Employees were fired illegally from Haitian factory, investigation finds
By Alison MacGregor
Gildan Activewear Inc. [a Montreal-based apparel firm] has ordered its Haitian subcontractor to reinstate four workers after an independent investigation concluded they were illegally fired in September because of their involvement with a local union.
The union members worked for the Genesis S.A. factory near the Port-au-Prince airport.
The tax-exempt plant, owned by the powerful Apaid family, produces almost exclusively for Gildan.
The investigation found there was
“evidence of violations of freedom of association”
at the factory, Peter Iliopoulos, Gildan’s senior vice-president (public and corporate affairs) said in an interview Tuesday.
“(We have) requested the reinstatement of the employees with full back pay dating back to the date of dismissal and also recognition of full seniority for these individuals as though they had never left the company or factory,” he said.
“We requested that these actions be issued immediately and to give us written confirmation by Dec. 2.”
The firing of the four workers, as well as two other union members employed at two other garment factories, outraged Haitian workers’ rights advocates who collaborated with international workers’ rights groups to bring attention to the issue.
The uproar led to an independent investigation by Better Work Haiti, a program partnered with the International Labour Organization, which aims to ensure compliance with labour work standards.
The report, released on Monday [November 28], said the four firings at the Genesis plant resulted in
“half of the union’s executive committee losing their jobs.”
As well, evidence provided by the employer claiming that the employees were laid off as part of a restructuring plan was not credible.
Another factory, One World Apparel, where workers assemble garments for Winston Salem, N.C. based Hanesbrands, dismissed the union’s secretary after he handed out flyers outside of the factory before his shift.
The Gazette’s attempts to reach a spokesperson at Hanesbrands by phone and email were unsuccessful.
The sixth fired employee worked for the Multiwear factory.
The Haitian garment-assembly industry is one of the country’s biggest employers. In 2008, the U.S. government introduced the so-called Hope II law, which attempted to give the sector a boost by creating tax exempt factory zones and to put in place a program to ensure better work standards.
After a devastating earthquake hit Haiti in January 2010, expanding the Haitian apparel industry was considered by some experts to be an important economic opportunity for the country.
But Haitian workers-rights worker Yannick Étienne said in an interview this month that in reality many of the factories take advantage of the their workers.
Gildan’s Iliopoulos said his firm takes the firings at the Genesis plant seriously.
He said his company requested that Genesis owner Gerald Apaid communicate with the Haitian Ministry of Labour about the reinstatement of the workers and that the process be witnessed by local labour inspectors
“to make sure it is done properly – and done on the up and up.”
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Source: The Montreal Gazette
Pressure Grows for Reinstating Fired Unionists
Weekly News Updates on the Americas, Dec 6, 2011
The Montreal-based apparel firm Gildan Activewear Inc. has asked its Haitian subcontractor, Genesis S.A., to reinstate four unionized workers that the plant’s managers fired in the last week of September, Gildan senior vice president Peter Iliopoulos told the Montreal Gazette on Nov. 29. The company has
“requested the reinstatement of the employees with full back pay dating back to the date of dismissal and also recognition of full seniority for these individuals as though they had never left the company or factory,”
Iliopoulos said. Another major North American apparel firm, North Carolina-based Hanesbrands Inc., has taken similar action with its subcontractor in Haiti, Multiwear SA, which fired Hilaire Jean-Jacques, a member of the same union, on Sept. 30.
The five unionists were all officers of the newly formed Textile and Garment Workers Union (SOTA). A sixth SOTA officer was fired in the same week at One World Apparel, which produces for Superior Uniform Group Inc., a manufacturer based in Seminole, Florida.
Gildan and Hanesbrands’ call for the workers to be reinstated came in response to a Nov. 24 report by Better Work Haiti, a partnership of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) that was set up to monitor labor conditions in Haiti.
“There is strong circumstantial evidence to demonstrate that the officers of the SOTA trade union were terminated based on their trade union affiliation,”
the group concluded, saying the timing of the firings
“strongly suggests an effort by employers to undermine the new union, and to curtail its growth before it had the opportunity to expand its membership.”
The report recommended reinstating the workers with back pay.
SOTA was formally launched on Sept. 15 with the goal of organizing workers in Port-au-Prince’s garment assembly sector, which currently has no unions; only one of Haiti’s 23 assembly plants is unionized.
Unionists and supporters, including the leftist workers’ organization Batay Ouvriye (“Workers’ Struggle”), responded to the firings with an international campaign to pressure the plants for reinstatement.
For background, read: Nascent Union Charges Reprisal by Textile Factory Owners
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