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In Demand and Undervalued: The Everyday Struggle of a Gambian Worker

Countries across the world today mark the May Day or Labour Day dedicated to labourers of the working class across the globe. In many cities, workers will protest against unjust working conditions and demand better pay.

In The Gambia, the plight of workers remains largely unchanged since the last time thousands of them gathered at the Independence Stadium in Bakau last year to mark the May Day. Many of them often complain of being underpaid and compelled to work under difficult conditions. On a daily basis, they face various challenges of job insecurity, rising cost of living and poverty.

Fatou Sambou, a mother of two works in a fish processing factory. “I do a 10-hour shift everyday of the week and at the end of the month what I take home as salary is not enough to put proper food on my table for a complete week.”

She complained that “the problem isn’t just about low wages, but also about high cost of living.”

“Consistently, the cost of basic commodities including rice has been rising in this country. When prices rise, people’s wages remain the same. In some cases where salaries rise, they do not commensurate with the cost of living.”

Fatou called on the authorities to look into the plights of the workers and come up with a policy that caters for their needs.

“My kids are growing fast and the more they grow the more they demand for basic things. As a mother, it rips my heart when I go home at the end of every month and my salary cannot even cater for the basic needs of my kids. It breaks my heart when they ask for the most basic things and I pretend I don’t hear them because I can’t afford them.”

Amie Sarr, a nurse, has been working at a public hospital for the past three years. She studied nursing because she was convinced it’d give her an opportunity to help her country by looking after the sick. Today, she’s left baffled. “When I started I thought I could save lives and change something. But where we are today, even treating a patient for a mild headache has become a huge challenge for us. There’s hardly anything available in the hospitals. We work under very difficult circumstances and our services are undervalued. Sometimes I feel ashamed to identify myself as a nurse.”

Gambian medical professionals at work photo credit: The Gambia-Swansea Vision

Year after year, the leadership of the Gambia Trade Union Congress used the May Day event to call on the government to improve the salaries, pensions and allowances, and the general conditions of workers.

Last year, the government reacted by up-scaling salaries and allowances of civil servants. However, this increment is only favourable to senior civil servants.

“It’s not good at all. That so-called increment of course has created a monster in the civil service because it makes those who were earning more to keep earning higher and those who were earning less like us to continue to earn low,” said Modou Gaye, a senior secondary school teacher with over ten years of experience.

“It’s not good when you see a teacher weeping at the end of the month because what he takes home as salary cannot cater for his basic needs.”

A Graduate Assistant at the University of The Gambia, Ensa Kujabi told The Chronicle that civil and public servants should be paid remunerations that commensurate with their qualifications and experiences. “With this, I am convinced that the level of attrition and brain drain will decline significantly.”

Ensa Kujabi

He called for fair treatment of workers, suggesting equal pay for equal work and/or equal qualification.”

For those in the media, the everyday struggle for acceptable wages continued to affect productivity.

“There should be minimum wage of at least D3000 set by the government and binding upon media houses to go by,” Mustapha Ceesay, a journalist told The Chronicle.

Kairaba Beach Hotel workers on strike photo credit: Foroyaa

In a country where public protest by workers for better conditions is rare, unhappy workers continue to suffer in silence. At least in September 2018, workers at the Kairaba Beach Hotel went on strike to push for decent salaries and better working condition.

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