Femi Aribisala in his Vanguard newspaper column of Tuesday, September 4, 2018, queried the legitimacy of the intervention of the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige in the on-going industrial dispute between ExxonMobil and a section of its workforce.
According to Aribisala “the message Chris Ngige delivered to ExxonMobil loud and clear is that it does not have to be subject to Nigerian laws. It can operate in Nigeria as a law unto itself.”
This statement is reckless and self-serving as the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment has the statutory responsibility to ensure industrial peace and harmony in all workplaces.
Since the parties in contention mutually acknowledged him as a mediator on the issue, he would have done a great disservice to the country by not accepting that call to attempt to forestall an imminent disruption to activities in the Oil and Gas Sector, a threat posed by the continuous picketing of ExxonMobil facilities by the aggrieved workers.
As part of effort at reaching amicable solution, about eight meetings were held with the parties in contention between 24th July and 27th of August 2018, where Femi Falana SAN lead Counsel to the Security Personnel (aggrieved workers), representatives of ExxonMobil and Executives of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) were in attendance.
Even though the Security Personnel were never members of any Trade Union, they requested to be represented by PENGASSAN at the negotiating table a request the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment who was very cognizant of his statutory responsibilities graciously acceded to in order to give voice to the aggrieved workers. Even though the Supreme Court had pronounced a judgment, the learned silk Femi Falana acknowledges and knows that some knotty technicalities like absorbable numbers, claims and compensation to those who wish to disengage and those that are dead will still be implemented through a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The meeting was actually requested for by PENGASSAN, the workers and their attorney.
Therefore, for Aribisala to say that the Honourable Minister hurriedly convened a meeting of the parties in dispute on the day his ignoble article was published is an outright display of his cluelessness on an issue he tried in futility to convince the general public that he knows much about.
It is therefore noteworthy to state that Section 19 (3) of the Trade Disputes Act Cap T8 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 provides that “A tribunal or court under this Act shall not have the power to grant any general or percentage wage increase and shall not have the power to approve any such grant unless the approval of the Minister of Labour and Employment has been obtained as required under subsection (1) of this Section.”
This provision of the Trade Disputes Act above grants the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment the locus-standi to mediate the issue in contention. Consequent upon the above, parties in contention agree as follows:
That all acts of picketing, harassment, blockade of company facilities, playing of loud music, defacing of company facilities or intimidation of personnel and all other forms of industrial actions should be discontinued. That PENGASSAN and the leadership of the aggrieved Security Personnel should confirm within 48 hours of the meeting that this decision has been fully complied with, before further implementation of other terms of the agreement.
That the Separation of the Security Personnel be upheld
That as full and final settlement of the dispute between Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited (MPN) and the separated Security Personnel and for the purpose of industrial harmony, the separation benefits communicated under MPN 13 July 2018 letter to the 508 Security Personnel active as of the date of the letter shall be discarded and rather enhanced as follows:
• Payment of the equivalent of one month salary (before any adjustment) for the period of separation negotiations up to the end of August 2018 to be paid alongside the separation benefits
• That the monthly salaries of the separated Security Personnel stated in the July 13, 2018 letter be increased by 10% for the purpose of calculating and paying their individual separation benefits without retroactive application
• That the Pension Transfer Payment for the separated Security Personnel be calculated using the MPN policy on Pensions as part of their separation benefits, while the balance should be transferred to their respective individual retirement savings account.
• As earlier communicated by the Company, pay all other elements of the company end of service benefits guidelines which are: Gratuity per company policy for employees, settling in allowance-1.75MBS to all separated personnel, notice pay-1MBS to all separated personnel
• Pay a redundancy payment in line with company guidelines up to 60 years at 2MBS per year of service up to a maximum of 36 months
• Separated Security Personnel who may be interested in outplacement support may apply for consideration by third-party security service provider to MPN, after completing all documentation.
It is pertinent to state that although parties agreed on significant issues there was an area of discontent on the quantum of money to be paid as legacy compensation. When it was obvious that both parties were not ready to shift positions but were considering going back to court, the Minister of Labour and Employment called parties attention to the fact that court process in the matter spanned 18 years and about one hundred and seventy one (171) of the security personnel that started the struggle are already dead without collecting their benefits, he admonished both parties to consider all that they had lost in terms of money, time and the psychological stress and went further to request the Management of ExxonMobil to increase their previous offer from Two Hundred Thousand Naira (N200,000) to Two Hundred and Sixty Thousand naira (N260,000) as Legacy Compensation per year served.
From the foregoing, it is obvious that our beloved Femi Aribisala put his pen to paper based on inaccurate and hate information. It is, therefore, instructive to say that this attempt at bringing to disrepute the person of the Hon. Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. (Dr.) Chris Ngige, a man who has distinguished himself in both public and private sphere as a committed believer on the rule of law and the champion of the oppressed, a disposition which earned him the admired title ONWANETILIORA (THE MOON THAT SHINES ON ALL) was based on Aribisala’s ignorance on the issues in contention.
It is a well-known fact that Femi Aribisala is an APC Government critic and an anti-Buhari’s administration denigrator, he would rather wish that Mobil Producing Unlimited close shop, Nigeria oil daily production nosedive, so that the country’s oil earnings will dip and push the country back to recession.