By Nelson Manneh
The Gambia Dock and Maritime Workers Union in observing Labour Day 2021, has called on the authorities to investigate the issue of stevedoring in The Gambia in order for justice to take its course in their case.
Labour Day otherwise called Workers’ Day is celebrated 1st May annually and is a day devoted to working people all over the world.
“The Yahya Jammeh regime is a regime that has no respect for the rule of law and relies on methods such as arrests and detention to get opponents to submit to his dictates, propped up punitive measures on us in order for us to submit,” the union indicated.
The union was the umbrella body for all dock workers in The Gambia, including tally clerks up till 2007. Stevedoring was an independent entity in The Gambia before the aforesaid date.
The acting Secretary General of the union, Malick Secka, said at first, shipping agents would pay stevedores for their labour after imported goods were discharged. He said in 2007, decision was taken for the abolition of independent stevedoring and for the Gambia Ports Authority to absorb the dockworkers as its employees.
“Our leadership opposed this scheme and they were determined to maintain the independence of stevedores and the freedom of association of its membership. Being a regime that has no respect for the rule of law and relies on methods such as arrests and detention to get opponents to submit to their dictates, the Yahya Jammeh regime propped up punitive measures on us in order for us submit,” he said.
Secka said when their union, after consultation with its members refused to concede, intimidation, arrests, and detentions started. He said they (GPA management) finally got dock workers to sign that they have agreed to a severance pay which was imposed on them and they accepted this “as full and final settlement of all claims and entitlements due to them and disclaimed and renounced any rights they might have to institute suits arising from this settlement against the Gambia Ports Authority.”
Secka said they have never signed any agreement with the GPA to receive their wages from the shipping agencies.
“We later discovered that for every empty container that was moved from a ship to the quay, a sum of 50 euros was paid, but we were paid only D20. In the same vein for every loaded container that was moved from a ship to the quay, a sum of 100 euros was paid while the gang was paid only D250. Similarly, for every ton of bulk cargo moved, the sum of 5 euros was paid while the gang received only D6 to D8,” he explained.
Mr. Secka said they were supposed to continue accepting this and keep their mouths shut. This, he said, was what motivated management to come up with the scheme of greater control of the workforce by abolishing independent stevedoring in 2007. He alleged that it is untrue that the GPA had any intention of employing dock workers. They simply wanted to control them, he said.
“The dock workers are treated as non-employees without entitlement to leave and retirement. A clear example is the continuous engagement of dock workers who have exceeded the pensionable age. There is no monthly payment. The dock workers are recruited and paid according to the gang they belong to just as before,” he added.
Acting SG Secka said those who opposed “these injustices” meted out to them were forced out of the scheme. He said some of their colleagues sustained severe injuries while others died while working, but they have never been compensated.
“It would be highly appreciated if you would inquire into the situation of stevedoring in The Gambia and come up with recommendations to the executive,” he said.
Secka said they have all the necessary documents and information to provide when called upon to give evidence.