Labour laws in place, compliance still lacking - October 2013

Labour Laws and Compliance in South Africa and Internationally, Global Comparisons and Compliance, International Wages and Salaries and more no Mywage South Africa

October 7, World Day For Decent Work

At least 53 countries worldwide provide legislation to protect their workforce reasonable against inhumane labour practices. This is shown by the Global DecentWorkCheck Review, conducted in 2013 by WageIndicator Foundation. However, many of these rulings still lack compliance. The results of this international comparison are published on the occasion of the World Day For Decent Work, October 7.

International trends

Protection of working mothers and children is usually well founded in labour law everywhere. The pay for maternity leave is either funded through general revenues, social security (government funded) or through employer resources. In some countries, however, employer and government share resources to fund the maternity leave. Only one in six of the countries compared, lacks a regulation on breast feeding breaks on the job. Paternity leave, for the young father, is much less common. Other gender- and child protection related laws are in place everywhere.

 Yet from rounds of debates WageIndicator Foundation conducts in 20 countries on the basis of the so called DecentWorkChecks during the last couple of years, it appears that these labour standards are not always lived up to in practice. On top of that WageIndicator Research in for example Tanzania, Kenya or Senegal done by the Foundation shows as well long working hours, and payment under the legal Minimum Wage. Meanwhile labour Laws are for workers who work in the more formalised sectors.

 The practical conclusion from this Global DecentWorkCheck Review therefore is, that  the implementation of the existing laws is the most urgent task ahead.

 The First Global DecentWorkCheck Review of legislation reveals that a working week of 48 hours predominates. Only in some European countries the legal working week is less than 40 hours. Compensation in pay for overtime is fairly common, but night hours are not paid extra in one out of three of the 53 countries reviewed. Paid annual leave is the rule, up to three weeks, with the notable exceptions of China (one week only) and the United States, with no legal provision. Job security in terms of probation and termination notice periods varies greatly among all countries reviewed.

 The Global DecentWorkCheck Review of labour law legislation 2013 is the first of its kind. It is meant to be repeated each year to monitor developments in the field of labour laws.

 National WageIndicator websites feature the DecentWorkCheck since 2008, enabling the public to permanently consult applicable labour law, per legal issue. The international comparison presented in the current Global DecentWorkCheck Review  2013 moreover allows the public to detect legal issues where their country still lags behind.

 Summary of the key findings of the Global DecentWorkCheck Review 2013


The first cluster relates to Working Hours, Pay for Irregular Hours, Annual Leave, and contractual Probation and Notice Periods.

 Working Hours

The 48 hour week is most common in developing economies. Whenever a 48 hour week is reported for developed economies, these usually include overtime hours as well. Only 4 out of the 53 countries compared, i.e. Australia, Belgium, Denmark and France (all in Europe), have a working week of less than 40 hours.

 Overtime Rates

The trend is that work in overtime is paid at a higher rate, between 125 and 150% (in some cases even 200%) of the normal wage rate. In some European countries, where there is no legal provision, overtime rates are laid down in Collective Bargaining Agreements.  In all African countries overtime hours are to be paid 150% of the normal wage rate, with the exception of Senegal, where the rate is 110% and Egypt 135%. In a few countries there is no legal regulation of overtime rates. Portugal is the only country amongst all 53 compared, where overtime hours are compensated for in time off, and not in money.

 Premium for Night Work

20 out of the 53 countries have no regulation that provides for a higher rate of pay for work during night hours. These non-providers are equally distributed over all regions, including Europe. The highest ‘penalty’ rate, or premium for night work, was found in Senegal, Honduras and Kazakhstan (150%).

 Paid Annual Leave

Three weeks paid annual leave is the rule in most countries. This includes almost all African countries. In South Asian countries paid leave is usually less than 3 weeks. In contrast the world’s two major economic powers have either no paid annual leave at all (the United States) or paid annual leave of one working week only (5 working days in China).

 Probation Period

Probation periods are pretty common and as a rule last up to 6 months. They are longest in European countries Belgium, France, Ireland, Portugal and the United Kingdom (over 6 months). In Asia probation periods are usually 3 months, or less. The notable exception here is India. It has the longest probation period, 2 years. South Africa, Zambia, Mexico, Chile, the United States, and Kazakhstan do not have any such legal provision.

The probation period is a measure of how precarious employment is. During this period, an employee can be fired without notice and the employee therefore cannot file an unfair dismissal complaint if fired during probation.

 Contract Termination Notice

Contract termination without prior notice is rare. This situation prevails only in the United States, Mexico and Indonesia. Everywhere else a notice period is common, usually one month or higher.

The contract termination notice period is a measure for the uncertainty of an employment relationship. Uncertain means that an employer can fire an employee (whatever the reason) without giving any prior notice.

 A special group of legal provisions relates to family and work. They may be used as a yardstick of a government’s support for working parents in raising healthy and mentally well developed children. Relevant provisions are Maternity Leave and Payment, Paternity Leave and Breastfeeding breaks.

 Maternity Leave and Payment

Most of the European countries provide relatively long periods of paid maternity leave.  South Asian, African as well as Latin American countries provide less than 12 weeks of maternity leave. The same pattern applies to the payment of maternity leave where the employer is required to pay for it.

 Paternity Leave

Most countries provide less than one week of paternity leave that new fathers may profit from. Paternity leave is the law in a number of African countries. Most Asian countries do not have such a provision. European countries without such a provision are Italy (one day only), Ireland, Austria and the Czech Republic.  Belarus, Russia and Ukraine do not provide for legal paternity leave either.


Nearly all countries provide paid breastfeeding breaks of one hour, or more, during a normal workday. Moreover, most of countries extend such breaks until the nursed child is one. Australia, the United Kingdom, Finland, Denmark, Pakistan, Zambia, Uganda and Kenya are the only countries with no provision on breastfeeding breaks at all.

 The final group of legal regulations also is gender- and child protection related, i.e. Equal Pay, Sexual Harassment and Child Work.

 Equal Pay

Almost all countries prescribe equal pay for work of equal value (either through their Constitution, labour code or some other special law).

 Sexual Harassment

The developing economies feature higher levels of sanctions (esp. criminal) for perpetrators of sexual harassment. In the European countries there are only general prohibitions, as part of their labour or equal opportunity codes.

 Child Work

Most countries require a minimum age for entry into employment of 15 years (the usual school leaving age). Exceptions (14 years) occur, and are found in South Asia, Africa and Latin America. As for the minimum age for hazardous work, there seems to be a consensus among countries (18 years). The only outliers on this score are India, Pakistan (14 years) and Mexico, Guatemala, Portugal (16 years).

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