The Dominican Republic is a representative constitutional democracy. In July 2020 Luis Abinader of the Modern Revolutionary Party was elected president for a four-year term, the first transfer of power from one party to another in 16 years. Impartial outside observers assessed the election as generally free, fair, and orderly.
The National Police fall under the Ministry of Interior and Police but in practice report directly to the president. The Airport Security Authority, Port Security Authority, and Border Security Corps have some domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Defense and through that ministry to the president. The National Drug Control Directorate, which has personnel from both police and the armed forces, reports directly to the president, as does the National Department of Intelligence. Both the National Drug Control Directorate and the National Department of Intelligence have significant domestic security responsibilities. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by government security forces; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by police and other government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; arbitrary interference with privacy; criminal libel for individual journalists; serious government corruption; and police violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons.
The government took steps in some cases to prosecute and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or corrupt acts, but inconsistent and ineffective application of the law sometimes led to impunity.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers, with the exception of the military and police, to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively; however, it places several restrictions on these rights. For example, the law restricts collective bargaining rights to those unions that represent a minimum of 51 percent of the workers in an enterprise. In addition the law prohibits strikes until mandatory mediation requirements have been met.
Formal requirements for a strike to be legal also include the support of an absolute majority of all company workers for the strike, written notification to the Ministry of Labor, and a 10-day waiting period following notification before the strike can proceed. Government workers and essential public-service personnel may not strike. The government adopted a broad definition of essential workers, including teachers and public-service workers in communications, water supply, energy supply, hospitals, and pharmacies.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and forbids employers from dismissing an employee for participating in union activities, including being on a committee seeking to form a union. Although the Ministry of Labor must register unions for the unions to be legal, the law provides for automatic recognition of a union if the ministry does not act on an application within 30 days. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference. Public-sector workers may form associations registered through the Office of Public Administration. The law requires that 40 percent of employees of a government entity agree to join for the association to be formed. According to the Ministry of Labor, the law applies to all workers, including foreign workers, those working as domestic workers, workers without legal documentation, and workers in the free-trade zones.
The government did not effectively enforce laws related to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and penalties were not commensurate with other laws involving denials of civil rights. The process for addressing labor violations through criminal courts can take years, leaving workers with limited protection in the meantime. In recent years there were reports of intimidation, threats, and blackmail by employers to prevent union activity. Some unions required members to provide identity documents to participate in the union even though the labor code protects all workers regardless of their legal status.
Labor NGO representatives reported companies resisted collective negotiating practices and union activities. In recent years companies reportedly fired workers for union activity and blacklisted trade unionists, among other antiunion practices. Workers reported they believed they had to sign documents pledging to abstain from participating in union activities. Companies also created and supported “yellow” or company-backed unions to counter free and democratic unions. Formal strikes occurred but were not common.
Few companies had collective bargaining pacts, partly because companies created obstacles to union formation and could afford to go through lengthy judicial processes that independent unions could not afford.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The antitrafficking law prohibits forced labor, but there were gaps in enforcement. The laws related to forced labor in the country were not sufficient to meet international standards, as they do not criminally prohibit forced labor except when it results from human trafficking and coercion. The law prescribes imprisonment and fines for persons convicted of exploiting forced labor. Such penalties were not commensurate with penalties for analogous crimes.
The government did not consistently enforce the law. Forced labor of adults occurred in construction, agriculture, and services. Forced labor of children also occurred (see section 7.c.).
The law applies equally to all workers regardless of nationality, but Haitian workers’ lack of documentation and uncertain legal status in the country made them more vulnerable to forced labor. NGO representatives reported many irregular Haitian laborers and citizens of Haitian descent did not exercise their rights due to fear of being fired or deported.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor in a manner consistent with international standards. The law prohibits employment of children younger than 14 and places restrictions on the employment of children younger than 16, limiting them to six working hours per day. For persons younger than 18, the law limits night work and prohibits employment in dangerous work such as work involving hazardous substances, heavy or dangerous machinery, and carrying heavy loads. The law provides penalties for child labor violations, including fines and prison sentences. Penalties were not commensurate with penalties for analogous crimes.
The Ministry of Labor, in coordination with the National Council for Children and Adolescents, the National Police, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Specialized Corps for Tourist Safety Local Vigilance Committees, was responsible for enforcing child labor laws. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The number of labor inspectors and inspections was insufficient. Incomplete or incorrect labor inspection reports and insufficient prosecutorial resources led to few prosecutions on criminal matters involving child labor. Labor inspectors are authorized to reinspect worksites to ensure that violations are remedied. Reinspections occurred less frequently and were more difficult and less consistent in remote rural areas. Some inspection reports did not set a time frame for the remediation of the violations identified.
The porous border with Haiti allowed some Haitian children to be trafficked into the country, where they were forced into commercial sexual exploitation or forced to work in agriculture, often alongside their parents, or in domestic work, street vending, construction, or begging (see also section 6). Some Dominican children were also subject to forced sexual exploitation and forced work. Low income and rural children were at greater risk. Children were also used in illicit activities, including drug trafficking.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The constitution creates rights of equality and nondiscrimination, regardless of sex, skin color, age, disability, nationality, family ties, language, religion, political opinion or philosophy, and social or personal condition. The law prohibits discrimination, exclusion, or preference in employment, but there is no law against discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or stateless status. No law mandates equal pay for equal work.
The government did not effectively enforce the law against discrimination in employment, and penalties were not commensurate with penalties for other civil rights violations. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to persons with HIV or AIDS, persons with disabilities, persons of darker skin color, LGBTQI+ persons, persons of Haitian nationality, and women (see section 6).
A 2019 Ministry of the Economy report showed the per-hour labor wage gap between men and women continued to increase. Between 2014 and 2020, on average women received 16.7 percent less salary than men, according to a study from the Office of National Statistics.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a minimum wage that varies depending on the size of the enterprise and the type of labor. As of October 2019, the minimum wage for all sectors within the formal economy, except sugar cane harvesters, was above the official poverty line; however, a study by the Juan Bosch Foundation found that only one-half of the minimum wage rates were high enough for a worker to afford the minimum family budget.
The law establishes a standard workweek of 44 hours, not to exceed eight hours per day on weekdays, and four hours on Saturdays before noon. Agricultural workers are exempt from this limit, however, and may be required to work up to 10 hours each workday without premium compensation.
The law covers different labor sectors individually. For example, the laws covering domestic workers establish lower standards for hours of work, rest, annual leave, sick leave, and remuneration than for other sectors and do not provide for notice or severance payments. The labor code covers workers in the free-trade zones, but those workers are not entitled to bonus payments, which represented a significant part of the income of most workers in the country.
Mandatory overtime was a common practice in factories, enforced through loss of pay or employment for those who refused. The Federation of Free Trade Zone Workers reported that some companies in the textile industry set up “four-by-four” work schedules under which employees worked 12-hour shifts for four days. In a few cases employees working the four-by-four schedules were not paid overtime for hours worked in excess of the maximum allowable work hours.
Occupational Safety and Health: The Ministry of Labor set occupational safety and health (OSH) regulations that were appropriate for the main industries. By regulation employers are obligated to provide for the safety and health of employees in all aspects related to the job. By law employees may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but they may face other punishments for their action.
Authorities conducted inspections but did not effectively enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and OSH standards. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Inspectors had the authority to conduct unannounced inspections and to recommend sanctions. The Public Ministry, the independent prosecutors’ ministry, is responsible for pursuing and applying penalties for labor violations uncovered by labor inspectors; in practice it infrequently applied penalties.
Conditions for agricultural workers were poor. Many workers worked long hours, often 12 hours per day and seven days per week, and suffered from hazardous working conditions, including exposure to pesticides, long periods in the sun, limited access to potable water, and sharp and heavy tools. Some workers reported they were not paid the legally mandated minimum wage. The Central Romana Corporation and other sugar producers faced allegations that they paid their workers substandard wages and forced them to work in unsafe conditions. Worker rights activists said sugarcane workers were paid 210 pesos ($3.70) per ton of sugarcane cut, and if there were any problems with the production, wages were further reduced (workers were paid between 173 pesos ($3.05) and 190 pesos ($3.35) per “burnt” or damaged ton). Workers normally cut three to four tons a week and thus made between 519 pesos ($9.16) to 840 pesos ($14.82) a week, well below the country’s poverty line. A series of journalistic investigations alleged that Central Romana Corporation, which was responsible for nearly 60 percent of Dominican sugar, might have systematically deprived workers of promised benefits or drastically limited access to benefits including health care, lodging, and pensions.
Industrial accidents caused injury and death to some workers. There were reports that Central Romana routinely exposed its workers to dangerous working conditions, including exposure to chemicals and unsafe machinery, and did not support workers’ medical expenses when they were injured or became ill as a result of workplace incidents.
Informal Sector: The law applies to both the formal and informal sectors, but it was seldom enforced in the informal sector, which comprised approximately one-half of all workers. Most of the informal-sector jobs were in construction, agriculture, and commerce. Many of the informal-sector workers were undocumented persons or women. Workers in the informal economy faced more precarious working conditions than formal-sector workers.