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Labor Dept. finds bitterness in sugar workers’ lives in the Dominican Republic

SAN PEDRO DE MACORIS, Dominican Republic — With no hope of finding work in his native Haiti, like many before him and since, Lucner Pierre migrated in 1978 to look for a job in the Dominican Republic’s sugar industry.

Now 59, he has for most of the past 35 years manually cut sugar cane with a machete, dangerous field work which damaged his sight and turned his skin the creased texture of animal hide. He receives only minimal medical care and lives in company housing, sharing a bug-infested room with seven other men during harvest season, earning in 12 hours, he said, “just enough to eat.”

“I can’t send money home,” Pierre said. “I can’t go home.”

Situations similar to Pierre’s are a reason that a U.S. government report released last week validates public submissions made by human rights activists about deplorable living and working conditions for undocumented Haitian migrant workers and other poor laborers in the Dominican Republic’s sugar cane fields.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Trade and Labor Affairs “found evidence of apparent and potential violations” of labor law and workers’ rights called for in the free trade agreement signed in 2004 by the United States and the Dominican Republic. The labor department also announced last Friday the commitment of another $10 million over the next four years, bringing the amount invested since 1998 to $16 million, to reduce child labor, expand labor rights and improve working conditions.

“Working together with the Dominican government, we look forward to making a real difference in these workers’ lives,” U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in the report.

Among violations cited: poor working conditions related to minimum wage; 12-hour work days; seven-day work weeks; and occupational safety and health concerns such as the lack of potable water, absence of a minimum work age and indications of forced labor, including unlawful overtime performed under threat of deportation.

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Category: DR News |

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Last updated October 22, 2016 at 2:00 PM
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