Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. This does not apply to groups including defense and national security personnel, prison administration civil servants, and judicial and legal personnel. The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires the 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 privatesector 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. More than 100 trade unions and 12 trade union confederations operated, including one public-sector confederation. 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 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 ($1,700).
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.
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 were ineffective 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.
Collective agreements are binding until after a party has given three months’ notice to terminate. Workers’ representatives alleged that the minister of labor and social security often negotiated collective agreements with trade unionists who had nothing to do with the sectors concerned and did not involve trade union confederations that prepared the draft agreements. Following staff representative elections conducted during the year, Syndicat National Libre des Dockers et Activites Connexes du Cameroun (Free National Union of Dockers and Related Activities of Cameroon-SYNALIDOACC) won 14 of the 20 dockers’ delegate seats, thus becoming the majority union at the Douala Sea Port, under the leadership of Voundi Ebale Jean Pierre. Oumarou Mouansie, the former dockers’ spokesperson, refused to transfer leadership to the new team. The minister of labor and social security did not involve Voundi in the process leading to the new collective agreement. Unionized members of the new team alleged they were victims of discrimination by the Douala Autonomous Port (PAD) authorities, especially in terms of job assignments.
For example, the government continued to undermine the leadership of the Confederation Syndicale des Travailleurs du Cameroun (CSTC), one of the 12 trade union confederations 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 “President of the CSTC” despite a January 2017 court decision ordering him to stop doing so with immediate effect. Despite the court decision, the minister of labor and social security continued to view Zambo Amougou as the official representative of the CSTC. The minister reportedly invited him to meetings and sent all CSTC correspondence to Amougou to the detriment of CSTC’s legitimate leader, Andre Moussi Nolla, and other new leaders, and in spite of multiple complaints by the CSTC. The CSTC tabled the issue before the administrative court in Yaounde early in the year. During a June 15 hearing session, the administrative tribunal declined jurisdiction to hear and rule on the case.
As in 2017, trade unionists reported on officials prohibiting the establishment of trade unions in the officials’ 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), retained 1 percent of unionized workers’ salaries as union dues but refused to transfer the money to trade unions.
As in 2017, many employers frequently used hiring practices such as subcontracting to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights. Workers’ representatives stated most major companies, including parastatal companies, engaged in the practice, citing the electricity company Energy of Cameroon, the water company Camerounaise des Eaux, cement manufacturer Cimencam, Guinness, Aluminum Smelter (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 during the year. Some were called off after successful negotiation, some were carried out without problems, while others faced some degree of repression. Workers’ grievances generally involved poor working conditions, including lack of personal protective equipment, improper implementation of collective agreements, and nonpayment of salary arrears or retirement benefits. Workers also often complained of 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.
In April 2017 the government delegate to the Douala City Council suspended 11 workers’ representatives affiliated with the Wouri Divisional Union of Council Workers following a strike they held that same month. 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, did not reinstate the employees in their positions. In February the workers staged a hunger strike requesting their reinstatement and 10 months’ arrears, but the strike failed to bring about a positive outcome. On September 27, the Littoral Court of Appeals delivered a verdict requesting that the government immediately reinstate and pay the salaries of the 11 workers’ representatives. The court threatened to impose a fine of 20,000 CFA francs ($34) per day for any delay. As of midNovember, the 11 workers’ representatives had not been reinstated, nor had they received their salaries following the court’s decision.
Dockers from PAD staged a series of strikes on February 13, June 22, and June 25, after unsuccessful negotiations with authorities. The dockers first went on strike in May 2017 and reached a poststrike agreement with their employer, the Groupement Professionnel des Acconiers du Cameroun (GPAC), to improve working conditions. Because their employer did not fulfill promises made, the dockers went on strike again on June 22 and were dispersed with tear gas. They staged yet another strike on June 25, despite a strong deployment of security forces, to denounce what they referred to as an “advanced state of slavery” imposed by their employer. Specific grievances included the lack of salary increases, insurance coverage, family allowances, and fair distribution of work, among others. Anecdotal evidence suggested that a few striking dockers sustained injuries.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced and compulsory labor. The law prohibits slavery, exploitation, and debt bondage and voids any agreement in which violence was used to obtain consent. Violations of the law are punishable by prison terms of five to 20 years and fines ranging from 10,000 to 10 million CFA francs ($17 to $17,000). In cases of debt bondage, penalties are doubled if the offender is also the guardian or custodian of the victim. The law also extends culpability for all crimes to accomplices and corporate entities. Although the statutory penalties are fairly severe, the government did not enforce the law effectively, due to lack of knowledge of trafficking and limited labor inspection and remediation resources. In addition, due to the length and expense of criminal trials and the lack of protection available to victims participating in investigations, many victims of forced or compulsory labor resorted to accepting amicable settlement.
There continued to be anecdotal reports of hereditary servitude imposed on former slaves in some chiefdoms in the North Region. Many Kirdi, whose ethnic group was heavily of Christian and traditional faiths and who had been enslaved by the Muslim Fulani in the 1800s, continued to work for traditional Fulani rulers for compensation, while their children were free to pursue schooling and work of their choosing. Kirdi were also required to pay local chiefdom taxes to Fulani, as were all other subjects. The combination of low wages and high taxes, although legal, effectively constituted forced labor. While technically free to leave, many Kirdi remained in the hierarchical and authoritarian system because of a lack of viable options.
In the South and East Regions, some Baka, including children, continued to be subjected to unfair labor practices by Bantu farmers, who hired the Baka at exploitive wages to work on their farms during the harvest seasons. The NGO Mandela Center documented the case of Mohounga Paul Alias, who resided in a Baka camp, died in December 2017 after he fell from the roof of a Bantu family house in an attempt to escape from captivity.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and sets 14 as the minimum age of employment. The law prohibits children from working at night or longer than eight hours per day, it and enumerates tasks children younger than 18 cannot legally perform, including moving heavy objects, undertaking dangerous and unhealthy tasks, working in confined areas, and prostitution. Employers are required to train children between ages 14 and 18. Because compulsory education ends at age 12, children who are not in school and not yet 14 are particularly vulnerable to child labor. In addition laws relating to hazardous work for children younger than age 18 are not comprehensive, since they do not include prohibitions on work underwater or work at dangerous heights. The government, however, earmarked funds for the Ministry of Labor and Social Security to revise the hazardous work list during the year. The law provides penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment for those who violate child labor laws.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security are responsible for enforcing child labor laws through site inspections of registered businesses. The government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors. Authorities did not allocate sufficient resources to support an effective inspection program. Fines were not sufficient to deter violations, and court action was often ineffective, but workers’ organizations reported child labor was not a major problem in the formal sector.
The use of child labor, including forced labor, in informal sectors remained rampant. UNICEF’s 2014 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey indicated that 47 percent of children ages five to 14 were engaged in labor. Children working in agriculture frequently were involved in clearing and tilling the soil and harvesting crops, such as bananas and cocoa. In the service sector, children worked as domestic servants and street vendors. Children, including refugee children from the Central African Republic, worked at artisanal mining sites under dangerous conditions. Children were also forced to beg by adults, often by their parents to provide additional income for the household. According to anecdotal reports, child labor, especially by refugee children, was prevalent in the building construction sector. Chinese firms based in the country also reportedly used local child labor in the manufacture of children’s shoes. In March 2017 the government convened a three-day assessment of the 2014-17 Decent Work Country Program and provided training to labor inspectors, including on child labor issues. During the year the government also increased the number of labor inspectors from 132 to 286, but this number was still insufficient for the size of the workforce.
Parents viewed child labor as both a tradition and a rite of passage. Relatives often brought rural youth, especially girls, to urban areas to exploit them as domestic helpers under the pretense of allowing them to attend school. In rural areas many children began work at an early age on family farms. The cocoa industry and cattle-rearing sector also employed child laborers. These children originated, for the most part, from the Far North, North, Adamawa, West, and Northwest Regions.
The Ministry of Social Affairs, in collaboration with the Ministry of Territorial Administration and the national police, continued to implement activities to sensitize parents to the negative impact of child labor. In June authorities in Kribi, in the Ocean Division of the South Region, conducted an operation leading to the identification of at least 21 children, ages six to 13 years, who were selling items on the city’s streets. Police took the children to the Kribi central police station, where they registered and held the children until they could notify the parents. Police interrogated the parents, informed them of the risks to which their children were exposed, and warned them they would be prosecuted if the children returned to the streets. The operation was in line with a decision taken two years earlier by the senior divisional officer for Ocean Division to ban commercial activities by children in his jurisdiction.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law contains no specific provisions against discrimination, but the constitution in its preamble provides that all persons shall have equal rights and obligations and that every person shall have the right and the obligation to work. Discrimination in employment and occupation allegedly occurred with respect to ethnicity, HIV status, disability, gender, and sexual orientation, especially in the private sector. Ethnic groups often gave preferential treatment to members of their respective ethnic group members in business and social practices, and persons with disabilities reportedly found it difficult to secure and access employment. There were no reliable reports of discrimination against internal migrant or foreign migrant workers, although anecdotal reports suggested such workers were vulnerable to unfair working conditions. The government took no action to eliminate or prevent discrimination and kept no records of incidents.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum wage in all sectors is 36,270 CFA francs ($62) per month, greater than the World Bank’s international poverty line of $1.90 per day. Premium pay for overtime ranges from 120 to 150 percent of the hourly rate, depending on the amount of overtime and whether it is weekend or late-night overtime. Despite the minimum wage law, employers often negotiated with workers for lower salaries, in part due to the extremely high rate of underemployment in the country. Salaries lower than the minimum wage remained prevalent in the public-works sector, where many positions required unskilled labor, as well as in the domestic work sector, where female refugees were particularly vulnerable to unfair labor practices.
The law establishes a standard workweek of 40 hours in public and private nonagricultural firms and a total of 2,400 hours per year, with a maximum limit of 48 hours per week in agricultural and related activities. There are exceptions for guards and firefighters (56 hours a week), service-sector staff (45 hours), and household and restaurant staff (54 hours). The law mandates at least 24 consecutive hours of weekly rest.
The law mandates paid leave at the employer’s expense at the rate of one and onehalf working days for each month of actual service. For persons younger than age 18, leave accrues at the rate of two and one-half days per month of service. A maximum of 10 days per year of paid special leave, not deductible from annual leave, is granted to workers on the occasion of immediate family events. For mothers, leave is generally increased by two working days for each child in the household younger than age six.
The government sets health and safety standards in the workplace. The minister in charge of labor issues establishes the list of occupational diseases in consultation with the National Commission on Industrial Hygiene and Safety. These regulations were not enforced in the informal sector. The labor code also mandates that every enterprise and establishment of any kind provide medical and health services for its employees. This stipulation was not enforced. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively protect employees in these situations. Representatives for dockers claimed that, in the event of an accident at work, the employer allows treatment for two months and fires the victim if he or she does not recover.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for national enforcement of the minimum wage and workhour standards, but it did not enforce the law. Ministry inspectors and occupational health physicians are responsible for monitoring health and safety standards, but the ministry lacked the resources for a comprehensive inspection program. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Although there were ministries tasked with upholding the labor laws, resources were inadequate to support their mission. For example, the city of Douala, which has six subdivisions, hundreds of companies, and thousands of employees, had only one labor inspectorate, which was generally poorly staffed.