Haiti: wage council proposes eight-cent raise

On Nov. 29 Haiti’s newly formed tripartite Higher Council on Wages (CSS) announced the minimum wage levels it is proposing to go into effect on Jan. 1. The nine-member council, which is composed of government, management and labor representatives, set different minimums for five job categories. For Category A, which includes bank employees, electricians and telecommunication workers, the new minimum is 260 gourdes (US$6.28) a day, while for Category B, which includes construction workers and truck drivers, the new rate is 240 gourdes (US$5.80). For Category C, which covers agricultural work and the important sector that assembles products for export, the new rate will be 225 gourdes (US$5.44). Two other groups will have their own minimums: 300 gourdes for public administrators (US$7.25) and 125 gourdes for domestic workers (US$3.02).

Unionists and many economists say that even the highest rate set by the CSS, 300 gourdes a day, doesn’t constitute a living wage for a Haitian family. In November the economist Camille Chalmers, who heads the Haitian Platform Advocating an Alternative Development (PAPDA), called for a minimum wage of 560 gourdes (US$13.52) for an eight-hour day. A 2011 study by the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, an international organization sponsored by the main US labor federation, concluded that a Haitian worker needed 1,152 gourdes (about US$27.83) a day to support a family of four. Most Haitians are unemployed or work on their own farms or in the informal sector, but they are indirectly affected by the official wage levels, which can limit or expand spending by workers in the formal sector.

The minimum wage in the apparel plants is an especially contentious issue: the assembly sector, which now employs some 30,000 workers, is often promoted as the source of future growth for Haiti. Garment workers walked off the job in Port-au-Prince over the minimum wage in August 2009 and held massive mobilizations in various parts of the capital. The raise the CSS proposed for the assembly sector is just 12.5% above the 200 gourdes (US$4.83) a day which has been in effect since October 2012; this works out to an increase of about $0.08 an hour. Apparel workers’ unions had been pushing for a minimum of 500 gourdes (US$12.08) a day. 

But the new Category C rate apparently will not affect the majority of the workers in the apparel plants, since they are paid by the piece. According to Daniel Altiné, one of the government’s three representatives on the CSS, the minimum wage decisions won’t apply to the piece rate, which he said the companies and the unions will negotiate in January. Under the current law the piece rate is supposed to be set in a way that allows most workers to make 300 gourdes (US$7.25) for an eight-hour day, although most factories have been underpaying by about one-third. 

The Collective of Textile Union Organizations (KOSIT)—an alliance formed by the National Confederation of Haitian Workers (CNOHA), the Confederation of Haitian Workers’ Forces (CFOH), the Autonomous Confederation of Haitian Workers (CATH) and the May 1 Union Group-Batay Ouvriye (ESPM-BO, “Workers’ Struggle”)—responded to the CSS proposal with a press conference in Port-au-Prince on Dec. 4. The unionists called the new wage rates “an insult, a total lack of respect, a criminal act” and promised to continue mobilizations for 500 gourdes. The factory owners have circulated a letter repeating their claim that low wages are necessary to “keep Haiti competitive” with the country’s “big rivals,” Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam. But PAPDA noted that during the disputes over wages in 2009 the employers used the same argument to oppose raising the rate from 70 gourdes a day (US$1.69) to 200 gourdes. “It has been proven that there are more jobs [now], created with a minimum wage of 200 gourdes, than at 70 gourdes,” the group argued. (Inter Press Service, Dec. 3; Haiti Press Network, Dec. 5; AlterPresse, Dec. 5; KOSIT press release, Dec. 5, via Batay Ouvriye News; Radio Métropole, Haiti, Dec. 6)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, December 8.