Dock workers at the port of San Pedro in Côte d’Ivoire went on strike last week, in advance of one of the busiest times of the year, when the main harvest will need to be offloaded from the trucks.
The workers, who work in difficult conditions carrying heavy bags of cocoa, currently earn 30 CFA or about $0.05 per bag. The workers have been demanding a wage increase for years, but their demands have been ignored. As a direct result of the strike, no cocoa was delivered to the port between 31 October and 6 November.
The port could have been expected to receive more than 40,000 tonnes in this period, and the delays in loading are likely to be costly in terms of transport costs and the risk that the quality of the cocoa will suffer as it is exposed to the elements in the backs of waiting trucks.
The timing is not ideal. November and December are the peak of activity for us.Unamed Exporter in San Pedro – reported by Reuters
The striking workers are demanding a wage increase of up to 105 CFA, more than three times their current wage. This may sound like a big jump, but they have not received a significant wage increase in a long time. If you take inflation into account, they have effectively been working for less money every year.
Some of the smaller exporters have made an offer of 50CFA, which has been rejected as too low, and the strikers know that this is probably the only chance they will have for an increase for several years. Larger exporters have not yet made an offer, making a solution less likely. Reuters reports that the CCC is monitoring the situation, but we wonder why it is not more active in mediation. A final solution would be more likely if all exporters agreed on an offer together.
Workers at the port of Abidjan are not participating in the strike, so some companies are relocating their cocoa. However, this is not a viable long-term solution and will likely lead to new stock management problems.
The problem with the cost of manual labour is that when it becomes too expensive, automation through loaders becomes a viable option. Relatively poor countries like Côte d’Ivoire rely on manual labour to keep unemployment low. Therefore, a balance must be found to pay workers a respectable wage for their arduous work while keeping them competitive with automation.