Factory employers in Haiti are accused of cheating workers

Factory employers in Haiti are accused of cheating workers

Garment factories in Haiti supplying top brands and retailers have been accused of minimum wage violations that routinely deprive workers of nearly one-third of their pay.

Research carried out by a US-based labour rights group claims that workers in Port-au-Prince, where more than 90% of Haiti's garment factories are located, are paid an average of 32% less than they should be under the country's minimum wage and overtime laws.

Just taking into account underpayment for regular working hours (exclusive of overtime), workers are still being cheated of more than 20% of their wages, the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) says.

Its report, 'Stealing from the poor: wage theft in the Haitian apparel industry', is based on interviews with garment workers and reviews of pay records from five of the country's 24 export garment factories.

It also suggests a similar level of wage theft takes place at the country's Caracol Industrial Park, the new factory complex on Haiti's northern coast, which has been heavily subsidised by the US State Department and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

Employers are accused of cheating workers in three ways.

Firstly, piece rates are set so low - or production quotas set so high - that workers are unable to earn the legal daily minimum wage in a regular workday.

Second, employers pay wages for overtime hours based on a rate that is below the applicable legal minimum wage for production workers.

And third, specifically in Port-Au-Prince, factory workers perform a significant amount of labour "off-the-clock" before or after their recorded working hours, or during their meal periods, for which the factories fail to compensate them.

Not only do these practices affect workers and their families, but they violate both Haitian law and the codes of conduct set out by the major North American apparel brands and retailers who buy garments from Haiti.

The labour group is now urging these brands and retailers - including, it says, Gap, Gildan, Hanes, Kohl's, Levi's, Russell, Target, VF and Walmart - to tackle the issue.

Compliance with minimum wage laws should be "a necessary and acceptable cost of doing business," the WRC says, adding that buyers must pay prices for garments that make such compensation and compliance feasible.

The concerns are being raised as the Haitian government is currently considering an increase in the country's minimum wage.

Under a law introduced in 2009, garment workers who meet production targets should earn HTG300 (US$7) for an eight-hour day. All other workers, including trainees or recent transferees, earn HTG200 per day.