Protesting members of the Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC) prevented work activities on Wednesday at the premises of Shaanxi Construction Engineering Group Corporation, a Chinese construction company responsible for building the new headquarters of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Lugbe, Abuja.
The NLC expressed their protest against what they described as dehumanizing working conditions endured by Nigerian workers at the Chinese company.
Their goal was to free workers from what they perceived to be slave-like conditions.
At first, the Chinese company resisted the entry of the NLC leadership and their picket team into the company’s headquarters.
However, he later opened the gate and received a complaint from the employees’ union.
The management of the construction company did not comment on the protest or respond to the claims made by the NLC.
The construction of the new ECOWAS secretariat was initiated by the Chinese government as part of an aid package to the West African Regional Organization.
During the protest, NLC Secretary General Comrade Emma Ugboaja expressed concern at the allegedly inhumane treatment of workers at the site.
He noted that the NLC was responding to a complaint by the construction workers union in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) about poor working conditions at the construction site.
According to Ugboaja, the Chinese company hired the workers on an ad hoc basis without providing employment conditions or benefits, including medical services. He regretted that due to the deplorable working conditions, one of the workers, a driver named Don Agustín, has died due to negligence and lack of timely medical attention.
Ugboaja mentioned that while the picketing action continued, the labour leadership hoped to engage in discussions with the management of Shaanxi Construction Engineering Group Corporation to address the concerns of the workers.
Referring to the deceased driver, Ugboaja said, “Mrs Ruth Augustine migrated with her husband and family to Abuja to come and earn a living.
Now, the man who helped build the ECOWAS Secretariat has sunk six feet, leaving his poor widow with a mixed life.
No pensions, no gratuities, no food, no water, and no explanation. Where does help come from?
Every day we plead with governments to provide a minimum amount of social security, but to no avail This is the challenge we have.
This challenge is real, Ugboja emphasized that unlike critics accusing the labor of crying wolf where there is none, the widow of the deceased was present to share the sad story of her late husband’s experience.
Ruth, the widow, recounted her ordeal, stating that her husband had secured a job as a driver with a Chinese company last year.
However, working conditions did not allow him to return home after work.
“He worked from Monday to Sunday. I asked him if he was given a bonus for the overtime and extra work he did, He said no.
The husband didn’t eat from morning to night and wouldn’t let him go home.
“Even when he got home, he didn’t stay for more than an hour before rushing to the site,” said the woman.
Ruth said she stayed with the company for two months without going home after her husband returned to work in January after the Christmas festivities.
Concerned, she called him. “From the conversation, I knew he was very sick,” she said.
According to her, the company failed to take her husband to the hospital and also did not allow him to go home for treatment.
“When they finally allowed him to go home, his condition had deteriorated.
He had a swollen neck and seemed to be malnourished,” he said.
The woman added that she took her husband to the Gwagwarada Teaching Hospital in Abuja and later to the National Hospital, where he died.
Throughout this process, Mrs. Augustine said that the Chinese company failed to heed her pleas for assistance.
Instead, they gave her a termination letter for her husband.