FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Mario Joseph, Av., Managing Attorney, Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), Mario@ijdh.org, +011 509 2943 2106/07 (in Haiti, speaks French and Creole)
Nicole Phillips, Esq., Staff Attorney, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), Nicole@ijdh.org, +1 510 715 2855 (in U.S., speaks English and French)
New report documents persecution against union activists and wage suppression in Haiti
(PORT-AU-PRINCE, April 16, 2014)— A report released today by Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) entitled, Haitian labor movement struggles as workers face increased anti-union persecution and wage suppression describes persecution against union activists, wage suppression and worker exploitation in the public sector and apparel industry four years after the January 12, 2010 earthquake.
The coordinator of a teachers union, Josué Mérielien, was reportedly detained today by police for several hours along with his lawyer, André Michel, as they started a series of meetings in the countryside to mobilize communities in favor of quality public education and higher wages for teachers. Mérielien was summoned by the Port-au-Prince prosecutor on January 29, 2014, after he protested an agreement reached by some teachers unions and government officials that ended a national teachers strike. Police detention, intimidation and harassment in retaliation for lawful union activities are strictly prohibited by the Haitian labor code and international law.
The government’s alleged harassment against Mérielien and his lawyer is just one example of anti-union persecution described in the report. Dozens of union leaders and activists have recently been terminated. At least 36 employees in the apparel industry were terminated in response to their protest in December 2013 asking for higher wages. 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. A union officer was severely injured when the company’s security violently broke up the press conference. Mario Joseph, the BAI’s managing lawyer and one of the authors of this report says that “public and private employers must stop harassing and terminating workers in retaliation for lawful union activity.”
According to Joseph, who represents many of these workers in claims for reinstatement and back pay, “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.” Joseph 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. Joseph 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. According to Joseph, “apparel industry employers in violation of the law should pay workers back pay retroactive to the date the rate took effect under the law.” Joseph also encourages the Haitian government to allow more debate on the minimum wage so that all stakeholders, including workers, can participate and express their views.
The report is available here.