Haiti: PSI calls for public ownership and control of energy

The appointment of a new Director-General at the national electricity company in Haïti precipitated protest action by the Federation of Electricity Workers – FESTRED a member union of PSI affiliate the Confederation of Workers in the Public and Private Sectors (CTSP). The heavy-handed response from the state – police presence, threats and intimidation – threatened the lives and livelihoods of the workers.

Rosemonde Sterlin Adrien, president of the federation says, “This is a national issue. It is not only in relation to the workers at ED’H.” She added, “The problem is in relation to Michel Présumé who had liquidated the Téléco, the Minoterie d'Haïti, etc”.

For many years Electricité d’Haïti (ED’H) has struggled to provide quality service to the people of Haïti, especially in Port-au-Prince. The state agency is heavily indebted and lacks investment. Equipment is outdated and the workers are under stress to provide quality services to the population though they lack the necessary resources to do so.

The plan is the same no matter where you look: run down the public service, destroy the public services unions and then move in to privatise the service – bit by bit.

The government of Haïti has entered into arrangements with Taiwan to invest in energy production and distribution This includes the construction of power stations in main suburbs of Port-au-Prince as well as other major cities in the country. Some plants will run on natural gas and others will use photovoltaic solar panels. Revenue collection is low, and having identified marketing as a problem, the government plans to use private operators.

At a time when Haïti, like other countries, is grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic, many people throughout the world – in developed and developing countries alike – have recognised and are lauding the important role of the public sector and public services in helping people to survive and cope. Workers at ED’H are critical, and especially so in times of public emergencies. They are indispensable when times are bad. The pandemic shows that the private sector cannot manage the scope of the interventions that countries need in emergency situations. Private companies focus on profits.

In May, the IMF Executive Board approved immediate debt service relief to 25 member countries under the IMF’s revamped Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT) as part of the Fund’s response to help address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Haïti is one of these countries. Debt relief is not the answer. PSI calls for debt cancellation. Debt service relief just kicks the can down the road. And what is the price for this relief?

The plan is the same no matter where you look: run down the public service, destroy the public services unions and then move in to privatise the service – bit by bit. The consequences are that the public suffers, while the shareholders reap all the profits.

Any plan to restructure the energy sector in Haïti must ensure public ownership and public control. At the same time, workers’ representatives must form an integral part of the decisions and actions to provide quality public services to the population of Haïti. PSI condemns the recent threats and attacks on workers at ED’H and especially members of the FESTRED’H as they exercised their democratic rights to assert and defend their human and trade union rights.

The Public Services International (PSI) stands together with our affiliates in Haïti, the CTSP and FESTRED, as they continue their relentless fight against privatisation and promote the power of the public. Energy must remain in public hands.

CTSP and FESTRED will continue to demand social dialogue and collective bargaining to ensure that workers and employers make the best decisions in the interests of the communities in which they live and work.

Universal access to quality public services is the foundation for sustainable development.