We are not dogs: bakery workers tell employers

We are not dogs: bakery workers tell employers
Chairperson of the Bakery Workers Trade Union, Deng Malual, addresses journalists in Juba on Tuesday (photo credit: courtesy).

The South Sudan Bakery Workers’ Trade Union has called on employers to address the gap in working conditions.

A 34-year-old Sebit Zacharia, who has four wives and has worked as a baker for 16 years, said he only earns SSP10,000 yet he has children to school and feed.

 “I have four children, my money is not enough and Christmas is now approaching. That means I have to work harder,” he said.

According to Sebit, the tribulations facing bakers go beyond meagre pay. They have battled with illnesses.

“I am one of those who has a lot of problems working in the bakery. Even a week ago, I got so sick that I could not breathe well. I suffocated. Then I called one of my friends who took me to the hospital. They did a test for COVID-19 or tuberculosis, but it was found negative. “

Another worker, Kocj Mayar, said they were working in a poor environment.

“Majority of the bakeries do not have toilets, and the workers are not given uniforms. It is not right that specks of dirt get into food that is eaten by people.

“This needs serious consideration by the health sector and Juba City Council, but we cannot interfere because we are just workers,” Mayar stressed.

“Our rules say we should work 12 hours a day, yet according to international law, it is only 8 hours. But here in South Sudan, there is nothing like that. You work throughout the day unless the bread is over. You cannot take a rest, ” he said.

Risks facing workers

Deng Malual, Chairperson of the Bakery Workers’ Trade Union in Central Equatoria State, said poor working conditions are exposing bakery workers to health risks.

Deng described the long workdays and other work-related risks like fire burns and poor support for workers and those who get injured at work.

“Our work always starts at night and ends in the morning, or it starts in the morning and ends in the evening. Sometimes we can even work 24/7.

“Some people have got tuberculosis, which is very common, and some have become blind because of the heat from the burning fire,” Deng stressed.

He said this does not only happen in Juba but also in other towns across the country.

“For us, we just work to meet the demand of the businessman, who has long working hours without any contracts signed,” he said.

Deng said they had been pushed to exhaustion as the company failed to address their concerns.

He said bakery workers should be granted the opportunity to perform work commensurate with their capacity.

Workers have been forced to work longer hours, meaning that workers only have eight-hour breaks during shifts. They have no time for church or to attend community events.

 “Some of the bakery workers are foreigners, which contravenes the labour laws, which stipulate that 80 per cent of any workforce must be nationals.”

Deng insisted that the bakery owners cooperate with the workers and grant them their rights.

Many of the workers appealed to the government to protect them from poor working conditions.

Tong Tong has urged the government to intervene. He said, “The way these people overwork us is as if we are slaves. They value their money, and you are nothing. Other companies provide health insurance to their employees, but here you work for five, 10 years like a dog. These people don’t value us as human beings.”

The chairperson of the bakery union, Monday Joseph, however, trashed the complaints raised by the worker’s trade union, terming them false because they pay per day.

“The complaint the workers raised is not true. The workers carry out their work according to what one can produce. So we pay them immediately after work,” he said.

“They don’t work and get paid on a monthly basis, we, the bakery owners, provide lunch for those who work during the day time and dinner for those who work at night,” Joseph stressed.

He added that the bakery owners also take care of workers who sometimes get sick.

 “In my bakery, I take care of my workers when they get sick because they are like my own family members.

“In case one gets sick, there is no way you can provide support, but giving them that help does not mean that it is an obligation,” he explained.

Oromo Francis  who works at Juba University as a consultant posologist, said smoke is one of the things around the world that poses a health risk to many people.

 “[When one inhales] smoke, these microscopic particles enter deep into the lungs of the people and this can cause a wide range of health problems, starting from burning eyes, running noses, and chronic heart and lung diseases, which consequently lead to premature death in human lives,” Oromo said.

As of May 20, 2021, there were 700 registered bakery workers working in more than 10 bakeries in Juba.