevalent in the informal sector, especially in the mining, construction, and agricultural sectors.

Burma

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

After the military coup on February 1, the regime committed widespread abuses against organized labor, including the unlawful detention and extrajudicial killing of labor union leaders and members for exercising their fundamental freedoms and basic human rights. After the coup, labor laws often went unenforced or were enforced primarily against organized labor and labor activists and in the interests of business owners and the regime.

The military declared at least 16 labor unions illegal and issued arrest warrants for more than 85 union leaders, including 11 of the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar, and many union leaders remained in prison or missing. There were numerous reported raids of trade union offices and union leaders’ homes. More than a dozen union leaders were killed.

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. The law permits labor organizations to demand the reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity, but it does not explicitly prohibit antiunion discrimination in the form of demotions or mandatory transfers, nor does it offer protection for workers seeking to form a union. The law does not provide adequate protection for workers from dismissal before a union is officially registered. The law prohibits civil servants and personnel of the security services and police from forming unions. The law permits workers to join unions only within their category of trade or activity, and the definition of trade or activity lacks clarity. Basic labor organizations must have a minimum of 30 workers and register through township registrars via the Chief Registrar’s Office of the regime Ministry of Labor, Immigration, and Population (Ministry of Labor). The law permits labor federations and confederations to affiliate with international union federations and confederations.

The law provides for voluntary registration for local NGOs, including labor NGOs working on labor matters, as long as they do not receive foreign funding. The military authorities interfered in the operations of the International Labor Organization (ILO) country office, including through the continued imposition of banking restrictions, the denial of visa extensions for ILO officials, and the denial of tax exemptions.

The law provides unions the right to represent workers, to negotiate and bargain collectively with employers, and to send representatives to a conciliation body or tribunal; however, there were reports that employers dismissed union leaders with impunity or with military support. The law stipulates that a management committee, including government and nongovernmental representatives, in the special economic zones be the first instance arbiter in disputes between employers and employees.

In March, however, the military took control and imposed martial law over two major industrial zones located in Hlain Thar Yar and Shwe Pyi Thar Townships, Rangoon Region, as well as other townships with a high concentration of industrial and manufacturing enterprises. Labor representatives alleged that some employers hired military-affiliated security guards to harass and intimidate workers, sometimes leading to fatal violence when disputes arose. On March 16 at Xing Jia shoe factory, the employer reportedly called in police to deal with a dispute with a group of workers seeking their pay. The police opened fire and killed at least six workers.

The law provides the right to strike in most sectors with significant requirements such as the permission of the relevant labor federations. The law prohibits strikes addressing problems not directly relevant to labor matters. The law does not permit strikes or lockouts in essential services such as water, electric, or health. Lockouts are permitted in public utility services (including transportation; cargo and freight; postal; sanitation; information, communication, and technology; energy; petroleum; and financial sectors), with a minimum of 14 days’ notice provided to the relevant labor organizations and conciliation body. Strikes in public utility services generally require the same measures as in other sectors, but seven days’ advance notice and negotiation between workers and management is required before the strike takes place in order to determine maintenance of minimum service levels.

The government did not effectively enforce labor laws related to freedom of association. Penalties for violations of related labor laws were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights; however, laws were enforced primarily against independent trade unions and not employers.

After the coup, strikes and collective worker action led to retaliation by the military, including workers forced to return to work at gunpoint. On February 19, shipping and jetty workers in Mandalay went on strike to support the CDM. There were reports that the military tried, at gun point, to force the workers back to work, but large crowds gathered to block and drive the military away. The military fired into the crowd, killing protesters. The military evicted striking railway worker and their families, forcing them to flee.

After a national work stoppage began on March 8, the military publicly stated that all public sector workers must return or face criminal charges. There were reports of at least 1,100 public-sector workers from various departments receiving some form of threat or discipline because of participation in the CDM.

Workers at some unionized factories negotiated leave agreements so they would be granted leave to attend the demonstrations. Employer refusal, in some cases, led to work stoppages. There are numerous reports of workers fired for participating in the CDM. Many reported postings at factories saying workers would be fired if they participated in the CDM.

Worker organizations reported that formal dispute settlement and court procedures were not effective at enforcing labor laws. After the coup, there were multiple reports of worker disputes handled with military interference.

Labor organizations also reported that local labor offices imposed unnecessary bureaucratic requirements for union registration that were inconsistent with the law.

The Confederation of Trade Unions in Myanmar reported the arrest and harassment of trade unionists by regime security forces after the coup, including the secretary general of Myanmar Infrastructure, Craft and Service who was detained in June when the regime raided the infrastructure, craft, and service union office in Mandalay. Labor sources reported the secretary general was not allowed to meet any visitors or access legal aid while in detention. In a separate case, regime authorities detained the director of the Solidarity Trade Union of Myanmar at his office in April. Labor sources reported the regime denied the director access to medicine and other necessary health care to manage her chronic illness while in detention. The regime released the director in October as part of a general amnesty and without pursuing formal charges. On October 12, a military tribunal also sentenced two union organizers, U Yen Tu Htauk and Ma Kyi Par Lay, to life in prison.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, although insufficient barriers exist for the use of forced labor by the military and penal institutions. The law also provides for the punishment of persons who impose forced labor on others. The law provides criminal penalties for forced labor violations; penalties differ depending on whether the military, the government, or a private citizen committed the violation. The penalties were commensurate with analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping. The regime did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in the areas where significant conflict was occurring.

In early 2020 the government established a forced-labor complaints mechanism under the Ministry of Labor. There were no data available on the functioning of or the number of cases reported to or processed by the mechanism since the coup. The ILO expressed profound concern over practices of the military authorities, including the use of forced labor.

The regime threatened CDM members with criminal charges if they did not return to work (see also section 7.a.).

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 worst forms of child labor, although the regime did not meaningfully enforce the law. The law sets the minimum age at 14 for work in certain sectors, including shops and factories; the law establishes special provisions for “youth employment” for those older than 14. There is, however, no minimum age for work for all sectors in which children were employed, including agriculture and informal work. The law prohibits employees younger than 16 from working in a hazardous environment, but the government did not issue a list of hazardous jobs. Some sector-specific laws identify activities that are prohibited for children younger than 18. Penalties under the Child Rights Law were analogous to other serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Children worked mostly as street vendors, refuse collectors, restaurant and teashop attendants, garment workers, and domestic workers. Children often worked in the informal economy, in some instances exposing them to drugs and petty crime, risk of arrest, commercial sexual exploitation, HIV, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted infections (see also section 6). Children were also vulnerable to forced labor in teashops, agriculture and forestry, gem production, begging, and other fields. In rural areas children routinely worked in family agricultural activities, occasionally in situations that potentially involved forced labor. Child labor was also reported in the extraction of rubies and jade and the manufacture of rubber and bricks.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/  and 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

Labor laws and regulations do not prohibit employment discrimination. Restrictions against women in employment exist based on social and cultural practices and beliefs. Women remained underrepresented in most traditionally male-dominated occupations (forestry, carpentry, masonry, and fishing) and were effectively barred from them by hiring practices and cultural barriers. Women were not legally prohibited from any employment except in underground mines. The law governing hiring of civil service personnel states that nothing shall prevent the appointment of men to “positions that are suitable for men only,” with no further definition of what constitutes positions “suitable for men only.”

There were reports that government and private actors practiced discrimination that impeded Muslim-owned businesses’ operations and undercut their ability to hire and retain labor, maintain proper working standards, and secure public and private contracts. There were reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, including the denial of promotions and firing of LGBTQI+ persons. Activists reported limited job opportunities for many openly gay and lesbian persons and noted a general lack of support from society. Activists reported that in addition to general societal discrimination, persons with HIV or AIDS faced employment discrimination in both the public and private sectors, including suspensions and the loss of employment following positive results from mandatory workplace HIV testing.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The official minimum daily wage was above the poverty line. The minimum wage covers all sectors and industries and applies to all workers in the formal sector except those in businesses with fewer than 15 employees. The law requires the minimum wage to be revised every two years. The government also established tripartite committees in the Special Economic Zones responsible for setting wage levels and an inspector for each zone.

The workweek is 44 hours per week for factories. For shops and other establishments, it is 48 hours per week. Although the law in general states that overtime should not exceed 12 hours per work week, the law allows up to 16 hours of overtime when special matters require additional overtime. Overtime for factory workers is regulated under a separate directive that limits overtime to 20 hours per week. The law also stipulates that an employee’s total working hours cannot exceed 11 hours per day (including overtime and a one-hour break). Laws did not apply to those in the informal sector or self-employed.

Occupational Safety and Health: The 2019 Occupational Safety and Health law sets standards for occupational safety, health, and welfare. The Ministry of Labor has the authority to suspend businesses operating at risk to worker health and safety until risks are remediated.

Labor unions reported instances in which workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. Unions reported that workers concerned about COVID-19 positive cases in factories were nonetheless required to work.

The Ministry of Labor’s Factories and General Labor Laws Inspection Department oversees labor conditions in the private sector. Inspectors were authorized to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

The regime did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for wage and hour violations were commensurate with those for similar violations, but penalties for safety and health violations were not. The number of labor law inspectors and factory inspectors was insufficient to address wage, salary, overtime, occupational safety and health standards, and other matters adequately. In some sectors other ministries regulated occupational safety and health laws (e.g., the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation).

Informal Sector: Observers agreed the great majority of the country’s workers were in the informal sector. Wage, hours and occupational safety and health laws did not apply to those in the informal sector or self-employed.

Informal workers’ jobs were less secure during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, in April 2020 the Ministry of Health ordered that no more than 50 workers could be present at a construction site. One of the largest employers of informal labor was the construction sector. The postcoup regime retained the policy.

Informal-sector jobs usually lacked basic benefits such as social and legal protections. In at-risk industries – defined as having occupational hazards, volatile payment structures, and ease in exploiting labor rights – on average, one in five workers had an informal work arrangement, although the proportion was even higher in manufacturing, construction, recreation, and personal services. In addition, nearly two-thirds of the workers in medium- to high-risk industries were employed informally.

Burundi

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 with restrictions. A union must have at least 50 members. The minister of labor has the authority to designate the most representative trade union in each sector. Most civil servants may unionize, but their unions must register with the Ministry of Civil Service, Labor, and Social Security (Labor Ministry) that has the authority to deny registration and require unions to provide any information on the administration of the union. Police, the armed forces, magistrates, and foreigners working in the public sector may not form or join unions. Workers younger than 18 must have the consent of their parents or guardians to join a union.

The law provides workers with a conditional right to strike after meeting strict conditions; it bans solidarity strikes. The parties must exhaust all other means of resolution (dialogue, conciliation, and arbitration) prior to a strike. Intending strikers must represent a majority of workers and give six days’ notice to the employer and the Labor Ministry, and negotiations mediated by a mutually agreed-upon party or by the government must continue during the action. Strikes and demonstrations are banned during elections. The ministry must determine whether the sides have met strike conditions, giving it, in effect, the power to prevent strikes. The law permits requisition of essential employees in the event of strike action. The law prohibits retribution against workers participating in a legal strike.

The law recognizes the right to collective bargaining, but it excludes measures regarding public-sector wages that are set according to fixed scales following consultation with unions. The minister of labor designates the most representative employee organization by order. If negotiations result in deadlock, the minister may impose arbitration and approve or revise any agreement. No laws compel an employer to engage in collective bargaining. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but allows termination of workers engaged in an illegal strike and does not specifically provide for reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Resources for inspection and remediation were inadequate, and penalties were not commensurate with those under other laws involving denials of civil rights. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

The government placed excessive restrictions on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining and sometimes interfered in union activities.

Most unions were public-employee unions, and virtually no private-sector workers were unionized. Since most salaried workers were civil servants, government entities were involved in almost every phase of labor negotiation. The principal trade union confederations represented labor interests in collective bargaining negotiations in cooperation with individual labor unions.

Most laborers worked in the informal economy. According to the Confederation of Burundian Labor Unions, virtually no informal-sector workers had written employment contracts.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children. The penalty for conviction of forced labor trafficking was commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Resources for inspections and remediation were inadequate. Workplace inspectors had authority to impose fines at their own discretion. Three convictions for child trafficking were reported.

Children and young adults were coerced into forced labor on plantations or small farms in the south, small-scale menial labor in gold mines, carrying river stones for construction in Bujumbura, work aboard fishing vessels, or engaging in informal commerce in the streets of larger cities (see section 7.c.). Forced labor also occurred in domestic service and charcoal production.

Citizens were required to participate in community work each Saturday morning from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Although enforcement of this requirement was rare, there were sporadic reports that communal administrators fined residents who failed to participate, and members of the Imbonerakure or police sometimes harassed or intimidated individuals who did not participate, especially when senior officials attended the community work sessions.

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 including all forms of slavery or analogous practices, work to repay debt obligations, sale or trafficking, forced recruitment for use in armed conflicts, recruitment or use in commercial sexual exploitation, production of pornographic material or shows, or obscene dancing, all work in any type of illegal activity, including production and trafficking of drugs, and any type of work that, by its nature or work conditions, tends to degrade the health, security, dignity, or morals of a child. The minimum age requirement for employment is 16 years, although there are exceptions for light work within the context of apprenticeship (age 14) and in certain cases that must be approved by the Labor Ministry if the child is at least age 15 and not a student. This law generally does not apply to children working outside of a formal employment contract. The law prohibits children from working at night and limits them to 40 hours’ work per week. Although the law was not enforced in the informal sector, the Labor Ministry stated that informal employment falls under its purview.

The Labor Ministry is responsible for the enforcement of laws on child labor and had many instruments for this purpose, including criminal sanctions, fines, and court orders. The ministry, however, did not effectively enforce the law, primarily due to the insufficient number of inspectors. As a result, the ministry enforced the law only when a complaint was filed. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes. During the year authorities did not report receiving any cases of child labor in the formal sector, nor did they conduct surveys on child labor in the informal sector.

Compulsory education ends at age 15, rendering children ages 15 to 16 vulnerable to forced labor. In rural areas children younger than 16 were often responsible for contributing to their families’ and their own subsistence and were regularly employed in heavy manual labor during the day, including during the school year, especially in agriculture. Children working in agriculture could be forced to carry heavy loads and use machines and tools that could be dangerous. They also herded cattle and goats, which exposed them to harsh weather conditions and forced them to work with large or dangerous animals. Many children worked in the informal sector, such as in family businesses, selling in the streets, and working in small local brickworks. There were numerous instances of children being employed as beggars, including forced begging by children with disabilities.

In urban areas, child domestic workers were prevalent. Almost all worked in the informal sector and lacked formal contracts. Reports indicated that an increased number of children from the Twa ethnic group were being transported from rural areas to Bujumbura with promises of work and subsequently were exploited. Child domestic workers were often isolated from the public. Some were only given housing and fed instead of being paid for their work. Some employers, who did not pay the salaries of children they employed as domestic servants, accused them of stealing, and children were sometimes imprisoned on false charges. Child domestic workers could be forced to work long hours, some employers exploited them sexually, and girls were disproportionately impacted.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against any group but rather provides for equal rights. The constitution recognizes workers’ right to equal pay for equal work, but women faced discrimination regarding pay and access to equal employment, and authorities did not prosecute any violations of this equal rights requirement. Women were excluded from some jobs, and a government decree prohibits women from performing in traditional drumming groups.

The government did not enforce the law in all sectors. Much of the country’s economic activity took place in the informal sector, where protection from discrimination was generally not provided. Some persons claimed membership in the ruling party was a prerequisite for formal employment in the public and private sectors. Members of the Twa ethnic minority, who in many cases lacked official documentation, were often excluded from opportunities in the formal economy. Persons with albinism experienced discrimination in employment. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The official minimum wages, unchanged since 1988, were below the official line of poverty. Prevailing minimum wages more reflective of labor market forces were below the international poverty line. According to the World Bank, during the year the percentage of the population that lived below the poverty line was expected to reach 87 percent.

The law limits working hours to eight hours per day and 40 hours per week, but there were many exceptions, including for workers engaged in national security, guarding residential areas, and road transport. Private security companies received guidance from the Labor Ministry allowing workweeks of 72 hours for security guards, not including training. There is no legislation on mandatory overtime, but premium pay is required for any overtime work performed. Foreign or migrant workers are subject to the same conditions and laws as citizens.

Occupational Safety and Health: The labor code establishes appropriate occupational safety and health standards for the workplace, but they often were not followed. Many buildings under construction in Bujumbura, for example, had workforces without proper protective equipment, such as closed-toe shoes, and scaffolding built of wooden poles of irregular length and width.

The Labor Inspectorate in the Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing the laws on minimum wages and working hours as well as safety standards and worker health regulations. Workers have the right to remove themselves from situations of imminent danger without jeopardy to their employment.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. The labor inspectors’ mandate was limited to the formal sector, except where international agreements extend that mandate to all employment. Inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. The government did not hire sufficient inspectors to enforce compliance or allocate sufficient resources to address enforcement needs, such as that necessary for training and transportation for inspectors.

Violations of safety standards were reportedly commonplace, but there were no official investigations, no cases of employers reported for violating safety standards, and no complaint reports filed with the Labor Inspectorate during the year. The government did not report data on deaths in the workplace.

Informal Sector: Labor laws apply to the informal sector, but they were not enforced. More than 90 percent of the working population worked in the informal economy, mostly in agriculture and as domestic workers, and thus lacked access to legal protections. Violations of wage, hour and safety regulations were common, but no cases were investigated or prosecuted.

The government approved changes to the Labor Code in November 2020 that provide protections for laborers in the informal sector. The new law defines employers’ obligations on occupational health and safety and mandates that employers contribute toward health insurance, including for employees in the informal sector. The Labor Code gives labor inspectors the power to refer violations of the code to police and courts and creates the post of Medical Inspector of Labor, which is responsible for protecting the physical and mental health of workers.

Cabo Verde

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form or join unions of their choice, to engage in collective bargaining, and to conduct legal strikes. The labor code provides for protection against antiunion discrimination and for the reinstatement of workers.

The code designates certain jobs essential and limits workers’ ability to strike in associated industries. Services provided by telecommunications, justice, meteorology entities, health, firefighting, postal service, funeral services, water and sanitation services, transportation, ports and airports, private security, and the banking and credit sectors are considered indispensable. The law states the government may force the end of a strike when there is an emergency or “to ensure the smooth operation of businesses or essential services of public interest.” The law and custom allow unions to carry out their activities without interference.

The government respected workers’ right of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining and effectively enforced applicable laws in the formal sector outside of the essential jobs list. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and the government effectively enforced applicable laws in the formal sector. The labor code prohibits forced labor, and the penal code outlaws slavery, with penalties if convicted in line with those for comparable serious crimes. The government continued efforts to reduce vulnerability to exploitation of migrants from West Africa employed in the construction and hospitality sectors and increase their integration into society. Nonetheless, migrants from China, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Nigeria, and Guinea may receive wages below minimum wage and work without contracts, creating vulnerabilities to forced labor in the construction sector.

As of August, the case of two Chinese nationals and one citizen charged with labor trafficking in 2019 was still pending trial. The charges were filed following the escape of four Chinese nationals from forced labor on the island of Sal in 2018.

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 prohibited all of the worst forms of child labor. The legal minimum age for work is 15. The labor code does not allow children ages 15 to 18 to work more than 38 hours a week or more than seven hours a day but does allow children ages 16 to 18 to work overtime in an emergency, albeit for no more than two overtime hours per day, and these extra hours may not exceed 30 hours per year. The civil code includes a list of light work activities that children aged 14 are allowed to perform, but the law does not prescribe the number of hours per week permissible for light work or specify the conditions under which light work may be performed.

Legal penalties for child labor convictions were commensurate with those for comparable serious crimes, but the government did not always effectively or consistently enforce the law, including in the informal sector, estimated to represent 30 percent of the economy. Children continued to work to support their families, especially in small remote communities, in some cases under dangerous conditions.

Children engaged in street work, including water and food sales, car washing, and begging. Some children worked in domestic service, agriculture, animal husbandry, trash picking, garbage and human waste transport, and, to a lesser extent, drug trafficking. The Institute for Children and Adolescents received reports of 17 cases of child labor through July and 24 cases of child labor in 2020.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion, ethnic origin, age, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social status. The law does not, however, explicitly prohibit discrimination based on national origin. The government somewhat effectively enforced the law, and penalties for violation were commensurate to those for similar laws.

Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred (see section 6). Women generally had lower economic status and experienced inequality in economic participation. In some sectors of the formal economy, women received lower salaries than men for equal work. Women were also more likely than men to work in the informal economy, where remuneration was generally lower and labor protections not enforced.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law stipulates a monthly minimum wage greater than the official estimate of the poverty income level. The law stipulates a maximum of eight hours of work per day and 44 hours per week and requires rest periods, the length of which depends on the work sector. The Directorate General for Labor and Inspectorate General for Labor are responsible for enforcement of wage and hour laws. There were adequate numbers of inspectors to enforce compliance. Inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Although companies tended to respect laws on working hours, many employees, such as domestic workers, health-care professionals, farmers, fishers, and commercial workers, commonly worked for longer periods of time than the law allows. It was common for companies not to honor foreign workers’ rights regarding contracts, especially concerning deductions for social security.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law sets minimum occupational and safety standards and gives workers the right to decline work if conditions pose serious risks to health or physical integrity. In specific high-risk sectors, such as fishing or construction, the government may and often does provide, in consultation with unions and employers, occupational safety and health rules. The employer must also develop a training program for workers. The government did not effectively enforce these laws, but the National Commission for Human Rights noted companies generally chose to follow these rules. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes.

The Directorate General for Labor and Inspectorate General for Labor are charged with implementing labor laws. The government imposed no penalties for violations that included fines or imprisonment during the year. Labor agencies had sufficient personnel to enforce the law. The government effectively enforced occupational safety and health laws during the year, continuing inspections to ensure workers were protected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Inspectorate General for Labor 2020 report, most irregularities detected during labor inspections related to nonsubscription to the National Institute for Social Protection, nonsubscription to mandatory insurance for job injury, and some irregularities in complying with health and safety standards. Inspections revealed the most common work violations concerned the right to vacation time and the right to rest periods between work periods.

Many work-related accidents reported during the year occurred in the construction sector. In 2020 the Inspectorate General for Labor registered 782 work-related accidents (compared with 238 in 2019), including nine deaths.

Informal Sector: According to 2020 data from the National Institute of Statistics, 52 percent of workers were in the informal economy, including domestic workers and those self-employed in tourism, trade, agriculture, livestock, and fishing activities, especially in rural areas. The government sets a minimum wage for all workers, including domestic workers. Most employed in the informal sector received no benefits from national social protection services and no paid leave, including sick leave.

Cambodia

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law broadly provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join independent trade unions of their own choice, to bargain collectively, and to strike. The law excludes certain categories of workers from joining unions, puts significant restrictions on the right to organize, limits the right to strike, facilitates government intervention in internal union affairs, permits the government as well as third parties to seek the dissolution of trade unions, and imposes minor penalties on employers for unfair labor practices. The government failed to enforce applicable laws effectively. Penalties for antiunion discrimination in hiring and dismissing employees were commensurate with penalties for other types of discrimination.

Civil servants, teachers, workers employed by state-owned enterprises, and workers in the banking, health-care, and informal sectors may form only “associations,” not trade unions, affording them fewer worker protections than unionized trades. The law also restricts illiterate workers from holding union leadership.

Reports of severe restrictions on union formation were common. In 2020 the country registered 210 new unions, down from 375 unions registered in 2019. Independent union leaders noted that a small number of unions were active, and that an estimated 10 percent could be considered independent. Some employers reportedly refused to sign notification letters to recognize unions officially or to renew contracts with short-term employees who joined unions. Most workers in the formal manufacturing sector were on short-term contracts. Unions noted short-term contracts allowed employers to dismiss union organizers by failing to renew their contract. Employers and local government officials often refused to provide necessary paperwork for unions to register. Some employers took advantage of the prolonged registration process to terminate elected union officials prior to the unions’ formal registration, making them ineligible to serve as union officers and further retarding the registration process.

Onerous registration requirements amounted to a requirement for prior authorization for union formation. Union registration requirements include filing charters, listing officials and their immediate families, and providing banking details to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training. Labor activists reported many banks refused to open accounts for unregistered unions, although unions are unable by law to register until they provide banking details. Provincial-level labor authorities reportedly stalled registration applications indefinitely by requesting more materials or resubmissions due to minor errors late in the 30-day application cycle, although anecdotal evidence suggested this practice had decreased, particularly for garment- and footwear-sector unions. The law forbids unregistered unions from operating.

Workers reported various other obstacles while trying to exercise their right to freedom of association. There were reports of government harassment of independent labor leaders, including the use of spurious legal charges. Several prominent labor leaders associated with the opposition or independent unions had charges pending against them or were under court supervision.

Several unions reported increased union-busting activity amid the sharp economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, according to union leaders at the Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville airports, the Cambodia Airport Management Service stopped negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the International Airport Independent Employees Union due to COVID-19 and then suspended workers unilaterally in all airports, without consulting the union. In April, NagaWorld, the country’s largest casino, notified the casino workers’ union that it would dismiss 1,329 employees; it had fired 956 workers as of August. NagaWorld union representatives accused the company of using the pandemic as a pretext to get rid of union leaders and members specifically, noting that while union members represented approximately 50 percent of the company’s total of 8,000 employees, they made up nearly 83 percent of those expected to be dismissed. According to Solidarity Center, from January to August, 140 legal cases were brought against unions and workers in the garment industry, a sharp increase from previous years.

While workers enjoy the right to conduct strikes, the legal requirements for doing so are cumbersome. The law stipulates that workers may strike only after meeting several requirements, including the successful registration of a union; the failure of other methods of dispute resolution (such as conciliation, mediation, and arbitration); the completion of a 60-day waiting period following the emergence of the dispute; a secret-ballot vote of the absolute majority of union members; and seven days’ advance notice to the employer and the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training. Strikers may be criminally charged if they block entrances or roads or engage in any other behavior interpreted by local authorities as harmful to public order. A court may issue an injunction against the strike and require the restart of negotiations with employers.

There were credible reports of workers dismissed on spurious grounds after organizing or participating in strikes. Unions initiated most strikes without meeting all the requirements stated above, making them technically illegal, according to Better Factories Cambodia. Participating in an illegal strike, however, is not in itself a legally acceptable reason for dismissal. In some cases employers failed to renew the short-term contracts of union activists; in others they pressured union personnel or strikers to accept compensation and quit. Government-sponsored remedies for these dismissals were generally ineffective.

The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training’s Strike Demonstration Resolution Committee reported that unions held 49 strikes and demonstrations involving 35,500 workers during the first half of the year, compared with 92 strikes and demonstrations involving 50,700 workers during the same period in 2020. Observers attributed the decline to widespread factory closures and restrictions due to the increased spread of COVID-19 beginning in late February. Most of the strikes concerned unpaid wages and denial of benefits following factory closures due to the sharp economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the year the government restricted workers’ right to assemble. Authorities turned down most union requests for rally permits on the grounds that social distancing would be difficult or impossible during such events. Unions complained that police prevented them from marching and broke up such activities before marchers could reach their destination.

Union leaders and observers expressed concerns that new laws enacted during the pandemic could further curtail workers’ rights to association and assembly. There was a decrease in union gatherings and other activities in the first half of the year, according to a report by local rights groups, partly due to restrictions amid widespread community transmission of COVID-19.

The resolution of labor disputes was inconsistent. Unions reported progress in “minority” unions’ ability to represent workers in collective disputes. From January to August the Arbitration Council heard 22 labor disputes, compared with 47 in the same period in 2020, with a council official noting that this decrease was due in part to widespread factory closures since February after an outbreak of COVID-19 and continued community transmission since then. The official stated the decline was also due to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training classifying more disputes as “individual” instead of “collective,” making them ineligible for referral to the council, which hears only “collective” disputes. Labor disputes that are designated “individual” disputes may be brought before the courts, although the judicial system was neither impartial nor transparent. There is no specialized labor court.

The law places significant, detailed reporting responsibilities on labor unions, such as a requirement to submit annual financial statements, including, under some circumstances, independently audited statements. Union representatives feared many local chapters would not be able to meet the requirements, and unions that fail to meet these requirements face fines.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and while there were penalties for employing forced labor or hiring individuals to work off debts (a maximum of one month’s jail time or a fine), they were not commensurate with penalties for analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping (at least one year of imprisonment).

Media reported on organized Chinese criminal gangs trafficking Chinese and other foreign citizens into Cambodia to work as forced labor in online gambling and online fraud operations; multiple police raids on such operations freed suspected trafficking victims. Some NGOs reported that migrant workers were trafficked to work in Chinese-run and other construction sites in Cambodia. There was evidence that employers, particularly those operating brick kilns, were violating the law prohibiting forced or bonded labor. Brick kiln proprietors subjected many of the more than 10,000 persons living at these kilns, including children, to multigenerational debt-based coercion, either by buying off their preexisting loans or by requiring them to take out new loans as a condition of employment.

Although the government made efforts to highlight the problem of forced labor, the extent to which these efforts were effective remained unclear.

Debt remained an important driver of forced labor. According to a joint report by two human rights groups, 3.6 million households had loans from microfinance lenders totaling $11.8 billion in 2020. The report revealed that the average microloan was approximately 17,400 riels ($4,280) – more than the annual income of 95 percent of the country’s residents. The report added that some workers had taken out new loans to repay existing debt. The Cambodia Microfinance Association and Association of Banks in Cambodia disputed the report’s findings. Children were also at risk of forced labor (see section 7.c.).

Also see the Department of State’s annual 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 and establishes 15 as the minimum age for most employment and 18 as the minimum age for hazardous work. Although the law prohibits work by children younger than 15, it does not apply to children outside of formal employment relationships. The law permits children between ages 12 and 15 to engage in “light work” that is not hazardous to their health and does not affect school attendance; an implementing regulation provides an exhaustive list of activities considered “heavy work.” These include agriculture, brickmaking, fishing, tobacco, and cassava production. The law limits most work by children between ages 12 and 15 to a maximum of four hours on school days and seven hours on other days and prohibits work between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

Ministry of Labor regulations define household work and set the minimum age for it at 18. The regulation, however, does not specify rights or a minimum age for household workers employed by relatives.

The law stipulates fines for persons convicted of violating the country’s child labor provisions, but such sanctions were rarely imposed. The penalties for employing child labor were not commensurate with penalties for analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping, except for employing children in working conditions that affected a child’s health or physical development, which carries a two- to five-year prison sentence (10 years if the working conditions cause a child’s death).

Child labor inspections were concentrated in Phnom Penh and provincial formal-sector factories producing goods for export rather than in rural areas where the majority of child laborers worked. Inadequate training also limited local authorities’ ability to enforce child labor regulations, especially in rural areas and high-risk sectors. The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training reported that its labor inspectorate lacked the resources and mandate to conduct inspections in hospitality and nightlife establishments and at construction sites.

Children were vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor, including in agriculture, brickmaking, and commercial sex (see also section 6, Children). Poor access to basic education and the absence of compulsory education contributed to children’s vulnerability to exploitation. Children from impoverished families were at risk because some affluent households reportedly used humanitarian pretenses to hire children as domestic workers who were then subjected to abuse and exploitation. Children were also forced to beg; several NGOs reported such street work had increased due to economic pressures caused by the pandemic.

Children worked with their parents on rubber, cassava, cashew, and banana plantations, according to a union active in the agriculture sector.

Between 2019 and 2020, the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training inspected 486 brick kilns and stated it found no child labor or debt bondages. A 2019 census by independent researchers, however, recorded at least 638 cases of child labor at kilns in addition to debt bondage at 464 kilns. Inspectors often provided kiln owners with advance notice of inspections.

Rising debt during the pandemic contributed to child labor, including the “worst forms,” because some families pressured to repay debt forced their children to leave school to work.

See also the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, religion, political opinion, birth, social origin, HIV-positive status, or union membership. The law does not explicitly prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, or communicable disease status. The constitution stipulates that citizens of either sex shall receive equal pay for equal work.

The government generally did not enforce these laws. Penalties for employment discrimination include fines and administrative remedies.

Harassment of women was widespread. Penalties for sexual harassment (six days to three months in jail plus a fine by law) were not commensurate with those in laws related to civil rights. A 2020 Better Factories Cambodia report stated that sexual harassment had been reduced at export-oriented garment factories over the last three years, which researchers attributed to factory participation in the Better Factories program. The report also noted survey results showing that 7 percent of women reported having things being thrown at them, and 18 percent of women reported someone at the factory tried to have a sexual relationship with them.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The minimum wage covers only the garment and footwear sector. It was more than the official estimate for the poverty income level.

The law provides for a standard legal workweek of 48 hours, not to exceed eight hours per day. The law establishes a rate of 130 percent of daytime wages for nightshift work and 150 percent for overtime, which increases to 200 percent if overtime occurs at night, on Sunday, or on a holiday. Employees may work a maximum two hours of overtime per day. The law states that all overtime must be voluntary and provides for paid annual holidays. Workers in marine and air transportation are not entitled to social security and pension benefits and are exempt from limitations on work hours prescribed by law.

Workers reported overtime was often excessive and sometimes mandatory; many complained that employers forced them to work 12-hour days, although the legal limit is 10, including overtime. Workers often faced dismissal, fines, or loss of premium pay if they refused to work overtime.

The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training is responsible for enforcing labor laws, but the government did not do so effectively. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions, but penalties were seldom assessed and were insufficient to address problems. Penalties for violating laws on minimum wage (six days’ to one month’s imprisonment) and overtime (a fine of 31 to 60 times the prevailing daily base wage) were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud (six months’ to three years’ imprisonment).

The government met the International Labor Organization (ILO) standard for the number of inspectors in a less developed country but enforced standards selectively due to poorly trained staff, lack of necessary equipment, and corruption. Ministry officials admitted their inability to carry out thorough inspections of working hours and stated they relied upon Better Factories Cambodia to do such inspections in export-oriented garment factories. Outside the export garment industry, working-hour regulations were rarely, if ever, enforced. The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training put a partial moratorium on all inspections in February due to a COVID-19 outbreak and widespread community transmission, including in factories.

Workers and labor organizations raised concerns that short-term contracts (locally known as fixed-duration contracts) allowed firms, especially in the garment sector, to avoid wage and legal requirements. Fixed-duration contracts also allowed employers greater freedom to dismiss union organizers and pregnant women simply by failing to renew their contracts. The law limits such contracts to a maximum of two years, but more recent directives allow employers to extend this period to up to four years. The Arbitration Council and the ILO disputed this interpretation of the law, noting that after 24 months an employee should be offered a permanent “unlimited duration contract” (also see section 7.a.). Forced overtime remained a problem in factories making products for export. Unions and workers reported some factory managers fired workers who refused to work overtime.

Occupational Safety and Health: By law workplace health and safety standards must be adequate to provide for workers’ well-being. Labor inspectors assess fines according to a complex formula based on the severity and duration of the infraction as well as the number of workers affected. Labor Ministry inspectors are empowered to conduct unannounced visits and assess fines on the spot, without the cooperation of police.

The number of inspectors met ILO standards for a less developed country but was insufficient to enforce the law effectively. Government inspection of construction worksites was insufficient. Penalties for violating occupational safety and health laws (typically a fine of 30 to 120 times the prevailing daily base wage) were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud (six months’ to three years’ imprisonment).

Compliance with safety and health standards continued to be a problem in the garment export sector due largely to improper company policies, procedures, and poorly defined supervisory roles and responsibilities.

Work-related injuries and health difficulties remained problems, although the latest available statistics showed some improvement. More than 15,000 workers were injured in 2020, a 23.7 percent drop from 2019, according to the National Social Security Fund.

Informal Sector: The country had a substantial number of informal workers. Estimates varied, but 19 percent of the nearly 9.2 million-strong workforce enjoyed social protection under the National Social Security Fund, with the remaining 81 percent therefore meeting a common definition of informal workers. Such workers dominated the agricultural sector. These workers were not covered by wage, hour, and occupational safety and health laws and inspections. In addition most construction companies and brick factories operated informally, and workers in those sectors were not entitled to the minimum wage, lacked insurance, and worked weekends and holidays with few days off. Most brick-factory workers did not have access to the free medical care provided by the National Social Security Fund because the factories were not registered.

In July the government increased social protections, including direct cash payments, for some informal workers due to the economic hardships created by the pandemic.

Cameroon

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes, albeit with significant restrictions. The right does not apply to defined groups of workers, including defense and national security personnel, prison administration civil servants, and judicial and legal personnel. The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Statutory limitations and other practices substantially restricted these rights. The law does not permit the creation of a union that includes both public- and private-sector workers or the creation of a union that includes different, even if closely related, sectors. The law requires that unions register with the government, have a minimum of 20 members, and formalize the union by submitting a constitution and bylaws. Founding members must also have clean police records. Those who form a union and carry out union activities without registration may be fined. More than 100 trade unions and 12 trade union confederations were in operation, including one public sector confederation. Trade unions or associations of public servants may not join a foreign occupational or labor organization without prior authorization from the minister of territorial administration, who is responsible for “supervising public freedoms.”

The constitution and law provide for collective bargaining between workers and management as well as between labor federations and business associations in each sector of the economy. The law does not apply to the agricultural or informal sectors, which included most of the workforce.

Legal strikes or lockouts may be called only after conciliation and arbitration procedures are exhausted. Workers who ignore procedures to conduct a strike may be dismissed or fined. Free industrial zones are subject to some labor laws, but there are several exceptions. The employers have the right to determine salaries according to productivity, the free negotiation of work contracts, and the automatic issuance of work permits for foreign workers. Some laws intended to target terrorists may impose harsh legal penalties on legitimate trade union activity.

The government and employers did not effectively enforce the applicable laws on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Penalties for violations were rarely enforced and were not commensurate with those for comparable violations. Administrative judicial procedures were infrequent and subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Collective agreements are binding until three months after a party has given notice to terminate. As in the previous year, there were no reported allegations that the minister of labor and social security negotiated collective agreements with trade unionists who had nothing to do with the sectors concerned and did not involve trade union confederations that prepared the draft agreements.

Many employers continued to use subcontractors to avoid hiring workers with collective bargaining rights. Major companies, including quasi-state-run and or -operated companies, reportedly engaged in the practice, according to workers from Energy of Cameroon, the water company Camerounaise des Eaux, cement manufacturer Cimencam, Guinness, Aluminum Smelter, Cameroon Oil Transportation Company, Ecobank, and many others. Subcontracting reportedly involved all categories of personnel, from the lowest to senior levels. As a result workers with equal expertise and experience did not always enjoy similar protections when working for the same business, and subcontracted personnel typically lacked a legal basis to file complaints.

As in 2020, workers’ representatives said some workers were granted technical leave because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which took a heavy toll on most businesses. Several strikes were announced. Some were called off after successful negotiations, others were carried out peacefully, while others faced some degree of repression.

The National Union of Higher Education Teachers (SYNES) called on its members to suspend lectures from January 25 to 30. University teachers were protesting the nonpayment of the quarterly modernization and research bonuses, an incentive they had been receiving since 2009. They also protested the new method of evaluating undergraduate students, in particular the introduction of multiple-choice questions, which they deemed to be inappropriate. In an interview posted on YouTube, Jeannette Wagging, SYNES’ communications secretary, acknowledged that authorities had begun making payments, but she said the union would continue to make sure all teachers received bonuses.

On June 10, the leaders of the country’s national public transport unions issued a notice to strike beginning on July 12. According to the union leaders, commercial motorbike riders lacked sufficient insurance coverage to compensate vehicles damaged during accidents. Also, unions protested the increase in the cost of insurance for cab drivers from 40,000 CFA francs ($73) to 60,000 CFA francs ($109). Trade unions denounced the fact that urban buses were paying the same taxes as interurban buses. After a series of consultations at the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, the union leaders suspended the strike to give the government more time to address the problems.

The General Union of Transporters of Cameroon also announced a strike on the transport of goods in the commercial trucking sector beginning on September 6. The truckers were protesting what they characterized as illegal surcharges.

On September 22, during the 28th and 29th sessions of the Consultation and Monitoring Committee of the Social Dialogue, the minister of labor and social security announced that 102,000 workers had lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The minister invited the social partners to make proposals to him for the use of COVID-19 pandemic funds to limit the effects of the coronavirus in the world of work.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced and compulsory labor. The law prohibits slavery, exploitation, and debt bondage and voids any agreement in which violence was used to obtain consent. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other serious crimes. The law also extends culpability for all crimes to accomplices and corporate entities. Although the statutory penalties are severe, the government did not enforce the law effectively, in part due to a lack of capacity to investigate trafficking, limited labor inspection and remediation resources, and regular conflation of human trafficking and migrant smuggling. In addition due to the length and expense of criminal trials and the lack of protection available to victims participating in investigations, many victims of forced or compulsory labor resorted to accepting out-of-court settlements. Anecdotal reports of hereditary servitude imposed on former slaves in some chiefdoms in the North Region continued. Many members of the Kirdi, a predominately Christian and animist ethnic group enslaved by the Muslim Fulani in the 1800s, continued to work for traditional Fulani rulers for compensation in room and board and generally low and unregulated wages, while their children were free to pursue schooling and work of their choosing. Kirdi were also required to pay local chiefdom taxes to the Fulani, as were all other subjects. The combination of low wages and high taxes (although legal) effectively constituted forced labor. While technically free to leave, many Kirdi remained in the hierarchical and authoritarian system because of a lack of viable alternative options.

Anecdotal reports suggested that in the South and East Regions, some Baka, including children, continued to be subjected to unfair labor practices by Bantu farmers who hired the Baka at exploitative wages to work on their farms during the harvest seasons.

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 most of the worst forms of child labor and sets 14 as the minimum age of employment. The law prohibits children from working at night or longer than eight hours per day. It also outlines tasks children younger than 18 may not legally perform, including moving heavy objects, undertaking dangerous and unhealthy tasks, working in confined areas, and commercial sex. Employers are required to provide skills training to children between the ages of 14 and 18. Because compulsory education ends at the age of 12, children who were not in school and not yet 14 were particularly vulnerable to child labor. Laws relating to hazardous work for children younger than 18 are not comprehensive, since they do not include prohibitions on work underwater or at dangerous heights. Children engaged in hazardous agricultural work, including cocoa production. The law provides penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment for those who violate child labor laws. These penalties were commensurate with those for comparable crimes, such as kidnapping.

Children younger than the minimum age of employment tended to be involved in agriculture, fishing and livestock, the service industry, sex work, and artisanal gold mining. Children in refugee or IDP camps were particularly vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor, including commercial sexual exploitation. Reports also indicated some internally displaced children from the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions were exploited in farm work, and children who escaped child and early marriages often ended up as survivors of sexual exploitation, especially in the Noun division of the West region. There were reports of underage children associated with nonstate armed groups in the Far North, Southwest, and Northwest Regions. In agriculture children were exposed to hazardous conditions, including climbing trees, handling heavy loads, using machetes, and handling agricultural chemicals. Children in artisanal gold mines and gravel quarries spent long hours filling and transporting wheelbarrows of sand or gravel, breaking stones without eye protection, and digging and washing the soil or mud, sometimes in stagnant water, to extract minerals. These activities left children vulnerable to physical injuries, waterborne diseases, and exposure to mercury. Children worked as street vendors; in fishing, where they were exposed to hazardous conditions; and largely alongside families and rather than for formal employers. Children were subjected to forced begging as talibes in Quranic schools.

Traffickers exploited children in domestic service and restaurants, as well as begging or vending on streets and highways. Additionally, criminal elements forced children to work in artisanal gold mining, gravel quarries, fishing, animal breeding, and agriculture (on onion, cotton, tea, and cocoa plantations), as well as in urban transportation assisting bus drivers and in construction to run errands, work, or provide security. Media reports indicated exploitation in the country’s fishing sector was widespread. Extremist groups, such as Boko Haram, forced children to work as scouts, porters, and cooks.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law contains no specific provisions against or penalties for discrimination, but the constitution in its preamble provides that all persons shall have equal rights and obligations and that every person shall have the right and the obligation to work.

Discrimination in employment and occupation allegedly occurred with respect to ethnicity, HIV status, disability, gender, and sexual orientation, and gender identity especially in the private sector. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations deemed arduous or “morally inappropriate” and in industries including mining, construction, factories, and energy. Members of ethnic groups often gave preferential treatment to other members of their group in business. Persons with disabilities reportedly found it difficult to secure and access employment. There were no reliable reports of discrimination against internal migrant or foreign migrant workers, although anecdotal reports suggested such workers were vulnerable to unfair working conditions. The government took no action to eliminate or prevent discrimination and kept no records of incidents of discrimination.

Credible reports of discrimination against workers with disabilities persisted. For example, Bonfeu Eric Michel, a visually impaired citizen and disability rights activist, complained to the president that despite his qualifications and antidiscrimination laws, multiple state-owned and private companies refused to hire him due to his visual impairment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The minimum wage in all sectors was greater than the World Bank’s poverty line. Premium pay for overtime ranged from 120 to 150 percent of the hourly rate, depending on the amount of overtime and whether it was weekend or late-night overtime. Despite the minimum wage law, employers often negotiated lower wages with workers, in part due to the extremely high rate of underemployment in the country. Salaries lower than the minimum wage remained prevalent in the public works sector, where many positions required unskilled labor, as well as in domestic work, where female refugees were particularly vulnerable to unfair labor practices.

The law establishes a standard workweek of 40 hours in public and private nonagricultural firms and a total of 2,400 hours per year, with a maximum limit of 48 hours per week in agricultural and related activities. There are exceptions for guards and firefighters (56 hours per week), service-sector staff (45 hours per week), and household and restaurant staff (54 hours per week). The law mandates at least 24 consecutive hours of rest weekly.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for enforcement of the minimum wage and workhour standards but did not enforce the law. Penalties for violations of the law were not commensurate with those for comparable crimes, such as negligence. The government more than doubled the total number of labor inspectors, but the number was still insufficient, and the ministry lacked the resources for a comprehensive inspection program.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government sets health and safety standards in the workplace. The minister in charge of labor matters establishes the list of occupational diseases in consultation with the National Commission on Industrial Hygiene and Safety. Ministry inspectors and occupational health physicians are responsible for monitoring health and safety standards.

The regulations were not enforced in the informal sector. The labor code also mandates that every enterprise and establishment of any kind provide medical and health services for its employees. This stipulation was not enforced.

Informal Sector: According to International Labor Organization estimates as of December 2020, the employment situation in the country could be characterized by the large size of its informal economy. The International Labor Organization further indicated that informal workers, who represented 90 percent of all employed, were mostly women. Sectors where informal employment was most prevalent included artisanal mining, petty trade, hunting and fishing, and handicraft. The informal economy was mostly unregulated.

Canada

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Federal and some provincial laws, including related regulations and statutory instruments, provide for the right of workers in both the public and the private sectors to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. Bargaining units had access to mediation at any time and the choice of binding arbitration or conciliation to resolve disputes with employers. Workers in the public sector who provide essential services, including police and armed forces, do not have the right to strike but have mechanisms to provide for due process and to protect workers’ rights. Workers in essential services had recourse to mediation and binding arbitration if labor negotiations fail. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination or other forms of employer interference in union functions.

Federal labor law applies in federally regulated sectors, which include industries of extra provincial or international character, transportation and transportation infrastructure that cross provincial and international borders, marine shipping, port and ferry services, air transportation and airports, pipelines, telecommunications, banks, grain elevators, uranium mining and processing, works designated by the federal parliament affecting two or more provinces, protection of fisheries as a natural resource, many First Nation activities, and most state-owned corporations. These industries employed approximately 10 percent of workers.

The law requires the government and a bargaining unit in a federal or federally regulated industry to negotiate an essential services agreement defining an essential service and identifying the number and type of employees and the specific positions within the bargaining unit necessary to provide such essential service and, consequently, do not have the right to strike. If the parties are unable to agree, either party can apply to the independent Federal Public Sector Labor Relations and Employment Board for a resolution.

Provincial and territorial governments regulate and are responsible for enforcing their own labor laws in all occupations and workplaces that are not federally regulated, leaving categories of workers excluded from statutory protection of freedom of association in several provinces. Some provinces restrict the right to organize. For example, agricultural workers in Ontario and Quebec do not have the right to organize or bargain collectively or experience restrictions on such rights, under provincial law. Migrant workers in specific occupations, such as agriculture or caregiving, may also be exempt from minimum wage, overtime, and other labor standards protections in specific provinces.

The government generally respected freedom of association and the right of collective bargaining. The government effectively enforced applicable laws and regulations, including with remedies and penalties such as corrective workplace practices and criminal prosecution for noncompliance and willful violations. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations and were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. Administrative and judicial procedures were not subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government enforced the law, although NGOs said enforcement lacked resources. The law prescribes penalties that are sufficiently stringent to deter violations. The government investigated and prosecuted cases of forced labor, including domestic servitude, and penalties were commensurate with penalties for other analogous serious crimes. The government’s efforts to identify victims and address forced labor, through both law enforcement and victim identification and protection measures, remained inadequate.

The federal government held employers of foreign workers accountable by verifying employers’ ability to pay wages and provide accommodation and, through periodic inspections and mandatory compliance reviews, ensuring that employers provided the same wages, living conditions, and occupation specified in the employers’ original job offer. The government can deny noncompliant employers the permits required to recruit foreign workers for two years and impose fines of up to C$100,000 ($77,000) per violation of the program. Some provincial governments imposed licensing and registration requirements on recruiters or employers of foreign workers and prohibited the charging of recruitment fees to workers. Forced labor, fraud, coercion, and the withholding of identity and travel documents from workers was a criminal offense with penalties that include imprisonment. The government’s national strategy to combat human trafficking committed to prevent human trafficking in federal procurement supply chains. In August the government’s procurement agency, Public Services and Procurement Canada, updated its code of conduct for procurement for vendors supplying products and services to the government that included new provisions relating to human and labor rights, and to mitigate risks in supply chains. The government amended its Customs Tariff Act in 2020 to prohibit the importation of all goods produced, in whole or in part, by forced or compulsory labor, irrespective of their country of origin. There were reports that employers subjected employees with temporary or no legal status to forced labor in the agricultural sector, food processing, cleaning services, hospitality, construction industries, and domestic service. During the pandemic there were also reports that some employers barred migrant workers from leaving the work location, hired private security to prevent workers from leaving, and deducted inflated food and supply costs from their wages. NGOs reported bonded labor, particularly in the construction industry, and domestic servitude constituted the majority of identified cases of forced labor and that some victims had participated in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

In July the government announced amended regulations to improve protections for migrant workers, including mandating that employers inform workers of their rights, prohibiting reprisals for workers who file complaints, requiring employers to provide access to health care and health insurance, strengthening employment assessments of applications from employers, and increasing the frequency and scope of enforcement inspections. NGOs cited lack of oversight and enforcement of quarantine and isolation for outbreaks of the virus among migrant agricultural workers.

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. In federally regulated sectors, children younger than age 17 may work only when they are not required to attend school under provincial legislation, provided the work does not fall under excluded categories (such as work underground in a mine, on a vessel, or in the vicinity of explosives) and the work does not endanger health and safety. Children may not work in any federally regulated sector between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. The provinces and territories have primary responsibility for regulation of child labor, and minimum age restrictions vary by province. Enforcement occurs through a range of laws covering employment standards, occupational health and safety, education laws, and in regulations for vocational training, child welfare, and licensing of establishments for the sale of alcohol. Most provinces restrict the number of hours of work to two or three hours on a school day and eight hours on a nonschool day and prohibit children ages 12 to 16 from working without parental consent, after 11 p.m., or in any hazardous employment.

Authorities effectively enforced child labor laws and policies, and federal and provincial labor ministries carried out child labor inspections either proactively or in response to formal complaints. There were reports that limited resources hampered inspection and enforcement efforts. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

There were reports child labor occurred, particularly in the agricultural sector. There were also reports children, principally teenage girls, were subjected to sex trafficking – including child sex tourism – and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation on the basis of race, color, sex (including pregnancy), religion, national origin or citizenship, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, and refugee status. Refugees and statelessness NGOs reported stateless persons may have difficulty in obtaining legal employment. The law does not include restrictions on women’s employment concerning working hour limits, occupations, or tasks. In 2019 Quebec used a legal exemption to override constitutional protections of freedom of religion for a period of five years to pass a law that restricts the wearing of visible religious symbols – including hijabs, kippahs, turbans, and crosses – by certain public-sector employees in the province to enforce a policy of religious neutrality in the delivery of provincial public services. Some provinces, including Quebec, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the Northwest Territories, prohibit employment discrimination on the grounds of social origin or “social condition.” Some provinces list political opinion as a prohibited ground of discrimination, but the federal Human Rights Act does not extend this protection to federally regulated workers. The government enforced the law effectively, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were generally commensurate with laws related to civil rights.

Federal law requires equal pay for equal work for four designated groups in federally regulated industries enforced through the Canadian Human Rights Commission: women, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, and visible minorities. Ontario and Quebec have pay equity laws that cover both the public and private sectors, and other provinces require pay equity only in the public sector.

Authorities encouraged individuals to resolve employment-related discrimination complaints through internal workplace dispute resolution processes as a first recourse, but federal and provincial human rights commissions investigated and mediated complaints and enforced the law and regulations. Some critics complained the process was complex and failed to issue rulings in a timely manner. Foreign migrant workers generally have the same labor rights as citizens and permanent residents, although workers in specific sectors such as agriculture or caregiving were exempt from minimum wage, overtime, and other labor standards protections in specific provinces. NGOs alleged discrimination occurred against migrant workers and that some refugee claimants faced language and other nonlegal barriers that made it difficult to enter the workforce.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: There is no national minimum wage. Employees are subject to the minimum wage of the province or territory in which they are employed. In June the government amended the law to apply a federal minimum wage of C$15 ($11.87) per hour, effective December 29, for workers across the country in federally regulated sectors. If the minimum wage of a province or territory is higher than the federal minimum wage, the law requires employers to pay federally regulated workers the higher minimum wage in that jurisdiction. In 2018 the government adopted the Market Basket Measure (MBM) as its first official poverty line. The income level varies based on family size and province; for example, the threshold for a family of four in the national capital, Ottawa, was C$48,391 ($38,300) in 2019, the most recent date for which data was available. The minimum wage was less than the MBM for a family of four, notably in urban centers. The government effectively enforced wage rates, and penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.

Standard work hours vary by province, but the limit is 40 or 48 hours per week, with at least 24 hours of rest. The law requires payment of a premium for work above the standard workweek. There is no specific prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime, which is regulated by means of the required rest periods in the labor code that differ by industry. Some categories of workers have specific employment rights that differ from the standard, including commercial fishermen, oil-field workers, loggers, home caregivers, professionals, managers, and some sales staff. Employment and Social Development Canada is responsible for regulation and enforcement of wage and hour standards in federally regulated sectors across the country, and departments of labor, training, and employment in each province and territory regulate labor standards in all other employment sectors in their respective jurisdictions. Some trade unions claimed that limited resources and number of inspectors hampered the government’s enforcement efforts, including delays in addressing complaints.

Occupational Safety and Health: Federal law provides safety and health standards for employees under federal jurisdiction. Provincial and territorial legislation provides for all other employees, including foreign and migrant workers. Standards were current and appropriate for the industries they covered. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations resides with authorities, employers, and supervisors, not the worker. Inspectors conducted proactive workplace visits to raise awareness of hazards, advise parties of their rights, duties, and obligations, and to promote and assist with compliance, and reactively in response to fatalities, injuries, and complaints. Federal, provincial, and territorial laws protect the right of workers with “reasonable cause” to refuse dangerous work and to remove themselves from hazardous work conditions, and authorities effectively enforced this right. The government also promoted safe working practices and provided training, education, and resources through the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety, a federal agency composed of representatives of government, employers, and labor.

Minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety standards were enforced by the same authorities. Standards were effectively enforced, and penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes. Federal and provincial labor departments monitored and effectively enforced labor standards by conducting inspections through scheduled and unscheduled visits, in direct response to reported complaints, and at random. Inspectors had authority to require remedies and initiate sanctions, including fines, suspensions, or closures. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

NGOs reported migrants, especially agricultural migrant workers, new immigrants, young workers, and the unskilled were vulnerable to violations of the law on minimum wage, overtime pay, unpaid wages, and excessive hours of work. NGOs also alleged that restrictions on the types of labor complaints accepted for investigation and delays in processing cases discouraged the filing of complaints. Federal and federally regulated workers could file complaints related to unpaid wages and health and safety, and grievances for unjust dismissal and genetic testing. Restrictions varied between provinces in provincially regulated industries, and time limits existed to file complaints.

According to the Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada, during 2019, the most recent year for which data were available, there were 925 fatalities related to the workplace, including from traumatic injuries and work-related exposure to chemicals or disease-causing substances.

Informal Sector: In 2020 the government’s national statistical agency estimated GDP at market prices for activity in the informal sector in the country in 2018 at C$61.2 billion ($49.2 billion), or 2.7 percent of total GDP. Residential construction, retail trade, finance, insurance, real estate, rental services, and accommodation and food services were the largest sectors of informal activity, and wages and tips accounted for the largest share of unreported income. The federal government has authority to enforce standards over federal workers and in federally regulated industries and provincial governments in all other sectors, but standards were not enforced in practice because work in the informal economy was not reported. Similarly, workers in the informal economy were not subject to federal or provincial wage, hour, and occupational health and safety laws and inspection in practice because the work was not reported. Employers or businesses often classified workers in the gig economy as self-employed independent contractors and not employees, which left them without protections afforded under labor statutes, including the right to unionize or bargain collectively; to occupational health and safety protections, minimum wage, and sick leave provisions; and access to employment insurance.

Central African Republic

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, except for senior-level state employees, security-force members, and foreign workers in residence for less than two years, to form or join independent unions without prior authorization. The law provides for the right of workers to organize and administer trade unions without employer interference and grants trade unions full legal status. The law requires union officials be full-time, wage-earning employees in their occupation and allows them to conduct union business during working hours if the employer is informed 48 hours in advance and provides authorization. The labor code provides that unions may bargain collectively in the public and private sectors.

Workers have the right to strike in both the public and private sectors, but the law prohibits security forces, including the armed forces and gendarmes, from striking. Strikes are limited to work-related matters. Requirements for conducting a legal strike are lengthy and cumbersome. For a strike to be legal, the union must first present its demands, the employer must respond to these demands, labor and management must attend a conciliation meeting, and an arbitration council must find that the union and the employer failed to reach agreement on valid demands. The union must provide eight days’ advance written notification of a planned strike. The law states that if employers initiate a lockout that is not in accordance with the code, the employer is required to pay workers for all days of the lockout. The Ministry of Labor has the authority to establish a list of enterprises that are required by law to maintain a “compulsory minimum service” in the event of a strike. The government has the power of requisition or the authority to end strikes by invoking the public interest. The code makes no other provisions regarding sanctions on employers for acting against strikers.

The law expressly forbids antiunion discrimination. Employees may have their cases heard in labor court. The law does not state whether employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination are required to reinstate workers fired for union activities, although the law requires employers found guilty of such discrimination to pay damages, including back pay and lost wages.

The government generally enforced applicable laws and respected laws concerning freedom of association in the formal sector. Penalties were commensurate with other violations of civil rights, but enforcement was inconsistent. Workers exercised some of these rights, but only a relatively small part of the workforce, primarily civil servants, exercised the right to join a union. While worker organizations are officially outside government or political parties, the government exerted some influence over the leadership of some organizations.

Labor unions did not report any underlying patterns of discrimination or abuse. The labor court did not hear any cases involving antiunion discrimination during the year.

Collective bargaining occurred in the private sector during the year, although the total number of collective agreements concluded was unknown. The government was not generally involved if the two parties were able to reach an agreement. Information was unavailable on the effectiveness of collective bargaining in the private sector.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The labor code specifically prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The penalties for these crimes were commensurate with the penalties for similar crimes. The labor code’s prohibition of forced or compulsory labor also applies to children, although the code does not mention them specifically. The penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations because the government did not enforce the prohibition effectively. There were reports forced labor occurred, especially in armed conflict zones.

Employers subjected men, women, and children to forced domestic labor, agricultural work, mining, market or street vending, and restaurant labor, as well as sexual exploitation. Criminal courts sentenced convicted persons to imprisonment and forced labor, and prisoners often worked on public projects without compensation. This practice largely took place in rural areas. Ba’Aka, including children, often were coerced into labor as day laborers, farm hands, or other unskilled labor and often treated as slaves (see section 6, Children).

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 labor code forbids some of the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from performing “hazardous work,” but the term is not clearly defined and does not specify if it includes all the worst forms of child labor. The mining code specifically prohibits child or underage labor. The employment of children younger than 14 is prohibited under the law without specific authorization from the Ministry of Labor. The law, however, also provides that the minimum age for employment may be as young as 12 for some types of light work in traditional agricultural activities or home services. Additionally, since the minimum age for work is lower than the compulsory education age, some children may be encouraged to leave school to pursue work before completion of compulsory education.

The government did not enforce child labor laws. The government trained police, military, and civilians on child rights and protection, but trainees lacked resources to conduct investigations. In previous years the government announced numerous policies related to child labor, including those to end the sexual exploitation and abuse of children and the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, but there was no evidence of ongoing programs to eliminate or prevent child labor, including its worst forms. Penalties were commensurate with similar crimes but were not sufficient to enforce compliance. Government officials allegedly subjected minors to military-related labor at two checkpoints.

Child labor was common in many sectors of the economy, especially in rural areas. Local and displaced children as young as age seven frequently performed agricultural work including harvesting peanuts and cassava and helping gather items sold at markets such as mushrooms, hay, firewood, and caterpillars. In Bangui many of the city’s street children worked as street vendors. Children often worked as domestic workers, fishermen, and in mines, frequently in dangerous conditions. For example, children were forced to work without proper protection or were forced to work long hours (i.e., 10 hours per day or longer). Children also engaged in the worst forms of child labor in diamond fields, transporting and washing gravel as well as mining gold, digging holes, and carrying heavy loads. Despite the law’s prohibition on child labor in mining, observers saw many children working in and around diamond mining fields. There were reports of one indigenous Ba’Aka minor being removed from a situation of forced domestic labor in Bangui.

Children continued to be engaged as child soldiers. There were reports of ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups recruiting child soldiers and using them as porters and assistants at illegal checkpoints during the year (see section 1.g.).

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and 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

It is illegal to discriminate in hiring or employment based on race, national or social origin, gender, opinions, or beliefs. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and discrimination occurred with respect to gender, minority status, and national origin. Penalties were commensurate with the penalties for other civil rights violations. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation based on disability, age, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, social status, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases.

Discrimination against women in employment and occupation occurred in all sectors of the economy and in rural areas, where traditional practices that favor men remained widespread. There were legal restrictions against women in employment, including limiting or prohibiting the employment of women in some tasks, jobs, and industries. Furthermore, carrying, dragging, or pushing any load is prohibited during pregnancy and within three weeks of returning to work after giving birth. Women are not allowed on the premises of businesses where employees work with certain dangerous chemicals, and women are restricted in the work they may do in other trades, including working on the manufacture of sulfuric acid, application of rubber coatings, and pickling or galvanizing of iron.

Migrant workers experienced discrimination in employment and pay.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wages and Hour Laws: The labor code states the Ministry of Labor sets minimum wages in the public sector by decree. The government, the country’s largest employer, set wages after consultation, but not negotiation, with government employee trade unions. The minimum wages in the private sector were established based on sector-specific collective conventions resulting from negotiations between employers and workers’ representatives in each sector.

The minimum wage in the private sector varied by sector and type of work. The minimum wage in all sectors was less than the World Bank standard for extreme poverty.

The law sets a standard workweek of 40 hours for government employees and most private-sector employees. Household employees may work up to 52 hours per week. The law also requires a minimum rest period of 48 hours per week for citizen, foreign, and migrant workers. Overtime policy varied according to the workplace. Violations of overtime policy may be referred to the Ministry of Labor, although it was unknown whether this occurred during the year. There is no legal prohibition on excessive or compulsory overtime. The labor code, however, states that employers must provide for the health and security of employees who are engaged in overtime work. Penalties were commensurate with other analogous crimes.

Occupational Safety and Health: There are general laws on health and safety standards in the workplace, but the Ministry of Labor did not precisely define them. The labor code states that a labor inspector may compel an employer to correct unsafe or unhealthy work conditions.

The law provides that workers may remove themselves from dangerous working conditions without jeopardy to their employment. In such instances the labor inspector notifies the employer and requires that conditions be addressed within four working days. The high unemployment and poverty rates deterred workers from exercising this right.

The government did not effectively enforce labor standards, and violations were common in all sectors of the economy. The Ministry of Labor has primary responsibility for managing labor standards, while enforcement falls under the Ministry of Interior and Public Safety and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. The government did not have an adequate number of labor inspectors to enforce compliance with labor laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations but were seldom applied and insufficient to enforce compliance. The law applies to foreign and migrant workers as well, although foreign workers must meet residency requirements to join a union. Employers commonly violated safety and health standards in agriculture and mining.

Diamond mines, which employed an estimated 400,000 persons, were subject to standards imposed by the mining code and inspection by the Miners’ Brigade. Nevertheless, monitoring efforts were underfunded and insufficient. Despite the law requiring those working in mines to be at least 18, observers frequently saw underage diggers. Diggers often worked in open pits susceptible to collapse, working seven days a week during the peak season. Diggers w