Haitian garment workers scored a huge victory as a coalition of unions negotiated an agreement with the government to provide garment workers in Port-Au-Prince with transportation and food stipends.
“In our struggle for a better working environment and fair wages we have always emphasized that the government should provide social support to workers, especially those in the textile sector. And here it is for the first time that our demands have been heard, even if it is not yet in effect, but the government has planned to accompany the workers by offering them transportation and food costs for an amount of 135,000,000 gourdes ($1,116,595),” said Telemarque Pierre, coordinator of SOTA- Batay Ouvriye.
“From now on, we would like the government to take care to include these accompaniments in the annual budgets so that the workers can always benefit from these advantages.”
The government will distribute the funds via a mobile app. The stipend will cover the cost of travel to and from the factory, and include a lunch stipend. Inflation and gang violence have led to skyrocketing prices for food and fuel such that workers cannot afford travel to and from work or food at lunchtime.
The agreement underscores the importance and effectiveness of unions in improving the lives of workers.
“We can say now that every time there is a problem, the workers come to the union because they always find that the unions are a real help,” said Eliacin Wilner, GOSTTRA organizer.
Unions are working to ensure that workers are aware of the program and able to access their benefits.
The agreement is the result of minimum wage protests by garment workers in January 2022. Fueled by frustration over three years without a minimum wage increase and the rising cost of basic necessities and services, workers at the SONAPI industrial park in Port-Au-Prince held a spontaneous protest to call for a wage increase.
The protests led to negotiations between the government and a coalition of nine textile unions. The coalition’s advocacy resulted in an increase of the minimum wage from 500 gourdes ($4.82) per day to 685 gourdes ($5.85) per day.
Solidarity Center studies repeatedly have demonstrated the daily minimum wage is far less than the estimated cost of living in Haiti. Significant job losses due to supply chain disruptions have left most garment workers facing diminished working hours or layoffs, threatening their ability to provide for their families. These periods of income precarity are especially dire given that most low-wage garment workers lack savings.
Videos and photos posted on Twitter showed large crowds pouring into the Metropolitan Industrial Park in the Port-au-Prince community of Delmas. Demonstrators danced to music and held up tree branches, a popular symbol of uprooting or change.
The workers of Haiti strike again. Today, in Port-au-Prince. They demand living wages from greedy transnational capitalists to make the clothes we love to wear here in the States. pic.twitter.com/Z5jbplibAI
Police fired tear gas, injuring more than a dozen workers, most of them women. The industrial park—which is home to 16 manufacturers, including garment and electronic factories, and employs at least 12,000 workers—was shut down on Thursday as the demonstration continued. Central union confederations (Confederation of Haitian Workers (CTH), Confederation of Workers in the Public and Private Sectors (CTSP), National Central of Haitian Workers (CNOHA) and EntèSendikal Premye Me-Batay Ouvriye (ESPM-BO)) denounced the actions of Intervention and Law Enforcement Corps (CIMO) against peaceful protesters, calling it [English translation] “torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”
Workers at factories producing textiles and other goods make just $4.82 (500 gourdes) per day for eight hours of work and are demanding an increase to $15 (1,500 gourdes) per day. Three years have passed since the wage has increased. Their demands come as a sharp rise in inflation has increased the cost of basic goods and services such as transportation, health care, and education to as much as three times the current minimum wage.
In 2019, the Solidarity Center conducted a wage assessment, with Haitian workers and their unions, and found that garment worker wages then covered less than a quarter of the estimated cost of living.
Workers are continuing peaceful demonstrations until their demands are met.
Inequality around the world has its roots in the labor market, according to this year’s International Labor Organization’s (ILO) “Global Wage Report.” ILO research shows that increased worker productivity–particularly in developed economies, where inequality saw its widest increase—has had little effect on boosting wages. However, some emerging and developing economies, especially those focused on poverty reduction, did see inequality decline through a greater focus on more equitable wage distribution and increased paid (as opposed to self-) employment.
The ILO found that minimum wages contribute effectively to reducing wage inequality—and collective bargaining is “a key instrument for addressing inequality in general and wage inequality in particular.”
Some of the blame for flat wage growth can be laid on the 2008 financial crash, which pushed workers out of jobs and lowered growth rates in many economies. The long-term forces of globalization, technology and the decline of unions also have contributed to the problem.
“Average monthly real wages grew globally by 2 percent in 2013, down from 2.2 percent in 2012,” according to the report. Developing and emerging economies drove this growth: Asia saw a 6 percent increase, Eastern Europe and Central Asia nearly 6 percent and the Middle East saw real wages rise by almost 4 percent. Wages in Latin America and the Caribbean rose by less than 1 percent. Average wages in developed countries grew just 0.4 percent since 2009, despite a 5.3 percent increase in worker productivity.
Inequality fell most in Argentina and Brazil. Workers’ real wages in industrialized countries like Japan, Spain and the United Kingdom are less than they were in 2007.
In almost all countries surveyed, wage gaps remain between women and men, between national and migrant workers and between workers in the formal and informal economy.
According to the ILO, the gender “wage penalty” occurs despite education, experience and productivity, and often as a result of discrimination. Indeed, women’s average wages are between 4 percent and 36 percent less than men’s, and the gap widens for higher-earning women. Closing that gap will require policies to combat discrimination and gender-based stereotypes, and improve maternal, paternal and parental leave, says the report.
The ILO was created in 1919, as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, to reflect the belief that universal and lasting peace can be accomplished only if it is based on social justice.
PGFTU leaders discussed the study, which found the majority of Palestinian workers are paid less than the minimum wage. Credit: Rami Khanfar
More than half of Palestinian workers—59 percent—earn less than the national minimum wage established in October 2012, and women workers are paid half as much as male wage earners, according to a new report. A large majority, 85 percent, of Palestinian workers do not have a written contract guaranteeing their conditions of employment.
Many workers are required to work longer hours than those agreed upon and in excess of eight hours a day, with 17 percent of workers saying they are on the job seven days a week. Some 40 percent of workers say they work for more than eight hours a day and 10 percent say they work 12 hours a day.
According to one worker quoted anonymously in the report: “Employers do not abide by the terms of the contract with respect to working hours. For instance, workers in the construction sector work all day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.”
The report also highlights issues faced by women workers, only 12 percent of whom say their wages are sufficient to cover their living expenses. Women also face workplace abuse, such as in the Jordan Valley, where working women say they suffer beatings, verbal abuse and humiliation by labor brokers who bring workers to Israel.
“Palestine Workers,” based on interviews with 1,000 workers (union and non-union members), representatives from the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), employers’ associations and government, officials, was prepared by the Arab World for Research and Development (AWRAD) with input from the PGFTU and support by the Solidarity Center
Campaign and Media Communications Director
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