Foreign direct investment (FDI) plays an important role for the Dominican economy, and the Dominican Republic is one of the main recipients of FDI in the Caribbean and Central America. The government actively courts FDI with generous tax exemptions and other incentives to attract businesses to the country. Historically, the tourism, real estate, telecommunications, free trade zones, mining, and financing sectors are the largest FDI recipients. In January 2020, the government announced a special incentive plan to promote high-quality investment in tourism and infrastructure in the southwest region and, in February 2020, it passed a Public Private Partnership law to catalyze private sector-led economic growth.
Besides financial incentives, the country’s membership in the Central America Free Trade Agreement-Dominican Republic (CAFTA-DR) is one of the greatest advantages for foreign investors. Observers credit the agreement with increasing competition, strengthening rule of law, and expanding access to quality products in the Dominican Republic. The United States remains the single largest investor in the Dominican Republic. CAFTA-DR includes protections for member state foreign investors, including mechanisms for dispute resolution.
Despite the negative macroeconomic impacts of the pandemic, international indicators of the Dominican Republic’s competitiveness and transparency held steady. Foreign investors report numerous systemic problems in the Dominican Republic and cite a lack of clear, standardized rules by which to compete and a lack of enforcement of existing rules. Complaints include allegations of widespread corruption; requests for bribes; delays in government payments; weak intellectual property rights enforcement; bureaucratic hurdles; slow and sometimes locally biased judicial and administrative processes, and non-standard procedures in customs valuation and classification of imports. Weak land tenure laws and government expropriations without due compensation continue to be a problem. The public perceives administrative and judicial decision-making to be inconsistent, opaque, and overly time-consuming. Corruption and poor implementation of existing laws are widely discussed as key investor grievances.
U.S. businesses operating in the Dominican Republic often need to take extensive measures to ensure compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Many U.S. firms and investors have expressed concerns that corruption in the government, including in the judiciary, continues to constrain successful investment in the Dominican Republic.
In August 2020, President Luis Abinader became the 54th President of the Dominican Republic, presiding over the first change in power in 16 years. Taking office with bold promises to rein in corruption, the government quickly arrested a slew of high-level officials from the previous administration implicated in corruption—people who under prior governments would have been considered untouchable. It remains to be seen whether Abinader will deliver on more complex commitments, such as institutional reforms to advance transparency or long-delayed electricity sector reform.
The Dominican Republic, an upper middle-income country, contracted by 6.7 percent in 2020 and concluded the year with a 7.7 percent deficit thanks to the pandemic. The IMF and World Bank project growth for 2021 at 4.0-4.8 percent.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2020||137 of 180||http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview|
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2020||115 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2020||90 of 131||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2019||$2,604||https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm?Area=207&UUID=8544e377-fb53-42fe-a16e-01c425113446|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2019||$8,080||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator|
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
The Dominican Republic presents both opportunities and challenges for foreign investment. The government strongly promotes inward FDI and has prioritized creating a sound enabling environment for foreign investors. While the government has established formal programs to attract FDI, a lack of clear rules and uneven enforcement of existing rules can lead to difficulties.
The Dominican Republic provides tax incentives for investment in tourism, renewable energy, film production, Haiti-Dominican Republic border development, and the industrial sector. The country is also a signatory of CAFTA-DR, which mandates non-discriminatory treatment, free transferability of funds, protection against expropriation, and procedures for the resolution of investment disputes. However, some foreign investors indicate that the uneven enforcement of regulations and laws, or political interference in legal processes, creates difficulties for investment.
There are two main government agencies responsible for attracting foreign investment, the Export and Investment Center of the Dominican Republic (CEI-RD) and the National Council of Free Trade Zones for Export (CNZFE). CEI-RD promotes foreign investment and aids prospective foreign investors with business registration, matching services, and identification of investment opportunities. It publishes an annual “Investment Guide of the Dominican Republic,” highlighting many of the tools, incentives, and opportunities available for prospective investors. The CEI-RD also oversees “ProDominicana,” a branding and marketing program for the country launched in 2017 that promotes the DR as an investment destination and exporter. CNZFE aids foreign companies looking to establish operations in the country’s 75 free trade zones for export outside Dominican territory.
There are a variety of business associations that promote dialogue between the government and private sector, including the Association of Foreign Investor Businesses (ASIEX).
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Foreign Investment Law No. 16-95 states that unlimited foreign investment is permitted in all sectors, with a few exceptions for hazardous materials or materials linked to national security. Private entities, both foreign and domestic, have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all legal remunerative activity. Foreign companies are not restricted in their access to foreign exchange, there are no requirements that foreign equity be reduced over time or that technology be transferred according to defined terms, and the government imposes no conditions on foreign investors concerning location, local ownership, local content, or export requirements. See Section 3 Legal Regime for more information.
The Dominican Republic does not maintain a formalized investment screening and approval mechanism for inbound foreign investment. Details on the established mechanisms for registering a business or investment are elaborated in the Business Facilitations section below.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The Dominican Republic has not been reviewed recently by multilateral organizations regarding investment policy. The most recent reviews occurred in 2015. This included a trade policy review by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and a follow-up review by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) regarding its 2009 investment policy recommendations.
Foreign investment does not require any prior approval in the Dominican Republic, but once made it must be registered with the CEI-RD. Investments in free zones must be registered with the CNZFE, which will notify the CEI-RD. Foreign investment registration is compulsory, but failure to do so is not subject to any sanction. In the World Bank’s “Doing Business” report, the Dominican Republic’s overall ranking for ease of doing business fell from 102 in 2019 to 115 in 2020, reflecting stagnant performance in several of the indicator categories.
Law No. 16-95 Foreign Investment, Law No. 98-03 on the Creation of the CEI-RD, and Regulation 214-04 govern foreign investment in the Dominican Republic and require an interested foreign investor to file an application form at the offices of CEI-RD within 180 calendar days from the date on which the foreign investment took place. The required documents include the application for registration, containing information on the invested capital and the area of the investment; proof of entry into the country of the foreign capital or physical or tangible goods; and documents of commercial incorporation or the authorization of operation of a branch office through the setting up of legal domicile in the country. The reinvestment of profits (in the same or a different firm) must be registered within 90 days. Once the documents have been approved, the CEI-RD issues a certificate of registration within 15 business days subject to the payment of a fee which varies depending on the amount of the investment.
Lack of registration does not affect the validity of the foreign investment; but the fact that it is needed to fulfil various types of procedures, makes registration necessary in practice. For example, the registration certificate has to be presented to repatriate profits or investment in the event of sale or liquidation and to purchase foreign exchange from the authorized agencies for transfers abroad, as well as to process the residency of the investor. In April 2021, CEI-RD launched an online Registry of Foreign Direct Investment, which aims to streamline and make the registration processes more transparent to investors. For more information on becoming an investor or exporter, visit the CEI-RD ProDominicana website at .
The Dominican Republic has a single-window registration website for registering a limited liability company (SRL by its Spanish acronym) that offers a one-stop shop for registration needs ( ). Foreign companies may use the registration website. However, this electronic method of registration is not widely used in practice and consultation with a local lawyer is recommended for company registrations. According to the “Doing Business” report, starting a SRL in the Dominican Republic is a seven-step process that requires 16.5 days. However, some businesses advise the full incorporation process can take two to three times longer than the advertised process.
In order to set up a business in a free trade zone, a formal request must be made to the CNZFE, the entity responsible for issuing the operating licenses needed to be a free zone company or operator. CNZFE assesses the application and determines its feasibility. For more information on the procedure to apply for an operating license, visit the website of the CNZFE at .
There are no legal or government restrictions on Dominican investment abroad, although the government does little to promote it. Outbound foreign investment is significantly lower than inbound investment. The largest recipient of Dominican outward investment is the United States.
4. Industrial Policies
Investment incentives exist in various sectors of the economy, which are available to all investors, foreign and domestic. Incentives typically take the form of preferential tax rates or exemptions, preferential interest rates or access to finance, or preferential customs treatment. Sectors where incentives exist include agriculture, construction, energy, film production, manufacturing, and tourism.
Incentives for manufacturing apply principally to production in free trade zones (discussed in the subsequent section) or for the manufacturing of textiles, clothing, and footwear specifically under Laws 84-99 on Re-activation and Promotion of Exports and 56-07 on Special Tax Incentives for the Textile Sector. Additionally, Law 392-07 on Competitiveness and Industrial Innovation provides a series of incentives that include exemptions on taxes and tariffs related to the acquisition of materials and machinery and special tax treatment for approved companies.
Special Zones for Border Development, created by Law No. 28-01, encourage development near the Dominican Republic-Haiti border. Law No. 12-21, passed in February 2021, modified and extended incentives for direct investments in manufacturing projects in the Zones for a period of 30 years. Incentives still largely take the form of tax exemptions but can be applied for a maximum period of 30 years, versus the 20 years in the original law. These incentives include the exemption of income tax on the net taxable income of the projects, the exemption of sales tax, the exemption of import duties and tariffs and other related charges on imported equipment and machinery used exclusively in the industrial processes, as well as on imports of lubricants and fuels (except gasoline) used in the processes.
Tourism is a particularly attractive area for investment and one the government encourages strongly. Law 158-01 on Tourism Incentives, as amended by Law 195-13, and its regulations, grants wide-ranging tax exemptions, for fifteen years, to qualifying new projects by local or international investors. The projects and businesses that qualify for these incentives are: (a) hotels and resorts; (b) facilities for conventions, fairs, festivals, shows and concerts; (c) amusement parks, ecological parks, and theme parks; (d) aquariums, restaurants, golf courses, and sports facilities; (e) port infrastructure for tourism, such as recreational ports and seaports; (f) utility infrastructure for the tourist industry such as aqueducts, treatment plants, environmental cleaning, and garbage and solid waste removal; (g) businesses engaged in the promotion of cruises with local ports of call; and (h) small and medium-sized tourism-related businesses such as shops or facilities for handicrafts, ornamental plants, tropical fish, and endemic reptiles.
For existing projects, hotels and resort-related investments that are five years or older are granted complete exemption from taxes and duties related to the acquisition of the equipment, materials and furnishings needed to renovate their premises. In addition, hotels and resort-related investments that are fifteen years or older will receive the same benefits granted to new projects if the renovation or reconstruction involves 50 percent or more of the premises.
In addition, individuals and companies receive an income tax deduction for investing up to 20 percent of their annual profits in an approved tourist project. The Tourism Promotion Council (CONFOTOUR) is the government agency in charge of reviewing and approving applications by investors for these exemptions, as well as supervising and enforcing all applicable regulations. Once CONFOTOUR approves an application, the investor must start and continue work in the authorized project within a three-year period to avoid losing incentives.
The Dominican Republic encourages investment in the renewable energy sector. Under Law 57-07 on the Development of Renewable Sources of Energy, investors in this area are granted, among other benefits, the following incentives: (a) no custom duties on the importation of the equipment required for the production, transmission and interconnection of renewable energy; (b) no tax on income derived from the generation and sale of electricity, hot water, steam power, biofuels or synthetic fuels generated from renewable energy sources; and (c) exemption from the goods and services tax in the acquisition or importation of certain types of equipment. Foreign investors praise the provisions of the law, but express frustration with approval and execution of potential renewable energy projects.
The Dominican government does not currently have a practice of jointly financing foreign direct investment projects. However, in some circumstances, the government has authority to offer land or infrastructure as a method of attracting and supporting investment that meets government development goals. In February 2020, the government passed a law on public-private partnerships (PPPs) that may encourage high-quality infrastructure projects and help catalyze private sector-led economic growth. In August 2020, the Abinader administration officially launched the General Directorate of Public Private Partnerships as the government office responsible for planning, executing, and overseeing investment projects financed via PPPs. Their website has the most up to date information on their initiatives and mandates (https://dgapp.gob.do/en/home/).
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
Law 8-90 on the Promotion of Free Zones from 1990 governs operations of the Dominican Republic’s free trade zones (FTZs), while the National Council of Free Trade Zones for Export (CNZFE) exercises regulatory oversight. The law provides for complete exemption from all taxes, duties, charges, and fees affecting production and export activities in the zones. Operations located in one of the seven provinces along the Dominican-Haitian border benefit from these incentives for a 20-year period, while those located throughout the rest of the country benefit for a 15-year period. Products produced in FTZs can be sold in the Dominican market, but relevant taxes will apply.
CNZFE delineates policies for the promotion and development of Free Zones, as well as approving applications for operating licenses, with discretionary authority to extend the time limits on these incentives. CNZFE is comprised of representatives from the public and private sectors and is chaired by the Minister of Industry and Commerce.
In general, firms operating in the FTZs report fewer bureaucratic and legal problems than do firms operating outside the zones. Foreign currency flows from the FTZs are handled via the free foreign exchange market. Foreign and Dominican firms are afforded the same investment opportunities both by law and in practice.
According to CNZFE’s 2019 Statistical Report, the most recent available, 2019 exports from FTZs totaled $6.3 billion, comprising 3.2 percent of GDP. There are 695 companies operating in a total of 75 FTZs, of which approximately 33 percent are from the United States. Investments made in FTZs by U.S. companies in 2019 represented approximately 35 percent of total investments. Other major investors include companies registered in the Dominican Republic (21.2 percent), the United Kingdom (7.8 percent), Germany (6.5 percent), and Canada (4.2 percent). Companies registered in 38 other countries comprised the remaining investments. The main productive sectors receiving investment include services, apparel and textiles, tobacco and derivatives, agro-industrial products, and medical and pharmaceutical products.
Exporters/investors seeking further information from the CNZFE may contact:
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
Law 16-92 on the Labor Code stipulates that 80 percent of the labor force of a foreign or national company, including free trade zone companies, must be comprised of Dominican nationals. Senior management and boards of directors of foreign companies are exempt from this regulation.
The Dominican Republic does not have excessively onerous visa, residence, work permit, or similar requirements inhibiting mobility of foreign investors and their employees. The host government does not have a forced localization policy to compel foreign investors to use domestic content in goods or technology.
There are no performance requirements as there is no distinction between Dominican and foreign investment. Investment incentives are applied uniformly to both domestic and foreign investors in accordance with World Trade Organization (WTO) requirements. In addition, there are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code or provide access to encryption.
Law No. 172-13 on Comprehensive Protection of Personal Data restricts companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data inside the Dominican Republic or beyond the country’s borders. Under this law, companies must obtain express written consent from individuals to transmit personal data unless an exception applies. The Superintendency of Banks currently supervises and enforces these rules, but its jurisdiction generally covers banks, credit bureaus, and other financial institutions. Industry representatives recommend updating this law to designate a national data protection authority that oversees other sectors.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) in general do not have a significant presence in the economy, with most functions performed by privately-held firms. Notable exceptions are in the electricity, banking, and refining sectors. In the partially privatized electricity sector, private companies mainly provide electricity generation, while the government handles the transmission and distribution phases via the Dominican Electric Transmission Company (ETED) and the Dominican Corporation of State Electrical Companies (CDEEE). CDEEE is the largest SOE in terms of government expenditures. However, the government participates in the generation phase, too (most notably in hydroelectric power) and one of the distribution companies is partially privatized. In the financial sector, the state-owned BanReservas is the largest bank in the country, with a 32 percent market share by assets. In the refining sector, the government is the majority owner of the only refinery in the country; Refinery Dominicana (Refidomsa) operates and manages the refinery, is the only importer of crude oil in the country, and is also the largest importer of refined fuels, with a 60 percent market share. Sanctioned-Venezuelan firm Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA by its Spanish acronym) is the minority shareholder.
Privatization of electricity distribution is part of a major reform planned for the electricity sector and outlined in the National Pact for Energy Reform signed February 2021. Plans are also being discussed for dissolving the CDEEE. While not yet expressly stated whether foreign firms will be invited to participate in these efforts, the Abinader administration has welcomed U.S. investment in the sector, generally. Questions should be directed toward the Ministry of Energy and Mines ( ).
Partial privatization of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in the late 1990s resulted in foreign investors obtaining management control of former SOEs engaged in activities such as electricity generation, airport management, and sugarcane processing.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
The government does not have an official position or policy on responsible business conduct, including corporate social responsibility (CSR). Although there is not a local culture of CSR, large foreign companies normally have active CSR programs, as do some of the larger local business groups. While most local firms do not follow OECD principles regarding CSR, the firms that do are viewed favorably, especially when their CSR programs are effectively publicized.
The Dominican Constitution states, “Everyone has the right to have quality goods and services, to objective, truthful and timely information about the content and characteristics of the products and services that they use and consume.” To that end, the national consumer protection agency, ProConsumidor, offers consumer advocacy services.
The country joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) as a candidate in 2016. The government incorporates EITI standards into its mining transparency framework. In 2019, EITI conducted a validation study of the Dominican Republic’s implementation of EITI standards.
Department of State
- Country Reports on Human Rights Practices;
- Trafficking in Persons Report;
- Guidance on Implementing the “UN Guiding Principles” for Transactions Linked to Foreign Government End-Users for Products or Services with Surveillance Capabilities and;
- North Korea Sanctions & Enforcement Actions Advisory
Department of Labor
The Dominican Republic has a legal framework that includes laws and regulations to combat corruption and provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. However, enforcement of existing laws is often ineffective. Individuals and NGOs noted the greatest hindrance to effective investigations was a lack of political will to prosecute individuals accused of corruption, particularly well-connected individuals or high-level politicians. Government corruption remained a serious problem and a public grievance, so much so, that it was a primary political motivation in the 2020 elections, leading to widespread protests. The Dominican Republic’s rank on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index held at 137 in 2020 (out of 180 countries assessed) but indicated that “the election of a new government…raised hopes for the fight against corruption.”
U.S. companies identified corruption as a barrier to FDI and some firms reported being solicited by public officials for bribes. U.S. investors indicate corruption occurs at all phases of investment, not just in public procurement or during the process for awarding tenders or concessions, as is most often alleged. At least one firm said it intended to back out of a competition for a public concession as a result of a solicitation from government officials. U.S. businesses operating in the Dominican Republic often need to take extensive measures to ensure compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
In September 2019, the Dominican Supreme Court began a trial against six of the 14 defendants indicted in 2017 for alleged links to $92 million in bribes paid by aBrazilian construction company to obtain public works contracts. A 2016 plea agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Brazilian company implicated high-level public officials in the Dominican Republic; the six current defendants include a senator, a lower house representative, a former senator, and a former minister of public works. Civil society welcomed the trial as a step forward in the fight against corruption, but activists highlighted what they perceived as a lack of political will to investigate thoroughly the case, which involved the country’s political and economic elites. U.S. companies also frequently cite the government’s slow response to the Odebrecht scandal as contributing to a culture of perceived impunity for high-level government officials, which fuels widespread acceptance and tolerance of corruption at all levels.
President Abinader has made it clear since his inauguration in August 2020 that fighting corruption will be a top priority of his administration. He appointed officials with reputations for professionalism and independence including a career anti-corruption advocate now serving as head of the Public Procurement General Directorate. In addition, the Abinader administration created the Directorate of Transparency, Prevention, and Control of Public Spending, and implemented other administrative and legislative measures that should increase internal auditing mechanisms.
In November 2020, the Attorney General’s Office detained 11 former officials and alleged front men, including two siblings of former President Danilo Medina, as part of the “Anti-octopus operation.” They are accused of “having used their family connections” to gain privileged access to the public procurement process and, consequently, of having accumulated fortunes illicitly during the past administration. Analysts have suggested that these arrests dealt a blow to the widespread practice of impunity around issues of corruption, particularly where politically connected people and families were involved, and sent a strong warning against such behavior. The arrests also appear to have appeased the demands of civil society, who threatened to protest if arrests did not happen before January 2021. However, it remains to be seen the extent to which the government will prioritize passage of legislative reforms to strengthen rule of law and prevent similar abuses in the future.
Civil society has been a critical voice in anti-corruption campaigns to date. Several non-governmental organizations are particularly active in transparency and anti-corruption, notably the Foundation for Institutionalization and Justice (FINJUS), Citizen Participation (Participacion Ciudadana), and the Dominican Alliance Against Corruption (ADOCCO).
The Dominican Republic signed and ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention. The Dominican Republic is not a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery.
Resources to Report Corruption
Procuraduría Especializada contra la Corrupción Administrativa (PEPCA)
Calle Hipólito Herrera Billini esq. Calle Juan B. Pérez,
Centro de los Heroes, Santo Domingo, República Dominicana
Telephone: (809) 533-3522
Linea 311 (government service for filing complaints and denunciations)
Phone: 311 (from inside the country)
10. Political and Security Environment
Despite political stability and strong pre-pandemic economic growth, citizen and public security concerns in the Dominican Republic impose significant costs on businesses and limit foreign and domestic investment. There are no known national security threats affecting foreign investment within the Dominican Republic.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Santo Domingo as a critical-threat location for crime. According to the Latin American Public Opinion Project, there is a steady increase in crime-related victimization and a growing perception of insecurity in the Dominican Republic since 2010. In 2020, Fund for Peace ranked the Dominican Republic 110 out of 176 countries in its security threats index, and 71 for human rights and rule of law. Other than domestic violence, criminal activity is mostly associated with street-level incidents consisting of robberies and petty larcenies. Of these, street robbery is particularly concerning as criminals often use weapons to coerce compliance from victims. In addition, the Dominican Republic faces challenges with organized crime. Mob schemes in the Dominican land, airspace, and territorial waters include transshipment of South American drugs destined for the United States and Europe, transshipment of ecstasy from the Netherlands and Belgium destined for United States and Canada, substantial money laundering activity particularly by Colombian narcotics traffickers, and significant amphetamine consumption.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed the Dominican Republic as being a low-threat location for terrorism and a medium-threat location for political violence. There are no known organized domestic terrorist groups in the Dominican Republic. Nonetheless, the Dominican Republic is a likely transit point for extremists from within the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe.
Politically motivated protests, demonstrations, and general strikes occur periodically, particularly during general election years. In February and March of 2020, there were multiple, mostly peaceful protests throughout the country over the Dominican electoral authority’s decision to suspend national municipal elections after widespread failure of its electronic voting system. Sabotage of electrical facilities for political purposes also allegedly occurred during the 2020 electoral cycle. In addition, civil unrest has become a common occurrence in the last several years due to the lack of adequate electricity, water resources, and the public opinion from certain groups that the government is not actively protecting the national interest.
Border porosity remains an ongoing concern for the Dominican Republic as the security situation with Haiti has arguably been complicated by the withdraw of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) in 2017. Dominican officials have expressed concerns about the potential for widespread civil unrest or instability in Haiti contributing to illegal flows of people and illicit goods across the border.
There are no known national security threats menacing the survival of the Dominican Republic state. Therefore, its armed forces define a series of citizen and public security concerns as their priority security interests. The Dominican government uses its armed forces to support the police and border security forces within the framework of the Dominican Republic constitution. In this context, the military has deployed through citizen security programs in collaboration with the police and plays an important role in securing the border with Haiti, alongside border security forces.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
An ample labor supply is available, although there is a scarcity of skilled workers and technical supervisors. Some labor shortages exist in professions requiring lengthy education or technical certification. According to 2020 Dominican Central Bank data, the Dominican labor force consists of approximately 5 million workers. The labor force participation rate is 61.1 percent; 56.8 percent of the labor force works in services, 10.6 percent in industry, 9.6 percent in education and health, 9.2 percent in agriculture and livestock, 7.9 percent in construction, and 5.9 percent in public administration and defense. Approximately 46 percent of the labor force works in formal sectors of the economy and 54 percent in informal sectors. In 2020, unemployment increased from 5.9 percent to 7.4 percent over the course of the year due to pandemic-induced challenges. When factoring in discouraged workers and others who were not actively seeking employment, however, the unemployment rate increased from 9.9 percent to 15.0 percent. Youth unemployment remained steady at 13.5 percent, indicating the pandemic had a greater impact on employment for older, more vulnerable segments of the population. With respect to migrant workers, the most recent reliable statistical data is from 2017 and shows a population of 334,092 Haitians age ten or older living in the country, with 67 percent working in the formal and informal sectors of the economy. Migration experts believe that this number has increased to approximately 500,000 since 2017. The Dominican government and the United Nations are expected to provide an updated migrant survey in 2021.
The Dominican Labor Code establishes policies and procedures for many aspects of employer-employee relationships, ranging from hours of work and overtime and vacation pay to severance pay, causes for termination, and union registration. The code applies equally to migrant workers, however, many irregular Haitian laborers and Dominicans of Haitian descent working in the construction and agricultural industries do not exercise their rights due to fear of being fired or deported. The law requires that at least 80 percent of non-management workers of a company be Dominican nationals. Exemptions and waivers are available and regularly granted. The law provides for severance payments, which are due upon layoffs or firing without just cause. The amount due is prorated based on length of employment.
Although the Labor Code provides for freedom to form unions and bargain collectively, it places several restrictions on these rights, which the International Labor Organization (ILO) considers excessive. For example, it restricts trade union rights by requiring unions to represent 51 percent of the workers in an enterprise to bargain collectively. In addition, the law prohibits strikes until mandatory mediation requirements have been met. Formal requirements for a strike to be legal also include the support of an absolute majority of all company workers for the strike, written notification to the Ministry of Labor, and a 10-day waiting period following notification before proceeding with the strike. Government workers and essential public service personnel, in theory, may not strike; however, in practice such employees, including healthcare workers, have protested and gone on strike.
The law prohibits dismissal of employees for trade union membership or union activities. In practice, however, the law is inconsistently enforced. The majority of companies resist collective negotiating practices and union activities. Companies reportedly fire workers for union activity and blacklist trade unionists, among other anti-union practices. Workers frequently have to sign documents pledging to abstain from participating in union activities. Companies also create and support company-backed unions. Formal strikes occur but are not common.
The law establishes a system of labor courts for dealing with disputes. The process is often long, with cases pending for several years. One exception is workplace injury cases, which typically conclude quickly – and often in the worker’s favor. Both workers and companies report that mediation facilitated by the Ministry of Labor was the most rapid and effective method for resolving worker-company disputes.
Many of the major manufacturers in free trade zones have voluntary codes of conduct that include worker rights protection clauses generally aligned with the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work; however, workers are not always aware of such codes or the principles they contain. The Ministry of Labor monitors labor abuses, health, and safety standards in all worksites where an employer-employee relationship exists. Labor inspectors can request remediation for violations, and if remediation is not undertaken, can refer offending employers to the public prosecutor for sanctions.