Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fear Of Crisis In Niger Delta As Lamnalco Dares Militants, Sacks 40 Workers

Security operatives in the Niger Delta are bracing for a possible
bloody crisis in the region following what has been described as
indiscriminate sacking of about forty workers by the management of
Lamnalco Nigeria Limited. The firing of the workers came after
militants in the region warned against it, threatening armed attacks
if their warning was not heeded.
The company's decision to fire the workers, who are of Niger Delta
origin, was seen as a slap in the face of militants, two powerful oil
workers' unions, NUPENG and PENGASSAN, as well as the judiciary.
One of the sacked workers told our correspondent that he and other
firedworkers had each put in more than 15 years in the company. "The
management used alcohol and drugs tests as an excuse to lay off about
forty of us," the source said.
A senior manager of the company, who said he was unhappy about the
firings, told our correspondent that the company brought in doctors
and lab scientists into the company's boats in a military-style
"cordon and search" operation to conduct tests on the affected workers
in order for Lamnalco to evade paying severance benefits to the sacked
workers. Some of the sacked workers served as officials of the
Lamnalco branch of NUPENG.
The sacked workers include Captain James Yangaboi, Victor Urevbu,
Bernard Amadi, Canbi Opeme, Dennis Zifa, and Nelson Usilo. According
to the management source, "Lamnalco's vessels are not knownto have
experienced mishaps arising from drug or alcohol intake by captains
and crew members. Most members of staff targeted for sacking have
rather seen the company grow from five vessels in 1992 to over
28ocean-going vessels with contracts in the West African sub-region.
So the drug and alcohol test policy had never been applied in the
entire company operations spanning over 21 years in Nigeria."
The management source added that Lamnalco's actions arose from the
workers' refusal to comply with the February 8, 2013 verdict of the
National Industrial Court (NIC) Lagos which ruled that Lamnalco
workers can only be members of National Seafarers and Collaborating
Unions (NSCU), but not NUPENG and PENGASSAN. The workers filed an
appeal against the judgment.
"The company's action is part of plot not only to sack Niger Delta
workers but to deprive them of many benefits contained in the
employer-employee Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA)," one of the
affected workers alleged. He added that the plot began with the
relocation of Lamnalco's headquarters from Port Harcourt to Lagos.
"The relocation achieved the twin goals of easing out office staff
that are Ijaw/Niger Delta and forestalled protests," he said.
Numerous workers asserted that, following the NIC verdict, Lamnalco
declined to pay an automatic 5% increase in salary to senior staff as
well as the leave allowances to junior staff. In addition, the company
reportedly refused to negotiate with the workers' union when the last
CBA expired in May 31, 2013 and failed to pay any benefits under the
subsisting CBA.
"Can Lamnalco claim to be obeying the rule of law when it is
suspendingthe CBA and sacking NUPENG/PENGASSAN officials? Yet, there
isa pending appeal of the NIC verdict. Should the status quo not
remain till the outcome of the appeal?" queried a source.
A militant group known as the Coastal Revolutionary Forces (CRF) hadin
March 2013 warned Lamnalco against proceeding with its planned layoffs
without offering benefits to sacked workers. CRF vowed that it would
strike the company's ocean-going vessels without further notice should
its warning be ignored.
In a strike threat that was later suspended, NUPENG-PENGASSAN also
accused Lamnalco of daily threats and intimidation of workers for
refusing to change their union/association to the NSCU as demanded
bythe NIC verdict.
"The painstaking implementation of the NIC verdict by Lamnalco in the
pendency of an appeal is believed to lend credence to the company's
alleged sponsorship of NSCU with N50 million in the suit that
culminated in the verdict," the union stated.
In an email response to our questions, Lamnalco's Human Resources
Manager, Ndubuisi Ibegbulam, said the company had begun dealing with
the Seafarers Collaborating Unions and stopped all dealings with
NUPENG/PENGASSAN in keeping with the NIC's verdict. Mr. Ibegbulam
refused to state whether unpaid benefits due staff before the NIC
verdict had been paid or would be paid.
Mr. Ibegbulam said he was aware of a judicial appeal filed by
PENGASSAN, but added that the firm did not regard the filing of an
appeal as amounting to a superior court's order to stay execution of
the earlier verdict. He insisted that there was no ongoing sack
On the alleged drug and alcohol tests, Mr. Ibegbulam stated that,
following an "audit by one of our clients, it became mandatory to
strictlyenforce the drug and alcohol tests." He stressed that the
tests were an international policy. He further dismissed insinuations
that the terminations were based on union membership. He said there
was nothing like NUPENG/PENGASSAN in Lamnalco at the time the NUPENG
chairman, secretary and treasurer were sacked, insisting that their
terminations were done in line with their contract of service.
Several workers told our correspondent that they lived in daily fear
of being the next victim in a war in which they are not sure if NUPENG
and PENGASSAN could save them from the hammer.

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