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!


  1. Very interesting and completely frustrating way to live. I still maintain this is very common to alot of 3rd world countries. You will be much wiser to the world after living in Gabon for awhile.

  2. Jay; Love your little gems on the politics etc. of the country. What are all the old sayings????? When in Rome do as the Romans do,Hang in there, etc. etc. Spring has sprung in the Cariboo. Tomorrow anyway. Robins,geese,ducks,tanagers are all flitting around.Snow will leave sometime before July 1st. Love, Gram.

  3. Glad to hear you are warming up... just in time for Ken and Karen to come home!

  4. And a lot more appreciative of those who do work hard!


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