Where is the respect for workers’ rights?

Kidnapping and threats. Continuing violations of the rights of Haiti's journalists
The Agronomist Screening

1  May 2004. A snapshot of working conditions at the Laguna Azul Haiti company (originally: Yon kout je sou kondisyon travay ouvriye nan yon antrepriz: Laguna Azul Haiti SA)

From the Bulletin of the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organisations* Se Mèt kò ki veye kò, Seri II, Nimewo

From what we saw in our visit to the business on May 6th, 2004, working conditions at the “Laguna Azul” company are critical. The workers, who work Monday to Saturday from 9am to 3.30pm, earn a tiny amount of money that does not allow them to live decently. On top of that, they do not have good tools, adequate hygiene conditions or insurance.

What is “Laguna Azul”?
Laguna Azul is a company which buys up and resells scrap metal, such as car carcasses and old engine blocs, in several countries. It is, in a sense, a multinational company. It has been operating in Haiti for over seven months. Its premises are on Boulevard Lasaline at the “St Joseph Terminal” bloc in the APN (National Port Authority) zone.

The different types of workers
As with other companies, there are several categories of workers at “Laguna Azul”. There are those working in offices, i.e. the managers. Then there are people working in the kitchens, the women who do the cleaning, the workers who break up scrap metal, and the people who load containers.

The status and working conditions for employees at the company
At Laguna Azul, it is only the office staff (mainly Indians, along with the odd Haitian interpreter or accountant) who have employee status. Everyone else is a dyobè (a jobber or casual worker), whether they do the cleaning, cut up the scrap or load the containers. In a short talk with the head of the company, Mr Zaky Manoli Kutty, he told us that he didn’t employ them just so that he could give more people work. He added “if we employ one group of people, what use do we have for all the others who ask us for work everyday?”

The conditions for those cutting the scrap are very bad. They work from 9am to 3.30pm under the burning sun. On top of that, they don’t have good equipment, such as gloves, helmets or protective goggles. Neither do they have insurance in case of accidents. Many times, when they are injured at work, they are let go of and given no compensation other than 100 Gourdes with which to buy ice. It is not even posible for them to be provided with a bandage inside the workplace.

According to some of them, they came to work for Laguna because the bosses promised them a fixed wage that would allow them to support themselves and their families. But one worker told us, “However, instead of keeping their promises, every time we raise the issue of wages with them, they won’t give us any jobs (i.e. won’t hire us as day labourers)”.

As for the workers loading containers, their situation is worse still. A container can take 18 to 20 tonnes of metal. It can take two or three days to fill one, sometimes up to a week. Previously, a team of eight people would load a container and each would earn 600 Gourdes for doing that. But now the managers have not only reduced the team to five people, but each of them only earns 250 Gourdes. That is to say, workers now work harder for less money. Furthermore, as is the case with the men cutting up the scrap, they do not have the right equipment or insurance to protect them in case of accidents at work.

The workers’ sanitary conditions
Whilst working conditions are dire, sanitary conditions are worse still. Within the workplace, they don’t get a drop of water to drink. If a worker doesn’t have a few coins to buy a sachet of water after working in the hot sun, he may die of thirst. Still worse, the workers have no place to get cleaned up or any toilet facilities. Many have to go and answer nature’s call in public, down by the edge of the water. Otherwise they have to do it over themselves. As for washing themselves, they have to do it behind a nasty old trailer, while the management all have good shower and toilet facilities indoors.

What have the state authorities got to say about this kind of thing? According to what Zaky Manoli Kutty told us, the company has the Haitian state’s permission to operate in the country. Its licence number is 554-188, its registration number is 000-423-6376, and the number identifying the sector of its activities is G6111. However, according to workers there, the bureau of work inspections (part of the Ministry of Social and Labour Affairs) has never visited the site. The worst aspect of this is that if a worker came to serious harm, the state authorities would never know. Manoli Kutty told us this wasn’t important as he always looked after victims of accidents.

Laguna Azul, as a company dealing in scrap metal, could be of great help to the Haitian state in ridding the country of all the refuse metal scattered here and there. In this sense, the state must encourage the company in this work. However, this shouldn’t lead the state authorities to ignore the bad working conditions within the company. We therefore ask the bureau of work inspections to visit the company and check the conditions under which its workers have to work. We also ask the state to take the necessary measures to force the management at Laguna Azul to give their workers better wages and working conditions.

What is the sense of these people working if it doesn’t allow them and their families to live decently? Where is the respect for these workers’ economic rights? Who is to enforce respect of said rights? These are all questions for the state authorities to answer.

Translated from Creole by Andrew Taylor for the Haiti Support Group

*Members of la Plate-forme des organisations haïtiennes des Droits de l’Homme (POHDH): Cresfed, NCHR, Justice and Peace Commission, Haitian Conference of the Religious (CHR), Alternative Justice Group (GAJ), Institut Culturel Karl Levêque (ICKL), Alternative Justice Programme, Sant Kal Levek (SKL), ODEPA.

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