Clothing factories in an industrial park in Haiti's capital were closed Friday and have remained shut for three days as thousands of garment workers have taken to the streets demanding a raise in the minimum wage.
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Nearly 18,000 factory workers employed in factories in Caracol Industrial Park are fighting for social benefits like food subsidies, transport, and construction of social housing as well as the wage increase.
Amid a depreciating currency and the rising cost of living, the Haitian workers said that with their current wages, they were unable to support their families. A Friday protest which first shuttered the factories occurred days after a significant increase in the price of gasoline.
According to memos obtained by Wikileaks in 2008 and 2009, the U.S. State Department blocked a proposal for minimum wage increase in Haiti.
"In 2009, while Bill Clinton was setting up one of the family’s shell companies in New York, in that same year Hillary Clinton was at the State Department working with U.S. corporations to pressure Haiti not to raise the minimum wage to 61 cents an hour from 24 cents," Lee Camp, an activist of RT’s Redacted Tonight told PolitiFact.
The memos show that U.S. embassy officials in Haiti opposed the wage hike and met multiple times with factory owners who lobbied against it to the Haitian president.
"It's gotten to the point where I can't take care of my son. I don't see any future in this," said Esperancia Mernavil, a garment worker who belongs to the Gosttra union, told the AP.
Workers are demanding 800 Haitian gourdes per eight-hour work day, that roughly amounts to US$12.47 per day. They now earn 300 gourdes, or US$4.67.
According to AP, the industrialists and government officials met in the Port-au-Prince park, amid heavy police presence. The 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," AP reported.
"We have to be competitive with other places," Bellevuea added, saying that he expected the factories to reopen Tuesday.
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The workers fought for years to move the wage to US$5 per day or 61 cents per hour. But still, no matter how many hours Haitian women work at the sweatshops in Haiti, they cannot afford to pay for shelter, transportation, food and their children's schooling, with the high inflation and high price of gas and cost of living.
In 2008, when the Haitian Parliament started discussing doubling or tripling the daily minimum wage of 70 Haitian gourdes to keep up with inflation, roughly amounting to US$1.75 a day or about 22 cents per hour, the Wikileaks cables show that the U.S. Embassy officials started monitoring the minimum wage during the same period.
In 2009, lawmakers voted to more than double Haiti's minimum wage for the workers in the country's apparel factories, from about US$1.75 a day to roughly US$3.75 a day. In 2014, Haiti raised its minimum wage to US$5.11.
During 2008 and 2009, the U.S. embassy officials told Washington that a hike would hurt the economy and undermine U.S. trade preference legislation, known as the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act of 2006. According to the HOPE legislation, the garments manufactured on the island will have duty-free access to the U.S. markets. HOPE benefits corporate giants such as Levi Strauss, Haneswear, Nautica, and Dockers.
In 2011, nearly 2000 Wikileaks cables made available to the Nation and Haiti Liberte, a weekly newspaper in Port-au-Prince, also concluded that the "U.S. Embassy in Haiti worked closely with factory owners contracted by Levi’s, Hanes, and Fruit of the Loom to aggressively block a paltry minimum wage increase."