SAN PEDRO, Dominican Republic. – In what lawyers call a landmark case in the Dominican Republic, around 500 Haitian workers of a San Pedro sugar mill went to court to demand contracts with labor rights from the company they’ve been employed by for years.
Testimony began Tuesday with 62 Haitians who went to the Labor Court of Appeals demand contracts, health insurance and other benefits from the mill Cristóbal Colon C. x A., of the Vicini group, where many of them have been working for dozens of years.
Guillermo Jean, who said he’s been working in the company since he was 10 years old, today filed suit to obtain contracts for him and his companions, in addition to Christmas bonuses and pensions for retired employees. “When one works and December arrives one knows that something awaits them, but they never gave us nothing. We are tired."
“Now things are terrible. The parents cannot buy the children a notebook or give them to eat well" Jean said, who makes around 400 Dominican pesos (11 dollars) per week.
The case went to the Appeals Court after the company challenged a previous ruling handed down by the lower Labor court, ordering the mill to formalize the work contracts.
As many as 500 sugar mill workers have been scheduled to appear for testimony the next few days, as Jean was one of the first to do so in Tuesday’s hearing, in what the workers’ lawyers say is a case without precedent in the Dominican Republic, because of the type of claim and from the large number of plaintiffs and their condition of immigrants.
The Vicini group’s position
The company which owns the mills refuses to enter into contracts with the workers alleging that they are "nomads."
"They are nomads, they don’t remain in one site, they often sleep in a batey and at dawn the other day they aren’t there, they take their belongings and go," said the company’s lawyer Mario Carbuccia.
"There’s no control of that floating population to be able to make a contract, because nothing guarantees that they’re going to remain the six months it takes to harvest the sugarcane,” the lawyer added.