Population: 374 000
Capital: Bandar Seri Begawan
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: --
There was virtually no union activity in Brunei, and there is no legal basis for either collective bargaining or strikes. Non-Brunei citizens are excluded from coverage of most labour laws. Brunei became a member of the ILO at the end of the year.
Trade union rights in law
Limited rights in law, no provision for collective bargaining, no coverage of migrant workers: The Trade Union Act of 1961 authorises the creation of trade unions, which must be registered with the government. The law prohibits employers from any sort of discrimination against workers connected to trade union activities, and unions are permitted to form federations. However, the law prohibits unions and federations from affiliating with international trade union bodies unless they receive prior written consent from both the Minister of Home Affairs and the Labour Department.
Civil servants are permitted to form and join unions, except for those in the army, police, and prisons, but none have done so.
There is no provision in law that underpins the right to collective bargaining. An individual contract is required between an employer and each employee, and legal trade union activities are not allowed to violate these individual employee contracts.
The law does not explicitly recognise any right to strike.
The majority of labour laws only apply to citizens of Brunei, thereby failing to cover skilled and unskilled migrant workers, who comprise between 30 to 40 per cent of the total workforce.
There is one export processing zone, the Muara Export Zone, where labour laws apply in full.
Trade union rights in practice
Suspension of democratic rights prevents trade union activity: Constitutional provisions regarding fundamental rights of freedom of speech, association, press and assembly remain suspended under a state of emergency declaration dating from 1962 and renewed by the government every two years. The government has recourse to an Internal Security Act (ISA) which it can use to imprison opponents without charge or access to counsel for up to two years. The Sultan appoints all Ministers in the Cabinet, and judges are appointed by the Sultan and serve at his pleasure. The associational rights of civil servants and members of the security forces are significantly limited by a strict prohibition against them joining political parties of any kind.
There are only three trade unions registered in the country, all in the oil sector, representing a total of approximately 1,500 workers. Two of the unions representing office workers are allegedly inactive, while the remaining union, comprised of manual oil field workers, has limited activities. These unions exercise little independence from government authority. There was virtually no discernible trade union activity during the past year.
Migrant workers: There are over 100,000 migrant workers in the country, including over 10,000 garment workers, none of whom are members of a trade union. Many have complained of poor working conditions and a failure to respect their terms of employment. Migrant women domestic workers have complained of beatings, long working hours, and pay being withheld.
Some migrant workers have reportedly carried out work stoppages in protest, which are illegal under the labour law barring strikes. In September 2005, a public protest was held by 300 foreign migrant workers employed by a garment factory who complained they had not been paid for six months. While the protest was not permitted to continue, Brunei government officials reportedly worked with foreign Embassy staff to find alternative employment for the workers while prosecuting the company’s representatives, which included a former government minister.