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8151: More on the Cointreau workers (fwd)

From: Tttnhm@aol.com

Update on the situation at Guacimal-Madeline - May 2001
(edited by the Haiti Support Group.)

Madeline, in northern Haiti, is where Guacimal's orange processing plant is 
located. It is here that oranges grown on plantations in St Raphaël and 
elsewhere, are halved and put into an extracting unit which separates the 
essential oil used to produce the Cointreau liqueur from the rest of the 
orange. About three dozen workers are employed at Guacimal-Madeline.

In September 2000, the newly formed union of workers at Guacimal-Madeline was 
forced to restructure its negotiating committee because the Guacimal 
management refused to recognise the union's delegate. After an ensuing delay 
of about one month, negotiations at the end of October led to an agreement to 
improve work conditions by supplying gloves, knives and face masks to the 
workers. When the workers demanded to know why it had taken so long for them 
to be provided with this equipment which seemed to be so readily available, 
management's answer was that "they hadn't had a union then."

Since then, much like at St Raphaël, the management has used intimidation and 
stalling tactics to forestall having to comply with Haitian law. There has 
been no significant improvement in the plight of the workers, despite a 
renewed international solidarity campaign and the visit at the beginning of 
November of a Cointreau representative. (Mr. Morineau was escorted by 
management on a brief tour of the plant and was prevented from engaging in 
any dialogue with the workers.) On the contrary, the plant's management seems 
to be determined to punish the workers for their union affiliation. 

Thus, during the week of 20 November, management decided to discipline 
workers for any absence. Traditionally, employment at the Madeline plant has 
been passed on from father to son and from mother to daughter. This allowed 
sick workers to be temporarily replaced by their family members during their 
illness. The plant supervisor, Philippe Mompoint, suddenly declared that this 
practice would no longer be allowed, and that sick workers must now be 
replaced by different substitutes each day. The aim of this provision is to 
introduce replacement workers as a union-busting measure, and in particular 
to thwart workers at Madeline from taking any leave to coordinate their 
struggles with the workers in St Raphaël. Considering that only 32 workers 
are employed at Madeline, the introduction of permanent replacements in cases 
of absence is a particularly harsh measure. 

In negotiations in November, the union put forward a demand for a wage 
increase from 11 cents (US) to 80 cents (US) per container of oranges 
processed. The management's answer was to offer an insignificant 5 cents 
increase. (During the harvest period teams of 2 to 3 workers process an 
average of 20 containers of oranges per day). Management's promises to 
provide showers, repair toilets and improve the general conditions in the 
plant remained unfulfilled. 

Faced with management's intransigence and the continued harassment of workers 
affiliated with the union, in mid-December, the Madeline union called a work 
stoppage. While the union's management committee travelled to Cap-Haïtien to 
ask the Ministry of Social Affairs to intervene, the factory manager took 
advantage of their absence to intimidate the remaining workers by tipping 
whole oranges into the extraction unit before they had been cut in half. Note 
that normally in the factory the inadvertent adding of whole oranges to the 
unit is severely reprimanded.)  This very clear threat to dismiss those who 
cut the oranges, coupled with physical intimidation of the striking workers, 
forced them to call a halt to their work stoppage, although they determined 
to relaunch their struggle at a later date. 

During the month of January, the union of workers at Guacimal-St Raphaël 
courageously maintained their strike, and the workers at Madeline only cut 
some oranges harvested in areas around Cap-Haïtien. Guacimal owner, Daniel 
Zéphir, announced that he would never meet with the union at St Raphaël and 
would only meet the Madeline union, and attempted to drive a wedge between 
the two unions by suggesting the strike at St Raphaël was the reason for the 
lack of work at Madeline. He largely succeeded in this attempt to break the 
union as many people then chose not to attend the Madeline union meetings.  

On 7 February, Daniel Zéphir told the workers at Madeline that he was waiting 
for his President, referring to Gérard Gourgue, the Democratic Convergence's 
symbolic president in opposition to President Aristide. He told them that if 
they wanted to get paid that day, the day of the presidential inauguration, 
they should ask "their father, Aristide". Later on, for the Carnival days of 
26 and 27 February, the same thing happened. Just as he had refused to pay 
the workers for the official holidays of 1 and 2 January, Zéphir refused to 
pay wages on these days. 

Although the workers protested, along with the workers at Zéphir's other 
businesses in St Raphaël and Cap-Haïtien who were not paid either, Zéphir 
refused to hear them, declaring the file closed. He cited article 114 of the 
fair labour standards act, which does not envisage these payments for 
seasonal workers. On the other hand, article 112 of the same act stipulates 
that any permanent worker must profit from it, and it is easy for the owners 
to temporarily declare a 'dead' season in order to avoid paying wages for 
public holidays. 

In May, at Guacimal Madeline, work stopped for the season. The management has 
affected a pretence of reason by recognising the existence of the trade union 
and meeting them on some occasions. Latrines have been installed. But despite 
everything in this season 2000-2001, nothing serious has been resolved. The 
wage increase - from 2.75 to 4.00 gourdes i.e. from 11 to 16 cents of a US$ 
per case of oranges treated - was ridiculous. 

On top of this, the union was scandalised, when, as usual at the end of the 
work season, workers claimed their yearly loan (generally a meagre two 
hundred Haitian dollars, meaning less than US$ 50) and were informed they 
would have to sign for it in front of a public notary. Many refused, 
interpreting this as a further maneuver on the part of the management to 
indebt them forever and to engage their families in case of their death. Note 
that these loans have never been defaulted on in the past…

There are rumors that the factory may be moved to St Raphaël, but they have 
not been confirmed. In light of the recent events there, this seems highly 
unlikely; nevertheless, there is some anxiety at Madeline.

Information supplied by Batay Ouvriye, see http://www.batayouvriye.com

For background information on the Cointreau 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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The Haiti Support Group - solidarity with the Haitian people's struggle for 
justice, participatory democracy and equitable development, since 1992.