Teleco Building in Port-au-Prince
The move toward privatisation began abruptly, and according to Téléco, 2,800 employees have been terminated thus far. For decades foreign lenders and multinational corporations have pressured the Haitian state toward privatisation; layoffs are seen as the first step.
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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jun 19 (IPS) - A two-day transport strike last week gripped Haiti's major cities and underscored a mounting crisis over fuel prices, which rose nearly 20 percent in just two weeks.
On Jun. 12 and 13, transport workers shut off their engines, leaving residents of Port-au-Prince and other urban centres largely without the services of taxis or the colourful buses and pick-up trucks known as tap-taps.
A spokesperson for the Initiative de Secteur de Transport, an ad hoc strike committee representing 18 transport unions, Benissoit Duclos, said the action was driven by three pressing issues.
First, the government "has increased traffic fines so that what was a 50-gourde fine is now 1,000 gourdes and what was a 500 gourd fine is now 10,000 gourdes," he said.
"Second, over the last three to four years, the government has not charged for nor distributed registration stickers for vehicles. They are now distributing these but ordering a lump sum payment of 4,000 gourdes for all the years that these were not distributed," Duclos told IPS.
Lastly, the price of gasoline has become unaffordable for most drivers, rising by 34 gourdes to 207 gourdes per gallon this month. Many workers, with a salary that hovers around 70 gourdes a day, must spend 20 to 40 gourdes on transportation (35.4 gourdes equal one U.S. dollar).
The striking workers drive cars and buses, which the working poor depend on for transportation. While some drivers use company cars, many cars are independently owned.
"Poor people, the majority working in the informal economy or assembly industry, cannot afford the higher costs of transportation that these measures would force upon us," said Changeux Méhu, president of ATCH, a union of bus drivers.
"The people don't feel they have a say in government policy," he told IPS.
The strikers appear to enjoy broad national support with a coalition including the Fédération des Transporteurs du Nord, the Fédération des Transporteurs de l'Artibonite and the south based Association des Propriétaires de Conducteurs du Haïti.
On the first day of the strike, Rétes Réjouis, a coordinator of the Fédération des Transporteurs Publics Haïtiens, a well organised transport co-op, declared support for the strike.
"It is a nationwide strike from the grassroots," one transport worker told IPS. A roster of the unions does not include the numerous small but heavily foreign donor-backed labour groups often held up in the international media as "independent".
Haiti's Minister for Social Affairs and Work, Gerald German, voiced surprise that the workers would launch a strike. But Duclos argues that the Rene Preval government has become too close with big business and "the people that supported the de facto government and 2004 coup" -- referring to the overthrow of the elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide government and the creation of an interim government.
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