Haitian workers mobilise to seek legal status

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A significant proportion of the Haitian workers employed on a full-time or part-time basis in the Dominican Republic's burgeoning banana industry have presented their papers as part of a major government-led regularisation programme, according to local sources. This programme will not only make their presence in the country legal for the first time, but will give them access to the social security system, notably to the same rights to healthcare as their Dominican counterparts.
Although figures vary as to how many banana workers have sought to legalise their presence in the Dominican Republic, the producers' association Adobanano estimates that 70% of the workforce of Haitian origin have presented their papers over the last 18 months, a total of over 15,000 individuals. If their papers are found to be in order by the Dominican authorities, they are promised residency status.
The industry risks a serious labour shortage if the vast majority of those seeking full legal status are not given the right to stay. Those who do not regularise their residency status are still threatened with deportation, although the government has promised that any repatriation will be done in full respect of people' human rights. On 26th June, President Medina reiterated that there will be 'no indiscriminate or collective deportations'.
Government figures at the end of the period for regularisation that concluded on 17th June show that over 288,000 Haitians had registered in the programme, of whom over 60,000 have already had their migratory status approved.
Industry sources warn however that, as the examination of the papers of those who have registered proceeds, some will be rejected for possession of false papers.
The infamous 80:20 law requiring employers to hire 80% Dominicans and 20% foreigners has for a long time been called into question by the reality on the ground, especially in agriculture and construction where the proportion of Haitian workers is close to 80%. The simple fact is that there are few Dominicans prepared to work in low-wage industries where typical wages do not exceed half of the amount calculated as necessary to earn a living wage(1). The Dominican authorities are therefore obliged to consider either a radical reform to this law or abandoning it altogether.
Sources: Various Dominican and Haitian press, June 2015 ; Grupo Banamiel and SAVID Dominicana.