Haitian garment workers in the northeast part of Haiti ask us for international back up.
Please email Fernando Capellan to let him know that he cannot illegally fire union members in the CODEVI Free Trade Zone.
After thousands of workers decided to stay home from work to protest unjust wage taxes, 42 union members were targeted and illegally fired. Now more workers are facing retaliation as well with nearly 70 additional workers being suspended or fired.
Grupo M operates the CODEVI Free Trade Zone and is responsible for taking out taxes and the firings. Fernando Capellan owns Grupo M.
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2019-06-12 Update: Thank you so much for the support that has poured in from around the world! Thank you for emailing and spreading the word. Fernando Capellan was supposed to meet with union leaders regarding these illegal firings, but this process has slowed down. All of Haiti is upside down at the moment.
Across the country, people are enraged by the level of corruption and blatant disregard for the people’s ability to exist. There have been giant marches, blocking of roads and calls for general strikes. This is the same frustration shared by the textile workers in CODEVI Free Trade Zone who have been resisting a tax on their meager wages, because the only purpose the taxes serve is to line the pockets of government officials, their friends and cronies.
Please continue to email Fernando Capellan. He is complicit in this situation. Let’s keep the pressure on! Thank you for your solidarity!
- SOKOWA & SAKAD are textile trade unions, affiliated with Batay Ouvriye, in the Codevi Free Trade Zone (FTZ) in Ounaminthe, Haiti. SOKOWA has existed since 2004 and is responsible for many of the rights that have been gained for workers in Codevi FTZ. SAKAD is a new union.
- Batay Ouvriye (Workers Fight) – a Haitian movement of autonomous textile unions and organizations of peasants, small vendors, and neighborhoods.
- Fernando Capellan – owns Grupo M, the company that operates Codevie Free Trade Zone, which is the entity responsible for applying the taxes to workers’ wages.
- Manufacturers & Brands in Codevi FTZ – Dominican company, Grupo M, manufactures clothing for a variety of U.S. brands — Hanes, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Under Armour, Champion, Fruit of the Loom, Gap, Dickies, Carhart and Sorell. These companies make millions of dollars in profits and pay nearly nothing in taxes, nor investments into social services.
- Haitian state and officials – known for ongoing corruption. In reality, most of this tax money will be used to line the pockets of state officials and their friends.
Textile workers in the CODEVI Free Trade Zone earn 2,493 Gourdes/week or $27.24 US. They struggle to pay rent and feed their families on this wage. The Haitian government has been trying to tax workers’ meager wages across the country. Workers who make more than 150,000 Haitian Gourdes per year ($1,638 US) are being taxed 18% of their wage.
While a wage tax sounds like a normal practice for road maintenance, libraries, parks etc, the case is different in Haiti. There are no public services like this. Workers do not have the basics of electricity and clean, running water. These taxes do not go towards public services, but instead line the pockets of government officials and the rich in Haiti.
Meanwhile, the manufacturers who set up shop in Haiti make millions and often billions of dollars in profit. They are attracted to Haiti because of extremely low wages and no taxation or regulation. So, workers’ position is: No Services? No Taxes!
Rightfully angered, many workers decided to stay home from work on Monday, May 6, in protest. Because nearly 90% of the workforce stayed home, this became a work stoppage, but it was not an official strike. It was not organized by any union, but organically happened through angry workers discussing their frustrations and word of mouth. Many workers continued to stay home from work on Tuesday, May 7 and Wednesday, May 8. After three days of protest, CODEVI shut down the plants for Thursday, May 9 and Friday, May 10.
Workers returned to the factories on Monday, May 13 and worked a full week. When workers received their checks on Friday, May 17, CODEVI took taxes from some workers – machinists, supervisors and middle management – but not the sewing machine operators. And, the note regarding the tax was removed from the operators’ pay slips. This may have been an effort to divide and pacify some of the workers. Everyone went home for the weekend, and returned to work on Monday, May 20.
On Tuesday, May 21 around 3pm, union leadership of SOKOWA, SAKAD and all the other unions in the free trade zone were rounded up with security and told that CODEVI will no longer work with them. They were all handed resignation letters to sign, which they refused. Instead, these union members took a copy of the letter, resisted being thrown out of the factory, and went to inform other workers of what was happening. Upon hearing about this retaliation against the unions, many workers chose to walk out with the illegally fired union leaders.
Since the initial firings, an inter-union committee has been formed to fight the firings. SOKOWA and SAKAD have led meetings, handed out leaflets, hired a lawyer and filed a formal complaint with the Ministry of Labor. There have been more firings and suspensions, and the Ministry of Labor did not show for two remediation meetings, scheduled on for Thursday, May 23 and Friday, May 24.
Workers are continuing to mobilize and protest with sit ins in front of CODEVI, and they are asking for international solidarity as well.
Please take two minutes to copy, paste and send the below email.
Feel free to add your own note.
And, please help spread the word! Thank you so much.
Subject: Rehire fired CODEVI workers
Mr. Capellan & Mr. Cruz,
I am emailing you, because I stand with the workers at CODEVI Free Trade Zone who are protesting against the taxes taken from their meager wages. Workers receive incredibly low wages and lack basic services like electricity and clean running water, while Grupo M and the brands you produce for profit and avoid paying taxes. No services for workers? Then no taxes.
I ask you to do the following:
- Rehire or reinstate the workers and union leaders you unjustly fired and give back payments for days lost
- Stop retaliating against union members
- Respect workers’ rights to organize
Solidarity with Haitian workers fighting for their rights,
Rapid Response Network