2008 Human Rights Report: Appendix B -- Reporting on Worker Rights
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The 1984 Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Renewal Act requires reporting on worker rights in GSP beneficiary countries. It states that internationally recognized worker rights include: "(A) the right of association; (B) the right to organize and bargain collectively; (C) a prohibition on the use of any form of forced or compulsory labor; (D) a minimum age for the employment of children; and (E) acceptable conditions of work with respect to minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health." All five aspects of worker rights are discussed in each country report under the section heading "Worker Rights." The discussion of worker rights considers not only laws and regulations but also their practical implementation.
This discussion is informed by internationally recognized labor standards, including the Conventions and Recommendations of the International Labor Organization (ILO). Differences in the levels of economic development are taken into account in the formulation of the standards related to working conditions, but not to the basic human rights standards, such as freedom of association, the right to organize and bargain collectively, the prohibition of forced labor and child labor, and the absence of discrimination in employment. Some specific guidelines derived from international standards are discussed below.
A. "The right of association" has been defined by the ILO to include the right of workers and employers to establish and join organizations of their own choosing without previous authorization; to draw up their own constitutions and rules, elect their representatives, and formulate their programs; to join in confederations and affiliate with international organizations; and to be protected against dissolution or suspension by administrative authority.
The right of association includes the right of workers to strike. While it is generally accepted for strikes to be restricted in the public sector and in essential services, the interruption of which would endanger the life, personal safety, or health of a significant portion of the population, these restrictions must be offset by adequate safeguards for the interests of the workers concerned (for example, mechanisms for mediation and arbitration, due process, and the right to judicial review of legal actions). Reporting on restrictions on the ability of workers to strike generally includes information on any procedures that may exist for safeguarding workers' interests.
B. "The right to organize and bargain collectively" includes the right of workers to be represented in negotiating the prevention and settlement of disputes with employers, the right to protection against interference, and the right to protection against acts of antiunion discrimination. Governments should promote mechanisms for voluntary negotiations between employers and workers and their organizations. Coverage of the right to organize and bargain collectively includes a review of the extent to which collective bargaining takes place and the extent to which workers, both in law and practice, are protected against antiunion discrimination.
C. "Forced or compulsory labor" is defined as work or service exacted under the menace of penalty and for which a person has not volunteered. "Work or service" does not apply where obligations are imposed to undergo education or training. "Menace of penalty" includes loss of rights or privileges as well as penal sanctions. The ILO has exempted the following from its definition of forced labor: compulsory military service, normal civic obligations, certain forms of prison labor, emergencies, and minor communal services. Constitutional provisions concerning the obligation of citizens to work do not violate this right so long as they do not take the form of legal obligations enforced by sanctions and are consistent with the principle of "freely chosen employment."
D. "Prohibition of child labor and minimum age for employment" concerns the effective abolition of child labor by raising the minimum age for employment to a level consistent with the fullest physical and mental development of young people. ILO Convention 182 on the "worst forms of child labor" identifies anyone under the age of 18 as a child and specifies certain types of employment as "the worst forms of child labor." These worst forms of labor include slavery, debt bondage, forced labor, forced recruitment into armed conflict, child prostitution and pornography, involvement in illicit activity such as drug production or trafficking, and "work which, by its nature, or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals or children." In limited circumstances, ILO Convention 182 permits the employment of children between the ages of 16 and 18 in what the convention describes as an "unhealthy environment," if adequate protective measures have been taken.
E. "Acceptable conditions of work" refers to the establishment and maintenance of mechanisms, adapted to national conditions, that provide for minimum working standards, that is: wages that provide a decent living for workers and their families; working hours that do not exceed 48 hours per week, with a full 24-hour day of rest; a specified number of annual paid leave days; and minimum conditions for the protection of the safety and health of workers.