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6076: On low-paying factory jobs (fwd)

From: Affuller@aol.com

On low-paying factory jobs in Haiti.  (The names used are not real):

One of my closest friends in Haiti, Bebette, worked in a textile factory in 
the industrial park from the mid 1980s through early 1992, when it shut down 
under the embargo.  Her husband Pierre also had a job there, as a security 
guard.  Neither had ever spent much time in school but the minimum wages they 
earned allowed them to start their five children to school, purchase a tiny 
two-room house in Nazon, and in emergencies help out less fortunate relatives.

Since 1992, the only work Pierre found has been filling in for a friend in 
the industrial park.  This lasted nearly a year when he earned about $100 a 
month, or barely enough to cover his transport and lunch.  His desperation at 
years of unemployment led him at one time to sail illegally to Turks & Caicos 
but without papers, he couldn't get a job and returned to Haiti.  An 
exceptionally resourceful woman, Bebette found a few temporary 
housekeeper/cook jobs that never lasted, and for a year and a half worked as 
a cleaning lady and messenger six days a week in a Petionville laboratory.  
There she eventually earned $250 a month.  Transportation alone consumed 
nearly $100 of that.  But she was replaced by a relative of the owner and 
went back to unemployment.  

How does the family survive?  Bebette sometimes buys meat, yams and potatoes, 
and cooks and sells fritay, or she'll purchase a marmite of sugar, 
repackaging it for sale in one gourde bags.  The father of her eldest son 
lives in the US and sends a little extra with his payments for his son's 
schooling.  Unfortunately, none of the children have been able to go to 
public schools.  Once Bebette managed to get a daughter into a public lycee, 
but this lasted only a year as she didn't have sufficient connections to keep 
the girl there.  School fees are a terrible burden.  During the coup, the 
headmaster of one school allowed the kids to go for nearly two years without 
paying because he was a good soul.  But then he lost his lease because he in 
turn had not been paying rent.  Luckily for the family, their factory jobs 
had allowed them to own the roof over their heads so they could not be 
evicted themselves.  

Those factory jobs are a dream out of reach for most people in Haiti.  It's 
better to have no job than earn the minimum wage in a factory?   Poor 
Haitians would say you are crazy.   It's true that the minimum wage is not 
enough to feed a family, but it's better than nothing, I guess, and people 
make it stretch as far as they can, continuing to work in the informal 
economy even after one family member gets a regular job.  I have to add that 
large numbers of low-paying sweatshop jobs helped countries like Taiwan, 
South Korea and the Dominican Republic to achieve rapid economic growth.  At 
a cost, of course.  But compared to what?  Haiti needs jobs.  The labor 
movement needs employed workers in order to grow.  Let the government see to 
it that minimum wage laws and safety regulations are respected, but let them 
encourage factories to open once again--this time not just in Port-au-Prince, 
but in cities around the country.

Anne Fuller

Anne Fuller