MEXICO CITY — Haiti’s angry garment workers are planning a new round of strikes if the government fails to meet demands for a nearly threefold wage increase as well as health care and food subsidies.
“We gave them an ultimatum to make a proposal,” said Yannick Ettiene, national coordinator of Batay Ouvriye, one of the impoverished island’s largest textiles syndicates, adding that the state has until Monday to reveal a new compensation package.
“We won’t take anything lower than 800 gourdes [a day, or $12.70 at current exchange] as well as proper health and transport benefits and a 75 gourdes [$1.20] food allowance.”
If the government fails to present its offer by then, workers will down their tools on Monday and stage national demonstrations, Ettiene revealed.
Stung by a recent 30 percent fuel hike and growing inflation, Haitian operators have become frustrated with foreign-owned factories’ refusal to raise the daily minimum wage to 800 gourdes from 300 gourdes, or $4.50.
On top of a transport and food subsidies, they want Port-au-Prince to ensure they receive often flouted overtime pay and the ability to unionize, which employers’ often disregard, threatening to fire workers who pressure for these rights, Ettiene said.
“If you spend 150 of your salary on food and 75 on transport, what do you have left to live with?” she asked, adding that employers often fail to fully pay their health insurance, social security or pension obligations to the industry’s 40,000 workers.
According to Ettiene, 10,000 workers missed work and demonstrated on May 19 and three other strike days by May 25. The actions idled production in the maquila for-export parks of Port-au-Prince, Codevi and Caracol. There was also a follow-up strike on June 26.
Ettiene said the Inter-American Woven and Premium Apparel factories, making apparel for the likes of Gildan, fired 57 people in May. That, in addition to 22 dismissals at South Korean supplier H&H, which makes clothing for Wal-Mart and Children’s Place, fueled the demonstrations in late May.
Telemarque Pierre, an official at the other union Plasit-Bo, said he will join Monday’s strike and organize others if the government continues to reject workers’ pleas.
“We are going to have to take to the streets so that they pay us fairly, at least 800 gourdes,” he said. “We are not going to back down.”
Employer groups said they don’t oppose the higher wages as long as they come with an adequate state social-benefits package.
“We have never said we are against the wage increase. We just want it to be accompanied by a better social plan,” said Beatrice Ilias of the Association of Haitian Industries.
The strike hurt two to three unidentified South Korean and Taiwanese apparel suppliers the most, she said, adding that production stopped for five days. She would not provide a loss estimate, but based on Haiti’s $550 million in projected exports this year, they could reach $6 million.
Illias said she expects the Council of Salaries — the state’s wage regulator — to issue its decision in coming days.