Over 700 workers of La Casera Company Limited were yesterday laid off following a face-off between the workers’ union and the company’s management over unionisation of the workforce.

The workers’ sack was contained in a notice put up by the company, sequel to alleged disruption of operations by members of the National Union of Food, Beverages and Tobacco of Employees (NUFBTE).

The notice dated September 14 and addressed to all members of staff stated that, “as a result of the unwarranted breaking-in and invasion of our business premises on Sept. 11, we cannot guarantee the wellbeing of our employees from hired hoodlums and their collaborators.

“As a result of this unprovoked act of vandalism, we are unable to continue operations under this circumstance.

“Unfortunately we regret to inform all our staff of their immediate disengagement.’’

Indeed, trouble began at the weekend when NUFBTE officials allegedly disrupted the operations of the company over unionisation of workers.

The statement made available to The Guardian yesterday signed by the company’s spokes person, Tola Bademosi, alleged that, “over 200 shouting demonstrators, some bused in from out of state, broke into the factory which employs over 780 people at its site near Mile 2. Caught unawares with no prior notice, security guards were unable to hold back the unruly group who broke into the complex, entering offices and production areas.

“Production line workers were compelled to stop work and assemble in the factory yard where they were forced to sign membership consent forms to join the union on the spot. Some of those who refused to sign were brutalised. Employees who tried to film the disturbance on mobile phones were punched and beaten and had their phones taken away. Others signed under duress before taking the opportunity caused by a heavy downfall of rain to flee the scene.”

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Besides, Badamosi, in the statement, also alleged that the company was forced to shut down operations and send its workers home since it couldn’t compromise their safety, adding “the plant has remained closed over the weekend with its fate uncertain, as leaders of the mob have threatened to return again with an even larger force”.

Reacting to the allegation leveled against its members, the Union’s Senior Assistant Secretary and Head of Education Department, Mike Olanrewaju said the company was only being economical with the truth.

According to him, the company had refused on several occasions to allow its workers unionise despite many attempts by the union to parley it on the issue.

Specifically, he alleged that the union had on several occasions written to the company on the need for its workers to unionise all to no avail.

He said the Ministry of Labour had even waded in but the company has resisted all attempts to allow its workforce unionise, adding that the company had in an attempt to block the process, taken the union to the Industrial court with the case still before the court.

Speaking on the recent protest in the company, Olarenwaju alleged that the union got a wind of the company’s attempt to disengage all its workers and force them to enter into new contract.

Besides, he alleged that the company in time past has been terminating appointments of all members of the steering committee on unionisation of workers set up by the union in the company.

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He however denied the fact that hoodlums were engaged to damage properties and brutalise workers as alleged by the company, saying members were duly mobilised to embark on the protest.

“For 12 years the company had denied workers the right to be unionised, when an in-house union was about to be inaugurated, the management of the company sacked the chairman, which made the NUFBTE officials to visit the company on Friday, Sept 11 to address the workers.

“We were surprised today (yesterday) that the company locked the gate and sacked the workers. Meanwhile the case between the workers and the company over unionisation is currently in the National Industrial Court’’.

But a new twist was introduced to the issue as about 700 workers of the company were yesterday sacked over what the management said was invasion of its premises by hoodlums.

The workers arrived at the company premises in Amuwo Odofin Industrial Estate, Mile 2 in Lagos and found the gate locked and a notice of disengagement.

Speaking on the new development, Olanrewaju urged the government to intervene in issues of unfair labour practices perpetuated by foreign companies.

He said until the workers are re-absorbed, the union would continue to picket the company.

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