Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Union Call for Action Over Port Strike Violence Not Likely to be Heeded as Anarchy Reigns

Political Situation in Cameroon Leaves Dead and Injured as Election Date Approaches
Shipping News Feature
CAMEROON – This week the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has written to the Cameroonian Government to express the global trade union movement’s outrage over the violent attacks against striking dockers and the arrest of 32 workers at the Port of Douala. However, given the present state of unrest in the country, the message will likely be lost in a background of hatred and murder which apparently currently exists there.

Cameroon has always been a divided country with the French and English languages spoken in an 80:20 ratio by its citizens. Now a split has widened, not helped by the intransigence of the 85 year old President Paul Biya who has made no substantive comment other than to announce that he will stand in elections on October 7 when he is expected to beat off the challenge of eight opponents and extend his 36 year reign.

Over 120 people have died since the Anglophone minority began protesting against the dominance of the French language in schools in 2016. The conflict worries the country’s landlocked neighbours as ports such as Douala are essential to keep the trade flowing to and from places like Chad and the Central African Republic, hence the government’s sharp crackdown.

The port atrocities are a separate issue, but perhaps one which was bound to invoke excessive reaction given the current state of the country. In the letter to President Biya, the ITF strongly condemned the use of excessive force and arrests of dockers who they insist were peacefully and legally on strike on June 22, and called on the Cameroonian Government to immediately intervene and investigate. Paddy Crumlin, ITF President and Dockers’ Section Chair, commented:

“We condemn this brutality, police storming a peaceful, legal strike. The ITF, and unions worldwide, are appalled by these heavy-handed tactics. The international community cannot condone the use of excessive force and violence to break a lawful strike.

“This attack left many dockers seriously injured and hospitalised, with one worker losing his hand. Dockers were also arrested and detained. Following this incident, unionised workers have been targeted, illegally dismissed and suspended without notice.”

Syndicat National Libre des Dockers et Activités Connexes du Cameroun (SYNALIDOACC) and the ITF affiliated dockers union Confédération Camerounaise du Travail (CCT) commenced strike action at the Port of Douala over concerns relating to the non-compliance of employers group, Groupement Professionnel des Acconiers du Cameroun (GPAC), with their collective bargaining agreement. Bolloré Africa Logistics is a member of GPAC and a major employer at the port.

Unfortunately the situation in the port is unlikely to provoke any meaningful response whilst so many other concerns exist, however Stephen Cotton, ITF General Secretary called upon the government to act, saying:

“The Cameroonian government must implement an independent investigation into the violent attacks and use of excessive force and hold those responsible for these violations accountable. These actions in response to legal protest action seriously violate a fundamental workers’ right to freely associate, as enshrined in the Conventions of the International Labour Organization.”

“The government must also ensure the reinstatement of illegally-dismissed dockers as a matter of urgency, ensure suspensions and sanction against all workers are withdrawn, and ensure that GPAC adheres to the agreement. The ITF and our affiliate unions are willing to act together in solidarity to work with the government, port employers and other companies which operate at the port to find a resolution to the ongoing issues there.”

Photo: Dockers protest outside the walls of the Port of Douala.