Cameroon, one of West Africa’s promising economies, has announced a 5% salary boost for workers in the construction sector but failed to address their concerns over safety issues and over a simmering dispute over more Chinese workers filling domestic jobs in the industry.
According to local media reports, Labour and Social Security Minister Gregoire Owona said the salary increase targets workers in both public and private construction sectors and that contractors are obligated to implement the new pay raise “with immediate effect.” He also said the daily transportation allowance would rise as well.
One survey estimated that the average pay for construction workers in Cameroon at $63 a month.
But Owona did not address complaints over poor working conditions for workers in the construction sector, which Business Monitor International says could grow 11.2% in 2014 and 9.7% annually in 2015 and 2016.
The poor safety systems in Cameroon’s construction sector became apparent in May this year when a construction worker using a makeshift elevator on the tenth floor of a new building died after it snapped. Four months earlier, another worker fixing window panes on the seventh floor of another new building slid off to the ground and died.
Fatal accidents in the construction industry are hardly reported because of the tight grip the government holds on trade unions and human rights activities.
“Most of the construction workers are not registered with national social insurance fund and so it is difficult to monitor their work," said a previous release by the Ministry of Labour.
During this year’s Labor Day celebrations in the city of Douala, the president of the Confederation of Cameroon Trade Unions Jean Marie Zambo criticized the country’s labor laws saying they encourage employers in the private sector to exploit workers by overworking them, giving them low pay and frustrating their efforts to seek justice in court.
Chinese migrant workers have flocked to Cameroon to take up construction jobs created by the the country's 20-year public- private partnership plan, a massive construction programme under the Ministry of Economy, Planning and Regional Development.
Chinese migrant workers, whose pay averages $183 a month, are being brought in to take up jobs in Chinese companies, which are the leading foreign constructors in Cameroon's sectors of oil, infrastructure, forestry, and agriculture.
“Concerns exist particularly over Chinese respect for both environmental and labor standards,” says Sven Grimm, director of the Centre for Chinese Studies in a previous report.
The center's 2011 report said the high number of Chinese companies in Cameroon’s construction sector and poor labor laws are causing conflict between the foreign and local firms.
“Disagreements over labor laws comprise the majority of disputes between Chinese companies and their African partners,” the report said.
Lisa Sodalo of the Centre for Chinese Studies says strikes over salaries and contract terminations are frequent at Chinese construction sites and links it to the “absence of clear rules.”
However, analysts predict a booming construction industry for Cameroon on the back of huge government investment in infrastructure development especially in transport, power, oil and social sectors.
“The government is reinvesting oil wealth into infrastructurem" says one market report. "At the same time we are seeing heavy industry companies taking a build-your-own approach to necessary infrastructure.”