Background to the Brano Dispute: Open Letter


Translation of Batay Ouvriye’s “Open Letter to the Minister of Social Affairs concerning the application of the Minimum Wage”, originally published in French in “Le Nouvelliste” newspaper – June 24th edition, Port-au-Prince

Mrs. Eudes St. Preux
Minister of Social Affairs

Madame the Minister of Social Affairs,

On April 17th, 2003, «Le Moniteur», the official newspaper of the Republic of Haiti, reproduced the «Law fixing at seventy (70) gourdes, the minimum wage to pay throughout the country, in commercial, industrial and agricultural establishments, for an eight (8) hour working day».

In an analysis published in our last document: «Batay Ouvriye’s position concerning the country’s situation», in February 2003, we showed the extent to which the minimum wage of 70 gourdes represents a cruel joke, a slap in the face of Haitian workers by the Lavalas government. Article 137 of the Labour Code stipulates that this minimum wage «will be adjusted periodically according to variations in the cost of living or each time the official inflation indicators established by the Haitian Statistics and Data Processing Institute identifies an increase of at least ten percent (10%) during a fiscal year period». Respecting this prescription to the letter, a scrupulous calculation of how much such a salary should be, with regard to the skyrocketing inflation that has raged since 1995 (the last date when the minimum wage was adjusted), produces an adjustment (and not an “increase”, as the government would tendentiously have us believe) of seven and half times (7.5) the value of 1995, i.e. two hundred and seventy (270) gourdes. And, taking into account the constant depreciation of the currency (prices having attained a level which never subsequently decreased) one must actually estimate three hundred (300) gourdes. Yet, there again, we would only be speaking of an adjustment! Because in fact, the growing specialisation of the Haitian working class in comparison to the early days of Haiti’s assembly industry, for example, when combined with the new costs that have appeared in relation to the general deterioration of living conditions, forces us to look towards a real wage increase. This would then be at least three hundred and fifty (350) to four hundred (400) gourdes!

Representatives of the bourgeoisie scream bloody murder (some already hit the roof when they heard the annoucement of the miserable seventy gourdes adjustment) arguing that labour is a merchandise like all others, and that the concession of such a salary will immediately affect all others costs. However they omit, sadistically, to note that it is precisely because all other prices have already increased radically that the price of labour must necessarily follow suit.

But, as the Lavalas government has made its role manifest for all to see, in effect it carries on reproducing, organising and satisfying the national and international bourgeoisie, while filling its pockets at all levels of the state. This law therefore ratifies the Haitian workers’ sacrifice at the altar of the unlimited and perfectly encouraged profit, which all the wheeler-dealers of the moment are making these days.

There’s more, however. The law appeared solely in the official, oh so rare, “Le Moniteur” newspaper, thereby frankly out of range and out of sight of the workers. Not a single loud and clear official announcement, not a word ! Worse, two months later, neither the regional offices, nor even the central offices of the Social Affairs Ministry, had been informed of the enactment of this law, nor were they in possession of a copy of number 29 of the 158th annual issue of «Le Moniteur»! As they were (or pretended to be) skeptical, we ourselves had to obtain copies for them!

This deliberate game of hide-and-seek greatly encourages the non-application of the law. For, if this salary had already been bestowed in certain factories, it was far from being so in most of the others where, in fact, the permanent delaying of salary adjustments by bosses is customary. Witness the case of the Beck hotel, in Cap-Haitian, whose owner, of German origin, indefinitely protracts negotiations with workers, refusing to admit as well the possibility that eventually his recognition of the law might function retrospectively. In factories 15, 34, 41 and 42 of the Port-au-Prince Industrial Park, all belonging to Koreans doing business in Haiti, several workers were beaten up by the police because they demanded this salary adjustment.

The most extraordinary case, however, is that of the Northern branch of the “Brasserie Nationale” (National Brewery), BRANO (“Brasserie du Nord”) where workers were severely beaten and then arrested by UDMO (anti-riot unit) policemen who called in by the local factory’ management, and later freed without charge nor judgment for having, on April 22nd, demanded respect of the new minimum wage law.

Let us recall that the law was promulgated at the National Palace on April 14th and published on the following April 17th. Michael Madsen, of the family Denmark’s honorary consuls in Haiti, owner of the Brasserie Nationale, answering to an investigative report published by the Haitian Platform of Human Rights Organisations (POHDH) (“Le Nouvelliste”, June 2, 2003), defends himself against these accusations (“Le Nouvelliste”, June 9th, 2003). However he omits to mention that the events of April 22nd took place well after the minimum wage adjustment was promulgated. Regardless, then, of the work stoppage sparked by the protest, it becomes automatically justified and Brano illegal, since the law was already in force: it should have been the company’s responsibility to immediately align itself with the newly promulgated law, without the workers having to demand it be respected. Michael Madsen also purposely chooses to ignore the fact, unveiled by the POHDH, that a few weeks earlier twenty-five workers had been dismissed (without severance pay!) again simply for having demanded an adjustment to the 36 gourdes daily salary which, let us be clear, by no means allows any sort of livelihood, let alone provides for an entire family’s subsistence. Nor does he mention that the regional officials of the Social Affairs Ministry admit to having to complain about this factory’s management which invariably contravenes Haitian laws (see testimony of Mr. Luckner Marie Anjou, head of the North department Labour Bureau, in the POHDH report).

Mr. Madsen dramatically finishes his letter addressed to the Nouvelliste’s director in these terms: «I do not wish to return on this matter in any way.» ! At the time of the writing of this Open Letter, June 17th, Brano workers still do not receive the 70 gourdes specified by law!! (…)

Please receive, Madame Minister, our respectful salutations,

For BATAY OUVRIYE : Yannick Etienne

Cc:Mr. Yvon Neptune, Prime Minister, Mr. Jocelerme Privert, Minister of the Interior, National and international press

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