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How Kwara Hotel laid off workers without benefits

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CALL it man’s inhumanity to man, you may not be far from the truth. The story of the workers that were thrown out of their jobs by the management of Kwara State- owned Kwara Hotel, KH,  over 20 months ago without even termination letters, seems more of a fiction than real in modern day Nigeria, and in Kwara State in particular, the home of the Senate President; a two-term governor of the state.

Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara State

The sad story, it was gathered, started on May 25, 2017, when 85 workers of KH, Ilorin, in crass display of impunity were sent into the job market by the management without the decency of issuing sack or termination letters to them.

On that fateful day, it was gathered that six vehicles with armed mobile policemen were stationed at the gate of the hotel by the management.

The policemen were given a list of the names of the workers that must not be allowed into the premises under no circumstances.

As expected, union leaders and staff perceived by the management to be leading the demands for improved conditions of service and payments of salaries, cooperative society’s money and other deductions of the staff, numbering 85 were affected.

At the end of the day, they were refused entry into the premises of KH at the gate, and no termination of appointment letters were given to them till today.

Contacted for government’s reaction, the Senior Special Assistant to the governor on Media and communications, Dr Muideen Akorede, promised to get back, but never did as at press time.

Investigation revealed since the incident about 20 months ago, about 25 of them have moved on, while 60 others are still stranded and in search of how to keep body and soul together. They have been begging the government of Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed to come to their aid to save them from untimely deaths.

Despite agitations, protests among others, during which one of the victims, Mr Bamidele Williams, popularly known as Baba Isanlu, lost his son because he could not afford to purchase the needed drugs for him, the management of KH has remained deaf.

READ ALSO: Sacked Kwara hotels staff beg Saraki, Ahmed to pay outstanding salaries

Besides, other members have been evicted by their landlords because they could not pay their house rents for over two years.

Mr Williams who lost his son, spoke on development and lamented that he had to relocate to his village in Isanlu-Isin in Irepodun Local Government Area of the state because of the hardship in Ilorin after the job loss in Kwara Hotel.

According to him: “I could not believe that we would be laid off that way even up till now. I actually thought we would be recalled any moment. I could not take care of my family anymore. My son had been sick and I needed money to buy some drugs to take care of him. But I thought of several means of getting money to no avail.

“Until I received a message that we should gather in Kwara Hotel for a peaceful protest where I believed I would get my money paid. We were inside Kwara Hotel premises for the protest when I received a call that my son has died. It was so painful.”

Similarly, Mr Adeniyi Jesse, who has been ejected by his landlord over unpaid house rent, distributed family members among his relations while his personal effects were given to friends for safe-keep pending when he could get money to rent another apartment.

The branch chairman of National Union of Hotel and Personal Services Employees, NUHPSE, Kwara Hotel chapter, Mr Mohammed Ochennica, recently appealed to the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and the state governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed to come to their aid over unpaid salaries, gratuities, cooperative deductions among others, to lessen the sufferings of workers, former staff and their families.

Our offence 

He said: “It was in the cause of informing the state government that KH needed renovations because the infrastructure were seriously dilapidating that they planned to sack us. When I got the hint that they had already compiled list and were about sharing the sack letters, I approached the management to find out the veracity of the report, but they denied it.

“It was the following day that we met the gate of KH closed against us by a detachment of six vehicles of anti-riot mobile police officers. They compiled list and only those on the list were allowed inside; 85 of us were not allowed inside and till today, no sack letter has been given to us.

“We staged several peaceful protests, and in the process, one of us received a call that his son has died because he had no money to buy the required drugs so no amount of money the management can pay now that could measure up to the evils that had happened to our people because of this development.”

Ochennika had at a briefing in Ilorin not long ago, lamented that some of the affected workers had died because they could not afford to buy the needed drugs to survive, while others who could not get another job since then had been living as destitute.

He said: “Till date, we have not been served any sack letter. Our only offence was that we asked Harmony Holdings (Government’s company operating the hotel) to improve the deteriorating standard of the hotel and pay our salaries and emoluments.

“In fact, we met several times with the Special Assistant to the governor on Investment, Mr Yomi Ogunsola, who agreed with us on our agitations. Unfortunately, instead of implementing our agreements, the next thing they did was to bring fully armed police officers to the gate of Kwara Hotel on May 25, 2017, to send us away from work.

“Till date, no letter of retrenchment has been given to any one of us and our outstanding salaries, cooperative deductions and other emoluments were not paid.”

Ochennica pleaded with the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, to intervene in the crisis, and also urged Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed to pay their salaries and other benefits as agreed by his aide, Mr Yomi Ogunsola.

N300 million debt

Giving insight into their plight, Mr Ochennica explained that the total amount owed the staff which included pension, employees’ contributions deducted but not remitted, cooperative deductions not remitted, National Housing Fund deductions, union service charge among others, totalling about N300million.

He said out of this debt, N89 million and N33million had been paid by the Kwara State Government at intervals leaving a balance of N178 million unpaid.

He said: “Let me start from the period of the then Kwara Hotel management which signed an agreement to run the hotel for 15 years. Within seven years, they accumulated unpaid gratuities and other related benefits to staff. So, we wrote to the state governor intimating him of what we were going through, that we wanted the government to save our souls and that we wanted KH to be renovated and upgraded for better services.

“In the process, we wrote to the Commissioner of Police, the Department of State Service, DSS, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC and other stakeholders. We even wrote to the House of Assembly. It was after our letters that the state government asked Harmony Holdings to take over the running of the hotel without the union’s knowledge, without calling for any meeting to find out whether or not the staff were owed salaries and other benefits, not to talk of how many months and so on.

“They came around 7pm to take over on that fateful day, with no visible management staff around. Only a representative, the general manager from South Africa that was around. The initial management of KH came in 2009 and spent seven years. So, Harmony Holding came in 2016. After they absorbed us, then came this problem of payment of our debts, and both Harmony Holding which is running the place and the immediate past management started pushing us back and forth before we were forced to write to the House of Assembly to intervene.

“The House of Assembly then inaugurated a committee which invited both the union representatives and the management.

All our submissions relating to our benefits, gratuities and allowances were accepted by Harmony Holdings management and also that of the immediate past management. Harmony Holdings initially said they would not accept the liabilities and the lawmakers, said we should not worry that they would look for political solution to the problem. At the end of the day, after the intervention of the House of Assembly, Harmony Holdings accepted to take over the liability because the House of Assembly insisted that there was no way they would take over the assets without the liabilities.

“After that, the state government also came in. Senior Assistant, SA, to the governor on Public Private Partnership, PPP, Mr Yomi Ogunsola, and SA to the governor on Labour Matters,    Bisi Fakayode,    the TUC, NLC, in the state were all involved and they agreed to pay all our staff benefit provided, we give them N26million discount from the money claiming they were going to obtain loan from the banks. They claimed they would use the N26million to pay back the interest on the loan. We were getting our money through Harmony Holdings. So, we agreed with them to share the payment of interest on the loans they took to pay our money.”

He added that the affected workers now live like destitute and that only the personal intervention of the governor and the Senate President can save the situation and stop the pains, sufferings and untimely deaths.

Contacted for government’s reaction, the Senior Special Assistant to the governor on Media and communications, Dr Muideen Akorede, promised to get back, but never did as at press time.

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