While people all over the globe have been forced to face the challenges of COVID-19, workers at several of Alain Villard’s garment factories in Haiti are particularly vulnerable to the virus and its effects. The death of Sandra René, a decade-long employee of Palm Apparel in Carrefour, exposed the bald corruption of Villard when OFATMA – the state insurance provider – refused to cover Sandra’s care. Despite ten years of biweekly paycheck deductions to cover healthcare, Sandra’s insurance card was invalid – not only had Villard not paid a cent of insurance payments to OFATMA for three years, he had also neglected to pay tens of millions of gourdes in medical bills. Villard has been pocketing the insurance payments despite the fact that he receives customs tax breaks under the HOPE Act on the condition that he provide social security and health benefits to workers.
When Sandra was turned away from Carrefour Hospital Center, her family approached Palm Apparel for a loan which would be paid back through Sandra’s wages – much like the stolen insurance payments. Palm Apparel refused to administer the loan. Her family struggled to raise the funds for her necessary treatment, but Sandra died at home four days later. She was six months pregnant with her first child. Her medical expenses amounted to around six hundred U.S. dollars.
Sandra René’s funeral procession escalated to a spontaneous protest when her casket was brought before the OFATMA office. She is not the only worker to have died from this disgusting display of severe exploitation – Pierre Lunel was also denied life-saving dialysis treatments, killed by multiple layers of bureaucratic negligence and fraud. Several different calls for restitution have come from the families of the victims as well as workers and their unions. The callousness and moral bankruptcy of Villard, OFATMA, and other bureaucrats in Haiti result in such wide-spanning expressions of corruption, workers are divided on what to strike in opposition to – years of garnished wages amounting to nothing, the complete failure to provide the services they paid for, or their continued exploitation and domination.
Workers were already coping with the loss of wages brought about by COVID-19 factory closures, and are now in need of supplies for their children’s schooling. Even before work stoppages due to COVID dangers, these workers made little more than what it costs to get them to and from work. Sandra’s medical costs amounted to what some people in the U.S. pay per month for a car payment and insurance. While these workers fight for the services they’ve been robbed of, our solidarity and support can make a significant difference in their survival and ability to combat their own exploitation and domination by Villard and those like him.
You can donate directly to workers here. Most worked 6 days a week prior to COVID-19. The daily wage for workers is around $4, considering recent inflation; $24 can replace a week’s salary for a worker illegally fired, or for someone trying to stay home to protect their family from COVID; $100 can take care of a month’s salary so workers and their families can eat. Funds from donations will be used not only in supporting worker’s needs, but also in galvanizing those in factories in Port-au-Prince, Caracol, and Ouanaminthe, who must fight against wage theft as well. Every dollar makes an impact!
We will also be launching pressure campaigns based on the struggles of workers organized through SOTA-BO. By speaking directly to the people and institutions stealing from and repressing workers, we have the opportunity to demonstrate international support for justice and restitution. Below are sample email templates that center the demands of workers depending on the distinct players: OFATMA, Villard, and MAST, the ministry in charge of paycheck deduction oversight.
We can play a role in finding justice for the family’s of Sandra René and Pierre Lunel. We can play a role in resisting years of wage theft from workers who make our most basic necessities. Please consider donating and getting involved!