Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

Zartech AAEUN branch must reverse the indefinite suspension order on Kayode Wintola, its Welfare Off

Trade Union democracy

Zartech AAEUN branch must reverse the indefinite suspension order on Kayode Wintola, its Welfare Officer, NOW!

A fighting workers’ union free of management influence is needed now!!*

By Abbey Trotsky

The Zartech branch of Agricultural and Allied Employees Union of Nigeria (AAEUN) has issued out an indefinite suspension letter to its welfare officer, Kayode Wintola, who is equally a member of Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM). Zartech is an agro-allied company based in Ibadan with about 3,000 workers.

The letter which was duly signed by both the Chairman and Secretary of the local union, Hambe Fidelis Terhemba and Adebowale O. Akande respectively, stated that the indefinite suspension was in connection with the open letter Wintola had written to the Zartech AAEUN executive on the NHF scheme which was forced on workers in the company and thereby generated agitation among the rank and file workers.

Prior to the open letter, the management of Zartech had issued a memo informing the entire workforce of the company of its decision to commence the enforcement of the National Housing Fund (NHF) scheme on mass of the workers in the company. While the memo was dated 21 October, 2011, the date for the commencement of the scheme was put at 1 October, 2011. This means that the management had already commenced the enforcement of the scheme even before bringing it to the notice of workers.

To many workers in the company who had already lost faith in the management due to its continued implementation of anti-worker policies like casualisation; poor salary scale; poor welfare condition; non full implementation of N18000 minimum wage among others, the NHF scheme does not mean anything to them other than another round of attacks. The scheme entails a monthly deduction of 2.5% of the basic salary of every existing worker in the company. Given the high cost of building and the terms and conditions of NHF loans, about 95 percent of workers in the company who earn less than N18,000 per month cannot benefit from housing loan under the scheme. Therefore, the scheme is a means of robbing the poor to pay the rich.

In response, workers from different departments in the company namely Feedmill, Transport, Water engineering, Workshop among others stormed the personnel office in a protest against the enforcement of this scheme. Unfortunately, they could not be attended to by the personnel manager who had gone out of office. But having determined to resist the imposition of this scheme at all cost, they resolved to look for the Welfare Officer of the union who had been the only voice among the entire union executive who advances and defends the interest of workers in the company. Besides, the issue involved is a welfare issue which is the main responsibility of his office.

Upon meeting with the Welfare Officer, one of the major demands of the aggrieved workers was the need to call a congress where the NHF officers would be invited to come and explain the pros and cons of the scheme to them. This would help them to take a collective decision as to whether to participate or not in the NHF scheme. Due to the exceptional respect comrade Wintola commands among the rank and file workers, he was able to pacify them while promising to relay their message to the entire executive.

Unfortunately, prior to this time comrade Wintola had been alleged, through a query issued by the branch executive, that he divulged outcomes of its deliberation that are not meant for public consumption. As a result, the executive arbitrarily decided not to invite him to meetings any longer. This explained why Wintola resorted to the method of writing the open appeal letter as a means of getting his suggestion across to the entire union membership. More so that the issue in question was so urgent that cannot be pending until unknown time the executive are likely to hold their meeting.

Against what was claimed in the suspension letter, the said letter was not aimed at causing the executive of the union public embarrassment, ridicule and odium, neither was it aimed at inciting Zartech workers against the management. For instance, if the aim was to incite workers it would not have been stated in the letter that the union should issue out a memo to appeal to aggrieve workers to remain calm and patient.

To a union leadership that has, unfortunately, compromised its traditional role of defending the interest and aspiration of mass of workers in the company over time, a suggestion of holding a congress would definitely be perceived as a threat as that could proffer opportunity to aggrieved workers to express their anger on them. This is the reason why the Zartech AAEUN branch leadership had to arbitrarily suspend Wintola indefinitely as the union Welfare Officer.

The claim that Wintola contravened an unstated section of the AAEUN constitution by writing an open letter was quite unfounded and baseless as there is no section of the AAEUN constitution that prohibits the writing of an open letter whether as a union member or as a executive member. In fact, it is even clearly stated in the Zartech’s Condition of Service hand book (revised edition February 2006) under the duty of the employees subsection (iv) that a worker has the right to constructively suggest how method, efficiency and work conditions of the company can be improved upon.

That Wintola was in a workshop where the issue was raised cannot be an excuse to negate the clamour for a congress by majority who were not at the claimed workshop. Besides, it is obvious that congress would be a better avenue for clarification on the detail of the hurriedly imposed scheme.

More importantly, the action of the Zartech executive to suspend Wintola is a gross violation of the Constitution of the union as the branch executive committee does not have any power under the union constitution to suspend or remove any elected official of the union. It is the Congress of the union that has such power.

Besides, it is obvious that the plan of the executive is to isolate him and expose him to attacks from the management as he was also expressly accused in the letter of suspension, which was also copied to the management, of “inciting Zartech workers against the management causing chaos industrial disharmony and ultimately anarchy.”

Comrade Wintola has already petitioned the state leadership of the union pointing out the arbitrariness and unconstitutionality in the action of the branch of executive and calling for the immediate and unconditional reversal of the suspension.

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) calls on the national leadership of AAEUN and the NLC, as well as pro-labour organizations, to intervene in the plight of Wintola so that the pro-management union in Zartech would not successfully eliminate the only voice of the rank and file workers in the leadership. We also call on the rank and file workers in the company to begin a campaign and process for the reinstatement of Wintola as the Welfare Officer and for the enthronement of a fighting union in the factory.