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7900: Update on Haiti's Cointreau workers' strike (fwd)

From: Tttnhm@aol.com

Keywords; labor, unions, strike, Cointreau

Update on the situation at Guacimal-St. Raphaël - Batay Ouvriye, April 2001

At the beginning of October 2000, workers employed by the Haitian Guacimal 
company to harvest and cut oranges used in the manufacture of the famous 
Cointreau liqueur, registered as a union with the Haitian Ministry of Social 

(The Ministry of Social Affairs is charged with dealing with labor issues and 
regulating labor laws. The orange plantation is near the northern town of St. 
Raphaël. Guacimal is part-owned by the French drinks giant, Rémy Cointreau.)  

The Union of Guacimal-St. Raphaël Workers sent a list of its grievances and 
requests for improvements in wages and working conditions to the Guacimal 
management, but it was returned without even an acknowledgment of delivery. 
The management stuck to its position of disputing the legitimacy of the union 
on the grounds that some members of the union's executive committee were not 
registered with the company. 

In mid-November, the problem with the membership of the union's executive 
committee was resolved by the union, yet the management still refused to meet 
and negotiate. Furthermore, the Ministry of Social Affairs still refused to 
recognise the union. (According to the Haitian workers' movement, Batay 
Ouvriye, the then Minister of Social Affairs is a close associate of the wife 
of the Guacimal owner, Nonce Zephir.)

At the end of November, the Union of Guacimal-St. Raphaël Workers notified 
the Guacimal SA management of their intention to hold a work stoppage. 

In mid-December, the union went on strike. 

The Ministry of Social Affairs, to which notice to go on strike had been 
communicated, responded with a letter that:
i) was addressed to the "so-called union";
ii) requested the union to enter into a process of  negociation/conciliation; 
iii) pointed out that 1995 decree had fixed the daily minimum wage at 36 
gourdes (little more than one US dollar!). 

The union retorted with an immediate response to these points, stating that:
a) the negligence and incompetence of the State was at fault because the 
union had registered itself with the Ministry in early October (and 
reconstituted its executive committee in November) and had thus complied with 
Article 232 of the Labor Code (the obligation to register with the Ministry 
within six months). Furthermore, as the law "encourages" the formation of 
trade unions, when the Ministry addressed their legal association as a 
"so-called union", it only betrayed its obvious bias;
b) the intention to begin a process of negociation/conciliation was precisely 
the reason for the strike, and it was the management that opposed the process;
c) according to the Labor Code, the minimum wage is supposed to be linked to  
the cost of living. 

At this time, the plantation overseer, Jean-Marie St. Fleur, began to 
increase his travels back and forth between Cap-Haïtien and St. Raphaël, 
causing rumours to circulate among the plantation/factory guards that the 
oranges would be harvested come what may, and that an attack on the union 
members was being prepared.

At the end of December, when a guard climbed an orange tree to harvest the 
fruit, the union members shouted out their disapproval. Coming down from the 
tree, the guard drew his machete and attacked the group of union members, 
wounding the union Secretary, Sintès Estimé. [A legal proceeding is currently 
underway against those involved in this act, as well as the overseer St. 
Fleur, who is regarded as the intellectual author of the attack because, only 
that morning, he had declared that the guards should do the orange harvesting 
'at any cost.' Furthermore, "on November 21 2000, the overseer Jean-Marie St. 
Fleur had brought together eight guards (watchmen) at the plantation and 
ordered them to beat, and mistreat the union members if they continued to 
persist with their demands. This suggested imminent danger to the physical 
integrity of the unionised workers." (extracted from the legal suit) ]. 

The strike continued despite pressure exerted by the local representative of 
the Ministry of Social Affairs, and the recently elected Lavalas Family mayor 
of St. Raphaël, Bernes Sévère. 

In February, the orange trees were at the point where harvesting could no 
longer be delayed, and the company management grew more impatient. The 
overseer, St. Fleur, let it be known that a negotiation meeting between the 
management and the union in Cap-Haïtien was envisaged. The union, as a 
precaution, wrote to the management seeking confirmation. Nothing happened.

Then, in a gross act of interference, the Lavalas mayor, Sévère, announced 
that he was "exasperated by the Guacimal workers' individual complaints at 
his house," and ordered the resumption of the harvest during the last week of 
February - the tenth week of the strike. 

For his part, St. Fleur, announced that no union member would be allowed to 
take part. The announcement stirred such a spirited response from the workers 
that he was obliged to modify his position: at the most, the executive 
committee of the union and ten additional workers would be allowed to take 
part, but, in reprisal for the strike, all other union members were to be 
excluded. Despite everything, the union continued to resist this offensive 
until the end of the harvest, in March.

At the beginning of March, when a delegation of the British labour movement 
organisation, War on Want, and the British GMB trade union arrived to meet 
with the union, the mayor intervened to show he was violently opposed to any 
meeting with the unionised workers. The visiting delegation and workers were 
obliged to find another place to hold their meeting. 

At the end of March, the harvest season had come to an end with a continuing 
anti-union atmosphere, without any negotiations, even less any improvement in 
the working conditions. To make matters worse, the Guacimal management is now 
victimising union members by refusing to allocate parcels of plantation land 
for them to farm during the summer 'dead season.'  (see the Haiti Support 
Group's forthcoming urgent action on the current situation at the St. Raphaël 

(translated from French and edited by Charles Arthur for the Haiti Support 

For background information on the orange workers' struggle see:
The Haiti Support Group web site campaigns section:


Multinational Monitor's Winning Campaigns:"Haiti's Thirst for Justice":

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