Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Haiti minimum wage increase ignites competition row in textile industry

The issue of the minimum wage is inflaming employment relations in Haiti, as garment factory owners and workers unions argue about the optimum rate amid fears the country's textile exports may become uncompetitive if the bar is set too high.

Garments constitute 90% of Haiti's exports, earning $800m (£485) a year, the biggest source of foreign exchange after diaspora remittances. The sector employs 31,000 people, a significant if small contribution to the organised jobs market in a poor, predominantly young workforce beset by unemployment rates of more than 40%.

Ironically, the dispute was triggered by attempts to formally raise the minimum wage.

On 10 December, a few hundred people took to the streets of the Haitian capital, Port au Prince, in protest against a scheduled increase in the minimum wage on 1 January. It might have been another demonstration against President Michel Martelly's government, except for what came next. Furious at the marginal pay rise – from 200 to 225 Haitian gourdes (£2.76 to £3.11) for an eight-hour day – some protesters vandalised garment factories in the main industrial park, prompting the owners to close them to close for a few days on the grounds of security concerns. The private sector's Association des Industries d'Haiti (ADIH) warned the closure and an increased reputation of instability risked grave damage to the garment sector.

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