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Friday, October 15, 2021

Timber workers demonstrate against ‘exploitative’ conditions

The protesting youths were dispersed by the police when they reached Yundum after having walked all the way from Brikama. Some of the protesters had bandaged hands, missing fingers and at least one of them had a wrist missing. They carried placards bearing messages such as “Down With Exploitation, We Want Better Pay.”

They said they want their voices to be heard about the “unacceptable conditions” under which they work.  They said their work which involves loading logs into containers for export by Chinese traders, is fraught with serious health and safety issues and there are no commensurate compensation policies for injuries and even death.

“We are not out to disturb the peace. What we are being paid for loading timbers into containers is too small and the job is very risky. In Guinea Bissau, workers like us are paid at least D15,000 per container while we are being paid a mere D7, 000. And now they are even planning on cutting that to D6,000,” one protester said.

He added: “In fact, the Chinese don’t allow our wounded workers to be driven in their cars. They do not give you any medical attention. When you are injured, they do not even buy you ‘Naan’ water. The injured worker has to buy for himself.”

The Standard has learnt that the workers are temporary hires recruited by Gambian middlemen for the foreign timber dealers. “Even though they have companies here, they cannot do this business without us loading their trucks and containers for shipments outside the country. We are important players in the timber business chain,” one of the protesters said. 

Ebrima Manneh from Brikama Wellingara stated: “It is the same company operating in Guinea Bissau and they pay at least D15,000 per container there, yet they pay D6, 000 for our labour here. That is unacceptable.” 

Demba Taal, a team head at the container loading site, said: “We were uploading a container and our Chinese supervisor came and asked us to stop work; that he was going to pay only D6,000 for loading the container. This is down from the D7,000 they were offering for the same job. Before we began the work, we negotiated for D10, 000 per container but they offered only D7, 000. We took it because we had no money and needed the jobs, even though it was not a fair offer.”

Taal said they have agreed since on Wednesday to stop working for D6,000 per container and that they are marching to all container loading points to stop all workers from working at such a rate: “The Chinese are willing to pay up to D15,000 but the Gambians working with them aare convincing them to pay far less, and we cannot accept that,” Taal said.

Meanwhile, the police in West Coast Region dispersed the protesters on the grounds that they did not have a permit to hold a protest.  


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