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2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Dominican Republic

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2007
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Dominican Republic, 9 June 2007, available at: [accessed 18 February 2018]
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: 9,200,000
Capital: Santo Domingo
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Two union leaders were sent to prison and eight others were fined for their involvement in protests during a transport strike. In at least four companies dismissals for organising trade unions were denounced. Anti-union campaigns continued in export processing zones. The rights to collective bargaining and strike action remain restricted in both law and practice.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association: All workers are free to organise. 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 may 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.

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 an activity.

Restrictions on the right to strike: Strikes can only be called if a majority of employees, whether or not 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 followed before the strike goes ahead.

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

Export Processing Zones (EPZs): There are no laws exempting companies established in the EPZs from complying with national labour legislation.

Trade union rights in practice

Weak enforcement: The application of the country's extensive labour legislation is inadequate. There are several reasons for this, including delays in examining and making decisions on cases. Sometimes this is due to deliberate delaying tactics, such as raising technical issues or other legal tricks when dealing with fundamental rights. Furthermore, despite the modernisation of the legal system, justice is still administered, albeit to a lesser extent than in the past, by judges and magistrates who are political appointees and who 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 officially employed 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 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.

Informal economy is growing: threats to union organising: There are already more people working in the informal economy (1,724,000) than in the official economy (1,480,000). That effectively excludes just over half the working population from the right to join a trade union, initially because the minimum requirement of 20 workers for setting up a union is hard to meet in those companies. But the main problem is that in most of these jobs working and living conditions are precarious, with no regulation of working time and no employment contracts, which makes it virtually impossible for workers to organise themselves.

Terms of employment make it hard to organise trade unions: In the formal economy, which is stagnating, companies are increasingly imposing so-called "flexible" terms of employment, which in fact are removing rights and indirectly impeding freedom of association.

Recruitment strategies are a particularly important problem. Sub-contracting of work to specialised firms means that workers are constantly being moved to different companies and are therefore unable to build relationships with their colleagues, thus preventing organising. In addition, they do not have a contract with the employer at their actual workplaces, which makes collective bargaining impossible even where it is possible to set up a union.

The practice of cancelling contracts every three months is also leaving workers in a state of perpetual insecurity, with a complex series of acquired rights and increasing dependence on their employers, whose own conditions are increasingly different; since they are under constant threat of losing their jobs, workers focus on that fact rather than on demanding their rights or trying to organise themselves.

Total lack of protection for Haitian workers: Many workers in the sugar cane fields and elsewhere are Haitians. They are often in the country illegally, and therefore cannot join unions. Employers use that situation to exploit them in conditions of near slavery. Such exploitation also applies to Dominicans of Haitian descent, many of whom are expelled from the country by the police, regardless of their dual nationality. These people have no way of claiming their rights. Recruiting foreigners is thus becoming a strategy used by companies for lowering labour standards and preventing organising.

Export processing zones in a crisis: Although the Labour Code does apply in the EPZs, no real effort has been made by the government to ensure that labour legislation is enforced. Employers only rarely comply with the decisions of the industrial tribunal when it rules against them.

Employers refuse to recognise trade unions and use various strategies to prevent their creation or destroy them, such as handing round blacklists of union activists to prevent them finding new jobs. Some companies turn to specialised agencies when hiring staff in order to screen out trade union and human rights activists, etc. Where unions do exist there are many cases of their leaders being dismissed or else subjected to campaigns involving discrimination, threats and constant intimidation.

Violations in 2006

Background: The government is continuing to put its faith in a policy of job creation via foreign investment, though this has proved unsuccessful over the last two years. Despite warnings and resistance from trade unions and labour organisations, the government is insisting on adopting the Free Trade Agreement with the United States.

Prison and fines for trade unionists involved in a protest: Two union leaders were sentenced to prison and a further eight were made to pay huge fines for involvement in a strike in the transport sector. Antonio Marte, President of the transport workers' confederation CONATRA (Confederación Nacional de Transporte), was given a four-year prison term. Blas Peralta, President of the national transport federation FENATRADO (Federación Nacional de Transporte Dominicano) was given a 6-month sentence together with a fine of one million pesos. Eight other trade union leaders will have to pay fines amounting to millions of pesos.

Dismissal: the main weapon against trade unions: Eight female employees of the Bancas Real Sports consortium (a betting and lottery company) were sacked for organising a union. Since then the women have not managed to get a job elsewhere and there is speculation that they are on a blacklist. The legal department of the CNUS (Confederación Nacional de Unidad Sindical) is helping the workers with their demand for reinstatement and payment of their lost wages.

In September the 30 founder members of the union at Cartones del Caribe, a packaging company, were sacked.

On 24 November, Refrescos Nacionales – Coca Cola Company, a subsidiary of the multinational, sacked 16 members of the Comité Gestor Pro-Sindicato, the "pro-union promotion committee". The reason behind the dismissals was the workers' aim to re-establish their union, according to the complaint by the independent confederation CASC (Confederación Autónoma Sindical Clasista).

Mass dismissals to prevent trade unions forming and discrimination to weaken them: The workers of Universal Aloe, an agricultural export company in the north of the country, had repeated requests to register their unions turned down, despite meeting the minimum requirement of 20 members. The company went on to make mass dismissals of 80 to 100 people at a time. With assistance from FEDOTRA they managed to obtain the legal registration of the union. However the company continued its anti-union campaign and now discriminates openly against union members, who are forced to work overtime and are refused water and transport in and outside the fields.

Anti-union campaign in EPZ: In September a breach of freedom of association was reported in FM1, which belongs to Group M and is located in the Santiago EPZ. After 75 workers joined the union the company started an anti-union campaign consisting of isolating the trade union leaders and threatening the workers with closing the factory if they continued to support the union.

Violence against trade unionists: The President of the transport workers' confederation CONATRA reported in July that at least 150 drivers belonging to unions affiliated to that confederation had lost their lives this year as a result of criminal acts. The union leader insisted that the authorities investigate each case very carefully since some of the deaths might be politically motivated.

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