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Sierra Leone News: Strike action at tollgates quelled

Tollgates were propped open and vehicles passed through the tolls without having to pay. A strike occurred yesterday 9 July 2018 at the tollgates from Hastings to Songo. The demonstration ended with a meeting behind closed gates between a handful of ministers, the protesting workers, and their employers, the Chinese construction company, China Railway Seventh Group (CRSG).
During the time between the beginning of the strike and the end of the meeting, nobody was present to man the tollbooths, so cars were able to pass through free of charge. The tolls have since been reinstated at the gates.
The protest began in the morning and the meeting commenced shortly after noon, with the workers being escorted to their homes in CRSG vehicles.
The cause of the protest stemmed from the employees’ complaints about CRSG violating multiple terms of a contract that was signed in August 2017. When the workers submitted a letter to their Chinese employers early last month telling them that they should honour the terms of the contract and improve the conditions of the workplace, or else a strike would ensue.
When CRSG failed to respond by the first week of July, the deadline stated in the workers’ letter, the employees planned their strike.
The striking workers noted their pay and conditions of service are poor, stating that they receive a basic monthly salary of Le600,000 ($75). An employee said that the contract they signed last August stipulated that they would be paid Le2.5 million (just over $300) in monthly salaries.
Further, the workers receive no lunch break and using mobile phones is not allowed inside the booths for the eight hours they are on duty. There are also the employees that work the nightshift for nine hours, but are compensated the same as a worker who is at their post for eight hours. Additionally, many of the workers who occupy the nightshift stated that they lost pay, or were even fired immediately, if they were found sleeping at their post.
Some of the workers interviewed said in the remote communities where the gates are located, they should bring their food along when they report for duty, and eat while they toll. They said they receive a daily allowance of Le28,000 ($3.5) which they’ve now been informed will be halved. An employee said the daily funds were Le20,000 and that they would now be reduced to Le15,000.
It was also noted that Le90,000 was taken from their paychecks each month to be given to NASSIT, which accounts for 15% of their wages. According to NASSIT policy, only five percent of earnings should be docked from the employee, with the other 10% from the employer.
A spokesman for the CRSG said that they’re negotiating with the workers to find an amicable solution, as he denied the salary quoted by the workers insisting they pay them $200 a month.
The negotiations are ongoing and CRSG is expected to finalize the terms of the contract today at a meeting at the CRSG office this afternoon.
79/7/18
By Jack Rusillo
Tuesday July 10, 2018.

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