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2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Dominican Republic

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 11 June 2009
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Dominican Republic, 11 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52caf2c.html [accessed 31 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 9,100,000
Capital: Santo Domingo
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Workers rights are non-existent in the export processing zones (EPZs). Nor are they adequately respected in the rest of the country, as they are undermined by a range of anti-union strategies, with new cases emerging daily.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association: All workers are free to organise, with the exception of members of the armed forces and the police force. Unions must have at least 20 members and are legal once they have been registered by the Labour Ministry. If the government fails to act on an application for registration within 30 days, the applicants may declare it in default over the next three days, and then one day later, the union is automatically recognised. Unions may form federations, which can in turn form confederations.

There are some restrictions, however. Civil servants may, for instance, only form a union if at least 60 per cent of the employees of a given governmental body agree to join. Employees of independent and municipal state bodies are excluded from the Labour Code. The laws and regulations governing these bodies contain no provisions on trade union freedoms.

The law does not provide for the reinstatement of workers dismissed on account of their union activities, stipulating only their right to meagre compensation.

Restrictions on collective bargaining: To be able to bargain collectively, a union must represent an absolute majority of workers in an enterprise or branch of activity.

Restrictions on the right to strike: Strikes can only be called if a majority of employees, regardless of whether they are trade union members, vote in favour of action – a requirement which could seriously hinder strike action. There must have been a prior attempt to resolve the conflict through mediation. If this fails, written notification of the strike must be given to the Ministry of Labour and a 10-day waiting period observed before the strike goes ahead.

People working in key public services and civil servants are not allowed to strike. If a strike that has been declared illegal is carried out, the contracts of the workers involved are terminated, with no remaining responsibilities for the employer, unless the illegality ruling is for procedural reasons or the workers return to their posts within 24 hours of the ruling.

Export processing zones: There are no laws exempting EPZ companies from complying with the national labour legislation.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Background: Leonel Fernández of the centre right Liberación Dominicana party won the Dominican Republic's presidential elections of 16 May 2008. The country has been affected by the downturn in the international economy, as a result of free trade. The situation of Haitian migrant workers, most of whom work in sugar production, is particularly bad.

Poor and inefficient state intervention on the protection of workers' rights: The law theoretically prohibits the dismissal of trade union members and their leaders for trade union activities, however the law is not applied and the penalties are not sufficiently dissuasive to prevent employers from violating workers' rights.

Labour court proceedings are too long. It takes an average of 15.3 months to settle cases in courts of first instance and 16.4 months in the court of appeal.

Furthermore, justice is still administered, albeit to a lesser extent than in the past, by judges and magistrates who are political appointees and tend to be in league with employers. Employers enjoy impunity when violating workers' rights because of ineffective sanctions.

Restrictions in the public sector: Given that over 58 per cent of formal economy workers are State employees, the exercise of the right to strike is limited. What is more, despite the Law on the Civil Service and Administrative Careers, mass dismissals take place in the public sector without any guarantee of the employees receiving the required compensation.

Collective bargaining restricted in practice: Collective bargaining is restricted, in practice, by the requirement that unions must represent an absolute majority of workers in a company. Only a minority of companies have a collective bargaining agreement. The ILO examined the requirements and deemed that they were excessive and thus constitute a barrier to collective bargaining. In the EPZs, only four companies have negotiated collective agreements.

Terms of employment make it hard to organise trade unions: In the stagnating formal economy, companies are increasingly imposing so-called "flexible" terms of employment, which are gradually stripping workers of their rights and indirectly hindering freedom of association.

Subcontracting represents a particularly serious obstacle, as it means that workers are constantly being moved to different companies, thus hampering union organising. In addition, they do not have a contract with the employer at their actual workplaces, which makes collective bargaining impossible even when workers do manage to set up a union.

The practice of cancelling contracts every three months leaves workers in a state of perpetual insecurity, increasing their dependence on their employers and leaving them under the constant threat of losing their jobs.

Highly unsatisfactory labour relations and workers' rights situation: Viewing the country as a whole, workers' rights are hampered by a lack of effective sanctions against anti-union discrimination, the dismissal of union leaders on the sugar cane plantations, blacklists containing the names of union leaders in the export processing zones and the dismissal of all the founding members of unions that are denied registration by the administrative authorities.

Complete lack of protection of Haitian workers: Most of the workers on the sugar plantations are undocumented Haitians. They do not have the right to form unions or therefore to bargain collectively. Employers prefer to hire them as a means of evading the law and paying lower wages.

Workers' rights not respected in EPZs: Of the 57 companies that operate in the EPZs and employ about 155,000 workers, only eight have a trade union (14%), the unions report. Harassment and persecution mean that workers have to deal with union matters outside the workplace, for fear of dismissal. Blacklists of trade unionists are circulated, preventing them from getting new jobs.

The government has reported on campaigns to promote the respect of labour standards in the sugar refineries and on labour inspections in the sugar plantations, but it has not provided any concrete information about the complaints made by trade union organisations.

Collective bargaining rights increasingly restricted: There have been recent and dramatic examples of trade unions being violently broken up, and their leaders removed from the workplace, at Coca Cola, Cemec Dominicana, Corporación Industrial DIER, C&F Industries and Tabacalera Fuente. Unions have been prevented from engaging in collective bargaining at TOS Dominicana (Hanes Brand), Codassa Internacional and Cola Real.

Oil tanker drivers' strike: The CNUS national trade union centre (Confederación Nacional de Unidad Sindical) supported its affiliate, the oil tanker drivers' unión (Sindicato Autónomo de Choferes Transportadores de Petróleo y sus Afines – SACTPA), in its dispute with Chevron Caribbean.

In a press release, the CNUS leadership urged the Labour and Industry and Commerce authorities to find a rapid solution to the dispute. Their aim was to avoid harmful consequences for transport workers, arising from the creation of monopolies such as that planned by Chevron Caribbean.

The strikers' union wanted to prevent Chevron withdrawing its contracts with the transport companies, as that would lead to 150 job losses. According to SACTPA, the company planned to apply measures that were contrary to the sectoral collective agreement, and that would undermine the rights enshrined in ILO Conventions 87 and 98.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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