Antonio Fritz was in the country on a fact-finding mission to investigate its air traffic control problems. His visit followed alerts by the ITF on 6 February that the safety of the country’s airspace was now in jeopardy, following a sustained government attack on the Dominican Air Traffic Controllers Association (ADCA).
He was released without charge after seven hours in custody but his detention is an example of the tactics being used by the government regularly to harass, gag and break the ADCA. Twenty eight members, including the union’s leaders, have been sacked for almost a year, and there have been many arrests without charges.
Antonio Fritz said: “None of the police officers was able to explain the reasons for my arrest, since clearly no law had been broken. This has been a valuable lesson about the regular intimidation of ADCA members, who had already been detained four times in similar conditions and are now prohibited even from writing reports about incidents in the country’s airspace.
The ITF and the ADCA will not be silenced until these attacks on the union and its members are stopped and replaced with the social dialogue that is vital to re-establish safe, orderly and efficient air traffic services.”
Leonel Ribera from the ADCA said he was ashamed that Fritz had had to endure what union members had suffered constantly for three weeks. He expressed his confidence that the ITF and its affiliates had the power to help them and hoped that the evidence the union had presented in its formal complaints to the ILO, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and under the CAFTA-DR (the Dominican Republic-Central America free trade agreement) would win justice for his members.
ITF affiliates in Panama and Colombia have responded swiftly, with two picket lines already being planned for next week in front of their respective Dominican Republic embassies. Meanwhile, unions and supporters have sent messages of support and protest from around the world. These include the US National Air Traffic Controllers’ Association (NATCA), which has registered its complaint with the Dominican Republic’s president.
The ADCA has warned the government and the Dominican Institute of Civil Aviation over a number of incidents, including a total communications failure in Punta Cana, with controllers co-ordinating by mobile phone, and unserviceable navigation aids at La Isabela International Airport, forcing pilots to complete all approaches visually.
Protest to defend the ADCA.