Scores of staff of Dresser-Rand, a subsidiary of Siemens, the multinational telecommunications company, staged a protest in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital, on Wednesday to forestall an impending sack of 70 percent of its workforce, all of whom are Nigerians.
The aggrieved workers organised the protest at the entrance of a popular 5-star hotel, Novotel Hotel, located along Stadium Road, close to Air Force Bus/Stop, where two expatriate staff of the Human Resources Department of Dresser-Rand, who are Angolans were lodged.
Messers Doudou Sar and Lemuedo Neto were drafted from the Human Resources Department of the Angolan office of Dresser-Rand to have an interface with each Nigerian staff, employed by the company to finalise their termination from Siemens global group.
The protest, staged under the auspices of Dresser-Rand Workers Association and the Coalition for the Protection of Workers in Niger Delta, carried placards with inscriptions such as ‘We say no to workers discrimination’, ‘Racism is a crime against humanity,’ ‘Save us from white slavery’, ‘We need 100 percent entitlements for workers in Dresser-Rand,’ among others.
The management of Dresser-Rand had barred its Nigerian staff from participating in union activities, thereby, restraining them from enlisting as members of the Nigerian Union of Petroleum Employees of Nigeria (NUPENG) and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigerian (PENGASSAN).
An energy and maritime lawyer, Soalabo West, counsel to the aggrieved workers told journalists during the protest that “it is unlawful to disengage through the backdoor in a hotel room workers who had worked conscientiously for Dresser-Rand for the past years.”
“We find it unjustifiable for Dresser-Rand to invite its workers to a hotel room to discuss their termination from the company, rather than have a worthwhile discussion with them at its corporate office at Kilometre 16, along Port Harcourt-Aba Road.”
West further said: “We have a case against Dresser-Rand at the National Industrial Court of Nigeria sitting in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State. But we were surprised when we were informed on Friday, April 15, 2016, that one Daniel Taylor, directed that staff should ‘remove all their personal belongings from the premises of the company, ostensibly in preparation for their disengagement and forced eviction from the premises’.
“Again, the two Angolans drafted to coordinate the sack of Nigerian workers in Dresser-Rand have no work permits authorising them to work in Nigeria. And we find this action totally indefensible”.
Godspower Egbule, a lawyer in Metropolitan Partners, a law firm where West is the Principal partner, stated in a letter which he addressed to the managing director of Dresser-Rand, on Tuesday, April 19:
“Please take under Nigeria law the planned sack action is illegal and in contempt of court as our courts do not condone the attitude of a party who having been sought to be restrained deliberately proceeds
with the action intended to be restrained by an order of injunction after such party became aware of the pendency of an application before a competent court.”
“Your proposed action will therefore be in futility as it is liable to be returned by the court. Kindly, therefore, stay all action on the purported mass disengagement of your staff pending the determination of the suit or a negotiated settlement with our clients.”
The letter was copied to the Commissioner of Police in Rivers State; the Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers and Siemens AG.
Seun Suleiman, Regional Director of Dresser-Rand, when asked to comment on the proposed sack of over 70 per cent of the Nigerian workforce in Dresser-Rand, requested that a text be forwarded to his cell phone.
He did not respond to a text message asking him to make an official statement on the matter. He also did not take further calls.