General strike over cost of living

Workers from the public and private sectors throughout the country launched a two-day strike on 8 April to protest high living costs and demand salary increases.

In Ouagadougou, the capital, few shops were open. In Bobo-Dioulasso, the second largest city in the west of the country, the central market was closed.

Police were out in force in front of banks and government offices.

Health facilities provided only minimum services. Medical students and military medical personnel were summoned to replace striking workers at Ouagadougou’s main hospital, Yalgado Ouédraogo,.

The unions are pressing the government to increase salaries by 25 percent in the public sector, and to reduce taxes on fuel and food stuffs.

In a joint statement the unions accused the government of “leniency and complicity” with the businessmen.

Rising food prices in recent months have brought thousands of demonstrators to the streets in the country’s major towns and cities, resulting in hundreds of arrests. More than 46 percent of the 14 million people in Burkina Faso live below the poverty line.

“We need an equalisation between the cost of living and purchasing power,” Laurent Ouédraogo, the secretary general of the Confédération Nationale des Travailleurs du Burkina (CNTB) said.

The government said it had already responded to workers’ demands by suspending import taxes on basic products including rice, milk, salt and baby food for six months and by increasing subsidises for water and electricity.

The economy and finance minister Jean Baptiste Compaoré said salaries had increased in 2005 and 2007 and increasing them again would fuel inflation. “The current conjecture does not allow us to give salary increases directly because it will bring more problems than solutions,” Compaoré said.

The prime minister speaking before parliament on 27 March dismissed the protests as futile. “The people can march and march but nothing will change”.

But the unions responded in the joint declaration, “We will march, march until the situation does change.”

bo/nr/dh