Haiti: Instead of Lifting, Wages Keep Workers in Poverty

Credit: Congress of Haitain Workers

Credit: Congress of Haitain Workers

Four years ago this weekend, a massive earthquake brought catastrophe to the lives and livelihoods of tens of thousands of Haitians. Despite an outpouring of promises and millions of dollars in investment designated to help workers get back on their feet, the majority of Haitians still live in poverty. Instead of supporting recovery, their meager incomes fund little more than continued privation.

Formal jobs, particularly those in the export sector, were presented as the panacea to Haiti’s economic woes and key to helping Haitian men and women move forward.  Yet four years after the January 12 quake, the country has five minimum wages, divided by sector—none of them enough to cover basic expenses, said Molly McCoy, Americas regional program director for the Solidarity Center. “These should be good jobs, but workers are telling us that no one is getting by.”

The Collective of Textile Factory Unions Organization (KOSIT), an alliance of four Solidarity Center partner unions in the garment sector, is calling for a minimum wage that will enable workers to meet their basic needs.

Workers with export-related jobs such as garment assembly, a sector that largely employs women, say they often take home lower than the minimum wage because it is tied to complicated and unreachable quotas. And recent studies point to factories cheating workers out of earned wages, exacerbating the struggle to earn a decent living. Meanwhile, prices in the island nation, a net importer of food and fuel, continue to rise.

As the Solidarity Center reported in 2011 and continues to hear from workers in the capital, Port-au-Prince, workers cannot earn enough to feed and shelter their family, cover transportation to work and send their children to school.

“Haiti needs a single minimum wage that all workers are able to earn—one that people can actually live on,” said McCoy. “Exploitive jobs that mire working people in subsistence lives is the wrong combination for recovery, much less for building Haiti back better.”