Haiti: president sets minimum wage by decree

Bypassing Parliament, on April 16 Haitian president Michel Martelly ("Sweet Micky") issued a decree setting new minimum wage levels for different categories of employees, to go into effect on May 1. The decree basically follows recommendations made on Nov. 29 by the tripartite Higher Council on Wages (CSS), with the minimum wage ranging from 260 gourdes (US$6.60) a day in a category that includes bank employees, electricians and telecommunication workers to just 125 gourdes (US$3.17) a day for domestic workers. The decree confirmed the most controversial of the CSS's recommendations, a 225 (US$5.71) gourde daily minimum for hourly workers in the country's garment assembly plants, which produce for export and benefit from tax and tariff exemptions; this is just a 25 gourde increase over the minimum in effect since October 2012 under a 2009 law. For piece-rate assembly workers—the majority of the sector's work force—the rate remains at the October 2012 level, 300 gourdes (US$7.61) a day. (Haïti Libre, April 19)

Assembly workers and international observers all agree that factory owners have never complied with the 300 gourde minimum for piece work; they have allegedly circumvented the requirement by setting unrealistic quotas. In December assembly workers went on strike for two days in Port-au-Prince to demand a wage of 500 gourdes (US$12.69); the owners retaliated by firing union activists. The 300 gourde minimum "wouldn't be enough" now, due to the rising cost of living, economist Camille Chalmers of the Haitian Platform Advocating an Alternative Development (PAPDA) said, "and the 225 gourdes are a retreat." The labor solidarity group Workers' Antenna called for "rebellion and mobilization," while the National Confederation of Haitian Workers (CNOHA) said it would continue to seek the 500 gourde minimum. (AlterPresse Haiti, April 21, April 24)

In other news, violence broke out at a large homeless encampment at Camp Caradeux, on the northeastern outskirts of Port-au-Prince, after riot police arrived in some dozen vehicles in the early morning of April 24 to put down a demonstration. The residents—about 13,000 people who lost their homes in a massive January 2010 earthquake and still have nowhere to live—were upset when a team from the International Organization for Migration (OIM in French and Creole) came to carry out a survey of the camp's population. The residents said they hadn't been warned and were afraid the survey was part of a plan to evict them from the camp. The OIM team left when the residents began to demonstrate, but the police agents proceeded to attack the protesters with clubs and tear gas. "The babies are in a critical state after having inhaled tear gas," Ernst Jean-Baptiste, an assistant coordinator of the village of Caradeux, told a reporter. "Several young men and women were clubbed" by the riot police, he said. (AlterPresse, April 25)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 27.