The Bayelsa State Chapter of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) on Monday picketed the MTN Service Centre along Sani Abacha Way, Ovom, Yenagoa over issues bordering on unionism and staff casualisation.
Drawn from all affiliate unions and numbering over 50, the placard-carrying protesters were at the centre as early as 7.30am, singing songs of solidarity as part of a nationwide picketing of MTN offices.
Some of the placards read: ‘Stop the intimidation of NIGERIAN workers MTN, ‘Unionisation is the right of all workers private/public’, ‘NLC say no to victimisation of workers in MTN’ and ‘ABASEBENZI Ba Vuka Futhi Balive’.
Addressing newsmen at the protest, John Ndiomu, Chairman of NLC in the state, said: “We are here to fight for the rights of not just workers but for the rights of Nigerians; for the rights of innocent workers who have been deprived their rights — their rights to form unions, their rights to belong to unions which is the constitutional right of every human being in this country.
“What MTN is doing is against the constitution of this country and I think that it should stop. And, if they don't stop, we'll continue to stay here. You may not know that even workers in this state, MTN workers in this state, majority of them are casual workers.
“This is unfortunate and we cannot continue to sit down and allow our brothers and sisters to be treated like slaves in this country. We can no longer remain silent about it. And that is the core of it that for once MTN should allow the workers the right to form unions, the right to join unions, and of course, using casual workers in all their distribution centres and even their head office is against the constitution of this country and we speak against that.”
Responding to questions, Ndiomu explained that several attempts had been made at the national level between NLC officials and MTN management to resolve the issues but they were unsuccessful.
He expressed optimism that labour would be victorious at the end of the day and urged MTN to listen to labour’s demands as it would be better for even their workers.
Tarinyo Akono, former Bayelsa State Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), accused MTN of coming into Nigeria with apartheid mentality and the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) of failing to protect Nigerians.
“Well, I have said it before: MTN came to Nigeria with apartheid attitude,” he said. “The apartheid that they had in South Africa, they brought that attitude to Nigeria and the NCC itself has failed to protect Nigerians as far as we are concerned.”
Akono lamented that some MTN workers had been casual staff for over 10 years against the law, which stipulates two years, and they are denied entitlements like free lines and allowances.
Meanwhile, commenting on the protest — not just in Bayelsa but in other parts of the country —Tobechukwu Okigbo, MTN’s Corporate Relations Executive, said the firm was not opposed to staff unionism.
Describing the picketing of MTN offices across Nigeria as “unnecessary”, he said: “Today’s 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.
“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.”