Employers in Congo draw lessons from 2014 oil price crisis

The 2014 global oil crisis had adverse effects on the Republic of Congo. Many workers were laid off in the oil sector, the largest contributor to the country’s GDP. But a number of companies are now battling law suits in that effect.

Now employers are taking a new initiative, a workshop dubbed Café RH, to find solutions to some difficult questions.

“Can workers who are laid off during an economic crisis fault the employer for not offering them negotiated termination?” asked one of the participants.

Another wondered if there can be a change to stop companies from losing money to ex-workers.

“The consequence today is that these ex-employees, who are considered until now employees of this company, claim more than 1.3bn CFA francs from (this) company because, it is true, they must be given money. But in what way?”

Companies say retrenchment is not an easy option
The petroleum industry is dominated by multinational companies. And for most of these, reconciling profitability and local labor laws is difficult. For example, companies have to go through a state committee before sacking workers and determining the amount of compensation to be paid. They must also give priority to laid-off workers when they resume recruitment.

“… all affiliated companies (in the oil sector) are suffering or are having their organizational financial strategy redefined. I am here for this meeting to see how other employers are handling and to draw conclusions to use it if my company is subject to this kind of situation,” said Makoundi Eunice the Human Resource manager of PUMA Congo.

The labour law is a social right!
For Daniel Mpassi, a retired worker in the Labour Administration, the law is easy to follow. He encourages employers to drop any preconceived stereotypes against Congo.

“Very often I have heard employers say that the Congolese law only protects workers. What kind of company only cares about the economic side and does not take into account the social aspect? The labour law is a social right,’‘ Mpassi asserted.
‘‘So, there is some protection for the worker but this protection does not give all the rights to the worker; workers have a duty to fulfil and employers also have an obligation to put into account when they want to make an economic layoff,” he added.

Rafier De Bambi was fired during the crisis. His former employer has not fulfilled the promise to re-hire him because the economy is still stagnant.

“From time to time we go back to the site but the human resource manager tells us not to worry, that he will notify us when anything new comes up,” he said.

This seminar for employers, is Jean-Noel Makaya’s idea. He is a former human resource manager, who saw an opportunity in the adverse effects of the crisis on companies.

“…we thought that since the human resource function in the company is shared between the HR department and the operational managers or (held by) operational managers not from the HR background, we organized this seminar to provide them with the necessary basic knowledge that they lack about labour laws so that tomorrow, the company better manages its human resources. Because today, more than a financial goal, human capital is at the heart of the company’s development,” said Makaya.

How the labour force in Congo is copying
As employers try to master effects of the rise and fall of an oil economy on their labour force, workers like De-Bambi are adjusting to unemployment by acquiring various skills with the hope to increase their chances of landing a job in the tight labor market.

“I had learned welding and in 2012, I worked in a civil engineering company. But after, the trade I learned was not what I went to do at sea. I now want to be a driver, to drive a taxi.