FAWU (Fako Agricultural Workers Union) organises plantation workers in the South West Province of Cameroon. Between 2013 and 2016, Banana Link worked with the Fako Agricultural Workers Union (FAWU) in Cameroon to educate and empower workers and their unions to negotiate living wages and improved conditions on banana and pineapple plantations.
Poor wages, debt, long hours and hazardous working conditions
Bananas constitute the fifth largest export earner for Cameroon, exporting to Europe, mainly to France and the UK. Workers on plantations in Cameroon suffer from poor wages that don't meet their basic living costs, leaving them in poverty which leads many into spiralling debt, while working long hours in hazardous conditions, with poor protection from illness and injury.
Education programme for union representatives and workers
To address these problems, Banana Link’s Securing Decent Work in tropical fruit export production project has delivering an education programme for trade union representatives and workers to help them understand their rights and negotiate better wages and working conditions.
In the video below, workers and union officials talk about how they have benefitted from this training programme.
Delivering measurable benefits
Research conducted in both countries throughout the project demonstrates that it has delivered measurable benefits in six important aspects of workers’ lives: income, working hours, labour rights, work-related accidents, provision of protective clothing and child care.
What have we done?
From 2013 to 2015, the proportion of workers able to cover their monthly expenditures increased from 23% to an estimated 40%, primarily due to the successful renegotiation of the National Collective Agreement on Agriculture, which increased the basic wages in the sector by 20%. FAWU has also ensured that workers receive financial management education to enable them to better handle their limited incomes, resulting in them borrowing money at lower interest rates.
Working hours remain high in Cameroon, with workers averaging 66 hours a week in peak season. However, FAWU estimate that 75% of workers at the main employer, CDC, now benefit from earlier finishing times of 6 or 7pm, which the company has committed to extending to all of its farms.
Awareness of labour rights
Educational workshops in Cameroon have been very effective in increasing workers’ awareness of their labour rights: in 2013, only 1 in 4 workers knew their rights, but by the end of the project, two-thirds of workers could name at least one of their rights at work. An additional 2500 banana workers joined FAWU during the project, many as a direct result of the education programme.
Provision of protective clothing
Before the project began in Cameroon, only 35% of workers reported having adequate PPE. This number has now increased to 74%, but of this 74%, only 30.7% have received appropriate replacement PPE in the last twelve months. The priority over the coming years will be to ensure workers receive appropriate replacement PPE regularly. Significantly, 95% of workers now know that exposure to chemicals is dangerous and detrimental to their health, and 72% have spoken with a FAWU representative about health and safety in the last year.
Using findings from our 2015 research, that showed women would prefer an allowance for off-site childcare, FAWU is better able to engage in dialogue with management about appropriate provisions to meet workers’ needs.
- Inspired by conditions in Colombia during a visit in November, FAWU subsequently negotiated shorter working days for 1420 workers with plans to benefit thousands more in the coming year.
- Wage increases have been secured through National Minimum Wage and National Collective Agreement in Agriculture negotiations.
- Hundreds of union representatives have participated in education training sessions resulting in improved social dialogue securing improved conditions including a 48% reduction in pro rata deductions from wages.
- Empowered representatives have established a cooperative farm to provide more affordable food for workers including 2325 chickens for traditional Christmas dinner!
What can you do?
Watch videos documenting conditions at banana plantations
ARTICLES AND MEDIA
Banana Link asks UK Government to mediate crisis in Cameroon
African workers’ voice stronger and united
Living and Working Conditions in the Banana Sector in South West Cameroon Dafni Skalidou and Harriet Labouchere, 2012
Daily Working Conditions in Cameroon- Slideshow Banana Link
Living Wage Report Summary Dafni Skalidou and Harriet Labouchere, 2012
Progress report February 2013 Banana Link
Social Impacts of Banana Supply Chains; A Case Study from Cameroon Dafni Skalidou and Harriet Labouchere, 2012
Project Appeal 2012- Banana Link
Radio Labour interview- Radio Labour
Union Solidarity filmed interviews- Union Solidarity
Documentary: Portraits from Cameroon -visit of Mbide Kude the General Secretary of FAWU
'Unions here can help banana workers everywhere secure safe work' - published in Hazards Magazine, January-March 2012.
Make Fruit Fair delegation visit to Cameroon, May 2011, summary report
Report on Working Conditions of Female Banana Workers in the Republic of Cameroon, by Fawu Gender Officer, Susana Nsoh Bissong Obi
Slavery in the Banana Industry, by Antoine de Ravignan, originally published in French in Alternatives Economiques, February 2012, under the title Esclavage dans la bananeraie. Also available in French.