Nigerian workers at beverage firm protest exclusion from N1.6bn allowances | Dailytrust

Nigerian workers at beverage firm protest exclusion from N1.6bn allowances

Nigerian workers at CHI Limited, a subsidiary of Coca-Cola, have demanded immediate payment of N700 million productivity bonus and their share of the $1.9 million (about N969m) workers’ grant from the parent company, Coca-Cola, totalling over N1.6 billion.

Daily Trust learnt that the issue escalated on July 15, 2021, when the local workers’ union protested at the office of the outgoing Managing Director, Roy Deepanjan, demanding the payment.

The union alleged that in 2018, 2019 and 2020, over N700m was shared by a few members of the company, mainly expatriates, as a productivity bonus.

The company, founded in Lagos in 1980, produces juice under the Chivita brand and value-added dairy under the Hollandia brand, among other products.

Coca-Cola acquired a 40 percent stake in Chi in 2016 from Tropical General Investments Group, the holding company for Chi Limited.

A management source said: “It seems Coca-Cola disbursed N700m to be shared to staff, but the MD shared only N200m.

“Then a COVID-19 fund was also given by Coca-Cola, about $1.9m. That amount was only shared by 45 or 49 expatriates. That was in May this year. So finally the union guys went to protest at the MD’s office to air their grievances.”

The source further explained that it seemed the recent development had come to the attention of the parent company which had appointed a new MD that was Dutch to take over in September.

A management communication from the President of Africa for Coca-Cola, Bruno Pietracci, sighted by Daily Trust reads in part: “I am pleased to announce that Eelco Weber will join the Coca-Cola Company as the new Managing Director of Chi, reporting to me. Eelco is succeeding Roy Deepanjan who will be pursuing other opportunities outside of the Coca-Cola Company.”

After the protest, Chi raised a disciplinary committee on Monday. There were also reports that the management had sacked the union leaders over the protest.

The company has about 45 expatriates who have been in the firm for years without transferring skills to Nigerians as required by extant local content laws.

The Ministry of Interior had in April raised concerns about the prevalent cases of expatriates in Nigeria for skills already available in the country.

Commenting on the situation, President of the Food, Beverage and Tobacco Senior Staff Association (FOBTOB), Jimoh Oyibo, said: “Let’s establish these facts and thereafter, we will get back to you.”

Confirming the sack of the protesters, Oyibo said: “However, those alleged to be involved in the agitation have (had their appointments) terminated. We are not relaxing to see how the issue will be resolved.”

The Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, did not take his call and did not respond to the enquiry sent him via SMS.

However, Dr Monday Ubani, a notary public of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, said: “If we have a responsive government, this kind of report should be met by a stiff government sanction. The demands of the protesters are genuine. A company in this jurisdiction cannot carry out this kind of discriminatory act unchallenged.”

A public affairs commentator, Liborous Oshoma, said: “We have a big challenge with the fact that the Ministry of Labour does not protect the rights of Nigerians. Even though the court will tell you that the employer has the right to hire and fire, but this is a clear case of discrimination because the pandemic affected everybody.

“There are inherent labour laws that the ministry must insist they comply with. This is a matter for regulation and the authority must ensure they comply.”

Management dismisses claims

Our reporter contacted Chi’s Head of Legal and Public Affairs, Mr Israel Danauta, who also headed the panel that interrogated the protesters.

In an email response, Danauta said: “The spurious claim over discriminatory treatment of Nigerian staff is unfounded and a deliberate attempt to twist facts out of context, sow seeds of discord and cause disenchantment among Chi employees. We promote a fair and productive workplace in which every associate is a respected team member.”

While he insisted the company promoted fairness, he said: “Investigation is ongoing on the unruly behaviour, harassment and threat to the life of our managing director; the incident has also been reported to the national body of FOBTOB.”

Danauta concluded by saying that Chi was an equal opportunity employer and did not tolerate or condone acts of discrimination or unfair practice in any form and added that, “We are a respectable, law-abiding, corporate citizen who employs close to 4,000 Nigerians directly.”