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Human Interest Politics

Chinese companies in Douala: enslavement, not employment

32-year-old Eloudou Joseph has been hospitalized for 22 days at the Laquintinine hospital in Douala. After discharge from the hospital, he has been advised to report there for medical follow up after two months.
During this period, Joseph is not allowed to carry out any hard labour that might further aggravate his health condition.

Eloudou Joseph’s three fingers were ground by a heavy duty industrial machine on the night of April 16th 2019 in a Chinese-owned shoe company called ‘Lanquin’ situated at the Douala 3 municipality in Cameroon.

How company officials reacted to the work accident, Eloudou Joseph explains in pain, agony and total disappointment:
“On that fateful night that the machine ground my fingers, my Cameroonian colleagues took me to the hospital. After preliminary treatment, I was to deposit the sum of three hundred and eighty thousands (380000)Francs CFA for further treatment. At this point, Lanquin company was not ready to fulfill its financial responsibility toward me as a staff. I was abandoned in the hospital for over a week. My family had to call a bailiff who intervened before the company could pay my hospital bills”.

According to Joseph, it is thanks to the Chinese shoe production company, Lanquin that he has been rendered handicapped, coupled with a meager salary and inhumane treatment, he and other workers have been subjected to.
“It’s obvious that I will be dismissed because of my present condition », he states breaking down in tears. He explains that it has become a rule for those who sustain injuries to be dismissed without compensation with the Chinese officials saying « injured persons are of no use » to them.

“We work twelve hours a day; that is, from 7:00am to 7:00pm with a thirty-minute break. We work seven days a week. No day off, no respect of public holidays and deduction of money from the salary of those who come in late.”

Another worker of Languin Company on the basis of anonymity told Mimi Mefo Info team that “Workers who work during the night shift, that is from 7:00pm to 7:00am are not permitted to eat. If one is caught sleeping, then one thousand francs is deducted from the salary”.
Having worked in the company for three years, our informant tells us “We produce all types of shoes most especially rubber and plastic shoes.The chemical used in the production is very toxic yet, we are not protected. We work with our bare hands (without gloves) reason why accidents are frequent. We produce boots that can protect our feet while at work yet, our Chinese bosses do not permit us to wear the boots for protection”.

Besides all this, abusive dismissal is the order of the day. Workers are recruited with or without identification documents on daily basis just as any defaulter of the rules and regulation of the company is dismissed arbitrarily.

To one of the workers, Chinese officials of Languin Company often say with pride: “We prefer to use huge sums of money to bribe officials in Cameroon than to pay you well or provide better work conditions for you.”

To the workers, this explains why a worker is entitled to two thousands francs a day. In case of any absence, one thousand francs is deducted.
To the head of the workers (name not mentioned for security reasons), the workers have engaged in several strike actions to no avail. He attests that labor workers from the Littoral Delegation of Labour and Social Security visit the company regularly but mainly collects ‘brown envelopes’ from the offices of the bosses while appalling work conditions remain the same.

Attempts to get the version of officials of the company yielded little. In one of such visits to the company, a Chinese official of Lanquin Company told Mimi Mefo Info team that “Me not obliged to talk to journalists. Me work good. Get out”. For him, he manages his workers well and he is not under any obligation to answer questions from journalists about work conditions in his company.

Fabrice works in another Chinese-owned aluminum company. Here, work conditions are similar to those of the shoe company. There is no work contract. Workers are not registered at the National Social Insurance Fund (CNPS) to get retirement benefit. A worker who does not report to work for two days is summarily dismissed without financial compensation.

Marsha Abua, a twenty one year old boy has just resigned from a popular Chinese restaurant in Akwa Douala. For the sum of thirty thousand francs a month, Marsha worked thirteen hours a day; that is from 6:00am to 7:00pm.
“We are four Cameroonian boys serving in the restaurant. But we are not permitted to eat anything there. During break, we buy food out of the restaurant to eat. If you are caught eating food from the restaurant, you are dismissed immediately.”

On the question why he had to resign and stay idle without work, Marsha says, “I am an internally displaced person from the North West of Cameroon. God saved my life and I narrowly escaped death in my village before arriving Douala. For that reason, my conscience obliges me to worship God at least on Sundays. Therefore continuous pressure from the Chinese restaurant for me to work every day pushed me to resign”.

Besides this, the boy condemned physical and psychological assault meted on Cameroonians in the Chinese restaurant.
With their language of work being mainly Chinese, they speak and understand little French and English. Some of the workers think language barriers are partly responsible for the poor treatment.
“Worst still, we are treated as slaves in our own country”. Marsha laments.

The Law and Work in Cameroon:
Workers of a Chinese shoe production company in Douala forced to work for twelve hours every day without a day off. This, lawyers say goes contrary to the labour code.

According to barrister Mudi Jude in Douala, “The labour code prescribes that official working hours shall be forty hours per week divided into eight hours per day except agricultural establishments where working hours shall be forty eight per week”

Lawyers agree on one thing: that there exit oral and written contracts of employment. In the case of Chinese companies and enterprises mentioned above, they have opted for oral contracts.

To Bar. Mudi, in either oral or written contracts “…dismissal without compensation can only exist in cases of theft; that is if a worker steals from the company”. This means any other fault committed by a worker in a company that merits dismissal should be compensated financially depending on his or her seniority at work.

“The employer takes full responsibility for the employee in case of accidents at work». Bar Mudi adds that industrial accidents may occur during work, on the way to work or from work. In all these cases, the employer needs to shoulder the responsibility with an obligation of respecting health instructions from doctors to ensure the quick recovery of the employee.

Mimi Mefo Info
Wasap: +237679135573

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