By Amie Sanneh and Ousman Sillah
A 75 years old man, Saidou Sowe, who has been working at the dock from 1977 until 2007 when he and his fellow dockworkers were terminated by the management of Gambia Ports Authority (GPA), is complaining about the total official neglect and his present ordeal as a family head without any means of earning income.
“We are being neglected after all the work we have done at the ports for decades with very low salary and risky conditions,” said Mr. Sowe.
The aging and ailing dockworker revealed that he has worked for 33 years 7 months, to be precise, without any form of social security benefits or compensation to sustain him and his family at his old age.
Mr. Sowe further explained that it is more than eight years now since their services were terminated by GPA and that during this long and difficult period, many of his former dockworker colleagues, said to be more than fifty, have either died in penury or are suffering from debilitating illnesses, such as himself. “I have almost lost my sight due to stress. My one eye is blind leaving me partially sighted. That one is also on the verge of being lost if there is no urgent medical intervention. The eye clinic told me that the operation that I need for my eye can only be done abroad,” he revealed.
The 75 year old dock worker said he wants the GPA to pay them the overtime that is due to them for the services they have been doing while working at the ports over the years.
He said when the GPA decided to dispense with the services of dock workers on 1 August 2007, he was initially given D52,000 but that when it was later discovered that there was a mistake in the computation of the figures, he was eventually given another D8,000, thus making it D60,000.
Mr. Sowe explained that he is a father of three with two boys and a girl. He said they are renting and that he has no other means of earning income because of his present physical and health conditions. “I cannot work now because I have lost my sight and therefore cannot do anything for myself,” he said.
He noted that with the number of years he had worked at the dock, he should have been able to acquire a plot of land and build it for his family to call home if they (dockworkers) were earning decent salaries and other benefits commensurate to the work they do.
“Here I am now, after being forcibly laid off, without any income whatsoever or social security benefits, and had it not been for my wife who sells nuts in the streets to support the family, I wonder where we would have been by now,” said the aging former dock worker, who was almost in tears.
It could be recalled that the executive members of the Gambia Dock and Maritime Workers Union have been making calls, through this medium (Foroyaa), for the past eight years requesting for an audience with the president of the republic with a view to finding a lasting solution to this long impasse and the suffering they have been enduring without work and income.
The dock workers indicated they were not employees of the GPA, which terminated their services. They insisted that it was the cargo vessels that were paying for their services after unloading or discharging their cargoes. However, the principal demand of the Union, for the past eight years, is for the Government of The Gambia to prevail on the GPA management to rescind its decision of terminating the services of its members as dock workers and allow them to operate as independent stevedores in keeping with best practice or international standards.