Haiti is open for business, not for workers’ rights


Three years after the earthquake that devastated Haiti, workers are being left out of the task of reconstruction their own country. The disaster left more than 220,000 people dead and some 1.5 million homeless.

It is estimated that around 105,000 houses were completely destroyed and further 208,000 seriously damaged. More than 1,300 schools and 50 hospitals collapsed or became unusable.

The scale of investment necessary to rebuild the country provided the arguments for current president, Michel Martelly, proclaim during his inaugural speech that Haiti was open for business.

But trade unions are questioning if government will ever be open for workers’ rights.

“Today, three years after the earthquake, unionised workers in the construction sector are having difficulties integrating into the country’s reconstruction,” Dolce Ricot Pales, general secretary of the National Federation of Construction Workers (FENATCO), told Equal Times.

“To be more precise we are now witnessing the presence of construction companies winning tenders but employing only laborers from the Dominican Republic.”

Businesses argue that difficulties in finding skilled Haitian workers force them to recruit across the border. It seems, however, that a unionised workforce is also not ‘suitable’ for investment.

“From 13 October 2011 until today our union has trained 478 building professionals that we deem capable of working in international companies and are able to provide good results. So there is no reason not to hire them,”Ricot Pales said.

Some of the companies are even hiring Haitians living in the Dominican Republic, but paying half of their wages.

“In the Dominican Republic we are paid 1,500 gourdes (approximately US $35) per formwork built. But here the same company pays us 900 gourdes (approximately US$21), claiming that it is because we are working in our own country”, said a Haitian worker, interviewed by the Haitian Press Network.

A report released last week by Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) stated that housing for those displaced by the earthquake has been one of the most obvious failures of reconstruction efforts.

“Almost 360,000 people remain in camps three years later, while the reconstruction effort has resulted in less than 6,000 new houses,” said CEPR Co-Director, Mark Weisbrot.

According to the study, the international community has disbursed only half of the US$13.34 billion allocated by bilateral and multilateral donors for Haiti’s recovery.

“Haiti requires a more global approach to reconstruction which is far beyond the physical aspect of it. Trade unions are prepared to participate at all levels of discussion, particularly those related to labour issues,” said Kattia Paredes, an advisor to the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (ITUC-TUCA) based in Port-au-Prince.

“But even in the middle of this chaos there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Finally, a process of revision of the labour code is starting to take place. The employers attempted to delay this process, but after pressure from unions they finally agreed to engage in dialogue with workers and government.”