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Cautious Optimism by Supporters of Haitian Workers

Haiti Support Group
August 30th, 2001

August 20, 2001 -- The British non-governmental organisation, the Haiti Support Group, hails the recent successes of unionised Haitian workers, but expresses its concern about continuing anti-union practices and the failure to resolve long-running disputes at the Cointreau/Guacimal company.

The Haiti Support Group salutes the determination and courage of the unionised workers of northern Haiti who recently announced the legal registration of the "May 1st Batay Ouvriye Union Federation". The federation, now legally registered with the Ministry of Social Affairs, includes: the two unions of Cointreau workers at Guacimal S.A. in Madeline and in St. Raphael; the Marnier-Lapostolle Workers' Union (Grand Marnier oranges); the Etablissements Novella Union (coffee and cacao); the Croissant d'Or (bakery) Workers' Union; the Hotel Beck Workers' Union; the union of workers at the World Food Programme depots in Cap-Haitien; the group of St. Michel de l'Attalaye unions; and other unions and committees.

The Haiti Support Group is also pleased to learn that negotiations between the Marnier-Lapostolle Workers' Union and plantation management are nearing a successful conclusion. According to the Haitian workers' organisation, Batay Ouvriye, the union has obtained a 25% wage increase for the forthcoming season. The Haiti Support Group has been campaigning in support of the Grand Marnier orange workers since their union formed to demand better pay and improved conditions in late 1999.

Members of the Hotel Beck Workers' Union in Cap-Haitien also appear to have won a long and hard-fought victory. This union lost its entire executive committee in 1996 as a result of an employer offensive, and since then working conditions have continued to deteriorate. But, in August, the power of union solidarity was demonstrated when a strike at the hotel involved the guests, and the union received assurances that its demands for identification badges and a wage increase would be granted.

Meanwhile, the growing union movement in Haiti's northern department suffered a serious setback when the all members of the recently formed union at the Desgleraux plantation near Quartier Morin were dismissed by the owner. The union at this plantation, where oranges, coffee and cacao are grown, had been awarded provisional recognition by the Ministry of Social Affairs, but this did not stop the powerful businessman, Nonce Zphir, from carrying out his threat to get rid of the union.

Nonce Zphir is also the manager of the Guacimal S.A. company that produces orange extract used by the French drinks giant, Rmy Cointreau. Workers at the Madeline processing plant are demanding a living wage, and have not accepted the paltry rise -- 5 US cents per container of oranges processed -- imposed last November.

Some distance further south, three hundred workers at Guacimal's St Raphael plantation are still in dispute with the management nearly one year after forming a union to demand pay increases and improved conditions. In May, unionised workers joined with local peasant farmers in occupying the orange tree plantation to try to stop an increasing violent anti-union campaign. However, in June, the union's entire executive was imprisoned without charge for several days, and the management shows no sign of seeking a settlement. Last week, the unions' hopes were raised when a representative of Rmy Cointreau wrote to them to say that the company would soon intervene to end the current state of affairs.

The Haiti Support Group will continue to build international solidarity with the new unions of Haitian workers, and, in particular, will be holding Remy Cointreau to its word about bringing an end to anti-union practices at Guacimal S.A.

For more information see: Batay Ouvriye's web site and the Haiti Support Group web site