A number of labor laws exist in El Salvador to protect the rights of workers. Some of these laws are enforced more than others. The Ministry of Labor, responsible for upholding labor-related statutes, has limited resources and, as a government agency, has at times been accused of bias when dealing with government-union conflicts.
According to the constitution, workers are guaranteed the right to unionize without the threat of harassment or discrimination. However, this right has not always been recognized. When the government telecommunications firm, CTE, was put up for sale in the 1990s, 72 labor leaders were fired to keep the company union-free for potential purchasers. When the workers appealed, the Ministry of Labor sided with the government on dubious grounds.
Because of its limited resources, the Ministry of Labor cannot conduct thorough labor inspections throughout the country, especially outside the manufacturing districts, and worker complaints of mistreatment, though not altogether common, frequently go uninvestigated.
Forced labor is generally prohibited by law, although in cases of calamity or national emergency the government can make exceptions. Child labor is prohibited. Children below the age 14 are not allowed to enter the workforce. Minors between the ages of 14 and 18 may work with permission from the Ministry of Labor if their employment is indispensable to either themselves or their family. Many children under 14 work despite the laws, either as street vendors or doing general labor for small businesses in the informal sector .
The minimum wage in El Salvador varies depending on the industry. Set by a tripartite commission (consisting of members of government, labor, and business), the minimum wage per day as of 1 May 1998 was US$4.81 for commercial, industrial, and service employees. Coffee plantation workers received US$3.66 plus a food allowance, and sugar and cotton plantation workers were paid US$2.61 plus a food allowance. All other agro-industrial workers were paid a minimum of US$2.47 per day. The minimum wage does not provide a decent standard of living for either individuals or their families.
Workers are on the job 6 days a week, for 8 hours a day. They get paid, however, for 7 days (56 hours) of work each week. Minors between age 14 and 18 are required to work no more than 6 hours a day. Employers are required to provide 1 month's wage per year as a bonus to workers, who are also supposed to be given 2 weeks of paid vacation a year.