- The Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline, the greatest infrastructure project in the region's history, is highlighting the poor labour conditions in the two affected countries. Workers on both sides of the border are being denied basic rights.
In the annual survey of violations of trade union rights, released today by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), labour conflicts surrounding the World Bank sponsored Chad-Cameroon pipeline are given much attention. However, both Chad and Cameroon earlier have a long record of basic trade union rights violations.
In March 2002, an agreement had been signed between Chadian and Cameroonian workers and the management of Doba Logistics, one of the main contractors for construction work on the Chad-Cameroon Oil Pipeline project involving the Cameroon Oil Transportation Company (COTCO), the Chad Oil Transportation Company (TOTCO), the oil companies Exxon Mobile, Chevron, and Petronas, and the World Bank.
- Doba Logistics, however, did not honour the agreement, and the workers went on strike from 14 to 25 May, the ICFTU survey notes. On May 14, the company management suspended nine workers' representatives and dismissed 12 workers.
Construction activities on the pipeline had started in November 2000, and the workers had been complaining since December 2000 about low pay, poor working conditions, the lack of adequate housing and food, discrimination between white and black workers and the non-respect of freedom of association.
According to the trade unions, COTCO had persistently refused to enter into social dialogue with the Federation of Building, Public Works and Allied Workers of Cameroon (FTBAC), which, on several occasions, "left the workers no alternative but to go on strike."
In Cameroon, the pipeline project also caused other violations of labour rights, ICFTU outlines. On 14 June 2002, Labogénie - the National Public Works Laboratory involved in studies and geo-technical controls in the pipeline project - had dismissed Jean-Michel Mbaga, the workers' representative and inter-State coordinator for trade union follow-up in the pipeline project, because of his trade union activities. Additional sanctions taken against him included six months wage arrears and non-payment of benefits.
The controversial World Bank sponsored giant project is carried out in two countries that have some of the worst labour rights reputation in the region. Neither in Chad nor in Cameroon, government honours international labour conventions or national labour codes.
In Chad, the ICFTU survey notes that the government continues to delay the start of negotiations on amending the 1969 General Collective Agreement, which the Union des Syndicats du Tchad (UST) has been calling for since November 2001. This caused a three-day general strike in August last year, which in turn made several private enterprises cut the wages of workers who joined the strike.
A 1962 ordinance still subjects the establishment of associations to the authorisation of the Ministry of the Interior and confers extensive powers on the authorities to oversee the management of associations.
In Cameroon, authorities frequently interfere with trade union activities. "Trade unionists continued to be intimidated. Some were suspended, others sacked," ICFTU sums up the situation.
Although Cameroonian workers are allowed to form and join trade unions, the law imposes many restrictions. Workers who do not comply with the Labour Code provisions on trade unions risk severe prison sentences. "Harassment and intimidation against trade unionists continued throughout the year 2002," the survey notes.
The government had also exploited and exacerbated divisions within the Confederation of Cameroon Trade Unions (CSTC) which split into two factions. Government refused to recognise the leadership elected in 1999 at a congress whose legitimacy was upheld in a court of law. Instead the government went on to deal with the rival faction. It banned the legitimately elected faction, led by Benoît Essiga, from taking part in May Day activities.
ICFTU fears that the situation may grow to become even worse in Cameroon. Government is now reviewing its labour code, and it is feared that the proposed amendments will further restrict many aspects of workers' freedom of association and right to collective bargaining. Registration procedures are to be strengthened.
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