Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Pay increase for Cameroonians

Kwaw Ashiakwei, Yaounde

The government of Paul Biya, within the Cameroon Peoples' Democratic Movement, recently introduced a new salary structure for workers. Our correspondent analyses the offer.
The President, Paul Biya, has been a cautious and unpredictable ruler ever since he assumed office as the Head of State of Cameroon barely three years ago. At a time when he is least expected to act, he proves all doubting Thomases wrong. When an event appears too obvious to happen, he turns the scales to his advantage. Before the last New Deal Congress of Bamenda, held in the early part of the year, it was widely speculated that the President would announce salary increases for all categories of workers during his policy speech to congress. However, the congress ended successfully without any reference to salary increases in his closing speech. Perhaps such a move was more of a blessing in disguise. The publicity stunt which was accorded the last New Deal Congress was such that all attention was focussed on the President's policy speech. Surely, if the President had attempted to announce any such increase in salary at that time, inflation would have whittled away any benefits to be derived from the gesture.

Exactly four months after the Bamenda Congress, the government announced general salary increases for workers in both the public and private sectors to take retrospective effect from 1st July, 1985. The announce- ment, made on 1st August 1985 and which was backed by a Presidential decree, makes provision for salary increases between 5% and 15% for various categories of workers. The announcement was followed immediately by exhortations to Cameroonian workers to increase their output in appreciation of such a gesture.

According to the details released by the government in respect of the salary increases, workers in both the public and private sectors are expected to enjoy salary hikes ranging between 11% and 13%. It is expedient to remark here that workers in Cameroon have been grouped into categories and zones. Workers who reside in Yaounde, Douala, Edea, Buea and Bamenda are grouped under zone 1 to reflect the high cost of living in these areas. Workers in zone 2 include those in Garoua Baffousam, Adamawa, Limbe, Kumba Munyuka, etc. All other workers fall in zone 3, where cost of living is supposed to be comparatively lower than the two previous zones.

For workers in category 1 to 6 of zones 1 and 2, an increase in salary of 11% was announced, while those in the same categories but in zone 3 had a salary increase of 15%. Workers in categories 7-9 of zones 1 and 2 had an increase of 12% while those in the same categories but in zone 3 had an increase of 15%. Significant among the new deal measures announced was the special salary increments for teachers in the private sector. Those in zones 1 and 2 are to enjoy a 10% increase while those in zone 3 shall have an increase of 14% of their existing salaries.

In addition to the salary increases, pensions, workmen's compensation (for industrial accidents) have also been increased by 10% while family allowance, which was previously 15000frs CFA per child has been increased to 18000frs CFA per child.

The New Deal Policy of the govern- ment of Paul Biya primarily aims at making life more abundant and com- fortable for the average Cameroonian. The recent move by government to improve the standard of life of Cameroonian workers through an increase in remuneration is an effort in that direction and must therefore be jealously guarded.

The last salary increase for workers in both the private and public sectors was announced in 1982 and the effect such an increase had on prices of commodities at that time was quite obvious. The government therefore has a duty to protect her citizens this time around from detractors who will do everything to neutralize and nullify its efforts at ensuring an improved stan- dard of living for Cameroonians.

A few Cameroonians interviewed soon after the announcement of the directives were of the opinion that since salary increases are often accompanied by disproportionate increases in the prices of commodities, the average worker stands the risk of becoming worse off if government did not come to his/her aid. Government efforts should therefore be directed at strengthening the Price-Control Unit of the Ministry of Trade and Commerce. Hitherto, officials of the Ministry (field officers) have been openly accused of their involvement in malpractices ranging from connivance with traders to bribery. Such officers are corrupted by traders either in cash or in kind. The consumers eventually become vulnerable to the machinations of the traders. Government could assist and protect workers from such Shylock traders by increasing producer prices of common food crops to serve as an incentive for increased productivity in the agricultural sector. Such a move will surely keep down consumer prices. In this connection, export earnings (for export crops) would be substantially increased to maintain or increase the import of essential and other commodities.

Announcements of salary increments for workers usually have ramifications viz price inflation in almost every sector of the economy. How does government arrest such a situation? Some time ago, the government of Ghana announced an increase in the minimum wage for workers from C70 to C100 per day. Soon after the announcement, almost all commodities which were on display prior to the announcement disappeared from the shelves only to resurface a couple of days later with inflated price tags on them.

For instance, a bottle of palm oil - which sold for C80.00 attracted a post- salary increase (not a budget) price of C150.00. The price of a boiled egg increased from C10 to C20. To make matters worse for the ordinary worker, the government went ahead to announce increases in the prices of petroleum products, alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, etc, giving official sanction to the arbitrary price increases by the traders. Such is an example of an irresponsible and directionless government which often throws dust into people's eyes with such slogans as 'power to the people', 'fight for your rights' and what-have-you.

At the end of the day it is the workers (whom the government wants to assist) who suffer. It is the opinion of this writer that the dynamic govern- ment of the Cameroon People's Demo- cratic Movement under the undisputed leadership of the Head of State, Paul Biya, will do everything in its power to ensure that such an ugly spectacle does not manifest itself in this country

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