By Chris Ndibe
The Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) has given the assurance that it would implement policy on allocation of 60 per cent of jobs in Free Trade Zones to host communities.
Acting Managing Director of NEPZA, Mr Bitrus Dawuk, gave this assurance in a statement in Abuja while reacting to the recent labour crisis at Ogun-Guandong Free Zone, Igbesa, Ogun State.
Dawuk said that the industrial dispute between the workers and management of Goodwin Ceramic Free Zone Enterprise (FZE) located in the Zone, was necessitated by lockdown extension by the government to curtail spread of coronavirus pandemic.
He said it prompted several workers of the enterprise mostly from the North-East to demand for additional payment to stay or vacate the Zone.
He said the workers ignored appeals 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 provided for them to cater for their needs.
Dawuk expressed delight that the labour crisis has been resolved despite wrong accounts from some media.
He noted that it was during the incident that NEPZA discovered that its policy on 60 per cent 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 per cent 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 in place to redress the situation.
“This will ensure that youth within the location of any zone in the country regulated by the authority are given 60 per cent of all job slots while 40 per cent will be distributed to other parts of the country,” he said.
According to the enterprise representative, Daniel Chen, its decision to engage workers from other part of the country is because the indigenes of the host community 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 were not usually available.
He said before the lockdown, the company provided free accommodation and highly subsidised feeding to almost 80 per cent of the workers because they were not from the host state.
He added that the company was surprised when on April 13, 2020, the workers were demanding N200,000 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.
“It was 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.
The representative said it took the intervention of security personnel to restore order, but situation became worse the following morning when some workers engaged police in a fight to gain entrance to Goodnow Ceramics to burn many of companies 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 5:00p.m (April 14), oothey left the Zone peacefully to their various destinations,” he added.