The United Nations stands tall among the gods of Haiti relief efforts and collector of donations. Along with the United States government, the UN has monopolized the Haiti relief collection bin from civilians and from other governments alike. How are they putting these funds to use? One of the programs to catch the eye is the “Cash for Work Project”, under the supervision of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The approximation of 31,000 Haitians are listed as workers under the Cash for Work program. Removing rubble from the street is the general purpose and main job task. According to UNDP website, workers are paid 180 gourdes per day for six hours of labor, which equals to $4.50 U.S.D. The presence of these workers in orange, yellow and blue shirts are visible in the early morning in the downtown section of Port-au-Prince. There are a few here in the streets of Delmas and a few there in the streets of Petion-Ville armed with brooms and shovels.
What does Cash for Work mean to a Haitian working on the ground? On Wednesday, April 15, 2010, the Haitian Times met with a group of Cash for Work employees. The workers were more than happy to speak and share their experiences. According to these men, the work day starts at 7 AM and continues until 3PM. They work hard to remove rubble in the areas of “Deye Do Jean Baptiste Bo Chateau Brillant”. One worker states, “I cannot breathe with the mask on so the money they are paying is not worth all of the hard labor.”
The workers explained the work site has a Haitian manager and a white man whom they say visits the site. The workers are confused. They want to badly ask questions, especially about their wages. “In the beginning,” explained Edrice Lorjat, a community grassroots leader speaking on behalf of the workers, “they were paying $20 U.S.D. per day. Then they began to pay in Haitian currency. The problem,” continued Edrice, “is we don’t have consistency in the country and it’s the job of our government to advocate for us. They are not doing that.”
The workers of Cash for Work proceeded to explain and break down the wages which they are paid. The wage is a total of 65 Haitian dollars per day. The workers are served meals and to accommodate the service of meals, Cash for Work takes back 25 dollars off the 65 Haitian dollars wage and allocate it to the food served. Workers are paid every 12 days the total amount of 480 Haitian dollars. What encourages these workers to continue to work is the food incentive, which takes away nearly 40% of their wages. One worker stated, “The food service is the bonus, as long as the food is there I will keep cash for work.” Another worker agrees, “The food encourages us to go to work, without food, no need to go.”
An update from UNDP website does not mention the taking away of workers’ wages to allocate it towards meals. According to UNDP information, workers are supposed to work 6 hours and not the 8 hours reported. Workers expressed frustrations with the Haitian bosses whom they believe made the decision to pay them in Haitian gourdes instead of U.S.D. currency. They compare their UNDP wages with Gold Corp. which pays its workers $35 U.S.D. Workers’ frustration mount because the job site will shut down the allocation of meals. They aren’t sure if the 25 Haitian dollars will revert back to the wages so they may earn the entire 65 Haitian dollars per day. Lorjat explained further, “Language is the main problem. The white man speaks English, we don’t speak English. It is that inability that causes the suffering of many Haitians.”
The UNDP justifies the wages of 180 gourdes per day are a step up from the Haitian minimum wage of 200 gourdes per day. The cost of living in Port-au-Prince is higher than one would readily admit as the cost of goods function in U.S.D. currency as well. A simple meal of rice and legumes from the street vendor costs 15 Haitian dollars. The cost of housing has sky rocketed since the earthquake and most of the school system are privatized with top notch monthly tuition. One is just not sure how far 180 Haitian gourdes will go in a country functioning on imported goods and food products that are for the most part unattainable to the average Haitian without support from the Haitian Diaspora. Since the Haitian Diaspora contributes 70% of Haiti’s economy through sending money and goods for family, it may seem 180 Haitian gourdes will go far. Until the proper wage adjustments are made Cash for Work is an alleviation of poverty, certainly not a relief.
For the poor Haitian without international relations for support, this is far from relief. The food is the attraction because it delineates the hunt for food. The workers insist they deserve higher pay but say getting the job is hard enough without a connection to plug them in. “No dignity!” said a young man worker in his early twenties. “That is what causes Haiti to not progress. Haitians desann figi yo, lower their standards, in the face of these international programs.”