“Hello my name is Jésus Maria Lora , I am Dominican. I belong to the Dominican Pepsi Company/Frito Lay union (SINTRALAYDO). Here is a bit of my history and what we have achieved by being organised as a trade union.
“I have worked for the company for 10 years, I am education secretary.
“What can I say, having succeeded in getting our collective contract has been a tough, but at the same time, good experience. We have been fighting for about nine years for this. Nine years ago we had a situation which was one of precariousness for the workers, then we got involved in this daily struggle—well, day after day—our achievement was this collective contract; that’s why I am telling you my story.
“Don’t give up, keep your head high, and always fight for what you want, because if you do that, you will always achieve what you want as we did in the Dominican Republic. It’s been a success, a great achievement, this collective agreement. We have gained the confidence of the workers (women and men) through social media and the community.
“This has allowed us to be accepted, trusted by the workers and their families as well, to achieve this great level of support on social media that we invite you to copy from us, this struggle we have won, this experience we have acquired, which has been very good, I hope you achieve it too and above all, unity! Wherever there is unity, you will always achieve what you want to achieve.
“Not one step backward! Forward!”
More than half of the workers at the eight Frito Lay worksites in the Dominican Republic who sought a voice on the job received official verification of their new union in recent days, culminating a process that began in April.
When the 621 sales, distribution and production workers joined the National Union of Workers of Dominican Frito Lay (SINTRALAYDO), their efforts were delayed by factory management, which questioned the eligibility status of dozens of workers.
Achieving union recognition by the international snack food company involved “all of the local union leaders” who “could recognize members missing from the company’s list and prove they worked there, preventing the company’s attempt to disqualify them from the count,” says SINTRALAYDO Secretary General Ramon Mosquea, a former Solidarity Center-supported labor educator.
Frito Lay Workers Persist over Years to Win Contract
The workers overcame huge obstacles to win a union. After they sought to achieve majority recognition for a union at the company in 2012, management derailed the process by presenting a list of hundreds of workers the union understood were sub-contracted, thereby reducing support for the union to less than 50 percent, according to SINTRALAYDO leaders. Dominican law requires that more than 50 percent of eligible workers support a union at a worksite before it can be officially recognized.
Since then, the company fired more than 500 SINTRALAYDO members, but workers persisted, joining with the union to recruit supporters, develop greater leadership among its executive committee and engage management in ongoing dialogue to resolve worksite problems, says Mosquea.
“As a union we need to acknowledge the importance national and international solidarity played in getting us to this stage,” he says. “I especially need to recognize the trainings, organizing support and ongoing accompaniment from the Solidarity Center. It played a fundamental role in our getting to this next stage, when we enter into collective bargaining.”
More than 300,000 domestic workers in Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China have migrated from the Philippines, Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries seeking jobs to support their families. Recent high-profile instances of employer abuse against these domestic workers—unpaid wages, 24/7 working hours, and even physical assault—offer a glimpse into the migrant crisis that recently has focused the world’s attention on longstanding issues of debt bondage, human trafficking and mistreatment of workers striving to earn a decent living in the region.
But when they face an abusive work situation in Hong Kong, SAR, migrant domestic workers—nearly all of whom are women—have an opportunity for strong support through the Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Union (FADWU).
“We help them file a case with the Labor Department because, as a union, we can have the right of representation in a tribunal,” says Leo Tang, organizing secretary for the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), which includes FADWU as an affiliate. “Sometimes we provide shelter to those in need.”
Solidarity Center Labor Migration Conference
Tang is among more than 200 migrant worker rights experts taking part in the Solidarity Center’s Labor Migration conference in Indonesia, August 10–12. Conference participants will strategize within themes that focus on labor recruitment reform; organizing; and migrant worker access to justice.
Assisting workers first requires reaching out to them before they need support. That’s why organizing domestic workers is fundamental for the five unions that comprise FADWU. Based on nationality, the unions provide a cultural meeting ground that extends to education and training about their rights on the job.
Tang now is taking the members to the next step: shaping an inclusive union. “We are trying to unite all nationalities, all the migrants, under the federation structure,” he says.
In Mexico, where 10 percent of domestic workers migrate from countries such as Honduras and Peru, the Center of Support and Training for Domestic Workers (CACEH), reaches out to these workers to educate them about their rights.
“They have no information,” says CACEH leader Marcelina Bautista. “Often what happens is that their employer starts to retain their salaries to pay back the air ticket cost (the employer) spent bringing them to Mexico,” she said, speaking through a translator. Bautista, who also serves as International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) regional coordinator for Latin America, also will share her insights at the Solidarity Center event, “Labor Migration: Who Benefits? A Global Conference on Worker Rights and Shared Prosperity
CACEH, which Bautista founded 15 years ago, now has an extensive word-of-mouth network that enables them to organize domestic workers. CACEH also provides education services and train-the- trainer workshops that further expand the organization’s connection with domestic workers.
Market Vendors Join Forces to Improve Their Lives
In the Dominican Republic, where 60 percent of the workforce labors in the informal economy, Pablo de los Santos, president of National Federation of Sellers and Market Workers, says organizing market sellers involves letting them know about the disadvantages they face as self-employed individuals.
“I tell them about the advantages they could have once they organize themselves: better working conditions, living conditions, better benefits, for themselves and their families,” he said, speaking through a translator. Up to 60 percent of informal workers in the Dominican Republic are migrant workers, primarily from Haiti.
The organization, which started out in 2007 with a pilot program and now has branches in all 32 states, has sufficient bargaining power that it convinced banks to give 1 percent loans to dozens of informal economy workers, an achievement individual sellers often unattainable. The federation also negotiated improved infrastructure in Santo Domingo’s bustling open markets, and is seeking more space for Haitian workers.
Like Santos, Bautista is looking forward to taking part in the Solidarity Center labor migration conference to improve the ability of her organization to help workers. “It is very important to learn from the experience of all the other domestic workers who work in migration, especially colleagues who work in Asia and the United States, because they have a lot of experience working with migrant workers,” she says.
Follow Labor Migration: Who Benefits? at the Solidarity Center website and on Twitter @SolidarityCntr.
Tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian migrant workers face imminent deportation from the Dominican Republic in a “crisis that has been building for many years,” says Cathy Feingold, AFL-CIO International Department director. “There is a long legacy of discrimination against workers and families of Haitian descent,” according to Feingold, who moderated a panel on the issue Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
“The Loss of Citizenship and Mass Deportation of Families of Haitian Descent from the Dominican Republic” brought together experts who discussed the nearly impossible hurdles Dominicans of Haitian descent were required to meet to qualify for a status that would allow them to apply for naturalization. June 17 was the deadline for registering with the government, which has not yet begun mass deportations.
Although the government advertised the registration process as free, saying only a handful of documents would be required, the reality has been far different, said Maritza Vargas, secretary general of SITRALPRO, the union for workers at the Alta Gracia Project in the Dominican Republic.
Speaking on the panel, she said when workers tried to register at government offices, they were first told they needed a couple documents—but later informed they needed up to 12 documents, the gathering of which comes at costs the equivalent of two or more months’ wages, sums that poor workers cannot afford. The hurdles are compounded by the Haitian government’s inability to rapidly provide documents and the Dominican government’s failure to open offices sufficiently staffed to handle registrations.
The Dominican government is justifying its move to deport Dominicans of Haitian descent by saying everyone had a chance to register, said Wade McMullen, staff attorney for Partners for Human Rights at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights. Yet “the government created a system in which they can’t win. Under the guise of the rule of law, tens of thousands of Dominican citizens are being converted into undocumented migrants.”
Because of a 2013 Constitutional Court ruling, people born in the Dominican Republic—many of whom speak only Spanish and have never been to Haiti—must renounce their Dominican citizenship and apply for Haitian papers, said Lauren Stewart, Solidarity Center senior program officer for Dominican Republic and Haiti.
A 2014 report by the Solidarity Center and AFL-CIO called the ruling an “egregious abuse of fundamental human rights and a clear violation of international law.”
While a later presidential decree recognized the citizenship of roughly 68,000 people, an additional 130,000 Dominican natives who never had documents were forced to prove birth in the Dominican Republic to apply for Haitian citizenship and apply for regularization in the country of their birth with Haitian documents. Only about 10,000 of these people applied under the plan. Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian migrant workers constitute at least 6 percent of the Dominican population, Stewart said.
The Network of Support to Migrant Workers of the National Confederation of United Trade Unions (CNUS) and the Migrant Justice Movement are calling for the regularization plan to be extended at least until the end of year. The coalition, which includes unions and migrant organizations, formed at a 2014 advocacy training organized by the Solidarity Center. The Solidarity Center and its union partners have held trainings with workers on the regularization process and assist those seeking to register with the government.
Solange Ambroise sells vegetables in the San Cristobal Municipal Market. Credit: Solidarity Center/Ricardo Rojas
Rarely do governments admit failing their citizens. However, on Friday the 193-member states of the United Nations did just that when they voted to rectify their failure to uphold the rights of workers and to ensure decent working conditions for more than half of the world’s working women and men.
By voting for an International Labor Organization (ILO) recommendation, The Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy, the large majority of the world’s governments has done more than just pledge to provide the basics for the world most vulnerable workers—those struggling to make ends meet in the informal economy—they have begun the essential process of strengthening society by promoting worker rights.
Street vendors, home-based workers, domestic workers and day-laborers usually work “off the grid” and outside a country’s regulations and labor laws. They join subcontracted, temporary and part-time workers who subsist on the fringes of the formal economy. These jobs typically pay low wages, perpetuate worker and human rights violations, provide limited or no social benefits, and offer little access to union representation. For most of these workers, survival trumps active engagement in society’s daily undertakings.
An estimated 1.5 billion, or approximately 60 percent of the world’s workers, toil in the informal economy, according to the ILO. In some developing countries, informal jobs comprise up to 90 percent of available work, and most workers take these unstable jobs out of necessity, not by choice.
Women, migrant workers and the young are disproportionately represented in the informal economy, and often the most exploited. Their situation is exacerbated because they may be barred from joining unions, which could offer support through collective bargaining on wages and working conditions, or because unions have not been able to reach them due to the isolated and changeable nature of their job.
Informalization of work fuels global income inequality, poverty and abuse. For example, at age 22, N. Naga Durga Bhavani left her small village in India for Bahrain, where she hoped a job as a domestic worker would help pay for her young daughter’s heart surgery. But when she arrived, after paying labor recruiters the equivalent of nearly two months’ wages, she says her passport and papers were confiscated, and she was forced to work long hours, trapped in an abusive environment where she was beaten, her fingers broken. After she escaped, the Indian Embassy could not help her leave the country because she had no identification.
And the drag on society does not end with the desperate plight of workers like Bhavani. Businesses employing workers in standard employer-employee relationships find themselves at a distinct disadvantage when they compete against those chasing short-term profits by not hiring full-time workers, paying taxes and benefits, or complying with regulations and labor law. Companies that provide financial and business services miss huge swaths of potential clients whose income leaves them too poor to enter the shop door and unable to access credit.
The effects on government are even more profound. The loss of tax revenue on huge percentages of GDP in many countries is only one edge of the sword. Because workers in the informal economy usually hang from the bottom rung of the economic ladder, they are more likely to need social safety nets—the very nets their jobs do not support through tax revenue.
Friday’s vote is significant because governments, worker representatives and employer representatives, who usually operate with very different agendas, publicly acknowledged the imperative of providing all workers with rights at work, social benefits and the ability to join a union. Their acknowledgement that the current system does not work—not for working people, not for governments and not for the businesses that serve them—is an important step toward bringing millions of workers into decent jobs that comply with labor codes and allow workers to be stronger members of their society. All of us should applaud the 193 nations for not choosing failure.