DURA PACK WORKERS CONTINUE STRUGGLE FOR UNIONISATION AND DECENT WORK
Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR)
DURA PACK WORKERS CONTINUE STRUGGLE FOR UNIONISATION AND DECENT WORK
SOLIDARITY ACTIONS BY TRADE UNIONS AND PRO-LABOUR ORGANISATIONS URGENTLY NEEDED!
Since October 11, the workers of Dura Pack, Lagos, have been on indefinite strike over the demand for unionization and improved working conditions. The action actually started on October 7 when the mass movement of workers and pro-labour activists marking the International Decent Work Day picketed the factory to launch a trade union branch of the National Union of Chemical, Footwear and Non-Metallic Workers (NUCFRLANMPE). See: http://www.socialistnigeria.org/?p=2273. The workers who had been working in slave-like conditions and on poor pay, felt liberated and emboldened to formally join the NUCFRLANMPE the union which had been trying to organize the workers in 2009. In the presence of the Chinese management of the company and mass contingent of workers and pro-labour activists led by Issa Aremu the NLC National Vice President, the workers elected a 7-man executive.
The workers however went on strike on October 8 after the management refused to recognize their right to join the union and form an executive. With the intervention of the Ministry of Labour which called a tripartite meeting of the ministry, management and union over the issues for October 10, the strike was suspended on October 9. It is instructive to state that the workers insisted that the Campaign for Democratic and Workers Rights’ (CDWR) which has been identifying and helping organize them since April 2013 should be represented at the meeting.
The workers resumed the strike on October 11 after learning that the management did not attend the October 10 meeting at the Ministry of Labour. Since then they have remained on strike with a daily protest rally as the management refused to meet their demands. When the management eventually appeared at another meeting at the ministry on October 17, they remained intransigent and refused to shift any ground. The union even offered that the workers could suspend the strike if the management signed agreement that no worker would be victimized as a result of the strike, and proposed another day within 7 days wherein the union would come to conduct another election. The management representatives refused and maintained that the management would not recognize the union because the picketing of the company by the NLC was unacceptable to them.
The management was represented by the company’s lawyer and the Personnel Manager to the West Africa Rubber Factory in Ikorodu, who claimed to be representing the Lee Group. Lee is a group of Chinese companies notorious for rabid anti-labour practices. It should be recalled that at the West Africa Rubber Factory in 2002 about 30 workers on night duty were burnt to death in an inferno. The management who habitually treats workers as prisoners used to lock workers up inside the factory without any convenient outlet in case of emergency. This was why when there was fire incident on that fateful day there was no easy escape route for the workers. On the union delegation were seven of the elected representatives of the workers and CDWR representative.
Dura Pack workers have been agitating for the following: 1. Increment in salary, 2. Regularisation of workers through issuance of letter of employment to all workers and agree with workers on a new condition of service, 3. Well structured and documentation of salary including paying workers with pay slips, 4. Reinstatement of Mr. Christian Orji without loss of pay and an end to all forms of victimization of workers, 5. Adequate safety tools to be provided for all workers, 6. All workers must have a right to proceed on annual, sick leave and holidays without loss of pay, 7. Well equipped sick bay within the premises, 8. Reduction of work hours and increase in salary.
The workers are wantonly and unlawfully fired without compensation or entitlement. No worker has a letter of appointment and condition of service. Due to lack of safety work tools a worker Mr. Kenneth Frederick died of electrocution on 16th of April 2013.
No doubt the workers enthusiastically signed up to join union in order to have a platform to fight for better condition of service, collective bargaining and better working conditions the workers have resolved to continue the strike as long as management is not ready to recognize the union they have joined. The management has threatened that it will rather close production than recognizing the union. The union has to respond with all the seriousness that it deserves. We commend the efforts of the union but it has to do more to sustain the morale of the struggling workers. For instance, none of the top key officers of the union has visited the factory to address the workers, though the union is represented at the rally of the workers almost on a daily basis by middle ranking leaders.
The CDWR, whose members have helped sustain the struggle of the Dura Pack workers, calls on the NUCFRLANMPE to mobilize workers from its other factories and other industrial unions for solidarity actions in support of the workers. We propose a 24-hour warning strike from workers of West Africa Rubber Factory since NUCFRLANMPE is the union organizing workers and the company is part of the Lee Group. There should also be a mass protest to the Chinese Embassy. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has to play active roles in this respect. The struggle at the Dura Pack is an opportunity for the NLC to prove that its documented opposition against casualisation and anti-labour practices is not a mere lip service or hot air. The ongoing struggle is being watched by other employers of labour who may take a cue if the Dura Pack management is allowed to get away with these anti-labour practices. This struggle can be won if there are sustained solidarity actions from other workers and unions. The pro-labour organizations especially the affiliates of the Joint Action Front (JAF) who participated actively at October 7 Decent Work Protest March should give solidarity actions to the striking workers.
Having been on the strike for over two weeks without any visible sign of progress, few of the workers have already started wavering. Some of them have even gone inside to collect the pay-out which they thought would be a substantial amount but turned out to be a paltry sum of between N3, 000 and N5, 000. They were even forced into signing letter of resignation prepared by the management. Good enough the majority of workers are still resolute. Indeed, the terrible experience of the frustrated black leg workers has further made the majority to be more committed to the struggle. But the top hierarchy of NUCFRLANMPE has to show and make serious efforts to sustain the morale of the workers to continue the struggle and actualize victory. We learnt that the union is planning to take the company to the industrial court. While this is welcome we strongly hold that this judicial approach should only be taken as a complementary effort to sustained solidarity activities by the union and NLC.