epzs in the dr

Spotlight interview with Gabriel del Rio (CASC - Dominican Republic)

What other priorities is CASC addressing at the moment?

Our main priority is the fight against trade union rights violations linked to the non-application of the labour laws. We have some strong unions, but most employers do everything they can to stop workers from exercising their trade union rights. Workers trying to form unions are faced with dismissal. The combination of workers’ poor knowledge of their rights and the fear of dismissal makes it difficult to form unions. The industrial sector is the worst affected, particularly the export processing zones and small and medium-sized enterprises. The wages in the EPZs are 100 dollars lower than in the factories outside the zones (although they can earn much more than this minimum wage if they fulfil a high production quota).

Pay is another key priority. With wages as they stand at the moment, workers are not able to live decently in the Dominican Republic. After a long fight, we managed to secure an agreement for a 17% increase in the legal minimum wage; it is now close to 10,000 pesos (around 260 US dollars). We are now starting negotiations on the wages in the export processing zones and the hospitality sector. Most workers earning over the minimum wage have to settle for just 300 dollars or so a month. It is virtually impossible under such conditions to pay for children’s education, for health care, a little leisure activity, etc. Considering the cost of living at the moment, a decent wage would be 750 US dollars a month.

Is CASC trying to incorporate domestic workers in its trade union campaigns?

Yes, and we also defended the proposed ILO Convention on domestic work. We are currently pressing our National Congress to ratify the new Convention. It is essential that domestic workers have the right to form their own unions, to fight for their rights, including the right to social security. We are campaigning for a change in the national legislation, because domestic workers do not have the same social rights as other workers, if they are dismissed, for instance.

At the moment, only a hundred and fifty or so domestic workers have joined CASC, as many of them are afraid they will lose their jobs if they become members. We are also hampered by cultural and traditional stereotypes whereby domestic workers are not seen as employees but inferior beings. This mindset makes it difficult for domestic workers to realise that they have the right to form or join a union.

Has the Dominican Republic been hard hit by the global economic crisis?

Over 60,000 jobs have been lost in the export processing zones. It has to be said, however, that the economic crisis has not affected the Dominican Republic as much as other countries, as we depend heavily on tourism and the services linked to it, and this sector has remained stable. We are, however, faced with a serious crisis, following the rise in the price of most basic staples.

Nonetheless, although gross GDP has not fallen, it is not distributed as it should be. Most workers are still just as poor, whilst the rich are continuing to grow richer. The gap between the rich and the poor is growing every day. The government’s social programmes are, fortunately, helping to reduce the number of people living in absolute misery, but poverty is still growing.