Factories closed in Haiti industrial park after protest

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Factories making T-shirts, pants and other apparel in an industrial park in Haiti’s capital were closed on Monday, three days since thousands of garment workers took to the streets demanding pay increases.

Industrialists and government officials met in the Port-au-Prince park, where a police presence was heavy and the dozen assembly factories were empty. Roughly 18,000 workers are employed in the factories.

Garment workers say their wages are not enough to support their families amid a depreciating currency and a rising cost of living. A Friday protest which first shuttered the factories occurred days after a significant increase in the price of gasoline.

Workers are demanding 800 Haitian gourdes per eight-hour work day. Based on current exchange rates, that’s roughly $12.47 per day. They now earn 300 gourdes, or $4.67.

“It’s gotten to the point where I can’t take care of my son. I don’t see any future like this,” said Esperancia Mernavil, a garment worker who belongs to the Gosttra union.

Social Affairs and Work Minister Roosevelt Bellevue said Monday that the government will sit down with all sides but “we can’t put up the minimum salary that much.”

“We have to be competitive with other places,” said Bellevue, who expected the factories to reopen Tuesday.

Georges Sassine, president of a prominent industrial association, said he doubted that the protest was actually over pay, which he acknowledged has been far from adequate for some time due to currency devaluations and the absence of suitable social services.

He noted that there were no negotiations prior to the Friday protest, which he asserted was sparked by a group of violent demonstrators who stormed into the factories and rounded up workers.

Sassine said the result from the factory closures is that everyone ends up losing money, including the workers, the factory owners, the local food sellers, and the drivers who bring people to the park.

“That is what Haiti has been doing for the last 40 years - lose, lose, lose,” he said.

Most of Haiti’s roughly 11 million Haitians who are employed work on small rural farms, sell basic goods on urban streets or do odd jobs, or rely on remittances from abroad. A relatively small number of people have jobs like garment work covered by the minimum salary law.

In 2009, lawmakers voted to more than double Haiti’s minimum wage for the workers in the country’s apparel factories. Minimum wages were doubled from about $1.75 a day to about $3.75 a day. In 2014, Haiti raised its minimum wage to $5.11, or 300 Haitian gourdes. Three years later, 300 gourdes is now worth $4.67.


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