Haiti protesters clash with police

Haitian police have clashed with protesters calling for an increase in the minimum wage outside the country’s parliament.

As politicians prepared to vote on the issue in Port-au-Prince on Tuesday, some of the 2,000 protesters threw stones at police officers, who responded by firing tear gas to disperse the crowd.

One person was reported to have been injured in the clashes but no arrests were made.

The demonstrators said the minimum wage was insufficient and that they could not provide adequate food and shelter for their families on less than $2 a day.

“Seventy gourdes, that doesn’t do anything for me,” said Banel Jeune, a clothing factory worker taking part in  the protest, referring to his current minimum-wage salary.

“I can’t feed my kids, and I can’t send them to school.”

Wage increase opposition

Parliament approved a proposal in May to nearly triple the minimum wage, but Rene Preval, the Haitian president, said he would not sign it into law.

Those working in factories producing garments for export should only receive an increase that will put them on about $3 a day, he said.

Critics of the minimum wage increases proposed by parliament say that such legislation will derail attempts to get more Haitians into regular employment.

Haiti could take advantage of duty-free exports of clothing to the United States to provide “several hundred thousand jobs … over a period of just a few years”, according to a United Nations report released in January.

However, the factories’ overhead costs must be kept low in order for the plan to succeed, the report added.

Only about 250,000 of Haiti’s nine million people have jobs that would be covered by the minimum wage legislation, said Steven Benoit, a politician who sponsored the bill.

The rest of the working-age population work on farms or sell goods on the street.

The minimum wage has long been one of the most contentious economic policy debates in Haiti.

In 2004, business leaders opposed to former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s approval of an increase in the minimum wage helped organise an opposition movement that eventually removed him from power.

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