World May 2, 2023 | 8:41 am

Haitian workers demand better conditions in the midst of a serious crisis

Hundreds of Haitian workers demonstrated on Monday through the streets of Port-au-Prince to demand better working conditions and an increase in the minimum wage in the free trade zone industries, which employ more than 50,000 people in the country, plunged into a serious crisis in all the orders. The general coordinator of the National Central of Haitian Workers (Cnoha), Dominique St-Eloi, called for a minimum wage of 2,500 gourdes ($16) a day for workers in free zones, who currently earn about $4.5 a day.

At the same time, he denounced the withholdings practiced by health insurers that, in his opinion, do not offer anything in return as a service to workers. Workers are “suffering too much, paying a high price for inflation, insecurity, and rising fuel prices,” St-Eloi said.

“There are heads of subcontracted factories (free zones) who owe 100 million gourdes, there are those who owe 150 million gourdes, and even bosses who owe 700 million gourdes. The bosses make deductions but keep the money,” he said. According to the complaint, politicians and employers benefit “from the monthly deductions made from the miserable wages of workers” in the free zone sector.

Blanc Nico Laguerre, who has worked for 18 years in the free zone sector, denounced the employers who exploit the workers and the poorest classes. In addition, he accused them of “feeding” the armed gangs that plague the country, while refusing to give workers a decent wage.

“You have to increase the minimum wage to improve living conditions,” this man told EFE, who said his salary is not enough to eat. “I can’t even send my children to school. I have four children, I have to send two to the provinces because I can’t take care of them,” Laguerre said. In Haiti, May Day is a festival of agriculture and work. Thus, for Haitian workers, this date is of paramount importance, which is why union associations and organizations organize workers’ demonstrations.

“It is a fight that allowed us to have this date. It is the fight against the bourgeoisie and the bosses -but also against all forms of social exploitation- what has allowed us to have this date”, affirms another militant. The workers’ demonstration, which began in front of the premises of the Société Nationale des Parcs Industriels in Port-au-Prince, tried to reach the office of the Prime Minister, Ariel Henry but was prevented by the National Police. The last time the minimum wage was increased in subcontracted factories was in February 2023, when it was raised to 685 gourdes ($4.5) after numerous mobilizations that left at least one dead and several injured.

The Labor Code requires a salary adjustment for each increase of at least 10% of the inflation rate, currently estimated at around 50% according to official reports. The minimum wage for workers in Haiti rose by 37% in 2022, according to data from Oxfam Intermon released this Monday on the occasion of Workers’ Day. According to the study by this NGO, the minimum wage in Haiti went from 13,000 gourdes (about $85.5) in 2021 to 17,810 gourdes (just over $116.5) last year, representing an increase of 37 %. The Harmonized Index of Consumer Prices increased by 27% from 2021 to 2022, so the difference with respect to the increase in the minimum wage was 10%.

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