Garment workers must forgo basic necessities due to massive disparity between minimum wage and cost of living
Amidst Haiti’s dwindling economy, the apparel industry represents one of the few sources of formal employment in the country. However, despite the opportunities the sector provides for more than 50,000 people in the country, garment workers find themselves in poor working conditions and improper payment of wages and benefits, forcing them to forego basic living necessities.
“The daily minimum wage for export apparel workers is more than four times less than the estimated cost of living,” Lauren Stewart, a senior program officer at the Solidarity Center, wrote in The High Cost of Low Wages. The April 2019 report explores the impact low wages has on the livelihood of workers in Haiti’s apparel industry.
The daily minimum wage for export apparel workers is 420 gourdes or about $5.07. According to the report, workers, the majority of whom are women, are unable to purchase homes, devote resources to their children’s education, or invest in small businesses. In order to adequately provide for their families, workers “must earn at least 1,750 gourdes (about $21.21) per day.”
As it stands now, garment workers “spend more than half of their take-home pay on transportation to/from work and a modest lunch to sustain their labor.”
“The Haitian government must ensure that workers earn decent wages that enable them to adequately support themselves and their families. When workers are able to meet their basic needs, a range of related societal problems are simultaneously addressed,” Stewart said. “Payment of a living wage has the potential to create a positive multiplier effect, leading to: reduced poverty and aid dependence; the weakening of push factors that contribute to dangerous migration; more robust participation in the formal economy; and the generation of tax revenue to fund infrastructure projects and public services.”
Following the January 2010 earthquake, the Inter-American Development Bank and U.S. Agency for International Development financed the Caracol Industrial Park. The project was positioned as an economic driver that would produce thousands of well-paying garment sector jobs. The park, however, was surrounded in controversy and produced only a fraction of the promised jobs.