Hundreds of workers of La Casera Company Plc, Monday, shut down the company’s factory in Lagos following the management’s decision to sack all employees.
The workers said they fell out with the company’s management following attempts to frustrate their decision to join the labour union.
“This company has been in existence for the past 15 years and in accordance with the law, our union, within our jurisdictional scope to unionize the workers, we made several attempts but the company is so averse to freedom of association by their workers,” said Mike Olanrewaju, Senior Assistant General Secretary, National Union of Food, Beverage, and Tobacco Employees.
“So they have been thwarting every move we make, through overt or covert means to sabotage it.”
The workers chanted and danced to solidarity songs outside the company premises, under the supervision of about half a dozen police officers in two patrol vans.
The La Casera Company Plc, formerly known as Classic Beverages Ltd, is an Indian owned company which manufactures the popular La Casera drinks.
The company also produces Nirvana table water, bitter lemon, tonic water, and soda water.
A few months ago, after the workers expressed their intention to join the labour union, according to Mr. Olanrewaju, they were asked to elect interim executives among themselves.
Richard Jome, a Maintenance Supervisor, was elected the chairman of the company’s branch of NUFBTE.
On July 31, Mr. Jome was sacked over “poor performance”.
“We reported to the Federal Ministry of Labour, which intervened promptly and invited us for meeting in Abuja,” said Mr. Olanrewaju.
“The management tactically avoided that meeting. What they did was to take us to National Industrial Court. We too, we’ve sent our lawyers, they are already there.”
Last Friday, the union said they received “very reliable” information about the company management’s plan to issue letters of disengagement to the workers.
On that day, the union members arrived the company, marched into the premises, and spoke to the workers, according to Mr. Olanrewaju.
“We went inside to address workers, to sensitize them not to collect those letters because the case is already in court,” he said.
But on Monday, the La Casera management, citing acts of vandalism on its premises, notified the workers of their immediate disengagement.
In the notice dated September 14 and pasted on the company’s gate, the company said that it was no longer able to continue operations due to “unprovoked acts of vandalism.”
“As a result of the unwarranted illegal break-in and invasion of our business premises on Friday 11th September 2015, we currently cannot guarantee the wellbeing of our esteemed employees, from these hired hoodlums and their collaborators,” the company said.
“This criminal and malicious action resulted in physical attack on innocent and law-abiding workers, as well as vandalization of our property causing damage to our business in general.”
The company further informed all staff to go their representative, Tusen Consulting, in Victoria Island to process their entitlements on September 22 and 23.
Over 600 workers were affected.
The Chairman of Nigeria Labour Congress, Lagos State chapter, said the union members would continue to picket the company until they reverse their decision and also agree to workers’ unionism.
“For some people from India to come to Nigeria and call Nigerians hoodlums is just like they are here to call us black monkey again, and we will tell them we are not black monkeys, we are human beings, even better than them in India,” said Mr. Adelakun.
“We are not hoodlums. If the people were hoodlums, you will not see the Nigeria Labour Congress coming here to stand with them, so they are not hoodlums, they are fighting for their rights.”
Mr. Jome, who was sacked in July after being elected chairman, said there were no acts of vandalism during last Friday’s protest.
“Nothing was damaged, it was a peaceful protest. Even, we the executives, we stayed on the premises till past 6 p.m. to ensure that nothing was destroyed.”
The angry workers also criticized the company’s working conditions, describing it as inhumane.
For instance, the health insurance does not cover any family member of staff; and treatment for any ailment does not exceed N3, 000.
“On the 31st of July, the union were supposed to come and do the inauguration of the elected leaders here, but the management pleaded that they should postpone it till the following week, that they have one important thing to do in the premises,” said Mr. Jome.
“That was the day they sacked me.”
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