Haiti, a country mired in the past: WTO must act says ICFTU report

ICFTU Online..., 4 June 2002

Brussels 4 June, 2002 (ICFTU OnLine): In a new report on Haiti, produced to coincide with the WTO trade policy review, the ICFTU has condemned flagrant violations of workers’ trade union rights, including violence against trade union activists, and uncovered serious problems with child labour, including bonded child labour. Indeed, despite the ratification of both core ILO conventions on forced labour, the scourge of children forced into domestic labour remains widespread.

The forced domestic labour of children, known as Restavek, is a grave problem in Haiti. Restavek children, some as young as four years old, are often trafficked within the country to serve as domestic slaves to host families, in exchange for room and board, most come from poor, primarily rural, families, very few receive any education at all. 85 per cent are girls, and nearly a quarter of female Restaveks are raped by their owners, often resulting in unwanted pregnancies. Some estimates suggest that there are nearly 300 000 Restavek children in Haiti.

Laws require that Restaveks of 15 years and older receive at least half of the going wage for hired domestic labour, but this serves to have families throw Restaveks out of the house before they reach 15, to be replaced by younger children.

Unsurprisingly in a country that is a virtual haven for exploiters of children, Haiti has not ratified either of the core ILO conventions on child labour.

Haiti has however ratified both of the core ILO conventions protecting trade union rights. Yet, there are serious restrictions on trade union rights, including freedom of association and the right to strike. Collective bargaining coverage is minimal, and workers and trade union activists face inordinate levels of intimidation and violence, including at the hands of groups linked to the ruling party. In just one of the many examples to have taken place after the coup of December 2001, groups linked to the governing party set the office of the Confédération des Travailleurs haïtiens (CTH) in Jérémie on fire and fifteen journalists, including the General Secretary of the Syndicat national des travailleurs de la presse, had to flee the country after taking refuge in foreign embassies.

For the majority of women forced to work in the informal economy, Haitian ratification of core ILO conventions on discrimination are an irrelevance. Even for those in the ‘formal’ sector, mostly in export assembly, discrimination exists and many have reported sexual harassment and abuse at the hands of male supervisors.

Haiti has undertaken to comply with numerous international standards, not least those laid down by the ILO, yet it has brazenly failed to do so on numerous occasions, said ICFTU economist Collin Harker. Haiti maintains practices that are an anomaly in the modern world, and we are calling on its peers in the WTO trade policy review mechanism to bring pressure to bear in order to force it to join the 21st century.