Work has resumed at the Douala-based cement factory after a three-day strike action staged by drivers to denounce what they termed poor working conditions.
Work only resumed on March 8, after authorities at the factory convinced the workers a solution would be found to their problems in the next 10 days (beginning the 08 March).
The drivers had taken the company by storm on Monday, February 5, by grounding tools at their garage, located opposite the factory at the banks of the River Wouri in Douala. For three days, no truck left to distribute cement to the various distribution chains across the country. The drivers had filed their grievances to the Governor of the Littoral Region with a copy to the Labour Inspectorate.
“We are paid FCFA 138,000 a month and it is up to us to cover up several expenses. We have no advance salaries, no salary increase,” said Aliko Tanko, a spokesperson of the striking drivers.
“We supply Dangote cement to all 10 regions of the country. Each truck carries 640 bags, or 32 tons. If a driver returns with bags of damaged cement, he incurs the loss. But this cement will be crushed to be resold,” laments Hervé M., one of the disgruntled drivers.
He proceeded by saying they are threatened by hierarchy with potential sacking whenever they complain.
“In addition, we pay the “motor-boy”, we wash their trucks with money from our pockets, and we are also responsible for carrying out repairs on them. We have written several petitions to hierarchy without any favourable response,” he said.
Other workers complain of working round the clock and extra hours for little or no bonuses while others say they suffer from respiratory problems because of the toxic powders absorbed due to the lack of safety equipment. But the most pills to swallow, was the company’s decision to deduct weighing fees from the drivers’ salary.
The logistics director of Dangote Cement Cameroon met the striking workers on Tuesday, March 6, at the protest site where he assured them that all their grievances will be looked into. He also asked them to set up a six-man delegation for proper dialogue and negotiations to take place.
The group, however, granted a deadline to the company to provide an answer to their various grievances.
Later on Wednesday, March 7, a meeting between the representatives of the group of drivers of Dangote Cement Douala Cameroon and the managers of the cement plant dragged into the late hours of the night and resulted in a temporary suspension of the strike action. This was only possible after the company requested and obtained a 10-day moratorium to find solutions to the problems posed by the 203 drivers who had grounded tools.
“We have reached an agreement (to return to work). But if the deadline passes for our conditions to be met, we will resume the normal strike action,” said Aliko Tanko, the staff representative, who reluctantly called on his colleagues to resume work that fateful Thursday morning.
While waiting to see the outcome of the moratorium, the drivers of this cement factory, owned by Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote, were able to arrive at certain compromises with the administration. The costs of the weighbridge and the damaged cement (hard cement) which were slashed on their salaries were suspended till further notice. A memorandum of understanding was also signed between the two parties. However, the drivers will be more focused on the outcome of the negotiations in 10 days.
In about 27 months of proper activities in Cameroon, this is the first real strike action staged at the Dangote Cement factory owned by the Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote.
By Francis Ajumane