IN Nigeria, neglect of workers, poor welfare and child labour have characterised the operation of Chinese-owned companies, which is contrary to labour laws, but the authorities often overlook such atrocities. Labour experts say the Nigerian government has been lenient with Chinese companies due to its financial relations with China, writes Lukman Abolade.
In October 2020, a casual worker identified as Femi died in an accident while working with a Chinese company, Xiyuan Quarry, in the Kobape area of Ogun State.
Workers in Xiyuan Quarry who knew Femi said his death could have been avoided if the company had provided him with protective equipment.
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One year after his death, Xiyuan Quarry is still in operation, and other workers in the factory are without PPEs while the government looks away.
Femi was killed by one of the trucks used in conveying sand at the quarry company on a tragic Saturday of 3rd October, 2020.
He was crushed to death on his way from the residential building of the quarry when he hit his head on a stone at the quarry.
Workers of the quarry, including the Nigeria Union of Mine Workers in the state, have described Femi’s death as an avoidable accident.
Many blamed the sudden death of Femi on the non-availability of a helmet that would have saved him during the accident.
Failure to provide PPEs to workers in Nigeria is contrary to the National Policy on Occupational Safety and Health of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, but no one is prosecuting perpetrators.
Section 5.3 (III) of the policy states that employers are to “Provide at no cost to the worker, occupational health protection and personal protective clothing and equipment, which are appropriate for the nature of the job.”
How Chinese-owned companies violate labour laws
In January 2021, 22-year-old John Nsika joined Ding Xing Quarry as an operator on a casual work basis. Four months after, several parts of his body had various degrees of injuries after an accident while working for the company.
He had an accident while operating a popular machine in the quarry known as crusher.
Ding Xing Quarry company is located at Obafemi-Owode area of Ogun State.
According to Nsika, in May, while he was working on one of the machines at Ding Xing, a big stone fell on him.
“I did not know how it happened; the stone just fell on my head, now I have injuries everywhere,” Nsika said.
Nsika’s leg was broken and he sustained injuries in different parts of his body. He said the company left him to pay the hospital bills despite this.
Nsika told The ICIR that his wage for the day was deducted on the day of the accident, and it took the intervention of the Nigeria Union of Mine Workers before his medical bill was paid.
No allowance or remuneration was paid to Nsika after the Chinese company agreed to pay the medical bill of Nsika at the Federal Medical Centre, Idi-Aba, in Abeokuta.
Weeks after Nsika had received treatment at the hospital, he is still writhing in pains. He is still unable to work properly as his leg is bandaged.
“I have been like this for weeks, and the company is not doing anything. In this place, you only earn when you work; if you don’t work, they won’t pay you,” he said.
The 22 year old blamed the accident and its severity on Ding Xing’s lack of protective equipment.
He told The ICIR that the injuries would have been minor if provided with safety equipment.
“They are not paying me anything. This accident would not have happened if we were provided with the personal protective equipment tools like a helmet,” he said.
Nsika and many Nigerians allegedly go through these challenges with Chinese operators who reportedly treat them as enslaved people.
The Nigerian law states that employers in the country are to “Provide compensations for work-related disabilities of workers and rehabilitation of such workers as reasonably practicable,” but these companies have failed to do so and no one is asking questions.
The ICIR learnt that many reported atrocities against Chinese-owned companies have been left unattended to by the authorities.
In Nigeria, workers at Chinese companies have made reports of exploitation, poor welfare, poor remuneration, and lack of provision of personal protective equipment.
Dada Adebanjo, a father of two, had been a casual worker with Ding Xing for more than two years until he had an accident in 2020 while on duty, which eventually led to losing one of his eyes.
Adebanjo said he spent over N300 000 on his left eye, but the company where he lost the sight looked unconcerned with his predicament.
Adebanjo told this reporter that the accident had occurred at the Chinese company. He claimed a small stone coming out of the crusher entered his eyes and he had since then been battling with it.
“I have spent a lot of money since I had that accident. The company has been giving me ‘I don’t care attitude.’ I have spent my savings on these.
“If only they provided us with protective glasses while working, this would have been avoided, but they behave like they don’t care about our welfare. Their own is for us to work like machines for them, which is very annoying,” he said.
Child labour in Chinese companies in Ogun
Although child labour contravenes the International Labour Act and the Nigeria labour laws, findings have shown that some Chinese companies in the state engage the services of teenagers less than 18 years as workers.
Findings showed that the use of minors as labourers is familiar with Chinese companies that operate illegally or with expired licenses.
Opeyemi Siji, a student of Ode Remo High school, is one of the teenagers also working at Ding Xing.
The 17-year-old Siji told this reporter he joined the Chinese company to raise money for his West African Examinations Council (WAEC), a compulsory examination to certify the completion of the secondary school.
Another underage employee, Gabriel Adeoye, works at one of the quarries located along the Ajebo area of Ogun state.
The 13-year-old teenager, who lives in one of the villages close to the quarry site, joined the quarry as a labourer about seven months ago.
Before joining the quarry, Adeoye had worked as a labourer, factory worker and carrier, doing other menial jobs to survive.
He told this reporter that the quarry operators often recruited labourers like him as truck drivers, also called loaders.
Adeoye lost his father at a tender age, leaving him with his mother, who sells pepper.
Adeoye explained that he dropped out of school in primary two, as his mother could not afford the fees.
While Adeoye and other labourers work from morning till evening every day, they earn between N800 and N1,200 daily.
“I decided to work here to support my mother and my junior ones. Since my father died, things have been tough for my family. My mother has three children, and I’m the first child.
“Those of us at the entry-level are called work boys. We earn between N800 to N1,500 per day depending on how well you can work.
“I was brought to the quarry by my brother’s friend who used to work for a truck driver as a motor boy.
“The job is not always stable. We are called upon whenever a new site with stones and rocks for quarrying are discovered.
“We break rocks by setting fire underneath them. The rock is then further broken down to block stones which are loaded into trucks and sold to gravel dealers,” he said.
One of the managers in Ding Xing, Sulaimon Oloyede, refused to comment on the allegations when contacted by this reporter.
Offences by Chinese companies left without prosecution
The Labour Act reads partly: “It shall not be a defence to an employer who is sued in respect of personal injuries caused by the negligence of a person employed by him, that that person was, at the time the injuries were caused, in common employment with the person injured.
“Any provisions contained in a contract of service or apprenticeship, or in an agreement collateral thereto (including a contract or agreement entered into before the commencement of this section) shall be void in so far as it would have the effect of excluding or limiting any liability of the employer in respect of personal injuries caused to the person employed or apprenticed by the negligence of persons in common employment with him.”
Despite violating the labour laws and the acts that established many Chinese companies, findings show that the government has reportedly failed to take action against many companies.
During the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, some of the Chinese companies in Ogun State, especially those at the Guangdong Free Trade Zone, reportedly locked their workers inside their companies.
It was learnt that the workers were not allowed to leave or see families during the lockdown period.
However, no action was taken against the Chinese companies, according to a worker in one of the factories.
Bitter tales of slavery at Ogun-Guangdong Free Trade Zone
Festus Richard is a worker at the H and C Company producing iron and roofing sheets inside Ogun-Guangdong Free Trade Zone. Richard has spent over six years at the company; yet, he is regarded as a casual worker.
Despite working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day, including weekends, Richard cannot get the company’s staff benefits.
Richard told The ICIR he earned less than the N30, 000 minimum wage despite working seven times a week.
He told this reporter that his pay was always deducted whenever he failed to come to work.
Although he holds a National Diploma in Accounting, Richard lamented that the reality of unemployment in the country made him continue working at the company despite the challenges he faced.
“This is not the best place to work, but I have no choice since there is no work out there. There are so many educated people here. Many of us are here because of the unemployment in the country,” he said.
Ozo Nyewe is another worker who said he was being maltreated at Sun Ceramics, which produces plates. Nyewe said he had an accident with one of the machines used in the company.
For two months, Nyewe said he was bedridden, but all he could get from the company was the payment of his hospital bills.
Nyewe, who joined the company in January 2021 as an operator, said he earned N35 000 monthly and was expected to work every day.
He lamented that no allowance, compensation, or salary was paid for two months despite getting injured while working at the company.
He added, “I was in the hospital for almost two months, and they visited me just once. Apart from the hospital bills they settled, I have not heard from them again.
”Whenever I go there, they keep telling me that they will settle me soon. It is just a pity that I have no other place to go than to return to the work after I was healed.”
Precious is the supervisor at a dunlop company in Guangdong Free Trade Zone. Precious said he earned N35 000 monthly as a supervisor.
However, he said most workers at the Dunlop Company earned N900 daily. Precious lamented that the Chinese maltreated them and could sack them at any slight mistake without warning.
He told this reporter that many of his friends had been sacked due to offences that could have been overlooked.
When asked if the company provided workers with PPEs, Precious told The ICIR that no worker in the company had any protective equipment.
He added, “The working condition is terrible. You can’t even tell them what you want. It is either you accept their offers, or you leave their company.
“They don’t tolerate any act of disobedience. If they know I am giving you information about this place, they will sack me immediately.
“No matter what you do for them, no matter how many years you have spent with them, they will never give you a second chance, and if you go against the rules, they will deal with you immediately.”
This reporter was not allowed inside the Guangdong Free Trade Zone by security operatives to speak to the companies involved.
Also, Ding Xing and other companies in the free trade zone mentioned in this report do not have functioning websites through which they could be contacted.
Labour experts who spoke to The ICIR said the Nigerian government had been lenient on the Chinese-owned companies due to its financial dependence on loans from China.
Samuel ‘Ladokun, a public policy analyst who spoke to The ICIR, said the financial relations between the Nigerian government and China could be one of the many reasons for the former’s reluctance to prosecute Chinese companies contravening Nigeria’s labour laws properly.
“Although Nigeria itself lacks proper implementation of law and its public offices are filled with corrupt officers, I think another reason for Nigeria’s leniency is the loans. They fear they may run out of favour if they are prosecuting Chinese offenders and at the same time seeking loans from the country,” Ladokun said.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Chairman in Ogun State Emmanuel Bankole said the union was aware of the atrocities of the Chinese companies and had had cause to stage a protest and intervene in such matters in the past.
However, Bankole said lack of cooperation from government agencies had hindered the fight against Chinese companies contravening Nigeria’s labour law.
“Many of these companies are involved in such practices. We have been trying our best to ensure we get justice for the Nigerian workers in the state.
“The major hindrance has been lack of cooperation from the Federal government on properly dealing with them (Chinese companies),” Bankole said.
Names of staff who are still working for some of the companies mentioned in this report have been changed to protect their identities.
“This story was produced with the support of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) in collaboration with the International Republican Institute (IRI), through the ‘Countering Malign Foreign Influence’ project.”