By Emmanuel Afonne
Less than one month after their contracts were allegedly terminated, some staff of Outsource Global, a Nigerian company outsourcing for a U.S.-based firm, have threatened to drag the company to court over violation of a contractual agreement between it and its workers.
Some of the disengaged workers who spoke to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja over the development said the anti-labour practices perpetuated in the organisation had reached alarming proportion.
They alleged that the company terminated their contracts without their benefits.
NAN reports that 30 workers were sacked on March 23, 2018 by the management following what it described as “insubordination.”
One of the disengaged worker who preferred to remain anonymous said they worked eight hours and one hour break every day, while they were expected be work nine hours including weekends and extra shift in the new contract.
“Usually, we work Mondays to Fridays; Mondays to Thursdays are from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., and on Fridays we work from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. with 30 minutes break but in the new contract, the 9 p.m. closing time was adjusted to 11 p.m.
“When they brought the new contract we wanted to go through it to know exactly what we are signing but they did not give us that time because the HR manager said she was going back to work, so she needed us to sign immediately.
“Some wanted to consult their lawyers before signing but she threatened that anyone that fails to sign instantly will lose his or her job. When we got home, we discovered in our copies that we signed things that could enslave us in the job.
“We have worked with this new contract for about three weeks before they came up with another issue through our Team Leads late on a Wednesday that two more hours have been added to our working time on Fridays; it meant that instead of closing at 9p.m., we are now expected to close at 11 p.m.
“We protested the additional two hours; `we didn’t say no to it but we asked them to give us enough time to adjust to the new time for Fridays but they refused saying that the two days giving was enough for us to adjust,” he said.
Another disengaged worker Georgina Ukaigwe (not real name) said her health had never remained the same having worked for Outsource Global.
“When I joined the organisation in October 2017, I wasn’t giving a contract to sign and it was made clear to me that I was a contract staff, meaning that I am supposed to be on contract within a period of time but in the new contract paper, the contract period is not stated.
“I don’t have problem with my hearing before now but I noticed I started having problem with my hearing since I started working with Outsource because of the headset we use.
“The headset must be put at 100 per cent volume for one to hear the claimant very well because they are not Nigerians and we need to hear them properly before we can give a response.
“We have to be in this condition for seven hours because there is an hour break which is spread into two.
“Right now I am having issues with my right ear; when there is no sound at all in the room, I start to hear sounds in my ear and at some point it started to affect the left ear.
“There was not opportunity for me to get proper medical attention because they don’t have health insurance and the condition of work can’t give you the time to seek proper medical care by yourself even though the salary they pay may not carter for the challenge,” she said.
Ukaigwe also said that she spent N40,000 every month on feeding and transportation and left with a balance of N17,300 which cannot be enough to take care of her personal needs.
“The managers of the company will always tell us that there is no job in Nigeria and as such we should be grateful that we were giving opportunity to work in there ‘reputable organization’.
“When they added the extra two hours, the HR Manager Mrs Nusaibah Kofar-Naisa said she can’t explain to us why the additional two hours was added to our time on Fridays.
“After we closed from work at 9 p.m. that fateful Friday, they called us on phone one after the other that our contracts have been terminated from that day for insubordination and that we shouldn’t bother to come to work from Monday.
“They also told us that we will forfeit our salary for the month of March after we worked for three weeks. We also got a termination form through our emails which were filled on our behalf.
“They claimed we filled it and sent to them to making it look as if we resigned from the job. Unfortunately, they even spelt my name wrongly. It’s a clear case of forgery because I can’t spell my name like that,” Ukaigwe added.
Timothy Ejembi (not real name) another agent whose contract was terminated pointed out that they worked like slaves in the organisation.
Ejembi said the company takes joy in shortchanging its staff especial the ‘call agents’ may be because they were employed as casual worker.
“It is possible that this extra two hours they are talking about on Fridays, has been negotiated and paid for by the outsourcing company in the United States (U.S.) and back home Outsource Global doesn’t want to reflect in our salary.
“I believe the outsourcing company wants productivity which made them introduce voluntary work for Saturday and if we had not stood against the additional two hours, they would have introduced mandatory work on Saturdays, but now they said it’s optional.
“Everybody signed this contract under duress because you can’t give someone a contract paper and expect him to sign on the same hour you brought it and inside the productive time of work.
“We don’t have health insurance scheme and it’s so difficult for us to access health facility; I remember in January this year, I developed a dental issue and was in the hospital for three days. When I reported to work with a doctor’s report, I was told that I will be allowed only two days, while the third day will be deducted from my salary.
“There was a month I was deducted N5000 for reason I don’t know and when you demand to know the reason for the deduction, they will tell you to go through your Team Lead (TL) who will now go through your supervisor and then, to the HR Manager. Till date, there is no breakdown how these deductions were made,” Ejembi said.
The Human Resource (HR) Manager Nusaibah Kofar-Naisa told NAN in an interview that the change of contract was necessitated by the company’s change of identity.
Kofar-Naisa said in spite of the company’s change of name and logo, there was nothing new in the contract given to the workers to sign.
“Our company had a change name from Outsource Group to Outsource Global, and we needed to make a new contract. The old contract that was given had a couple of sections which did not measure up to the project.
“It is completely false that we told them to sign the contract and return it immediately it was given; usually, we give them two copies of the contract, they sign both, return one and keep one copy for themselves.
“Some of the agents decided they will take their contract home and they did and returned it the next day, so, they were given ample time to study the contract. If we can go back to the CCTV, you will see exactly what happened.
“I assure you that there is nothing new in the contract because they work from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays to Fridays. But on our own, we decided to close them at 9 p.m., and when the time changed in U.S., we decided to move the Friday closing time back to the usual closing of 11 p.m.
Mrs Amal Hassan, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Outsource Global, told NAN that the disengaged staff knew the implication of abandoning their duty posts or closing before time.
She said that the contract paper spelt out the punishment to be meted out to staff when cases like that arose.
“In the international market, one minute downtime means a lot; you can imagine that for two hours. The moment workers login, we start calculating; they don’t have right to leave their work and not do it, and expect us not to terminate them.
“What they did was to stage a walkout; thirty people walked out of their job and before they did so, we gave them ultimatum that if they leave their job before the closing time, it is as good as saying you have submitted your resignation letter.
“Right from the day they started working here, we give them incentives for doing their job.
“We pay the workers a percentage of what we earn from our client and because of lack of discipline at work place and for the reason that some will not want to come to work on time for no reason, we decided that if one is sick, he or she must come with a medical report.
“They don’t have health insurance but we have a nurse that seats with them and attend to them if they have any issue; they have a good working condition,” Hassan said.
She further said that the company “Outsource Global” has staff strength of about 200,000 working in Kaduna and Abuja.