Cameroon airline workers strike for compensation, 2005-2006

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Timing
Time Period:  
January
2005
to
July
2006
Location and Goals
Country: 
Cameroon
Location City/State/Province: 
Douala
Location Description: 
Airport
Goals: 
The primary goal of the employees was to receive compensation for their work from October 2004-January 2005. They developed secondary goals of health insurance, union rights, and the preservation of Camair’s destination network after its privatization. They also, during negotiations in May 2006, requested the reopening of the Douala Boeing maintenance center.
 

Since its creation in 1971, the 96.4% state-owned Cameroon Airlines (CAMAIR) had faced periods of financial stress. In 2004 the Cameroonian government replaced the head of Camair with Thomas Dakayi Kamga, but under new leadership Comair’s debt continued to grow.

As of 2005 Camair had 72 billion CAF francs (the equivalent of 110 million euros) of debt and no airplanes of its own. The Cameroon government owned the majority of Camair shares. International donors to Camair, including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, pressured the Cameroon government to privatize it.

In January 2005 Camair had not paid approximately 1000 of its employees since October 2004. The Group of Camair Workers Syndicates, under the leadership of Rene Bernard Ekedi, initiated a strike demanding compensation for the past three months.

Camair paid a half-month’s salary to about 300 employees. Camair said that full compensation would only be possible if the government loaned Camair 3 billion CFA francs. The Cameroon government made a loan that Camair’s head Kamga said was not enough to pay the workers’ back-pay.

Following a meeting between the union and the company, workers began to receive regular salaries again and the strike was ended. They still, however, were not fully compensated for their time between October and January.

On 12 February 2005, Kamga warned that Camair might go bankrupt within two months.

Ten days later Minister of Economy and Finance Polycarpe Abah Abah told the Cameroon Employers Association that the Cameroon government planned to liquidate Camair by the end of 2005. The next day Cameroon President Paul Biya appointed Paul Ngamo Hamani as the Provisional Administrator of Cameroon Airlines, with the assignment of rescuing the company’s financial standing by restructuring and privatizing the airline.

On 16 August the government agreed to compensate Camair employees for their October-January wages. The government also committed in this agreement to provide health insurance and union rights to Camair employees.

The next day the government formally dismissed 430 of the 1,300 Camair employees, on the grounds of their willful or planned retirement. The government said it had set aside 5 billion CFA francs (the equivalent of 7.5 million euros) to resolve the wages and benefits owed to the 430 released workers.

On 27 January 2006 the Cameroon government began to privatize Camair, announcing that private investors could buy shares in Camair.

On 10 February, ten workers who had been dismissed in August picketed at the CAMAIR headquarters in Douala, stating that the government had never fully compensated them. These demonstrations continued throughout February. The government issued no response.

As of July 2006, the workers still had not received full compensation for the benefits that the government had promised them upon their dismissal. Camair employees wrote a letter to the Cameroon president protesting the lack of compensation.

In late May, representatives of the Group of Camair Workers Syndicates met with Camair’s head to demand the fulfillment of the agreement and the preservation of Camair’s destination network through its privatization. They also demanded the reopening of the Douala Boeing maintenance center. The meeting was inconclusive. The union decided to go back on strike.

On 5 June, Camair employees, including pilots, air hostesses, and ground staff started to strike at the Douala airport. Employees picketed at the airport instead of fulfilling their responsibilities. For 24 hours, international airlines canceled flights to Douala and Yaounde because there was no staff to receive them.

On 10 June, all ground staff resumed work after employees negotiated the payment of the owed salaries. The pilots and air hostesses continued to strike since all of their demands had not been met.

On 30 June 2006, the Cameroon government sold 51% of Camair shares to Bengian airline SN Brussels and Cameroonian investment firm Cenainvest. The government planned to own some of the remaining shares and to sell some to Camair employees and other private investors.

As of early July 2006, the Cameroon government had not informed Camair employees of the fate of their jobs. If their jobs were categorized in the liquidated section, then the company would have no obligation to continue to employ them. Employees had not yet been fully compensated for their time. The government assured them that they would pay the workers what they owed them, but by late July did not specify how they would calculate the amounts owed.

Workers’ representatives proposed that they be compensated according to the agreement signed in 2005, but the government was not responsive.

Cameroon airlines remained intermittently operational until March 2008 when it was dissolved.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Dang, Pascal E. “Cameroon Airports Paralysed by Strike.” Afrol News. African Online News. 7 June 2006.

Pefok, Joe Dinga. “AAGM: Retrenched Camair Workers Protest Unpaid Dues.” The (Cameroon) Post. 14 Feb 2006. Web. 17 March 2013. Access World News.

Pefok, Joe Dinga. “AAGM: National Airline Put Up for Sale.” The (Cameroon) Post. 3 Feb 2006. Web. 17 March 2013. Access World News.

“Debt-ridden Cameroon Airlines to cut staff ahead of privatization.” Agence France-Press. 17 Aug 2005. Web. 17 March 2013. Access World News.

“Cameroon Airlines employees strike over salary arrears.” Agence France-Press. 6 Jan 2005. Web. 17 March 2013. Access World News.

“Cameroon airline staff strike grounds both planes.” Agence France-Press. 9 June 2006. Web. 17 March 2013. Access World News.

“Belgian airline wins tender for privatisation of Camair.” Agence France-Press. 30 June 2006. Web. 17 March 2013. Access World News.

Pefok, Joe Dinga. “AAGM: GM Sacked as Camair Liquidation Begins.” The (Cameroon) Post. 24 Feb 2005. Web. 17 March 2013. Access World News.

Pefok, Joe Dinga. “AAGM: Camair Workers Fate Uncertain.” The (Cameroon) Post. 6 July 2006. Web. 17 March 2013. Access World News.

Pefok, Joe Dinga. “AAGM: Gov’t Still to Decide on Camair Workers’ Retrenchment.” The (Cameroon) Post. 24 July 2006. Web. 17 March 2013. Access World News.

Tandafor, Mirabel Azangeh. “AAGM: CamAir May Crash in Two Months- Director.” The (Cameroon) Post. 12 Feb 2005. Web. 17 March 2013. Access World News.

Timchia, Yuh. “Cameroon Airlines workers to go on strike.” Africa Review. National Media Group, Kenya. 14 Dec 2012. Web. 17 March 2013.

Nyuylime, Lukong Pius. “Camair Planes Back in the Sky.” Cameroon Tribune. 12 June 2006. Web. 17 March 2013.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Laura Rigell, 17/03/2013