Thousands of transporters work in the independent port of Nouakchott, where their main task is to unload the containers, which are imported from overseas to Mauritania, through the ocean. This category is exposed to all the possible work dangers, without any protection or care by the employers, amid the silence of the state, which continue to ignore their sufferings. In fact, for about five years ago they have been in a series of continued strikes, which often ends with a written agreement between the workers, employers’ representatives, and the involved ministry. However, until now, none of these agreements have been implemented, even the employers' representatives themselves consider their implementation as impossible, despite their signing by all the above-mentioned parties.
Habib Ouled Mohamed Salek, who was born in 1976, in Hodh El Gharbi of Ain Farba, is the father of three children. He has been working as a transporter since 1999 in the independent port of Nouakchott. Habib speaks of the continuous suffering and blatant manipulation suffered by the transporters. He summarizes the transporters’ problems in the employers’ strategy they have adopted since 2013, which consists of the unloading of the containers outside the port, by people, who have nothing to do with the port, which affects badly the transporters.
Regarding the current strike, Ould Salek expresses that the direct causes behind the strike are: The Minister of Public Service’s speech and the modernization of the administration on the occasion of the May. On this occasion, the minister stated that the Mauritanian government has settled the transporters’ problems and that 2500 of them have been paid constant salaries by the authorities, in addition to their obtention of health insurance and social security, which did not take place for real, according to Ouled Mohamed Salek.
Habib adds that when he contacted the employer's representative, he confirmed at first that the minister's statement was true and that the relevant institutions would start the procedure after the end of the month, which will end on 13 days. However, nothing of this happened for real. In addition, when the transporters asked for the implementation of the minister’s promises, the employer's representatives denied the minister pledges again and considered them as impossible.
Mohamed Ould Ali, who was born in 1979 in Kifa, is the head of a family and has been working as a transporter, since 2009. Ould Ali accuses the state and businessmen for being responsible of the porters’ sufferings. Moreover, he affirmed that the number of porters consisted of 5600, however, their number decreased from 5600 to 2500 in 2017, following the strike to defend their gains and improve their conditions. This fall was justified by the provision of social security, health insurance, health points and a monthly salary for the rest of the porters, which did not happen.
Ould Ali reveals that the porters get only an amount of 4500 ounces per week, i.e. about 11.84 dollars regarding their exhausting work.
He summarizes his fellows’ demands as following:
1. A neutral path that does not favour neither workers nor the companies.
2. Access to social security.
3. Access to health insurance.
4. The provision of a medical center for the porters.
Omar Ould Amjabir, the head of the porters’ division of the Confederation of Free Mauritania Workers (CLTM) and a representative of the port's transporters’ department, expressed that the strike started last Thursday and that the direct reasons behind it are the statements made by the
Minister of Public Service and the modernization of the administration. In fact, the latter included the announcing of the gains achieved by the administration to the workers, which the workers have been struggling to obtain, since 2015. However, their efforts have been in vain, as their demands were not included in the petition, which are summarized in:
The provision of social security
The provision of health insurance
The provision of a medical center
The provision of a neutral path for both employees and employers
He added that after the minister's statements, the relevant administration contacted them to inform them that, they agreed with the enterprises to employ 2 500 porters. When the workers’ representatives met with the employers’ representatives, they were told that it was impossible to recruit new porters and that the enterprises are not obliged to commit to the Minister’s statement. Moreover, they were told that this can be happen only if the enterprises deduct the amounts paid by the importers in exchange for the unloading of containers and collect them until the end of the month. Thus, the workers would get 50000 ounces and 70000 ounces for some others, i.e. 131.57 and 184.21 dollars, as a monthly salary. The transporters considered this proposal as an abuse for them, as they cannot afford the everyday needs of their families because they get used to be daily-wage workers.
The employers' representatives asked then for an alternative proposal that can be adopted by the enterprises. According to Ould Amjabir, the workers' representatives initiated a proposal for the compensation for the containers unloaded outside the port, in addition to the demands included in the petition, which had already been approved by the employers, the workers' representatives and the relevant ministry, in order to stop the workers' strike. Ould Amjabir added that the response they received from the relevant authorities is to new workers, who have nothing to do with this work and protect them.
The Mauritania government
We tried in various ways to meet the concerned minister, whose statements sparked the recent protests and strike. However, it seems that the government is ignoring the workers' issues and, especially in the period of tension and strikes.
Referring to the Minister’s statements and the modernization of the administration, on the occasion of the May day of 2019,the Minister presented in his speech, in the Mauritanian channel the great achievements made by the government in the field of employment in general, and for the porters in particular, through the implementation of the international agreements and the recruitment of thousands of workers, as well as their provision with social security and health care.
He stated: “In order to consolidate the year of dialogue, on January 31, 2019, the government ratified two legal projects, where one of them is about the International Convention No. 144 on Tripartite Consultations on the International Labour Standards, which was referred to the National Assembly.
The sector also worked on issuing some of the regulatory texts in the Labour Code. In fact, he internal regulations of the regional labour inspectorates were reviewed, which enabled the
separation of the bodies responsible for the settling of the labour disputes from those charged with the supervision, in order to avoid the conflicts of interest.
The port labour force reform has been completed, whereby thousands of transporters have been recruited and permanently covered by decent salaries, as well as social and health insurance.
The Secretary-General of the Confederation of Free Mauritania Workers (CLTM), “Samori Ould Baiy”, confirmed that the crisis between the porters and the head of the port has originally stared since 1998. The CLFM intervened to settle the existing conflicts between the porters and the port’s administration. The crisis continued to escalate. In fact, 200 activists of the Confederation of Free Mauritania Workers (CLTM) were dismissed. Then, after two years, an agreement was signed to return the dismissed workers and compensate them. This led to the reopening of discussions and dialogue about the social security and retirement. Moreover, the porters asked for the increase in the unloading fees, which resulted in the launching of strikes, where the former Prime Minister, Yahya Ould Hadmine, intervened. The latter tried to create fake unions at the expense of serious unions. However, several agreements were signed but never have been implemented.
Now the port office has been dissolved, says Samori, and has been replaced by a private contractor firm, which aggravated the crisis.
Samori added that there are several records signed between the concerned parties, however, none of which has been implemented, which shows the lack of seriousness of the state in resolving the porters’ issue and that all the signed agreements are just an attempt to gain time and manipulate the transporters’ rights.