Haiti’s Workers Mark Quake Anniversary with Few Decent Jobs or a Living Wage

Two years after a massive earthquake destroyed much of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, and surrounding towns, the Haitian people are still struggling to recover from the disaster and the entrenched poverty that it has exacerbated.

The solution, say Haitian workers, is a Haitian-driven reconstruction effort that focuses on sustainable, equitable development aimed at improving the lives all citizens—not just a few.

While unions and worker organizations have been calling for the creation of decent jobs that respect fundamental worker rights, pay living wages, and empower Haitians to provide for their families, little progress has been made toward that goal. Indeed, more than 70 percent of the labor force does not have formal work and struggles to survive, earning less than $2 a day.

To mark the grim anniversary, worker organizations are participating in marches and discussions organized by the larger community to draw attention to the enormous needs in Haiti. They also are educating workers and the community about their rights while continuing to provide the opportunity for workers from various sectors, both employed and unemployed, to meet. The Haitian labor movement has crafted a pubic policy statement of principles on decent work and a living wage, which it will release later this month. Workers plan to press for further improvements.

“The deplorable conditions in which most Haitians live are in stark contrast to the small pockets of improvement and the large-scale investments coming into the country. For those left homeless, access to the very basics—permanent shelter, food, jobs, water, transportation—is elusive,” said Ose Pierre, the Solidarity Center’s program representative in Haiti. “Much, much more needs to be done to create jobs and, at the same time, ensure that workers are paid decent wages and their rights are recognized and respected.”

The Solidarity Center, which focuses on building the capacity of Haitian partners to develop and jointly advocate public policies that help working families, published a living wage survey for apparel workers in March 2011. The research found that prices for necessities and basic goods were out of reach for most workers. This remains true today: The cost of living has increased while wages, for the jobs in the formal economy, have stagnated.

“Haiti’s recovery will depend on the ability of working people to earn a decent wage so that they can pay the rent, feed their children, and live a dignified life. Grinding poverty is never solved through low wages or exploitation,” said Molly McCoy, Solidarity Center regional director for the Americas. “Our partners remain hopeful that the large-scale investments coming into Haiti, including the Caracol Industrial Park, create jobs that pay workers sufficiently to support their families and rebuild their lives and their country.”

The Solidarity Center Response after the 2010 Earthquake

In a matter of seconds, the earthquake dramatically altered the scale and scope of the Haitian labor movement. Trade unions and worker organizations suffered huge reductions in membership due to mass casualties and severe unemployment. Many people were further burdened by catastrophic damage to their homes and belongings.

Within days after the quake, the Solidarity Center field office in the Dominican Republic launched a union-to-union emergency response, linking Dominican partners directly with Haitian workers and channeling emergency aid to workers through unions and labor support organizations. The Solidarity Center dispatched regular overland shipments of food, water, rehydration fluids, plastic tarps, diapers, blankets, first-aid supplies, medicine, and feminine hygiene kits to meet the most immediate needs. The Solidarity Center also directed funds to Haitian unions and labor support organizations to locate missing members and restore offices for use as shelters and food distribution centers.

In concert with these efforts, U.S. unions and workers made generous contributions to the Solidarity Center’s Earthquake Relief Fund, which enabled the Solidarity Center to respond to an array of urgent and ongoing needs identified by our Haitian trade union partners. Specifically, the Solidarity Center:

  • Paid educational fees for 700 children of union members to attend school.
  • Partnered with the American Federation of Teachers to establish the union-run Workers Solidarity Clinic, aimed at serving the health care needs of 26,000 union members and their families.
  • Worked with the International Trade Union Confederation to develop and deploy cholera brigades, each composed of 50 trained union members, that deliver much-needed hygiene and sanitation kits as well as information about preventing and identifying the disease to workers and families in the hardest-hit areas. To date, 1,000 kits have been distributed.
  • Purchased and installed solar energy panels and work stations for Solidarity Center partner AUMOHD (United Action for Human Rights in Haiti), a worker education and legal support organization based in Port-au-Prince whose office escaped severe damage. The office now serves as a neutral space where Haitian unions can conduct business and access electricity.
  • Provided laptops to union partners to ensure ongoing communication and continued operations.
  • Provided support to TransAfrica Forum’s “Let Haiti Live” project, which empowers Haitian workers and their communities to advocate for improved living conditions. “Let Haiti Live,” in partnership with local grassroots organizations, is mobilizing vulnerable communities throughout Port-au-Prince to identify their greatest needs and develop advocacy campaigns to direct aid to those key areas. Thus far, communities have highlighted access to clean drinking water as a top priority.