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Cameroonian Workers Seek Security, Better Pay on International Labor Day

FILE - Cameroon workers attend a meeting to declare strike in Matomb, Cameroon, Nov. 4, 2016. (M. Kindzeka/VOA)
FILE - Cameroon workers attend a meeting to declare strike in Matomb, Cameroon, Nov. 4, 2016. (M. Kindzeka/VOA)

In Cameroon, hundreds of thousands of workers marched on the May 1 International Labor Day, calling for wage increases amid price hikes fueled by Russia's war on Ukraine. Cameroon's trade unions want minimum wages for workers doubled to $200 per month while employers argue the price hikes make such a raise impossible.

These Cameroonian workers are singing in French that they deserve better wages. In the song, they say Cameroon is developing socially and economically due to its labor force, yet workers are poorly paid.

Abraham Babule is a representative of the Confederation of Cameroon Workers Trade Unions. He’s one of the organizers of the Labor Day celebration and the march in Yaounde.

Babule says trade union leaders unanimously agreed to mobilize workers in all Cameroonian towns and villages to press for better working conditions. He says both the state of Cameroon and private employers do not respect legal contracts that outline employment terms and conditions and either illegally dismiss workers or refuse to pay their wages. Babule says price hikes caused by Russia's war in Ukraine and armed conflicts are making it very, very difficult for workers to make ends meet.

Babule said trade unions in Cameroon want the government and private employers to double the monthly minimum wage to $200 and increase all workers’ salaries by at least 25 percent.

Workers say since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine 15 months ago, many households are going hungry because prices for commodities exported by the two countries, such as wheat, maize, and fertilizer have increased by 40 percent.

The price of fuel has also increased, by more than 15 percent.

The government gave workers a 5 percent pay raise in February, but workers say with inflation so high, the raise is negligible.

The Cameroon government says more than 30,000 workers marched in Yaounde on Monday, and hundreds of thousands marched in other towns and villages.

Cameroon Minister of Labor and Social Security Gregoire Owona says the world financial crisis makes it impossible for the state and private investors to satisfy the needs of all workers

He says Cameroon is not the only country where unemployment and inflation are high and bankrupt companies are either closing or reducing their labor force because of economic shocks and the climate crisis. He says despite the morose atmosphere, the future is promising because the government is finalizing negotiations with local and foreign investors who have indicated their willingness to invest in Cameroon.

International Labor Day activities were suspended in Cameroon in 2020, after the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in the central African state. Workers say for three years they were unable to demonstrate in large numbers and press for higher wages and better job protection.