Haitian garment workers face increasing difficulty in covering basic expenditures as prices soar while wages hover far below the cost of living, according to a new Solidarity Center report.
The High Cost of Low Wages in Haiti (2019), a new Solidarity Center survey tracking living expenses for garment workers from September 2018 through March 2019, shows that the daily minimum wage of 420 gourdes (about $5.07) for export apparel workers in Haiti is more than four times less than the estimated cost of living. Consequently, workers—the majority of whom are women supporting families—are forced to toil longer for less due to diminished purchasing power and are unable to cover daily necessities, including food.
Report recommendations include that government increase the minimum wage to an estimated living wage of 1,750 gourdes per day and allow workers to select their own representatives to the country’s tripartite minimum wage committee.
“Any substantive discussion on democracy in Haiti needs to address the issue of a living wage for Haitian workers,” said Joell Molina, Solidarity Center regional program director for the Americas. “When workers earn enough to meet their basic needs, they can stop focusing on daily survival and shift their energy toward participating in civic spaces to better their communities and enhance their democracy.”
Even though Haiti has incrementally increased the minimum wage since the passage of HOPE II—U.S. legislation qualifying exports for duty-free access to the U.S. market in exchange for factory adherence to international labor standards and domestic labor law, among other criteria—wages have not kept pace with inflation.
The cost of living in Haiti has increased by 74 percent since the Solidarity Center’s last assessment in 2014. Based on the current minimum wage, workers must spend more than half (55 percent) of their take-home pay on work-related transportation and a modest lunch, leaving insufficient funds to cover other necessities. Some workers say they can only afford to eat once per day.
A follow-up to similar cost-of-living surveys conducted in Haiti in 2011 and 2014, The High Cost of Low Wages in Haiti presents pricing data collected across communities in which garment workers are concentrated, including Delmas, La Plaine, Petionville, Tabarre, downtown Port-au-Prince and the airport zone near the Metropolitan Industrial Park. The locally appropriate basket of goods surveyed includes clothing, communication, education, energy, food, healthcare, housing, transportation, water, and savings and discretionary spending.
The apparel industry represents one of the few sources of formal employment in Haiti and provides factory jobs to as many as 52,000 workers. Despite the requirements of HOPE II, the independent monitoring program Better Work Haiti routinely reports rights abuses, including improper payment of wages and benefits, health and safety violations, sexual harassment and repression of freedom of association. In addition to poor working conditions, many workers labor with persistent hunger due to their inability to afford enough food.
Workers in Haiti face daunting obstacles when seeking to exercise their rights to better wages and working conditions. In the 2018 ITUC Global Rights Index, which ranks 142 countries according to 97 internationally recognized indicators to assess the extent to which worker rights are protected in law and in practice, Haiti was found to systematically violate worker rights.
Addressing unemployment and underemployment, especially for young workers, is the most pressing issue for trade unions across Africa, according to participants in an African Labor Leaders Exchange Program sponsored by the Solidarity Center.
Speaking at a December 9 panel discussion at the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C., six union leaders from Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and South Africa discussed the challenges in securing economic prosperity for working people—and their strategies for empowering workers in the formal and informal economies.
“What faces us is high levels of unemployment, poverty,” said Edward de Klerk, deputy general secretary of South Africa’s United National Transport Union (UNTU).
“Unemployment is an African issue,” said Philip Kwoba, director of Youth Organizing with the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU) in Kenya. Unions in Kenya are reaching out to informal economy workers, which include many young workers, helping them form worker savings associations as a step toward unionization and gaining bargaining rights. “We are allocating resources to help,” said Kwoba.
Members of the panel, moderated by Solidarity Center Regional Program Director for Africa Imani Countess, said poverty also is fueled by low wages. “Wage inequality is this battle still we have got,” said de Klerk. In Nigeria, unions are tackling wage issues by addressing government policies that reduce the pay of public-employees, including teachers, said Muhammed Nasir Idris, National Treasurer Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT).
Lack of employment opportunity and poverty in Liberia puts youth at risk of labor trafficking within the country’s borders, said Liberia Labor Congress (LLC) General Secretary David Sackoh.
Sackoh said labor recruiters take children from parents in their villages, promising the children will go to school in the city. Instead, the children are used in forced labor. “Even though our research shows (the children) want to return,” they are unable to do so for seven to 10 years,” he said.
Sackoh pointed to the Liberian trade union movement’s tremendous victory in eradicating child labor at the Firestone Natural Rubber Liberia plantation, and said the union movement now is working to address the issue at the seven other plantations across the country.
During questions with the audience, which included a packed crowd of union activists, policy experts and international experts, union leaders also discussed drawing more women into trade union leadership.
“Getting women elected to high offices is now on the union agenda,” said Boniface Kavuvi, general secretary of the Kenya Union of Commercial, Food and Allied Workers (KUCFAW). Kavuvi pointed to domestic workers in Kenya, represented by KUDHEIHA, as an example of dynamic organizing and strong leadership by women in Kenya. “They have done a tremendous job,” he said.
In Liberia, unions are pushing for 30 percent representation by women in union leadership, mirroring the country’s effort to increase women’s representation in the national legislature, said Isaac Grant, LLC organizing coordinator.
The six union leaders traveled to the United States for a South–South labor leaders’ exchange in which African labor leaders met with community and trade union organizers across the southern United States. The Solidarity Center worked with the U.S.-based labor education program, the National Labor Leadership Initiative (NLLI), to facilitate the exchange, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Solange Ambroise sells vegetables in the San Cristobal Municipal Market. Credit: Solidarity Center/Ricardo Rojas
Rarely do governments admit failing their citizens. However, on Friday the 193-member states of the United Nations did just that when they voted to rectify their failure to uphold the rights of workers and to ensure decent working conditions for more than half of the world’s working women and men.
By voting for an International Labor Organization (ILO) recommendation, The Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy, the large majority of the world’s governments has done more than just pledge to provide the basics for the world most vulnerable workers—those struggling to make ends meet in the informal economy—they have begun the essential process of strengthening society by promoting worker rights.
Street vendors, home-based workers, domestic workers and day-laborers usually work “off the grid” and outside a country’s regulations and labor laws. They join subcontracted, temporary and part-time workers who subsist on the fringes of the formal economy. These jobs typically pay low wages, perpetuate worker and human rights violations, provide limited or no social benefits, and offer little access to union representation. For most of these workers, survival trumps active engagement in society’s daily undertakings.
An estimated 1.5 billion, or approximately 60 percent of the world’s workers, toil in the informal economy, according to the ILO. In some developing countries, informal jobs comprise up to 90 percent of available work, and most workers take these unstable jobs out of necessity, not by choice.
Women, migrant workers and the young are disproportionately represented in the informal economy, and often the most exploited. Their situation is exacerbated because they may be barred from joining unions, which could offer support through collective bargaining on wages and working conditions, or because unions have not been able to reach them due to the isolated and changeable nature of their job.
Informalization of work fuels global income inequality, poverty and abuse. For example, at age 22, N. Naga Durga Bhavani left her small village in India for Bahrain, where she hoped a job as a domestic worker would help pay for her young daughter’s heart surgery. But when she arrived, after paying labor recruiters the equivalent of nearly two months’ wages, she says her passport and papers were confiscated, and she was forced to work long hours, trapped in an abusive environment where she was beaten, her fingers broken. After she escaped, the Indian Embassy could not help her leave the country because she had no identification.
And the drag on society does not end with the desperate plight of workers like Bhavani. Businesses employing workers in standard employer-employee relationships find themselves at a distinct disadvantage when they compete against those chasing short-term profits by not hiring full-time workers, paying taxes and benefits, or complying with regulations and labor law. Companies that provide financial and business services miss huge swaths of potential clients whose income leaves them too poor to enter the shop door and unable to access credit.
The effects on government are even more profound. The loss of tax revenue on huge percentages of GDP in many countries is only one edge of the sword. Because workers in the informal economy usually hang from the bottom rung of the economic ladder, they are more likely to need social safety nets—the very nets their jobs do not support through tax revenue.
Friday’s vote is significant because governments, worker representatives and employer representatives, who usually operate with very different agendas, publicly acknowledged the imperative of providing all workers with rights at work, social benefits and the ability to join a union. Their acknowledgement that the current system does not work—not for working people, not for governments and not for the businesses that serve them—is an important step toward bringing millions of workers into decent jobs that comply with labor codes and allow workers to be stronger members of their society. All of us should applaud the 193 nations for not choosing failure.
Governments of migrants’ countries of origin could be doing much more to harness the phenomenon of labor migration toward inclusive growth, according to a new report that investigated high-migration communities in Indonesia.
The study, which examined the role of labor migration in achieving the aims of an inclusive growth agenda in origin countries, looked at communities in West Nusa Tenggara, the Indonesian province that sends the highest ratio of its population for overseas work. It found that wages sent home by Indonesians who migrate for work are not supporting local job creation in origin communities. Further, it finds that the poorest communities in Indonesia are most likely to send migrants into informal economy jobs.
“Remittance capital (the money sent home by migrant workers) has not stimulated broad-based economic development complete with an increase in job opportunities … in spite of migration from these localities of more than 30 years,” the report states. As a result, “community members cannot envision a future in which the demand to migrate has ceased.”
“Labor Migration and Inclusive Growth: Toward Creating Employment in Origin Communities” also found that Indonesian workers’ main incentive for migrating out of the country is not dire poverty nor lack of jobs at home but a lack of just jobs—those that provide a stable salary and opportunities for economic mobility.
While Indonesia is facilitating a slow transition in its overseas workforce from informal economy work to jobs in the formal economy, migrants from West Nusa Tenggara, who are among the poorest and primarily women, still have few options except jobs as domestic workers. The uneven pattern of international migration across the country is a result of inequitable access to education, training and capital across regions at home.
While Indonesia is facilitating a slow transition in its overseas workforce from informal economy work to jobs in the formal economy, migrants from West Nusa Tenggara, who are among the poorest, are primarily women and still wind up in jobs as This uneven pattern of international migration across the country is a result of uneven access to education, training and capital across regions at home.
“The [Indonesian] government sees return migrants primarily as consumers rather than producers. Moreover, it values remittances more for their ability to improve Indonesia’s balance of payments and reduce foreign exchange shortages, rather than for their potential to serve as start-up capital for job-creating enterprises,” the report notes.
The report concludes that an “economic growth agenda in countries like Indonesia that does not entail a roadmap for creating employment opportunities in communities of origin lacks inclusivity.”
JustJobs Network produced the report, supported by the Solidarity Center with U.S. Agency for International Development funding. The report is part of the Center’s Transformation of Work research series, which is designed to expand scholarship on and understanding of issues facing workers in an increasingly globalized world, and supports the efforts of the Solidarity Center and its partners to document challenges to decent work and the strategies workers and their organizations engage to overcome those challenges.
See all Solidarity Center-supported reports on migration.
Protesting laws that facilitate mass layoffs and enable large-scale subcontracting of workers’ jobs, tens of thousands of Peruvian mineworkers launched a strike Tuesday at the nation’s gold, copper, tin and silver mines in regions such as Cerro de Pasco, Puno, Ancash, and Huánuco. Marching in the main square of Juliaca yesterday, mineworkers shouted, “Down with the outsourcing law, mineworkers unite!”
The Mineworkers Federation describes the outsourcing law and why it needs to be repealed in this brochure.
Members of the Mineworkers Federation (FNTMMSP), a Solidarity Center ally, are seeking to halt worker layoffs and prevent passage of a proposed law that, among other detrimental outcomes, would allow 10 percent of workers to be fired when a company reports losses. They are demanding the government repeal outsourcing legislation that union leaders say enables employers to divide the workforce and violate worker rights. (The Mineworkers Federation describes the outsourcing law and why it needs to be repealed in this brochure.)
The Federation is calling for all outsourced workers who currently perform core functions of mining operations to be moved into permanent contracts and also seeks modifications in legislation that would allow outsourced workers to benefit from annual profit sharing, which is the legal right of directly-employed mineworkers.
Further, the Federation is calling for a repeal of additions to Peru’s Health and Safety Law, enacted last July at the request of employers, which make it more difficult for injured workers or their families to hold employers accountable for workplace injuries, among other harmful measures.
Ivan Granados, a mineworker, said employers already are using the mass layoff legislation. Granados told Telesur that “at work, they are starting to fire the workers, saying that the company is losing money. They are … harassing people with threats of firing them. That is why we are here fighting.”
Mining accounts for up to 15 percent of the Peru’s gross national product, and mining exports have grown 4.7 percent over the past year.
“The mineral wealth of a country should be used for the benefit of the people, including the workers, and not to destroy the environment for the benefit of the corporations and politicians,” say United Steelworkers (USW) President Leo Gerard and Sindicato Nacional de Mineros President Napoleón Gómez Urrutia in a joint statement backing the mineworkers.
The USW and Sindicato Nacional de Mineros, whose solidarity statements were read at a press conference yesterday, are part of a broad coalition of supporters Peruvian mineworkers are engaging, one that includes the Confederación General de Trabajadores del Perú (CGTP), unions from the telecommunications, textile/apparel and oil/petroleum industries, as well as independent unions—Red Solidaria—and student and youth organizations. A coalition of students, young workers and unions earlier this year successfully repealed a law that reduced salaries and benefits for workers under age 25.
The Mineworkers Federation and its affiliated unions built the campaign to address outsourcing in the mining sector following Solidarity Center trainings and workshops, begun last year, in which they gained information about documenting worker rights violations and developing a policy proposal to improve outsourcing legislation.
Over the past six months, the Solidarity Center also has supported regional workshops for Federation affiliates to raise awareness and collect more information about how outsourcing is undermining decent working conditions—including health and safety in the mines—freedom of association and the right to collectively bargain in Peru’s mines.
The Mineworkers Federation also has filed a lawsuit alleging that the outsourcing law is unconstitutional, which has been accepted by Peru’s Constitutional Court for review.