April 21 2012
Melanie Berdecia, BSILR '12
With the ILR International Travel Grant, I traveled to Santiago in the Dominican Republic. The purpose of my trip was to learn more about labor rights in the Dominican Republic and if these rights have developed since the passage of the Dominican Republic Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). This topic is the concentration of my honors thesis. In 10 days, I learned about the Dominican Labor Court system and the procedures that workers and employers must undergo when they have conflicts that they want to resolve. I also visited two apparel factories in one of the largest Santiago export processing zones.
Through the connections that Professor Compa has established with the Escuela Nacional de La Judicatura, I interviewed three prominent labor courts judges. First, I interviewed Aida Nunez, President of the Labor Court of First Instance of Santiago, accompanied by Carlos Martinez, President of the Second Hall of the Labor Court of First Instance of Santiago. The judges emphasized that there are two sides to the Dominican labor system: administrative and judicial. The administrative component consists of the Ministry of Labor and the judicial component consists of the Labor Courts of First Instance, the Labor Court, and the Supreme Court. A noteworthy point the judges made is that every district in the Dominican Republic does not have the resources to establish this intricate court structure, and some districts, such as La Vega, only have one judge who presides over all civil and criminal matters, including labor issues. When I asked the judges about the main obstacles they encountered when trying to do their work in an effective manner, they identified three main issues including: the number of judges versus the number of cases, the formality of the judicial process, and external issues such as the lack of energy resources (when the generator shuts down). Considering that the labor court system in Santiago is one of the most advanced in the Dominican Republic, there are clearly many improvements that should be made to ensure that worker's rights are protected by the courts.
My second interview was with Nancy Salcedo, President of the Labor Court of Santiago. This court is the appellate court that considers appeals from the Labor Court of First Instance. In addition, when employers want to discharge a union employee, the court determines whether the discharge is justified. Either the employer or the union employee can appeal the court's decision to the Supreme Court but employers must receive authorization from the court before discharging the employee. While this, and other institutional structures evolving out of the provisions of the Dominican Labor Code seem very progressive, there are many districts that do not have this type of system in place yet. When I asked Judge Salcedo about labor rights in the Dominican Republic, she argued that they have virtually remained the same. She stated that cases involving export processing zones have declined due to plant closings and the increase in informal labor.
After meeting the judges and gaining more information about the labor court system, I visited two factories in the Santiago export processing zone. While I was not able to speak with the workers in either factory, I had the opportunity to walk around the factory (accompanied by management) and analyzed the differences between the larger factory that had 5 unions and a collective bargaining agreement and the smaller factory with no union. I gained a lot of information through my visits and will be sharing my findings in my honors thesis.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to substantiate my honors thesis with the information I gained through direct observation and field research that would not have been possible without the ILR International Travel Grant.