DANGOTE PASTA SACKS 250 WORKERS FOR JOINING UNION
DANGOTE PASTA SACKS 250 WORKERS FOR JOINING UNION
CDWR Demands Unconditional Reinstatement of All Workers and the Respect of Their Rights to Unionise
By Victor Osakwe, Secretary, CDWR
For over one year now the inalienable rights of workers to freely associate has been brutally attacked by the management of Dangote Pasta Plant Ikorodu, a company owned by Aliko Dangote, the richest man in Africa. For joining a trade union, National Union of Food Beverages and Tobacco Employees (NUFBTE), about 250 workers were not only locked out of the company but some of them were also brutally assaulted.
Specifically, on August 30, 2010 a combination of some junior staff and hired thugs, armed with machetes, knives and sticks, at the behest of the management locked out workers after inflicting bodily harm on some them, particularly the newly elected unit leadership. In fact, the Unit Chairman of the Union, Mr. Samuel Abuseh was beaten, tied legs and hands together and locked inside a container without window for several minutes. A prepared form stating the renunciation of union was brandished to workers to sign in order to be allowed to enter the factory to work.
The workers that participated in the attack were members of ‘welfare committee’ handpicked by the management and whose primary assignment is to report any resolution or tactics of workers to fight or agitate for improvement to the management.
This attack came just 19 days after the unit was inaugurated by the national leadership of NUFBTE. The management had employed similar repressive measure in the past. In 2004, the management sacked 7 of the union leaders in the company. NUFBTE challenged the action at the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP) and a judgment was given in favour of the union on the 4th of September 2007. The management objected to the ruling of IAP and the matter was referred to the National Industrial Court (NIC) which also gave judgment in favour of the union on the 28th of January 2009. The management was forced to enter into negotiation with the union after it had failed to set aside the NIC ruling at a Lagos High Court which struck out the matter for lack of jurisdiction in October 2009. Part of the agreement reached between the management and the union was that a union would be inaugurated in the company.
NUFBTE INTERVENTION SO FAR
The national leadership of NUFBTE has not shown the willingness or seriousness to struggle for the reinstatement of the 250 unjustly sacked workers. Though, NUFBTE wrote a letter, dated 26th of January 2011, to the Minister of Labour for intervention, it has failed to carry out concrete action despite the readiness of the workers to struggle.
Workers having waited for 11 months without any concrete actions from NUFBTE, picketed the national secretariat of NUFBTE on Thursday July 28, 2011. The workers came with different placards stating: “workers are suffering, NUFBTE intervene; Dangote operates slave camps; NUFBTE, NLC save workers; Stop the victimization” etc. After about 3 hours of picketing, some of the national officers of the union led by the Acting General Secretary, Mr. Danjuma came out to address the workers, and 10 representatives of workers led by the chairman were invited to a meeting. The meeting agreed to a press conference to be addressed by the national leadership and to picket the head office of the company with the backing of the NLC. All these agreed activities were later jettisoned, though a letter was written to the NLC national leadership for intervention.
However, having not heard from NUFBTE, workers planned another picketing for 5th of September 2011, which was later postponed after the President of NUFBTE, Mr. Lateef Oyelakan, persuaded the workers to call off the action since the NLC had written to Dangote management requesting a meeting scheduled for Thursday 8 2011. Unfortunately however, the meeting was eventually postponed and has not taken place by the time we went to press.
WORKERS PRESSURE IS YIELDING RESULT
Ordinarily, the national leadership of NUFBTE had settled for non-confrontation or a do-nothing approach. The leadership had claimed initially that they were seeking to meet with Aliko Dangote to persuade him to reinstate the workers, a tactics that might be futile. Workers insisted on a program of action that will involve press conferences, picketing and mass protest. While not dismissing the necessity of NLC’s intervention, NUFBTE itself failed to utilize its huge strength as one of the biggest trade unions as well as the preparedness of the 250 victimised workers to confront the management. This matter could have been as good as forgotten if not for the consistent pressure and struggle of the workers.
Workers in virtually all companies owned by Aliko Dangote are denied rights to unionise and a good working condition. For example, the average salary of workers in Dangote Pasta is N15000, an amount below the current minimum wage. Aliko Dangote had become the richest man in Africa due to massive exploitation of workers who are daily condemned to slave wages and inhuman working condition.
The Campaign for Democratic and Workers Rights (CDWR), in a statement issued as part of its intervention in the matter, called on NUFBTE, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Joint Action Forum (JAF) and pro-labour organizations not only to immediately and spiritedly intervene in the plight of the victimized workers but also unleash the might of labour movement against the Dangote Group for its institutionalized anti-labour activities. Labour should first give ultimatum to the Dangote Group to stop all its anti-labour activities, failing which there should be sustained picketing of all the Dangote companies nationwide.