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PENGASSAN bemoans oil firms over indecent employment practices

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Victor Ahiuma-Young
PETROLEUM and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), has lambasted oil companies operating in Nigeria for their penchant for indecent employment practices especially casualisation, constract staffing and out-sourcing of workers, urging them to retrace their steps in the interest of industrial peace in the sector.

Acting General Secretary of the association, Comrade Lumumba Okugbawa, in a paper on “
Casualization/contract staffing the PENGASSAN experience”, also called on government ministries and agencies saddled with maintaining standard in the industry to do their jobs as stipulated by the law.

Tracing the history of indecent employment practices in the sector and efforts of labour at curtailing the scourge, Comrade Okugbawa said: “n he 1990s, PENGASSAN took a bold step to start organizing the contract staff in Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) and other Exploration and Production Companies like Mobil Producing Elf Nigerian Agip, etc. Organizing these workers at that time was not very easy as most Managements vehemently opposed the move.

The main crux of their opposition in order to save costs as earlier defined, is to deny this group of workers, pension benefits, medical benefits and the right to belong to any Trade Union or partake in Union activities. n contrast to the above, the contract staff (casuals) were very much willing to join the Association as they saw the move as an opportunity for them to start enjoying certain basic employment benefits like their counterparts (full time staff) who previously have been enjoying a variety of employment benefits.

The beauty of it all was that the permanent employees who were already PENGASSAN members also joined the contract staff in their struggle to become unionized. At the end, our Association, PENGASSAN succeeded in organizing the contract staff in SPDC, after which the contract staff members started paying union dues to PENGASSAN, and also enjoying basic terms of employment specifically crafted for them. It was this success story in SPDC and Mobil Producing, that encouraged the Association to further unionise other contract staff across the length and breadth of the Oil and Gas Industry.

As of today, our members under the Contract Staff category now have negotiated or defined terms and conditions of employment expressly stated in their Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) or something similar to it. Though there could be more.”
“ . The contract staff are under a form of triangular employment.

In this arrangement, we have the Parent Company, the Contractor/Pay-master and the contract staff. Here, the contract staff cannot easily identify who his employer is. He might have been interviewed for the job by the parent company, e.g Shell.

However, the parent company will thereafter transfer his employment to a contractor, e.g OTS Nigeria Limited.  It is OTS that will now issue the contract staff his Appointment Letter. He contractor referred to above is just an ordinary paymaster who has no powers of his own. Most often than not, the contractor will refuse the contract staff the opportunity of joining the Union/Association. In addition, he doesn’t have the power to negotiate with the contract staff even if they are allowed to join the Union.

Casualization may also refer to employment in temporary non-permanent and non-career form. This form of employment may be paid for on daily basis, monthly or service basis.

This short term employment relationship is fast gaining ground in almost all oil and gas companies in the federation and has assumed different forms and shapes- service contract, direct contract, labour contractors etc.”

Continuing, he lamented: “Sadly though in the hierarchy of employment in the industry, casuals as they are often derogatorily called are at the lowest level. Recruiters License though not a panacea for all the identified excesses or extremities of contract staffing and casualization may greatly address these concerns.

But beyond the Recruiters License, other viable measures should be evolved to checkmate these labour practices so as to bring about concise reconciliation of workers expectations in the face of current realities. Once an enlightened workforce is deprived of basic right to associate and form a union with a view to collectively bargain, the resultant effect is constant tension, undue pressure, stress and eventually, the relative industrial peace and harmony prevalent in the industry will be threatened to crisis level. This should not be so. We have written various letters to the Ministry Of Labour requesting for an All Sectors Stakeholders meeting to review the status of casualization and contract staffing in various sectors.

Unfortunately this has yet to materialize. We equally believe that the Federal Government through the Ministry Of Labour owes the responsibility of ensuring fair and equitable treatment and welfare packages to all categories and gender of workers as provided under Section 16 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which is an endorsement of International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 100 on Equal Pay For Equal Work Of Equal Value PENGASSAN has committed large resources towards this particular case in point. With the lack of recognition, management cannot deduct the union-dues of our members at source i.e from the pay roll. The fact that these members are not paying union-dues has negatively impacted on the Associations funds.

One will like to say that contract staffing or casualization is slave labour. The Association will also like to suggest that the Government should enact an appropriate labour law that will provide succor for contract staff to enable them enjoy basic terms and conditions of employment. By this, the issue of non-recognition of unionized contract staff will be a thing of the past.”

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