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2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Cameroon

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 20 November 2008
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Cameroon, 20 November 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52ca9d1e.html [accessed 27 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 18,500,000
Capital: Yaoundé
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Civil servants who defied the prohibition on strikes were arrested and/or subjected to disciplinary action. Trade union leaders are frequently dismissed. There also appears to be widespread government interference in trade union matters.

Trade union rights in law

Government authorisation: The 1996 Constitution of Cameroon guarantees freedom of association and the right to strike, and both rights are set out in the 1992 Labour Code. It is illegal to form a union that includes both public and private sector workers. However, the Labour Code provides for prison sentences and fines for workers who form a trade union and carry out trade union activities without a registration certificate from the Union Registry.

The Labour Code is not applicable to members of the public service, judges, military, national intelligence, prison administration and auxiliary administrative personnel. Public servants may form trade unions, but must have the prior approval of the Minister for Territorial Administration and may not affiliate internationally without obtaining prior authorisation. The ILO has urged the government to amend its legislation to ensure that public service workers can form unions without government authorisation.

The law prohibits anti-union discrimination and allows fines to be levied against employers convicted of this, but does not provide for any restitution in the form of reinstatement or compensation to the wrongfully dismissed workers.

Limitations on the right to strike: The Constitution and the Labour Code recognise workers' right to strike, but only after compulsory arbitration. Ignoring the procedure can be sanctioned by immediate dismissal and fines. Workers have an obligation to provide a minimum service in certain sectors, including transport, which does not fall within the ILO definition of essential services. Civil servants do not have the right to strike.

Collective bargaining – weak enforcement measures: The law provides for collective bargaining between workers and management, as well as between trade union federations and employers' associations, but the legal mechanisms for enforcing collective agreements are ineffectual.

Fears of an even more restrictive Labour Code: The government has embarked on a review of the Labour Code and there is reason to fear that the proposed amendments will further limit trade union rights, particularly by introducing a more restrictive registration procedure. It appears that the new Code will grant the Union Registry additional powers, enabling it to revoke the registration certificate of a union and limit the protection enjoyed by trade union officials.

Export processing zones: Firms operating in the EPZs are exempt from certain aspects of the Labour Code, but must comply with internationally recognised labour standards. An official notice from the National Office for Industrial Free Zones contains a list of "incentives". It also states that employers enjoy "flexibility in hiring/firing workers".

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Background: Behind a democratic facade, President Paul Biya, who has been in power for over a quarter of a century, has continued to maintain an iron grip on the machinery of power. The country's economic potential is wasted through ubiquitous corruption.

Government interference: In recent years, the government has interfered in trade union activities in several ways. The government has a reputation for favouring those workers' organisations it sees as easier to control and has used excessively strict union registration requirements as a means to withhold recognition from trade unions that it considers to be too independent. One clear example is that the public service confederation has, since its creation in 2000, been one of the six trade union centres in Cameroon that have still not been recognised. Similarly when industrial disputes arise, the government chooses the union with which it will negotiate.

The government sometimes demands that workers setting up a union produce job descriptions signed by the employer before a union can be registered. This makes it impossible for self-employed workers and workers in the informal economy to form a union.

Collective bargaining almost non-existent: Collective bargaining is almost non-existent. No formal collective bargaining negotiations have taken place since 1996. One of the major union confederations acknowledges that social dialogue does exist, but that the outcome of the negotiations is rarely honoured. Some agreements with the government have been shelved or ignored by the government after being negotiated.

Striking prison wardens arrested and penalised: A dispute that broke out in December 2006 at a prison in Yaoundé spread to 20 of Cameroon's 70 prisons. The prison staff, who are not allowed to organise or join a union, were demanding better working conditions and pay rises. On 2 January, 71 wardens, including more than 20 women, were arrested and held in custody at the Ministry of Defence until 13 January. Several of them were allegedly beaten and tortured. On 5 January the Minister for Justice announced that 125 prison workers had been suspended for four months with no pay.

Eight trade union activists dismissed in the audiovisual sector: On 6 and 17 November, eight journalists and other professional staff of the audiovisual group TV+ were dismissed for "organising and taking part in a work stoppage that caused enormous material and immaterial damages to the company". The union leaders had called a strike, held on 29 October, to demand employment contracts, social security for all employees, the payment of salary arrears, pay rises and the regular payment of salaries.

Two civil servants arrested for unlawful strike action: On 28 November, a demonstration of civil servants demanding salary increases was broken up by the police. Jean-Marc Bikoko, President of the public service confederation (Centrale syndicale du secteur public – CSP) and Brigitte Tamo, a teacher and member of the CSP, were arrested and held in custody for some 15 hours. The previous day, the Minister of Justice had declared the strike illegal.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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