Haiti: union and maquilas negotiate on pay

Haiti's Textile and Garment Workers Union (SOTA), which represents a number of workers in the Port-au-Prince garment assembly sector, has reached an agreement under which the owners of three factories are to honor the legal minimum wage of 300 gourdes (about $6.38) a day for piece workers in the industry. The 300-gourde minimum went into effect in October 2012 but has generally been ignored by management. According to a Jan. 6 SOTA press release and a Feb. 6 radio interview with Yannick Etienne of the labor organizing group Batay Ouvriye (BO, Workers' Struggle), under the agreement workers who were receiving 225 gourdes a day now receive 300 gourdes and those who received 300 gourdes receive 375. In addition, the three companies agreed to provide back pay to cover the difference between the old and the new wages for two months during which SOTA and the companies negotiated; this would come to about $4,255 collectively for the workers in one of the companies, Multiwear SA. Although the agreement falls far short of the 500-gourde minimum garment workers demonstrated for in December 2013, BO organizer Etienne considers management's agreement to the raise and principle of back pay a significant step forward.

Etienne and representatives of two other unions, the Confederation of Haitian Workers' Forces (CFOH) and National Confederation of Haitian Workers (CNOHA), traveled to the US in January 2014 for talks with three North American firms that contract with Haitian T-shirt manufacturers. According to BO the three firms—Montreal-based Gildan Activewear Inc., Kentucky-based Fruit of the Loom and North Carolina-based Hanesbrands Inc.—said the unions would have to negotiate directly with the Haitian factory owners. SOTA then entered into talks with the factories but the other two unions refused to do this. Later, however, CNOHA denounced SOTA's agreement with the factories on back pay, saying the workers really should receive $114 million collectively.

According to SOTA, workers affiliated with CNOHA and a group called "ROHAM" assaulted Etienne with rocks and tools on Jan. 30 while she was in Port-au-Prince's main industrial park to talk to the management of the Multiwear SA plant about the company's failure to deliver the back pay it had agreed to. Although Elienne was unharmed, BO took the attack very seriously, and a number of supporters in Haiti and internationally have signed on to a statement protesting CNOHA's actions. (SOTA press releases, Jan. 6, Jan. 30; Etienne interview, Feb. 6)

In other labor news, transit in Port-au-Prince was paralyzed Feb. 2-3 when transportation operators in 25 unions and collectives went on strike to demand that the government reduce fuel prices. Buses, minibuses, tap-taps (small vans used as minibuses) and moto-taxis were almost all absent from the streets as strikers enforced the job action with rocks and barricades of flaming tires. The government of President Michel Martelly responded by announcing that as of Feb. 6 the price of gasoline would fall from 215 gourdes to 195 gourdes (about $4.58 to $4.15), with corresponding reductions for diesel fuel and kerosene. But students from the State University of Haiti (UEH), who rely on public transit to get to classes, said they would continue to protest until the government lowers the gasoline price to 100 gourdes. (AlterPresse, Haiti, Feb. 2, Feb. 3, Feb. 7)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, February 8.