Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM



Union Accused of Complicity; CDWR Demand their Reinstatement

In an act of brazen victimization, 5 workers of Airtel have been sacked for agitating for better condition of service. The victimized workers are Lasisi Babatunde, Philip Okoli, Ephrem Audu, Henry Uwajeh and Durogbola Nurudeen.

This is a new twist in the industrial struggle between workers and the two outsourcing companies of Airtel (Spanco Channel BPO and Tech Mahindra Nigeria). These two companies employ workers who carry out customer care services for Airtel. This practice is widespread in all the major telecom companies (MTN, Airtel, Etisalat and Visafone etc) as virtually all staff is employed as contract or casual staff without right to belong to a union or agitate for better condition of service.

It should be recalled that on September 30, 2011 the management of Spanco sacked 2500 staff for agitating for better condition of service while Tech Mahindra follow suit by sacking 500 workers. For weeks, the affected workers sustained a campaign and called on the Nigeria Labour (NLC) to intervene. After all pleas to recall the sacked workers fell on deaf ears, National Union of Postal and Telecommunication Employees (NUPTE) and the leadership NLC intervened and shut down the Airtel’s call centres in Abuja and Lagos in October 2011. This action forced the Airtel management and the contractors to reinstate all staff and allow workers to belong to NUPTE.

Both parties agreed to enter into negotiation for a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). An agreement was reached by the national leadership of NUPTE and Airtel and signed by both parties. Workers rejected the signed CBA for falling below the previous condition of service and for the failure of the union including the interim Abuja branch leadership to carry along the rank and file workers before signing the agreement. This explains why the Lagos Airtel call centre union executive refused signing the CBA for not reflecting the yearnings of the call centre workers after subjecting it to ratification of congress of workers.

Following the rejection, over 150 of the workers staged a peaceful protest at the May Day celebration in Abuja on May 1, 2012. The management subsequently sacked the five workers for their leading roles in the agitation. In what appears to be a support for management action, the interim branch executive and national leadership of NUPTE have remained quiet and have refused to intervene in the matter. Unfortunately, it appears with all the struggles to unionise workers, the primary interest of NUPTE is the check-off dues and management patronage and not the defence of the welfare and democratic rights of workers.

Already, the employers in the industry have vowed to resist the interventions of trade unions in their companies especially the attempt at unionizing the workers. This came after the picketing of MTN call centre located at Rayfied, Jos in March 2012; the second in the industry in less than 6 months,. The Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators in Nigeria (ALTON), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo called on the member companies to resist the incursion of trade unions in the sector: “As an industry, we must rise to this challenge and ensure that we do not open the industry to interference by trade unions. While we respect the right of workers to free association as enshrined in our constitution, as an industry and a nation, we must now set a limit and boundaries for the trade unions. If they unionise and call for a general strike under any guise, the nation and people are exposed to unquantifiable security risk and the economy will suffer. We must take on the issue of telecoms workers’ unionisation and the time is now” (Punch April 7, 2012).

However, with the experience of Airtel the telecommunication operators may not be too worry if it is no longer possible to stop unionization, as they would adopt the strategy of compromising the union leadership to undermine workers’ interests.

Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR) calls on the management of Airtel and Spanco to immediately and unconditionally reinstate the sacked workers. We also call on the national leadership of NUPTE to intervene so that the sacked 5 workers can be reinstated. We also call on workers in the industry to get organized and join union of their choice and to remain on guard to struggle to defend their interest, including fighting to make the union democratic and alive to its responsibilities.