POVERTY-stricken garment workers in Haiti have been violently attacked by riot police.
Last Thursday, for the second day in a row, police fired tear gas and beat protesters with batons outside the SONAPI Free Trade Zone in Port-au-Prince.
Last month a coalition of unions, including IndustriALL affiliate GOSTTRA, called on Prime Minster Ariel Henry to increase the minimum wage in the garment industry from 500 gourdes a day ($4.80) to 1,500 gourdes.
According to the Labour Code, wages must be adjusted when inflation exceeds 10 per cent in the year.
In recent months, inflation has already topped 23 per cent.
GOSTTRA Coordinator Reginald Lafontant said: ‘The cost of food, rent, health care and transport is going up every day, yet our wages have stayed the same for the past three years.
‘Workers are earning less than a third of what they need to survive.
‘Life is a daily struggle, and people are really desperate.’
Haiti’s garment factories mainly export to retail markets in the USA and Canada.
Lafontant said: ‘Haitian workers are not earning a fair share of the wealth we produce.
‘A garment worker would need to work four days to afford to buy the T-shirt she sews.
‘I know Haiti is a poor country, but this is ridiculous.’
The situation is made worse by the widespread violations of labour rights in the garment industry.
Most recently this was the case at Centri Garments where some 60 workers have been dismissed for protesting against unfair wage practices, while the Ministry of Labour turned a blind eye.
IndustriALL Global Union has expressed its support for Haitian garment workers after police violently broke up the demonstration in support of demands for an increase in the minimum wage.
In a letter addressed to the Haitian Prime Minister, IndustriALL General Secretary Atle Høie warned that brands and retailers are under increasing pressure to ensure due diligence in their supply chains.
‘Paying starvation wages and repressing workers who protest is severely damaging the reputation of your country as an acceptable country in which to do business,’ he wrote.
IndustriALL has urged the Prime Minster to engage in meaningful dialogue with the signatory unions with a view to adjusting the minimum wage.
It has further called on the government to take urgent steps to ensure national laws and international standards are upheld in the garment industry, and in particular to ensure the reinstatement of workers at Centri Garments.
Last month Haiti remained in the midst of multiple crises as the country grappled with the question of who would lead the nation in the aftermath of the assassination of President Jovenel Moise.
Meanwhile, the dramatic rise in the cost of living has led workers to demand an increase in the minimum wage.
On January 17, a coalition of nine trade unions sent an open letter to the prime minister seeking the wage increase from 500 gourdes ($4.82) per day to 1,500 gourdes ($14.62)
In the letter, they decried the current inflation rate of 22.8 per cent and the difficulty of living on subsistence wages, and demanded a response by January 31, 2022.
The letter noted that three years have passed since the last adjustment to the minimum wage.
Burdened with rising prices of basic necessities and services such as transportation, health care and education, workers need three to four times their current wages just to survive.
Article 137 of the Haitian Labour Code mandates that if the inflation rate exceeds 10 per cent, the wage is to be adjusted.
The letter was signed by: SOTA-BO-Batay Ouvriye (textile union), Association of Textile Workers Unions for Re-importation-GOSTTRA (textile union); ROHAM, a union affiliated with Centrale Nationale des Ouvriers Haitians (CNOHA); SYNTRACO (textile union at Caracol industrial park); SOVASHG (textile union at S&H factory); SOKOWA (textile union at CODEVI industrial park); SOFEZO (textile union at Ouanaminthe); SROD’H, affiliated with CNOHA; and AASP (association of security professionals).
Trade unionists amplified the letter with social media messages saying: ‘Since 2019, the same salary.
‘In the meantime, the price of transportation and food increased.’
On January 18, workers at SONAPI industrial park in Port-au-Prince – home to many of Haiti’s garment factories – held a spontaneous demonstration to call for a minimum wage increase.
A member of GOSTTRA recorded a video of the protest which took place as Prime Minister Henry was appearing at SONAPI for the installation of Dithny Joan Raton as the new labour ombudsperson for the garment industry.
Since then, demonstrations have been widespread throughout industrial parks in the country.
- The International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Women’s Committee Alliance (IWCA) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that establishes a collaborative partnership that aims to create a safer, more sustainable coffee supply chain for women in the international coffee community.
The IWCA facilitates programmes and partnerships in support of their global chapter network, representing women in 29 countries who depend on coffee for their livelihoods.
Engaging with the ILO’s Vision Zero Fund will provide IWCA chapter members with valuable opportunities to attend technical trainings and improve their occupational health and safety knowledge.
The ILO’s Vision Zero Fund promotes collective action that mobilises a wide range of stakeholders, including global business, to develop and implement joint solutions to address endemic safety and health challenges in global supply chains.
It is active in the agriculture, construction, garment and textile supply chains, and currently implements projects in eight countries on three continents.
IWCA Global Executive Director, Sarada Krishnan, said: ‘Women face many occupational hazards that are rarely recognised, since women’s work in the household or farm are culturally not considered as professional endeavours.
‘To overcome this and to make the women’s work environment safe, women-specific training programmes need to be offered.
‘I am thrilled about our partnership with the International Labour Organisation, which will allow us to develop gender specific interventions through joint trainings, research and events.’
ILO Vision Zero Fund’s Global Programme Manager, Ockert Dupper said: ‘Because of the different jobs, responsibilities and social roles of women and men, they face different physical and psychological risks in the workplace, meaning different responses are needed if safety and health policies and prevention strategies are to be effective.
‘Our new partnership with the IWCA will support joint research and give us a better understanding of the risks and hazards faced by women in the coffee sector.
‘It will also help us ensure that interventions, training and campaigns are designed to take gender into account.
‘The IWCA’s worldwide network will help to ensure that knowledge and tools are widely shared, and so make a real difference.’
• ‘America should be an open and welcoming country, so we cannot accept how Haitian migrants escaping deplorable conditions have been treated,’ the AFL-CIO USA trade union body has recently stated.
‘Our labour movement represents workers from all backgrounds and from all regions of the world,’ said AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler.
‘We not only advocate for dignity on the job; we are champions for universal human rights. So we are wounded when we see human beings being treated deplorably, without due process – let alone having the ability to stand up collectively and advocate freely for themselves.
‘We must let our government officials know that we have an obligation to help Haitian migrants, examine those policies that continue to oppress and eradicate the systems that deny people basic rights and freedoms.’
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond said: ‘Black and brown human beings are no less worthy than any other individual. How do we justify this, and what do we say to the young who question this behaviour? We can no longer excuse the obvious.
‘We in the labour movement fight for fairness, economic empowerment, human rights and voting rights for all, which is why we need refugee resettlement and a pathway to citizenship.
‘Our core union values require us to look at everything through a basic lens of humanity.
‘We cannot have an immigration system focused on deterrence and deportation and inequality based on race or ethnicity. Instead, we need our government to acknowledge and dismantle systems of structural racism that have been used to keep workers poor in our country and around the world.’
AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre said: ‘The Haitians who need our help have been let down by our government too many times.
‘We renew our call for a policy agenda that will uplift rights for all and enable workers and their unions to reduce inequalities and strengthen our fragile democracies.
‘We also call for an immediate end to deportation flights to Haiti, the establishment of meaningful asylum processing and an end to the callous use of Title 42 – a programme meant to ensure public health – to close our border to asylum seekers.’