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Tole Tea Workers Leading the Fight for Social Justice

In front of the Labour Office with Pa Nicholas, Ex-CTE Worker

For the past four months, if you take a walk or drive by the Labour office in Buea, Cameroon , you are bound to see over 500 people (mostly women 40 or older), sleeping, sitting or lying outside on the ground in the dust or on concrete. At the main entrance to this building, placards are hung in a straight line making a fence, carrying messages like: “Refugees Camp in Cameroon”, “…only death or money can remove us here”, “who owns the Tole Tea Estates; Brobon or Danpullo?"

Some of them have developed pains, suffered heart attacks, caught colds and infections, as there is only one pit toilet shared among the 500 women and men present.

Since September 12th , the Ex-Cameroon Tole Tea (CTE) Workers have occupied the Labour office and National Security building here. All in demand for what is rightfully theirs: severance that was supposed to be paid to them a decade ago when the tea plantation was privatized.

The ex-Tole tea workers incident demands a reflection on the state of social justice and workers’ rights in Cameroon.

This is a very serious problem in the country: protecting workers rights and providing social justice.

Ten years back, in the media nationwide, the government of Cameroon announced privatizing the tea plantations, which included Tole Tea Estate situated in Tole Village in the Southwest region.

News reports first said Tole Tea had been bought by a South African-based company known as Brobon Finex, whose chairperson was Derrick Garvie. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that Tole Tea was owned by a Northwest Cameroonian-based tycoon by the name of Ahaji Danpullo.

Ahaji Danpullo, highly influential in the country, owns multi-mega companies, countless herds of cattle and abundant hectares of land. He also is the proprietor of one of the leading satellite TV stations in the country.

In October 2002, a convention was signed determining the terms of privatization of the tea sector which demanded that all workers jobs, conditions and privileges for employees would remain the same should workers agree to sign a contract to work with the new employer.

It is important to note that, in that time, employees for the tea sector were housed in camps on the plantation land. Schools were built for employees’ children, health care and other facilities were provided to the employees and their families.

In addition, the Cameroon legislation at that time stipulated that employers terminating employees’ contracts should ensure that their employees be paid all entitlements which include a so-called good separation bonus. And in this case, the government which was the CTE former employer was supposed to pay these due on or before October 2002. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case.

And shortly after the new management of the Tole Tea Estate under the leadership of Ahaji Danpullo, the benefits agreed upon were gradually breached. By 2006, all these workers who were in total 736 were dismissed without compensation. In order words, Danpullo did not honour the privatization agreement nor did the government in its own part.

The resulting effect to these led to strike demonstrations in February and July 2006. Later, some of the workers were arrested in the cause and this action by the GMI Police angered the workers more, so much so that the female workers stripped naked at the GMI Police Station where the arrested male colleagues were kept until they were realized.

This behaviour by the female tea workers, besides other mounted pressure led to former Prime Minister .H.E. Ephraim Inoni to summon an adhoc committee meeting in August 2006 on the verification of the social rights of the Tole CTE workers.

Attendance for the meeting were some six ministers; six CTE Management including Danpullo and six worker representatives of Tole and CTE Head Office, Bota.

In the meeting, nine resolutions were adopted. And these resolutions were meant to be respected and realized soonest. Over the years, seven of the resolutions have been realized except for two; articles seven and nine. Both talk about the good separation bonuses or “a golden handshake”, which is the main reason the ex-CTE Workers have been sleeping in an open air since September 12.

“No human being should be allowed to live in an open space for over four months” Pa Nicholas, former ex-CTE Worker, said when interviewed on the Tole Tea workers sit-down demonstration.

It hurts to see old mothers and fathers suffering. And it hurts most to realize that a state can leave part of its population, especially the old, exposed to health risks and other forms of human security threats.

It is true that in some situations, governments worldwide haven’t served in the interest of its people. But the case of Cameroon is most complicated to address.

On most instances, standing up against unjust practices and for fairness and equality in Cameroon, even at a minimal level, is often very challenging, painful, and exhausting. However, this shouldn’t be a reason not to keep fighting for social justice. And I believe that if the citizens embrace such commitment and devotion like those of the ex-CTE workers in condemning unjust practices, there might be a significant decrease on the level of employers’ abuse on workers’ rights.

This brings us back to the severance due. As explained by Ma Regina, an Ex-CTE Worker, “A good separation bonus simply means the old employer pays a worker a negotiable amount depending on the employee length of service and salary”.

A spokesman for the Ex-CTE Workers, Bate Atem said “It has stopped from being a Labour problem. It is now a social problem”.

And in an interview with the Regional Delegate for Youth affairs, Buea , since his office building is the nearest official structural to the Labour Office building, he stated “ my personal worry is the youth under their care, the effect of these young people living without parental control might be dangerous to our society”.

The fact that the Tole crisis has slowly expanded into a social issue is already threatening to the community and the nation at large. For example, the Tole Estates was estimated to have a population of 5,264 in the year 2006, with the majority being women and children. And three-quarters of these workers are the breadwinners to their families and extended relations.

With the shutdown of the Estate and the abuse of workers’ rights and agreement, the estate’s population, especially the women, are exposed to social challenges and health risks due to their vulnerability and increased level of unemployment.

For instance, it is obvious that once a person loses her / his financial grounds and social status, (s)he becomes emotional distressed and traumatized; having invested so much so that life won’t become uncomfortable.

And as a woman and a daughter, seeing another woman, a mother subjected to such harsh conditions saddens me. Worse of all as a women’s human rights defender seeing women’s human rights violated just metres away from my base is offensive.

Being a student, knowing what it means to lose an academic year makes me feel extremely sad for the Ex-CTE Workers’ children for losing this academic year. And yet, their parents have not received any compensation from the government.

“Education is a gift and should never be denied to a child; directly or indirectly”, Ma Indingo, Ex-CTE Worker explained when interviewed on the Tole Tea workers sit-down demonstration

This is a very sensitive issue and should be resolved with care and interest.

I strongly recommend that proper counselling and guidance be offered to these kids, during the post-demonstration moments. So as to enable the children to grow up without nursing bitter hatred and grievances against the state, especially those of the Labour office sector.

Though as of now, very little research is made available to know the total numbers of children who stayed out of school due to the Ex-CTE Camping at the Labour Office. Nonetheless, based on past experiences from different communities, there are certain consequences that are common and the CTE situation is not very dissimilar.

And I hope that, sooner would this cause come to a pleasant end and may this endeavour bring meaningful change and end abuse of workers’ rights in Cameroon.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Camping at the Labour Office in demand for what is rightful theirs
It's getting to the fifth month and the Ex-CTE Workers are still seeping and sitting there
Abused of workers' rights in Cameroon is a serious problem.The Ex-CTE Workers seek for social Justice
Some of them have developed pains, suffered heart attacks, caught colds and infections, as there is only one pit toilet shared among the 500 women and men present.

Comments

Juliette Maughan's picture

Hey Z

Thanks for sharing this story. I was looking forward to reading your article.

How did you get involved with this demonstration? Is it a movement you are directly involved with? Do you see them as you pass these persons on your way to school or work?

What legal redress do these persons have? Are they also seeking to lobby government to improve laws?

Would be interesting to know.

You have been quiet recently my sister. I hope I can hear more of you :).

Blessings

J

zoneziwoh's picture

Good Questions

Excellent dear Sister. wao! I just realized that I misunderstood you in my previous respond. well, on how i am involve to this crisis - i am not directly involve with the Tole incident but kind of indirectly involve because my parents suffered similar fate in the 90s where the companies to which they worked with were closed / shut down and workers were sent home without compensation and till date they are still asking the govt for their severance.

personally, my worry is concerning the matter in which workers rights are disrespected in cameroon. i have also undergone similar fate, dismissed from work without notice and without any consideration just because i got crossed with the mistreatment and had to stand up for my voice. and the consequences was definitely my dismissal from work.

By the way, I was thinking about building a petition list to pressure the state to redress this measure as soon as possible. for it is almost getting to the fifth month when the Ex-CTE workers stormed the Labour Office and inhabited.

Yeah, dear – I have been very quite. Am going through a very challenging moment in my life. Am hope to soon get through it. Just keep praying for me. Thanks

Stay Blessed

Zoneziwoh

Blog: http://zofem.blogspot.com/

facebook: Zoneziwoh

twitter: @ZoFem

Rachael Maddock-Hughes's picture

Good assignment

Dear Zoneziwoh,

You did a very good job in weaving in statistics and quotes in this story, and obviously it is an issue that you feel passionate about. The only thing is that a Frontline journal should be about something that affects you personally. What is missing in this piece is why this issue is important to you and how it affects you---do you have family or friends who worked on the tea plantations? Is this taking place near your house. In the future, if you could add in the more personal story, it will make your frontline journals even stronger!

Thank you very much for sharing this story with us though, as it is an issue that I am sure gets very little attention internationally. Is the cause of these workers publicized on a national scale? I have worked with people living on tea plantations in India, and their situations are very tenuous at best. I hope these people are able to find a solution.

Kind regards,

Rachael

"In every human heart there are a few passions that last a lifetime. They're with us from the moment we're born, and nothing can dilute their intensity." Rob Brezny

zoneziwoh's picture

Thanks

Definitely Rachel, you are right. I feel deeply passionate about this issue from the perspective of workers’ rights and a call for social justice. Personally I am a victim to workers’ rights abuse though not as a Tole worker but as an employee to a different agency. And it is based on this experience that I feel motivated to share this story. But my biggest challenge was to narrow my view from my perspective taking Tole Tea Ex-Worker as a theme for my discussion. One of the challenges being that I didn’t want my view be based on assumptions since Tole is not an area which I have worked on but the fact that they have been employees like myself and have been abused is what relates us together. And secondly, knowing that women make the majority.
Just like you said, hopefully would manage to work on that subsequently. Ann also insisted on the point you just said.

Stay Blessed

Zoneziwoh

Blog: http://zofem.blogspot.com/

facebook: Zoneziwoh

twitter: @ZoFem

Hi Zoneziwoh,

That's great to know! It is hard to narrow down one's experience into our word limit--I do understand the challenges. Well-written piece though!

Cheers,

Rachael

"In every human heart there are a few passions that last a lifetime. They're with us from the moment we're born, and nothing can dilute their intensity." Rob Brezny

WILDKat's picture

Tea and time valued at Tole

Dearest Zonziwoh,

You have given us an excellent coverage of the dire situation of the fired, or at least let go, tea workers in Tole.
You covered the long standing conflict and injustice. I would have liked to have known what is the total cost to settle the workers claims according to what was agreed. Who could cause this case to be settled? Could video be used to tell a powerful story to support your writing and photos? I appreciate seeing your images of the signs. In fact, do you have any close ups of the kids?

Thank you for sharing your hopeful solution in Cameroon. You make me wonder what more bold action can be taken to compel the owners of the privatized tea plantation to settle fairly with the workers. Would you call these workers emancipated slaves without compensation? How can they move on without any support to do so? Is it possible for them to reclaim the plantation sustainably since the current owner is not operating it successfully? Could they partner with a fair market social entrepreneur to find a market for tea they produce themselves? Could the Tea people from Tole self organize to attract an NGO to help with education and health?

Naturally grateful,
Kat Haber

"Know thyself." ~ Plato

zoneziwoh's picture

Tea and time valued at Tole

Good day Kat Haber, I am glad at your concern regarding the Tole crisis.I wish our state had similar feelings. The Tole Workers are claiming the state of a sum of FCFA 2.4 Billion ( approx 6 million US Dollars). On who could cause this case to be resolve - the state, precisely the ministry of JUSTICE. The moment this entire crisis began, that 2002, by 2006, a case was opened in court in Buea (buea where Tole is situated) but was later transferred to the supreme court and since then, nothing has been said. the case has never been called up.

Currently, i am doing some ground work to start a petition requesting for the Parliamentarians to pressurize the supreme court to judge the case or ask Danpullo to pay his employees. I have had conversations with some legal minded individuals, NGOs working with elderly people and also with some few Members of Parliament. I hope this strategy would work.

I think the workers are already a little body as they do call themselves "TOLE LAIDOFF Workers". Kat, i would love to know what you think of this idea- and should you have an opinion to share - please do so--for these workers arent shy to share their stories as wide as possible. They are always ready to speak any time any person visits them. They strongly believe that each person is fully capable to mount pressure to the state for their money to be paid.

Well, as regard doing a video to support this article.I will see what I can do to make a video that speaks their story.

Once more, many thanks--it was nice reading your commend.

Stay Blessed

Zoneziwoh

Blog: http://zofem.blogspot.com/

facebook: Zoneziwoh

twitter: @ZoFem

usha kc's picture

Dear Ziwoh,,, you have been

Dear Ziwoh,,, you have been lost since long,,,, hope and pray for you to have good time. By the way, the topic you have written on is important and I always am enveloped into your writtings.Ofcourse this time too.

hugs

zoneziwoh's picture

Dear Sister, many thanks for

Dear Sister, many thanks for stopping by and so so thankful for your comment. My sister, i faced with lost of issues and so much challenges, the reason i am not frequent online. moreso, the network has not been very reliable lately. once more thanks and please continue to pray for me.

Stay Blessed

Zoneziwoh

Blog: http://zofem.blogspot.com/

facebook: Zoneziwoh

twitter: @ZoFem

Ruun Abdi's picture

Hurrah!

Dear Zoneziwoh,

Absolutely you have written a great piece and I enjoyed. You presented it in a way that feels as if we are there and witnessing every step of the way. Great Job!

I sent you a message earlier this month not so sure if you see it yet. Please do inbox me your number, its been a while since we talked.

Cheers!

mrbeckbeck's picture

People's power

Hi Ziwoh,
Wow, what a story! It's amazing to me that the government would go as far as making agreements, just to back out of them. I applaud your effort to raise awareness and get word out about this issue.... clearly it is an important story that not many people know about. I love your idea of petitioning the government to bring the case to the Supreme Court.

The people will win, I just know it. Do not give up, and do not give in. It's a matter of justice!
Thank you dear, keep us updated.
Scott

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Manager

Kate Rivera's picture

Courageous Workers of Tole

Dear Zoneziwoh,

Thank you for bringing such an important story to the world. I can really feel the determination,dignity and commitment of these workers and your obvious desire that these women and men receive justice and fairness in compensation for their hard work. To be rightfully compensated for our contributions is such a basic human right and I'm sure your concern and your work brings a sense of respect to this difficult gathering.

I'm impressed that you are continuing to help find a resolution for these courageous folks and it warms my heart that you speak of them with such admiration. Pleae keep us all updated.

I think Kat's ideas about a social enterprise are well worth considering. There is a growing desire I believe for Fair Trade goods and perhaps Tole might become part of that movement.

I like the pictures and the signs; I would have liked to see a close up of one or two of the workers but I have a sense of their situation from your strong and clear description at the start of the story. Good story and good work.

Many blessings to you,

Kate

Kate Rivera

"Tell me then, what will you do with your one wild, sweet, and precious life?"
Mary Oliver, American Poet

Ellie's picture

Congratulations for your courage!

Dear Zoneziwoh,

Thank you for bringing awareness to such an important issue. I am sorry to read subsequently in your comment that you and your parents had to go through a similar situation. If it's safe for you to share, I would encourage you to write more about it as I feel your voice and passion will come out even more clearly in such a piece.

I also applaud your determination to start a petition to pressure the Supreme Court as well as to reach out to legal experts and other NGOs. Given all you are going through, when would you think you can implement such action? Do you have support and like-minded people in your network who can help you with your efforts?

I stay with you and your efforts to bring justice! As Scott says, do not give up and do not give in! Please keep us updated on the progress of this dire situation.

Warmly,
Ellie

zoneziwoh's picture

Thanks

Many thanks. i am doing my best to see how the CTE workers would be rewarded justly. Just 2 days ago, the workers took to the strike, blocking the main roads between the court junction and the central prison junction. if you are versed with Buea, these two junctions have political and social implications in the region if obstructed.

I took some pics of the demonstration but i was chase away by the mayor from covering the story. Link: http://zofem.blogspot.com/2012/02/cte-workers-blockage.html

Stay Blessed

Zoneziwoh

Blog: http://zofem.blogspot.com/

facebook: Zoneziwoh

twitter: @ZoFem

MaDube's picture

Hi Ziwoh

The issue of retrenchment of workers without benefits when the workers have invested their lives and toiled day and night is really depressing. If you remember in our articles at the beginning of the application process I mentioned that my own father suffered a similar fate. He retired at a time when our currency had collapsed and hence his pension was a paltry sum. I can also see similarities between what is happening on the tree plantations with what is happening on Zimbabwe’s farms. I can tell you that one of the unions, the General Agricultural Plantation Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ) has been fighting relentlessly for the workers to receive their retrenchment packages. I hope the tea workers have similar structures and if not, I hope they can get help to establish such solidarity structures so that they push their agenda as a united front.

I know I have been awfully silent but I am still here and hope you have been keeping well.

Best,

MaDube

zoneziwoh's picture

Absolutely

" The issue of retrenchment of workers without benefits when the workers have invested their lives and toiled day and night is really depressing" Absolutely. there is nothing as painful to comparing to an abuse of trust and dedication. Dear sister, please in case there has been any successful approach used by the GAPWUZ, share. maybe the CTE workers could learned from it. Do you know that 2 days ago, the CTE workers had to blocked the main axis road leading to the home town of most of the elites and court/prison.

i did a pic video of the incident and have posted it on U-tube, though I was chase out from not collecting video while I was on duty. Link: http://zofem.blogspot.com/2012/02/cte-workers-blockage.html

Stay Blessed

Zoneziwoh

Blog: http://zofem.blogspot.com/

facebook: Zoneziwoh

twitter: @ZoFem

Greengirl's picture

Hello Zoneziwoh

I never miss reading articles that touch on Social Justice. As I read through, I recalled George Orwell's popular satirical fable titled "Animal Farm". I could never forget the slogan "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others". My beloved country Nigeria is also a host to many of such injustices!
You did not only speak for the disengaged Tole Tea Workers in Cameroon, you spoke for everyone across the globe who are victims of such injustices. My father and his colleagues in the now rested Nigerian Telecommunications (NITEL) Services are still in court slogging out their case against the concerned authorities. Though they had earlier won their case, there was an appeal. I will share your story with him!
I pray the Tole Tea Workers find help and WIN soonest!
Nice article.

zoneziwoh's picture

Amen Sister

Thank you so much dear sister. In deed, we are all employees and employers at the same time. And I agree with you that this act is a universal problem though some regions are worse than others. For instance, the case of Tole is an example of a worse situation. Do you know that since the Tole crisis, (5months now), neither the Minister of Labour nor any official delegation from the capital city has even come / open up for dialogue with these old men and women?

and yet few days ago, the Minister of Labour and Social Security rushes to Douala (roughly 200km to Buea - where the Tole people are situated) on the mere rumour that some group of workers or other are about to go on strike. Much as this is consistent with what is expected of a responsible government, we should like to think that what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

so you can see sheer wickedness.

Stay Blessed

Zoneziwoh

Blog: http://zofem.blogspot.com/

facebook: Zoneziwoh

twitter: @ZoFem

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