The last time the Haitian government increased the minimum wage was in May 2014

The last time the Haitian government increased the minimum wage was in May 2014

Haiti's garment industry has struck back at demands by workers' unions for additional salary increases after the government approved a 16% minimum wage hike last week, saying that they are insensible and that negotiations are closed.

"The President has already approved this and it's official so I don't see how we can negotiate again," said an official at the Association of Haitian Industries (ADIH), requesting anonymity. "If they want to negotiate further, they will have to do so with the president."

Unions are demanding an HTG800 or $12.90 daily wage jump for apparel workers, more than double the HTG350 or $4.8 per-day increase President Jovenel Moise signed into law on 26. This offers operators a daily raise of HTG15 over the Council of Wages' initial HTG335 recommendation.

"The president already reviewed the Council's recommendations and increased the wage, so to now demand HTG800 makes no sense," charged the official at the employers' group representing the $550m garment export industry.

Claims by trades union Batay Ouvriye, which fights for textile workers' rights, that workers are unhappy with the increase are over-hyped, according to the executive.

"Most workers are working at the factories and many are not entirely against the wage increase," the official said, adding that unions sometimes force them to protest or go on strike.

Moreover, Ouvriye's claims that the 8,000-strong Codevi industrial park and other industrial parks have offered operators HTG400 daily coupled with a 20% decrease in their production quota seem untrue.

"I haven't heard of Codevi or anyone doing this," said the official. "This is impossible because they have contract deadlines to meet and a certain number of pieces to deliver."

The executive reiterated the industry is not against minimum wage increases (the last of which took place in 2014) but noted these have to be accompanied by a proper social benefits package.

"The minimum wage is not going to solve the workers' problems," the official said. "The government has promised food and transport subsidies so they have to commit to that."

Haitian workers unhappy

Earlier this week just-style was told Haiti's garment workers are planning protests against the government's newly signed 16.7% wage rise to HTG350 (US$4.8) per day – which they deem unfair compared with their HTG800 or $12.90 original demand.

"They just published it [the new wage law] and we didn't agree," said Yannick Ettiene, national coordinator of Batay Ouvriye. "We planned a big march this afternoon (31 July) but the police did not let the workers leave the factories."

Officials at the National Coordination of Haitian Workers' union reportedly called Port-au-Prince's move "a new provocation" and threatened demonstrations from 31 July to 5 August as the "HTG800 are not negotiable."

The new wages build on the previous daily minimum wage of HTG300 ($4.70) and includes a HTG35 daily food allowance as well as free transport for garment workers, many of whom take lengthy journeys to work.

"The government has agreed to pay food wholesalers for rice, cooking oil and gas [to cheapen meals] and buy 300 buses to transport workers but we will have to see if this promise is met," Ettiene said, adding that there would be further demonstrations if such pledges were not honoured within a reasonable time.

The Haitian government has increased the minimum wage annually since 2014. According to information shared with just-style, the minimum was raised 12.5% in 2014, 6.7% in 2015 and 25% in 2016.

The new official wage and subsidies add up to HTG485 per day, which Ettiene says is still insufficient. Trade unions had also demanded overtime and better healthcare benefits.

Nevertheless, workers remain in "wait and see" mode until the subsidies come through, especially as government officials have hinted at new gasoline price hikes that could boost inflation.

While additional demonstrations will likely take place, new national strikes are not planned to paralyse the sector, which was expected to lose $6m after workers downed tools for four days in May to protest against miserly wages.

The United States is the top importer of Haitian-made goods and continues to invest in the country's economy through programmes such as the Haiti Economic Lift Program (HELP), whose duty-free provisions were extended by ten years in 2015, meaning the HELP Act now runs until 2025.

The value of apparel exports from Haiti to the US fell 5.2% in 2016 to US$895.3m, down from US$848.7m the year before. However, exports during the first five months of 2017 have edged up 2.4% to $351.5m.

Last year the number of apparel jobs reached a high of 41,200 – the highest since the HOPE and HELP Acts were signed in 2006 – with 60% of the growth in jobs seen in the northern region led by the Caracol and Codevi Industrial Parks.

Bright outlook for Haiti's apparel industry in 2016