Nigerdock Sacks Workers: Union Protests

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Nigerdock Nigeria Limited sacked at least 10 workers in the last week of February. This was after serving a notice of termination of employment on the grounds of redundancy to 21 of its employees. The Automobile Boatyards Transport Equipment and Allied Senior Staff Association (AUTOBATE) has rejected this and demands immediate reinstatement of the sacked workers. 

This is one sack too many. The long-lasting traditions of workers’ rights suppression in Nigerdock must be broken this time around. Organised labour must take all necessary steps to stop Nigerdock in its tracks of impunity. 

Nigerdock has a long history of anti-worker and anti-labour practices. The Federal Government established the company in 1986 at Snake Island as a shipyard for the building, maintenance, and repairs of seafaring vessels. Within the first five years of its operations, it sacked dozens of workers for trying to form a union. These workers led by Celestine Nwachukwu fought a long battle for reinstatement. 

The May 31st Movement (M31M), a precursor of the SWl, and a number of other socialist groups supported the workers’ struggle. But the company’s management was recalcitrant. This was during the military dictatorship and the company did not hesitate to involve soldiers in smashing the enthusiastic resistance of the workers, who continued to meet outside the firm’s premises until they were dispersed by force. 

The company was privatised in 2003 as part of the neoliberal National Economic Empowerment and Development (NEEDS) strategy of the Olusegun Obasanjo government. Two years later, the company acquired the status of a Free Zone and Port. 

At the time of its privatisation, Nigerdock had over 3,000 workers, out of which almost 1,000 were on permanent employment. Just before the current sacks which AUTOBATE is protesting, there were less than 150 workers on its payroll, with an additional 161 contract staff, employed through the Prime Services labour broker, under precarious conditions of employment. 

In October 2015, the Jagal Group which owns the company sacked over 1,400 workers with text messages. This was after the workers went on strike over management’s reneging on a collective bargaining agreement. The Jagal group had entered negotiations in the first place, only because the workers protested their shabby wages and working conditions. 

The Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment (FMLE) merely barked at this utter disregard of the company for the labour law and established industrial relations practice. It could not, or chose not to, bite. Emboldened by this, the company continued with a series of “rationalisation” exercises over the years. 

In August 2022, AUTOBATE decried the termination of the employment of another 21 workers, without management following due process to the FMLE, which stepped in this time around, An improved redundancy package was arrived at, but the workers were not reinstated. 

Barely half a year after, 10 more workers are being laid off. This is one “redundancy” too much. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the IndustriALL global union have thrown their weight behind AUTOBATE.

In a statement signed by Lai Brown, the AUTOBATE general secretary, the union has declared that “we shall fight to the very end in defending the rights and interests of workers in Nigerdock FZE.” SWL fully supports the union in this struggle and urges AUTOBATE to fight until victory. It is high time for the 3-decade long authoritarian anti-worker run of the Nigerdock management to be brought to an inglorious end.

by Nnamdi IKEAGU

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