UPDATE #7, May 26, 2017. Thousands of Haitian assembly workers, most of them women 18 to 25 years old, have been on strike since Friday, May 19. The workers want a salary increase to $1.60/hour (800 gourdes/day, or $12.80 per day), benefits, and better work conditions. They first took to the streets on Friday and Monday, but after police attacked them with water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets, they went to the sweatshops but did not work. At SONAPI, an industrial park in Port-au-Prince, the factory owners locked out the workers after having them beaten and dragged out by police.
The strikes were prompted by a neglect of the government on May 1 to revise the minimum wage as promised, plus a sharp rise in the cost of living. On May 15, the Haitian government announced hikes of 18.5 percent on the price of gasoline to $3.58/gallon; 20.1 percent on the price of diesel to $2.86/gallon; and 16.9 percent on the price of kerosene to $2.77/gallon. Furthermore, the government promised new price increases with every fuel shipment’s arrival until the end of September, when the overall price hikes compared to May 14 will exceed 50 percent! These already higher-than-market rates for fuel follow previously subsidized prices that were made possible by favorable terms from Venezuela’s PetroCaribe program.
The workers, who can barely afford to buy their water, or to eat enough calories to stay alive because their food is imported, say they cannot sustain a greater than 50 percent price hike for their transportation. They are especially angry because this news comes on the heels of decisions by the government to forgive the taxes of business people who financed the president’s campaign and to create a commission that will attend to the needs of activists from the president’s party.
UPDATE #6, February 20, 2017. Haitian assembly workers at the CODEVI factory in Ouanaminthe, near the Dominican border, refuse to pay a 13 percent tax that the new Jovenel Moise administration’s Direction General des Impots (Internal Revenue Service) has slapped onto their salaries. Thousands of the workers, who earn 60 cents/hour, marched on January 31 chanting, “down with 10 percent from our misery wages! We won’t pay the tax! The struggle continues!” This tax is already in effect at the Clinton-inaugurated Caracol Industrial Park. The director of the movement Worker’s Struggle, Yanick Etienne, says the workers would pay their taxes if they got services. In the Ouanaminthe area, there is no hospital and the roads become rivers of mud whenever it rains.
UPDATE #5, May 24, 2016. A complicated and atrocious scale for Haiti’s minimum wage became effective on May 1, 2016, according to a decree published in the official government paper, Le Moniteur 171, No. 93, on May 23, 2016. This decree identifies five categories of workers, each with its own awful minimum wage: 35 cents/hour for house workers; 52 cents/hour for workers in segment C businesses; 57 cents/hour for workers in segment B businesses; 60 cents/hour for workers in export establishments (assembly work); and 68 cents/hour for workers in segment A businesses. The scandalous salaries are given in gourdes/day, to hide the fact that they are slave wages. Of course, these salaries can be ignored, as so many salary increases have been in the past. Alternatively, they can be reduced at any time by the U.S. Embassy in Haiti simply by raising the gourde/dollar exchange rate from today’s value of 62.
UPDATE #4, May 16, 2016. After a series of violent protests that led to the closure of several textile factories, the Haitian Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor announced that it would raise assembly wages by decree to 300 gourdes per day. This will amount to 60 cents per hour. Shame!
UPDATE #3, February 18, 2016. Haitians, who are suffering from a famine, largely because of the contamination of the millet crop with blight fungus in December 2015, are also having to deal with a new exchange rate of 62.50 gourdes per U.S. dollar. This represents a 31 percent drop in their real salaries since January 2014 and a current salary for Haiti’s assembly workers of 25 to 40 cents per hour.
UPDATE #2, June 9, 2015. The exchange rate was changed to 50 gourdes per U.S. dollar. So Haitian assembly workers, who typically get 125 to 200 gourdes per day, have had their pay reduced to 31 to 50 cents per hour.
UPDATE #1, February 17, 2014. The U.S. Embassy unilaterally announced a change of the exchange rate to 46 gourdes per U.S. dollar. Thus all the wages in the article (exchange rate used 43:1) should be reduced by about 7 percent. The wage hike to 300 gourdes per day has not been honored. Haitian assembly workers are still paid 125 to 200 gourdes per day, which amounts to a scandalous 34 to 54 cents per hour.
By Dady Chery
As long ago as August 2009, Haiti’s Parliament passed a bill that called for a minimum wage of 200 Haitian gourdes per eight-hour day, then equivalent to $4.65 per day, or 58 cents/hour for assembly-plant workers in the country’s Free-Trade Zones (FTZ), but the real wages for Haitian workers have actually decreased.
Immediately after the proposed wage hike in 2009, Haiti’s sweatshop owners went on a campaign to kill the bill. Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCIH) President Reginald Boulos, a member of one Haiti’s richest families, argued that since workers are paid by the piece anyway, “with the implementation of this law, the worker will automatically become unproductive.”
Fernando Capellan, of the Groupo M Dominican company that runs Ouanaminthe’s CODEVI factory on the Haitian-Dominican border, together with Richard Coles, who owned five factories, promised shutdowns and firings that would have impacted over 5,800 people.
After two conferences of the lawmakers with President Rene Preval, three meeting sessions and five votes, a secret ballot of the Parliament turned up a curiously close 36 objections, 4 abstentions, and 38 votes in support of Preval’s minimum wage of 125 gourdes: $2.90 per day, or 36 cents per hour. It was not until years later that we learned, from a Wikileaks cable via Dan Coughlin and Kim Ives, that Fruit of the Loom, Hanes, and Levi’s had colluded with the U.S. Embassy and USAID to pressure Preval to oppose the minimum-wage hike of 200 gourdes per day.
Even so, the Parliament and President agreed then that, by 2012, the wages would rise to a 200-gourdes per day minimum. They did not.
Nevertheless, after a sustained series of nationwide protests for a living wage by Haitian workers in late September 2012, Social Affairs Minister Josepha Gauthier announced that there would be an increase, from a supposed 200 gourdes per day since October 2009, to 300 gourdes per day ($6.98 per day, or 87 cents per hour), to become effective for assembly-plant workers on October 1, 2012.
Current CCIH President, Herve Denis, predicts that there will be mass firings. Will this come to pass? After all, Haiti’s sweatshop factory owners enjoy unprecedented duty-free and quota-free access to the United States market. Furthermore, only prison wages come close to the scandalously low 87 cents per hour salary promised to Haiti’s workers in Fall 2012.
The sweatshop bosses refuse to honor any wage hike. In fact, they are colluding with the U.S. Embassy to reduce the wages from their 2012 levels by manipulating the gourdes-to-dollar exchange rate. Those Haitian workers who assemble clothing for U.S. companies like Gap, Fruit of the Loom, Hanes, Levi’s, WalMart, Gildan, Kohl’s, and Target, simply cannot get enough calories to stay alive on 40 cents per hour as food prices soar from Haiti’s crashed agriculture and a greater proportion of the country’s food is imported every day.
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