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#3985: Factory wages (fwd)

From: Tom F. Driver <tfd3@columbia.edu>

It seems to me that assembly-sector wages in Haiti are something of an 
obscenity.  Recently Shirley Jean reported the following to the readership 

    The minimum wage in Haiti is 36 gourdes per day. However, most 
    businesses determine pay in terms of a fix sum every two weeks since 
    they do not respect overtime. For example in one factory that I visited 
    two weeks ago while doing research on food security, the employees 
    were paid about $150 Haitian or 750 gourdes every two weeks. The 
    employees work 7 days a week for 16 hours.  

In this example, the work week is 112 hours.  The pay of 750 gourdes for this 
amount of labor comes to 6.74 gourdes per hour, or 1.34 Haitian dollars
per hour.  In early May this year the exchange rate was about 20 Haitian 
dollars to one US dollar.  That means the workers in the example are getting 
6.7 cents per hour.

Early this month I visited with some assembly sector workers in Port-au-
Prince who were receiving wages similar to those in Shirley Jean's example.  
Their job was to stitch together luxury-item brassieres and pack them in 
fancy boxes with fancy ribbons ready to be sold in the U.S. by Victoria's 
Secret for prices in the hundreds of dollars each.  The workers were living in 
abject poverty making garments to be sold only to persons who engage in 
conspicuous consumption.  When some had tried to organize in order to 
demand higher wages, they were summarily fired.

There are those who defend this arrangement in the name of free trade and 
free enterprise.  There is not much freedom in it for the workers.  Of course, if 
they don't like the work they can always starve.  That, plus the gross 
disproportion of the whole thing, is the obscenity.

Tom F. Driver
New York City