But most female workers of agro-industrial companies in Cameroon complain that they do not usually benefit from their due rights by their employers.
One of the workers who spoke to this reporter on grounds of anonymity said they work in very precarious conditions.
“We do not have individual equipment like boots, gloves, rain coats…, we are supposed to start work at 6am and stop at 2pm, but sometimes we leave the plantation at 8pm, the task is enormous and over time is not paid for”, she said.
Like the workers, rights activist say the treatment of female workers within the agro-industrial companies does not always take into account national and international laws. This, some activists say is influenced by the low representation of women in trade union bodies of the agricultural sector, at both local and national levels—responsible for defending their interests with employers.
It is against this growing phenomenon that the Centre for Environment and Development, CED, on the eve of the celebration of the International Women's Day which is celebrated on March 8 every year, organized a workshop under the theme, "working conditions of female workers in agro industries in Cameroon ".
“This workshop aims to share the experience of labor of the workers, and encourage more involvement of women in decision-making bodies within trade union structures”, Mireille Tchiako, communication officer of CED, said.
She explained that CED expects that at the end of the workshop, participants would have reinforced their knowledge on the scale of violations of their rights as female workers of agro industrial companies, the role of trade unions and propose solutions to remedy the situation.
One of the resource persons, Michel Dongmo, who works with rubber producing giant, HEVECAM and president of ‘Union de Syndicat Libre du Cameroun’, (USLC), said most women consider belonging to syndicates as opposing hierarchy.
Harping on the low representation of women in syndicates, the president of USLC said several factors account for the low representation amongst which are the fear of risk taking, conflict with family responsibilities amongst other. Though affirming that belonging to a syndicate is not a guarantee that workers’ plight will be solved, he intimated that “the syndicate is not being heard to the fullest, but unity is strength, join syndicates; all syndicates have the same objectives”.
Mr Dongmo revealed that as of December 2013, only 18 per cent of female workers of the agro industrial sector were militants of syndicates with a meager 2.88 per cent as syndicate leaders. The low representation of female workers in the agro-industrial sector according to the trade unionist “is because of the much energy required in our work. Take CDC for example, you have to carry 58 bunches of banana in order to mark your 8 hours. And you know women are generally weak”.
Madam Benz Enow, Labour Inspector at the regional delegation of labour and social security for the centre said, adhering to a trade union is not synonymous to having solutions to all workers’ problem. But she, advised female agro industrial workers to always belong to trade unions. She advised that a worker whose rights are not respected by his/her employer should immediately contact the trade union and if nothing is done, contact the labour office. “But be very sure you are faultless when filing a complaint to the labour office. Our aim is not to close the enterprises, else we will create bigger problem; that of unemployment. We only ensure mutual understanding between employers and employees”, she warned.
By Ndi Eugene Ndi