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Gabon Unions Declare General Strike over Minimum Wage

Source: Reuters 2/11/2015, Location: Africa

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Trade unions in oil producer Gabon declared an indefinite general strike this week, with state workers seeking a huge pay rise just as the government prepares austerity measures.

State workers are seeking to more than treble their salaries to 300,000 CFA francs ($517) at a time when President Ali Bongo is grappling with a sharp drop in oil prices. Oil accounts for nearly half of the gross domestic product in the Central African country.

The new minimum wage is far above the regional average and is nearly ten times the level set in neighbouring Cameroon, according to estimates by local media.

"On the salary issue, the government signed agreements with unions which expired in 2014 and were never put in place, said Jean Remy Yama Lendoye, a spokesman for the unions on Tuesday.

The general strike, which began on Monday and has no end date, is the first in years and pulls together more than 50 separate unions under umbrella group "Unitary Dynamic".

Residents in the capital said on Wednesday that the strike has already started impacting schools and medical services.

Bongo was elected in a disputed election in 2009 following the death of his long-ruling father Omar Bongo. Among his pledges were social projects designed to help spread out the former French colony's oil wealth more fairly among the 1.6 million inhabitants.

But many worry that social projects such as housing will be sidelined as austerity measures kick in. Already Bongo has announced measures to cut ministerial salaries and to remove some fuel subsidies in an effort to reduce public spending. It is not yet clear when they will take effect.

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