By Felix Khanoba
The Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) says it has put a policy in place that ensures 60percent of jobs available in any of the Free Trade Zone in the country are made available to host communities.
Acting Managing Director of NEPZA, Mr Bitrus Dawuk, stated this in Abuja while reacting to the recent labour crisis at Ogun-Guandong Free Zone, Igbesa, Ogun State.
He said the industrial dispute between the workers and Management of Goodwin Ceramic Free Zone Enterprise (FZE) located in the Zone, was as a result of extension of lockdown by government to curtail the spread of coronavirus pandemic, which prompted several workers of the company mostly from the North- East demanding for additional payment to stay or vacate the Zone.
While saying despite the pleas by the Zone’s Management and security agencies that the workers should stay in order not to expose themselves to the pandemic and the financial payment made available to them to cater for their needs, Dawuk said such appeals landed on deaf ears.
Dawuk expressed delight that the labour crisis has been resolved despite some erroneous reports making rounds in some media.
According to the Acting MD, it was at the course of resolving the crisis that the Authority discovered that its policy on 60percent recruitment of people from the catchment area was not fully enforced by the Free Zone Enterprise.
“Until this dispute, it was not obvious that more than 80 percent of the workers of the Enterprise of Ogun-Guandong Free Zone were not from the catchment area. The current Resident Zone Administrator said he inherited the problem when he assumed duty in December 2019 after the retirement of the immediate past Resident Zone Administrator.
“The Authority is already putting a mechanism and template to redress the situation to ensure that youth within the vicinity and location of any Zone in the country regulated by the Authority are given 60percent of all job slots while 40percent will be distributed to other parts of the country,” he said.
It was, however, gathered that the Zone Management representative of Goodwin Ceramic Free Zone Enterprise, said the enterprise’s decision to engage workers from other part of the country is due to the fact that indigenes of the host community most of the times are either not willing to take up available jobs or not committed to do it.
He said most people in the catchment area of the Zone often considered available jobs as menial and prefer more skilled jobs that are not usually available.
He said before the lockdown, the company provided free accommodation and highly subsidized feeding to almost 80 percent of the workers because they are not from the host state, adding that the company was surprised when on 13 April, 2020, the workers were demanding N200 thousand apart from improved feeding and a payment of full month salary.
He said the ugly development prompted a meeting between the Zone Management, NEPZA and the team from Goodwin Ceramics Free Zone Enterprise to address the demands, which agreed that there should be improved feeding, N6,000 be given to each worker as transport fare for those that wanted to leave, among others.
“After the meeting, we met the workers to discuss these outcomes with them, to our surprise, they changed their demands. They were requesting for the payment of N200,000 each…To add more to the problem on ground , they invited their co-workers that live in the host community who wanted to gain entrance to the Zone by force,” he said.
While saying he took the intervention of security personnel to restore order, the zone management representative said the situation became worse the following morning when some workers engaged Police in a fight to gain entrance to Goodnow Ceramics to burn many of the company’s properties, including a truck.
He, however, said with the intervention of the Police the dispute was resolved amicably, with the payment of N50,000 to each worker .
“Having collected the money through e-payment they demanded they were no longer interested in living in the Zone. We advised them to stay because of the lockdown to prevent COVID-19 pandemic spread but they insisted on leaving the Zone and by 5:00pm (14 April) they left the Zone peacefully to their various destinations,” he added.