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Since the end of September, workers at the Abidjan Fourth Bridge construction site have observed strike action demanding suitable protective equipment and better wages from CSCEC, the Chinese company carrying out the work. If their mobilization allowed an improvement of their situation, shortcomings persist, on this site symbol of the modernization of the Ivorian economic capital.

Since coming to power in 2011, Alassane Ouattara has made infrastructure development a lever for growth. The construction of the fourth Abidjan bridge is part of this major works policy which aims to modernize the Ivorian road network and make traffic flow in the megalopolis.

Already several months late – the work was due to be delivered in August 2020 – the work of the fourth Abidjan bridge, entrusted to the China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), has twice seen several hours of shutdown in September and October due to workers’ strike movements. They demanded an increase in their wages and the obtaining of better personal protective equipment (PPE) to work in good conditions.

In Ivory Coast, workers demand better working conditions

On October 20, workers working on the fourth bridge in Abidjan observed a day of strike to demand better working conditions.
On October 20, workers working on the fourth bridge in Abidjan observed a day of strike to demand better working conditions. © Screen capture, DR

“It is very dangerous to work on this site”

Following these mobilizations, meetings were organized in October with Ageroute, the state company in charge of the operation and maintenance of roads which manages the site, on behalf of the Ministry of Equipment and Road Maintenance. The workers discussed in particular issues related to site safety. Our Observer Pierre (pseudonym) is a worker and he questioned our editorial staff about his working conditions.

We are more than 300 workers working on the site. It is very dangerous to work on this site. For example, in the reinforcement workshop, we work with our own clothes. We do not have protective suits. We don’t have safety shoes. The Chinese are stingy in the renewal of equipment. And on the platform, the safeguards are not solid. It is not possible.

The denunciations of our Observer were confirmed by Adiafi Kouakou, member of the site control mission. Composed of a representative of Ageroute and three other design offices, this mission is responsible for overseeing hygiene, safety and health issues on the site and compliance with environmental standards.

The company has made great efforts [suite aux revendications, NDLR] concerning the management of personal protective equipment, but there are still shortcomings. If the PPE has been renewed, it is not really suitable for the different daily tasks.

For example, a worker who is responsible for doing the scrap, the managers give him latex gloves. This is not appropriate because after a week it will be worn out. And when he claims, his Chinese supervisor is not going to react.

“All day long, welders inhale welding fume”

The same goes for welders. We recommended breathing masks. But they are given surgical masks that people use against Covid-19. It is not normal. All day long, welders inhale welding fume. It is not good for their health.

These are situations that the control mission reports through reports to the company. But they do nothing to correct these nonconformities. This is negligence, there is no reason why our recommendations should not be followed.

In these cases, we can suspend the activity in question, while the equipment is changed for the workers. This happens often.

“The renewal of this equipment must be more regular”

Contacted by France 24, Issa Ouattara, the Ageroute coordinator of the Abidjan Urban Transport Project (PTUA) admitted that the protective equipment was not of good quality. He claims to have made recommendations in this regard.

We recognize that the quality of some equipment leaves much to be desired. And it can happen that these elements wear out and become obsolete because of their use. I was surprised myself.

During our meetings, commitments were made so that all this would not happen again. If you go to the site, you will see that all are now well equipped. We have defined a renewal rate for PPE every four months. Some work in areas where the devices are more stressed. The renewal of this equipment must be more regular.

But for our Observer, nothing has really changed despite the commitments made: “Thursday, one of our colleagues almost drowned in the lagoon. He had bent and fell from the platform where he was working. At the end of October, three other of our colleagues were drowned in the lagoon. Their truck had capsized. They had no life jackets. “

In Ivory Coast, workers demand better working conditions

Workers on the platform of the fourth bridge in Abidjan
Workers on the platform of the fourth bridge in Abidjan © DR

>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Ivory Coast: to make room for a bridge, a completely razed slum in Abidjan

Underpaid workers?

In addition to the problems related to the equipment, the workers have also stepped up to the plate to demand a salary increase. Recruited by GTS and SAER, two interim agencies used by CSCEC for its labor needs, the workers felt they were not being paid well.

Before the negotiations, we, the general laborers, were paid 2,800 CFA francs (about 4 euros) per day. While in our opinion, we should be paid 4500 francs (nearly 7 euros). Skilled workers, that is to say, welders, drivers or even crane operators, were paid between 4,500 and 8,000 CFA francs (around 12 euros), depending on the trade and experience.

But these salaries are insufficient given the risks to which we are exposed on this vast site. In addition, we had 9:30 am working days. However, the legal working time in Côte d’Ivoire is eight hours. And that extra hour and a half was never paid to us.

We don’t have payslips. We are not declared to the National Social Security Fund (CNPS) to ensure our retirement. That’s why we went on strike.

When contacted, the temporary employment agency GTS did not respond to questions from the editorial staff of Observers de France 24. “The provisions relating to workers’ pay are taken in accordance with the law, aligned on the basis of legal requirements. workers are paid in accordance with the law. There has been no problem with overtime pay, “said Cidiq Gbane, director general of SAER Côte d’Ivoire.

For his part, Issa Ouattara, who attempted mediations on 5 and 20 October to respond to the various points of demand, relates: “We have reached agreements with the workers on wage demands at the end of the various meetings. We have decided to improve their working conditions, and staff representatives were appointed. Work resumed. ”

Management has agreed to increases. But our Observer is partially satisfied with the discussions with management:

After discussions with Mr. Ouattara, we signed new contracts at the end of November which stipulate that the working time is 8 hours. But the hour and a half overtime will now be paid. My compensation went from 2800 CFA francs (around 4 euros) to over 4,200 francs per day (around 6 euros). It’s an effort. We will now have payslips and they have promised to report us to the National Social Security Fund.

However, the workers demanded that the overtime payment be retroactive and that they be credited with all the hours worked since the start of the construction site.

On this point, Issa Ouattara declares: “I could not verify if the overtime was paid before. The workers say they did. The company says no. To cut it short, we take the overtime. from now on. I don’t want to dwell on these debates. “

We contacted the management of CSCEC who did not want to answer our questions.

“The Ivorian labor code is often bypassed by companies”

However, the legal situation does not respect the Ivorian labor code in several respects, explains Maître Yves Yao, lawyer specializing in labor law in Abidjan. According to him, the Ivorian labor code allows companies to use temporary employment agencies to recruit labor, as is the case on this site. This allows companies to disengage from the workers they employ. Consequently, their rights are not always respected:

In this case, the Chinese company CSCEC used two temporary employment agencies to recruit the workers. They have daily contracts and work 9:30 a.m. a day. However, the weekly working time in Côte d’Ivoire is 40 hours for workers and 48 hours for agricultural workers. This period is greatly exceeded by the workers on this site. Overtime must therefore be paid.

As part of a temporary contract, the labor code limits the employment contract to three months, renewable for a period of one month maximum. Beyond this period, the worker is supposed to be on an open-ended contract, which is also not respected by employers here.

In addition, salaries are paid without real documentation. The workers did not have pay slips. It is not normal. The Ivorian labor code is uncompromising on this aspect.

In general, Chinese companies have little respect for workers’ rights. They treat workers very harshly. But it must also be said that the Ivorian labor code contains flaws that allow it to be easily circumvented.

Launched in July 2018, the structure, which measures 1.6 km and spans part of the Ebrié lagoon, is to link Yopougon, a popular district of the Ivorian economic capital to the Plateau, the business district. The infrastructure, the cost of which is estimated at 142 billion CFA francs (216 million euros), is part of a large complex of 7.2 km of urban highways and access roads. It should help relieve congestion in northern Abidjan, whose traffic has relied for several years on the North motorway, the only access route to Yopougon.

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