Haitian Workers not Sharing in Economic Growth

From Solidarity Centre

Up to 70 percent of the Haitian workforce lacks formal jobs—but the notion that “any job is better than no job” is not a goal that should be embraced, says Lauren Stewart, Solidarity Center program officer for Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

“I visited a factory park in Port-au-Prince, and one of the workers showed me his pay stub, which had deductions for lunch that he had to buy on credit from his employer since he couldn’t afford to eat,” Stewart says. “By the time he received his paycheck, almost half of it went toward paying back lunch.

“This is the current state of garment workers, who some consider to be the lucky few because they have formal jobs. But in reality, these workers are only earning enough to fend off starvation by the day,” she added.

Stewart spoke Friday at the panel discussion, “Economic Growth: Jobs or Sustainable Livelihoods?” part of a two-day event on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Sponsored by the Haiti Advocacy Working Group (HAWG), the discussions highlighted the ongoing need for aid accountability and equitable development in post-earthquake Haiti.

The panel also included Nixon Boumba, the in-country consultant to American Jewish World Service, and Kysseline Chérestal, a senior policy analyst at ActionAid USA.

All three co-panelists pointed out how despite investment in the country’s garment sector, working Haitians are not sharing in the economic prosperity.

Chérestal highlighted a January ActionAid report that found more than $170 million of U.S. emergency aid money to Haiti went to finance the Caracol Industrial Park, which was built on prime agricultural land in northern Haiti, far outside the disaster zone. More than 366 families and 720 agricultural workers lost their land to Caracol. Of the 65,000 jobs promised, only 5,000 have been created.

The garment industry, Haiti’s largest source of formal jobs, employs some 35,000 workers who are paid a minimum wage of between $5 and $7 per day. A Solidarity Center report last year found that the cost of living is three to four times higher than the minimum wage, and workers spend more than a third of their wages on transportation and lunch to sustain their labor throughout the day. The remaining wages are not sufficient to adequately feed their families, let alone cover basic costs like housing, healthcare, education for their children and clothing.

In addition to low wages, the garment industry is rife with labor rights abuses, including forced overtime work, health and safety abuses, sexual harassment, and retaliation from employers for union organizing.

For workers to benefit, “they must have safe and dignified jobs, in which they can freely exercise their rights and earn enough to support themselves and their families,” says Stewart.

The Solidarity Center is a member of HAWG, a working group of international development, faith-based, human rights and social justice organizations advocating on issues related to U.S.-Haiti policy.

Victory for Workers’ Rights in Finland

From Building and Wood Worker’s International

Finnish wage regulations and collective agreements should apply equally to everyone who works in Finland. That is the outcome of a new ruling by the European Court of Justice.

”The decision has great importance for both Finland the European Union as a whole”, said Martti Alakoski, chair of the Finnish Electrical Workers Union after the announcement on the 12th of February.

In short, the ruling finds that all employees must be payed basic wages, holiday bonuses and all other benefits in the general collective agreement – regardless of whether the company sending the employee is based in another member state of the EU.

The case concerns 186 Polish electricians who have been working on the construction of the nuclear power plant Olkiluoto 3, but were employed by a sub-contractor based in Poland. After discovering that they earned much less than their Finnish colleagues, they joined the Finnish Electrical Workers’ Union and demanded to be payed according to the pay rates, allowances and other benefits in the collective agreement.

In total the pay claims amounts to more than 6,5 million euros from the Polish company. The employer refused to meet the demands and referred to Polish law, according to which employees are not allowed to assign their pay claims to a union.

The union then turned to the District Court to solve the issue, which in turn asked the European Court of Justice to express an opinion on how to interpret the concept of minimum rates pay in the Posting of Workers Directive, and whether Polish employees were entitled to assign their pay claims to the union for collection.

The new ruling by the European Court of Justice sets aside the ban in the Polish law. According to the ruling, it is irrelevant that the company sending the employee is based in another member state of the EU – which has been a common argument by many employers not only in Finland but also in other parts of Europe.

All employees working in Finland must be paid according to Finnish pay scales, and a business coming from another EU-member state to Finland must comply with the pay regulations of the generally binding collective agreement.

“The judgment settles the issue of the terms and conditions on which European Union businesses may operate in other Member States”, says Jari Hellsten, a lawyer engaged on a European Union collective bargaining project for SAK and the Finnish trade union movement.

12,000 Walmart Workers In Chile Strike For Better Wages

From Making Change at Walmart

The “Walmart Economy” isn’t just hurting America – the multi-billion dollar corporation’s impact extends globally.

The Waltons, owners of Walmart, are the richest family in America, worth more than $150 billion. That’s equal to the wealth of 43% of American families combined. Yet many workers at Walmart stores, warehouses, and suppliers around the world face low pay or unacceptable working conditions. From California to Bangladesh, Mexico to South Africa, many workers at one of the wealthiest retailers in the world struggle to make ends meet.

Chilean communities have had enough. Starting Thursday, some 12,000 Walmart Chile (Lider) workers went on a nationwide strike demanding better wages. It’s reported that approximately 70 store locations are struggling to operate. In the Maipu & Concepcion comunas (or counties), all Walmart supermarkets are completely shut down.


Workers are on strike because the company has not responded to its request for salary increases. Manuel Diaz , president of the Federation of Walmart Chile, said workers are asking for a raise. Chilean Workers have also been picketing and calling on customers not to buy from the corporation’s supermarkets.

Diaz said the response from Chilean communities has been supportive, even during the busy holiday season, and that protests will continue as workers wait through the negotiation process.

In a public statement, Walmart Chile said it regrets the decision by workers to strike, and that the company is confident they will reconcile the demands of workers with what the company is able to offer.

This is not the first sign of labor unrest in Walmart stores abroad. Just this year, Walmart workers in over ten countries stood in solidarity with American Walmart workers, calling for decent pay and decent work. The “Global Day for Decent Work at Walmart” saw actions in the United States, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, India, Canada, Argentina, and Chile. In the past two years, Chinese Walmart workers have protested issues ranging from store closings, retaliation against workers who speak out, and cuts to worker benefits.

Last month, Walmart workers and community supporters held events or strikes in over 1600 stores across America, protesting how Walmart bullies workers that speak out about issues like fair pay.