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NLC’s Picketing of MTN Vs. ILO provisions; a violation too many

Without prior publicity, on Monday July 9, 2018, officials of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) were at the MTN offices nationwide to picket the company over its claims of anti-labour practices.

However, the protest became violent and disorganized as properties within MTN premises were vandalized. Doors and gates were destroyed, several staff of the company were manhandled and in the Ikoyi head office, the MTN flag was lowered and the NLC flag hoisted in its place.

The violence that characterized the three-day picketing of MTN Nigeria by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) attracted condemnation from several quarters, especially from industry watchers, Nigerian workers, and affected MTN staff.

Now, it has emerged that the destruction of MTN assets, violence and threats violate an important section of the International Labour Organization (ILO) ethics of which the NLC is a member.

Within the time of the action, critical national infrastructure across the country were breached and attempts were made to seriously compromise them like turning off the independent power plants at the Ojota switch station, Lagos.

Business Hilights Intelliegnce Unit (BHIU) recalls that within the ambit of ILO provisions, since 1919 its main goal is to bring together governments, employers and workers of its member states to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programmes promoting decent work for all women and men.

Besides, under the ILO Principles concerning the right to strike, section 8.1 which focuses on picketing clearly states inter-alia, that “Taking part in picketing and firmly but peacefully inciting other workers to keep away from their workplace cannot be considered unlawful. The case is different, however, when picketing is accompanied by violence or coercion of non-strikers in an attempt to interfere with their freedom to work; such acts constitute criminal offences in many countries”.

Otherwise, “The requirement that strike pickets can only be set up near an enterprise does not infringe the principles of freedom of association (ibid., paras. 586 and 587).

Still on the violent turnout of the exercise and what industry experts have classified as brazen disregard for the ILO code of conduct, several respectable Nigerians have come out to condemn the NLC. Notable among these are renowned UK based accountant and social commentator, Feyi Fawehinmi and veteran radio presenter, Jimi Disu who during his radio session, called the act by the NCC a fund-raising exercise.

According to him, “As far as I am concerned, they went on a fund-raising exercise. Now it didn’t just end there, if you are going to picket a company let’s just say for all intents and purposes, does it then mean that you must go on a destroying mission? You went in there and destroyed their properties. Here we are, our existence economically is somewhat premised on what we call foreign investment, now is this how you are going to treat companies that come?”

On the other hand, industry regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) as well as the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) have clearly condemned these acts of violence, and the ALTON went as far as saying it will advise MTN Nigeria to consider preventive shutdown of network if telecoms facilities are damaged.

In his remarks, the Director, Public Affairs at NCC, Mr. Tony Ojobo confrimed in an official statement that on Monday night the NCC activated the MOU with NSCDC to protect the switch stations and BTSs belonging to MTN and other telecom operators.

He averred that “NCC has also briefed the security agencies on developments particularly the implications of the attempt to shut down the Ojota switch station. A collapse of the telecommunications grid is likely if these attacks on MTN and other telecom facilities are not abated.”

On the day of the act, Corporate Relations Executive at MTN Nigeria, Tobechukwu Okigbo made the position of the company clear on unionising, saying “We do not prevent our employees from associating amongst themselves as they deem fit and owe our employees the obligation to ensure they are not compelled to join associations. MTN supports the freedom of association as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution.”

Okigbo stressed that “All workers have rights that should be protected. We work hard to not only ensure that this is done but also to ensure that our company is a Great Place to Work. We will continue to champion our peoples’ rights, whether they are part of a union or not and work hard to minimise disruptions in service to our customers.”