COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the labor market. Data from the National Institute of Statistics show that a large proportion of workers have seen a drastic reduction in wages (68 percent) and temporary job suspension (31.6 percent). Also, the unemployment rate reached 6.1 percent in 2021 according to the National Institute of Statistics. Most of the youth who possess skills that could be used in the economy are under-employed in the informal sector. Under-employment, which is generally under-reported, has continued to hover around 75 percent for youth under 30. Most Cameroonians find occupation in the informal sector, where unskilled labor is prevalent, especially in the agricultural and service sectors, manufacturing, commerce, technical trades, and mid-management jobs.
Other structural problems in the labor market include the chronic shortage of technical trade skills, for example for maintenance and repair of industrial machinery, in every sector of the economy. Truck and automotive maintenance are widely practiced in the informal sector, while
rudimentary or artisanal agriculture, fishing, and textile manufacturing continue to hamper industrialization with unskilled labor.
The government of Cameroon does not require foreign companies to hire Cameroonian nationals. Foreign nationals are required, however, to obtain work permits prior to formal employment. While foreign nationals are automatically issued work permits for companies of the Industrial Free Zones regime, their number may not exceed 20 percent of the total work force of a company after the fifth year of operation in Cameroon.
Although union and contract agreements vary widely from sector to sector, in general, Cameroon functions as an “employment at will” economy, and labor laws differentiate between layoffs and firing. Layoffs are not caused by the fault of the employees and are often considered as alternative solutions to dismissing workers based on performance fault or economic grounds. There is no special treatment of labor in special economic zones, foreign trade zones, or free ports.
While the Labor Code applies to enterprises of the Industrial Free Zone regime, some matters are governed by special provisions under the 1990 law establishing Industrial Free Zones. These include the employer’s right to determine salaries according to productivity, free negotiation of work contracts, and automatic issuance of work permits for foreign workers. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security monitors labor abuses, health and safety standards, and other related issues, but enforcement is poor. Labor laws are waived within the framework of Industrial Free Zones to attract or retain investment. The waivers include the employer’s right to determine salaries according to productivity, free negotiation of work contracts, and automatic issuance of work permits for foreign nationals.
There are independent labor unions and others affiliated with the government that operate under existing laws and regulations. Over 100 trade unions and 12 union confederations are active in the country. However, the labor union movement is highly fractured and somewhat ineffective in promoting workers’ rights. Some union leaders accuse the government and company managers of promoting division within trade unions to weaken them, as well as protecting non-representative trade union leaders with whom they can negotiate more easily.
Cameroon’s labor dispute resolution mechanisms are outlined in the labor code. The procedure differs depending on whether the dispute is individual or collective. Individual disputes fall under the jurisdiction of the civil court dealing with labor matters in the place of employment or residence of the worker. The legal procedure is initiated after the labor inspector fails to settle the dispute amicably out of the court system. Settlement of collective labor disputes is subject to conciliation and arbitration, and any strike or lock-out started after the procedures have been exhausted and have failed is deemed legitimate. While the conciliation procedure is conducted by the labor inspector, arbitration of any collective dispute that has not been settled by conciliation is handled by an arbitration board, chaired by the competent judicial officer of the competent court of appeal. Workers who ignore procedures to conduct a legal strike can be dismissed or fined.
Strikes occur regularly and are generally repressed by the police, though they are often due to lack of payment by the employer (including when the employer is the government) and are resolved quickly. Recent strikes involved public sector employees. The National Potable Water Employee Union launched a strike in February 2022, citing management concerns of the state-owned water utility, CAMWATER. The union also cited concern about the absence of a plan for the construction of new water infrastructure, and a maintenance and rehabilitation plan for existing networks. In response, the Minister of Energy and Water Resources, who supervises CAMWATER, engaged the union directly in negotiations. In another public sector strike, teachers launched a broad, nation-wide strike in February 2022 to demand better working conditions and compensation for unpaid wages and benefits, totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. The government has called for dialogue and offered to pay a portion of the amount teachers demanded.
Cameroonian labor code lays down principles of labor laws regarding employment, dismissal, remedies for wrongful dismissal, compensation for industrial injuries, and trade unions. But most jobs do not have binding contracts, and employers generally seem to have the upper hand in labor disputes. There is informality even in the formal sector, which is against the law. Because of this landscape, it is important for U.S. companies to ensure compliance with the local labor laws and to abide by international best practices. There were no new labor-related laws or regulations enacted during the last year. U.S. Embassy Yaoundé officials are unaware of any pending draft bills.
The Cameroon National Institute of Statistics estimates that every sector has a level of informality. Likewise, the IMF estimates the informal economy contributes 20-30 percent to Cameroon’s GDP every year and provides jobs to 84 percent of the active working population. Additionally, informal employment comprises over 90 percent of the agricultural sector.
Prevalence of informality in the economy of Cameroon
||% of GDP
||Example of informality
||Motorbike taxis/Cross border trade
||Information, Communication Technology (ICT)
||Maintenance, repair, retail market
||Extractive industry (Oil, Gas, Mining)
||Artisanal mining/cross border trade
||Banking and Finance
||Informal microfinance institutions
||Services and consumer retail market
||Support services/home workers
||Utilities (Electricity, Water, domestic gas, waste disposal-management)
||Maintenance and repair
||Real Estate and Infrastructure Construction
||Labor, rental activities
||Health services and pharmaceuticals
||Unlicensed institutions and labor
||Tourism, media, and Leisure
||Unlicensed institutions and labor
(Source: Cameroon Ministry of Finance, Finance laws 2016-2020)