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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Guyana

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Guyana, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3a24.html [accessed 28 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
GUYANA

 

The Co-operative Republic of Guyana, a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and the Caribbean Community (Caricom), is a small, multiracial, developing nation with a unicameral Parliament chosen by direct election in a multiparty political system. Dr. Cheddi Jagan, leader of the party with a plurality of seats in Parliament, is Executive President. The President appoints a Prime Minister and other Cabinet Ministers. Local and international observers generally agreed that the 1992 general elections were free and fair.

The Guyana Defence Force (GDF) and the Guyana Police Force (GPF) comprise the security forces, which are subordinate to the civilian government. The GDF is a small, professional military organization of less than 2,000 uniformed personnel which has only a limited role in law enforcement. The GPF has primary responsibility for maintaining law and order throughout Guyana. The GPF has historically been underpaid and undertrained. There have been allegations of GPF abuse of authority and excessive use of force.

The economy depends on agriculture, fisheries, forestry and mining, with sugar, rice, bauxite, and gold the major export earners. The estimated growth rate for 1995 is 6.3 percent, with per capita gross domestic product estimated at $632. The economy suffers from high external debt, shortages of skilled labor, and a deteriorating infrastructure.

Human rights problems continued to include police abuse of detainees and prisoners, allegations of extrajudicial killings, severe delays in the inefficient judicial system, poor prison conditions, societal violence against women and children, and discrimination against women and indigenous Amerindians. The authorities improved police training; however, police abuses were often committed with impunity, and the Police Complaints Authority was largely ineffective because it lacks independent power. There are still some limitations on worker rights, but political control of union activity continued to diminish.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political killings.

There were allegations that police killed criminal suspects under questionable circumstances. Police authorities state that such cases are investigated and that those policemen who act unlawfully are dismissed or prosecuted. However, critics claim the authorities do not sufficiently investigate and prosecute the police officers responsible.

In March the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) called for the establishment of a commission of inquiry on police use of force and brutality, because of what it described as several "disturbing tendencies": a sense of impunity from prosecution (for brutality, drugs, and other corruption); an unwillingness to prosecute police for criminal offenses; use of deadly force against alleged criminal suspects; and failure of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) to respond adequately to grievances against the police. The GHRA and local press reports highlighted a number of cases.

In February Amnesty International reported a case of police brutality and ill treatment against residents of Cane Grove during a police antinarcotics campaign in June 1994. Police allegedly beat Zabeeda Hussein in her home when she attempted to protect her crippled husband from a beating. She later claimed that they hit her in the stomach, causing a miscarriage of pregnancy. Rohan Sing, who also claimed police beat him, was seen covered in blood while in police custody. Amnesty International also raised the case of Shivnarine and Ramchen Dalchand, whom police allegedly beat and arrested in August 1994. Four days later, Shivnarine Dalchand drowned while attempting to escape from a police boat, according to police. Autopsy reports later revealed that there was no water in his lungs and that his body showed 13 external and 4 internal injuries. A government pathologist ruled that Dalchand died of "pulmonary edema." The Director of Public Prosecution investigated the case and referred it to the coroner for an inquest. A report of the results of the coroner's inquest has not been released.

In June police killed ex-soldier and career criminal Wayne Bancroft. Bancroft served 3 years in the Mazaruni Prison from 1992. He required hospitalization three times while in prison due to alleged beatings. He claimed that after his release police frequently harassed and fired shots at him. He fled to French Guiana in January but was deported in February. Upon his return to Guyana, he was arrested and held for several days. He claimed that police extorted $10,000 from him to avoid further arrests. On June 1, police chased Bancroft, whom eyewitnesses claim voluntarily came out of the building in which he took refuge with his hands raised to surrender to the police. Police shot Bancroft; upon arrival at the hospital where he was pronounced dead, officers claimed he was "Michael Craig," a wanted criminal. Although witnesses reported that Bancroft was unarmed, the police said he was a wanted suspect who was fatally shot while advancing toward them with a knife in his hand after his partner fired shots at policemen.

In July police shot Orin Garraway in the head after a chase in a Georgetown neighborhood and took him to the hospital in critical condition. He was allegedly a wanted criminal and a friend of Wayne Bancroft. According to police, he ran when challenged by a police patrol. Police pursued him and during a confrontation and scuffle, police shot him when he pulled a gun and threatened one of the policemen. However, according to a number of reported eyewitness accounts, Garraway ran from officers who had weapons drawn, and was shot in the head at point blank range after he had fallen during the chase. A police investigation was conducted and resulted in a declaration that Garraway was shot after he drew his firearm. The Director of Public Prosecution called for an inquest, but by year's end it had not begun.

In August police shot and killed Simon Joseph, a fish vendor. He was not a suspect wanted by the police. The Working Peoples' Alliance (WPA) alleged that he was socializing with friends in a yard between 2:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. when police officers accosted him. Witnesses claim that when he questioned the police order to come with them, he was shot in the back and died later at the Georgetown Hospital. This case is under investigation by the police.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the Constitution prohibits torture, the GHRA and the press reported a number of serious incidents of police brutality.

In August after a cyanide-polluted flow from a major gold mining operation spilled into the river Essequibo, police used excessive force to break up a protest demonstration around the Parliament building. Two women associated with the Working People's Alliance were allegedly assaulted by the police. Dow, a former elections commissioner, claimed that police roughed her up, kicked her, and threw her into the back seat of their vehicle. She alleged that later they threw her from the car to the pavement. De Souza claimed that she was nearly run over by a police vehicle and otherwise intimidated by officers. The WPA threatened to file a lawsuit against the police, but on November 24 charges against De Souza were dropped and the matter settled without litigation.

In September the local press reported that Chief Magistrate K. Juman Yassin ordered a drug prisoner--Wilfred Scipio--taken to a doctor and a medical certificate produced. Scipio alleged that police severely beat him which caused a severed vein and serious bleeding. He said that he received no medical attention and was forced to sleep on a bare concrete floor for 8 days after his arrest prior to his appearance in court. When asked by the magistrate why he had not been brought to court earlier, Scipio said that he was too sick to move; the police, however, countered that their investigation was not complete. The magistrate ordered a change of police detention facilities after Scipio expressed fear of returning to his former place of custody.

Some confessions have been thrown out of court on the grounds that they were coerced. Chief Justice Cecil Kennard, at a conference of magistrates in September, expressed his concern that police prosecutors depend too heavily on the confessions of defendants in court proceedings. He felt that in many cases, confessions are not always good evidence of guilt. He cautioned magistrates that they must ensure that they are fully satisfied that confessions presented to them for evidence in trials were free and voluntary and not forced via intimidation or other means. Such statements, he said, should not automatically be admitted as evidence in criminal trials.

There were continuing reports of police officers' involvement in criminal activity, including extortion, intimidation, and assault, although the number of reports of such charges continue to decline.

Citizens complained that members of the special police impact group engage in intimidation and rough physical treatment of detainees and suspects. In June Dr. Hughley Hanoman, (a ruling party member of Parliament) alleged that impact patrol police "manhandled" him, threw him into a police van, threatened him with incarceration at a local lock-up, refused him a phone call to his lawyer, insulted him with racial slurs, and generally intimidated him. The impact officers took him to jail and later released him on $3,000 bail, after intervention by the acting police commissioner. Dr. Hanoman was not charged with a crime, and afterward reportedly said that he now understood the accusations of police harassment and abuse of power.

There is no independent body charged with looking into complaints of police brutality or abuse. The Ombudsman lacks the authority to look into allegations of police misconduct. Such cases are heard by the Police Complaints Authority; however, the PCA has no power to interview police officers or witnesses and must rely on material submitted by the police. The PCA refers cases of alleged abuse to the Police Commissioner. Investigations of such charges appear to be perfunctory and rarely result in serious disciplinary action. Officers charged as a result of complaints to the PCA are routinely suspended for a few days and sometimes fined, but are rarely jailed. In essence, the police force is responsible for investigating itself.

Some of Guyana's prisons continue to be severely overcrowded. The GHRA reported that there were over 900 prisoners in a space originally intended for 300 (later upgraded to accommodate 553) at the Camp Street prison in Georgetown. Corrections authorities admit that the average population at Camp Street prison has been about 806 prisoners. Prisons officials claim that Camp Street is the only prison that is overpopulated. After a prison break in October at Lusignan, when scores of prisoners escaped into surrounding communities, the GHRA claimed that the number at that prison was excessive as well.

The severe overcrowding at Camp Street prison is blamed on the law courts and recent sentencing guidelines that require mandatory prison sentences of 3 to 5 years for narcotics possession. Most of the prisoners were convicted on narcotics charges involving small amounts of marijuana.

The GHRA cited poor diet, inadequate medical attention, underpaid and poorly trained staff, and lengthy trial delays as problems facing the prison system. Local press sources report that due to overcrowding, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS, and other health problems are rising, posing serious public health risks for inmates when they are freed and return to their communities. Additionally, due to restricted budgets and other limitations, the large influx of prisoners in recent periods reduces efforts directed at rehabilitation and training.

Groups concerned with prison conditions report there is often poor sanitation and inadequate access to proper medical care, particularly at police station holding facilities. The East La Penitence police station, where women prisoners are held until sentencing, is below standard compared to other prisons in the country. Intended as a temporary holding place before sentencing prisoners, the station has become a long-term home for many women whose cases are held up in the overburdened judicial system. The Government did appoint a GHRA member to the prison visiting committee.

As another example, the Brickdam police station holding facility, a temporary detention center for about 50 male prisoners, is overcrowded, damp, dimly lit, and foul smelling. It has 14 cells about 5- by 8-feet in area, no beds, no wash basins, no furniture and no utensils. Each cell has up to five persons, but no toilets; inmates must be escorted by staff members outside of the cells to use holes in the floor for toilets. Inmates sleep on the bare concrete floor, damp with urine and water.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution provides that no person may be deprived of personal liberty except as authorized by law and requires judicial determination of the legality of detention, a mandate that was generally respected in practice.

Arrest does not require a warrant issued by a court official, only an assessment of guilt by the police officer. The law requires that a person arrested and held for more than 24 hours be brought before a court to be charged. Chief Magistrate K. Juman Yassin publicly complained that suspects are often detained for more than 24 hours but never charged. Bail is generally available except in capital cases. In narcotics cases, magistrates have some limited discretion in granting bail before trial but must send all persons convicted on narcotics charges to custody, even if an appeal is pending.

Exile is not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, which is generally the case in practice. The local court system is composed of a High (Supreme) Court, a national Court of Appeals, and a system of magistrate courts which have branches in the various regions and departments of the country. Magistrates are members of the civil service and are trained lawyers. The magistrate courts deal with both criminal and civil matters. The Ministry of Legal Affairs headed by the Attorney General represents the State and plays the role of state prosecutor. It also supervises the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution.

The Constitution provides that anyone charged with a criminal offense has the right to a hearing by a court of law, and this right is respected in practice. Guyana has a functioning bail system. Defendants are granted public trials, and appeal may be made to higher courts.

In the past, some members of the opposition to the previous People's National Congress (PNC) governments expressed concern over court rulings in libel suits brought by government officials as well as other governmental use of the courts to harass political opponents. The judiciary now exerts greater independence due to the freer political atmosphere which has developed in the country since 1985. The present Government made no attempt to use the courts to intimidate the opposition.

Delays in judicial proceedings are often caused by shortages of trained court administrative personnel and magistrates, inadequate resources, low salaries, and the slowness of police in preparing cases for trial. The inefficiency of the judicial system is so great as to undermine due process. Prisoners are often detained 3 or 4 years awaiting trial. Appeals of some murder cases have been delayed for several years. Trial postponements are routinely granted to both the defense and the prosecution.

Although the law recognizes the right to legal counsel, in practice, with the exception of capital crimes, it has been limited to those who can afford to pay. An alternative surfaced in March 1994 with the new legal aid clinic. The Government provided a small cash grant for the clinic as well as the services of a lawyer from the Attorney General's office. Initially, due to budget constraints, the clinic limited its activities to civil cases in Georgetown. As the clinic has become more widely used, and another attorney was added to the staff, criminal cases related to the civil cases (assault as part of a divorce case for example) have been pursued. Apart from these efforts, virtually no lawyers work pro bono in criminal cases. Defendants in murder cases are assigned an attorney by the court. The Guyana Association of Women Lawyers provides free legal services for civil cases only.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Government generally respects the right to privacy. The laws requiring judicially issued warrants for searches were generally respected.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitutional provision for freedom of speech is generally respected, and citizens may freely criticize their government and its policies.

As in 1993, there were credible charges that high government officials pressured foreign investors to cancel contracts with a consultant who was a former PNC government official. On another occasion, there were credible charges that a government official restricted freedom of speech and freedom of the press by intervening in the employment contract of a local businessman who does editorial commentary on a news program which is sometimes critical of the Government. Government officials pressured a foreign investor to force its consultant to stop editorializing on the news and in any other public forum, or to cancel the contract.

The independent Stabroek News continued to publish seven times a week with one weekly regional edition. Independent and opposition newspapers frequently criticized the Government in editorials and satirized it in cartoons.

The government-owned Guyana Broadcasting Corporation operates Guyana Television and one radio station (with two separate programs), which provide relatively evenhanded reporting on local events. Guyana has no private radio stations, but does have eight private television stations in Georgetown and four in outlying areas. Two of the private stations produce newscasts which are often critical of the Government, and a third produces general public affairs programming which addresses issues of local interest and is considered to be more favorable to the Government.

In past years, the Government exercised varying degrees of control over the media through ownership of what had been the country's only daily newspaper (The Guyana Chronicle), the communications agency, the radio station, and the issuance of import licenses for newsprint and printing presses. The Government's role in the media has since declined with the proliferation of television stations, lack of a Minister of Information, and the existence of an independent daily newspaper.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Public Order Act requires police permits for mass political meetings. The Police Commissioner has the authority to refuse permission for a public meeting at his discretion and without explanation. There was no evidence that he used this authority for political purposes. Political parties and other groups held public meetings and rallies throughout the country without hindrance.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. Members of all faiths are allowed to worship freely. Guyanese practice a wide variety of religions, the major faiths being Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam. There are no restrictions on foreign religious groups proselytizing in Guyana.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides for freedom of movement within Guyana. Travel to Amerindian areas requires government permission, the result of a law dating from colonial times designed to protect the indigenous people from exploitation. Prior to the 1992 elections, the GHRA, opposition politicians, and some clergy contended that permits were sometimes denied to missionaries and non-PNC politicians and that the regulations were used to maintain PNC influence among the Amerindians. In practice, however, most people travel throughout these areas without regard to the formality of a permit. Citizens are free to travel abroad, to emigrate, and to return.

The Government does not have any fixed policy on refugee or asylum applications. There were no reports of forced expulsion of anyone having a valid claim to refugee status; however, government policy remains undefined.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Guyana has a unicameral Parliament which is chosen by direct election in a multiparty political system based on proportional representation. The leader of the party which obtains a plurality of seats in Parliament during national elections is sworn in as Executive President. The President appoints a Cabinet, headed by a Prime Minister, which together with the President exercises executive power.

Citizens are free to join or support political parties of their choice. The 1992 general election, considered free and fair by foreign observers, brought the major opposition party to power. Despite constitutional provisions, elections were still not held on schedule or in a consistent manner. The general election was delayed from 1990 to October 1992; municipal elections, scheduled for December 1992, were delayed until October 1994. Any citizen 18 years or older can register to vote, and about 80 percent of those registered cast votes in the 1992 election.

No progress was made on reforming or replacing the Constitution, which grants extensive powers to the President. Constitutional reform requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament, which can only be achieved through the cooperation of the ruling party and the opposition.

There are no legal impediments to participation of women or minorities in the political process, but historically neither women nor Amerindians were encouraged to participate, other than by voting. The Cabinet includes three women, two persons of Portuguese descent, one of Chinese origin, nine of East Indian extraction, four Afro-Guyanese, and one Amerindian. The 73-member Parliament includes 11 women and 8 Amerindians, representing both major parties.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Guyana Human Rights Association, the most active local human rights group, functioned without government interference. The GHRA is a nongovernmental organization formed in 1979 with the participation of trade unions, professional organizations, various ethnic groups, and churches. It issues periodic press releases and publishes an annual report on human rights in Guyana. The Government made no public statements in response to either GHRA or foreign human rights reports.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Although the Constitution provides fundamental rights for all persons regardless of race, sex, religion or national origin, the Government does not always observe this in practice.

Women

Violence against women, including domestic violence, is a significant problem. Wife beating, rape, and incest are common. Lawyers said that more victims are reporting these crimes to the authorities although there is still a social stigma attached to it. Victims of such abuse who do seek redress from the police and the courts often suffer social retribution and additional harassment from the authorities charged with pursuing their complaints. Because of their economic circumstances and the lack of any family shelters or other place of solace, victims of domestic violence are often trapped in their homes with their abusers. A women's organization has begun a crisis hotline and is in the process of refurbishing an existing building to be used as a shelter for women suffering physical abuse.

The 1990 Equal Rights Act was meant to end sex discrimination, but the failure to include a specific definition of discrimination rendered the act unenforceable. There is no legal protection against widespread sexual harassment in the workplace, and dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy is common and not illegal. In December 1994, credible charges of sexual harassment were brought against a prominent businessman. The case was dismissed and the perpetrator fined one Guyanese dollar in damages.

A 1988 government-sponsored constitutional amendment rendered the equal pay provision unenforceable except in cases in which equal pay for equal work is provided for by specific statute. No such statutes have been enacted.

Other legislation passed by Parliament in 1990 protects women's property rights under common law marriage, entitling a woman who separates or divorces to one-half of the couple's property if she had been working and one-third of the property if she had been a housewife. However, divorce by consent remains illegal, and there are unequal provisions regarding adultery as grounds for divorce. The legislation also gave authority to the courts to overturn a man's will in the event it did not provide for the wife.

There are few organizations, other than those sponsored by political parties, that focus primarily on women's rights. Two exceptions are the Guyana chapter of the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action and the National Women's Rights Campaign, which opened a counseling center for victims of violent relationships in early 1993.

Children

An estimated 65 to 86 percent of the population lives in poverty, and children are more severely affected than any other group. The severe deterioration of the public education and health care systems has stunted children's futures and often cut short their lives. For many children, health care has become unaffordable. Children are often denied access to education because their families cannot afford school fees, or because their families need the children to contribute to running the household by working or providing child care for other children.

The worst effects on children's lives come from migration. More than 3 percent of the population emigrates every year in search of a brighter economic future. As parents migrate they often leave behind their children to be raised by other family members, friends, or by other children. Nearly 1 percent of Guyana's households are headed by children under the age of 14.

Media reports of rape and incest have increased, indicating that violence against children is a significant and reoccurring problem. The administration of justice for children is characterized by a punitive legal system which does not take into account the needs of children fleeing sexual, physical, or emotional abuse.

A committee headed by First Lady Janet Jagan and several Government Ministers drafted a national program for action on children, but the Government's ability to improve the lot of children suffering sexual, physical, or emotional abuse depends on budgetary considerations.

People With Disabilities

The lack of appropriate infrastructure to provide access to both public and private facilities makes it very difficult to employ the disabled outside their homes. There is no law mandating provision of access for people with disabilities.

Guyana has several special schools and training centers for the disabled, but like the rest of the educational system these are understaffed and in severe disrepair.

Indigenous People

Guyana has a small Amerindian population, composed of nine tribal groups, most living in reservations and villages in remote parts of the interior. Their standard of living is much lower than that of most Guyanese, and their ability to participate in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation of natural resources is limited.

Amerindian life is regulated by the Amerindian Act, legislation dating from colonial times designed to protect indigenous people from exploitation. The Act gives the Government the power to determine who is an Amerindian and what is an Amerindian community, to appoint Amerindian leaders, and to annul decisions made by Amerindian councils. It also prohibits the sale of alcohol to Amerindians and requires government permission before any Amerindian can accept formal employment, though these provisions generally are not enforced. Both individuals and Amerindian groups remain free to criticize the Government.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Longstanding ethnic tensions, primarily between Guyanese of African and East Indian descent, continued to influence Guyanese society and political life. The civil service and defense and police forces are overwhelmingly staffed by Afro-Guyanese. Recruitment efforts targeted at Indo-Guyanese candidates for the uniformed services generally have met with an unenthusiastic response, with most qualified Indo-Guyanese candidates opting for a business or professional career over military, police, or public service. The chief of staff of the Guyana Defence Force is Indo-Guyanese and there are other Indo-Guyanese officers in both the GDF and the police force.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for the right of association and specifically enumerates a worker's right to "form or belong to trade unions." The law does not require employers to recognize a union in the workplace, even if a large majority of workers have indicated their desire to be represented by a union.

Most union members work in the public sector and in state-owned enterprises. Organized labor freely associates in one major national federation, the Guyana Trades Union Congress (TUC) which is composed of 22 unions. There is a tradition of close ties between the trade union movement and political parties.

Historically, the two major political parties wielded significant influence over the leadership of several unions, and trade union officials often served in dual roles as party officials. Although this still occurs, it is less common.

Workers have a generally recognized right to strike, but the law nominally forbids public employees providing essential services from striking. A procedure exists for the review of their grievances by a tribunal appointed by the Minister of Labour. Most strikes in 1995 were illegal, i.e., the union leadership did not approve them or they did not meet the requirements specified in collective bargaining agreements.

Unions and their federations freely maintain relations with recognized Caribbean and international trade union and professional groups. All three of the major international trade union federations have affiliates in Guyana.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Public and private sector employees possess and utilize the generally accepted right to organize and to bargain collectively. The Ministry of Labour certifies all collective bargaining agreements and has never refused to do so. This right is not codified, however, and employers are not legally required to recognize unions or bargain with them.

Individual unions directly negotiate collective bargaining status, pursuant to the 1993 repeal of a regulation which required that all collective bargaining be negotiated through the TUC. Unions are dissatisfied with the provision granting the Ministry of Finance veto power over wage contracts negotiated by other ministries.

The Chief Labour Officer and the staff of the Ministry of Labour provide consultation, enforcement, and conciliation services. The Ministry has a backlog of cases, compounded by insufficient manpower and transportation, which severely limit the Ministry's ability to function.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and there is no indication that it occurs.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Factories Act and the Employment of Young Persons and Children Act set out minimum age requirements for employment. Legally, no person under age 14 may be employed in any industrial undertaking, and no person under age 16 may be employed at night, except under regulated circumstances. The law permits children under age 14 to be employed only in enterprises in which members of the same family are employed. Poverty-stricken young children work, and it is common throughout the country to see very young children engaged in street trading. While cognizant of the situation, the Ministry of Labour does not employ sufficient inspectors to enforce existing laws effectively.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Labour Act and the Wages Councils Act allow the Labour Ministry to set minimum wages for various categories of private employers. The Government raised official minimum wages by 16 percent in January which set the minimum wage for workers at $46.04 (G$6,353) per month. Both the legal minimum wage for the private sector and the public sector minimum wage are insufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a family. There is no enforcement mechanism, and unorganized workers, particularly women and children, are frequently paid less than what is legally required.

The Shops Act and the Factories Act set hours of employment, which vary by industry and sector. In general, work in excess of an 8-hour day or a 44-hour week requires payment of an overtime rate. However, if the initial contract stipulates a 48-hour workweek, then the overtime rate only applies for hours worked in excess of 48 hours. The law does not provide for at least a 24-hour rest period.

The Factories Act also sets forth workplace safety and health standards. The Occupation Health and Safety Division of the Ministry of Labour is charged with conducting factory inspections and investigating complaints of substandard workplace conditions. As with its other responsibilities, inadequate resources prevented the Ministry from effectively carrying out this function. Workers cannot remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardizing continued employment.

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