Haiti: Battle for $11 – a day – minimum wage

haiti_1226By the hundreds and thousands, Haitian workers marched and protested from Dec. 9 to Dec. 12, demanding that the Supreme Council on Wages (CSS) raise the minimum wage to 500 gourdes a day, which is about $11.

Big protests took place in Port-au-Prince and smaller ones in Ouanaminthe, a processing center on the border with the Dominican Republic, and Caracol, a new south-Korean owned industrial park in northeast Haiti. These are the major textile centers in Haiti.

The current minimum wage for a day’s work ranges from $1.55 to $4.45 in factories. The CSS decided to raise the top minimum wage for a day’s work to 225 gourdes, around $5.

Radio Kiskeya posted a video on YouTube on Dec. 10 showing thousands of workers — many of them women — marching and dancing through the streets of Port-au-Prince, waving green branches and demanding 500 gourdes. One of the leaders of the protest, who said he was on the executive committee of one of the unions involved in the march, told Kiskeya that he couldn’t feed himself and his family three meals a day on 225 gourdes.He would need at least 500.

Beyond the low minimum wage paid in Haiti, employers routinely cheat workers out of the pay they deserve under the current laws.

The Workers Rights Council, in an October report, quotes a study from the International Labor Organization and International Finance Corporation establishing “that every single one of the country’s 24 export garment factories was illegally cheating workers of pay by failing to comply with the country’s legal minimum wage.” The ILO is a United Nations agency, and the IFC is a World Bank group dedicated to finding “private sector solutions for development.”

The WRC calculates, based on ILO/IFC data, that 32 percent of the hours legally due to Haitian workers, particularly textile workers, are stolen by their employers. The WRC then goes on to detail the hugely deleterious effects this wage theft has on workers’ nutrition, health, education and housing.

In a podcast released Dec. 14, Yannic Ettienne of Batay Ouvriye, a workers’ support group in Haiti, said that employers had fired or suspended a number of workers who had participated in the strikes and protests during the week of Dec. 9. This act of retaliation denies the fired workers their customary year-end vacation. BO has undertaken a campaign to get their jobs back.

The fact that the minimum wage in Haiti for a day’s work is much less than the minimum wage in the U.S. for an hour’s work is a highly profitable reason for greedy corporations to move any job possible there.