Gabon's striking public workers reject pay offer

Gabonese civil servants calling for wage and pension reforms gather for a general assembly in Libreville on March 16, 2015 (AFP Photo/Celia Lebur)

Libreville (AFP) - Gabon's striking public sector workers have rejected a temporary pay rise proposed by the government, trade unions said Wednesday, in a dispute that has already seen schools closed for over a month.

Rallied by a score of trade unions in the public sector, teachers and health workers have stayed off work since the beginning of February to press home their wage claims, prompting the administration to dock pay.

The government had proposed an 18 percent pay increase, but only as a provisional deal up to June, a senior Gabonese official said.

The temporary offer was aimed at ending the strike prior to a new remuneration system promised by President Ali Bongo Ondimba by July 1.

"The government's proposal to raise salaries by 18 percent was deemed insufficient by the state employees," said Louis Patrick Mombo, a representative of the union collective running the strike.

The unions called on the government to "review this proposal."

In weeks of rowdy negotiations, the strikers' representatives have made no concessions to the government of the densely forested equatorial African country, which benefits from plentiful oil reserves as well as tropical hardwood.

Gabon's schools have been closed for over a month, with teachers' unions threatening to write off the whole academic year unless the government meets their demands for a substantial rise in the minimum monthly salary from 80,000 CFA francs (122 euros, $129 dollars) to 300,000 CFA francs.

A minimum service is available in most hospitals while government ministries idle.

In rejecting the pay claims, the government has argued that to comply would be too expensive and make the smooth running of the state impossible.

On March 10, Bongo called for classes to resume, asserting that he had met the main demands of the strikers. According to his spokesman Alain-Claude Bilie By Nze, the president agreed to performance bonuses and the introduction of a "new pay scale".

Less than two years ahead of the next presidential poll, the opposition is taking advantage of the groundswell of discontent to call on Bongo to step down.