African Billionaire Targeted by Union Seeking Decent Working Conditions

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK (IDN) — Africa’s richest man is in the sights of a labour union in Zambia where his cement plant has been outsourcing labour that pays low wages for its 1,300-workforce.

After a wildcat strike last month, unionized workers at the Dangote Industries Zambia Limited cement plant outside Ndola, the country’s Copperbelt province, won an increase of $55 a month, according to the Mineworkers Union of Zambia (MUZ). The workers were seeking monthly minimum wage hikes of $136. An average monthly salary is US$210 or 3,530 Zambian kwachas.

About 1,300 workers are employed at the plant mainly through subcontractors, with Dangote only employing 178 workers directly. Most of the direct employees are part of management.

MUZ, affiliated with IndustriALL Global Union, has 445 members at the plant and signed a recognition agreement with the employer.

Workers initially rejected the 15 per cent wage increase offered by the employer during negotiations, demanding minimum monthly wage increases from K1000 (US$55) to K2500 (US$136).

According to the final settlement between the union and the employer, workers’ wages were increased by US$55 across the board. MUZ, affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union, has 445 members at the plant and signed a recognition agreement with the employer.

For years, MUZ has campaigned for the workers to be directly employed by Dangote Cement instead of employment through a third party. Although the workers at the plant work for Dangote, their legal direct employer is the subcontractor, Silondwa Engineering, which has a contract to “supply labour services.” The contract is limited to three years, meaning that workers contracts are short-term and provide no job security.

Dangote, a Nigerian and one of the world’s wealthiest men, had a net worth of $19.05 billion at the start of 2022, making him the richest man in Africa and the 94th wealthiest man in the world.

One of the earlier contracts between Dangote and Silondwa Engineering contained blatantly anti-union clauses, according to the union, stating that “the contractor shall ensure that its employees are not involved in union activities and strikes that lead to stopping of work.”

Further, according to MUZ, Silondwa Engineering tried to entice workers to join a sweetheart union liked by management, but workers responded with stiff resistance.

Joseph Chewe, MUZ president congratulated the workers on their victory. “We expect pan African companies like Dangote Cement to provide living wages and decent working conditions. However, we are appalled, and our expectations are dampened, by the precarious working conditions and poor working conditions at the Masaiti cement plant.

“We call upon Dangote to provide decent working conditions by creating permanent jobs in Zambia,” said Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa.

Subcontracting is widely practiced in Africa with multinational cement giants LafargeHolcim and HeidelbergCement carrying out subcontracting schemes in Africa and the Middle East and laying off union leaders amidst a pandemic that continues to destroy millions of jobs and incomes worldwide.

Countries affected include Uganda, Mauritius, Togo, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. [IDN-InDepthNews – 20 February 2022]

Photo source: Global Information Network

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