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Haitian Garment Workers Angered Over Insufficient Wage Hike

Despite struggles and protests for increased wages, Haitian apparel and textile workers may not be getting the raise they sought.

The government-convened Supreme Council on Wages in Haiti approved a recommendation last month to increase the minimum wage for garment workers from 200 gourdes ($4.60) to 225 gourdes ($5.17) per 8-hour day, a 12.5% increase. The raise will take effect on Jan.1, 2014, pending approval from the Ministry of Social Affairs. But many of the 30,000 workers in the industry may not even benefit from the raise as most are paid per piece and the new wage increase doesn’t pertain to the piece rate.

Garment workers who feel slighted by the modest increase took to the streets of Port-au-Prince Wednesday to express their displeasure, asking for double the offered rate, the Associated Press reported.

Protestors had been demanding a 500 gourde daily wage but the Association of Industries of Haiti (ADIH) and apparel industry leaders dismissed the request stressing the need to continuously monitor the wage rate in order to keep the country competitive with nations like Cambodia, Vietnam and Bangladesh.

The Collective of Textile Manufacturing Unions (KOSIT), which represents workers, convened a press conference last week to discuss the wage council’s decision to set the minimum wage at such a “pitiful level.” Labor group Batay Ouvriye (Workers Struggle), who supports the Collective, published KOSIT’s statement from the conference.

Union representatives said the 225 gourde rate is a setback compared to the 200 gourde minimum wage set in 2009 because the value of the gourde has decreased considerably. “We demanded a 500 gourdes daily minimum wage and we got 225 gourdes, less than half of what we asked for. This is an insult, a total lack of respect, a criminal act,” the statement said.

According to Haiti Libre, a major news site in the country, ADIH was forced to close Thursday citing concerns for worker safety following demonstrations against the wage increase. ADIH told employees from the assembly and textile companies in the metropolitan area to stay home after, according to the association, protestors entered factories “violently,” urging workers to leave their work stations.

KOSIT asked that all workers continue to mobilize and said that the organization would continue to fight until they can settle on a decent wage.