Cablegate: Nigeria: Nlc Plans Protests Against Casualization

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Nigeria: NLC Plans Protests Against Casualization
in the Banking Industry

1. (U) On February 26, Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC)
President Adams Oshiomhole announced that the NLC, the
Congress of Free Trade Unions (CFTU), and several civil
society groups have planned demonstrations in Lagos
beginning March 4, 2004 to protest casualization (use of
contract labor) in the banking industry. NLC Assistant
General Secretary Denja Yakub told PolSpec that the decision
to mobilize its members follows a series of failed
negotiations between the National Union of Banks, Insurance
and Financial Institutions Employees (NUBIFIE) and industry
employers. NUBIFIE, one of the NLC's 29 unions, has
identified fifty-six Nigerian banks that employ most of
their non-professional staff through contracts. Since
Nigerian labor law prohibits contract workers from joining
unions and gives employers the option to extend benefits or
not, many companies operating in Nigeria employ contract
workers to reduce labor costs. Nigerian labor law permits
employers to hire workers through private contractors if
length of employment does not exceed 90 days. However, the
NLC argues that the practice is widely abused since most
contract employees remain with their companies for years by
simply renewing their work agreements every three months.

2. (U) Mazi Okechukwu, President of the Chartered Institute
of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN), an umbrella organization for
all registered banks in Nigeria, told reporters that banks
"will seek all avenues, including legal action, to prevent
the NLC from disrupting banks operations." While several
banks have vowed to seek judicial redress to prevent the
planned demonstrations, the NLC defends its right to
organize such events in order to uphold workers rights and
promote international standards pertaining to the freedom of
association. Labor leaders are concerned, however, that the
Federal Court set a precedent in January 2004 when it agreed
to hear a GON claim that the NLC's plans to strike against a
proposed fuel tax were illegal. Although the Court
eventually ruled in favor of the NLC, labor leaders were
ordered not to act until the GON had exhausted its appeals.
The NLC viewed the injunction as an infringement on its
right to organize, since it effectively disrupted labor's
mobilization efforts. The NLC believes that any recognition
or decision by the courts to hear a case involving planned
protests against the banking industry would also constitute
a denial of labor's right to organize.

3. (U) Despite escalating tensions between industry workers
and employers, Okechukwu said the CIBN plans to reach out to
the NLC to seek a peaceful resolution to the dispute. In
what appeared a desperate move to stave off the action,
Yakub said several banks have contacted the NLC, either to
deny accusations that they have failed to observe Nigerian
labor laws pertaining to contract labor or to express their
intention to comply with existing labor legislation.
Publicly, the NLC contends that the protest will begin as
planned unless all banks "accept unconditionally the
existing laws regulating the operations of workers in the
workplace," which includes the freedom of association.
However, Yakub told Polspec the NLC has agreed to meet with
industry representatives this week. He said the NLC would
likely agree to suspend protests if banks show a commitment
to trade unionism and are willing to "enter into agreement
on the appropriate time frame within which to regulate the
appointment of casual workers and unionize the

4. (U) While the NLC seeks to strengthen its credibility
among its constituents, labor leaders hope their battle with
the banks will provide momentum as they look to broaden the
issue of casualization. Concerns about the use of contract
work are slowly moving into the national spotlight and,
despite growing tension between Nigeria's three labor
consortia, all unions have a common interest in forcing
companies to employ only full-time permanent staff. As they
fight the battle over casualization, labor leaders are also
stressing that companies must accept greater responsibility
for ensuring that their contractors maintain legal and
organizational standards in the treatment of their

5. (SBU) Comment: NLC officials have raised concerns
regarding the role of U.S. organizations operating in
Nigeria, including the U.S. Consulate, in policing its
contractors. The Consulate's recently severed relationship
with ServTrust highlights challenges in using contract
labor. Forty contract employees were displaced on January
31, 2004, when the Consulate decided to reduce staff by
terminating its contract ith their employer, ServTrust.
Although the deciion was made mre tha one month before
the contact was officially terminated, ServTrust failed to
warn its employees, which left them unprepared to subsist as
they look for new jobs. ServTrust employees and NLC
contacts recently raised the issue with Laboff complaining
that although the majority of the contracted employees had
worked at the Consulate for many years, they had been paid
substantially less than Consulate FSNs with similar job
descriptions, and none of the contract workers received
severance pay or benefits from ServTrust upon their
dismissal. Former ServTrust employees argue that the
Consulate failed in a duty to ensure that the workers were
treated fairly by the contractor, who they say paid salaries
late and refused to grant sick leave. End comment.


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