Internationally recognised core labour standards in Belize and Suriname

(Geneva, 12 and 14 July 2004)


Belize has ratified all eight core ILO labour Conventions, whereas Suriname has only ratified four of them. In view of restrictions on the trade union rights of workers in Belize, discrimination in both countries, and child labour in both countries, determined measures are needed to comply with the commitments Belize and Suriname accepted at Singapore, Geneva and Doha in the WTO Ministerial Declarations over 1996-2001, and in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

Both countries have ratified the ILO core Convention on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining as well as the Convention on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise. However in Belize legal restrictions exist on the right to strike, especially in so-called “essential services”. Moreover, employers do not recognise trade unions in export processing zones nor in the banana sector.

Belize has ratified the core ILO Convention on Equal Remuneration and the Convention on Discrimination. Suriname has ratified neither of these two Conventions. In both countries, in practice women are mainly employed in low-skilled, low-wage jobs and very few women hold senior management positions.

Belize has ratified the ILO core Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, and the Convention on Minimum Age. Suriname has ratified neither. Child labour is prevalent in Belize and Suriname, in particular in the informal economy, agriculture (including hazardous work), and vending. Some children also work as domestic servants and in prostitution.

Belize and Suriname have both ratified the Convention on the Abolition of Forced Labour and the Convention on Forced Labour. Forced labour exists in both countries in the form of trafficking of women and girls for forced prostitution.



This report on the respect of internationally recognised core labour standards in Belize and Suriname is one of the series the ICFTU is producing in accordance with the Ministerial Declaration adopted at the first Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) (Singapore, 9-13 December 1996) in which Ministers stated: "We renew our commitment to the observance of internationally recognised core labour standards." The fourth Ministerial Conference (Doha, 9-14 November 2001) reaffirmed this commitment. These standards were further upheld in the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work adopted by the 174 member countries of the ILO at the International Labour Conference in June 1998.

The ICFTU affiliate in Belize is the National Trade Union Congress of Belize. Approximately 11% of the labour force is unionized, including most public sector workers. The ICFTU affiliates in Suriname are the Algemeen Verbond van Vakverenigingen in Suriname (MOEDERBOND), the Centrale van Landsdienaren Organisaties (CLO), and the Progressive Federation of Trade Unions (C-47). Almost 60% of the labour force is unionized.

The major economic activity in the north of the country is sugar production, whereas in the west tourism and cattle farming are the main activities. In the southern part of the country the main economic activities are citrus and banana growing and tourism. In 2001, agriculture accounted for 22.7% of GDP, industry 25% (of which manufacturing made up 16.2%), and services 52.3%. Total exports of goods accounted for US$ 274 billion in 2001, of which sugar comprised US$ 30 million, bananas US$ 21 million and manufactures US$ 16 million. Total imports of goods accounted for US$ 507 million, of which food constituted US$ 71 million, fuel and energy US$ 39 million and capital goods US$ 141 million. Exports of goods and services accounted for US$ 448 million in 2001. Imports of goods and services accounted for US$ 550 million. Total debt was US$ 807 million in 2002.

Major export trading partners are the US (53.8%), the UK (23.0%), other CARICOM countries (6.4%) and Mexico (1%). Major import trading partners are the US (47.2%), Mexico (11.2%), CARICOM (5%) and the UK (2.7%).

Belize is a member of CARICOM (the Caribbean Community and Common Market) which has a common external tariff ranging from 5% to 20%. The average tariff rate of Belize was 12.5% in 2001. Some products are subject to quota and import licenses. Foreign investment is encouraged particularly in tourism, light manufacturing, aquaculture and horticulture, deep sea fishing and processing, and forestry.
Belize is a member of the EU-ACP Cotonou Convention and benefits from the Caribbean Basin Initiative, providing for tariff exemptions or reductions for the US market.

Suriname is rich in natural resources such as bauxite, timber, gold, silver and other minerals. Despite this, Suriname is one of the poorest countries in South America with a GDP per capita of US$ 1,036. In 2001, mining accounted for 13.8% of GDP, agriculture 11.3%, industry 21.4% (of which 7.7% was manufacturing) and services 67.4%. Half of the labour force in the formal economy is employed in the public sector.

Major exports are aluminum, shrimps, crude oil and rice. Major export trading partners are the US (30.9%), Norway (18.8%) and the Netherlands (9.2%). Major imports are petroleum, food and cotton. Major import trading partners are the US (58.5%), the Netherlands (27.6%) and Trinidad and Tobago (21.5%).
Total exports accounted for US$ 454 million in 2001, of which alumina accounted for US$ 330 million. Total imports accounted for US$ 457 million in 2001, of which food was US$ 61 million, fuel and energy US$ 72 million and capital goods US$ 141 million. The total amount of exports in goods and services in 2001 was US$ 513 million, whereas imports accounted for US$ 638 million.
Like Belize, Suriname is a member of the CARICOM common market, with an external tariff rate ranging between 5% and 20%. Suriname’s average tariff is 15.3% (1999). Non-tariff barriers exist in the form of licensing systems.
Suriname is a member of the EU-ACP Cotonou Convention.

I. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
In 1983, Belize ratified both ILO Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise and Convention No. 98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining. Suriname ratified Convention No. 87 in 1976 and Convention No. 98 in 1996.


Workers are free to form and join unions. They have the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike. Employers are however not required to recognize a union as a bargaining agent if there is no union that covers more than 50% of the workers. Public sector workers have the right to organize but their right to strike is restricted in essential services, which are broadly defined to include postal, monetary and transport services, as well as services in which petroleum products are sold. Such a definition of essential services is overly broad and hence infringes on the workers' right to strike. The Essential Service Act enables the authorities to refer a dispute to compulsory arbitration to prohibit or terminate a strike.

In practice employers are often anti-union, and some have blocked union activity by dismissing trade unionists. New legislation should make it easier to seek redress for dismissed unionists, but fines for employers are too low to be dissuasive. A Trade Union and Employers’ Organization (Recognition and Status) Act was adopted in 2000, and measures are anticipated in the courts to address this situation.

The Labour Legislation applies to Export Processing Zones, but in practice unions are not recognized by employers in EPZs and there are no trade unions in the export processing zones.


Workers have the right to form and join unions, and to elect their own representatives. Anti-union discrimination is prohibited and mechanisms exist to prevent unfair dismissal and provide for reinstatement. Nonetheless, in practice many employers find various means to prevent the establishment of a union in their company. However, workers in the country’s important bauxite industry are organized in trade unions.

Workers have the right to collective bargaining, and 50% of workers are covered by collective agreements. Workers have the right to strike, including for civil servants. Strikes often take place in practice, to negotiate working conditions, to obtain arrears in wage payments, or to achieve wage increases to compensate for inflation. However, strikes may be prevented or terminated if employers refer a dispute to a Mediation Board for arbitration. Furthermore, legislation currently under consideration would restrict the right to strike through an Essential Service Act.

There are no export processing zones in Suriname.

Workers have the right to organise and form trade unions, both in Belize and Suriname. However anti-union behaviour often exists, and in practice trade unions are not allowed in export processing zones nor in the banana sector. Workers in both countries have the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike. These rights are better respected in Suriname, although draft legislation currently under consideration may restrict the right to strike. In Belize there are restrictions on the right to strike.

II Discrimination and Equal Remuneration
Belize ratified both Convention No. 100 on Equal Remuneration and Convention No. 111 on Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) in 1999. Suriname has not ratified the Conventions on Discrimination and Equal Remuneration.


The constitution provides for equal opportunities and treatment for men and women in employment; however women are discriminated against in access to employment and most are concentrated in low-wage and low skilled jobs. Women hold few top managerial positions. The ILO Committee of Experts noted in its 2003 report that “statistics on the employed labour force by monthly income and sex for the period 1995-99 show that women make up only 30 per cent of the employed labour force and that overall women are significantly less well represented than men at all income levels; while the highest proportion of both men and women can be found in the lower income levels (between BLZ$119 and BLZ$959), women are, with a few exceptions, significantly under-represented in the middle and higher income levels with, for example, no representation at the income level of BLZ$2,604 to BLZ$2,759, and only 13 per cent in the highest income level of BLZ$2,880 and over.” The report also noted that “in non-unionized workplaces wages are determined by individual agreements between the worker and the employer, and through legally established wage regulations for certain categories of workers (i.e. manual workers, shop assistants and domestic workers). The Committee furthermore notes from the Government’s report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (A/C/BLZ/1-2, 1996) that women in the private sector are concentrated in low-paid female-dominated occupations, which are often not covered by wage regulations.”

The literacy rate for men and women is similar, 93.3% for women compared to 93.6% for men (2001).

There are no special provisions in the legislation that prohibit discrimination in employment of disabled people.


Although legislation provides for equal access to education and employment, discrimination in employment and unequal remuneration widely exist, due to social pressures and customs, particularly in rural areas. A 2002 report showed that 89% of women are employed in entry-level positions, 9% in mid-level positions, and only 3% in management positions. More than 60% of the women are employed in administrative and secretarial jobs.

The literacy rate for women is 93% compared to 96% for men (2000).

There are no laws mandating equal treatment and opportunities for persons with disabilities, and in practice disabled people are discriminated in employment.

The indigenous people, the Amerindians and Maroons, face discrimination and limited opportunities.

Although prohibited by law, women face discrimination in employment and remuneration, both in Suriname and Belize. Most women are employed in low-skilled, low-wage jobs, with very few women in management positions. There are no special legal provisions to prevent discrimination against disabled persons.

III. Child Labour
Belize has ratified Convention No. 138, the Minimum Age Convention and Convention No. 182, the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, both in 2000. Suriname has not ratified the Conventions on Child Labour, although in June 2004 its Parliament passed a unanimous Act which should enable Suriname to ratify Convention No. 182.

The minimum age for work in Belize is 14 years, but children above 12 years of age are allowed to work a maximum of 4 hours per day after school. Child labour is prevalent, mainly on family farms and in family businesses, and the legislation to prevent child labour is not well enforced. ILO estimates for the year 2001 showed that 11% of the children between 5 and 17 are working.

In rural areas children are involved in work in family businesses and in citrus, banana and sugar industries. In urban areas children are working as shoe polishers and vendors of newspapers and other items, as well as in markets. Many girls from neighbouring countries work as domestic servants, while some work as prostitutes.

A Child Activity Survey, undertaken by the ILO in 2001, provides the following information:
- girls are more likely to be engaged in non-economic activities, whereas boys are rather engaged in economic activities;
- 14% of the children between 5 and 17 are in economic activities and 97.4% in non-economic activities (11.4% in both);
- 75% of economically active children are in rural areas, of which 30% live in the Toledo district;
- 53% of economically active children attend school, and they work an average of 4 hours per day;
- 33% are unpaid family workers;
- in the Toledo district 54% of economically active children are engaged in hazardous work;
- 19% of the younger children have suffered illness or injury due to their work.

The worst forms of child labour exist in Belize, including hazardous work in commercial agriculture, sexual exploitation, working street children, trafficked children and child domestic workers. Child prostitutes are concentrated in Orange Walk Town, Stann Creek District and Belize City. Street vendors mainly come from Guatemala. Many children are exposed to harm from tools, back strain from lifting heavy weight, exposure in the fields to heat and dehydration, and toxic effects from pesticides and fertilizers.

A 2001 report by NOPCAN on child labour in the Corazal district found children working as shop assistants, gasoline attendants and cane farmers.

Education is compulsory between 5 and 15 years of age. Secondary schools can offer places to only half of the children that finish primary school, which leads to competition for secondary school places. Education is free but parents have to pay fees for books and uniforms, which prevents some children of poor families from attending school.

The minimum age for employment is 14 years, but in practice legislation is not well enforced. However, the Ministry of Labour and the trade union centres are discussing changes in legislation to raise the minimum age for employment to 15, and to improve labour inspection regarding the prohibition of child labour.

Children work as street vendors, newspaper sellers and shop assistants. A 2002 survey by the Institute for Training and Research found that 50% of children between 4 and 14 are economically active, mainly in the informal economy.

Education is compulsory till the age of 12 at the present time. The Ministry of Labour is also considering changes in legislation to raise the age for compulsory education to 15. School enrolment in urban areas is around 80% whereas in rural areas this percentage is around 50%. In addition the levels of education are lower in rural areas due to a lack of transportation, building facilities or teachers.

Child labour is a problem in both countries. Many children work in the informal economy, mainly in agriculture, but also in urban areas as street vendors and shop assistants. School enrolment in Suriname in rural areas is low, and there is a lack of schools, teachers and materials. In Belize there is a lack of sufficient secondary school places.

IV. Forced Labour
Belize has ratified Convention No. 29, the Forced Labour Convention and Convention No. 105, the Abolition of Forced Labour, both in 1983. Suriname has ratified Convention No. 29 and Convention No. 105, both in 1976.

Forced labour is prohibited by law, but exists in the form of trafficking of women and girls for the purpose of forced prostitution. There are reports of parents giving or even selling their children to relatives or friends for domestic work. A UNICEF study estimates that 30% of prostitutes are children. Some children are engaged in the selling of drugs.

There are reports of forced labour of Chinese workers in local Chinese owned sweatshops, and of Indian workers from India forced to work for employers in the Indian community.


Forced labour is prohibited. In practice however, forced child prostitution exists, as well as trafficking of women and girls for forced prostitution. Women from Brazil, Colombia, Guyana and the Dominican Republic are trafficked into the country, and Suriname is also a transit country for trafficked women.

Forced labour is prohibited by law in both countries. In practice however forced labour exists in the form of trafficking of women and girls for forced prostitution. Reports in Belize also highlight forced labour by Chinese in sweatshops and by Indians.

Final Conclusions and Recommendations

1. The Government of Suriname should ratify the four remaining core labour Conventions, the two Conventions on Discrimination and Equal Remuneration (No. 100 and No. 111) as well as the two conventions on Child Labour (No. 138 and No.182).
2. The Government of Belize should take measures to prevent anti-union discrimination in particular in the banana sector and the export processing zones, where employers do not allow unions despite legislation. Fines to prevent anti-union discrimination, including dismissal of trade unionists, need to be increased to a sufficiently dissuasive level.
3. The definition of essential services in Belize needs to be changed to bring the country in line with internationally recognised definitions, so as to widen the right to strike to workers currently deprived of that possibility.
4. The government of Suriname must withdraw legislation currently under consideration that would restrict the right to strike unduly through an Essential Service Act, and redraft such legislation in conformity with the ILO conventions concerned.
5. More efforts have to be made by both governments to improve the access of women to middle level positions and management positions. The governments should also ensure equal work for equal pay, and empower women through training and education.
6. Legal provisions to prevent discrimination against the disabled are required, accompanied by action programmes to prevent such discrimination.
7. Serious efforts have to be made by both governments to eliminate child labour, and in particular the worst forms of child labour. The governments have to increase labour inspection and enforce labour legislation, including and particularly in the rural areas and the informal economy.
8. There is a need to increase school enrolment in rural areas in Suriname, requiring an increase in the number of teachers in rural areas, and to increase the number of places in secondary schools in Belize.
9. More effective measures have to be taken to eliminate the trafficking of women and children for forced prostitution.
10. In line with the commitments accepted by Belize and Suriname at the Singapore, Geneva and Doha WTO Ministerial Conference and thier obligations as a member of the ILO, the Governments of Belize and Suriname should therefore provide regular reports to the WTO and the ILO on legislative changes and implementation of all the core labour standards.
11. The WTO should draw to the attention of the authorities of Belize and Suriname the commitments they undertook to observe core labour standards at the Singapore and Doha Ministerial Conferences. The WTO should request the ILO to intensify its work with the Governments of Belize and Suriname in these areas and provide a report to the WTO General Council on the occasion of the next trade policy review.


- Global March against Child Labour, Worst forms of child labour – Belize, Suriname,
- ICFTU, Violations of Trade Union Rights, Annual Survey, 2002/2003/2004
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- ILO/IPEC, Roy A. Young, Child labour in Belize, a qualitative study, 2003
- Elizabeth Arnold-Talbert and Leticia Constanza-Vega, Child Labour in Belize: a Statistical Report
- Country Index of economic freedom, 2004
- UNDP website, country development indicators
- UNICEF website, country data
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