IFJ Condemns “Targeted Attack” Against Union Rights Within Cameroon Daily

The International Federation of Journalists today condemned the verbal violence and harassment committed by the management of the Cameroon daily, La Nouvelle Expression, against trade union representatives working within the paper.

During an ‘in-house meeting’ on 14 May, La Nouvelle Expression management verbally abused journalist representatives from the national union of Cameroonian journalists (SNJC) and attempted to block their right to hold union elections.

“By refusing the very principle of electing journalists’ representatives, and by sanctioning union representatives, the credibility of the newspaper is called into question,” says Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “The right to organise and defend core labour rights must be respected”.

During the said “in-house meeting”, M. Séverin Tchounkeu, the managing editor of La Nouvelle Expression tried to underscore the illegality of the election of Suzanne Kala Lobè and Edmond Kamguia Koumchou as personnel delegates.

A communiqué issued by the managing editor at the end of the meeting, which “invalidated” the elections was published in the newspaper a few days later. Following this, both the Secretary General of the newspaper, Henriette Ekwe, and Jean-Marc Soboth, an editorialist and director of research, development and international relations, were told that they were to be suspended from their posts.

The managing director was allegedly reacting to the organisation on 29 April 2005 of the first election of personnel delegates of the newspaper since its establishment in February 1991.

“Mr. Soboth was sanctioned because he is the national president of the SNJC and had dared to elect delegates of the newspaper personnel,” said White. “It is one of the most serious attacks against union rights recorded by the IFJ this year.”

Julien Chongwang, the journalist that read the minutes of the election was directly requested to leave the paper and never to come back. Gilbert Tchomba, National Secretary of economic affairs and statistics of SNJC and head of the paper’s economy section, was also banned from entering the premises due to an argument he had had the week before with a colleague and for which the newspaper leadership did not even request an explanation.

The SNJC specifies that the legal document n° 92/007 of 14 August 1992 that introduces the labour law in Cameroon contains (in chapter III of the Personnel Delegates, article 122 paragraph 1) that: “it is an obligation that personnel delegates be elected in the establishments set up on the national territory regardless of the nature and employer, be it public or private, secular or religious, civil or military where at least 20 workers are employed(…)”.

The union recalls that notwithstanding this arrangement, the head of publication of La Nouvelle Expression had never thought of holding elections for personnel delegates since the establishment of the newspaper in 1991. The elections were finally organised on the last working day before the deadline established by the circular letter of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.

The IFJ and SNJC are appreciative of the initiative by the Free Media Group, the publishing house of the independent paper Le Messager, which organised the election of delegates without interference.

The IFJ and SNJC are extremely concerned over these attacks by the management of La Nouvelle Expression, particularly at a time when the Ministry of Labour and Social Security has been setting up a commission to discuss a national collective agreement.

The IFJ is calling on the management of La Nouvelle Expression to respect the fundamental rights of journalists’ representation and to facilitate professional dialogue with all social partners.

For more information or contacts in Cameroon: +32 2 235 22 06
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries