Fairtrade’s position on the new immigration law of the Dominican Republic
Fairtrade certified bananas form a large percentage of the total volume of exported Dominican bananas. For many years we have been working with banana producers in the Dominican Republic extending Fairtrade benefits to small farmers and workers. During that time we have been concerned about the lack of legal status of the many Haitian migrants who work in many sectors of the Dominican economy, including agriculture. The fact that most Haitian migrants lack work visa has made them vulnerable to expulsion and has caused them to have an uncertain existence. Regardless of the number of years that they work and live in the Dominican Republic, it is practically impossible for Haitians to obtain the rights of residents. Unfortunately, the conditions in their country of origin are far worse and their family’s subsistence depends on money workers send back home.
Fairtrade and its producers have been in continuous dialogue with the government, strongly advocating improvements in the legal status of Haitian workers. Recently the Dominican parliament has passed new legislation in order to regularize the status of migrant workers. The fact that the government has acknowledged the importance to legalize migrant workers has been welcomed. Fairtrade understand the challenges Dominican and Haitian governments face to implement and succeed legal procedures, considering the lack of basic documentation required to start regularization of present and future workers. Haiti will need international support to facilitate basic documents (birth certificate, passport, declaration of good behaviour), as governmental institutions are not ready, nor organized to take up this responsibility at this stage, workers although need to keep on working, and the Dominican economy need the workforce.
Fairtrade is ambivalent about the advantages of this legislation for Haitian workers. On the one hand it provides Haitian workers certain freedom of movement in the Dominican Republic (although their status and stay is linked to the services provided to one specific employer) and an opening to be covered by a national basic social security system (Instituto Dominicano de Seguro Social, IDSS). On the other hand, the application process is costly and extensive and does not lead to residency status, not even temporarily. Also, workers, including those who have been living and working in the country for many years, are required to return to Haiti at least every two years and make a new application for temporary work permit (carnet). The application process is very expensive and forms no guarantee a new work permit will be granted.
We have serious concern about the lack of opportunity for migrant workers to obtain resident status and receive a “cedula”, the basic identification document held by Dominican citizens and residents, which is necessary to fully participate in Dominican society and have access to an improved social security plan (Tesoreria de la Seguridad Social, TSS). In the new migration law, it is mentioned that for workers who have grown roots in the Dominican Republic, a regularisation plan will be developed. Fairtrade would like to see the enactment of the pre-2011 plan drafted by Minister of Interior Franklin Almeida, contemplating temporary resident status for migrants that had been in the Dominican Republic between 5 and 10 years and permanent resident status for those with a stay of 10 years or more. Fairtrade representatives stated this in their January 2013 meeting with the Director-General of Migration. For any regularisation plan to be fair and meaningful, the burden of proof on the worker regarding his length of stay should be reasonable.
Possible negative impacts on human rights of workers are also a significant concern. Under the law there is no protection for workers currently treated for HIV and other infectious diseases in the Dominican Republic who would be sent back to Haiti for failing the medical test required for a work visa. Obligations on employers are particularly onerous since they must repatriate workers to Haiti upon expiration of their visa.
In conclusion, Fairtrade welcomes the efforts of the Dominican government to formalise the employment of migrant workers and support their documentation. The introduction of legislation addressing the position of migrant workers is an important event as it has been long awaited. That being said, we believe that the new legislation is incomplete in the absence of a regularisation plan and contains several areas that need strengthening to avoid adverse human rights impacts. Fairtrade believes that improving the position of migrant workers will support the sustainability of producers and their business. Therefore, we will continue our advocacy efforts to strengthen workers’ rights by seeking dialogue with the Dominican government in close collaboration with certified producers, local civil society and the International Labour Organisation. Fairtrade will also continue to support labour practices of certified companies with the instruments at its disposal. In 2013 we will revise our Standard for Hired Labour further improving the rights of workers and their ability to exercise those rights in the Dominican Republic and other countries around the world.