Five years ago today an earthquake struck Haiti, killing more than 200,000 people and leaving another 1.5 million homeless. The disaster was followed by a string of tropical storms and a cholera epidemic that killed at least 8,000 people. Haiti is slowly rebuilding, albeit unevenly. More than 85,000 displaced Haitians still live in tent camps. Despite billions of dollars in international aid and philanthropy going to Haiti, poor management of the funds and rampant subcontracting has hindered the recovery. Workers and unions have been on the front lines in the reconstructions efforts in Haiti providing direct assistance, with unions like AFT and the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center leading numerous aid and relief projects.
Moreover, Haiti’s workers continue to face obstacles to accessing decent work and a living wage. Nearly 60% of Haitians live in poverty, with 38% of the population living in extreme poverty. Employment offers little opportunity to escape poverty, as 60% of employed Haitians earn less than minimum wage, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
For Haitian workers to lift themselves out of poverty, support their families and help their country recover from the quake and its aftermath, fair wages and the right to form unions are essential.
In Haiti’s rapidly expanding textile industry—the industry has grown by 45% since the earthquake and accounts for 91% of Haiti’s national export earnings—workers receive poverty wages. Employers take advantage of a two-tiered wage system that allows them to pay a “piece rate” and often set unattainable quota to pay workers less than the required 300 Haitian gourde (HTG) per eight-hour day (about $6.96 in U.S. dollars). In recent discussions with export apparel workers in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, the Solidarity Center found that workers may pay nearly half their daily wage on two daily meals. Sending a child to school can absorb most of their monthly pay.
Haitian unions have sought to secure improvements for workers through labor–employer discussions with the government on reforming the current labor code, boosting social protections and reviewing wage levels, according to the Solidarity Center. See the rest of the Solidarity Center’s post on Haiti here.
This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on January 12, 2015. Reprinted with permission
About the Author: Charlie Fanning is the Global Advocacy and Research coordinator for the AFL-CIO.