GUINEA: Strike continues as workers reject government offers
A Guinean rice trader shows the stock in his warehouse. The price of rice is out of reach for many Guineans.
Conakry, 15 June 2006 (IRIN) - Guinean workers have emphatically rejected the government’s latest offers to end a crippling strike that entered its eighth day on Thursday.
Hundreds of people packed the stifling union headquarters in Guinea’s capital, spilling into the street, to listen to a representative for the leading Confederation of Guinean Workers (CNTG) and the Union Syndicate of Guinean Workers (USTG).
When asked if the government’s proposals were acceptable to lower the price of rice and increase allowances for rent and transportation, angry workers responded with a resounding “No!”
“This is not why we sacrificed the students,” said teacher Abdoul Karim Conde, referring to students who were killed by security forces during a demonstration on Monday. “This is not why we sacrificed our children. Please go back to the government and tell them we, the workers, are not satisfied with the accord you’ve reached.”
Guinea’s unions have managed to galvanize the public to protest government policy where the country’s divided opposition parties have largely failed. Guineans have widely adhered to a nationwide strike that has closed banks, shops and other businesses, and ground public transportation to a near standstill.
Unions want lower prices for rice and fuel, increases in allowances for transportation and rent, and raises and payment of salary arrears for some 12,000 teachers.
In negotiations on Wednesday, unions said the government of President Lansana Conte proposed nearly doubling monthly transportation and rent allowances to 25,000 Guinean francs, or $5, per worker. Unions are asking for the equivalent of $20 each.
The government also proposed lowering the price of rice from its current price of about $22 for a 50 kilogramme bag to $17, according to the unions. Workers rejected that offer as well.
The government has said it would talk to petroleum importers and businessmen to try to reduce the price of petrol. Workers say the administration should sacrifice the nearly $0.40 royalty it receives for each litre of fuel sold. The current price of fuel in Conakry is about $1.10 per litre.
Anger has been steadily rising among Guinea’s population as inflation soars and prices for essential goods climb.
Street violence on Monday and Tuesday pitted students and unemployed youths against security forces. Eyewitnesses reported seeing up to 13 corpses of people killed in rioting and clashes between soldiers and student protesters.
Students started marching on Monday after 12,000 members of the teachers union joined the strike, preventing them from taking their final exams. The government later postponed the exams indefinitely.