MONTREAL — Garment workers at two plants in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince held work stoppages beginning Aug. 4, outraged at the deaths of two workers who were refused medical care by hospital authorities. They were turned away because bosses where they worked held onto deductions taken from the workers’ wages for health insurance.
Hundreds of workers turned out for the funeral of Sandra René July 31, marching with her casket to protest at the offices of OFATMA, the government health insurance company. She had worked for 10 years at the Palm Apparel factory.
“We suffered a blow. It hurt, but we resist,” they sang in Creole — words from a popular song often sung at demonstrations in Haiti. Many wore T-shirts of Batay Ouvriye, an organization that has worked with textile workers trying to organize a union.
Six months pregnant, René was turned away by the Carrefour hospital in Port-au-Prince. Authorities there justified their callous refusal to provide the treatment she needed on the basis that her insurance card wasn’t paid up. Company bosses had held onto deductions from all their employees’ wages for years instead of paying them to OFATMA. René died at her home four days later.
On Aug. 3, Lunel Pierre, who was working at Sewing International S.A., died in similar circumstances after being denied dialysis treatment.
“We are suing the companies for misappropriation of funds, OFATMA for not getting the money owed to them by the companies, and the Carrefour hospital for not providing the basic human care that was obviously required,” Evel Fanfan, a lawyer working with René’s family, told the Militant in a phone interview Aug. 28.
“Workers are determined to not let this happen again,” Réginald Lafontant, from the Association of Textile Workers for Assembly and Export union, told the Militant.
There are 57,000 garment workers in Haiti, assembling garments for companies like Walmart and Montreal-based Gildan. Less than 20% of the big garment companies in Haiti pay the insurance to OFATMA that they deduct from workers’ wages.