Labor Law Content and Database on All WageIndicator Sites

By Iftikhar Ahmad, WageIndicator global labor law database manager

Background

The new labor law database established on the all national WageIndicator websites around the globe comprises a well-structured system that sorts a number of labor laws into specific categories – for example, placing laws on contracts, work termination and severance in an Employment Security section. This has the twofold benefit that it provides relevant information and that it allows for cross-reference of labor laws between countries. The streamlined system also makes it easier to update labor laws when they are amended.

It has taken quite a few years for WageIndicator to get to this point. Before this, there were a number of alternative ways in which we supplied labor law information. These methods were based on a variety of factors, ranging from specific internet trends that encouraged a certain style of writing or presentation, to the importance of giving local journalists, trade unionists and employer organisation members the chance to participate and contribute to their country-specific website.

It may be of interest to know the previous processes we followed, before arriving at our current presentation of labor law data. Please note that the examples and processes that follow are drawn mostly from websites in Latin America, the CIS, English-speaking African countries and Asia.

2008 - 2009

Six to seven years ago, the dissemination of labor law information on WageIndicator websites was handled on a country-to-country basis. As a result, there were many differences in the way the information was presented. Indeed, there were even differences in terms of what information was deemed important, and what was seen as not quite as important. This was in part due to the different cultural, historical, political and economic circumstances of each country.

As an example, information on HIV/AIDS in the workplaces, including bargaining agreements, health arrangements and education sessions, was seen as very relevant in most African countries. HIV/AIDS-issues were not regarded with the same urgency in other countries. The same applied to issues such as child labor and social security.

The way in which information was gathered and presented also differed. For example, in the English-speaking African countries (including Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa, at the start), freelance journalists were hired to write stories relating to labor law. These would include personal interviews with workers (and also employers) on a range of topics from maternity leave, to unfair dismissal, to sick pay. Many real-life experiences were gathered this way, reflecting the actual concerns and challenges that workers (and sometimes employers) faced in the workplace. The stories had the advantage of being fresh, personal and country-specific, hence recognizable. In addition, journalists included short news stories that related to labor issues, changes in legislation and trade union activities in each country.

Positive factors were:

  • A focus on issues that affected people country-specific
  • A personal approach
  • News updates.

 

Shortcomings were:

  • The stories would take time to gather
  • Not all labor law issues were covered
  • Not all labor laws were included in each story
  • The length and presentation of these stories were more suited to offline magazines or newspapers
  • WageIndicator not being a news agency, it was difficult to always get current news updates.

 

2010 – 2013

The decision was made to present all labor law stories in a question and answer format. At the same time there was an increased focus on what the content should be, reflecting more closely the aims of the international Decent Work Agenda and campaigns and the principal labor laws relating to this Agenda. Writers were tasked with taking a topic – for example, maternity leave – and to supply all information on this topic, from how much leave one is owed to how one can get paid and/or what forms to fill out etc. This would be presented in the form of a fictitious WageIndicator visitor asking the question. For example: Am I entitled to maternity leave? How much leave can I get? Will I be paid?

The approach was to be personal, but also very informative. In addition, the language used was to be plain, easy to understand, short and to-the-point. Any information relating to services available, or organisations to contact etc. could be included at the bottom of each piece. In this way, a lot of valuable labor law information was made available.

Positive factors were: short, precise stories, useful information, easy to understand.

Shortcomings were: not all websites covered the same questions, which made it difficult to cross reference labor laws across countries – and thus to establish a practical database.

2013 onwards

In 2013 again a decision was made, this time to provide homogeneous information on all WageIndicator websites in terms of content. The approach adopted in 2010 was helpful in addressing issues in detail, yet it still lacked necessary information on applicable labor laws. The reference to specific sections of labor law was not provided, which made the labour law pages a mix of work, not unlike the services rendered by human resource consultants and awareness raising advocacy organizations. It was felt that proper references to laws must also be given so that workers can use WageIndicator websites as their legal reference source to know about their rights. Similarly, with added references to laws, the labor law pages could be used by employers to comply with legal obligations. Thus, it was decided that national content from Decent Work Checks was to be used as the organizing backbone in the labor law section of all national WageIndicator websites.

The Decent Work Check considers thirteen different work related aspects, based on ILO's Decent Work Agenda, which are deemed important in attaining ‘decent work’. The issues we consider in any Decent Work Check include Work and Wages, Compensation, Annual Leave and Holidays, Employment Security, Family Responsibilities, Maternity and Work, Health & Safety, Sick Leave, Social Security, Fair Treatment, Minors and Youth, Forced Labour and Trade Union Rights. The Decent Work Check is based on de jure labor provisions, as found in the labor legislation. While there are issues with focus only on de-jure labor market institutions and provisions (low implementation rate), well drafted and inclusive laws are still a pre-condition for attaining decent work, especially in developing countries.

Since Decent Work Checks now form the basis of labor law pages in all WageIndicator countries, the issues considered are homogeneous and information is easily comparable. Based on these labor law pages, a World Labor Law map has been created which gives comparable information on all of the above mentioned work related issues, ranging from duration of annual leave or maternity leave to the maximum duration of a probation period. Similarly, research reports from research-partner AIAS now use the data collected through the labor law database.

The Workload Today and in the Coming Years

The current labor law database is managed by the WageIndicator Islamabad-office and is updated twice a year. It is efficient as, once a law or any provision is updated in the database, it automatically comes online. Labor Law pages for nearly 70 countries are now managed through this database. On the positive side, it must be said that it has made updating of labor law pages easy and efficient. However the task of updating labor laws has increased manifold. Keeping in view the number of countries and size and budget for the team, it takes the Islamabad-office nearly 6 months to update labor law pages and work on country profile reports each year. In order to fully update labor law pages, active support from local team members is needed which can help us in timely updates. There is also an issue of translations for updates. Since the Decent Work Checks and labor law pages are still in the development phase, every year a lot of information which was missing earlier is being added still. Once we outgrow this stage, the update work and consequent translation work won't be that huge any longer.

First International Comparison

If we compare the labor law changes over the last three years, apparently the most profound changes are found in India, Vietnam, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, South Sudan, Guinea and Latin American countries including Colombia and Costa Rica, since these countries either witnessed promulgation of new Constitutions, special laws or enactment or major amendments in labor codes.

Egypt and Vietnam have adopted new Constitutions in 2014 and 2013 respectively and we see an improvement in its provisions especially with regard to equality and non-discrimination. The Kenyan Government enacted its National Social Security Fund Act in 2013, which upgrades the Old Provident Fund to a Pension Scheme.

Earlier, India had no legislation on sexual harassment. In 2013 the Indian Government has enacted The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, that prohibits sexual harassment at the workplace. Similarly, the Indian Cabinet has approved some major amendments in the Child Labor (Prohibition & Regulation) Act 1986. South Africa has also amended its Basic Conditions of Employment Act to properly regulate the employment of children.

The Employment Equity Act in South Africa was also amended to include ‘any other arbitrary ground’ in the prohibited grounds of discrimination in employment matters. South Sudan and Guinea have enacted a new Labor Code. However, there is no change in the scores of these nations, as these new Codes still do not cover the issues left out like paternity leave, maternity leave (duration), nursing breaks, unemployment benefits, etc. In other countries, we do not witness any big change in the last three years, or at least the change was not substantial and significant enough.

Labor Law content in the national WageIndicator websites keeps improving, however mainly because of the availability of more resources and not necessarily because of changes in the labor laws. One reason behind its relative stability is that Decent Work Checks measure de jure provisions, which do not change much.


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