Last Updated: Friday, 11 July 2014, 13:14 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Tunisia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Tunisia, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa474.html [accessed 11 July 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.
 

 

The Republic of Tunisia is dominated by President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD). Ben Ali was elected to a second 5-year term in March. He ran unopposed. The President appoints the Prime Minister, Cabinet, and 23 Governors. In the March election, the RCD won 144 out of the 163 seats in Parliament. Four nominal opposition parties hold the remaining 19 seats. In 1992 the Government banned the Islamist party, An-Nahda, after a court sentenced 265 of its members to prison for allegedly plotting to assassinate the President and overthrow the Government.

The internal security forces include a paramilitary national guard organized within the Ministry of Interior. The security services continued to be responsible for human rights abuses, including torture, though the number of known cases appears to have declined significantly in 1994. They were allegedly responsible for the deaths of three persons in their custody.

The major sectors of the economy include agriculture, tourism, petroleum, textiles, clothing, and other manufactured exports, and remittances from workers abroad. Despite a severe drought, the economy continued its noninflationary growth in 1994, led by a 17.7-percent jump in tourism.

Complaints of police abuse, including torture, declined significantly in 1994, due in part to government efforts to educate its police force and prosecute offending officers. The security forces also made fewer security-related arrests compared to 1993. However, significant human rights abuses continued. The Government imprisoned two self-proclaimed presidential candidates, as well as an opposition candidate for Parliament who complained to a foreign journalist about the results of the national elections.

The Government also stifled freedom of speech and the press. The authorities dismissed a journalist from his government job for providing an interview with one of the unofficial presidential candidates to a foreign publication; banned two French newspapers indefinitely for criticizing the Government; declined to renew the residency of a foreign correspondent, requiring him to depart the country; denied an entry visa to another foreign journalist to cover the elections; and interrupted telephone service to one foreign press service for 1 week and instructed its resident correspondent to depart the country.

The police harassed several of the 117 women who signed a petition asking the Government to move more quickly on human rights reforms. Additionally, the Government continued to seek out and arrest suspected members of An-Nahda and the banned Communist Worker's Party (POCT) and to harass their relatives and friends, including repeated interrogations and home searches without warrants. Other significant human rights problems include: incommunicado detention, the Government's refusal to publish information on the punishment of security personnel who have abused prisoners, and governmental interference with the right to privacy.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Three reports of deaths in custody came to light in 1994. On February 27, the police arrested Lotfi Ben Mohammed Guelaa, a student in Paris and a leader in an Islamic student group, after his arrival at Djerba airport. In early March, Guelaa died in his police cell. The Government says he committed suicide by hanging himself. The authorities arrested Ismail Khmira in 1991 for his suspected involvement with An-Nahda. He died in prison on February 25 of pneumonia according to the Government. The National Guard arrested Ammar Beji on November 9 after he became involved in an argument with a government official near Sfax. The guard said Beji hanged himself in his police cell on November 10. The Government has not made public its investigations into the deaths of Guelaa, Khmira, or Beji. A possible fourth death in custody remained unconfirmed at year's end. Sources reported that Ezzedine Ben Aiche allegedly died in August near Sousse while in police custody.

In 1994 the Government concluded its investigations into five cases of persons who died in police custody dating to 1991--Faisal Barakat, Abdelaziz Mehouachi, Ameur Degachi, Fethi Khiari, and Rachid Chammahk. In each case, the official investigation concluded there was no evidence of police malfeasance. Investigations continue in two other deaths in custody from 1991.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

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

While the law prohibits the mistreatment of detainees, there continued to be credible reports that security forces mistreat suspected Islamists, leftists and other persons suspected of antigovernment activities. Many accused Islamists have claimed in court that the police extracted their confessions by torture.

The Government denies that torture is practiced as a matter of policy but acknowledges that security officials have abused detainees in some cases. According to the Government, the courts convicted 24 police officers in 1992 for human rights-related violations. In 1993 the Government accused 17 police officers of human rights violations. The Government has not identified them by name or indicated the nature of their offense or their punishment.

The Government has taken a number of steps in response to concerns about human rights abuses, including training for police, who are now required to sign a statement that they are aware of Tunisian and international human rights standards and will abide by them. Manuals containing human rights documents and directives are provided to police officers. Government officials claim the educational level of police recruits has increased, and veteran officers continue to undergo training. All judges and prosecutors receive a two-semester course on the scope and applicability of international human rights treaties and conventions as part of their training at the Magistrates' Institute. In October the Government authorized the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH) to conduct prison visits.

Prison conditions meet internationally recognized minimum standards.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law authorizes the police to make arrests without warrants for suspected felonies and crimes in progress and to hold suspects in prearraignment detention for a maximum of 10 days. Attorneys, human rights monitors, and former detainees maintain that the authorities circumvent the 10-day limit by delaying the registration of the date of arrest. Detainees have the right to be informed of the grounds for arrest before questioning and to be represented by counsel during their arraignment hearings. Detainees do not have the right to a lawyer during prearraignment detention but may request an examination by a medical doctor. Otherwise they are held incommunicado during this period. The Government provides legal representation to indigents.

The examining magistrate at the arraignment may decide to release the accused or remand him to pretrial detention. In cases involving serious felonies or national security, the accused may be held for 6 months in pretrial detention, renewable by court order for two additional 4-month periods. There were credible reports that some detainees have been held in pretrial detention longer than the maximum 14 months. There is a system of bail, but it is rarely used.

Exile is prohibited by law and not practiced by the Government.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The court system comprises the regular civil and criminal courts, including a Court of Appeals, a Supreme Court, and a Military Tribunal. The judiciary is not independent of the executive branch. The latter appoints, assigns, grants tenure to, and transfers judges, a situation that makes judges susceptible to pressure in politically sensitive cases.

In general, defendants in criminal cases receive due process. They have the rights to be present at their trials, represented by counsel, question witnesses, and appeal verdicts. However, because the presiding judge dominates the trial, the role of the defense attorney in questioning witnesses is minimal. In 1994 some defense lawyers complained that the courts did not grant them sufficient time to prepare their cases.

Although trials in the regular courts are open to the public, judges have restricted access in cases involving accused Islamists or leftists. Family members and other interested parties must obtain police approval to attend such trials. In 1994 the Government denied an entry visa to an Amnesty International (AI) researcher who sought to observe the trial of a prominent leftist dissident, Hamma Hamami, the leader of the banned Tunisian Communist Workers Party. The AI researcher had previously written reports critical of the Government.

Hamami's trial was not fair by international standards: his lawyers did not have sufficient access to their client or time to prepare their defense; the police had physically mistreated Hamami while in pretrial detention; the court did not conduct a complete investigation prior to going to trial; and the court handed down a sentence that was not comensurate with his alleged crime.

The Military Tribunal tries cases involving military personnel and civilians accused of national security crimes. The Tribunal consists of a civilian judge from the Court of Cassation and four military judges. Defendants may appeal the Tribunal's verdicts to the Court of Cassation, but the review is limited to matters of law and procedure, not the facts of the case.

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

The Constitution provides for the inviolability of the person and the home and for the privacy of correspondence, "except in exceptional cases defined by law." Police must have a search warrant, but this requirement is sometimes ignored in cases in which the authorities consider that state security is involved or in which a "flagrant crime" is deemed to have been committed.

The authorities continued to monitor the activities of Islamists and leftists and searched their homes without warrants. They frequently harassed the relatives and associates of such persons by repeatedly interrogating them. During the year, several human rights monitors and oppositionists accused the Government of harassment and intimidation. Police presence in urban areas is heavy. Traffic officers routinely stop motorists to examine their identity and vehicular documents.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of thought, expression, and the press. In practice, however, the exercise of these freedoms is limited, as several government actions during 1994 demonstrated. The Press Code includes broad provisions addressing subversion and defamation, neither of which is clearly defined or subject to judicial review. The Government has used these provisions for arresting political opponents and bringing suits against the media.

In March police arrested two self-proclaimed presidential candidates who had criticized the Government: Moncef Marzouki and Abderrahmane El-Hani. The Government charged Marzouki, a former president of the Tunisian Human Rights League, with spreading false information and defaming judicial authorities in an interview with a Spanish newspaper. They detained Marzouki for 4 months before releasing him, but his case is still under official investigation. The authorities charged El-Hani, a lawyer, with membership in an unauthorized organization and spreading false information and held him in detention for 2 months; his trial date is pending.

Also in March, the authorities detained for 5 days Boujemaa Remili, a defeated opposition party candidate in the parliamentary election. Remili had complained that the national elections were neither free nor fair. He was later convicted of spreading false information and given an 8-month suspended sentence.

In May, 117 women signed a petition asking the Government to accelerate the pace of human rights reform. The authorities later harassed and intimidated several of them at work and at home.

Restrictive laws and practices limit freedom of the press. Journalists and writers generally censor themselves because they fear government retribution if they publish overly critical articles. The Government amended the Press Code in 1993 to expand the definition of defamation to include the expression of opinions based on racism, regionalism, or religious extremism. Journalists express concern about the vague language, fearing that it gives the Government additional grounds for legal suits.

The Government exerts considerable control over editorials by providing official texts on major domestic and international events. The daily newspapers routinely carry policy announcements verbatim. Editorials do not criticise the President or other senior government officials. Publishers and editors have been reprimanded when government guidelines were not followed, encouraging further self-censorship.

The Government requires domestic printers to deposit copies of all publications destined for public sale in Tunisia with the secretary of state for information and with the Ministries of Interior and Justice prior to public release. The authorities may seize a publication without compensation.

The Government also showed intolerance of criticism in the foreign media. In February the Government refused to renew the residence visa of a Tunis-based British Broadcasting Corporation correspondent who had interviewed a Tunisian dissident about his presidential aspirations and broadcast an interview with London-based An-Nahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi approving of the dissident's candidacy. Also in February, the Government temporarily interrupted telephone service to the office of the Kuwaiti News Agency and told its correspondent to leave Tunisia after he reported an interview with Ghannouchi.

In March the Government denied an entry visa to cover the national elections to a reporter for the French newspaper Le Monde. The reporter had previously written articles deemed offensive by the Government. Also in March, the authorities dismissed a Tunisian journalist from his job with the government-controlled Tunisian News Agency (TAP). The journalist worked as a stringer for a French newspaper and had submitted an interview with a Tunisian dissident to that publication. Later the Government prohibited indefinitely the importation of two French publications, Le Monde and Liberation, after they published articles critical of the Government and the President.

The Ministry of Interior censors all imported publication prior to public release. In 1994 the Ministry prevented editions of the French magazines Le Point and Jeune Afrique from distribution onto the market and prohibited the entry of some Amnesty International publications.

The Government owns and operates the Tunisian Radio and Television Establishment (ERTT). Broadcast media coverage of the Government is taken directly from TAP. There are two television channels and several regional radio stations. Under bilateral agreements with France and Italy, citizens are able to receive the French channel France 2 and the Italian station Rai Uno. However, in accordance with its agreement with France, the Government replaces the prime-time news program on France 2 with a news broadcast produced by the ERTT.

More than 30,000 homes and multifamily dwellings have satellite receiving dishes. In December the Government imposed a temporary halt on the granting of new licenses for the dishes.

Like journalists, university professors practice a form of self-censorship, avoiding classroom criticisms of the Goverment or statements supportive of the Islamist An-Nahda party. The presence of police on campuses also discourages dissent.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly. Groups wishing to hold a public meeting, rally, or march must obtain a permit from the Ministry of the Interior. The Government normally approves such permits, except in cases involving proscribed political parties or associations. In March 1992, the Government amended the Law on Associations to prohibit an officer of a political party from serving as an officer of an association and to prohibit associations from rejecting prospective new members. The amendment had a direct impact on the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH), as some of its officers were also officers in political parties, and the League maintained a policy of closed membership to the general public. Not wishing to violate the new law, LTDH did not hold a meeting for more than a year.

In 1993 the League negotiated a partial arrangement with the Government, agreeing to prohibit League officers from also holding office in a political party--but maintaining its policy of closed membership. That settlement permitted the League to hold an election for its governing board in February. Afterwards, the League conducted its normal activities, although it and the Government continue to discuss the membership issue. There is no available information indicating that the Government has applied the amendment to the Law of Associations to other groups. Local human rights monitors fear that the law increases government influence over all organizations.

The law on political parties stipulates that parties must reject all forms of violence, including fanaticism, racism, and other types of discrimination. No political party may be based on religion, race, sex, or region, or receive funds from a foreign party or aid from foreign governments and citizens. All party members must be citizens for at least 5 years.

There are seven legal political parties. In addition, there are a few unrecognized parties, including the Islamist An-Nadha Party, which aspire to recognition, and the Maoist Tunisian Communist Workers' Party, which remains underground. The Government states that An-Nahda is ineligible for recognition because it is based on religion.

The Government uses its authority to license political parties as a means to control the political environment. It does not grant legal recognition to parties deemed to be a threat to the existing political order. Aspiring political parties file for registration with the Ministry of Interior. In 1994 a new group--the Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties--attempted to register itself as a political party. The Government has so far refused to accept the application.

c. Freedom of Religion

Islam is the state religion, but the Government permits the practice of other religions. The Government regards the Baha'i faith as a heretical sect of Islam. Adherents may practice their faith in private only. However, the Government appears to have eased some other restrictions, which in the past included the denial of passports to Bahai's. With a population of 2,500, Jews are the country's largest indigenous religious minority. The Government assures the Jewish community the freedom of worship, safeguards its security, and pays the salary of the Grand Rabbi. The small Christian community is mainly composed of foreigners. They are free to attend church services.

The Government views proselytizing as a provocative act against "public order." Authorities ask foreigners suspected of proselytizing to depart the country and do not permit them to return. In 1994 no persons were known to have been arrested for proselytizing. However, the authorities did not renew the residency permits of some foreigners suspected of proselytizing.

The Government controls the mosques and pays the salaries of the prayer leaders. According to the 1988 law on mosques, only government-appointed personnel may lead activities in the mosques, except with permission from the Prime Minister's office.

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

There is freedom of movement within Tunisia, and people are free to change their place of residence or work at will.

In 1994 there were credible complaints that the Government withheld or limited passports in certain cases. Islamists continued to report difficulties in obtaining passports. The Government stated it denies passports only to persons with legal problems at home or abroad and to those who are not likely to use them for tourist purposes. However, lawyers who have defended Islamist clients and persons associated with leftist or opposition causes also reported that they and their family members were unable to obtain or renew passports.

There is no arbitrary restriction on emigration or repatriation. The Government does not accept refugees for permanent resettlement. There were no reported cases in 1994 of forced repatriation.

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

The ability of citizens to change their government through democratic means has yet to be demonstrated. The ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) Party, and its direct predecessor parties, have controlled the political arena since independence. The RCD controls the Cabinet, the Chamber of Deputies, regional and local governments, and the security apparatus. The President appoints the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, and the 23 Governors. The President and the RCD dominate politics at the national, regional, and local levels. The Government and the RCD are closely integrated: The President of the Republic is also the president of the RCD, and the RCD's Secretary-General holds the rank of Minister of State.

The largest opposition party, the proscribed Islamist An-Nahda Party, received 12 percent of the vote in the 1989 legislative elections, when the Government permitted its candidates to run as independents. However, the party is in disarray following the conviction in 1992 of nearly all of its leaders for plotting to overthrow the Government. In 1992 a court sentenced in absentia Rachid Ghannouchi, the nominal head of the party, to life in prison. Ghannouchi was granted political asylum in Britain in 1993.

The Chamber of Deputies has 163 seats. It has yet to establish itself as an effective counterweight to executive authority. The electoral code provides for a winner-take-all formula in legislative elections, but the Government amended the law in 1993 to add 19 additional seats in the Chamber of Deputies for parties that do not win seats. Four opposition parties that participated in the March legislative election were apportioned those seats. Elections for the Presidency and the Chamber of Deputies are held every 5 years. Voting is by secret ballot. All legal parties are free to present candidates.

Presidential candidates must obtain the signatures of at least 30 members of the Chamber of Deputies or presidents of municipalities--all but one of whom were members of the ruling RCD party in 1994. Two persons who were not affiliated with any political party tried to announce their candidacies for the presidency even though they were unable to obtain the requisite signatures. The authorities detained both of them for several months (see Section 2.a.). None of the six legal opposition parties offered a candidate for president, and all endorsed President Ben Ali for reelection.

Women may participate in politics. Eleven women won seats in the March legislative election. Nevertheless, women remain underrepresented in government and hold few senior government posts. One woman holds ministerial rank, and a woman is the second vice president of the Chamber of Deputies. In municipal councils, 19 percent of the member are women. Twenty-five percent of Tunisian magistrates are women.

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

The Government recognizes several local human rights organizations but subjects them to a variety of restrictions. The most active is the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH). It resumed activities in 1993 after the Government passed restrictive amendments to the Associations Law in 1992 (see Section 2.b.). In 1994 LTDH held its first congress since 1989, released a credible report on the conduct of the national election, published communiques on specific cases, and provided legal counsel for defendants in some cases.

The Arab Institute of Human Rights, founded in 1989, is a collaborative effort of the Tunisian Human Rights League, the Arab Organization for Human Rights, and the Union of Arab Lawyers. The Higher Committee for Human Rights and Basic Freedoms, established by the President in 1991, continued to advise the President on human rights issues but did not make public any of its findings or recommendations.

The Government in 1992 created offices in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Interior, and Social Affairs to coordinate human rights concerns. These offices advise policymakers, coordinate human rights training, and investigate citizens complaints.

In 1994 relations between the Government and Amnesty International (AI) remained poor (see Sections 1.e. and 2.a.).

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

Women

Although women still face discrimination in certain legal and social matters, the Government has made serious efforts to advance women's rights. In 1993 the Chamber of Deputies expanded women's rights by amending the 1956 Personal Status Code. The Government has also ensured equal employment rights for women by instituting changes in the Labor Code and signing various international treaties and conventions. In 1994 the Government enacted a law to subsidize the child-care costs for mothers employed outside the home.

There is a significant trend toward greater educational and professional opportunities for women. In 1994 the National Union of Tunisian Women (UNFT) was awarded UNESCO's top prize worldwide for its work in the fight against female illiteracy in Tunisia. The number of women in the medical, legal, and other professions continued to grow steadily. Women comprise an estimated 25 percent of the work force, a figure which probably underestimates their presence as many women are employed in the informal sector as well as seasonally in agriculture. According to government figures, women comprise 26 percent of the civil service, employed mainly in the fields of education, health, and social affairs at the middle or lower levels.

Violence against women is known to occur, but there are no statistics on its extent. In recent years, the media have reported on this subject, stressing that violence against women is a serious social problem. The Tunisian Association of Democratic Women operates a walk-in counseling service in Tunis for battered women, assisting about 20 women a month. Battered women generally first seek assistance from family members. Human rights monitors have said that police intervention is often ineffective because officers tend to regard incidents as family problems to be handed by family members. Few cases of spousal violence are brought to trial. In 1993 the Chamber of Deputies strengthened criminal penalties for wife beating, requiring judges to issue more severe sentences.

Children

Laws protecting the rights of children are included in statutes governing education, health, inheritance, adoption, and child custody. The Government is committed to upholding these laws. The personal status code provides protection for children in adoption or custody cases, or in cases of the death or incapacitation of the children. There is no pattern of societal abuse against children. Criminal penalties for persons convicted of child abuse or neglect are severe. Education is mandatory until age 16, though approximately 10 percent of students leave school before that time.

Indigenous People

The small Berber minority constitutes under 3 percent of the population. Some older Berbers have retained their native language. Younger Berbers have been assimilated into Tunisian culture through schooling and marriage. Berbers are free to participate in Tunisia's political process and express themselves culturally.

People with Disabilities

A law enacted in 1981 prohibits discrimination based on disabilities and mandates that disabled persons comprise at least 1 percent of public agency and private sector employees.

All public buildings constructed since 1991 must guarantee accessibility to physically disabled persons. Many cities, including Tunis, have begun to install wheelchair access ramps on city sidewalks. There is a general trend toward making public transportation more accessible to disabled persons. The Government issues special cards to the disabled for benefits such as unrestricted parking, priority medical service, preferentail seating on public transportation, and some consumer discounts.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution and the Labor Code stipulate the right of workers to form unions. The Tunisian General Federation of Labor (UGTT) is the country's only labor federation and claims about 15 percent of the work force as members, including civil servants and employees of state-owned enterprises. There is no legal prohibition against the establishment of other labor federations. A union may be dissolved only by court order.

The UGTT and its member unions are legally independent of the Government and the ruling party but operate under regulations which restrict their freedom of action. The UGTT's membership includes persons associated with all political tendencies, although Islamists have been removed from union offices. The current UGTT leadership follows a policy of cooperation with the Government and its economic reform program. However, there are credible reports that the UGTT receives substantial government subsidies to supplement the modest union dues and funding from the National Social Security Account. Unions, including civil servants, have the right to strike, provided they give 10 days' advance notice and the UGTT approves of the strike. These restrictions, however, are rarely observed in practice. In recent years, the majority of strikes were illegal because the UGTT did not approve them in advance. The Government does not prosecute workers involved in illegal strike activity. In 1994 there were 202 illegal and 42 legal strikes. The law prohibits retribution against strikers. but some employers punish strikers who are then forced to pursue costly and time-consuming legal remedies to protect their rights.

Labor disputes are settled through conciliation panels on which labor and management are equally represented. The 1994 Labor Code reform set up tripartite regional arbitration commissions, which settle industrial disputes when conciliation fails, to replace the former single arbiter system.

Unions are free to associate with international bodies.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

The right to organize and bargain collectively is protected by law and practiced throughout the country. Wages and working conditions in Tunisia are set through negotiation by the UGTT member federations and employer representatives. Approximately 47 collective bargaining agreements set standards for industries in the private sector and cover 80 percent of the total private sector work force. The Government's role in these negotiations is minimal, consisting mainly of lending its good offices if talks appear to be stalled. However, the Government must approve of, but not modify, the agreements which must be published in the official journal before they become legally binding.

The UGTT also negotiates with the various ministries and 208 state-run enterprises on behalf of public sector employees. By 1994, the UGTT had concluded 3-year public and private sector collective bargaining agreements calling for an average 5-percent annual wage increase.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers. The UGTT claims, however, that there is increasing antiunion activity among private sector employers, especially the alleged firing of union activists and the use of temporary workers to avoid a unionized work site. In certain industries, such as textiles, temporary workiers account for 80 percent of the work force. The Labor Code protects temporary workers, but enforcement is more difficult than in the case of permanent workers. A 1994 labor code revision established a committee to hear cases involving alleged unjustified firing of workers.

There are two export processing zones, but they have not yet begun operations.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not specifically prohibit compulsory labor, but there have been no reports of its practive in recent years. In 1994 the International Labor Organization's (ILO) Committee of Experts stated that the Government may violate ILO Convention 29 on forced labor but noted the President's intention to abolish the criminal penalty of "rehabilitation through work" on state worksites. At year's end, the Chamber of Deputies was considering a draft bill on the issue. The practice of sentencing convicts to "rehabilitation through work" dates to the Penal Code of 1912.

d. Minimum Age For Employment of Children

The minimum age for employment in manufacturing is 15 years, in agriculture 13 years. The Government requires children to attend school until age 16. Workers between the ages of 14 and 18 are prohibited from working from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Children over the age of 14 may work a maximum of 4.5 hours a day. The combination of school and work may not exceed 7 hours. Inspectors of the Ministry of Social Affairs examine the records of employees to verify that employers comply with the minimum age law. Nonetheless, young children often perform agricultural work in rural areas and work as vendors in urban areas. The UGTT has expressed concern that child labor--frequently disguised as apprenticeship--still exists, principally in the handicraft industry. In other instances, young rural girls are sometimes placed as domestics in urban homes by their fathers who collect the child's wages.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Labor Code provides for a range of administratively determined minimum wages. The minimum wage levels are determined by a commission of representatives from the the Ministries of Social Affairs, Planning, Finance, and National Economy. During the course of its deliberations, the commission consults with the UGTT and the Employers Union. The President approves the commissions' recommendations. When supplemented by transportation and family allowances, the minimum wage covres only essential costs for a worker and his family. In August the commission raised the minimum monthly industrial wage to about $130 for a 40-hour workweek and the daily minimum agricultural wage at nearly $4.50.

The Labor Code sets a standard 48-hour workweek for most sectors and requires one 24-hour rest period. The workweek is 40 hours for those in the energy, transportation, petrochemical, and metallurgy industries.

Regional labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing standards, they inspect most firms about once every 2 years. However, the Government often encounters difficulty in enforcing the minimum wage law, particularly in nonunionized sectors of the economy. Moreover, according to a 1992 study, some 240,000 workers are employed in the informal sector, which falls outside of the purview of labor legislation.

The Ministry of Social Affairs has responsibility for improving health and safety standards in the workplace. There are special government regulations covering such hazardous occupations as mining, petroleum engineering, and construction. Working conditions and standards tend to be better in firms that are export-oriented than in those producing for the domestic market. Reported workplace accidents during the first 6 months of 1994 (latest data available) indicate a 0.9 percent decline in mishaps over the same period in 1993. However, the total workdays lost due to accidents during the same period were up 6.5 percent over 1993. Work-related deaths increased to 82 in the first 6 months of 1994, compared to 76 for the same period in 1993. Workers are free to remove themselves from dangerous situations without jeopardizing their employment, and they may take legal action against employers who retaliate for exercizing their right.

 

Search Refworld

Countries