3 November 2010: The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has submitted a new report to provide additional information to the General Council of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in its review of trade policies of Belize. The report finds that internationally recognised core labour standards are violated especially with regard to child labour and trade union rights. The rights to organise, bargain collectively and to strike are recognised, but in practice, exercising these rights is limited and there are significant limitations to trade union organising. As in a similar report produced on Sri Lanka, the ITUC found that the situation is worst in the country’s Export Processing Zones (EPZs) where the employers refuse to recognise unions while the government fails to ensure the law is respected. As a result, there are no trade unions operating in the EPZs.
Although it is prohibited by law, women face discrimination in employment and in remuneration and few women are employed in management positions. Persons who live with HIV/AIDS are also discriminated against in employment. Seventy-seven per cent of the Mayas ethnic group live below the poverty line.
In 2000, Belize ratified ILO Convention No. 138 on Minimum Age of Employment and Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention. The law prohibits the performance of work by children younger than 12 years of age. As in other countries, this does not apply to children of any age for admission to family farm work, particularly banana plantations, with state authorisation. Children between 12 and 14 are allowed to work after school hours in “light work” for a maximum of two hours between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. in work that is not likely to cause injury with permission from the Labour Commissioner and with the consent of his/her parents.
The minimum age for admission to hazardous employment is 18 in line with ILO Convention No. 182, but the law does not cover self-employed children. The law also provides a general prohibition for children working overtime. For violation of the child labour laws, fines and a two months imprisonment are established. Child prostitution is a problem and the Criminal Code prohibits prostitution only for female children. However, the government reports to the ILO’s Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations that it applies the law for both male and female children. The Criminal Code does not specifically apply to offences related to pornography or pornographic performances by a child under 18.
In cities, children usually work as street vendors and shoe polishers. According to 2001 data, 6.1 per cent of Belizean children work: 8.1 per cent of boys and 4.6 per cent of girls. More than half of them work in agriculture and one third of them in services. According to a 2003 study by the ILO, half of the boys who work do so in hazardous forms of labour. Belize is implementing a 10-year National Plan of Action for Children and Adolescents with a view to amending legislation and agency regulations to better address child labour, increase awareness and build up capacity of the competent law enforcers.
Belize also participated in the ILO-IPEC project on commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) from 2002 to 2009. The project achieved the withdrawal of 713 children and the prevention of engagement in commercial sexual exploitation of another 657 children. Other objectives of the project were the promotion of legal reform and capacity building for combating the worst forms of child labour and eliminating child labour.
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