The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Statutory limitations and other practices substantially restricted these rights. The law does not permit the creation of a union that includes both public- and private-sector workers or the creation of a union that includes different, even if closely related, sectors. The law requires that unions register with the government, permitting groups of no fewer than 20 workers to organize a union by submitting a constitution and by-laws; founding members must also have clean police records. The law provides for heavy fines for workers who form a union and carry out union activities without registration. Trade unions or associations of public servants may not join a foreign occupational or labor organization without prior authorization from the minister responsible for “supervising public freedoms.”
The constitution and law provide for collective bargaining between workers and management as well as between labor federations and business associations in each sector of the economy. The law does not apply to the agricultural or informal sectors, which included the majority of the workforce.
Legal strikes or lockouts may be called only after conciliation and arbitration procedures have been exhausted. Workers who ignore procedures to conduct a legal strike may be dismissed or fined. Before striking, workers must seek mediation from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security at the local, regional, and ministerial levels. Only if mediation fails at all three levels can workers formally issue a strike notice and subsequently strike. The provision of law allowing persons to strike does not apply to civil servants, employees of the penitentiary system, or workers responsible for national security, including police, gendarmerie, and army personnel. Instead of strikes, civil servants are required to negotiate grievances directly with the minister of the appropriate department in addition to the minister of labor and social security. Arbitration decisions are legally binding but were often unenforceable if one party refused to cooperate.
Employers guilty of antiunion discrimination are subject to fines of up to approximately one million CFA francs ($1,866).
Free Industrial Zones are subject to labor law, except for the following provisions: the employers’ right to determine salaries according to productivity, the free negotiation of work contracts, and the automatic issuance of work permits for foreign workers.
In practice, the government and employers did not effectively enforce the applicable legislation on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Penalties for violations were rarely enforced and useless as a deterrent. Administrative judicial procedures were infrequent and subject to lengthy delays and appeals. The government and employers often interfered in the functioning of workers’ organizations. The government occasionally worked with nonrepresentative union leaders to the detriment of elected leaders, while employers frequently used hiring practices such as subcontracting to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights. Blacklisting of union members, unfair dismissal, promotion of employer-controlled unions, and threatening workers trying to unionize were common practices.
New trade unions did not have easy access to registration. In a letter dated July 30, officials of the newly formed Private Security Workers Union in Wouri Division, Littoral region, informed the Registrar of Trade Unions of the creation of their organization in April 2016 and at the same time requested its affiliation with the Confederation of Workers’ Unions of Cameroon (CSTC). The registrar requested additional time to authenticate the documents provided.
More than 100 trade unions and 12 trade union confederations operated, including one public-sector confederation.
The government undermined the leadership of the CSTC elected in 2015 by continuing to cooperate with former leaders of the CSTC. Jean Marie Zambo Amougou, the former leader, continued to use the title of “President of the CSTC,” despite a January 17 court decision ordering him to stop doing so with immediate effect. The Minister of Labor and Social Security continued to consider Zambo Amougou as the official representative of the CSTC, inviting him to meetings and sending all CSTC correspondence to him, to the detriment of CSTC’s legitimate leader, Andre Moussi Nolla, and other new leaders, despite multiple complaints by the CSTC. The minister also appointed Zambo Amougou, Tsoungui Fideline Christelle, Beyala Jule Dalamard, Nintcheu Walla Charles, Malloum Lamine, and Hamadou Nassourou, all members of the former CSTC management team, to be workers’ representatives in the country’s delegation at the 106th International Labor Conference in Geneva June 5-16. In a May 31 letter to the International Labor Organization’s Credentials Committee, the new leaders of the CSTC unsuccessfully attempted to oppose the inclusion of these delegates.
As in 2016, trade unionists reported on officials prohibiting the establishment of trade unions in their private businesses, including Fokou, Afrique Construction, Eco-Marche, and Quifferou, or otherwise hindering union operations. Some companies based in Douala II, IV, and V and in Tiko (Southwest region), for example, retained 1 percent of unionized workers’ salaries but refused to transfer the money to trade unions. Some companies that were initially against unionization of their workers changed their minds and allowed their employees to join trade unions, such as DANGOTE Ciment Cameroon, which allowed elections of workers’ representatives.
Many employers frequently used hiring practices such as subcontracting to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights. Workers’ representatives stated that most major companies, including parastatal companies, engaged in the practice, citing ENEO, CDE, Cimencam, Guinness, Alucam, and many others. Subcontracting was reported to involve all categories of personnel, from the lowest to senior levels. As a result, workers with equal expertise and experience did not always enjoy similar advantages when working for the same business; subcontracted personnel typically lacked a legal basis to file complaints.
A number of strikes were announced, some of which were called off after successful negotiation. Others, however, were carried out without problems, or with some degree of repression. Workers’ grievances generally involved poor working conditions, including lack of personal protective equipment, improper implementation of collective agreements, nonpayment of salary arrears or retirement benefits, illegal termination of contracts, lack of salary increases, and failure of employers to properly register employees and pay the employer’s contribution to the National Social Insurance Fund, which provides health and social security benefits.
The government suspended the salaries of 11 workers’ representatives affiliated with the Wouri divisional union of council workers following a strike on April 10. Employees of the city council in Douala demanded health insurance for themselves and their immediate relatives. The government-delegate fired the complainants, but was overruled by the Minister of Labor and Social Security. The government-delegate, however, had not reinstated the employees as of December.
Medical doctors staged a series of strikes for better working conditions and higher pay in April and May, after unsuccessful negotiations with health minister Andre Mama Fouda in January had failed to yield positive outcomes. Minister Fouda cautioned the doctors against striking, which he described as illegal, stating that the doctors union was not registered. In an attempt to neutralize the movement after the April strike, he transferred union leaders to health facilities in remote rural areas in the northern part of the country. In none of the transfers did the technical level of the health facility match the profile of the doctors.
Teachers and lawyers in the Anglophone regions also went on a strike that lasted for many months to protest what they referred to as their marginalization by the French-speaking majority. After initially restricting the lawyers significantly, the government subsequently implemented a series of measures aimed at diffusing tension. Lawyers and teachers resumed work in the two regions by November.