By Neville Mukendi
In their contributions to develop the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chinese entrepreneurs can mainly be found working in the construction and commerce sectors. Their arrival has provided thousands of Congolese with jobs, but the working conditions of these employees often leaves a lot to be desired.
“The Chinese have created all of these bothersome jobs for Congolese people,” said one employee at a Kinshasa construction site.
“The working conditions are really quite unacceptable,” said another construction worker. “It’s atrocious.”
Among the workplace issues cited by employees are the length of shifts, lack of payment for overtime hours, stigmatization and discrimination.
Jean Denis, a road worker for a Chinese company in Kinshasa has complaints about his work environment.
“I’ve been here for three-and-a-half years and I’ve observed the Chinese throughout,” said Denis. “They have very little regard for us employees and they treat us like machines.”
Denis also said that the Chinese discriminate amongst workers, offering better working conditions to Chinese employees.
“It’s true that the Chinese workers love the work,” continued Denis. “But that’s because they work in adequate conditions with time to eat and to rest. Us [Congolese] workers work on empty stomachs and it doesn’t bother the [bosses] at all. Even if you have a hypoglycemic attack, they don’t care. They just want the work to get done.”
According to Denis, his employer never respects agreed-upon working hours.
“They don’t’ let us leave if the work isn’t finished. We can’t put anything off to the next day because we might get fired. Essentially we’re treated like slaves.”
Employees of Chinese-owned stores and boutiques express similar grievances.
“We’re under excessive control from the time we enter the boutique until we leave the boutique,” said Mardochée, a salesperson at a Chinese-owned boutique in Kinshasa. “It’s a stressful situation every day.”
“I’ve worked here for eight months and the only one making a profit is the owners. What I make in a month isn’t even enough to get to work for three weeks.” For Mardochée, he and his three co-workers are living under slave conditions.
Mardochee alleges that he and his co-workers are not allowed to eat in the store and are not allowed to use the toilets, which are locked by the owners.
No support in case of accident
“Every construction worker is responsible for what happens to him while working. In the case of an accident, the employer assumes no responsibility.”
So says a road worker recently injured on a construction site.
“On the day of my accident, I was removed as quickly as possible to avoid the fact that I was hurt on the job.”
Says another worker: “If this accident isn’t serious, they administer first aid. In the case of more serious accidents, the employer just says ‘thank you’ because you’re no longer considered useful.”
What causes this behaviour?
For Mr. Swing, a French-speaking Chinese employer, Congolese employees are not treated as slaves and are encouraged to like their work.
“Money comes from working but Congolese people would rather pray than work,” said Swing. “Money makes you richer, not prayer and the day Congolese people understand the importance of work , there’ll be no need for us here.”
The language barrier prevented us from getting answers from other employers.
What do worker’s rights say when a party to a contract has been wronged?
For lawyer Kasonga Kananga, both the employer the employee should be familiar with labour laws so that an employer or employee who feels wronged can seek redress in the Labour Code.
According the first article of Congolese labour code law 015/2002 of October 12, 2002, the code is applicable to all employers and employees in the country, regardless of race, sex, marital status, religion, political beliefs, nationality, terms of employment or location where the contract is signed.
“The employer and his employee are bound by a relationship based on subordination and the authority of the employer over the employer,” said Kananga.
“It can’t be defined as slavery because some employees go too far. Article 73 of the Labour Code makes it clear that when an employer is guilty of dishonesty, harassment, intimidation, assault or workplace injury, the law has been broken.”
Translated by Pia Bahile