Unfortunate Updates

Thursday 24 March 2011

Funny enough, I wrote the last post and ever since then, all we've heard about is Gabonisation.  I do want to make one clarification.  I mentioned that the worker's union and government in Gabon were working towards having 90% of all positions filled by Gabonese people.  I failed to mention that does not count the fact that they want all executive positions to be held by locals as well.

This week we've been told that the worker's union is unhappy with the progress thus far and they want the process of Gabonisation sped up.  The president has asked them to be patient and tried to explain that these things take time but that did not subside the frustrations and they have announced a strike to begin Sunday at midnight.  From what I hear, this affects every aspect of every oil company and service company right down to the gas stations.  We've been told to fill up the cars and make sure anything needed from the office is brought home as there will be absolutely no access once the strike begins.  Apparently, police will patrol the buildings and escort you out if you are there.  No one knows how long it might last.

On top of all of that...

Joe and I were to head to South Africa tomorrow.  We were having issues with his passport renewal and I was working frantically for the last week and a half to ensure that it gets here in time for our flight tomorrow night.  While it seems I've succeeded, unfortunately Joe will not be here.  He went offshore a week ago yesterday to run a job that has of course, encountered several problems and the job has stretched from being a few days to a couple of weeks.  The base here is ridiculously understaffed and there is no one to replace Joe so we are forced to postpone our holiday.

Trust me, I'm not happy about this especially after all of the other issues we are dealing with right now but there is really nothing I can do about it.  I have been working all day on rescheduling everything for exactly one week later than planned and am hoping to see it all come together this afternoon.  We certainly need this holiday now more than ever!

One For All

Saturday 19 March 2011

If you hadn't already guessed, things are very complicated here.  As with any society, there are inner workings that you never fully understand until you've lived it and felt the effects of it.  This is one of the reasons I was so keen to take an overseas live-in position.  While we both like to travel, you can only learn so much in your few weeks time in that region; it's living there that really opens your eyes to the complexities of the country.  Our eyes have certainly been opened over the last 8 months.

Imagine the worker's unions that everyone loves to hate at home.  Now imagine that every single person in the country belongs to said union.  That is how Gabon is run.  I can't tell you exactly when this union came to be and I can't tell you the specific reasons it was formed but I can hypothesize that the Gabonese government wanted to put something in place to protect the local employees with all of these foreign companies setting up shop here.  In theory, it was probably a good idea.

In reality, it makes it extremely difficult to do business here because of the regulations put in place by this union.  Right now, all local employees work from 7:30-3:30 Monday to Friday with a half an hour break for lunch.  At 3:30, a bell rings and it doesn't matter if you are in the middle of something important, all local employees pack up and leave.  When they are required to go offshore, as some are in Joe's business, they earn 1 day off for every day they are there.  Sometimes, jobs can have them out there for a week or more and the 3 or 4 local employees out there are then entitled to one full week off work.  It doesn't matter that they might otherwise be working 7:30-3:30, it is still a full day off.  This isn't mentioning that they are legally only allowed to work 20 hours of overtime per week; overtime beginning at 3:30.  This means, companies here require double or triple the employees they would at home.

As with many unions, once hired, that employee is basically signed on for life.  It doesn't matter if they literally refuse to do their job (as one person blatantly did in front of Joe) they will not be fired because of all the loopholes in order to release someone. I have heard of some companies trying to fire people but often times a racism charge is brought forward and because the legal system is not trustworthy nor reliable, many want to avoid it entirely.

The government in Gabon has brought forward a plan of Gabonization.  In a few years time, they want all foreign companies to employ 90% local Gabonese people.  Companies here try to employ locals whenever possible as, lets face it, they're a lot cheaper than expats.  However, the lack of accountability and urgency in anything coupled with union restrictions makes it near impossible for them to do their job to the standard needed for international business.

Of course, this is only a problem when working with international companies.  Trying to mesh 2 completely different systems and work ethics aren't easy and I sometimes wonder, is it really worth it?  We can't force people to do things 'our' way but we also can't run an international business on Gabonese time (nothing would get done!)  I'm not even confronted by this on a daily basis but Joe certainly is and I know it is extremely frustrating for him.

I do, however, try to remind ourselves that maybe we can learn something from this way of life... work isn't always everything.  I try to encourage Joe to pack up when the bell rings at 3:30 at least once in awhile.  Life is too short!

Fourth Time's a... *$@%!

Monday 7 March 2011

Unfortunately, the previous attempts to secure the house did not do the trick.  We found another broken window and my engagement ring stolen.  I had taken it off, put it in it's case, and hid it at the back of the drawer on my bedside table when we went to the beach.  Joe's camera was also taken from his bedside table and it appears that nothing else is missing.  I, of course, was completely devastated upon losing my ring.  Not only is it the most sentimental thing I have here, it's also the most expensive.  (Unfortunately, insurance doesn't really exist here and we don't have any policies in Canada.)

We have had meetings with our security company who provide the guards and all of our guards have been replaced.  There isn't a whole lot of accountability here so while we express our frustrations and anger, it doesn't really go anywhere.  At the moment, we have 2 guards every night even though we are 100% sure that the last robbery took place during the day.

A report has been filed with the police but everything is a bit backwards here.  They weren't contacted until much later so the guards were not questioned immediately and the probability of finding my ring is close to nothing.  (I'm sure it was sold for a couple of hundred dollars as they'd have no idea of it's actual value.)  The police here are not that reliable and although they've been kind thus far, we don't have a lot of faith that they'll be able to do anything.

Joe and I have some decisions to make.  The company will put bars in all of the windows to increase security and we can keep multiple guards for as long as we want.  We also have the possibility of moving to another house.  I feel that our house has been targeted and they may continue to attempt to get in with or without bars and extra guards (2 guards can sleep just as easily as 1 can.)  As you remember, houses are not easy to come by here and both of us are still exhausted from our first search so we are reluctant to take it on again.  I did find a house in a great, secure area that I would take in a heartbeat but it is more expensive and Joe's boss is reluctant to pay more.

Until we have a solution, we are locking off all of the bedrooms so even if they do enter, they can't get anywhere.  Joe also keeps a machete beside the bed, just in case.  When Joe goes offshore, I will go and sleep somewhere else as I'm not comfortable in the house alone right now.  This situation definitely isn't ideal and needless to say, both of us are frustrated and angered over it but thankful that neither of us were hurt and we are hoping to have a solution soon!
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by mlekoshi