By Madi Jobarteh
The tragedy in The Gambia is not just about the suppression of our civil and political rights by the APRC dictatorship. But this dictatorship has also suppressed certain vital national issues while at the same time provided a cover for other forms of oppression and exploitation to take place across our society. One of the effects of the Dictatorship is that it nurtured a culture of inequality, injustice and exploitation in our public and private sectors. The incidence of sexual harassment, abuse of power and wide income gaps are severely prevalent in our work places. Hence December 1 must begin the process of fighting for, and bringing about social and economic justice in the Gambia.
In the private sector, for example the banks, some CEOs are taking home nothing less than 400 thousand dalasi per month! Some general managers are collecting a monthly salary of nothing less than 200 thousand dalasi. All across our bank, managers can be seen with flashy cars and huge building loans, with sumptuous incentives and benefits. At some banks, board directors and chairs are said to receive up to one million dalasi as dividend per annum. At GTB the former chair who has always been in cahoots with Yahya Jammeh was said to receive 10 million dalasi as dividend in 2016! Yet the GTB permanent staff get annual dividend of less than 10 thousand dalasi while the Xsell ‘Temporary Workers’ who form the majority of staff never got any bonus until 2015. Meantime cleaners and security guards are outsourced only to be paid less than D2000 per month. These disparities are utterly scandalous and must be regularized!
This is gross inequality and it is unjustified. This scenario clearly shows that the private sector is an arena of exploitation and injustice where monkey works and baboon chops. It is such outlandish injustices that have led to movements in the US and Switzerland since 2013 campaigning for caps in what fat cats in the private sector can receive. It is unfair for companies to make billions of dalasi by overworking decent men and women who are only paid pittance while the directors, CEOs and managers enjoy fat salaries.
It is therefore urgent that all Gambians realize that we need to get up to ensure a fair and just society so that everyone gets a fair share of their sweat and labour. By maintaining these inequalities means we are perpetuating poverty and injustice. All over the private sector, from banks to commercial farms to hotels and supermarkets including GSM companies Gambians are being overworked and paid slave wages. This must stop.
The Gambia Government must step up to its responsibility to ensure that our private sector is progressively regulated to allow workers obtain decent wages that will ensure decent living standards. The Government must set a minimum wage. The Government must review the labour laws to better protect the rights and welfare of the Gambian worker. Civil and political rights are meaningless if social and economic rights are disregarded and damaged.
As it is in the private sector, the same inequality and injustice also operate within the public sector. From the central government to the local governments to parastatals and public enterprises wide income gaps prevail to the detriment of most workers. Permanent secretaries, managing directors, directors and managers receive sumptuous allowances and benefits while their junior staffs live from hand to mouth. No doubt many people work for their entire life in the public sector only to retire into abject poverty after 40 years of service to the nation. This is unfair and unjust. We must restructure the Gambian society along the lines of justice otherwise poverty and deprivation shall continue to characterize the masses of our people.
Furthermore we have bossy permanent secretaries, managing directors, director generals and managers who are acting like dictators. They take vital decisions unilaterally; abuse their staff by cutting salaries or marginalizing them and even dismissing or suspending staff members without due process. Some of these bosses have become true tyrants onto themselves. These were the attitudes in the past 22 years in many work places within the civil service that have contributed to killing professionalism, morale and productivity. We do not expect such abuses should exist anymore.
What all of these indicate is the gross structural imbalances within our economy which is the reason why that very economy could never grow and therefore giving rise to high cost of living and poverty. World Bank Doing Business Reports have consistently shown that the Gambia has always been among the top few countries with the highest total tax rate. Income tax is grossly high in the Gambia and with meagre salaries, it means majority of workers bleed through the nose to make ends meet. This is also one of the reasons why corruption and deprivation are rife in our country. Until the Gambia embarks on urgent restructuring of our economy in order to modernize our systems, improve working conditions and increase wages in order to close income gaps, we shall always be a poor country.
Therefore it is urgent and necessary that all public and private sector workers begin to join trade unions and embark on industrial action to demand better working conditions and better pay and respect. We have seen how public and private sector workers in advanced economies agitate every day and succeed in securing their rights and welfare. This shows that unless Gambian and African workers also agitate for their rights and welfare, they shall continue to wallow in poverty, deprivation and injustice. Let us therefore join trade unions and from now onwards we utilize May Day as a day of protest for better wages and conditions. No more sports and useless fanfare!
Let staff associations stop engaging in only staff parties and gala dinners and picnics. Let staff sit together to identify their rights and work entitlements and make demands and pursue those demands until they achieve them. Workers must not allow one person to unfairly benefit from their sweat and labour just because that person is the CEO or Permanent Secretary or Board Director. Staff must not sit and watch while one of them is being abused and disrespected by another senior manager. The public and private sectors must generate and distribute wealth for all and not to engender poverty and deprivation only for junior workers. The current set up of our public and private sectors is not geared towards that direction. No one will change that direction other than the workers themselves.
Workers of the Gambia, unite and rise! Expose unfair treatment and injustice in your work place. Demand better conditions and respect for your rights! Embark on industrial action including going to court for your rights and welfare. You are a human being and a citizen, not a slave!