Imposed 4-Day Work Week In Anglophone Cameroon: Nightmarish To Central Government, Beneficial To Workers
By Colbert Gwain
Paul Achombong is Mayor of Bamenda City Council. This follows the controversial 2020 twin elections where 89 years old President Paul Biya's ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement, CPDM, booted out leading opposition SDF party from virtually all its strongholds in the restive two English Speaking Regions. Upon taking up his seat as Bamenda's City Manager, Paul Achombong vowed to root out the resistance that decreed the Monday ghost Towns leading to the imposition of a four days Work Week across most of Anglophone Cameroon.
To match word with action, he lined up a chain of energetic measures aimed at enticing City dwellers to occupy City spaces on Mondays. These included free distribution of basic necessities such as rice and table oil. Realizing transportation was the greatest imepdement on Mondays, the City Manager purchased a chain of commuter buses to circulate especially on Mondays, and at no cost to those who could dare to do business on that day.
Months into this energetic Campaign, Bamenda City dwellers realized the mayor's actions were not only poorly conceived, badly designed and poorly rolled out, but that he lacked the means and the time to fight off an idea it seemed it's time had come. They also realized he had wasted the energy of action in the energy of the resolve.
Paul Achombong had not been alone in the fight to restore institutional order. His predecessor, Vincent Ndumu Nji, under whose tenure the 2016 protracted Anglophone crisis broke out, had multiplied all strategies, firstly, to nib the imposition of the Monday Ghost Towns in the bud and to, secondly, frustrating it from becoming the new normal as we live it today.
He had tried intimidating market Union Presidents, through increasing rents and renegotiating market shed contracts, to simply making it a point market gates are flung open on Mondays, whether sellers and buyers were there.
Perhaps, the veritable counterweight to the imposed Monday Ghost Towns was late Buea Mayor, Ekema Patrick. He stuck out his neck and swore Monday ghost Towns imposed by Anglophone activists and separatist fighters demanding greater autonomy for the minority English Speaking Regions, would only flourish over his dead body.
Raw counter energy and burnout finally stressed him to death, even as he had beaten the Ghost Towns out of the Buea Central Business District. Cities like Limbe technically settled for the essentials: keeping the Central Business District and Administrative zone safe from the ghost.
The Governors of the North West and South West Regions have been Central Government's visible faces in the fight to restore the Status quo. Apart from threatening sanctions on Civil servants who dared stay away from work on Mondays, they made it a duty to personally visit government offices on Mondays, obliging roll calls.
Anglophone Ministers in Yaounde were also restless, with some making it a duty to organize the distribution of Central Government's humanitarian assistance to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Regions only on Mondays.
The counter-productiveness of the move have since made Yaounde to have a rethink each time they are planning an activity for these two Regions that requires the massive presence of the population. Tuesday, why not.
Apart from Limbe and parts of Buea in the South West Region, as well as Nkambe in Donga Mantung, North West Region, the totality of Southern Cameroonians religiously keep to the 4-Day Work Week, at first, for fear of intimidation and threats to their lives and businesses, and today, for its benefits to their wellbeing.
The Monday Ghost Towns phenomenon that saw the reduction of the work week in the restive two English Speaking Regions from five days to four days was imposed by leaders of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium spearheaded by Felix Agbor Balla, Dr. Fontem Neba and Willfred Tasang, to begin on Monday January 9, 2017, after failed attempts by Government to provide satisfactory solutions to the Corporate demands raised by Common Law Lawyers and All Anglophone Trade Unions in late 2016.
This was definitely a resolve by the Anglophone Civil Society then that 'when injustice becomes a rule, resistance becomes a duty', as was articulated then by Hon Joseph Wirba, erstwhile opposition SDF MP. In reaction, Government arrested Barrister Agbor Balla, Dr. Fontem Neba and later, Mancho Bibixy, while Wilfred Tassang escaped to Nigeria, only to be picked up months later, alongside the famous Nerra 10.
Government's Nightmire, Workers Favour:
Government of Cameroon has seen the forceful imposition of Monday ghost Towns in the two English Speaking Regions of Cameroon that reduces the work week from five days to four days, as a slap on the face.
It had developed one beautiful argument after another as to why people living and working in the two English Speaking Regions should defeat fear and take to their offices on Mondays. The more the arguments become convincing, the more workers, including Civil servants, stay away from their offices on Mondays.
Not that people have not tried yielding to Government and respecting Monday as a work day. Only that some have done so at the cost of their lives as workers and school children have been killed to and from work or school by separatist fighters, and shops opening on Mondays reduced to ashes sometimes with their owners Kidnapped for ransom.
In the process of these last five years of an imposed 32 hours work week instead of the 40 hours Government-approved work week, workers living and working in the two English Speaking Regions now speak of the advantages of a four day workweek over an archaic and outdated 19th century 5-Day Work Week.
They even argue that if Yaounde were smart enough, it could allow the two Special Status Regions of the North West and South West appropriate the 4-Day Work Week as part of the Special Status arrangement.
Advantages of 4-Day Work Week:
Most of those I spoke to in preparation for this write-up were categorical that although it was initially a disturbing idea to sit at home on Mondays, they have already become used to it in such a way that it would be difficult again to turn them around back to the old 5-Day Work Week.
They say the compulsory staying home on Mondays have not only given them opportunity to have quality time with family, children and friends, but also to save transport and lunch money they would have used if they were to go to work on Mondays.
Others say staying home on Mondays have not only deepened and enriched their relationships with neighbours through various social interactions, but have also increased their ability and engagements in various thrift and loan schemes that improve individual wellbeing and family welfare.
More importantly, both workers and company owners I talked to confess rather to increased productivity and alertness of staff at the workplace during the 4-Day work week. One of them compared the situation to that of a student who has to fend for his/herself and study at the same time. When s/he squeezes out time to study, s/he absorbs his/her lessons more than s/he who has all the time to school and study.
Another employer in Limbe confessed that the 4-Day Work Week experienced since 2017 in his company have seen burnout and stress levels among staff drastically reduced and that with increased automation and the advent of the COVID19 pandemic, most of his staff now work remotely. He argued that since the same results could be archieved in fewer days today, there was no reason to insist on keeping a five day work week.
Cameroon inadvertently becoming first-ever African Country to experiment 4-Day Work Week.
The idea of a 4-Day Work Week is not new to the world. Like the 4-Day Work Week, the existing 5-Day Work Week or 40 hours workweek was never introduced or decreed by any Government.
The entire world originally practised a 6-Day Work Week until the 18th Century when Ford Motors introduced the workabililty and benefits of a 5-Day Work Week, and governments around the world simply aligned.
In the 90s, Cameroon was not only still practising a 6-Day work week before reducing it to five during the economic crisis, to enable Civil servants go to their farms on Saturdays and supplement the shortfall in their poor take home, but practised a two-shift work day in the French Speaking Regions, that was finally abolished to align with a more productive Anglophone one-shift work system.
Today, with automation, digitalization and calls for flexiwork, the world has been moving, and fast to reimagining a 4-Day Work Week. The governments of Iceland, New Zealand, Finland, Japan and Spain, have been at the forefront of experimenting, and with huge successes the workabililty of a 4-Day Work Week.
The British Government has officially announced it would be experimenting a 4-Day Work Week beginning this June 2022, while Spain is ready to pay employers that begin experimenting on a 4-Day Work Week of 32 hours without tampering with the wages and number of leave days of employees.
4-Day Work Week, an idea whose time has come:
As stated earlier, a 4-Day workweek is not a new idea but it has come under serious consideration since the COVID19 pandemic generated a broad reevaluation of how we work, including a great work- -from-home-migration and hybrid-office implementation.
Emphasising results instead of hours logged in, the 4-day workweek presupposes that results are achieved in fewer hours so people have more time to pursue other interests, spend time with loved ones, and manage their lives, while companies benefit through increased sales and decreased worker burnout.
Andrew Barnes, author of the book: The 4-Day Week, argues that: 'The five-day week is a 19th century construct that is not fit for purpose in the twenty-first century'.
Experiments with the four-day workweek in the United States have been taking place since the 1990s. Although imposed in the two English Speaking Regions of Cameroon since 2017 for the wrong reasons and as a visible sign of resistance against the actions of central Government, the fundamental goal of a four day workweek is to improve workers quality of life. By working fewer hours overall, and having three full days off, people have more time for personal prioities.
While a four day workweek might have environmental benefits from reduced commuting and traffic congestion, companies benefit from lower operating cost.
A poll conducted by Gallup in 2020 revealed that while individuals working four day weeks reported lower levels of burnout and higher wellbeing compared to those working six or five day weeks, the percentage of actively disengaged workers was lowest among those who worked four day weeks.
Being an idea whose time has come, the four day work week is gaining traction across the globe, including the United States, and Cameroon must not afford to be left behind, even if the idea was introduced by counter-elites and for wrong reasons, and as Wilfred Tasang said at the time of declaring the Monday ghost towns, knowing whether it was Yaounde in control or Bamenda.
With California State Rep. Mark Takano, a Democrat introducing a bill last year that would see the implementation of a four day workweek in the United States, this is a key step in getting the world begin reconsidering a four day work week.
While discussions and research continue on whether such a day to be taken off should be Monday, Wednesday or Friday, and whether this could be a one-size-fit-all, given the nature of some companies and factories, Wildbit, Buffer, the Japanese Government, the Scottish Government and the Spanish Government, are already at the forefront on implementing it.
Could Cameroon authorities market it as the strongest marker of the Special Statusness of its two English Speaking Regions?.Affaire A suivre...
*Colbert Gwain is International Freelance reporter/writer, award winning Digital Rights advocate, Content Creator @TheColbertFactor, legislative advocacy Campaigner for a comprehensive Digital Rights Bill, Privacy and data protection laws for Cameroon, Facebook Trainer of Trainers for Central African zone, promoter, Cameroon Association of Content Creators, CACC, and Specialist on New Digital Civil Society in Africa Playbook. You can talk back at firstname.lastname@example.org