Group Says Haitian Garment Workers Are Shortchanged on Pay

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Garment factories in Haiti, the backbone of an effort to revive the country’s earthquake-shattered economy, have seriously shortchanged workers of their wages to keep costs of their T-shirts and other export goods low, according to a report by labor rights group – Worker Rights Consortium. The report focused on 5 of Haiti’s 24 garment factories and found that “the majority of Haitian garment workers are being denied nearly a third of the wages they are legally due as a result of the factories’ theft of their income.”  The group said that the factories deprive workers of higher wages they are entitled to under law by setting difficult-to-meet production quotas and neglecting to pay overtime.

It said that offenders included the Caracol Industrial Park in northern Haiti, which the United States helped build and has cited as a centerpiece of reconstruction efforts, and factories that make products for prominent retailers like Gap, Target and Walmart.  Scott Nova, the consortium’s executive director, said in an interview: “What goes on here is not some occasional violations where most companies are in compliance and a few are not. You have across-the-board systematic, willful noncompliance with straightforward labor law by a large margin in a way that’s very destructive to workers.”

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The group’s report follows one in April by Better Work, an independent labor compliance group backed by the International Labor Organization and an arm of the World Bank, that found widespread wage violations in all 24 factories. The Better Work report said just 16 percent of apparel workers who are paid by the number of pieces they produce earned 300 Haitian gourdes for an eight-hour day, or about $ 6.90, a minimum benchmark the factories must offer such workers.

The Worker Rights Consortium said that in all five factories it investigated, workers needed more than the normal 48-hour week to produce enough to be paid that much, and they were also not adequately compensated for the extra time they worked to meet the quotas. Many workers were paid 200 gourdes, or about $4.60, the minimum wage for nonpiece work. The time-and-a-half premium for overtime, if paid at all, was often based on 200 gourdes rather than 300. Richard Lavallée, the group’s program manager, said that there has been an increase in workers earning 300 Haitian gourdes, but he declined to release details or to comment on the findings of the Worker Rights Consortium. He said Better Work and a Haitian government panel had begun work to clarify the wage law and its obligations.

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The consortium’s report is bound to add to the debate in Haiti and abroad over garment factories, which the government and industry supporters contend provide desperately needed steady jobs in a country with few of them and will, they say, eventually lift the economy. Labor rights groups argue the factories exploit workers and pay unfair wages that are too meager for Haitians to support themselves, but that allow major retailers to keep costs of their products low.

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Henri-Claude Müller-Poitevien, the Haiti prime minister’s adviser on investment, said Haiti was working on training workers to improve their productivity. The industry is still trying to rebound after embargoes in its politically unstable years of the 1980s and ‘90s, and the January 2010 quake, took a toll.  He disagreed that factories should adjust their quotas, because, he said, that might send business to Cambodia and other low-wage countries Haiti competes with. “We do care to get workers enough training and skills to perform,” he said. “This is a step-by-step process. We know where we are lacking and we are addressing it and finding a solution.” 

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