Over 200 workers dismissed by Dangote Industries Limited have accused the National Union of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Employees of betraying their trust.
The workers, who were dismissed by the management of the company in August 2010, picketed their trade union headquarters in Dopemu, Lagos on Thursday, seeking audience with union officials.
It took about four hours of waiting with placards in hand before some union officials came out to address the aggrieved workers, but the protest almost degenerated into a fight following a heated argument between the two parties.
Samuel Obuseh, the spokesperson for the group, blamed the union for deserting them since their dismissal from the Ikorodu Pasta Plant office of Dangote Industries Limited, for joining the union.
He said, “The union officials came to us and told us about the National Union of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Employees. We saw nothing wrong in joining the union since it’s not an illegal body, and we saw it as our right. However, this is the 11th month that we have been locked out by the management of the company and waiting for the workers’ union to act.” It was the group’s third protest to the union office since their dismissal from work 11 months ago, and the workers are already suspecting the union officials of foul play in the ongoing labour tussle.
“Since that period, there has been no tangible reaction from the union on the matter,” said Mr Obuseh. “All we hear is that they are looking for a way to thrash the issue with the company, and we hear that some of the union officials have collected bribe from the company management.” The aggrieved workers also described their dismissal from the company as unlawfully, claiming that they were also physically abused by some hired thugs in the crisis leading to the dismissal.
Finding a common voice
Defending their decision to join the union, a pioneer staff of the company, Jimoh Onabaiye, said many of them have been victims of the company management’s style of rewarding mediocrity ahead of merits.
Mr Onabaiye added that workers’ working condition was made “terrible by the godfatherism style working at the company.” “For instance, I have been acting supervisor since 2002 and have not been confirmed yet, so we joined the union to have a voice. If I knew that the union would not be able to fight for us, I would have been managing my ‘kobo-kobo’ (stipend) now,” he said.
Hard times are here
The dismissed workers said they are not finding life easy after losing their jobs. This claim was echoed by the writing on one of the placards which read, ‘We are suffering, please intervene.’ A 39 year-old pioneer staff, with four children, Christian Adikwu, said he has had to enrol his kids in a public school after withdrawing them from a private school.
“It has been terrible since we were dismissed last year and it has been tough on my family especially. Maybe I would have been ejected from the apartment, if not for my landlord’s understanding,” he said.
In a telephone conversation, the national president of the union, Lateef Oyelekan, denied any foul play, saying the matter is still in court.
He said: “It is a matter we take seriously and the minister of Labour (Emeka Wogu) and the president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Abdulwaheed Omar are aware of the issue.” The company’s media officer, Vera Cruz, also in a telephone conversation, said the management is “working to resolve the issues.” However, following its meeting with the aggrieved workers, the national leadership of the union has decided to hold a press conference and picket the company head office at a later date.
Respect for workers’ rights In a statement released by the Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights, the group chairman, Rufus Olusesan, identified Dangote Group as an “anti-labour company”, calling on the union leadership to “intensify efforts at defending the rights of the workers.” Mr Olusesan also blamed the company for disobeying the Industrial Arbitration Panel ruling, which he said has granted the workers the right to belong to a union.
He described Dangote companies as “sweat shops where casualisation, slave wage and inhuman working conditions are the norms.” “This explains why the management does not want a trade union that could agitate for better working conditions for the workers. This is so because Aliko Dangote (Group president) is a key moneybag that sponsors the Peoples Democratic Party (National ruling party),” the statement read.