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HAITI: Why I was sacked: A former Levisīzone worker tells her story

The struggle for workers' rights in the FTZ producing Levi's jeans is still continuing. No Sweat and the Haiti Support Group are calling for financial support for the Sokowa union.
Extract from "Behind the brand names: Working conditions and labour rights
in export processing zones", ICFTU, December 2004

Why I was sacked: A former zone worker tells her story

She used to work on a production line making jeans and bras. Now Louissane Borgella makes school uniforms for children. The 32-year-old Haitian worker began working for herself after being dismissed in June along with 370 work colleagues from the CODEVI (Industrial Development Company) free trade zone. As the eldest of the family, with a brother, five sisters, and two children of her own to support, she does not have much choice.

Louissane still has a vivid picture in her mind of the infernal production line where she worked for almost ten months in the free trade zone located on the Dominican-Haitian border.

"The minimum wage was 432 gourdes (10.50 Euros/12 Dollars) a week. We had to work on production lines of 14 people. If we managed to finish 10,000 items, we could earn 900 gourdes (22 Euros/26 Dollars). But I never managed. It was impossible. At best, 6,000 or 7,000 items, no more."

Louissane witnessed threats of physical violence and verbal abuse on a daily basis "We were often pushed around while we were working. Some women were approached by men who wanted to 'have a chat' with them. They were threatened with dismissal if they didn't allow themselves to be taken advantage of."

Louissane could not even begin to calculate the number of overtime hours she worked, always unpaid. She had to clock in at the factory entrance by showing her ID card, but she never had to clock out. "Our working day was supposed to be from 6 in the morning to 4.30 in the afternoon, but the supervisor never agreed to that. He always wanted us to work longer, often until 6pm and sometimes as late as 7.30. And do you think we received more money for it?"

Louissane decided to join the local union SOKOWA which had been formed in March, knowing that she risked her job. When in June Grupo M, the Dominican company controlling CODEVI, fired workers from five out of the ten production lines, claiming a fall in productivity, Louissane did not believe it for one second. "We were sacked because we had organised a one day strike for a pay rise. The workers on these five production lines were practically all members of SOKOWA."

The 5,500 gourdes received as "severance pay" have not silenced Louissane who is still fighting for compensation and interest.

But aside from sexual harassment, mass dismissals and other violations of workers' rights, Louissane Borgella's chief concern is her health. On two occasions, CODEVI workers were administered vaccines in the factory clinics. These were tetanus jabs, they were told. Since then, many of the women have been suffering from serious health problems. "I myself no longer have my periods at the same time; they come much later. And I often have stomach ache." Like many workers, Louissane suspects that she may have been subjected to a covert sterilisation campaign, but has no way of proving it.

Would this former FTZ worker ever work again in the CODEVI free trade zone? "If the management starts to show respect for the workers, yes. If not, no!"

Download the full report at:
 http://www.icftu.org/www/PDF/EPZreportE.pdf
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Workers in Haiti need your support!

The Haiti Support Group and the No Sweat campaigning organisation are calling for donations to support the new workers' union at the Codevi free trade zone in Haiti.

You can make an online donation to the No Sweat appeal on the web site:
 http://www.nosweat.org.uk/

or if you are a union member or a student, you can get your branch/union to twin with the Sokowa union (see below).

Twinning appeal

Twin your union or students' union with the Sokowa union in north-east Haiti, and help beat the bosses who are trying to stop workers organising.

In June 2004, over 350 members of the newly-formed Sokowa union were dismissed at a free trade zone factory assembling Levi's jeans. But these workers are still fighting to get their jobs back. Together with union members still inside the factory, and supported by international solidarity campaigners, they have obliged Levi's to recognise their union, and have forced the company running the factory to begin negotiations.

It is vital that Sokowa wins this struggle and establishes itself as an effective tool to defend workers' interests. Another 18 more factories will be built in the free trade zone in the months and years ahead, and approximately 20,000 workers will be employed there.

Help Sokowa survive and grow. Help Haitian workers defend themselves and get a decent wage.

You can make a difference by twinning your union with Sokowa.

The Haiti Support Group, a British solidarity campaign with close links with new unions in Haiti, is calling for student unions to sponsor Sokowa with an annual donation of Ģ100. This money will help the Sokowa union to organise meetings, pickets, and workshops, and to print and distribute flyers informing workers and others in the local community about the fight for workers' rights.

In return, the Haiti Support Group will keep you informed of the Sokowa union's progress. As Yannick Etienne from the First of May-Batay Ouvriye union federation - to which Sokowa is affiliated - said, ""We will continue to fight until all those workers are back at work, and until we get workers' rights and union rights. We want to count on people in Britain to win this victory."

Send cheques made out to the Haiti Support Group - marked 'Sokowa twinning appeal' on the reverse - together with your union's contact details, including email address, to: The Haiti Support Group, PO Box 29623, London E9 7XU.

For more details see: Haiti Support Group
 http://www.haitisupport.gn.apc.org/fea_campaign_index.html

or see the No Sweat web site appeal
 http://www.nosweat.org.uk/

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This email is forwarded as a service of the Haiti Support Group.

See the Haiti Support Group web site:
www.haitisupport.gn.apc.org

Solidarity with the Haitian people's struggle for justice, participatory democracy and equitable development, since 1992.
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e-mail:  haitisupport@gn.apc.org
Homepage:  http://www.haitisupport.gn.apc.org