…Reacts to Allegation of Resisting Unionism, Inhuman Work Environment
Managing Director of a Benin-based Chinese company, Frank Wang, is encouraging foreign investors to brave the odds to invest in the Nigerian economy, particularly in the construction sector, warning that they may live to regret not doing so in the future. Wang, who is the chief executive of Yongxing Steel Company which started operation in 2013, said the present challenges in the country were not enough reason for investors to shy away from investing in it, noting that “There is no economy that does not have difficulties. Our duty is to support the nation in her efforts to surmount those difficulties”.
Speaking at a stakeholders’ interactive session in Benin, Edo State capital on Sunday, Wang disclosed that the steel company had created 700 direct employment as well as 10,000 indirect jobs. This is however amid allegation by organized labour that the company had been resisting efforts by workers to have a trade union.
The managing director who was represented by his spokesman, Ben Den, said in an address read by the Assistant Public Relations Officer of the company, Olufemi Isaac, that the company was willing to support the country, positing that its challenges were not enough reason for investors not to take advantage of its huge population and the growing economy to invest.
Particularly wooing investors in the construction sector, Wang said “Those of us in the construction sector, we need to be more patient with Nigeria. Nigeria is a growing economy and will continue to grow. With the huge infrastructural gap in the country, the construction sector will continue to grow, and any foreign investor in that sector is not likely to regret at the end”.
He said the firm’s waste to wealth programme had created hundreds of employment opportunities while also ensuring a cleaner environment.
According to Wang, “As many of you are aware, the basic raw materials for our production come from things which are otherwise problems in the environment. We empower people to gather these waste materials that litter the whole environment; we pay for them, we use technology to recycle them, and produce some of the best steel products that are used in the construction industry. That way, we are not only creating employment, we are cleaning the environment, and we are contributing immensely to the construction sector which is very vital to a growing economy like Nigeria”.
Wang attributed the success story of the company to the support of stakeholders, particularly the staff, and the host community.
“We place premium on the welfare of our workers just as we have in our own little ways contributed to the development of our host community through corporate social responsibility (CSR). As for the staff, we have ensured regular training within and outside the country; provision of shelter, health insurance programme, and provision of safe environment to work. For the community, we have built market stores, provision of water, and giving out palliatives from time to time,” he stated.
Speaking at the event, the Enogie (Duke) of Ogua, Ogie Aghaghowen, commended the company for creating an economic environment, and also for ensuring peace in Ogua community. The Enogie said “Not that we don’t have issues at all, but we have a way of resolving them”.
Meanwhile, the National Union of Steel and Engineering Workers of Nigeria, has frowned at the action of management of the company in frustrating several attempts to unionise the staff through divide and rule. Incidentally, while the programme was on, some workers brandished placards protesting alleged inhuman working conditions under which they operate. Kassim Kadiri, National Secretary of the union, who recounted efforts made to intervene in the issue of unionism, said “We got to know about the company in 2013, and we have tried to unionize the place, but what they did was to organize some workers inside the company, who said that they don’t want a union. We wanted to meet the management, but they kept turning us around until 2014 when we declared trade dispute against the management.
“Along the line, the Ministry of Labour in Edo State intervened. One Mr. Igbiniovia was the one sent by the ministry to mediate. In 2O15, we signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) for the parties”. He enumerated some of the agreements reached to include recognition of the union by the company, and a meeting between the management and the workers, so that a union can be formally inaugurated.
Kadiri regretted that “The management didn’t honour this agreement until we declared another trade dispute in 2018. So, by some intervention, they agreed to meet us again. At that meeting, the management arranged about 20 workers (supervisors) who met us and said they don’t want a union. So we left them until 2021 when some workers came to us in Lagos and said we should come and unionize them.
“So, when we came to Benin for the purpose, the management said the MD has been away since the COVID-19 period. Even during the COVID-19 period, they did not allow anybody to go home. They were locked up in the dormitory for months. On the 14th of September, 2021, the workers held an election, and officers were elected. So the next morning, they transferred the elected chairman to Kano, because they have a warehouse where they gather scrap in Kano.
The governor of Edo State has intervened and set up a committee to mediate. Through the committee, it was discovered that none of the 900 workers there have employment letters. And we have been confronting them since”.
Wang had however insisted at the stakeholders’ meeting that the management was willing to unionise the workers as “soon as they indicate interest in that and put themselves together for such a purpose”.
He said “As a company, we are opened to advice. We place premium on the welfare of the workers here and that is why we established the monthly, quarterly, and yearly reward system that has seen some of the workers traveling to China for a period of three weeks”.
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