SOME trainees of Chevron Nigeria Limited, one of the giant international oil companies operating in Nigeria, have taken to the street in protest, condemning what they described as slavery by the company.
The protesters, numbering about 150, thirty of whom, according to colleagues, graduated with a first class, marched along the Lekki expressway in Lagos, bearing placards and chanting solidarity songs.
They said they were recruited by Chevron since 2013 following a rigorous exercise, but that Chevron offered them two years training contracts after which they would be regularized, but five years later, they have remained contract staff.
“In 2013, we were mobilised to Chevron Nigeria Limited. We got offers through a recruiting agency. Initially, we did not know it was Chevron; we were only told an oil and gas company needed workers,” one of the protesters, Okunufa Mandy, told the Punch.
“Upon attending the interviews, we discovered that it was Chevron. We were told that we were being mobilised for operators and technician roles in the company. We were informed that four sets had been mobilised before us and employed. We came in under the Vocal Training Programme (VTP 5).
“We went to Ogere, Ogun State, for training. The company told us that it would be handing us over to a training provider, who would train us for two years, after which we would be employed in their facilities.
“This is 2018, Chevron, in an act of wickedness has continued to roll out continuous training contracts. Each time a training contract expires, we get something like, ‘Due to your performance, we are extending your contract.’ We have asked them several times if it means we all failed or we are not trainable.
“While all this so-called training was on, we have continually worked in Chevron facilities. I am a mechanical technician. I have worked in different roles; some of us have worked as lead technicians and others moved from maintenance to operations departments. They have used us to fill their operational needs over the years while refusing to take on the responsibilities that come with it.”
Many of the protesters also lamented that some of them had to leave their jobs where they were already doing well in order to take up the Chevron offer, while some even had to abandon the postgraduate studies.
“If we were casual workers, it would have been better. But we have been enslaved. We were lied to and told we were going through a training process in 2013 when most of us left our career jobs and academics. Some of us were studying for PhD when they said we should come for this job. After about six years of casualisation, they are telling us that they have nothing to give us,” said Lawal Solomon, one of the protesters.
According to Solomon, even the Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organisation (OPITO) certificate which they ought to have been issued after their two-year training, was not given to all of them. “A few of us said they got copies of the certificates, but when they tried to verify them from the issuing organisation, the certificates were disclaimed,” he said.
“We have been working on their fields as slaves, they should fulfil the promise they made to us in 2013 when most of us were leaving our career jobs. And if they cannot employ us, then they should pay compensations.”
The Falana and Falana Chambers, a law firm owned by popular human rights activist, Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, had written to Chevron, giving the company a 14-day to fulfil its promise of employing the trainees.
“Your company took advantage of the expectations of our clients to be staffed and hiding under the VTP/OTP training, subjected them to unfair labour practice contrary to our laws and international best practices. Worst still is the fact that you deny our clients any official reference from your company to at least show that they had worked for your company for over five years so as to have prospects elsewhere. It is disheartening to realise that young, intelligent and first class Nigerians like these are subjected to this level of humiliation,” the letter read in part.
Chevron had earlier announced that the contract with all its manpower service providers would expire by October 2018, but the announcement did not go down well with the two major trade unions in the oil and gas sector, namely: NUPENG (National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers) and PENGASSAN (Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria ). Both unions have threatened to go on strike if Chevron lays off its contract staff.