MTN AND UNIONISM IN NIGERIA
By Our Reporter
In its over a decade of operations, the South African-owned MTN Nigeria Limited has had no dealings with labour. The telecommunications giant made it clear from the onset that her workers would not be allowed to participate in any acts of organised unionism whereby workers of the company would participate in union activities like being part of the Nigerian Labour Congress. It was a gentleman’s agreement that even the workers did not contest and saw no reason to contest. It is also important to state that at this time, the business of MTN was managed by MTN and there were no third parties working for the company except contractors and consultants who came from abroad to carry out specialized assignments for the company.
With expansion came the outsourcing model where the management sought to focus on its core business of communication in all its ramifications and expansion into data management for other businesses like banks and other companies. In trying to focus on its core are,a MTN outsourced some job roles to third parties and in the process lost control of the engagement and welfare of the staff employed by these third parties. An industry watcher Kunle Ajibade told the Difference Newspapers said MTN’s problem with labour started with the adoption of this outsourcing model which involves paying less for more which the company pursued vigorously to the point of losing well trained and dependable staff that had given the company the competitive edge that made if the market leader that it is today.
MTN controls more than 50% of the telecommunications market beating its other rivals in all indicators of the market place. It’s one investment that the South African investors are not regretting as against those who hesitated and now training behind and even in some cases struggling to make ends meet. One thing that sign posted MTN’s successes is the maintenance of a non rancorous board from inception unlike some others whose business had passed from one company to another.
Another industry watcher Omolara Oseni said that it appears that over the years MTN became cocky especially with its outsourcing operations as the staff of the third parties were left to the whims of their employees who placed them on slave labour. She said that for example university graduates who worked in call centers were poorly paid and enjoyed no benefits which MTN main workers enjoyed and in some instances these workers were given ultimatum to relocate to places far away from their usual place of abode and work on the same poor salary and it came with you either take it or leave.
Whilst MTN allowed their staff to form a very lucrative Multi Purpose Cooperative society through which they benefitted in many other ways the staff of the third parties had no such organization to grant them additional benefit. Though the Cooperative run by MTNers have met with serious including embezzlement of millions of Naira these are seen as internal matters that the members were dealing with some cases being with the EFCC and some in law courts. Its important to note that due to embezzlement by some executives of the society MTN in 2014 washed her hands off and even withdrew some of the benefits to members like selling off used Generators, vehicles and household properties to the society which they resold to members at cheap rates.
The picketing of MTN offices last week is certainly not the first time but perhaps it’s the first time the labour union turned the picketing into a physical attack of the infrastructure of the company and in some cases physical attack of staff. The attack of infrastructure led to some companies supported by MTN humongous infrastructure to suffer downtimes. It led to delayed notifications to customers by one Big back. Perhaps not many people know that beyond making and receiving calls MTN’s infrastructure is the backbone of some business concenrs especially banks and other financial institutions so if MTN experiences any form of downtime it affects these businesses and that is why the company works round the clock to ensure that there is no down time and takes extra time to ensure the readiness of a backup just in case of the kind of emergency of the picketing type in a prolonged manner. These back up arrangements costs both men and materials not to talk of the time and the expensive technology that makes all this possible. Officials of Nigerian Labour Congress said that MTN had no right under the constitution to stop her staff from joining unions stating that in South Africa it’s not the case. The NLC said that no level of blackmail will stop their struggle to unionize the company saying that it was deplorable for Nigerians to be treated like slaves in their own country adding that its unacceptable for MTN to pay university graduates Fifty thousand Naira and what more these level of staff do not enjoy health benefits and are entitled to go on leave. They blamed irresponsible Nigerian leaders for the situation where companies establish and maltreat Nigerians while Nigerians even sit on their board and do nothing adding that they will continue disrupting MTN operations until the right thing was done.
In response MTN maintained that while they cannot control third party companies with regards to their relations to their work force they have nothing against MTN staff joining unions if they so desire but that MTN staff are happy with not belonging to NLC. MTN further added that it was not as if the NLC was concerned with staff welfare but their target was in the check off dues they will collect from obviously well paid MTN staff. The Spokesman said attacking staff and infrastructure was a low in the relationship with the labour union whose attempt to disrupt operations in the past have not been with violence but deplored the introduction of violence into the picketing of the company business premises and destruction of infrastructure.
A staff of MTN at its headquarters told Difference Newspapers that the company should find a way to hold their third parties accountable in their treatment of their staff as the backlash blows back to spoil MTN’s name and image in the industry.
NLC has left MTN premises across the country. The next line of action is left to be seen in the battle to get the staff of the telecommunications company to join the union is left to be seen.
NLC President, Ayuba Wabba