The capital of Guinea was brought to a standstill today on the first of a five-day general strike over wages and pensions.
The National Confederation of Guinean Workers (CNTG), and the Guinean Workers Trade Union (USTG), called the strike action after months of talks broke down. The two unions have around 80,000 members between them.
The government ordered all educational institutions closed on Sunday itself, most government workers, taxis, and minibuses stayed at home, whilst shops and businesses were closed.
The UN's IRIN news service reported that daily life has become tougher and tougher in past years for the average Guinean. Rice, the staple food for the West African nation's eight million people, almost doubled between January 2004 and November 2005, with the free-market price of a 50 kg bag of rice increasing from 50,000 francs to about 85,000 francs. Today a bag costs a whopping 100,000 Guinean francs or US $22, which equates to more than half the average monthly salary of a civil servant.
As the Guinea franc tumbles against the dollar on a near day by day basis, petrol prices have also risen sharply in recent months fueling inflation, up to over 30 per cent in 2005.
Employment Minister Ibrahima Keira has threatened action against government workers who fail to turn up for work without a legitimate reason. But leading trade unionist Louis Mbemba Souma, Secretary-General of the Teachers' Union, told IRIN on Monday that "We are determined to carry on this strike."
"For too long we've been taken for a ride," he said. "This time if even it takes us months, we will pursue and get what we demand from this government."
As the stoppage bit, stalls remained empty at the main Madina Market while there was little activity at the government-run Donka hospital in town. "We are observing the strike by giving limited services," one medical officer said. "But if within the next few days the impasse is not broken, we will have little choice but to close that down as well."
"I know that as professionals we shouldn't, but ... enough is enough."