By: Makini Brice – Reuters
Hundreds of Haitian textile workers took to the streets on Monday to demand a higher minimum wage as managers of textile factories threatened to leave the country if the government did not clamp down on demonstrations.
Haiti has pinned some of its economic growth hopes on the textile industry, which accounts for 90 percent of its exports, according to export.gov, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The United States has granted Haiti a preferential trade deal, creating some 40,000 jobs, the Association of Haitian Industries said last November. Products made there are shipped to major U.S. retailers like Walmart and Target.
However, spurred by a recent hike in fuel prices and surging inflation, textile workers have begun protesting over pay.
On Monday, they marched across town from an industrial park near the airport to the Ministry of Social Affairs in downtown Port-au-Prince, singing and waving signs with slogans like “Long live the independent fight for factory workers.”
Workers in textile factories currently earn 300 Haitian gourdes ($4.77). They are demanding a raise to 800 gourdes a day.
An annual report seen by Reuters from the High Council of Salaries, which is tasked with recommending changes to the minimum wage, had proposed an increase to 400 gourdes a day. But it was never released due to a dispute within the council.
Last week, six companies wrote to the office of Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant, demanding the government stop the protests, in letters that became public on Monday.
“Total cost competitiveness, quality production and the proximity (to) the U.S. were the reasons we selected Haiti while betting on major improvements on salary predictability and political stability,” the companies wrote in identical letters.
“If those benefits no longer (exist), we will have to make other strategic (arrangements to) move from Haiti to other places where there is a clear state strategy to boost investments and protect investors while creating and protecting decent jobs,” they added.
The six companies that signed the letters were MGA Haiti S.A., Astro Carton d’Haiti S.A., Haiti Cheung Won S.A., Textile Youm Kwang S.A., Pacific Sports Haiti S.A. and Wilbes Haitian S.A.
Earlier this month, Roosevelt Bellevue, minister of social affairs and labor, expressed a similar view.
“If the salary becomes too high, companies will leave and go to the Dominican Republic or Nicaragua,” he told reporters.
Representatives from MGA Haiti and Astro Carton d’Haiti confirmed they had sent the letters, and said they had lost between $50,000 and $60,000 due to the protests. The other four textile companies could not be reached immediately for comment. (Additional reporting by Robenson Sanon; Editing by Leslie Adler)