Haiti: some unions back down on minimum wage

During the week of June 29 Haitian president René Préval and pro-business groups pushed hard to water down a bill Parliament passed in May to raise the minimum wage from 70 gourdes ($1.74) a day to 200 gourdes ($4.97). Claiming that the wage increase would jeopardize the free trade zone (FTZ) factories—maquiladoras that assemble goods largely for export—Préval has proposed an increase to 125 gourdes for that sector. On June 29 Préval met with journalists to explain his position. Jobs in the FTZ sector have grown from 8,000 in 2007 to 25,000 now, he said, and those jobs would be put at risk by a large wage increase. (AlterPresse, June 29)

Four labor organizations met with the Social Affairs Committee of the Parliament’s Chamber of Deputies on July 1 to discuss the issue. The Union Coordinating Committee, the General Workers Confederation (CGT) and the union at the Compagnie de Developpement Industriel S.A. (Codevi) plant in northeastern town of Ouanaminthe near the Dominican border all indicated that they were resigned to accepting a lower increase in the minimum wage in the hope of preventing layoffs. Etienne Romain from the Codevi union noted that his members’ current pay is 125 gourdes a day, so there would be no change for them. But workers from an industrial park on the highway to the Port-au-Prince airport insisted on the 200-gourde increase. One woman said she was ready to join the students, referring to militant demonstrations students have been holding in Port-au-Prince since June 3 to support the demand for 200 gourdes. (Haiti Press Network, July 2; Radio Métropole, July 2)

The concern with keeping maquiladora jobs in Haiti comes at a time when the sector has declined dramatically in the Caribbean Basin as a result of the economic downturn in the US and competition from Chinese factories. The share of the US import market held by the six countries in the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), a 2005 trade pact with the US, fell from 13.3% in 2004 to 9.8% in 2008. The worst hit was Haiti’s closest neighbor, the Dominican Republic, where apparel exports have fallen by more than half and 73,000 jobs have been lost since 2005. DR-CAFTA was promoted as a way to boost the region’s apparel industry and to counter competition from China. (NACLA Report on the Americas, July-August 2009)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 7

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