Haiti: union leaders fired over wage protests

Six workers at the One World Apparel S.A. garment assembly plant in the north of Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, were given notices of dismissal on Jan. 8, four weeks after workers shut down production in the city’s apparel sector with Dec. 10 and Dec. 11 protests demanding a daily minimum wage of 500 gourdes (about US$12.08). The fired workers–Jude Pierre, Luckner Louis, Deroy Jean Baptiste, Paul René Pierre, Jean Luvard Exavier and Rubin Mucial—are all on the executive committee of the Textile and Garment Workers Union (SOTA), a member union in the Collective of Textile Union Organizations (KOSIT), the labor alliance that led the December protests.

The firings appear to be part of a management drive to stop the protest movement. When union activists tried to hold another demonstration on Dec. 18 outside the city's main industrial park, riot police blocked the protesters from marching and plant security guards prevented most workers from joining the action. Two participants were arrested and held over night at the Delmas 33 police station; one, Edouardo Iléma, a member of the group Workers' Antenna, said hooded police pushed him to the ground and kicked and beat him. The two activists were released after an intervention by Mario Joseph, president of the Bureau of International Lawyers (BAI). (AlterPresse, Haiti, Dec. 18, Dec. 19, Jan. 9)

According to Charles Auguste Archelus—the secretary general of the Confederation of Haitian Workers’ Forces (CFOH), one of the three union federations in KOSIT—a total of 26 workers at various plants have been fired so far for their role in the December protests. Archelus was one of three KOSIT representatives speaking at a meeting with solidarity activists in Brooklyn, NY on Jan. 11; the others were Dominique Saint-Eloi, general coordinator of the National Confederation of Haitian Workers (CNOHA), and Yannick Etienne, of the May 1 Union Group-Batay Ouvriye (ESPM-BO, “Workers’ Struggle”), which includes SOTA. The unionists were in the US in a Jan. 9-15 visit sponsored by the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) labor monitoring group to meet with representatives of three North America manufacturers that have T-shirts stitched in Haiti: Montreal-based Gildan Activewear Inc., Kentucky-based Fruit of the Loom and Hanesbrands Inc., which is based in North Carolina. In November Gildan and Fruit of the Loom said they would require their Haitian suppliers to pay piece-rate workers at least the 300 gourde daily minimum wage (about US$7.22 at the time of the announcement) that went into effect by law in October 2012; it is unclear whether Hanesbrands has now joined the other two companies in this commitment. (Report from Update editor)

Despite the tensions in the garment assembly sector, on Jan. 2 the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) announced a $40.5 million grant to expand the Caracol Industrial Park (PIC), a massive facility built in the Northeast department since the January 2010 earthquake to house more assembly plants. The IDB says the new grant will “bolster the Haitian government's efforts to attract more job-generating investments in an economically disadvantaged but potentially productive region” by “financing the construction of more factory shells, canteens, administrative buildings and other service facilities, roads and utility networks.” The IDB had previously put $50 million into the project, which promoters say will generate 20,000 to 65,000 jobs; the US has donated $124 million. Currently the PIC has four tenants and employs less than 3,000 workers. (IDB press release, Jan. 2, via 4-Traders; AlterPresse, Jan. 10)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, January 12.