SLAVE CAMPS IN EVERYWHERE
SLAVE CAMPS IN EVERYWHERE
Labour Should Defend Workers Rights And Dignity!
By Sola Akinbinu
Nigeria has become safe heaven for all kinds of anti-workers activities. Most of the companies, particularly those owned by Indians and Chinese, are sweatshops with no safety measures. This does not suggest that it is only Asian owned companies that operate ruthless exploitation of workers. Many companies flagrantly disobey many relevant labour laws in order to guarantee huge profits.
The government which is supposed to enforce the laws usually turn blind eye to the brazen exploitation of workers after being bribed by the managements. Besides, elements in government, who are not usually elected by the people but rigged themselves into power, are inherently corrupt and anti-poor. It is therefore natural for them not to care a hoot by attacks on workers at workplaces. The situation has been made worse by the rotten and bankrupt leadership of most trade unions who usually collaborate with management at expense of workers and hardly fight for workers rights. In deed, some of these factories unionization is allowed. In most cases, trade union leaders struggle to unionise workers in order to expand their base for check-off dues.
Industrial areas in Ikeja, Lagos State. and Otta, Ogun State, are dotted with slave camps where workers are not only exploited but also subjected to sub-human conditions that have inflicted permanently deformity on a number of them. These poor working conditions and denial of democratic rights to unionise have forced workers at some of the factories to embark on some forms of industrial actions including strike and picketing. In the last one month, the Campaign for Democratic and Workers Rights (CDWR) have intervened actively in four of such industrial actions. These include Mercury Mills in Otta, Classics in Otta, A&P Foods at Ikeja and Chi Limited at Airport Road Lagos.
At Mercury Mills an Indian owned company, about 140 workers in the company are all casuals without any condition of service and salary structure. Trade union activities are not allowed. We visited the company on the third day the workers had been on strike. Virtually all the workers have one complain or the order, some complain of the poor ventilation, poor wages, long work hours, while others complain of the regular injuries sustained as a result of factory accidents. The company produces Plastic jerry cans and shopping bags. Discussion with the workers reveal that workers are made to work for 12 hours daily, Monday to Saturdays; meaning that workers put up 72 hours weekly and 288 hours monthly. Some workers are paid N15000 on the average while others are paid N3000 weekly. “The work is too much for me,” said Taiwo Akiolu who is a gardener. “I work both at home and at the staff quarters and them pay me just N3000 weekly.”
It has been one sorry tale or the other. “Look at my right hand,” Mr. Aniefik Effiong was showing it to all those that care, “I have worked in this company for 3 years and 6 months and all I have to show is a multiple injuries on my right hand. The machine nearly chopped off my hand while working on June 12 2009, and since then my right hand has not been effective despite the initial treatment.”
The most devastating is the injury sustained by Mr. David Udoh an operator popularly called ‘too short’ because the three fingers of his left hand was cut short by the machine. He has been working with the company since 2005. “After my three fingers was cut off, the management only paid me N216, 000 as compensation,” he said. He walks about in agony and shame, always putting his left hand in his pocket, hiding it I guess. Aside these major injuries, there are a number of workers with several degrees of burns as a result of body contact with hot chemicals.
From what we gathered, this was the third time the management had abandoned the factory only to come back to begin operation, employing workers anew as a strategy to dodging the previous problems. The bone of contention has been: unionization, improved welfare condition, better work environment with ventilation etc. The management was forced to run to Ministry of Labour, who mediated and management agreed to allow the workers to join the union and on this basis, the strike was suspended on Friday July 24 2009.
Another Indian-owned slave camp in the same locality with Mercury Mills is Classic Industries, which produces soaps and toothpaste. The company has about 78 staff, none of whom is regularized or even has employment letter. The workers, 70% of whom are teens are paid N370 per day amounting to N8880 per month. From investigation, most of the workers came in through a contractor known as Pastor; while the workers get N370 per day, the contractor gets N30 per day on each worker. A young female worker told us, “We don’t have I.D card, employment letter except a gate pass and we work 12 hours from Monday to Saturday.” It clearly has shown that there are no records to show that a worker works in Classics Industries. Workers agitation for better pay, condition of service and unionization gave room to the strike action that began on Monday 20 2009. On the third day (Wednesday July 23) the management agreed to a negotiation with the union (NUCFRLANMPE), and on Thursday July 23, management agreed to allow workers to join the union. On this basis the strike was suspended.
Workers of A&P Foods Limited, a company owned by Indian and produces biscuits, chew gum, etc., embarked on a strike action on Friday August 7 2009, over management’s attempt to contract out about 1600 casual workers employed directly to a contractor known as ECM Venture. Only 300 of 1,800 workforce are regular staff, and the workers are paid between N12, 000 and N15, 000. They are made to work 12 hours per day, Monday to Saturday while those who work in the maintenance department work all through the week. The workers accused the management particularly the Human Resources Manager of the Ikeja branch, Mr. Victor Badaiki and the Personnel Manager of the Dopemu branch, Mr. Edo David for their plight, and demanded for their sack. Some of the demands are that all casuals should not be contracted out but rather be regularized; increment of salary; an end to indiscriminate deduction in their salary etc.
After 6 days of strike action, the management was forced to back down on Wednesday, August 12 2009 after several meetings with the branch and state representative of the union (National Union of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Employees), making workers to call off the strike.
Chi Limited, a company in Ajao Estate, Airport Road of Lagos has refused workers to belong to a union amidst brutal exploitation. A worker, Mr. Taiwo Oyelami who was employed as casual in October 16, 2008, sustained several injuries in December 29 2008, and was paid his first salary on January 28, 2009. Mr. Taiwo Oyelami was locked out on April 14 2009 and subsequently sacked because he demanded to be treated and paid compensation. Till this very moment, the management has refused him his April 2009 salary and above all, the management has declined to carry out surgery on the left ear, which was cut off as a result of the injury while compensation was equally refused.
We commend the efforts of unions especially which have been trying to unionise workers in different factories and urge them to defend the interests and rights of workers at the workplaces. Unionisation should not be exploited as an opportunity for the self-serving interests of trade union leaders. We also call on the NLC, TUC, industrial unions and pro-labour organizations to campaign against casualisation and other anti-workers measures in all companies where they exist and force employers of labour to treat workers with the dignity.