Workers organized in both Automobile Boatyard Transport Equipment and Allied Senior Staff Association (AUTOBATE) and Steel & Engineering Workers Union (SEWUN) picketed Boulos Enterprises Limited (Boulos) for several days, commencing on Monday 30 November 2020. They were protesting management’s violation of the tenets of social dialogue, and victimization of workers.
The Boulos management unilaterally declared some workers redundant. This action which is itself illegitimate and illegal was also used to target officials of the two unions, who were included on the list. The company had commenced redundancy negotiations with SEWUN and AUTOBATE in October, but these were not concluded.
There were some key issues which remained contentious. And the Human Resources/Administrative Manager who led the Boulos management’s delegation at the negotiations informed that he would take these issues to the management and call for another meeting to reach a resolution.
Among the pending issues are; the number of workers that will be affected in which the unions particularly called for reduction of the job losses management wanted, as evidence shows that the company’s situation was not as bad as it was being made out to be. The unions equally demanded that the union executives should not be sacked with the pretence of redundancy. AUTOBATE also demanded that all workers including those that will be affected by the redundancy must benefit from the Christmas Bonus.
The management did not get back to the unions for over a month. And then on October 27 the unions received a letter from the management informing of plans to implement redundancy immediately even while those issues mentioned remained unresolved. As a matter of fact, the letter simply presented management’s positions in a unilateral manner.
The Unions wrote to the management to put the redundancy plan on hold and call for a meeting to conclude the earlier initiated negotiation. The management refused, and in the evening (at the end of the workday) on Friday 27 November after a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) had been signed by the Unions, it issued redundancy letters to the workers.
Management also gave orders to prevent those affected by the redundancy from gaining entrance into the company on Monday 30th November 2020. Among those that were served letters are 4 Unions’ Executives including the recently elected National President of AUTOBATE.
That is clearly a case of victimization and attack on the Labour Unions but with a deeper intention. We got it from good authority that the Management of Boulos intends to lay-off workers so as to engage more casual and contract workers to maximize its profit and enrich some few elements. And critically looking at the approach of the Management confirms this. The attempt is to weaken the unions by cutting off the leaders who have been radical for years in the workplace. By getting rid of these Union leaders they can further victimize the workers that will remain with the company. Basically, management will not be satisfied with over 48 workers they intend to lay-off now.
The management which could not wait to conclude negotiations before it hurriedly effect a kangaroo redundancy delayed the implementation of an in-house collective agreement for 11 months. As a matter of fact, management was forced to agree to and implement the collective agreement due since December 2019 because a redundancy cannot be done without its implementation.
The picketing was suspended due to the intervention of the Federal Ministry of Labour & Employment (FML&E) who called for the status quo to be maintained. The workers complied by suspending their action on Wednesday 2nd December, but it must be on record that some workers were prevented from entering the company on the claim of redundancy. Clearly management failed to maintain the status quo because those workers served the redundancy letters still remain as workers on the ground that no agreement has been signed.
While the workers are currently challenging the anti-worker stance and victimization of labour leaders by the Boulos Management at the Ministry of Labour, they are determined to pursue the matter until justice and victory is achieved. This is a time for labour unions, workers’ organizations and activists to show solidarity to the Boulos workers by joining them in struggle. Also, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) which SEWUN and AUTOBATE are affiliated to respectively must demonstrate their readiness to stand with the workers against this attack.
Onward forward to workers’ victory!
by Sam OLUWASEUN