ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182
At the end of February, a strike by transport unions, promptly relayed by the poorest sections of the population in the major cities, gave way to riots. The security forces responded with brutal force. Heavy legal restrictions encourage trade union rights violations.
Trade union rights in law
Freedom of association: Freedom of association is guaranteed by the Constitution of 1996 and the Labour Code. It is illegal to form a union that includes both public and private sector workers. The Labour Code establishes prison sentences and fines for workers who form a trade union and carry out union activities without a registration certificate from the trade union registrar.
The Labour Code is not applicable to members of the public service, judges, military, national intelligence, prison administration and auxiliary administrative staff. 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. In 2007, the government indicated that it had introduced a bill to amend the Labour Code before the National Assembly, under which the process of registering trade unions would be simplified. It also indicated that the new procedure would imply an end to prison sentences and fines for failing to comply with registration provisions.
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 of the unfairly dismissed workers.
Firms operating in export processing zones (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 and firing workers".
Collective bargaining: 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.
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. Civil servants do not have the right to strike. At the ILO's recommendation, the bill to reform the Labour Code of 1992 foresees the removal of restrictions linked to the exercise of the right to strike.
Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008
Background: Despite the catastrophic management of the country, President Biya does not seem ready to relinquish power. In April, at his request, the Parliament amended the Constitution to allow him to stand for a third term of office. On 30 December 2008, the national confederation of free trade unions, Confédération des syndicats autonomes du Cameroun (CSAC), gave notice of its intention to organise strike action in support of its demand for the opening of comprehensive negotiations on pay and working conditions.
Collective bargaining almost nonexistent: Collective bargaining is almost nonexistent. No formal collective bargaining negotiations have taken place since 1996. One of the major union confederations acknowledges that social dialogue does exist, but the outcome of the negotiations is rarely honoured. The government has shelved or simply ignored a number of agreements after negotiating them.
Transport workers among the victims of the violent repression during riots at the end of February: Trouble, qualified by some as hunger riots, broke out in the major cities at the end of February following the strike called by 14 transport unions against the rise in fuel prices and the high cost of living. The brutality with which the police and army suppressed the unrest resulted in tens of deaths. Hundreds of people were arrested. The public sector confederation, Centrale syndicale du secteur public (CSP), reported that one of its leaders, Claude Edmond Melongo, was arrested in Ebolowa, on 28 February, while holding a meeting with other CSP members on the launch of a health insurance scheme. The local authorities held him in detention for several days, arguing that the purpose of his visit to Ebolowa was to stir trouble.
Government interference: In recent years, the government has interfered in trade union activities in several ways, favouring those workers' organisations it sees as easier to control and using excessively strict union registration requirements to withhold recognition from trade unions it deems too independent. One example is the public service confederation, CSP, one of the country's seven trade union centres, which has still not been recognised, despite being formed in the year 2000. Similarly, when industrial disputes arise, the government chooses the union with which it is willing to negotiate.
The government has also been known to require workers setting up a union to produce job descriptions signed by the employer before the union can be registered. This makes it impossible for self-employed and informal economy workers to form a union.
Anti-union tactics in the brewing industry: At the end of 2008, the national confederation of free trade unions, CSAC, denounced the anti-union tactics being deployed by the human resources management at SIAC-Brasserie Isenbeck, which was in the process of being taken over by the Société anonyme des brasseries du Cameroun. According to the CSAC, employees belonging to the Wouri food workers' union, Syndicat autonome des travailleurs des industries alimentaires du Wouri (SATIAW, affiliated to the CSAC), were the victims of threats and intimidation after holding meetings for several months. After trying in vain to coerce SATIAW's members to agree to terms that the union deemed unacceptable, the company decided to opt for "tripartite" negotiations with workplace representatives considered to be close to management.
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