• Union’s action unnecessary, says firm
Emma Okonji, Kehinde Lawal in Lagos, Segun Awofadeji in Bauchi and Ibrahim Shuaibu in Kano
The Nigeria Labour  Congress (NLC) on Monday, picketed the offices of the telecommunication giant, MTN Nigeria, in Lagos, Kano and Bauchi States, over alleged slavery treatment to its workers and other anti-labour practices.

But the telecommunication firm said in a statement yesterday that the attack on its staff in its Bauchi office by NLC was sad and unnecessary.
The President of NLC, Mr. Idris Wabba, who led the action of the workers in Lagos, told journalists that the picketing was to address the issues of decent work and better conditions of service for workers, adding that the maltreatment of the company’s workers must stop.
“Every worker is entitled to better working conditions,” he said.

He accused the telecommunication company of regularly renewing employment contract with its workers as a way of shying away from paying gratuity and pension to them, while indulging in the act of slavery and inhuman wickedness.
“We are giving them three days as warning, as directed by the National office of the NLC in Abuja,’’ he said.
According to him, the company sacks workers every three months, and give them a new contract.

“This is not acceptable. Our laws do not accept that, and those workers need to be liberated. We need to tell them that they need to respect the laws of the country; they need to also respect our own labour laws, but most importantly, they must respect human and trade union rights.
“Workers have dignity, workers are not slaves and therefore, all workers must be treated with the best of attention.

“Injury to the workers at MTN is an injury to all Nigerian workers, and they should realise that this struggle is for the betterment of their work and the company should respect our national laws and international conventions. The workers cannot continue to work in a condition of slavery, MTN as an organisation has violated all our international laws; they have violated our constitutional; they have denied its workers the right to collective bargaining, freedom of association, which is a constitution and global issues that is been respected all over the world,” he explained.

Wabba said: “If MTN fails to respect our laws, we will not allow a situation where workers are treated like slaves. Nigeria workers are not second-class citizens. In South Africa, the staff are treated better; they have a condition of service, union and retirement packages which is not applicable to the country workers over here,” he added.

Also speaking, the National Vice President of NLC,  Amaechi Asugwuni, condemned the inhumane attitude of MTN, while describing the company treatment towards its staff as unacceptable to the country constitution and the labour union laws.
“This picketing is to address the abnormalities in MTN, the violation of workers’ rights; the company have refused to obey the laws of the country; they are intimidating their workers,” he said.

In Bauchi, the state Chairman of NLC, Hashimu Gital, led the union members to close down the offices of MTN in the state capital.
Gital who spoke to journalists during the exercise, said “this is to address issues of decent work, better conditions of service for workers.
According to him, “Every worker is entitled to better working conditions, but  the telecommunication company is fond of regularly renewing employment contract with its workers as a way of shying away from paying gratuity and pension to them”.

“We are giving them three days as warning as directed by the National office of the NLC in Abuja,” he said
In Kano, the state Chairman of  NLC, Kabir Ado Minjibir, said the union had been discussing with the company for over one year to find ways of addressing the workers’s issues, to no avail.

 The state chapter was supported by civil society organisations like the Centre for  Awareness and Justice (CAJA) .
But in a statement released by its Public Relations Agency and signed by its Corporate Relations Executive, Mr. Tobechukwu Okigbo, the company said the attack on its workers at the Bauchi office, which led to destruction of property and injury on its staff, could have been averted.

“The violence and the needless destruction of property is deeply saddening. As always, our primary concern is the safety and well-being of our employees, some of whom were attacked by supposed NLC operatives and have sustained injuries. We do not prevent our employees from associating amongst themselves as they deem fit and owe our employees the obligation to ensure they are not compelled to join associations. MTN supports the freedom of association as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution,” Okigbo said in the statement.

“All workers have rights that should be protected. We work hard to not only ensure that this is done but also to ensure that our company is a great place to work. We will continue to champion our peoples’ rights, whether they are part of a union or not and work hard to minimise disruptions in service to our customers,” Okigbo added.