Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM



Dura Pack workers embarked on two days (June 8 and 9, 2020) strike action over salary cut and the demand for unionization. Workers at the Ikeja, Lagos, based company suspended the strike on June 10 after the management promised to pay the outstanding salaries next week. However, there was no written and signed agreement, a situation that can give management the opportunity to manoeuvre and possibly default.
The Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR) visited the factory to solidarise with workers on June 9, 2020. The National Union of Chemical, Footwear and Non-Metallic Workers (NUCFRLANMPE) also sent some union officials to the factory in solidarity with workers and to meet with the management but as usual, the management refused to see them.
Following the disruption of operation by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dura Pack company was closed in April 2020 and workers were paid N20, 000 (55.5%) out of their monthly salary of N36, 000. Casuals are paid N750 per day. But in May 2020, workers were paid only N8, 000 (22%) even though this time around they had worked for seven days. The workers’ grouse is the meagre N8, 000 that was paid for the month of May instead of N20, 000 paid the previous month.
Payment of fractions of salaries due to workers is part of the policies embarked upon by most companies, including the Dura Pack management, in order to preserve their super profits. It was callous that private companies which make a huge profits year-in, year-out refused to pay workers two months’ salaries in the period of pandemic. While workers were paid fractional salaries or no salary at all during the period of lockdown, government did not seriously pursue any policy that gives palliative to workers or even regulate workplace policy during the COVID-19 pandemic and the trade unions did not resist the attacks beyond mere declaratory statements.
Typical of slave factory camps, workers in Dura Pack work from Monday to Sunday every week without any rest days and for 12 hours daily. Lack of clear conditions of service, poor wages and lack of safety work tools are also main features of their lives. Salaries are determined arbitrarily as salaries are paid without a defined structure etc. The management deducts from the meagre salary when workers arrive late to work even for 1 minute. For more than 10 years, the management has resisted the demand of workers to join the National Union of Chemical, Footwear and Non-Metallic Workers (NUCFRLANMPE).
Most workers at Dura Pack were sacked in 2009 for demanding unionization and that led to strike action. Workers embarked on strike again after a worker, Kenneth Frederick, died of electrocution on April 16, 2013, due to lack of safety work tools while working as an electrician. Due to the poor working conditions in the factory, the IndustriAll network of trade unions in Nigeria led a picket of the company on October 7, 2013, wherein the branch union was inaugurated and a 7-person leadership was elected. The management refused to recognize the union and that forced workers to embark on strike on October 11, 2013, that lasted for three weeks. The union (NUCFRLANMPE) leadership failed to escalate and deepen the struggle, something which was responsible for not achieving all the demands except forcing the management to pay small compensation (N7, 000 for every year) to all the workers. Similarly, workers also went on strike in 2015 as a result of poor working conditions and unionization.
Dura Pack is part of the Lee Group of Companies notorious for operating slave factory camps in Nigeria, though they are not fundamentally different from most private companies in Nigeria. It would be recalled that on September 16, 2002, 37 Nigerian workers lost their lives during a fire outbreak at West Africa Rubber Limited situated in Ikorodu which is also part of the Lee Group. The deaths occurred because workers on night shift were normally locked up and so when the fire broke out workers were trapped and lives were regrettably lost while many workers sustained different degrees of burns and injury. Till this present moment, the company has never been sanctioned in any way. The then Lagos State Governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the President, Olusegun Obasanjo were accomplices as they did not only allow a cover-up of that obvious crime but also allowed the same company to continue to run the place as a slave camp.
The Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR) has consistently called on trade unions to intervene strongly and concretely by mobilizing workers to resist attacks on salaries, jobs and health safety which are the responses of companies to the challenges posed to their profit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Workers in Dura Pack and other places are ready to fight but, in the absence of a serious trade union leadership ready to lead the struggle, workers are at the mercy of the company owners/management. While the role of the trade union leadership is desirable, in the meantime, the CDWR calls on workers to organize themselves by setting up a workers’ committee composed of members elected and with a proven record of standing for workers interests to continue to lead the struggle and negotiate on their behalf until the management meet all demands.
The CDWR demands the following: (1) payment of workers full salaries in Dura Pack and elsewhere, (2) provision of a safe environment and safety work tools, (3) end to casualization and contract staffing, (4) right to annual and sick leave, (5) improved working conditions, (6) right to unionization should be respected, (7) well-equipped sickbay within the factory premises and (8) reduction of work hours from 12 hours to 8 hours. We also call on the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), United Labour Congress (ULC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to unite on a common agenda to mobilise workers to resist fractional salary, retrenchment, casualization, contract staffing, poor working conditions, lack of safety measures and to unionize workers in factories like Dura Pack where managements are resisting unionization.

Chinedu Bosah
Publicity Secretary, CDWR

E-mail: [email protected]