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SUFFERING AND SMILING WHEN WORKERS BECOME GOODS

By NBF News
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The Minister of Labour Productivity and Employment, Chief Emeka Worgu, may have been reading through the workers' mind when he made a pronouncement penultimate week that the government would no longer tolerate Nigerian workers being conveyed in a de-humanised 'trailers'.

Workforce had equally went to town to seek the views of labour leaders as well as a leading construction company who is most guilty of the offence on the insensitivity of the multinationals treating Nigerians like slaves in their father's land under the guise of employment.

Comrade Augustine Etayo, National President Construction and Civil Engineering Senior Staff Association (CCESSA)

It's not fair carrying workers in a container. Some of these workers leave home 4a.m due to traffic on our road as they are expected to resume work by 7a.m. They are taken to work in this container turned staff bus and also get back home in the same truck after working under the sun and highly stressed up. As far as we're concerned, it is inhuman. Government needs to do something urgently about it. Infact our government should outlaw it. The condition under which Nigerians are working is not conducive.

The expatriates go to sit in an air-conditioned vehicles probably from their life camp to the site, which apparently may to be too far. Whereas the employers subject Nigerians that come from 20-30 kilometres to such inhuman condition. Such an act is quite unfair. Those are conditions we are fighting against in our industry.

The kind of work we do in our industry is very tasking. It is a job that is done with strength and energy sapping. Engaging in such a job demands that a worker is transported home in a conducive vehicle that will enable such a worker to relax. But those ones provide now will only put the workers under so much stress, that one will not be able to do anything again when one gets home than to sleep and wake up at 4a.m for another round of stressneous journey.

The Federal Government should stop this trend in the past government had made efforts to stop it, most especially in Abuja. Then the Minister ruled against it, some companies tried to comply and introduce modern buses, then buses in form of container hanged behind the truck head. Those ones are better than using the container to carry workers.

Such a container was risky and sometime ago in Abuja a lot of workers lost their lives when one of such containers was involved in an accident. The container fell off and that led to the death of so many workers on board.

The role of the union
We have been talking to our employees and will continue to do so. Though the problem does not really affect our members directly, most of them have official vehicles or do get transport allowance. But it involves our junior counterparts seriously.

However we cannot neglect the issue to them alone. At times we do come together to fight against any anti-labour acts of our employers and we are going to do the same for this cause as well. We are never going to relent on our oars. Comrade Adeoye Samuel - President of National Union of Civil Engineering Construction Furniture and Wood Workers (NUCECFLWW)

Actually we are not happy about that situation. As a president of Julius Berger branch our executives then tried to put an end to the use of peoples' trailer. However the companies have always been hiding under the fact that the transport they are providing is just an addendum to the transport allowance they are given to the workers. They were of the opinion that provision of a better means of transport will amount to withdrawal of the transport allowance. These workers are not ready for and prefer to continue managing the existing means of transport.

We have discovered that should we decide to go on strike in order to get the employers' confirm, the workers will not support us. Hence, our resolve to the employers then that the peoples' trailer should be modernize. That was when the management introduced a train like bus which the head of trailer is being used to move it. That was an improvement over the container trailer.

Then the company promised that the container trailer will be phased out gradually. Most of the Berger sites has container trailer and the Enugu built buses. I know this will be improved upon with time to the best of my knowledge Julius Berger, is really trying to eradicate the system. As a union we have really been campaigning against this inhuman way of transport. I know with time we will overcome it. We will continue to preach against it.

However, we need the support of the government to win this battle. There is nothing bad in our government enacting a law to prohibit such a means of transport. It was only in Abuja that we have been able to record some level of success.

There was a Minister during Abacha's regime, a woman Minister of state in charge of Abuja then who outlawed that such vehicles should not be seen on Abuja roads. The government should support the people by providing an enabling environment for the union to operate. Such things in Nigeria supposed to be outlawed. This is our country. How can the government allowed the multinationals from another countries to come into the country and operate the way they like. Our government gave them lots of opportunities and leverages to do whatever they like to Nigerians.

Comrade Nwabo Kenneth, National Treasurer of National Union of Civil Engineering Construction Furniture and Wood Workers (NUCECFWW)

Many years ago when these employers started providing transport as a means of assistance to workers going to site, they started with tippers. But our union challenged such transport and our agreement then outlawed conveying workers to site with open tippers or trailers. That is established in our national negotiation and condition of service.

The truck seen on the road today is a little graduation from what the employers were providing before, though we are still condemning it.

We are not satisfied with the little graduation they have made from tipper to what can be called container or a local made vehicle. However the union is still discussing with individual management to ensure that a reasonable number of vehicles will be acquired to convey workers. Workers involved run into thousands and not just hundred.

Though as a union we are against that trend, but we equally know that it is not easy. Perhaps if the numbers are few it would not be difficult for the employers to purchase coasters for the workers.

However a union we will not relent on our oars to ensure that such method of conveying workers in a de-humanised condition to site are stopped.

Julius Berger's side
Am surprised that they are still in Lagos, we have actually started phasing them out. Not quite long we launched a new set of trailers to replace what we have on Lagos road now and those are being produced by the company with an authority from the National Automotive council who inspected it and gave us a pass mark. We are mass producing it and very soon it will replace the present one on the Lagos road. Though we are already pushing those vehicles to our sites across the country to replace the existing one.

We just need some time and I believe by the middle of the year we would have done away with the old ones.

As a leader, we are also conscious that other construction companies used this type of vehicles to convey their workers to sites. However by the time they see that we have improved they will follow suit.