Labor Issues

 

The labor law of the Dominican Republic, which came about in 1992, establishes a minimum workweek of 44 hours, which usually means that employees in the country work an 8-hour day from Monday to Friday and a 4-hour day on Saturdays. Employees are entitled to overtime pay of up to 35% of their base salary for overtime between 44 hours of work and 68 hours of work per week and additional 100% of their base salary for overtime above 68 hours per week.

 

Minimum monthly salary in the Dominican Republic

Sector

Rate/month

(RD = Dominican peso)

$US

(1USD=18.2RD--2002)

EPZs
RD $2,490
US $136
Tourism
RD $3,030
US $166
General economy
RD $3,416
US $188

Source: Calculated from data supplied by ERI

 

Estimated Costs of physical needs

Category

Costs

(RD = Dominican peso)

$US

(1USD=18.2RD--2002)

Rent of a 3 bedroom house

RD $8,000-$45,000

(rent/month = $666-$3,750)

US $440-$2,473

(rent/month = $37-$206)

Electricity
RD $800+$1,500 for A/C
US $44+$82
Telephone
RD $500/month
US $27
Water
RD $100/month
US $5
Vehicle

RD $80,000(used), $250,000(new), 1,300,000(luxury)

US $4,395(used), $13,736(new), $71,428(luxury)

Taxi
RD $50/month
US $2.50
Gasoline

RD $37-$43/gallon

US $2-$2.50
Dental Appointment
RD $450-$700
US $25-$38
Medical Appointment
RD $300-$1,200
US $16-$66
Household Help
RD $1,500-$5,000
US $82-$275

Source: Calculated from data supplied by ERI

 

As you can see from the two charts above, the wages are extremely low in the EPZs. A worker who is earning the minimum wage required in a factory is barely able to afford any of the most basic physical needs. The minimum wage does not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. It only provides approximately one-third of the income necessary to sustain an average family. The national poverty level, which is based on a basket of goods and services consumed by a typical family, is $402 (6,607 pesos) per month for a family of five. If both parents worked in an EPZ factory at minimum wage, their combined salary would not be enough to rise above the national poverty level.

Click here to see a testimony of a former EPZ worker

 

Labor Unions

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for the freedom to organize labor unions, and all workers, except the military and the police, are free to organize. Organized labor represents an estimated 10 percent of the work force and is divided among four major confederations and a number of independent unions. There are 3,506 registered unions in the country, but it is estimated that 60 percent are inactive. The 1992 Labor Code provides extensive protection for worker rights and specifies the steps legally required to establish a union, federation, or confederation. The code calls for automatic recognition of a union if the Government has not acted on its application within 30 days. In practice, the Government readily facilitates recognition of labor organizations.

 

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Collective bargaining is legal and may take place in firms in which a union has gained the support of an absolute majority of the workers. Only a minority of companies have collective bargaining pacts, and the International Labor Organization (ILO) considers the requirements for collective bargaining rights to be excessive and finds that in many cases they could impede collective bargaining. The Labor Code stipulates that workers cannot be dismissed because of their trade union membership or activities; however, in practice, workers sometimes are fired because of their union activities.

  • There were reports of widespread discreet intimidation by employers in the EPZs in an effort to prevent union activity. Unions in the EPZs report that their members hesitate to discuss union activity at work, even during break time, due to fear of losing their jobs. Some EPZ companies have been accused of discharging workers who attempt to organize unions, but there also have been reports of union organizers extorting money from business owners. In the EPZs, while there may be as many as 10 collective bargaining agreements on paper, only 3 actually are functioning. The majority of the unions in the EPZs are affiliated with the National Federation of Free Trade Zone Workers (FENATRAZONA) or the United Federation of Free Trade Zone Workers. FENATRAZONA estimates that only 3 percent of the workers in the EPZs are unionized.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including that performed by children; however, such practices still exist in the adult worker population and among children in the informal sector. Young children "adopted" by families work under a kind of indentured servitude, and homeless children are made to beg by adults. Trafficking in women and children, particularly for purposes of prostitution, is also a problem.

  • The FENATRAZONA noted that mandatory overtime in the FTZ factories is a common practice. Workers also reported that their employers locked factory doors with chains so they could not leave, and took incentive pay away from or fired those who refused to work overtime. For example, many companies use an incentive system in which a team of 12 to 15 persons is given a quota to fill by the end of the week, in order to receive extra benefits. Most teams are unable to fill the quota to receive the benefits and are not paid overtime pay for the extra time they put in to attempt to fill the quota. Union officials state that newly hired workers are not informed that overtime is optional.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The Labor Code prohibits employment of children under 14 years of age and places restrictions on the employment of children under the age of 16; however, child labor is a serious problem. Restrictions for children between the ages of 14 and 16 include limiting the daily number of working hours to 6, prohibiting employment in dangerous occupations or in establishments serving alcohol, and limiting nighttime work. A company could face legal sanctions and fines if caught employing underage children. Children between the ages of 14 and 16 may work in apprenticeship and artistic programs. A national child labor survey released in October reported that an estimated 17.7 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 17 are engaged in some form of child labor.

  • Child labor takes place primarily in the informal economy, small businesses, clandestine factories, and prostitution. Conditions in clandestine factories are generally poor, unsanitary, and often dangerous.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Constitution empowers the executive branch to set minimum wage levels, and the Labor Code assigns this task to a national salary committee. Congress also may enact minimum wage legislation. Any many cases, workers contracts are never specifically defined. Subsequently, employers who prey on workers’ ignorance fail to give them written contracts of employment specifying the hours of work, wages, and other entitlements. This leaves the workers vulnerable because without a contract there is no job security. Thus, company’s can dispose of employees at will without ever lawfully violating a workers’ contract since one never existed.

 

Despite these labor laws the worker’s in the EPZs still face anti-union repression. An article entitled “Anti-union repression in the Export Processing Zones,” published by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, exposes many of the reasons it is difficult to form labor unions in EPZs.

  • High unemployment/underemployment puts EPZ companies at an advantage because cheap labor is readily available. As one worker puts it, “we want jobs, but jobs with dignity.”
  • Governments often do not apply labor laws because the big companies pay them off. Government corruption plays a major role in anti-union repression.
  • Repression not only comes from employers, but from public authorities. In the Dominican Republic, on July 9, 1994, the police placed a trade union official, Juan Prospero, under arrest as he was leaving a trade union meeting in La Romana. He was held in detention and not released until the following month.
  • Workers who dare to join labor unions risk losing their jobs, face death threats, and the very good possibility of the factory closing down and relocating to another location or even worse another country under a different name. Here is an example of that:
"Tortony Manufacturing shut down in 2000 after workers called for collective bargaining. A few months later, the management reopened under the name 'Gramerci Dominicana.' Many of the workers who had lost their jobs when Tortony Manufacturing closed its doors, were refused employment in the new company."
  • Blacklists are another form of repression workers face. Lists of employees who are active in forming unions make this list, and as a result, employers do not hire them.

 

Women

In EPZs women are confined to repetitive tasks in production while men usually move on fairly quickly to better paid supervisory or maintenance jobs. The managers are almost always exclusively male.

Considering women make up 90% of the jobs, it is not surprising that most of the reasons employers desire female workers are the same. Some of them are:

  1. Women are less likely to protest or organize in labor unions because of fear or repression. Although this is the same for men in most cases.
  2. Women workers are less educated than men, and therefore less capable of participating in union activities
  3. It is believed that women are less likely to complain when discriminated against in terms of salary or access to promotions.
  4. Women have wonderful manual dexterity, which is helpful when sewing
  5. Patience makes women more suitable than men for carrying out tasks that are repetitive and demand painstaking attention to detail.

Aside from being harassed, repressed, and exploited, most women in the Dominican Republic have strong commitments to the home and family. In my experiences in the Dominican I noticed that men rarely ever worked around the house, as that would have been a detriment to their machismo way of life. Women are normally stuck with the cooking and cleaning and raising of children. This makes it dually difficult on women, because they are not only looked to for financial support, but for maternal support as well.

Due to the long hours required or forced on them in the factories, their time raising a family is diminished. Children are normally the ones who suffer the most from the situation. If the mother is not around, because she is locked in a factory working overtime, the education that her children are receiving (if they are recieving any) will be effected by her absence. The children will have difficulty learning without the help of a parent. Also, children whose parents don’t make enough money, due to low wages, suffer from nutritional problems. Also, if the parents don't make enough money the child may have to work in order for the family to survive.

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