New Laws Would Grant Social Protections to 300,000 Dominican Domestic Workers

Two groundbreaking pieces of legislation are poised to bring 300,000 domestic workers in the Dominican Republic into the national social security system, providing them for the first time with a minimum wage, health care, pension, and other social protections to which formally employed Dominican workers are entitled.

Dominican domestic workers—the vast majority of them women—do not earn a living wage; indeed, 50 percent of their meager earnings are often received as in-kind goods, food, and lodging at their place of work. They have no maternity leave, pension, health care coverage, or vacation time. Under the new plan, they would be entitled to receive a pension as well as disability, survivor, family and occupational health insurance, and other basic benefits.

“In the labor movement, we are confident that the Social Security system will cover domestic workers,” said Eulogia Familia, vice president and coordinator of policies for gender equity of the National Confederation of Unions (CNUS), a Solidarity Center partner. “The best way to begin to lift domestic workers out of exclusion and poverty is by affiliating them to the social security system. The approval of these laws will generate an advance for women and men who are domestic workers.”

Famila was referring to the likely ratification of International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 189, Decent Work for Domestic Workers, and to legislation drafted by Sen. Adriano Sánchez Roa. Sánchez Roa’s worker rights bill, first presented last year, includes establishing a minimum wage for domestic workers and health coverage by the Dominican Institute for Social Security. Sánchez Roa has not yet introduced his bill in this session of the Senate, as he is waiting for ratification of Convention 189, according to Familia.

In a July 5 meeting with Familia, other labor leaders, and domestic workers, Dr. Reinaldo Pared Pérez, president of the Dominican Senate and secretary general of the governing Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), told the unionists that the Senate is going to support the ratification of Convention 189. He went on to say that on Tuesday July 10, the Senate will discuss Convention 189 and later send it for study in the appropriate commission of the Senate.

His announcement comes on the heels of a public commitment by the minister of labor, Francisco Domínguez Brito, at the National Forum on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, held on June 28.  At the forum, organized by the Inter-Union Committee for the Woman Worker (CIMTRA), Domínguez Brito pledged to lobby senators for passage of the convention. CIMTRA brings together women from this Caribbean island’s three labor confederations. Also present at the forum were Sharan Burrow, secretary general of the International Trade Union Confederation; Dominican labor leaders; representatives of various NGOs; governmental offials; and local representatives of the ILO.

The Solidarity Center’s partners in the Dominican Republic, who have been advocating for many years for the rights of all informal workers, continue lobbying to make these protections a reality. With Solidarity Center support, they have conducted public awareness campaigns, organized domestic workers, and educated Haitian migrants on their rights as domestic workers.

The government pledged to ratify Convention 189 after its adoption more than a year ago, but the legislation had stalled. While ratification of the convention and the Sánchez Roa bill is likely to move forward in the Senate, it may run into trouble in the House of Deputies, according to Familia, as a result of one influential legislator’s resistance to sections that specifically address migrant workers.