Gabon: Defending workers’ rights in an Economic Protected Zone

20 November 2018 07:52

More than 100 workers in an Economic Protected Zone (EPZ) joined the Union of Building, Public Works, Wood Sawing and Veneer Workers (UTBTPBSP), BWI’s affiliate in Gabon. Around 78 wood processing companies are operating in the zone that is located in N’kok, 27 km of Libreville in Gabon.

In the EPZ, since companies receive fiscal advantages from the government and administrative protection from authorities many of these companies take advantage of these benefits and exploit workers who work under conditions deemed to be modern-day slavery.

In September, Otim Veneer Gabon, an Indian company dismissed 14 migrant workers from Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Ghana and Togo without any notice. These migrant workers were working without social protection or personal protective equipment, earning less than the national minimum wage with no legal benefits. The UTBTPBSP has taken the issue to the Labour Court demanding that the company respect the workers’ termination rights. The court has three months to deliberate on the issue and the union will provide juridical assistance to the workers.

On 30th October, the UTBTPBSP started organizing workers employed by labour agencies that are used by many companies in the Economic Protected Zone of N’kok. Bucoser and Shenda Investment Gabon are some of the Labour Agencies that recruit and place workers at many companies that barely adhere to minimum standards. Most of these workers are paid less than minimum wage and work more than eight hours per day without any overtime pay.

The UTBTPBSP began an intensive organizing campaign by outreaching to these workers in November 2018 with the support of BWI resulting in more than 100 workers joining the union. This success has also led to the union to place a permanent organizer to cover all companies in the EPZ.