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Lagos Assembly Summons Airtel Over Staff Downsize…As Airtel Denies Allegation

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Airtel, one of Nigeria's major telecommunications networks is in for a big trouble as the Lagos State House of Assembly queries the continued take-over of jobs meant for Nigerians by expatriates and called on Nigerians and the government to remain alert

 against being fleeced by some telecommunication companies operating in the country.

The Legislature had queried the activities of Airtel, which is owned by Indian investors for allegedly sacking 3000 workers, 1000 of which are Lagos residents and replaced them with Indians. The House however summoned the management of the company to appear before it on October 11 to explain why the company took the decision, thereby increasing the number of unemployed Nigerians.  investigations showed that the few Nigerians who were retained had their salaries slashed by over 70 per cent. In this case some of those who earned about N100, 000 would now have to be paid N30, 000 monthly whereas the expatriates who have been brought in to take over their jobs would earn far higher.

The racial issue came to the fore when Hon. Olarenwaju Oshun, representing Mushin raised it as a matter of urgent public importance on the floor of the House and the 35 members of the House unanimously agreed to boycott the services of the telecommunications company till it finally decides to reverse the action.

Reacting to the mass sack by Airtel, Deputy Speaker of the House, Hon. Taiwo Kolawole, blamed the National Communications Commission (NCC) as a regulation authority, the government and banks for allowing foreign investors in the country act against constituted norms.

"The foreign investors borrow money from their banks at cheap interest rates. Since they know this is the best place to utilise such loans the way they like without being disturbed, that is the reason they do what they do. Here, there are several people willing to do business, but have our banks assisted? They place heavy interest rates on loans thereby discouraging local investors. If we are calling the telecommunications regulators to do their jobs, we should also be calling on the banks to do their best in that regard."

On his part, the Majority Leader, Ajibayo Adeyeye expressed worries over the unemployment situation, saying, 'If these set of 1000 in the state are added to the present number of unemployed persons in the state and the country, the company would have succeeded in creating additional problems for the government of Lagos state.'

According to Hon. Bisi Yusuf, "there is no way these people who have been sacked do not have at least five dependents. If each of the 1000 sacked in Lagos alone has five dependents that means they will totally have 5000 people who have been affected by the action of the telecommunication company.'

Speaker of the House, Rt. Hon. Adeyemi Ikuforiji, who also decried the activities of the telecommunication company, enjoined that House to invite the management of the company to explain why they took the decision.

"This is a company that has its headquarters in our state. Those affected are also those who we represent in this House. Though we have many Nigerians who have stolen enough to invest in this country, but would not do so and rather allow the foreigners take over the business space, that does not mean we would allow them do what they like and continue without being cautioned."

But in a swift reaction, the telecommunication company, Airtel, through its Director of Human Resources, Mr Jibril Saba, has denied the allegations, saying that "We want to state categorically that as world class organisation, we offer our employees remuneration and benefits comparable to standards across the world and in compliance with the working and labour laws of Nigeria. The activities of some disgruntled agents are capable of frustrating investors with good intentions and making nonsense of the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)."

He further explained that two business process outsourcing, Tech Mahindra and Spanco are responsible for Airtel's call centre services and have the responsibility to either employ or fire any call centre staff, adding that the two companies inherited over 1200 call centre agents from three companies which provided same services to Zain before it was bought over and renamed Airtel.

'Contracts between the five companies and Airtel expired on September 30, 2011 after which two of them were picked and the two further disengaged the 1200 workers and asked them to re-apply if they were still interested in the job.

"Our plan is to offer new contracts with attendant salaries and benefits based on qualifications and experiences. We will recruit new agents because the vision is to expand the call centre business in Nigeria to 5,000 capacity."