Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
Reporting on Worker Rights
The Generalized System of Preferences Renewal Act of 1984 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 report in a final section under the heading "Worker Rights." The discussion of worker rights considers not only laws and regulations but also their practical implementation, taking into account the following additional guidelines:
A. "The right of association" has been defined by the International Labor Organization (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 strikes may be restricted in essential services (i.e., those services the interruption of which would endanger the life, personal safety, or health of a significant portion of the population) and in the public sector, these restrictions must be offset by adequate guarantees to safeguard the interests of the workers concerned (e.g., machinery for mediation and arbitration; due process; and the right to judicial review of all legal actions). Reporting on restrictions affecting 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 machinery for voluntary negotiations between employers and workers and their organizations. Reporting on the right to organize and bargain collectively includes descriptions of the extent to which collective bargaining takes place and the extent to which unions, both in law and practice, are effectively protected against antiunion discrimination.
C. "Forced or compulsory labor" is defined as work or service exacted from any person under the menace of penalty and for which the person has not volunteered. "Work or service" does not apply in instances in which 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. Forced labor should not be used as a means of (1) mobilizing and using labor for purposes of economic development; (2) racial, social, national, or religious discrimination; (3) political coercion or education, or as a punishment for holding or expressing political views or views ideologically opposed to the established political, social, or economic system; (4) labor discipline; or (5) as a punishment for having participated in strikes. 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. "Minimum age for employment of children" 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. In addition, young people should not be employed in hazardous conditions or at night.
E. "Acceptable conditions of work" refers to the establishment and maintenance of machinery, adapted to national conditions, that provides for minimum working standards, i.e., 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 rest day; a specified annual paid holiday; and minimum conditions for the protection of the safety and health of workers. Differences in levels of economic development are taken into account in the formulation of internationally recognized labor standards. For example, many ILO standards concerning working conditions permit flexibility in their scope and coverage. They may also permit countries a wide choice in their implementation, including progressive implementation, by enabling countries to accept a standard in part or subject to specified exceptions. Countries are expected to take steps over time to achieve the higher levels specified in such standards. It should be understood, however, that this flexibility applies only to internationally recognized standards concerning working conditions. No flexibility is permitted concerning the acceptance of the basic principles contained in human rights standards, i.e., freedom of association, the right to organize and bargain collectively, the prohibition of forced labor, and the absence of discrimination.
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