N.B. The text is a bit long, but its tone so passionate and moving that we didn't feel like editing it. The Nation magazione has just published a damning piece about the exploitative labor practices and criminal human rights violations of the Coca Cola Company. You can read it here.)
After several months of attempted negotiations, the Batay Ouvriye May First Union Federation and the La Couronne–Northern Branch Labor Union find themselves in a situation in which, over 6 months after the first note we issued in November 2005, we are forced to jump to new levels and publicly denounce the La Couronne Brewery – Coca-Cola Haiti company. We are now, consequently, raising our voices to launch an APPEAL TO SOLIDARITY to all concerned progressives in Haiti and the entire world.
The precise reason we have reached this level is that, since the beginning of this year 2006, although the owner of this company, Mr. Raymond Jaar, promised to consider the workers’ demands and answer positively to several points they had laid down last December, at present, after several anti-union acts, Jaar has categorically cut all contact with us and even refused to meet with representatives of our union organization. Although the workers of this company’s Northern branch have stood up all together several times, with work stoppages and legal strikes, not only has management ignored them, but it even undertook anti-union dismissals that have antagonized all the workers.
All should know that LA COURONNE BREWERY – COCA-COLA HAITI IS AMONGST THE MOST ILLEGAL AND REPRESSIVE MANAGEMENTS IN HAITI.
Wages, at the Brewery, are catastrophic! The bosses profit of the workers to the maximum, making them toil at minimal cost. Even the watchmen at the gate, called warehousemen by the company, make 100 gourdes a day (US $2.50) for twelve hours of work. Overtime isn’t paid, not to mention in the way it is stipulated by the law, that is 1.5 times regular wages. The bosses steal 4 hours extra from these workers daily! For those lifting the soft drink cases, it’s even worse. They earn a “base wage” of 50 gourdes per day ($1.25!!!), which is outright ILLEGAL. The days in which the workers are unable to work, such as if the trucks are out of order or if their drivers are unable to come to work due to illness or so on… this 50 gourde salary is all they receive, so: less than the 70 gourde minimum wage! The law is however quite clear: the base wage is the wage, all other forms are incentives and should be added upon it, by no means may they count as the fixed wage! Beyond the ‘base wage’, now, a supposed commission on sales is added. For the workers, the base wage is truly their wage – the commission is in the bosses’ advantage alone. Because on each case of 24 pops sold, the workers make 3 cents of a gourde ($0.00075)!!! That is, 300 gourdes ($7.50) for each thousand cases sold. When sales are good, this thousand cases can sell over three days – but in other periods, they may take a week to be sold. If we take an average of 60 gourdes added upon the daily wages, this results in a measly daily income of 110 gourdes ($2.75), especially considering the hardships the La Couronne Brewery – Coca-Cola Haiti workers undergo!!!
Broken bottles… are the responsibility of the workers! If a driver is ticketed trying to deliver the merchandise in small roads, full of holes… it’s his business! Workers work on Saturdays, without being paid the Sunday! There are no holidays at La Couronne Brewery – Coca-Cola Haiti. Even the 15 day sickness leave isn’t respected! And as we said overtime hours aren’t paid. Money is taken from the workers salaries to pay the State pension and sickness insurances, without the workers ever knowing anything of where these sums go, nor what they serve them.
Firings are legion, without explanation. The northern branch’s main demand today is the rehiring with back pay of their fellow worker, Philome Cemerant, the union secretary, a serious worker all respected and who was fired right after the union was established at the end of 2005, under a lousy pretext: “With this letter, we confirm that you are no longer a member of the La Couronne Brewery since November 5th for having refused to obey to the indications, orders and instructions of the North Distribution Center’s Director”. Even the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor answered La Couronne saying:
“The Labor Administration of the Northern Regional Bureau of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor salutes you… and profits of the occasion to recommend Cemerant Philomé to your well-meaning attention… The Ministry has a role of protection and employment promotion, but especially of encouraging parties to sit around the table of negotiations in view of reconciliation. This is why we carried out an inspection visit at the La Couronne Brewery last Nov. 8th to avoid an open, serious conflict within this institution. We will agree with you that, once named, the employee may be fired. You’ll agree with us as well that erring is human since Mr. Seraphin and Mentor, representatives of the Brewery in the North, said and we’ll quote “Cemerant Philomé, who worked with the company since 4 years and 3 months, was a good employee and a sudden change took place in the past few months.’Thus the Labor Administration would like to request, if possible, that this employee be returned to his job, with excuses”.
The Philomé Cémérant case isn’t isolated. Last year, the company fired and ordered the arbitrary arrest of Gérard Petit-Frère who spent over two months in jail and was freed without ever even being judged.
Let’s recall the Port-au-Prince La Couronne Workers’ Committee’s outcry already in 2001:
“Drinking Couronne soft drinks is sweet, but they’re made through terrible exploitation, with outright illegal practices. And the bourgeois who own LA COURONNE enjoy perfect impunity. We’re asking what can workers do with 50 gourdes a day, especially when they have to work 12-hour shifts? Let’s have a look: Workers have to eat on credit. If they are to feel they’ve eaten, they should eat 3 small plates of food, so, 3 times 15 gourdes. They can’t! In the morning, they often have to take a small spaghetti plate at 15 gourdes with a 5 gourde juice. If they can’t afford it, then they have a small 5 gourde patty and a juice, sometimes they’ll have a soft drink instead in the morning. Adding upon this, they spend at least 6 gourdes of transportation. Since they’re working 12 hours, they have to support, but they just forget about it. What’s left? In the conditions in which workers spend less, they’ll be left with 14 gourdes if they have a patty in the morning; they’ll be left with 4 gourdes if they have spaghetti. This is how they reproduce themselves in order to return to being exploited tomorrow morning. But that’s not all. Considering wages, there are regular days salaries and Sunday or holidays salaries. Here again, the La Couronne Brewery is ILLEGAL. It pays no heed to the law: the workers are paid all days as if they were normal days. Workers aren’t paid according to the Labor Legislation. Often major travel is needed for the work. This is particularly true when the workers are delivering soft drinks in areas outside of the Port-au-Prince region. In these cases, wages are maintained as usual – the workers often are unable to eat. They sleep in the woods… Sometimes the drivers receive expenses fees. But this sum is 50 gourdes for two people. So the situation is very serious in these cases. Generally, the workers toil 6 days on seven. But workers are often forced to come to work on Sundays and holidays too, as necessary. And it’s the same 50 gourdes that are paid without taking into account the fact they’re working six days and the seventh should consequently be paid, and that holidays should be calculated above it all.”
AT PRESENT, WE ARE SAYING: LA COURONNE BREWERY – COCA-COLA HAITI IS AN EXAMPLE OF BOSS IMPUNITY AND ANTIUNION ABUSE IN THIS COUNTRY! ITS HEYDAY HAS TO BE OVER!!!
We claim Philomé Cémérant’s return to work without delay, with all the backpay the company owes him. We demand too a wages adjustment for the Brewery’s workers, correct respect and proper work conditions for all the workers, especially respect of union rights.
And we’re informing that we see clearly through the complicity of Coca-Cola International in this situation. They are the ones who have persecuted union leaders in Columbia, even killings having been recorded, and they’ve financed death squads (http://www.cokewatch.org). They are the ones aware students of the United States are working to bar on university campuses, because of their workers’ abuses throughout the world. This company has appropriated and deviated the people’s water in India, so that local communities have stood up against them. Already, last February, the UITA, the International Union of Food Workers, called out upon Coca-Cola International, concerning its treatment of Coca-Cola Haiti workers.
Comrade Workers, Progressives – The Peoples’ Camp In General!
This call is for us to say that Raymond JAAR’s abuses, as well as those of the Coca-Cola Company in Haiti, are ENOUGH! Jaar thinks he owns the country, but change is occurring. We can’t continue tolerating these shameful despicable miseries these millionaires want to impose upon us, nor the impunity they are imposing on us. That’s why we’re asking for all of us to denounce these acts on the radio and the national and international press, and also to write Jaar to inform him of how we are against his behavior. The way to contact him is by writing or phoning him as follows:
Brasserie de La Couronne, S.A.
Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Haïti
P.O. Box 1477, Port-au-Prince, Haïti
Phones : (509) 250-4264 / 250-7215 / 250-7225
Fax : (509) 250-0212
E-mail : email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
Here is an example of a letter we can send to him – just copy it and paste in an email addressed to email@example.com:
Mr. Raymond JAAR
CEO Brasserie de La Couronne S.A.
Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Haïti
P.O. Box 1477, Port-au-Prince, Haïti
I’ve been informed of your company’s major abuses against workers’ rights, particularly the illegal 50 gourd/day salary and anti-union abuses. You should know, Mr. Jaar, that this type of illegal practices go against the essential human rights of all individuals, and that they will not be able to continue in Haiti and the world. This is why I am asking you most urgently to adopt the necessary measures to rectify the situation at the La Couronne Brewery – Coca-Cola Haiti. The workers’ base salary needs to correctly adjusted and Philomé Cémérant should be rehired without delay, with backpay and a constructive dialogue needs to be engaged with the workers' union.
With the hope you will adopt these measures in the spirit of social advancement within Haiti,
Cc : Batay Ouvriye, BP 13326, Delmas, Haïti – firstname.lastname@example.org