Njundu Drammeh

(JollofNews) – It is May Day today and my sparring partner, the prolific Madi Jobarteh has amply written against the way we commemorate this great day in our country and why the workers must unite to break the chain of exploitation and abuse they continually endure.

It seems you did not hear…. We have gathered again, to frolic, to picnic to merry and read a whining speech. And tomorrow the workers go back to the rut, the routine and life which stultify. For participating in the merriment, most institutions spend a fortune on sporting gears and all. Meanwhile, a staff may be home sick but the institution cares less, the employer may not even go to see his or her conditions. The basic sanitary things may not even be available in the toilets of the institution. We expend on vanities but neglect the essentials, the bare minimum which could make the working condition somewhat bearable. But these don’t affect the employer and so who cares?

The employer and the trade union must ensure the priorities of the employees are set right…. Unless the worker in the Gambia becomes the centre of attention; unless the trade unions and all other CSOs become active watch dogs and passionate negotiators on behalf of the worker, guided by the best interest principle; unless the worker knows only him or her can break that chain and be free and in the process educate himself or herself about his or her rights and understand the working conditions and environment and why it is as it is, our celebration of May Day may not serve its purpose.

The worker’s conditions may not improve. The worker may remain a mere cog in the turning wheel of capitalism or profit making; a machine to be used and discarded when no longer needed… While Government remains the biggest employer, Civil Society and the private sector are key employers and the condition of the worker therein may not be as satisfying as we think it is. The condition of the worker in the informal sector is as unpalatable as the unregulated nature of the sector itself…. Thus, we should not be talking to the Government alone. In both the private sector, civil society and the informal sector I see the following:

– In the informal sector, workers without contracts or terms of reference. The contract is often verbal
– In all three sectors, poor treatment and poor working conditions.
– in the private sector and Civil Society, employers least observe the 6 months maternity leave. There are instances where a newly married lady or pregnant lady is denied employment because the employer thinks if employed she would be absent for 6 months;
– in all sectors, there is anecdotal evidence of sexual harassment or quid pro quo sexual abuse.
– in all sectors there is less attention to workplace safety and security.

There are myraid issues that the Trade Unions themselves need to address within themselves relating to their members…. Who is worried that some of these workers do not have pensions or insurance covers? Who is concerned that pensioners, men and women who have given their youth and best to a company or institution, are not adequately taken care of in their old age? Who is concerned that some of our
workplaces​ are not so family friendly, absolutely unfriendly to pregnant ladies and lactating mothers? Who speaks for these employees or workers?

Government can create the worker-friendly laws and policies and ensure compliance. And these the trade Unions​ must continually advocate for. Much more the unions must hold accountable institutions like the Labour Department and office of the Ombudsman and advocate for the strengthening and decentralisation of the Labour Department and the industrial tribunal. Unless the Labour Department has more inspectors and offices upcountry, it would not be able to effectively​ perform its functions and protect workers.

The workers’s issues, concerns, fears and aspirations is not an event, cannot be made a fanfare, cannot be commemorated annual. It is an every day matter, a bread and butter issue, a process, sometimes a life and death matter…Attached to the present conditions of the worker is the future of their children, inextricably interlinked. If the worker’s conditions are not improved, he or she will find it difficult to give a better future to the children. The inequalities in the society will not be closed. The children of the employers will continue to be ahead.

Attached to the progress and advancement of the Gambia is the present and the future we create for the worker…. A healthy, happy worker who has the opportunities to grow and fly, who is free from want and fear, who can go to sleep without having to worry very much about where the next day’s lunch will come from or how to pay the medical bill of her sick child will give the best to the institution or company. Output and profit will increase in leaps and bounds.

Employees would need to be better organized, to have more unions which would address their concerns effectively, to join unions and make them effective, to know their rights and advocate for them and band together when the right of one worker is abused, violated or threatened. Only workers can help break the chain of exploitation that bound them. The capitalist, the employer in the private sector, is interested in profits, and the civil society employer, the one who should be at the vanguard of the struggle for worker emancipation and better conditions, is mainly interested in output…..

Long live the worker….. You have not nothing to lose and loose but your chain.

Sovereign Citizen
Njundu Drammeh