By Christopher Isiguzo in Enugu
About 400 aggrieved ex-employees of Baker and Hughes, the third largest multi-national oil servicing company in Nigeria, at the weekend staged a peaceful protest at the premises of the National Industrial Court in Enugu where they are challenging their unlawful disengagement by the company.
The protesting ex-workers were demanding for their entitlements said to be worth a whooping N12 billion from the company.
The protesters carrying placards, chanted slogans against the company and its Chief Executive Officer, Martin Craighead, insisting that their disengagement did not comply with existing labour laws in Nigeria.
Some of the placards they displayed read: ‘Baker and Hughes, How many more deaths??? Pay us while we are alive’, ‘Martin Craighead, slave master’, ‘Baker and Hughes pay us our money’, ‘Baker and Hughes, pay us like Congo, Gabon, Chad and Ghana’, ‘Baker and Hughes is nepotism.’
Briefing journalists outside the courtroom, George Ogara, counsel to the claimants/plaintiffs, said they were asking Baker and Hughes to pay them their adequate severance packages.
Ogara said they were also asking for the post employment medical benefits as operated in other African countries in the same geo-market with Nigeria, such as Congo, Gabon, Chad and Ghana.
He regretted that while workers disengaged by the company in the other African countries were adequately compensated with redundant allowances, Baker and Hughes treated those in Nigeria like slaves, not minding the position of Nigeria as the head of the geo-market.
Ogara regretted that 15 of the disengaged workers have died and their widows are suffering, adding that they were asking that their entitlements be paid to them.
Earlier yesterday, hearing on the suit brought before the National Industrial Court in Enugu by the ex-employees against the company was stalled, following the plea by the defendants’ counsel for more time to enable them to resolve issues over their representation as well as file their reply to the suit.
Ogara, the counsel to the claimants/plaintiffs, had asked the court to allow him to proceed with his motion on notice as it appeard that the respondents were not opposing it.
The motion is seeking among others, for an order to restrain General Electrics from acquiring Baker and Hughes or ensuring that the ex-employees are paid their benefits (totalling about N12 billion) before the acquisition.
However, one of the respondent counsel, Ismail Muftau, told the court that he has not received the processes for the motion on notice fixed for the day.
Muftau, who appeared alongside Ayoade Oluwasammi, for the defence, later admitted that he only sighted the processes from one of his colleagues in the defence and asked for time to reply to it when served.
But Ogara told the court that the claimants were in a hurry and that the defendants were bidding for more time to destroy the res (subject matter) in the case.
In his ruling, Justice Auwal Ibrahim said the matter has to be adjourned to enable service to all the parties and to allow the two lawyers to the defendants to resolve issues about the particular defendants that they are representing.
Justice Ibrahim adjourned the matter to March 10 for the hearing of the motion.
Speaking with journalists after the court’s sitting, Ogara said they were asking for justice for 219 ex-employees of Baker and Hughes, who are among the 1,000 who were declared redundant and sent home without benefits.
But Muftau who equally spoke with journalists outside the courtroom, dismissed the claim of the ex-employees, saying they collected severance benefits and returned to court thereafter to ask for more.