Soni Daniel, Regional Editor, North
The crisis plaguing Rusal, the Russian company managing Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria, Alscon, degenerated Tuesday, with a joint protest by aggrieved workers of the company and community members.
They were protesting against the sack of 475 Nigerians by the management.
The workers and locals were angry that the company ignored their Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, and went ahead to sack the Nigerian workers, most of them drawn from the community, before shutting the plant, last week.
Rusal had warned early last month that it was suspending production, arising from the uncertainty over the ownership of the plant, which is being contested between it and the American group, BFIG, which was surreptit- iously rattled by the Federal Government last week with a revocation of its bid to take over the place.
The company later laid off no fewer than 475 workers on March 26, 2013, and shut the plant, following a major setback to its critical power facility, a transformer, which is said to be beyond the capacity of any firm in Nigeria to fix.
It had, however, paid a Swiss firm to undertake the repairs of the facility, although the uncertainty over the ownership and renewed security challenges in the Niger Delta, are said to be of geat concern to the contractors.
As work resumed on Tuesday, the workers, backed by local residents, successfully blocked the entrance to the premises of Alscon and prevented any form of movement into and out of the plant.
The placard-carrying protesters asked Rusal to pay them their entitlements and to honour their subsisting MoU not to disengage 60 per cent of the community workers.
They insisted that they would neither vacate the entrance nor allow any form of production to resume until their demands were promptly met by the management.
But, worried by the confrontation, Rusal immediately met with the traditional ruler and the local government chairman of Ikot Abasi and pleaded with them to intervene and called the workers to order.
The company said the protest was against existing company laws and could lead to the stoppage of production and the exit of specialists from Russia.
Rusal’s Director of Public and Government Relations, Tatyana Smirnova, denounced the confrontation, which she said was spearheaded by a group of radically-minded employees and local residents in response to the decision by the management to suspend production and declare some workers redundant.
Smirnova said: “The management of ALSCON absolutely condemns the irresponsible and unlawful actions by the group of workers and emphasises that they are breaching the labour laws of Nigeria and the laws governing the export processing zone.
“The management underlines that the takeover of ALSCON could lead to a complete termination of operations of the plant and could lead to the departure of foreign specialists.
“If this happens, the plant will be totally shut down, the supply of water and gas to the housing estates will be stopped and no compensations will be made.
“The current situation in ALSCON originated from a long-running process of negotiations between the manage- ment and the leaders of trade unions.
“In particular, during the past several weeks plant employees, under pressure from the trade unions, have been ignoring the process of discharge due to becoming redundant.
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