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Press reports haven't provided enough detail to be certain, but there seems to be some evidence that the United Nations may be violating, if not the letter, then at least the spirit, of Haiti's minimum wage law with its cash-for-work program.

A recent AP report indicates that the minimum wage in Haiti for non-garment sector work is the equivalent of about $5 for an eight hour day. (If you're producing clothes for export to the United States, you can be paid less than the minimum for other workers -  about $3.09 for an eight hour day.) Estimating from other press reports, I gather that the minimum wage in Haiti is actually 200 Haitian gourdes for an eight-hour day, or about $4.97.

A UN press release says workers in the UN's cash-for-work program are "receiving the equivalent of just under $5 a day."

But press reports here and here seem to indicate that the actual wage is 180 Haitian gourdes, or about $4.47, for six hours of labor.

If one looks at the UN wage as an hourly wage, then it's 30 Haitian gourdes an hour, or about 75 cents an hour. At that rate, a person working for eight hours would make 240 gourdes, or about $5.96. So, viewed in this hourly way, the UN could argue that it is paying more than the Haitian legal minimum.

But as we all know, food, shelter and clothing for a worker and a worker's family cost the same whether the person is working for 8 hours or 6 hours. There's no reason to believe that workers in the UN program have other wage income - the UN certainly hasn't provided any.

The point of a minimum wage law is to allow workers and their families to live.

So why is the United Nations paying Haitian workers less than five dollars a day?

Originally posted to Robert Naiman on Fri Feb 26, 2010 at 10:56 AM PST.

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The UN should pay Haitian workers at least $5 a day.

52%12 votes
47%11 votes

| 23 votes | Vote | Results

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