By Milo Milfort
Port-au-Prince, Feb 25 (EFE).- Since mid-January, thousands of workers have demonstrated on the streets of Port-au-Prince to demand an increase in the minimum wage, social support and better working conditions in the textile industries that employ more than 57,000 people, mostly young women.
Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry responded by increasing th minimum wage from 500 gourdes (about $5) to 685 gourdes ($6.71), far from the 1,500 gourdes (about $15) demanded by workers.
The prime minister’s decision caused resentment among the workers, who organized two major protests this week, in the last of which a photojournalist was killed and two reporters were injured when police opened fire on the demonstrators, according to eye witnesses.
President of the Senate, Joseph Lambert, and organizations such as the National Human Rights Defense Network have expressed support towards the workers.
“In the face of the mobilizations to demand an adjustment of the minimum wage, the Haitian State, with the complicity of the employers, prevents the increase,” Dominique St-Eloi, coordinator of the National Union of Haitian Workers, told EFE.
While there has been no increase in wages for three years, the prices of basic necessities have risen, including transport, he said.
“We ask for 1,500 gourdes and we have the social support. Employers and authorities treat workers harshly. They condemn workers with a salary for so many years, without adjusting it,” said St Eloi, underlining that inflation is 24.6 percent, and that hospitalization costs and drug prices have increased.
According to Jean Eddy Lucien, a professor at the State University of Haiti, workers’ salaries was a “really complicated” issue as to what they receive for their work.
“If we look at the textile sector in Haiti, investors come because they are certainly attracted to the minimum wage,” he told EFE.
The professor pointed out that a worker who in the United States earns $15 an hour, gets $120 for eight hours of work.
“A worker who works 8 hours for less than $5 (as in Haiti) is a salaried slave. The labor movement is another awakening of the Haitian social movement. Workers are revolutionaries, they can change history,” Lucien said.
The trade unionist St-Eloi claimed that the current minimum wage of 500 gourdes was not enough even to meet the daily expenses of food and transport.
“And let’s not forget that the worker lives in a house, has a family, and has to pay the school fees of his children every month,” he said, adding that some workers suffer from tuberculosis and stomach ulcers because they cant afford sufficient food.
St-Eloi denounced police repression of demonstrations and criticized employers who retain workers’ health insurance money, depriving them of access to medical care.
Lucien, for his part, claimed that the police force was a method to harshly repress the trade union movement in favor of foreign investors as a guarantee of capital stability.
“The police are more repressive with the workers than with any other social group,” he argued. EFE