Nicaragua's labor situation is in terrible condition with over half of the nation under-employed, wages at incredibly low levels (the lowest in the Americas), and abuses of labor rights. An estimated 1.7 million Nicaraguans are part of the labor force with that figure divided between the service, agricultural, and manufacturing sector at 45%, 40%, and 15%, respectively. A new labor code was created in 1996 which seems to foreshadow an improvement in labor conditions and rights of the workers.
One major problem with labor in Nicaragua is that unskilled laborers are a dime a dozen. There is a severe lack of trained technicians, managers, and even basic personal such as clerks and cashiers. On the other hand, this does create abundant low-cost labor. Nicaraguan workers are required, by law, to make up at least 90% of any labor force.
See a worker separating coffee beans by hand.
The minimum wages for each class of worker was raised in 1997, but this has had little or no affect because the minimum wage is so low that most workers make well above the set amount. By law, the workweek is 48 hours over six days with anything over that being considered overtime. There are about 10 paid holidays every year and an employee is entitled to 30 days of vacation for each 12 months that they spend working and they can choose to trade in 15 of those days for cash payment. Employers are also required to pay benefits which total almost half of their actual salaries.
Benefits as Percentage of Salary (Source: US Embassy)
Annual Vacations 30 paid days 8.33
Christmas Bonus 1 month's salary 8.33
Seventh Day 1 every 6 days 12.05%
Paid Holidays 10 days 3.5
Social Security (urban)employers cont. 12.5
Social Security (rural)employers cont. 5.0
Social Security (urban)employee cont. 4.0
Social Security (rural)employee cont. 2.0
INATEC training 2.0
The idea of severance pay, which was instituted in the new labor code, has caused quite a few problems between employers and employees. The code stipulates that if a worker leaves, he is entitled to a certain portion of his salary for each year that he has worked as well as his bonuses, providing that he was not fired for extraordinary misconduct. Another problem has been sick leave. Employees are given a maximum of 30 days leave for illness and the period may be renewed and can stretch up to a year for serious disabilities. Women are given 84 days maternity leave and the Social Security Institute (INSS) has to cover 60% and the employer has only to keep up with the regular 12.5% Social Security tax. If an employee works overtime, he is entitled to twice the regular pay, and if the employer is late in payment, an extra 10% of the amount owed must be added to the total salary each week.
The Ministry of Labor has set up the Labor Code so that grievances are brought by an individual or groups to the employer first and then to the Ministry. If the Ministry decides that the firm is infringing on the rights of laborers, then it has the right to suspend its activities.
According to the new code, strikes, which have been all too common in Nicaragua, are too be used only as a last result--all other resources must have been exhausted. If the strike is considered illegal by the Ministry, than the employer may legally fire all striking employees. Employers are required to get permission from the Ministry before firing a large group of employees for any reason. Employers are also required to give the employee a month's notice before termination and two paid hours of leave daily so that they can search for a new job.
Unions, which obviously play a large role in strikes, are useful because only unions are allowed to bargain collectively with employers. Unions have been decreasing in potency since the end of the Sandinista regime as members deserted in opposition to their typically radical actions. The fact that so many people are out of work has also made the workers with jobs unwilling to do the union's bidding.