Haitian labor movement struggles as workers face increased anti-union persecution and wage suppression

Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti
April 16, 2014

This report released by Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) describes persecution against union activists, wage suppression and worker exploitation in Haiti’s public sector and apparel industry four years after the January 12, 2010 earthquake.[i] The report summarizes troubling trends the BAI, a Port-au-Prince-based law office, observes from its clients fighting for the right to organize and a living wage. The report also proposes a series of recommendations for the Haitian government, employers, and foreign investors like the United States government, as well as international partners wanting to support Haiti’s labor movement. 

Dozens of union leaders and activists have recently been terminated from their jobs. At least 36 employees in the apparel industry have been terminated in response to their protest in December 2013 asking for higher wages. Similarly, the entire executive committee of a union was terminated by the state-owned public utility company after they tried to organize a press conference denouncing the company’s corrupt practices. One union officer was severely injured when the company’s security guards violently broke up the press conference. The report calls on public and private employers to stop terminating workers in retaliation for lawful union activity.

The report also describes the Haitian government’s complicity in labor and employment violations. The complicity starts with the exclusionary justice system, which caters to Haiti’s elite and excludes the poor. The report calls on the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, which has jurisdiction over workers’ claims, to ensure that workers obtain fair and impartial hearings.

Workers in the apparel industry also experience wage suppression. The apparel industry has recently been revitalized with international support as part of Haiti’s earthquake reconstruction. But according to recent reports, all 24 of Haiti’s apparel factories have not been paying the minimum wage for piece-rate workers.

The report urges apparel factories to set a production rate to allow workers performing piece work to earn a minimum of 300 Gourdes a day ($6.97 a day/$.87 an hour), in compliance with the 2009 minimum wage law. The report recommends that apparel industry employers in violation of the law pay workers back pay retroactive to the date the rate took effect under the law. The Haitian government is also encouraged to allow more debate on the minimum wage so that all stakeholders, including workers, can participate and express their views.

 

 

Three fundamental challenges facing the workers movement in Haiti

Union Persecution. Dozens of union leaders and activists have recently been terminated for their union-related activity. All five members of the leadership of the Union of Employees of l’EDH (Le syndicat des employés conséquents de l’EDH or SECEdH) were terminated after they held a press conference on January 10, 2014, alleging company mismanagement and corruption. EDH (Haiti Electricity) is Haiti’s state-owned electricity company.  One union officer was severely injured when EDH’s security guards violently broke up the press conference. Similarly, at least 36 employees in the apparel industry have been terminated in response to their protest in December 2013 asking for higher wages, and more are being terminated every week. The BAI represents many of these workers before the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (known by the French acronym as “MAST”) in their request for reinstatement and back pay.

Wage Suppression. Employers in the apparel industry have not been paying the minimum wage for piece-rate workers, according to reports from the Washington DC based organization Workers Rights Consortium and Better Work Haiti, an oversight agency operated by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and International Finance Corporation (IFC) and funded by the United States and Canadian governments and major brands and retailers. The reports claim that all 24 of Haiti’s apparel factories are underpaying their workers by approximately one-third of the established wage rate. In response, workers are asking for a rise of the minimum wage from 200/300 Gourdes per day to a living wage of 500 Gourdes per day ($1.45 an hour/$11.63 a day). The minimum wage issue has increased tension between workers, factory owners and the government. The BAI is actively involved in the minimum wage debate on workers’ behalf.

Worker Exploitation. Rather than protecting workers rights, the Haitian government has been complicit in labor and employment violations. The complicity starts with the exclusionary justice system, which caters to Haiti’s elite and excludes the poor. Haitian law contains basic employment and labor protections, but the impunity for employers’ unwillingness to obey the law results in endemic worker exploitation. The BAI is working to pressure MAST, which has jurisdiction over labor and employment cases, to ensure that workers are afforded fair hearings and access to judicial remedies.



[i] More information about the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) is available at www.ijdh.org.

 

 

Click HERE for the full report.