By Saikou Suwareh Jabai

Gambian drivers and vehicle owners have expressed concerns over the transportation trade in the country. They said the country has experienced a very serious setback due to the way the Ministry of Trade, Industry, Regional Integration and Employment intends to handle transport and transportation work in the country.

They unveiled this to journalists during a press conference organized by the Gambia National Transport Agriculture Food and Industrial Workers Union last week at the union’s office at Red Cross Building, Westfield.

Mr. Ousman Drammeh, President of the Union, said in April, they went round the country to sensitize the drivers about the need to go for a congress in order to put their house in order and put up a reliable transport sector that will defend the interest of drivers and vehicle owners in the country. The congress, he said was held and a new executive board was elected. He added that the congress report, which includes the proposed terms and conditions of drivers and other important matters, was sent to the Ministry of Trade and other stakeholders. “Unfortunately, the Minister of Trade replied the union that it should stop its engagements with regards to transport work in the country and that the Ministry is coming up with plans as to how transport work will be governed,” Drammeh said, adding that since February towards now, transport workers have been waiting for the Ministry’s plan as they had promised. According to him, since then, Gambian owned vehicles, especially trucks, were not doing any effective work as goods meant for transit are not loaded on Gambian trucks. The President added that goods meant for transit from Gambia Ports Authority are directly controlled by Senegalese cargo brokers. He added: “The union had written to the Ministry on several occasions to clarify the situation but the Ministry did not listen. The issuance of Manifest is one of the main sources of the Union’s income and the Minister denied us the right to issue out these manifests.”

Drammeh further explains that the Ministry produced a document dealing with the structures, organs and operating rules for the road transport sector in the country. The President said the Union is unhappy with the document as it aims at dividing the drivers and weakening the Union. He stated that the document also encourages foreign investors to create their own car park and operate from there. Mr. Drammeh said the Ministry’s proposed plan is meant to discourage the functions of the union and its operations nationwide.

Since establishment, he said the Union has a membership of over 7600 drivers and that its sole objective is to defend the interest of drivers in the country. Therefore, he added, the Ministry should not prepare the action plan in the absence of the Union.

“What we expect from the Ministry is not to impose on the drivers but to put the drivers into the formal sector and encourage the usage of the driver’s employment cards,” he added. Drammeh said the Ministry should make sure that those who employ drivers pay tax and social security for them. He added that it should also encourage the registration of sea and air transport to the Union and accept the working terms and conditions set aside by the drivers themselves during their congress.

The Secretary General of the Gambia Labor Congress, Mr. Kebba Masanneh Ceesay, raised similar concerns saying the Ministry’s proposed plan contradicts the International Labor Organization and International Trade Union. According to him, the Union is in full representation of the drivers in the country and that the Ministry should always work with the Union in issues regarding transport in the country. The Secretary said the Ministry should see the Union as partners in development and not a threat to the development agenda of the country.

Ceesay said the Ministry should be a job creator and not to encourage strategies that contributes to people losing their jobs. While urging the Ministry to revisit their action, he argued: “As a Minister, everybody must be equal before him.”

Abdou Corr, Momodou Salie Dem, Batch Touray, are amongst other drivers who attended the congress, and jointly called on the government to look into their plight and selflessly resolve the transport sector in the best interest of the drivers. They said the Union is their security and contributes immensely in protecting their rights and ensuring that the drivers get what they deserve. They said Gambian truck driver’s encounter a lot of constraints at the Ports as their vehicles stand at the queue for weeks and that sometimes their trucks spend months without work. “Clients do not hire us now because they said they prefer hiring foreign vehicles and not Gambian trucks because they said Gambian trucks have no guarantee because they do not have an active Union that can help them (drivers) in terms of obstacles on the road.

This reporter will make efforts to speak to the Ministry of Trade about the matter and the developments will be reported accordingly.