Tuesday, December 10, 2013

WNU #1202: Haitian Workers Are Offered an 8 Cent Raise

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1202, December 8, 2013

1. Haiti: Wage Council Proposes Eight-Cent Raise
2. Mexico: Fight Over “Energy Reform” Heats Up
3. Honduras: Two More Opposition Activists Murdered
4. Brazil: Indigenous Protest Land Demarcation Changes
5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, US/immigration, US/policy

ISSN#: 1084 922X. Weekly News Update on the Americas covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990. It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com. For a subscription, write to weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/WeeklyNewsUpdat.

*1. Haiti: Wage Council Proposes Eight-Cent Raise
On Nov. 29 Haiti’s newly formed tripartite Higher Council on Wages (CSS) announced the minimum wage levels it is proposing to go into effect on Jan. 1. The nine-member council, which is composed of government, management and labor representatives, set different minimums for five job categories. For Category A, which includes bank employees, electricians and telecommunication workers, the new minimum is 260 gourdes (US$6.28) a day, while for Category B, which includes construction workers and truck drivers, the new rate is 240 gourdes (US$5.80). For Category C, which covers agricultural work and the important sector that assembles products for export, the new rate will be 225 gourdes (US$5.44). Two other groups will have their own minimums: 300 gourdes for public administrators (US$7.25) and 125 gourdes for domestic workers (US$3.02).

Unionists and many economists say that even the highest rate set by the CSS, 300 gourdes a day, doesn’t constitute a living wage for a Haitian family [see Update #1200]. In November the economist Camille Chalmers, who heads the Haitian Platform Advocating an Alternative Development (PAPDA), called for a minimum wage of 560 gourdes (US$13.52) for an eight-hour day. A 2011 study by the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, an international organization sponsored by the main US labor federation, concluded that a Haitian worker needed 1,152 gourdes (about US$27.83) a day to support a family of four. Most Haitians are unemployed or work on their own farms or in the informal sector, but they are indirectly affected by the official wage levels, which can limit or expand spending by workers in the formal sector.

The minimum wage in the apparel plants is an especially contentious issue: the assembly sector, which now employs some 30,000 workers, is often promoted as the source of future growth for Haiti. Garment workers walked off the job in Port-au-Prince over the minimum wage in August 2009 and held massive mobilizations in various parts of the capital [see Update #1001]. The raise the CSS proposed for the assembly sector is just 12.5% above the 200 gourdes (US$4.83) a day which has been in effect since October 2012; this works out to an increase of about $0.08 an hour. Apparel workers’ unions had been pushing for a minimum of 500 gourdes (US$12.08) a day.

But the new Category C rate apparently will not affect the majority of the workers in the apparel plants, since they are paid by the piece. According to Daniel Altiné, one of the government’s three representatives on the CSS, the minimum wage decisions won’t apply to the piece rate, which he said the companies and the unions will negotiate in January. Under the current law the piece rate is supposed to be set in a way that allows most workers to make 300 gourdes (US$7.25) for an eight-hour day, although most factories have been underpaying by about one-third.

The Collective of Textile Union Organizations (KOSIT)—an alliance formed by the National Confederation of Haitian Workers (CNOHA), the Confederation of Haitian Workers’ Forces (CFOH), the Autonomous Confederation of Haitian Workers (CATH) and the May 1 Union Group-Batay Ouvriye (ESPM-BO, “Workers’ Struggle”)—responded to the CSS proposal with a press conference in Port-au-Prince on Dec. 4. The unionists called the new wage rates “an insult, a total lack of respect, a criminal act” and promised to continue mobilizations for 500 gourdes. The factory owners have circulated a letter repeating their claim that low wages are necessary to “keep Haiti competitive” with the country’s “big rivals,” Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam. But PAPDA noted that during the disputes over wages in 2009 the employers used the same argument to oppose raising the rate from 70 gourdes a day (US$1.69) to 200 gourdes. “It has been proven that there are more jobs [now], created with a minimum wage of 200 gourdes, than at 70 gourdes,” the group argued. (Inter Press Service 12/3/13; Haiti Press Network 12/5/13; AlterPresse 12/5/13; KOSIT press release 12/5/13 via Batay Ouvriye News; Radio Métropole (Haiti) 12/6/13)

*2. Mexico: Fight Over “Energy Reform” Heats Up
As of Dec. 8 the Mexican Senate was set to begin debates on President Enrique Peña Nieto’s plan for opening up the state-owned oil and electric companies, Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) and the Federal Energy Commission (CFE), to greater participation by foreign and Mexican private companies. Supporters say the “energy reform” will bring needed capital investment and technical expertise to the energy sector, while opponents consider it a disguised plan for privatization, especially of oil production, which President Lázaro Cárdenas del Río (1934-1940) nationalized in 1938.

The legislative proposal--worked out by the governing centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the center-right National Action Party (PAN), which together hold a majority in the Congress—includes changes to Articles 27 and 28 of the Constitution. Article 27 asserts state control over oil, gas and coal and bans the granting of concessions; the proposal would add a qualification that private companies could share in profits, could be paid in cash or barrels of oil and could count their share of oil reserves as assets. Article 28 would no longer define the refining of oil and the generation of electricity as strategic activities. According to opponents, the changes to Article 27 would create de facto concessions and the changes to Article 28 would allow private companies to compete with Pemex and the CFE. Opposition in the Senate is being led by Sen. Alejandro Encinas of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and Sen. Manuel Bartlett of the small leftist Labor Party (PT). (La Jornada (Mexico) 12/8/13)

Since the beginning of December protesters have organized daily picket lines outside the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies to express their opposition to the “reform.” The National Regeneration Movement (Morena), a new center-left party which broke away from the PRD in 2012, is sponsoring the street protests, with support from PRD and PT activists and grassroots groups. The movement suffered a setback in the early morning of Dec. 3 when Morena founder Andrés Manuel López Obrador (“AMLO”) was hospitalized with a heart attack and underwent surgery. A two-time presidential candidate and the head of government of the Federal District (DF, Mexico City) from 2000 to 2005, López Obrador was released from the hospital on Dec. 7; his doctors said the patient’s progress was satisfactory but told him to rest at home for four weeks. His son, Andrés Manuel López Beltrán, and Morena president Martí Batres are now leading the protests. (LJ 12/8/13, 12/8/13)

The Congress has nearly completed approval of another set of sweeping constitutional changes. On Dec. 3 the Senate passed a measure that would allow reelection of federal legislators for up to 12 years; currently they cannot stand for reelection after one term--six years for senators and three years for legislative deputies. Presidents would still be limited to one six-year term. The changes would also allow independent candidates to run; now candidates need to be nominated by registered political parties. The measure passed the Chamber of Deputies on Dec. 5 with support from the PRI, the PAN and part of the PRD, but the legislation was returned to the Senate to iron out differences between the versions from the two chambers. The PAN has insisted on the electoral changes as a condition for its support of Peña Nieto’s energy program. (Miami Herald 12/4/13 from AP; LJ 12/6/13)

*3. Honduras: Two More Opposition Activists Murdered
José Antonio Ardón, an activist in Honduras’ center-left Freedom and Refoundation Party (LIBRE), was gunned down by unknown assailants in Tegucigalpa’s Altos de la Sosa neighborhood the evening of Nov. 30. Ardón had been part of the motorcycle group that provided an escort for LIBRE presidential candidate Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, LIBRE’s presidential candidate in the disputed Nov. 24 general elections [see Update #1201]. He was known as “Emo Dos” (“Emo Two”) because he had inherited his motorcycle from another activist, Mahadeo (“Emo”) Sadloo, who was murdered in eastern Tegucigalpa on Sept. 7, 2011 [see Update #1096]. LIBRE supporters say more than 250 people active in the party and other opposition groups have been murdered since the June 2009 military coup d’état that overthrew former president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009), Xiomara Castro’s husband. (El Libertador (Honduras) 11/30/13; La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa) 12/1/13)

On the night of Dec. 6 unknown assailants on a motorcycle murdered a former LIBRE mayoral candidate, Graciela Suazo Solano, in the northern city of La Ceiba, Atlántida department. Suazo Solano came in third on Nov. 24 in the mayoral race for the town of Brus Laguna, Gracias a Dios department. Police indicated that she was killed while resisting an attempted robbery. (Proceso Digital (Honduras) 12/7/13)

Edgardo Castro, a journalist with Globo TV elected to the National Congress on the LIBRE ticket, announced on Dec. 7 that he was leaving the country. He said that he had been receiving death threats on his cell phone and that a colleague had warned him about plans for his murder. “I’m being obliged to leave the country because the government isn’t guaranteeing me protection,” he said. “On the contrary, the threats against my life are coming from there.” (El Libertador 12/7/13)

*4. Brazil: Indigenous Protest Land Demarcation Changes
Some 1,200 Brazilian indigenous activists encircled the Palácio do Panalto, which houses the president’s offices, in Brasilia on Dec. 4 in a continuation of protests against proposals to change the way land is demarcated for indigenous groups [see Update #1195]. Currently the demarcations are worked out by the government’s National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI), but Congress is considering a measure, Proposed Constitutional Amendment (PEC) 215, which would give other government agencies a role in the process. During the Dec. 4 march a confrontation broke about between some protesters and the Palácio do Panalto security force, which used pepper spray to disperse the group. “Some participants were hospitalized,” an indigenous leader, Marcos Xukuru, told the Brazilian news agency Adital. The marchers then moved on to the Justice Ministry and requested an interview with the minister; they were told he was out of the office. (Adital 12/4/13)

In other news, Ambrosio Vilhalva, a leader of the indigenous Guaraní, was stabbed to death near his home in the Guyraroká encampment in the southern state of Mato Grosso do Sul, on Dec. 1. Vilhalva was known outside Brazil because of his role in the 2008 film “Birdwatchers.” The police indicated that internal struggles were behind the killing, and the Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI), a nonprofit connected to the Catholic Church, apparently confirmed this, citing as a factor tensions among the Guaraní caused by their loss of territory. (Adital 12/4/13)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, US/immigration, US/policy

Fracking for Sovereignty? The Argentine Case

Argentine Protesters vs Monsanto: “The Monster is Right on Top of Us”

Government of Ecuador Shuts Down Fundación Pachamama

Ecuador: ecology group shut down by government

Nostalgia for Escobar, Uribe’s Crying Shame (Colombia)

Venezuela Leads Region in Poverty Reduction in 2012, ECLAC Says

Venezuela's National Assembly Votes to Make Chavez's 6 Year Plan Law

Canada Approves Genetically Modified Salmon Exports to Panama

OceanaGold Bails Out Pacific Rim Mining, but El Salvador is Not for Sale

Honduras’ Flawed Election: The Case of El Paraíso

Honduras: Beyond the Eye of the Electoral Storm

Q&A with Raul Burbano, Canadian Electoral Observer in Honduras

Honduras: Voto Social and Transparency

Photo Essay: Guatemalan Wartime Victims Exhumed From Former Military Base Return to Pambach

Guatemala: Genocide on Trial

Business as Usual: the Anniversary of the Return of the PRI (Mexico)

Mexico: protesters pledge to resist energy 'reform'

Mexicans Against Zionism

Baja Mega-Resorts under International Scrutiny (Mexico)

Mexico: new massacre strikes terror in Juárez

Black Friday: The Perfect NAFTA Holiday? (Mexico)

Wage Hike in Haiti Doesn’t Address Factory Abuses

Uruguay Discusses Withdrawing Troops from Haiti, Creating Waves Throughout the Region

In the Presence of Rocks: Border Patrol's Shoot-to-Kill Policy (US/immigration)

How School of the Americas Watch’s perseverance is paying off (US/policy)

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