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UNION LEADERS DECRY ABUSE OF EXPATRIATE QUOTA

Source: minor industrial policy like casualisation and contract labour to the major national economic ineptitude and mismanagement of the energy and oil sectors. Jobs are lost daily while foreigners take over few ones.



•Oyelekan

Times are hard for Nigerian workers, courtesy of the collusion between immigration officials and foreigners who abuse the expatriate quota.

Workers have been at the receiving end over issues ranging from minor industrial policy like casualisation and contract labour to the major national economic ineptitude and mismanagement of the energy and oil sectors.

Jobs are lost daily while foreigners take over few ones.

The most unfortunate in this scenario of job losses, however, is that while Nigerians are losing jobs 'Smart Alecs' are gaining rounds.

From oil and gas to manufacturing, they are everywhere making profits and using lowly qualified expatriates in jobs that Nigerians are more qualified and experienced to do.

Right from 2004 when Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and its National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) counterpart first raised an alarm over the abuse of expatriate quota in the oil sector, by an Italian oil servicing firm, Saipem Contracting (Nigeria), the abuse had been on the increase and had been spread to other sectors of the economy.

It was revealed then that Saipem had no less than 327 expatriate welders, electricians and other technicians even where there are qualified Nigerians for the jobs. Whereas the law stipulates that only where there are no qualified Nigerians should an expatriate be brought in and there must be two Nigerians to under-study such an expatriate for two years.

Although a law on immigration, stated that 'every non-Nigerian who has entered Nigeria legally and who wishes to reside and or work in Nigeria must make an application for a Combined Expatriate Residence Permit and Aliens Card (CERPAC).

It further explained that almost all applicants for a CERPAC are employed by companies or individuals running businesses in Nigeria, while the employers must first apply for and be granted an Expatriate Quota.

It states further that 'the Expatriate Quota scheme is designed by government to prevent the indiscriminate employment of expatriates where there are qualified and suitable Nigerians to fill those positions.'

But this has been found as only paper statement as cases of illegal immigrants abound in the country.

Indeed, the Asians and Indians are more into this unholy act of bringing in less qualified nationals to do the job which Nigerians are more qualified to do against the law. In some cases, these foreigners circumvent the law with the support of Immigration officials, who grant them work permits as highly skilled expatriates.

The Citizenship and Business Department of the Ministry of Interior has responsibility for administering and enforcing the provisions of the Immigration Act, 1963 relating to the establishment of business in Nigeria and the employment of foreigners.

The department is entrusted principally with the following responsibilities:

•Issuance of business permit and expatriate quota positions;

•Monitoring the execution of the quota positions granted to ensure effective transfer of technology to Nigerians, and

•Eventual indigenization of the positions occupied by the expatriates.

A look at the revised guidelines for the acquisition of expatriate quota indicates that every enterprise, desirous of obtaining the quota must submit an application to the Federal Ministry of Interior on a form designed for that purpose.

The law places emphasis on employment of Nigerians to understudy the foreign experts. This is for the purpose of training them to enable such Nigerians acquire relevant skills for the eventual take-over of the expatriate quota positions.

Though almost all the sectors of the economy had one sad story or the other to tell about the abuse of expatriate quota, worst-hit, however, are the food and chemical sectors where the union leaders complained that the abuse of expatriate quota by the operating companies have sent substantial number of their members to the job market prematurely.

According to the President, National Union of Food Beverage and Tobacco Employees (NUFBTE), Comrade Lateef Oyelekan, the level of abuse in the food sector is outrageous.

'The issue of expatriate quota has been on for a long time with the union. There are so much laxity in this country that allows anybody to come under the guise of an expatriate.

'Under normal circumstance, an expatriate is supposed to fill a technical gap, which perhaps because a new machine is being brought in and there is the need to train some Nigerians.

'Whenever there is an expatriate on technical ground, there must be Nigerians to understudy them at least for two to three years. Then being the expatriate leaves and Nigerians take over,' he stated.

He lamented that the reverse had been the case as rather unqualified foreigners have been coming into Nigeria under the pretence of being expatriates.

Comrade Oyelekan cited an instance where a company edged out a Nigerian chartered accountant for a lesser qualified HND expatriates, who due to incompetence put the company in a big financial mess.

The labour leader also questioned the rationale why a food company would hire an expatriate as commercial directors to oversee states.

'The question is what do these people know about the culture, infrastructure, terrain, languages of the people that make up these states. Whereas we have Nigerians who are better qualified.

'Globally, there is unemployment and that is the reason those companies owned by Indians and some others are imposing their people on us here,' he said.

He noted that the status of Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill was further worsened by the expatriates. 'Those Indians only worsened the situation there. Their main interest when they took over the company was to siphon the money from the country and establish the same business in their country.

The NUFBTE president stressed that the union, however, would soon embark on industrial action against companies identified to have run foul of the law in their sector.

'We have notified the Ministry of Labour on this abuse of expatriate quota. It is already an issue in our sector because some of these expatriates do not know anything. It is our people here that take them through the rudiments of the job and at the end, they are sacked,' he said. Also, National President of National Union of Chemical Footwear, Rubber Leather and Non-Metallic Products Employees (NUCFRLANMPE), Comrade Boniface Isok, lamented the woes which have befallen his sector through the high handedness of Indian and Lebanese employers.

'We have had several redundancy due to closure and relocation of companies from Nigeria. The few ones that remain which are mostly Indians and Lebanese-owned companies would be law to themselves. The owners of those companies prefer to bring in their own people to do such jobs as clerical, forklifting and other factory works meant for Nigerians. Invariably, more Nigerians will find themselves in the labour market,' he said.

'All our factories now have been taken over by foreigners, the only job left for Nigerians now is probably cleaning. Even in the big multinational companies, hardly can you see a Nigerian on the board and where a Nigerian is on the board, perhaps as a non-executive director, the plum positions are reserved for the foreigners.

'The implication of this is that Nigerians will no longer be safe in their own country, owing to mass unemployment which will give room for higher crime rate in the land,' he stressed. Comrade Isok spoke on the role of government: 'Our government must intervene in this respect and make intending investors to know, right from inception, the percentage of the workforce in their companies that should be filled by Nigerians. Such positions from sub-engineers, clerk, fork drivers and other works in the junior level should be left for Nigerians, but this is no longer applicable.'

Similarly, the National Union of Construction, Furniture and Wood Workers (NUCECFWW) in one of its industrial relations and education conferences, decried the influx of expatriates, urging the authorities to ensure that bad, sharp practices are checkmated among Immigration officers especially in the issuance of employment permits to certain categories of expatriates.

'We want government to review our local content laws and ensure that expatriates are not engaged on jobs Nigerians are qualified to undertake,' the union demanded. The president of Precision Electrical and Related Equipment Senior Staff Association (PERESSA), Comrade S.O. Olaoye, also lamented the flagrant abuse of expatriate quota in his sector.

'Some multinationals in our industry really have no respect for the law guiding employment in this country. We have instances where our members have been edged out subtly for an expatriate in a position meant only for Nigerians. 'The rate of abuse is quite astounding, we have put up several protest in the past, but this battle is really beyond us.

'It is really quite pathetic, if the case is beyond the labour, no doubt it cannot be beyond the government. Although government authorities in the past said they had risen to led to repatriation of some illegal aliens, much still need to be done, if Nigerians will not be subjected to another form of colonizations in their own country.

Perhaps the bad eggs in the Immigration department who connive with these companies must be removed. Nigerians must no longer be made to suffer in the midst of plenty or be denied their rights in their own country.'