• Employees in chemical company force management to pass night in office to press home demands
By Bimbola Oyesola
Last week, the management of Nycil Limited, a chemical company based in Sango Ota, Ogun State, was handed a rough patch; members of the management team were forced to pass the night in their offices by the company’s employees spoiling for war.
The workers took the fight to their bosses by locking them all up inside the premises of the company for 24 hours. They simply padlocked the gates from inside and denied even the police drafted to clear the tension and rescue the management staff access into the premises.
The workers, who said they were pushed to the wall, accused the management of several unfair labour practices.
From 10am on Tuesday last week, the workers took over the security post and locked up the gate from within. Not even the arrival of the men of the Nigeria Police Force could change the tone of things. The workers remained adamant and refused to open the gate for anyone coming in or going out.
The management team, including the chairman of the company, managing director and other top managers, were left with no option than to pass the night in their respective offices. They were all afraid of coming out to face the workers’ wrath.
It took the intervention of the national president of the National Union of Footwear, Rubber, Chemical, Leather and Non-Metallic Products Employees (NUCFLANMPE), Mr. Goke Olatunji, who arrived at 10.30am on Wednesday with his entourage and officials of Chemical and Non-Metallic Senior Staff Association (CANMPSSA) before the workers opened the gate.
The workers listed 13 items as the reasons for their action. They claimed that the management had deprived them, among other things of salary advances without any reason, delay in payment of leave allowances, failure to conduct appraisal in the past two years and motorcycle and car loan stoppage since January 2015. Others were internal negotiation, which had remained undone in the past three years, casualisation of workers for four years, transfer of the branch union chairman to Enugu depot and indiscriminate sacking of workers without due process. They also listed issues such as undue exposure of the workers to chemicals and lack of incentives to neutralise chemical inhalation, withdrawal of management loan, withdrawal of staff bus and ambulance, frustrating the branch union executives, taking decisions without the union’s consent and imposition of leaders on the workers.
When the workers saw the national officers, they began singing solidarity songs, brandishing various placards to express their displeasure. They told their leaders that they wanted the management to pay all of them off.
The representative of the workers, Moses Olapade, the vice chairman of the branch, lamented that the management had been treating them like slaves, often reneging on agreements signed with the labour union.
“All we want is to be paid off; but we are not saying that we are tired of working. Rather, we are tired of the condition under which we work here. Right now, we are medically unfit and mentally unbalanced and could also be considered as walking corpses.
“Or how can we explain that we are working in a chemical company and no milk and other foods that used to be given to us to ameliorate the effect of the chemical? We have not had any uniform supplied to us in the past one year,” he said.
The president, however, pleaded with the workers to allow the management go home, in order to resolve the tension.
At the meeting, which lasted over four hours with representatives of the workers’ unions, police, officials of the Ministry of Labour and the management of the company, Olatunji blamed the management for the problem, claiming that it had failed to dialogue with the employees and the union.
“This is a specialised industry. Workers here deserve more; they can contract cancer anytime. Workers’ expectations are not beyond the means of the company, bearing in mind that they are the ones who lay the golden eggs,” he said.
However, the chairman of the company, Adetola Adebayo, regretted that most of the problems arose as a result of the present economic situation in the country and the inability of the company to secure a competent managing director and a human resource manager since he bought the firm three years ago.
He said, “We were almost closing down due to the scarcity of forex to buy raw materials, but now that we are having some forex, the banks have control of our account; although we have this money, we cannot access it.
“Nigeria is no longer like it used to be before; there is economic recession in the land. That is why the workers may no longer enjoy what they had been enjoying in the past.
“What really pained me most is that I was locked inside the premises in spite of all my efforts to ensure that the company survives.”
The controller of labour, Ministry of Labour, Ogun State, Olawuni Oyeyemi, in his comments, tasked the employers to give due recognition to the workers in order to boost productivity, noting that it was only when the workers were treated well that the employers could earn profit on investment.
“We in the Ministry of Labour want peaceful co-existence between the workers and the employers who provide the capital. That would help us in securing industrial peace,” he said.
The Divisional Police Officer in the area, Muyideen Obe, who said his men were on duty for the two days that the logjam lasted, advised the management against taking any hard stance, warning that the multiplier effects of issues on safety and security could be dangerous. He further advised both parties on the essence of shifting ground and reaching a compromise in order to clear the tension.
At the end of the meeting, the company’s management, in a communiqué, agreed to meet most of the workers’ demands, promising that the need to neutralise the effect of chemicals inhaled by the workers while at work would be promptly looked into while the confirmation of the temporary staff would be done in batches, among other things.