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Haitian garment sector workers are set to take part in a massive demonstration organised by unions tomorrow (18 November) to show their dissatisfaction with the minimum wage increase.

Back on 1 October, Haiti’s government published the decree in the official journal Le Moniteur, Presses Nationales d’Haiti, giving a 20% increase to garment manufacturing workers, moving their salary from HTG350 (US$5) to HTG420 (US$6) per eight-hour working day. The wage increases took effect on the same day they were announced.

But Jean Bonald Golinsky Fatal, president of the Confederation of Public and Private Sector Workers of Haiti (CTSP), said the increase was not enough and workers have been anxious to let the government know their disappointment.

Protests had been due to take place last month, but demonstrations over the alleged misuse of funds from the Petrocaribe agreement (an oil assistance programme sponsored by Venezuela) took precedent, seeing tens of thousands of Haitians clamouring against corruption.

Those protests also turned violent with clashes between the police and some protesters. But Fatal now says with the Haitian gourdes dropping in value against the US dollar, the rate of inflation is now up to 15% on the island and the situation has become critical. “We want HTG1,000 (US$14.31), but the government gives us only HTG420,” he told just-style last month.

Pressure on pay

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The CTSP, one of the country’s main trade unions, is working with other unions and community organisations such as Gosttra-Haiti and CNOHA, the National Centre of Haitian Workers, to come up with a firm response to the government’s offer. In addition to rejecting the wage increase, unions have labelled the rise “a provocation.”

Workers in towns such as Ouanaminthe, in the north-east of Haiti, have already been protesting over what Fatal described as a “meager increase.”

Workers and their trade unions have been demanding pay increases since 2017, when they were seeking HTG800 per day, arguing that wages must reflect the cost of living in Haiti.

Not everyone views the wage increase in a negative light, however. Fabrice Leclercq, the International Labour Organization’s ( ILO) country coordinator for Haiti says it is a “very positive move on the part of Haiti’s government.”

While Leclercq admits the rise falls well short of the unions’ expectations, he says it shows that the government is “finally sitting and hearing what workers are saying.”

Manufacturers’ perspective

However, manufacturers led by the Association des Industries Haiti (ADIH) President Georges Sassine, maintain the government must address pressing socio-economic issues, such as the costs of transport, food and other services, and not walk away with the idea that a salary increase will cure all the workers’ woes.

In fact, Sassine believes the 20% increase may lead to more hardship and diminish the very limited purchasing power that some workers have at present.

“This will mean more money coming out as workers’ taxes. They are now in a new tax bracket. The government now has to raise the bracket for individual taxes,” says Sassine.

He adds that many garment industry workers are paid more than HTG420 a day by manufacturers. And for those employers who do not pay above the old minimum wage of HTG350 per day, the increase could take a bite out of their profits.  

However, Leclercq says the ILO will be monitoring developments to ensure the minimum wage law is met by owners, despite the opinions and emotions surrounding the matter.

Leclercq says the ILO inspects factories several times a year to ensure strict adherence to the principles of the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement (HOPE) Act of 2006 and the Haiti Economic Lift Program (HELP) Act of 2010. These are key for manufacturers to continue to do business with the United States, and require that workers’ rights are respected.