Rampant ’union-busting’, arbitrary pay cuts, no written job contracts, and no maternity pay – these are the conditions at Chinese-owned companies not just in China but also in Africa.
The dehumanising treatment being meted out to workers in Nigeria is reminiscent of condition of work in pre-industrial revolution Britain. In Nigeria, workers’ health, safety and dignity are being violated despite the relevant factories’ acts and laws of the land. While all bosses exploit workers, the Chinese bosses are generally seen to be the worst. Two case studies could be used to justify this claim.
1. CWAY Food & Beverages Company and CWAY Nigerian Drinking Water:
This company is Chinese-owned. The name of its Chairman is Quest Chee Chao. The company is located at Debour Industry, Oshodi, Lagos with its factory at Kehinzeen Plaza, Ejigbo, Lagos State.
In February 2007, I spoke with Fawale Ayodele, a Regional Marketing Manager in charge of Western and Mid-Eastern Region of CWAY between March 10, 2005 and May 8, 2006. The interview is summarized below.
CWAY has a 250-strong workforce including ten managerial staff (two Nigerian and eight Chinese). However, none of the workers has an employment letter or contract. As such, no worker can claim to be part of the company staff. The monthly minimum wage for the factory workers is 7,000 naira (equivalent to 426 yuan or 42 euros). The Nigerian Managerial Staff earn 50,000 naira (3,077 yuan or 303 euros) monthly, later reduced to N35,000 (2,150 yuan or 212 euros) while their Chinese counterparts take home 700 US dollars (5,420 yuan) monthly not including other allowances like 15,000 naira (914 yuan or 90 euros) per week. While Nigerian managerial staff is paid in the local currency, naira, his/her Chinese counterpart is paid in dollars.
No maternity pay
In CWAY, workers’ salaries are deducted when they go on maternity leave. For instance, a quality control manager was not paid at all during maternity leave and when she resumed work, her monthly salary was reduced for no justifiable reason.
Despite the chaotic transport situation in Nigeria and Lagos State in particular, no Nigerian managerial staff is allowed to go home by official car. Only Chinese management staff enjoys this privilege. Nigeria is a population of 140 million people with Lagos State having 10 million. With this huge population, there is no functional rail transport system. Everybody is on the road, hence, a chaotic transport situation.
There has never been workers’ union at CWAY. As a result of agitation for a workers’ union, the entire workforce was sacked in October 2005. Up till now, there is no workers’ union in CWAY. Again, workers are not allowed to eat from the company’s product within the factory even if they buy it. It has to be taken outside the factory. Any worker who violates this rule is immediately fired.
Workers have no rights whatsoever in CWAY. The situation painted above is not peculiar to CWAY, other Chinese companies do same thing like CASCADE waters in Oshodi, Anthony, Lagos; Classic Beverages Company in Amuwo Odofin in Lagos; JINHVA (Welding Company) in Ikotun, Lagos; Viju in Ikeja, Lagos.
2. Another case study is the West African Rubber Products Company Ltd (WARP), owned by Lee Group of Companies (China), in Ikorodu, Lagos State:
In September 16, 2002, about 29 workers at the company on night duty were roasted alive because they were always locked inside the factory without any outlet in case of emergency. The workers are made to work twelve hours compulsorily with income of less than 70 cents (7 yuan) daily.
As a result of the inferno that led to the death of these workers, the Lagos State Government set up a six-man Panel of Inquiry with Honourable Justice Akinkunmi Holloway as Chairman. In the end, the panel found out that the management did not comply with all relevant rules of the Factories Act and were therefore culpable in the death of these innocent workers.
Corrupt officials serve the bosses
The panel also found out that all the inspectors of factories in Federal Ministry of Labour who are supposed to see to the fact that all factories’ laws and laws of the land are adhered to are compromised by the Chinese bosses. They bribe the officials who always issue a pass mark certificate or a clean bill of health to their companies. Again, the Nigerian government cares less about the plight of workers. This has allowed the bosses and the Chinese bosses in particular to exploit Nigerian workers with impunity.
Up till now, Lee Group of Companies has yet to implement any of the recommendations of the panel such as compensation to the families of each of the workers who suffered painful deaths, workers who suffered burn injuries and workers who were shot by a member of the Chinese staff. He shot under the guise of scaring away some workers standing by the gate with a crowd when they resumed work only to find out that their colleagues on night duty had been burnt to death.