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From editor@haiti-progres.com Thu May 17 07:23:38 2001
Date: Wed, 16 May 2001 23:32:05 -0500 (CDT)
From: =?iso-8859-1?Q?Haiti_Progr=E8s?= <editor@haiti-progres.com>
Subject: This Week in Haiti 19:9 5/16/2001
Article: 120190
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
X-UIDL: (TI"!W[&!!^1&!!EJ@!!

Workers fight for rights on orange plantation; Peasants take back land

Haiti Progres, This Week in Haiti,
Vol. 19, no. 9, 16-22 May 2001

Haitian Guacimal S.A. is an orange-extract company based in the town of St. Raphal, 38 kilometers south of Cap Hatien. The company is partly owned by Rmy Cointreau, the French company which uses the orange extract to produce a fruity liqueur by the same name. Over the past few months, workers at Guacimal have been fighting for better wages and conditions. The following is an update on the situation at Guacimal as reported by the Haitian workers' movement Batay Ouvriy (Workers' Struggle) in their April 2001 bulletin. The update was translated from French and edited by Charles Arthur of the Haiti Support Group, a solidarity organization based in England.

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 Affairs. [The Social Affairs Ministry is charged with dealing with labor issues and regulating labor laws].

The Union of Guacimal-St. Raphal 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 and Labor still refused to recognize the union. [According to Batay Ouvriy, the then Social Affairs Minister Mathilde Flambert is a close associate of the wife of the Guacimal owner, Nonce Zphir.]

At the end of November, the Union of Guacimal-St. Raphal Workers notified the Guacimal S.A. management of their intention to hold a work stoppage. In mid-December, the union went on strike.

The Ministry of Social Affairs, to whom notice to go on strike had been communicated, responded with a letter that: 1) was addressed to the so-called union; 2) requested the union to enter into a process of negotiation/conciliation; and 3) 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:

1) 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, by addressing their legal association as a so-called union, the Ministry only betrayed its obvious bias; 2) the intention to begin a process of negotiation/conciliation was precisely the reason for the strike, and it was the management that opposed the process; 3) 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-Hatien and St. Raphal, causing rumors 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, Sints Estim. [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 unionized 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. Raphal, Bernes Svre.

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-Hatien 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, Svre, 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 labor movement organization, 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 unionized 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, much less any improvement in the working conditions. To make matters worse, the Gaucimal management is now victimizing union members by refusing to allocate parcels of plantation land for them to farm during the summer off season.

[In response, the planters' association, including some union members, occupied the Gaucimal plantation on April 27. The following is an Urgent Action call issued May 15 by the Haiti Support Group, which details this latest development.]

The Haiti Support Group expresses its concern at reports of anti-union measures at the Guacimal/Rmy Cointreau orange plantation at St. Raphal in northern Haiti.

According to Batay Ouvriy, the plantation overseer, Jean-Marie St. Fleur, is discriminating against members of the union, the Syndicat des Ouvriers de Guacimal-St. Raphal, in the allocation of land plots for the use of plantation workers and other local farmers.

Each year, during the off season - approximately April to August -- laid-off plantation workers and other local people are allowed to grow millet and corn on small plots of plantation land between the orange trees. Under the share-cropping system, half of any produce grown on the land is handed over to the landowners or managers. At the close of the harvest season last month, Jean-Marie St. Fleur ordered the plantation watchmen to discriminate against union members when the land parcels were distributed.

When the discrimination against union members became apparent, the union allied itself with a recently formed planters' association composed of local farmers who also work the plantation land in the off season. Together the two groups protested against the situation. However, the plantation supervisors not only ignored the protests, but on 20 April, Martial Compre, a plantation watchman, severely beat a child for having picked a couple of oranges. The child's face was swollen and black and blue.

In response, the planters' association, which includes several union members, occupied the Guacimal plantation on 27 April, demanding that the watchmen and overseer back off. They have declared they will no longer share half of their harvest with the plantation supervisors as had been the custom in the past, nor will they take orders from the present overseer or watchmen. They have declared that, though they had no intention of cutting down the orange trees, the management of Guacimal S.A. would be wise to come to negotiate an agreement with them.

Here is an excerpt of their declaration:

For over 38 years, the populations of Guacimal, Kaybedjin, Boukewon and other localities have been undergoing hardship because they were the victims of the expropriation of their lands which are now a sour orange plantation. This expropriation has obliged our children to withdraw from school; they are dying of malnutrition and lack of medical services, and suffer much because this area is arid.

We lost these lands in terrible conditions: they told us the company would give us many advantages, but it never has. These lands, however, used to feed us, for we planted sugarcane, sweet potato, yucca, and so on. Now we cannot even set foot on the lands, for if we do they slap us around... Furthermore, when we consider that the laborers, who have been harvesting these oranges for so many years in terrible conditions, set up a union to claim their rights, the watchmen and overseer joined with the mayor and the then Minister of Social Affairs, Mrs. Mathilde Flambert, to thwart their efforts. As a result, the management, Nonce and Daniel Zphir, have consistently refused to meet with them.

And finally, considering that when these lands were taken from us, this was done fraudulently because we were told we would work the fields in good conditions, that the company would make roads, health centers, schools, irrigation, etc.... none of which materialized. The least they could have done was to irrigate the orange tree plantation, but no, even this wasn't done. A few of us used to work on the plantation, but we've been laid off for participating in the union.... So we declare: THAT'S ENOUGH! Our lands will not become a stick to beat us. We've created our organization that links with various other organizations, amongst them the union, in order to work the lands anew. At the same time, we are asking Guacimal to meet quickly with the union to negotiate salaries and work conditions. If they choose not to do so, we'll take other, more drastic solutions.

Though we have not yet taken over these fields, the situation is that we are tilling the land while we wait for negotiations with the union to take place. In the meantime, Guacimal S.A. can forget about having an overseer or watchmen here - we refuse to work with those individuals now. If the management chooses to meet with us, we'll then inform them of whom we will work with as overseer in our region, which means a person of the area - we won't accept people coming from elsewhere to come order us around here in Guacimal!

This letter, addressed to the various state representatives, informs of our intent. We've reached this decision in accordance with the 1987 Constitution, according to Article 293, paragraph 36-1. For the Planters' Association: Ronalt Tezine, secretary.

The legal provision referred to authorizes farmers to resume control of lands in such circumstances in which, ten years after having reached an agreement, the terms of this agreement still have not been carried out.

The Haiti Support Group urges those who share our concern for workers' rights, and for internationally recognized human rights, to write to Rmy Cointreau expressing the urgent need for the Guacimal management to negotiate a settlement with the Syndicat des Ouvriers de Guacimal St. Raphal and the planters' association.

Please write or email to:

Dominique Hriard Dubreuil
Rmy Cointreau
152, avenue des Champs-lyses,
75008 Paris FRANCE
Email: <joelle.jezequel@remy-cointreau.com>

or to :

Rmy Cointreau Amerique
1350 Avenue of the Americas, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10019
Phone : (212) 399 4200
Fax : (212) 399 6909

See the Haiti Support Group web site: