CASUAL WORKERS AT NIGERIAN EAGLE FLOUR MILL LIMITED PROTEST AGAINST POOR PAY AND SLAVERY WORKING CONDITIONS
NLC AND TUC SHOULD INTERVENE TO ENSURE THAT MANAGEMENT MEETS THE DEMANDS OF CASUAL WORKERS AND REINSTATES THE SACKED WORKERS
WE CALL FOR SOLIDARITY ACTIONS
The entire administrative and production activities in the Nigerian Eagle Flour Mill, Ibadan, were completely paralyzed and grounded on Tuesday, 27th and Wednesday 28th April, 2021. This was due to a peaceful protest of tens of casual workers that broke out in the company against poor pay and precarious working condition.
The Nigerian Eagle Flour Mill Limited, is a subsidiary of Flour Mill of Nigeria, FMN, and also part of the Chagoury group of companies which is heavily involved in the Eko Atlantic project. It is located along Lagos-Ibadan Express Way, Tollgate area, Ibadan, Oyo State. It is the largest flour mill in Oyo State, claiming to employ a total of 12,000 workers and with a daily mill’s output of 850 metric tonnes. Unfortunately, despite this huge capacity possessed by the company, there is fundamentally nothing to show for it in terms of pay and working conditions of the poor casual workers in the company.
About 50% of the over 200 persons who are currently employed as casual workers in the company were engaged, though by a third party company called S-Lloyd Limited, over 14 years ago without employment letters. This was a deliberate ploy by the management of the company in connivance with the Abuja based S-Lloyd Recruitment and Training Limited to ensure that the casual workers continue to groan under a precarious working condition. Workers without a documented term of employment are vulnerable to all forms of attacks.
Take for instance, the monthly basic salary earned by the casual workers is as meagre as N7, 500 and this has been stagnated for over a period of many years without effort or commitment for any increment or review by the company management. Even when the working hours for most of the times does not exceed 8 hours, this is without avenue for workers to observe breaks. The cost of medical treatment any casual worker is entitled to doesn’t exceed N1, 200. Anything above this shall be paid by the affected workers themselves. Overtime that is meant to be voluntary is made to be compulsory for the casual workers as they are always mandated to come to work on Saturdays and Sundays including public holidays. Yet the money for the overtime which is meant to be paid immediately is usually delayed till the following month.
It is the accumulated mass anger and displeasure created by this array of poor working conditions highlighted above that triggered the casual workers’ protest that rocked the company. The protest did not only paralyze the production activities in the company for the entire two days but also forced the management to hold a meeting with the protesting casual workers whom it had previously disowned as its staff but that of S-Lloyd Limited.
Protest Strengthened by CDWR and NLC intervention
The protest was no doubt strengthened with the quick intervention of members of Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights, CDWR, Nigeria Association of Women Journalists, NAWOJ, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, who joined the protest in solidarity following the invitation from the protesting workers. Take for instance, a mass meeting of the workers was facilitated through the CDWR’s intervention led by its State Coordinator, Abbey Trotsky, and the representatives of the protesting workers were elected. These representatives later helped to make a compilation of the demands of the protest. This was subsequently presented and adopted at another meeting of the protesting workers convened thereafter.
Some of the demands agreed by the protesting workers include: Immediate issuance of employment letters to all the workers without one; all overtime must be voluntary with immediate payment of N2,000 for Saturday and any other days and N3,000 for Sunday and public holidays, the basic salary must be increased from N7,500 to the new minimum wage of N30,000, all workers must be registered under the 8,000 per annum Oyo State health insurance scheme, workers must always be allowed to observe a break of one hour within the stipulated 8 working hours per day and that no worker must be sacked for his or her involvement in the protest.
The presence of the representatives of state leadership of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, led by Mr Kayode Marthin, the NLC state chairman, and that of NAWOJ led by Mrs Jadesola Ajibola, also helped to strengthen the protest as workers’ level of determination and confidence increased tremendously with their presence. The NLC chair upon his arrival addressed the protesting workers to reaffirm their agreement with the demands after which he led a team that comprised of workers, members of CDWR and NAWOJ to seek an audience with the management of the company for a discussion and negotiation over the demands.
Management backed by unions in the company to decline request for an audience
The request by the NLC-led team to have an audience with the management was resisted by the branch leaderships of the National Union of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Employees of Nigeria, NUFBTEN, and the Agriculture and Allied Employees Union of Nigeria, AAUEN, the two leading in-house unions in the company who were obviously supported by their state leadership. They openly acted in defense of the company management with a claim that NLC has no right to come into the company for any form of intervention whether or not on behalf of casual workers without taking permission from them as the leadership of the unions in the company.
This argument was defeated by the NLC chairman, who maintained in his response, that he needs not to seek the permission of any of the in-house unions to intervene in the agitation of Nigerian workers. So long such an agitation is peaceful and legitimate, more so that the category of workers affected are casual workers who are not members of any of the existing unions in the company. The NLC chairman further stated that even if NLC should seek permission of unions to intervene in a workers struggle, it will never be from unions’ leadership that maintains criminal silence and watch workers being engaged for over 14 years without an employment letter.
With this kind of open betrayal exhibited by both the branch and state leadership of the company in-house unions, the company management was emboldened, hence declined the NLC request for an audience to discuss the highlighted labour related issues that affect the protesting casual workers. Nonetheless, the entire entrance into the company were barricaded and blocked with NLC vehicles following the directive of the NLC Chairman who also led the team comprising of members of NLC, CDWR, NAWOJ and protesting casual workers to enter and occupy the company for over two hours. This was a very symbolic moment of the intervention, in the sense that it offered the opportunity to meet and interact with other categories of workers who were not part of the protest but assembled and addressed by the NLC chairman within the company. Over 200 copies of the CDWR leaflets were also distributed among the assembled workers.
A meeting was later convened at the Oyo State secretariat of NLC where strategies on how to deepen the agitation the next day were discussed. This was after the suspension of the over two hour’s occupation of the company by the NLC chairman-led team. At the end of this meeting which also had in attendance, the state leaderships of NUFBTEN and AAUEN, it was resolved that a letter from NLC should be written to the management of the company to officially seek an audience to discuss all the lingering issues affecting the entire workers of the company and that the Vice–Chairman of the NLC who doubles as the Chairman for the private sector unions of the council should lead the delegation.
The letter was written as agreed, served on the company even though it could only be pasted on the company gate because the receipt was declined by the company. Notwithstanding, the protesting workers were happy at the sight of the NLC letter pasted on the company gate. This letter, which suggested that the NLC team would be coming the next day, raised the hope and confidence of the protesting workers hence the protest continued on the second day.
Workers suspend protest
Unfortunately, the NLC team expected to be led by the chairman of the private sector unions, Mr. Adedeji Taofik, did not show up on the second day as had been resolved. This is not unexpected, given the fact that the leadership of the so-called private sector unions of the NLC are often today constituted of corrupt and right wing trade unionists to whom unions are platforms on which to collaborate with the employer of labour to exploit the workers as long as their own self-serving interest is guaranteed. As a matter of fact, the two leading unions among the so- called NLC private sector unions are NUFBTE and AAUEN. These are the two unions whose Nigerian Eagle Flour Mill branch leaderships, backed by their state leadership, and resisted the intervention of the NLC chairman-led intervention in the company.
Again it must also be stated that NUFBTE is claimant in the suits filed against comrade Abiodun Bamigboye (Abbey Trotsky) at the National Industrial Court, Ibadan by Sumal Food Limited, because of the solidarity given by the CDWR, led by Abbey Trotsky, to the protest of casual workers against poor pay and precarious working condition that broke out in Sumal Food Limited on the 2nd of October, 2018. Given this background, it is very clear that the interest of the casual workers would have been compromised, if the character that constitutes the so-called private sector unions have shown up and negotiated on their behalf with the company management.
Nevertheless, the failure of the leadership of the NLC private sector unions to show up as expected by the protesting casual workers obviously dampened the morale and confidence previously exhibited by the workers. One result was that some element of confusion as to how to carry on with the struggle began to manifest itself at a crucial point of the struggle. It was at this point that the company management renounced its earlier position that it was not willing to meet with the workers by claiming that they are not direct staff of the company. The company invited the workers for a meeting. This invitation which signified a sign of weakness of the company management was welcomed and the representatives of the casual workers were mandated to attend the meeting.
The workers therefore took the advantage of the meeting which was only held between the workers’ representatives and the Production Manager, Mr. Ellias, who also doubled as the company Acting General Manager, GM, to suspend the action from the position of relative strength. This followed a plea from the Acting GM that their demands will be attended to as urgently as possible along with an assurance that none of the workers who participated in the protest would be sacked or victimized for any reason. A letter was later written by the casual workers to the company through which the company was urged to expedite action over the negotiation of their demands so as to ensure that it is completed on or before the end of May 2021.
The other issued raised in the letter is that since they are not members of any union, they will not want the leadership of any of the unions currently in the company to be involved in the negotiation of their demands and that the NLC leadership will be preferred to lead the team to negotiate on their behalf.
Management reneges on promise and sacked workers with threat to sack more
Unfortunately, less than 48 hours after the suspension of the protest, the management reneged on its promise and sacked one of the leading workers who participated in the protest with two other having their sack letters prepared. The three workers in this category were those who spoke with the correspondent of the Galaxy Television who came to cover the protest. Right now there is a threat that more workers will be sacked. This is because a new set of casual workers were engaged the second day after the protest was suspended by one Mr Akpan, the company Acting Chief Miller at the instance of the company management. This was obviously in preparation for the plan to lay off some of the casual workers who participated in the protest. Again the production manager who earlier promised that no worker will be sacked for participating in the two days suspended strike, has begun to say he cannot guarantee the fulfilment of that promise.
His argument is that the video clip of the Galaxy Television reportage of the protest has gone viral on the social media and such an action is against the policy of the company. This argument lacks any merit because there is no place in the said video clip where the name of the company was mentioned. However, the workers had used the deployment of DSS operative fully armed and obviously invited by the company management to repress the protest to justify their decision to invite the media. This is because without the presence of media organisation the DSS and officers of other security agencies like police invited obviously by the company would have repressed the peaceful protest.
The storm appears unsettled yet
Despite the sack of the three workers and the threat to sack more, which is obviously meant to send fear into the minds of other casual workers, the chances are high that the causal workers may resume the protest action any moment from now to demand the immediate reinstatement of all their sacked colleagues. The CDWR will always lend its support to this kind of action anytime it happens. This is the only way the management can be cautioned against its plan to sack other workers who played leading roles in the protest.
We hereby call on the state leaderships of the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress to also commence mobilisation that will involve pro-worker organisations like CDWR and others towards agreeing on a day to picket the company to demand immediate reinstatement of all the sacked workers, improvement in both the pay and working condition of all the workers in the company and direct employment of all of the casual workers by the Nigerian Eagle Flour Mill so as to ensure that they earn their original and total emolument approved by the company, unlike the current dubious arrangement, where the huge proportion of the emolument approved by the company for each worker is appropriated by S-Lloyd Limited.
It is in the quest to achieve this, we of the CDWR appeal for both the national and international solidarity actions of workers, youths and their organisations to help mount pressure on the management of the Nigerian Eagle Flour Mills Limited to reinstate the sacked workers and drop the plan to sack more, as well as on the state leadership of the NLC and TUC for immediate and determined intervention by sending protest messages to the following phone numbers:
08055891179, 08093333131——– Production manager & Acting General Manager
08055891107————————– Human Resource Manager, HRM
07037496544, 07035029484——–S-Lloyd Recruitment and Training Limited Manager
08094326797, 08055657922——–Oyo State NLC Chairman
08033847458————————–Oyo TUC Chairman
Please send copies of protest letters or messages to: [email protected]