January 11, 2013—Three years after the disastrous earthquake struck Haiti, workers and their families continue to struggle as the cost-of-living keeps rising while wages—for those who have jobs—remain the same. Informal discussions by Solidarity Center staff with Haitian export-processing workers this month indicate that in the past year, the cost of food and education has increased between 20 percent and 25 percent, while rent and transportation have risen between 15 percent and 20 percent.
Post-earthquake unemployment and inflation compounded pre-existing financial difficulties for many families. Even before the earthquake, workers (who on average earn between $3 and $5 a day), struggled to afford food, shelter and school fees for their children. The situation has not improved since the Solidarity Center published a cost-of-living study in March 2011. Now, Haitians also face widespread hunger as two recent storms created $170 million in crop losses.
The Solidarity Center has joined with Haitian unions and worker rights organizations in calling for decent employment, living wages, safe working conditions and the right to form unions without retaliation so that Haitian workers can support their families and help their country recover from the quake and a series of other crises that followed.
The Solidarity Center initiated a new program that works toward these goals, with a specific focus on organizing in the textile sector. The program aims to build the capacity of unions to protect vulnerable workers, participate in productive labor-management dialogue and advocate for public policies that improve the lives of working families. The Solidarity Center—which has been supporting programs in Haiti from its office in the Dominican Republic—opened an office in Port-au-Prince in 2012, hiring a full-time director to ensure that union partners receive the on-the-ground support they need.
Workers Helping Workers, from Disaster through Aftermath
The January 12, 2010, earthquake killed tens of thousands of people and left up to a million homeless. Following the disaster, a massive cholera outbreak struck hundreds of thousands of Haitians. In the earthquake’s immediate aftermath and in the years since, the Solidarity Center, together with Haitian unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and TransAfrica, provided assistance directly to Haitian workers and their families in need. U.S. union members and allies contributed to the Solidarity Center’s Earthquake Relief Fund and the Solidarity Center channeled and coordinated on-the-ground efforts with trade union partners and worked with them to jointly determine the areas of greatest need.
Within days of the earthquake, the Solidarity Center dispatched regular truckloads of emergency supplies to Haiti from its field office in neighboring Dominican Republic. The Solidarity Center also used disaster relief funds to:
• Support AFT in establishing a union-run health clinic in Port au Prince which has provided hundreds of patients with free pediatric, maternal and preventative care since it opened in August 2011.
• Provide educational stipends to more than 700 children, which allowed them to continue their studies in a safe, child-friendly environment.
• Assist the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) in training and deploying 50 Haitian trade unionists to the hardest hit areas of the country, where they delivered hygiene and sanitation kits and information on preventing and identifying the disease.
• Partnered with TransAfrica in the “Let Haiti Live” project, which empowers Haitian workers and their communities to advocate for improved living conditions.