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6198: Conditions in Haiti leave a bitter taste for workers (fwd)

From: Charles Arthur <charlesarthur@hotmail.com>

Conditions in Haiti leave a bitter taste for workers

>From the Morning Star  - socialist daily newspaper in the United Kingdom

Carolyne Culver on the ongoing struggle for better pay and conditions on the 
orange plantations of Haiti.

Poverty wages and appalling working conditions face workers on orange 
plantations in Haiti. Development and anti-poverty charity, War on Want, is 
urging British trade unionists to support Haitian workers campaigning for 
better pay and conditions and union recognition. Workers on a plantation 
supplying orange liqueur producers, Remy-Cointreau, continue their struggle: 
despite the victory of Grand Marnier workers in July, who secured better 
wages and conditions and official recognition for their union.

At the plantation that supplies Remy-Cointreau workers labour for long hours 
picking, peeling and grating bitter oranges for shipment to the company?s 
distillery in France. Workers labour flat-out but earn less than the minimum 
wage of 36 gourdes (around £1) dictated by Haitian labour laws. They are 
also required to undertake unpaid overtime. Workers have no sick pay or 
holiday entitlement, they must provide their own tools, and there is no 
clean water to drink. Work accidents are legion and health hazards enormous.

Conditions on the plantation, including the absence of any toilets or first 
aid facilities, contravene Haitian labour laws. The absence of washing 
facilities means that workers have no way of removing the acidic orange 
spray from their skin. It corrodes fingernails and aggravates cuts from the 
thorny orange trees.

The poor pay and conditions have remained unchanged for almost 150 years, 
despite annual sales of 13 million bottles of Cointreau, and a net profit 
for the company of US$ 61 million last year: a 163% increase on the previous 
year. Rémy Cointreau chairwoman, Dominique Hériard Dubreuil, is ranked fifth 
in the ?Fortune? list of the 50 most powerful businesswomen in the world.

Haiti?s Labour Federation, Batay Ouvriye, or Workers? Struggle, have been 
setting up unions on orange plantations in Haiti for several years, despite 
opposition from management. The union at the plantation that supplies 
Cointreau is currently engaged in a struggle for recognition and better pay 
and conditions.

Following Batay Ouvriye?s creation of a union at a plantation that supplies 
the Grand Marnier company, workers? finally won their struggle for improved 
wages and conditions in July. A 55 per cent pay rise and other concessions 
were secured for the workers following years of earning less than the 
minimum wage.

The efforts of the union - ?Sendika Ouvriye Marnier Lapostelle? - to secure 
better pay and conditions were supported by War on Want and British trade 
unions, who wrote to Grand Marnier and plantation managers Novella 
Enterprises demanding recognition for the union.

Following months of wrangling, unfulfilled promises to the workers, and 
victimisation of trade unionists, the combination of local and international 
pressure brought the management to the negotiating table.

Workers received a 55 per cent pay rise, from 52 to 95 guordes per day, and 
the Haitian Ministry of Social Affairs registered their union.

Grand Marnier also made a commitment that wages would be reviewed and raised 
"according to economic conditions" and that "the company intends to continue 
the process of improving working conditions and will work toward changing 
the material conditions and existence of the plantation personnel".

However, the struggle at the plantation that supplies Cointreau goes on. The 
trade union co-ordinator, Richemint Milfort, has been isolated from other 
workers, deprived of premiums and holidays and the plantation management has 
made Mr Milfort?s departure a precondition of negotiations. The workers 
cannot understand why they cannot receive the same redress for their demands 
as their comrades at the Marnier-Lapostelle plantation.

In addition to the struggle for trade union rights, members of Batay Ouvriye 
are also engaged in a daily battle to protect themselves against violent 
attack. Last June a member of the ruling party in Haiti, Fanmi Lavalas, shot 
dead Wilno Bonplan, a brother of a Batay Ouvriye activist.

Batay Ouvriye has come under constant attack from the ruling class, 
export-oriented firms and big landowners. While freedom of association, the 
right to work in decent conditions and the right to strike are provided for 
in Haitian law, in reality few enjoy such rights. The government places a 
higher priority on attracting international trade and investment than on 
enforcement of the labour laws.

War on Want is backing an appeal, launched by Batay Ouvriye, calling for 
solidarity with the workers on the Cointreau plantation. Morning Star 
readers are urged to respond to the appeal by writing to Rémy Cointreau 
chairwoman, Dominique Hériard Dubreuil, asking her to authorise her managers 
in Haiti to open negotiations with the union. Write to: Dominique Hériard 
Dubreuil, Rémy-Cointreau, 152, avenue des Champs-Élysées, 75008 Paris, 

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