Tuesday, 7 November 2006

Haitian Garment Workers Win Reinstatement from Levi's Subcontractor

From the Maquila Solidarity Network May 10, 2004 Victory in Haiti: Grupo M Workers Win Reinstatement On April 13, workers at the Grupo M factory, AM Industries, in the Codevi Free Trade Zone in Ouanaminthe, Haiti scored a major victory when their employer agreed to reinstate fired union members and negotiate with the workers' union, SOKOWA. At an April 13 meeting, factory management agreed to:
* reinstate all 34 workers who were unjustly fired on March 2;
* provide back pay to the fired workers, based on minimum wages for the 6-week period the workers were denied entry to the factory;
* reimburse union member Ariel Jerome for his medical expenses for injuries suffered when he was beaten during worker protests;
* eliminate the presence of armed guards within the factory;
* recognize the workers' right to organize and make a statement to all factory employees in support of freedom of association; and
* enter into negotiations with the union to discuss the workers' demands. Participants in the meeting included: SOKOWA, the workers' union; factory management; the Haitian worker support group Batay Ouvriye; the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC); a tripartite delegation representing the Haitian Social Affairs Labor Ministry, a local labour organization (OGITH) and the Association of Haitian Industrialists (ADIH); officials from the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank; and a representative from Levi-Strauss, the factory's largest buyer. While previous meetings had failed to yield a satisfactory resolution to the dispute, mounting pressure in Haiti and internationally convinced Grupo M to take substantial steps towards remediation. The workers and their advocates left the bargaining table with assurances that workers' rights would be respected and their demands would be met. Unfortunately, factory management wasted little time before attempting to back-pedal on its commitments. When the fired workers attempted to return to work on April 14, they were forced to spend hours waiting in a training facility before being reintegrated into the factory. In addition, the workers were given "provisional" work badges and had to agree to participate in a "reorientation" program. As a result, workers' seniority and status as permanent employees once again hung in the balance. According to Batay Ouvriye, while management has made good on some of its commitments, including reinstating the workers, making a public announcement to all the factory employees on the company's support for freedom of association, and meeting with union delegates to discuss outstanding issues, the employer continues to resist working with the union to improve conditions. According to a recent update from Levi's, on May 4 a team of independent observers - agreed to by all parties - was established to monitor there instatement process and to ensure that the terms of the agreement are fulfilled. Thanks to all of you who wrote letters to Grupo M and Levi's in response to the firing of the union activists. Many of you have recently received a brief update from Levi's with the good news that the fired workers have been reinstated and an agreement reached between the union and management. However, your continuing support may be needed to help ensure that factory management complies fully with its commitments. MSN will continue to be in touch with Batay Ouvriye, the WRC and Levi's to monitor the situation, and will get back to you if and when further solidarity action is needed. Background On March 2, the Maquila Solidarity Network received disturbing information from the Haitian worker support group Batay Ouvriye regarding labour rights violations at the Grupo M factory in the recently constructed Codevi Free Trade Zone in Ouanaminthe, Haiti. It was reported that 34 members of the trade union SOKOWA had been illegally fired for speaking out about working conditions and for their union organizing activities. Members of the Dominican military intervened by pointing their weapons at the fired workers and confiscating their work badges. Several workers were also roughed up. On March 3, all the workers at the factory staged a work stoppage to protest the firings. Soon after, armed members of the Haitian rebel army arrived in the factory and forced everyone back to work. Protestors were threatened, physically assaulted and some were handcuffed. According to Batay Ouvriye, there is good reason to believe that this assault was premeditated, as some of the rebels have admitted that they were contacted the previous evening by factory management who claimed workers were going to cause problems. Following the firings, Batay Ouvriye attended two initial meetings with Grupo M to press for remediation. At the second meeting on March 8, representatives of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank, the Dominican labour organizations FEDOTRAZONA and CNUS were also present. The IFC had granted a 20 million loan to Grupo M for the construction of an industrial park in the Codevi Free Trade Zone, under the condition that the company respect the right of its Haitian workers to freedom of association and to bargain collectively. Pressure from several Haitian NGOs, labour and anti-sweatshop groups around the world, and the positive intervention of Levi's and the Worker Rights Consortium eventually convinced Grupo M to agree to reinstate the fired workers and negotiate with their union. ********************************************************
Maquila Solidarity Network /
Ethical Trading Action Group /
606 Shaw Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M6G 3L6 /
416-532-8584 (phone) 416-532-7688 (fax) /
info@maquilasolidarity.org / www.maquilasolidarity.org

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