OSL/G4S In The Niger Delta: Big Global Firm Presses Weight on Workers’ Rights

By: Ibiba Donpedro / Nigeria

Columbus Okaro, Corporate Affairs Director, G4S Secure Solutions Nigeria Limited Photo credit: ContactOut.com

This article was first published on National Point / 09-02-2021

Chevron Nigeria Limited’s Security Contractor G4S owes hundreds of ex-staff millions of naira in unpaid gratuity. The company denies current staff union membership rights in a culture of violation of workers’ rights that will not be tolerated elsewhere, writes Ibiba DonPedro. This is a first report following a year long investigation of Private Security Companies operating in the Niger Delta.

On its smart, well-structured website, G4S presents itself as a modern organisation spread across 90 countries employing approximately 550,000 workers. Of this number, about 4,900 work in Nigeria, predominantly in the Niger Delta. G4S along with its subsidiary companies present a façade of structure, order and world class standards of doing business, but their activities in the Niger Delta to protect the oil and gas industry do not match the image presented on the outside. Suppression of the rights of workers, denial of benefits, including reneging on payment of negotiated benefits with workers unions are the reality. G4S is also revealed to have abused the Nigerian regulatory system by running operations from 2004 without a legally procured radio licence. Investigations reveal that its current security sub- contractor, Luckguard does not allow workers unions and that staff who attempt to organise are immediately dismissed. A culture of maximizing profit at the expense of workers’ internationally recognised labour rights, cannot be presented as excellent business practice. A group of former G4S staff have been battling in court since 2011 to compel the company to pay their duly negotiated benefits.

The case has certainly dragged on, as cases are wont to do in the ponderous, frustrating for litigants Nigerian justice system. Yet, in a matter of this nature where lowly workers face off against a subsidiary of a powerful multinational security company, the courts offer the best hopes for justice for the G4S former staff.

Long Road To Expected Justice

The courts in Nigeria reopened in June 2021, following the end of a paralysing two-month strike by members of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, JUSUN which had begun in early April 2021. Former staff of Outsourcing Services Limited, OSL/G4S now have a chance to resume their struggle for justice over their unpaid Leaving Gratuity against their former employer. OSL was a subsidiary company of the multinational security company G4S, which itself, was only recently bought over by Allied Universal an American company and rival global security firm.

The Joint (Military) Task Force in the Creeks of the Niger Delta. Photo Credit: ICIR
The Joint (Military) Task Force in the Creeks of the Niger Delta. Photo Credit: ICIR

The workers lost the first round of a suit they instituted at the Industrial Arbitration court In Lagos through a January 18, 2013 judgement. OSL, is a now rested subsidiary company of G4S Limited in charge of its manned security operations. OSL has since 2012, been replaced by Asset Guard Services Limited, another subsidiary of G4S. Asset Guard manages the manned guard business of G4S.

At the centre of the conflict between the ex-staff of G4S and the management of the company, is an outstanding payment of a negotiated Leaving Gratuity to hundreds of former staff. From our investigations, the Leaving Gratuity is made up of two months full salary and benefits out of each year worked and is part of workers’ benefits which the former security staff negotiated with the OSL/G4S management in 2009 through the National Union of Hotel and Personal Services Workers, NUHPSW. These are the benefits that the aggrieved former workers seek and expect their lawyer, Francis O. Yekovie, a Warri based legal practitioner, to resume legal battle at the arbitration court to secure. The value of the outstanding benefits by 2011 dollar exchange rates, was about N766,395,097 (over $6million ).

Militants in the waterways 2007 Credit: Marianna Van Zeller
Militants in the waterways 2007 Credit: Marianna Van Zeller

G4S’ subsidiary OSL for its part, had stalled on commencing this payment. With the resumption of the courts, the aggrieved former workers’ lawyer, Mr. Yekovie has to summon the strength and passion to resume the journey to justice, involving monthly 6 hour trips to Lagos. Yekovie had informed this reporter during a series of discussion by telephone in February and March 2021 that all the processes for an appeal of the judgement had commenced in 2014, and the last time he was at the Industrial court to represent his clients, an incident of an earth tremor which he described as, ‘an act of God’ disrupted proceedings at the court in Lagos, ensured that the matter was not heard.

Dream job In the Delta turned unending nightmare

In late 2001, OSL announced vacancies for security guards to man positions in the oil rich Niger Delta where it netted a security contract in 2002 with Chevron Nigeria Limited, the third largest oil company operating in Nigeria after Shell and Mobil.

Innocent Onuorah, then 23 years old, a native of Aba in Abia State in the South East of the country, was one of the young persons who presented themselves and got employed following intensive physical tests and aptitude tests. He recounted his elation at that point to National Point,

‘I was excited and felt blessed to have gained employment with OSL/G4S in the Delta. I felt it would be a good place to begin planning my life and a great future. But looking back today, I can say the company deceived those of us selected for employment. First of all, as the tests and other procedures progressed, we kept asking how much we would be paid. They refused to tell us and kept saying “later”’.

Another former OSL/G4S worker who was actively involved in the workers agitations, spoke on the condition of anonymity as he still works in the security sector in Lagos. He offered a detailed explanation as to why the OSL workers’ agitations started, deepened and ended up at the Industrial court,

‘When the job announcement for OSL vacancies came, I was excited to apply and got employed. I was one of the leaders in the Escravos area. However, we soon observed uncomfortable developments. These include a ‘divide and rule’ culture, where persons on the same job and same level were paid different salaries, creating ‘favoured’ staff. Also, we discovered we were made to sign contract letters that were different from the ones Chevron management thought we signed. One of the issues that came up was that under Chevron, there was a Niger Delta Hostility Allowance that was paid as a 13th month salary each year. This payment was observed mostly in the breach by OSL/G4S. Between 2007 and 2009, we became aware also that we were made to sign contracts that were different from the Chevron standard. We were made aware of this by our contacts at Chevron. For example, Chevron pays overtime and instead of OSL paying us this overtime, they made us take three weeks off instead of two, to avoid paying for the extra week. We also found out that we were being paid for about 10 months instead of 12 in a year, which meant we lost salaries for two or three months from reduced salary and allowances payments. From inside information also, we became aware that we were entitled to N1,000 daily closed camp payment. This means if you were off duty for two weeks, you were to be paid N14,000 (approx. $130) OSL/G4S would give us 3 days off, 3 morning and 3 evening and two days off and paid us less than we were due. To ensure we complied, they made us sign off on this. They put us under pressure to sign. If you didn’t sign, you were out, dismissed’.

This means that the OSL security guards were only given 5 days off and paid N5,000 (approximately $45) instead of 14 days off and 14 days pay stipulated by Chevron under the ‘closed camp’ arrangement. The former OSL guard noted further that,

‘One person was supposed to be paid about N700,000 or N900,000 (approx. $7,500) from the day they resumed to when they left. Others were due to get over N1million (about $8000) from the closed camp allowance having worked for several years. Instead of giving people their due entitlement, the company introduced what they called a ‘severance package’ under which some guards only got as little as N170,000 (approx.$1,450)’.

Challenging swampy work environment

Following the global campaigns by Ken Saro-Wiwa the executed environmental rights activist and the Ogoni people, in the 1990’s over environmental abuse conflict spiked in the oil rich area. From July 2002 when women from Ijaw and Itsekiri communities took over Chevron facilities during a sit-in action, to increasingly violent clashes during the Ijaw /Itsekiri war in 2003 insecurity in the area worsened. It was within this milieu of conflict that the young men employed by OSL/G4S had to work. On facing hostile attacks from aggrieved communities the OSL/ G4S workers realised they got a bad deal working with the company. Many of the security men were paid monthly salaries as low as N8,000 (approx.$70 ) when the national minimum wage in 2002 was about N6,000 (approx.$53)

G4S employees Photo: G4S website
Photo: G4S website

One of the ex-OSL/G4S workers who spoke on the condition of anonymity as he still works in the Delta and whose start-off salary in 2002 was N8,000 (about $70) declared that:

‘People envied us for working with a security contractor to a major oil company. But, the reality was really bad. Our salary was poor’.

From 2006, the crisis in the Niger Delta dipped when youth of Ijaw the largest ethnic group in the Niger Delta organised into an armed insurgency under the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND which carried out blistering attacks on oil installations. The staff of OSL/G4S were in the frontline of this clash between the communities and the oil companies. One of those in the frontline in the Escravos area, whose start-off salary was N12,000 in 2002, described their frightening encounters with aggrieved communities:

‘It was very bad. The communities were angry and aggrieved. They came by the river by boat, jumped fences and entered the premises. Some staff were injured. The security staff are only permitted to carry batons.’

By law (Private Security Guard Act 1990), private security companies are prohibited from bearing arms. However, the oil companies operate in a delta secured by armed government security forces including the navy and army. A Joint (Military) Task Force JTF is in place in the Niger Delta, whose brief from the Nigerian government which depends on the sale of crude oil for over 80percent of national revenue, is clearly to protect the facilities and keep the oil flowing. OSL/G4S worked with mariners also, many of whom were retired unarmed, but trained Naval officers as well as 250 supernumerary police officers. The Nigerian government has regularly deployed military task forces to quell agitations in the Niger Delta since the 1990s. Hundreds of community persons have lost their lives in these deployments in the past three decades.

Organising for better pay

In 2004, eight union leaders of the workers of OSL/G4S, who led the efforts to unionise to secure better working conditions for the staff earning poor salaries and operating in a difficult, threatening work environment, were sacked by management. These leaders had taken their agitation for the rights of the workers to the next stage by working to incorporate the workers in the powerful union of oil workers, the Petroleum and Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria PENGASSAN. Not only was this effort resisted by the management of OSL, the leaders had their jobs terminated. The staff did not give up however. They eventually were able to align the OSL/G4S workers with the National Union of Hotel and Personal Services Workers, NUHPSW, of the Warri Branch.

Former staff who spoke with National Point said in 2012 they were informed that OSL had gone bankrupt and the management announced it subsidiary Asset Guard Services as its replacement. However, the announcement of the end of the company had only happened in the very sour ambiance of sustained demonstrations by angry placard wielding workers of the company who became a regular sight outside the gate at Chevron’s Lekki, Lagos offices, a heavy dose of bad press and a suit instituted by the OSL/G4S workers at the Arbitration Court in Lagos on December 22, 2011.

One of the former OSL/G4S workers who was active in the union then, stated that:

‘We were told that the company had gone bankrupt. But, we didn’t believe that story. We knew that there are processes for winding up a company in this country. We didn’t see these processes happen’.

A clue to the quiet resting of the high performing OSL brand is provided in details obtained through months of interviews with over a dozen former OSL/G4S staff, retired oil company workers in Warri, Lagos and Port Harcourt, community persons and journalists who reported the series of OSL/G4S workers protests . Additionally, details contained in copies of documents, including the court documents obtained by this publication in the matter filed on behalf of the Ex-OSL workers by the Warri Branch of the union NUHPSW, against OSL because of its resistance to paying the staff their Leaving Gratuity.

In 2010, Swamp Guard Mariners of OSL who work in the Escravos area presented a letter to the OSL management, highlighting areas of grievance over their pay packages which reflected shortages in their payslips.

An Ex-OSL/G4S worker who was very active in the union, who still works in the oil sector and desired to maintain anonymity to avoid victimisation said:

‘we worked and fought and eventually the company accepted us being organised under the National Union of Hotel and Personal Services Workers, NUHPSW. Even at that, there was hostility to the workers who were active in the union’.

In June 2009, unionised OSL/G4S workers had started discussions with the management of the company to negotiate a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), also known as a Staff Conditions of Service. This publication was able to secure a copy of the document. The CBA set out the principles, policies and procedures regulating conditions of employment with the workers of the company contained in 56 articles that cover areas such as engagement of personnel, Environmental Health and Safety, hours of work, overtime, medical treatment, accident, injuries and death at work. Some of the key clauses include Article 37, which captures details about a Leaving Gratuity which eventually became a major obstacle in the relations between the company and its staff.

Article 37 states that:

‘Leaving gratuity shall be two months’ pay for each year of service inclusive of current basic salary, housing, utility, transport and meal subsidy. To be eligible, the employee must have served 2 years continuously with OSL. Employees with less than two years service to the company do not qualify’.

OSL/G4S hedged on implementing the terms of the CBA, mainly centred on the Leaving Gratuity and a 7.5percent annual salary increase. It also played on the clause in the CBA that required further meeting of the signatory parties, which were the Union Officials and OSL/G4S representatives, to ensure that the required two-yearly review meeting never occurred. The workers did not sleep on their rights. The period from 2010 to 2011, marked periods of intense restiveness around OSL/G4S operations signposted by industrial action by workers in Warri and Lagos. One such action occurred on 6th June 2011. The workers noting the continued hedging by OSL, eventually took their matter to the Federal Ministry of Labour which in a letter dated 3rd February, 2011 addressed to OSL, asked the company to commence payment of the Leaving Gratuity, directing OSL/G4S, ‘…to comply fully with the CBA’.

OSL /G4S continued stalling on payment of the Leaving gratuity and in the tense atmosphere in 2011, G4S decided to rest OSL, its security subsidiary through which it secured and operated the Chevron security contracts from 2002. Within this period, the company offered its security staff a scheme to accept six weeks salary in place of the Leaving Gratuity. Staff were compelled to accept this or lose out. Many of the former workers did not accept this payment of a mere six weeks of pay instead of 20months of pay for those staff who had worked for 10 years, insisting on the implementation of the Leaving gratuity.

By the end of 2011, it was clear to the Ex-OSL workers that the company had no intention of honouring the CBA it had signed with the NUHPSW. Some members of staff, particularly newer employees, had accepted payments as low as N70, 000 (approx. $600) under the six weeks payment.

‘Many of the older staff were not retained as the company drew up a list and deliberately excluded the active workers. But as they removed names, they brought in new staff’,

noted a former staff who said he was one of those deliberately let go.

The aggrieved staff then took the matter to the Industrial Court in Lagos to ensure the enforcement of their rights asking the industrial court to decide if a contract of employment or a collective bargaining agreement can be devoid of a saving clause or expires during the workers employment. They also asked the court to decide if the agreed working hours is an 8 hours daily shift or 264 hours of work per month.

Lawyers for OSL/G4S, placed six issues for determination centred on the right of the former workers to seek the enforcement of the collective bargaining agreement with the leaving gratuity at its core.
In delivering judgement, the judge dismissed the workers suit deciding that the CBA agreement had lapsed.

Despite this, the workers pressed on to appeal this decision in 2014 before the case stalled, with the onset of the corona virus pandemic and shut down of the judicial system.

Today, Onuorah is back in Aba. He is self-employed, engaged in small trading business in the bustling city. Although he expressed bitterness over the way he and the workers were treated and denied benefits, including the Leaving gratuity duly negotiated, he looks forward to getting justice through a successful appeal at the Industrial court. Onuorah hopes to invest the expected payment in expanding his current trade.

Another former worker who now lives in Kaduna and is currently unemployed, informed this reporter with regret and bitterness,

‘OSL owes me over N4million (over $3,200) in leaving gratuity payments and other unpaid allowances. If I had that money, I would have invested it in a business to provide for my family’.

Most of the workers spoke on the condition of anonymity, as they feared they could be denied jobs or hurt in other ways.

This G4S culture of abuse of workers’ rights is replicated in several other countries where the company operates. A 2019 investigation by Aljazeera exposed ill-treatment of migrant workers at G4S run operations in Qatar and United Arab Emirates UAE. These workers, who often paid recruitment fees to get work, also faced long work hours, no overtime pay and forms of harassment. These realities were said to have compelled the influential Norwegian Wealth Fund which held a 2.33 percent stake in G4S by 2018 to announce it would no longer invest in the security company.

Columbus Okaro, Corporate Affairs Director, G4S Secure Solutions Nigeria Limited Photo credit: ContactOut.com
Columbus Okaro, Corporate Affairs Director, G4S Secure Solutions Nigeria Limited Photo credit: ContactOut.com

This reporter made effort to get G4S perspective on the unresolved matter of payment of leaving gratuity to the former workers of OSL/G4S. In mid July, 2021, this reporter made phone calls and sent messages by whatsapp to Columbus Okaro, who is G4S Corporate Affairs Manager in Nigeria. Okaro did not respond within the first two days. He later responded by WhatsApp indicating he was not in Nigeria. Okaro is one of the longest serving G4S directors in Nigeria. A lawyer and retired Police Commissioner, he was General Manager under OSL/G4S and was one of the signatories to the CBA on behalf of the G4S group in 2009. Pressed further for access to another G4S official to respond to National Point enquiries, he sent a response : ‘You will have to wait for my return’.

Read the article on National Point.