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In this report, SODIQ OJUROUNGBE dives deep into the poor working conditions of Nigerian workers at Chinese companies in some parts of Ogun state and how this is affecting their health.
Adefemi Adeolu was diagnosed with asthma a few months after leaving the Ogun Guangdong free trade zone located at Igbesa area of Ado-Odo Ota Local Government in Ogun state.
Adeolu, a 28-year-old man, left the Chinese company in 2020 when he could not cope with the dust and the working conditions of the company. The father of two who was hale and healthy when he joined the company in 2017 said he discovered he was having heavy breathing in 2019. He narrated that he went to the Federal Medical Centre, Abeokuta where he was told that he has asthma based on what he inhales which has affected his health.
Adeolu who now depends his life on medication, and sometimes on inhaler said he had to leave the company in 2020 when he could not cope with the dust.
“There was nothing wrong with me before I got employment at the Chinese construction company. Everything started in 2019 when I discovered I was having heavy breathing and chest pain especially when coughing. When it became unbearable, I went to the hospital where I was diagnosed with Asthma.
“When I asked what was responsible, they told me that I have spent a lot of time inhaling dust which has really affected a lot of things in my mind.
“Since then, I have been placed on medication and it has not been an easy thing for me. I have to leave the company in 2020 when I can’t cope with it again”.
Adeolu claimed he was working as a truck driver for the Chinese construction company. He lamented that he had inhale lot of dust during the working hours as Personal Protective Equipment like masks were not available for workers.
“We were not given any PPEs, there is not health insurance or whatsoever for what you do for the Chinese company, you can’t complain too much and you can’t do anything about their stringent policy.”
Just like Adeolu, many Nigerians working with Chinese companies have stories to tell about what they are going through in the hand of the Chinese operators. It has always been a similar stories as Nigerians were at the mercy of Chinese who operate in Nigeria like they own the country.
Findings by PLATFORM TIMES showed that despite the atrocities committed by the Chinese companies, the Nigerian government reportedly looked the other way.
Findings showed that there are many illegal Chinese companies operating in the country, while others reportedly took the back door to get license of operation.
In a field survey conducted by Statista, between November 2016 and March 2017, a total of 920 Chinese firms were found in Nigeria which made her the Africa country with the highest number of Chinese firms.
An Asoko analysis of Nigeria Corporate Affairs Commission data indicates that 3,321 registered companies in Nigeria have at least one shareholder of Chinese nationality.
Ogun state is one of the states in Nigeria with the highest number of quarries and other mining sites.
A sizeable number of these quarries were reportedly owned by Chinese, leaving a reasonable number to indigenous operators.
It was gathered that not less than 25 quarries are legally operating in the state while other illegal quarries and mining sites are scattered all over the state.
Despite the state having a large number of Quarry companies, workers at these quarries are full of tales of exploitation, poor welfarism, poor remuneration, lack of provision of personal protective equipment, among others.
A visit to some of the Quarry and Chinese companies, it was discovered that Nigerian workers were being treated like ‘half cast’ in their own country.
While only a dew of the workers earned up to N900 daily as a worker at the Chinese companies, the working conditions and job prescriptions are reportedly worse.
During the visit to the Chinese companies, it was discovered that 85 percent of the workers at the Quarries were not given Personal Protective Equipment like safety boots, gloves, masks, helmet to work with.
From people who work as payloader, dropper, supervisors, engineers, among others, it was discovered that they were not armed with the needed safety kits that can protect them from possible attack during working hours.
PLATFORM TIMES gathered that many of the workers were causal workers placed on wages. Findings revealed that since many of the workers are not staff, they cannot receive any other benefit apart from their wages that is always between N600 and N900.
It was gathered that employment are being terminated at any slight mistake. Despite working under poor conditions, findings by this reporter revealed that the Chinese do not give workers a second chance.
It was learnt that any little error, mistakes, disregard to the rules that guide the company, and insubordination to the Chinese were not taken with levity.
Some of the workers who spoke with this reporter claimed they regard the Chinese as a demigod that must not be disrespected.
Dewunmi Odebiyi said they were not allowed to object to any decision made by the Chinese.
Odebiyi lamented that anybody that tried to agitate for better working conditions from the Chinese were given sack letters. He noted that the Chinese don’t take any form of threat with levity.
He stressed, “No matter what you do for them, no matter how many years you have spent with them, they will never give you a second chance, if you go against the rules, they will treat your fuck up immediately.”
Similar stories, different health challenges
Quadri Ogunrinde was another victim who had an accident while working with Goodwill Ceramic.
Ogunrinde, a casual worker, had an ankle injury when he fell on a broken tile. For a month, he was in the hospital, while the Chinese company looked undisturbed or concerned with his causality.
Ogunrinde claimed that the company did not pay the hospital bills, as it took the intervention of some people before he was allowed to return after the ankle injury.
He said, “you can see the scar here, I had this injury while working here. They don’t care what you go through or what happens to you. It is either you continue working or you leave.
“Many of us would have left if we had other options, but we decided to stay since there is no job out there and at least, they are paying us compared to some places.
“At times, working here is like working in hell, the loads of work at times are unbearable, but there is nothing we can do about that.”
Sherif Adewale is a supervisor at Winghan Furniture in Guangdong Free Trade Zone. Adewale, a native of Osun said he earned N45, 000 monthly as supervisor.
He however said most workers at the company earn according to their position. According to him, the money you earn is based on your position as it varies from casual workers to supervisory roles..
Adewale lamented that no workers in the company have protective equipment.
He said, “The working conditions are bad, you can’t even tell them what you want. It is either you accept their offers or you leave their company.
“They don’t tolerate any act of disobedience, if they know I am giving you information about this place, they will sack me immediately.”
Kusimo was diagnosed with tuberculosis, he had worked with several Chinese Quarry companies in the state. Kusimo claimed he had worked at Ding Xing Quarry and A & B Quarry all in Obafemi-Owode Local Government Area of Ogun State.
He insisted that he is presently faced with health challenges because of what he has inhaled which reportedly affected his lungs while working as a worker at Chinese quarries.
Kusimo said he started having lung issues in 2018 while working as a supervisor at the Ding Xing Quarry. He narrated that at first, he thought it was just a normal cough and sneeze, but became unbearable in late 2018 which made him visit the hospital for medical attention.
He added, “When I got to the hospital, I was tested and they told me that I have a problem with my lungs. I was diagnosed with tuberculosis and since then, I have been nursing this.
“Working with different quarries for over 10 years was responsible for this. I am sure of that because it is not like I am a smoker.
“I have worked with various Chinese companies in Nigeria. And I can tell you that the way these Chinese people are using Nigerians is very bad.
“When you see them working, you’ll sympathise with them. It is very, very critical.
“The kind of work we do is very difficult, and they use Nigerians like goats, like animals.
“They will work from morning till night; from 7 a.m. till 7p.m. with a few minutes break.
“Even if the machine cuts the hand of a Nigerian, all they will do is to sack them. That’s how careless they are.
“The place is not conducive for workers. They are maltreating Nigerians, and our government is not doing anything.”
John Nsika, a 22-year-old Igbo man was an operator at Ding Xing Quarry companies in Obafemi-Owode area of Ogun state when he had an accident while operating a popular machine in the Quarry known as crusher.
Stone fell on Nsika’s head, his leg was broken in the accident, he sustained injuries in different parts of the body. Despite this, the Chinese company allegedly abandoned him, the company was not ready to take care of Nsika.
Nsika’s wages for the day was deducted, it took the intervention of the Nigeria Union of Mine Workers that threatened to picket the company before the medical bill of Nsika was paid.
No allowance or renumeration was paid to Nsika after the Chinese company agreed to pay the medical fee of Nsika at the Federal Medical Centre, Idi-Aba in Abeokuta.
Weeks after Nsika had received treatment at the hospital, he is still writhing in pains, he is still unable to work properly as his leg was bandaged.
“I have been like this for weeks, and the company is not doing anything. This place is pay as you earn; if you don’t work, they won’t pay you.
“They are not paying me anything, this accident would not have happened if we were provided with the personal protective equipment tools like helmet”, he submitted.
No regards to Labour act
From findings by this reporter, it was observed that the Chinese firms in Nigeria have disregarded the country’s labour act.
The working conditions, non-provision of PPEs to workers by Chinese operators violated the Labour Act which states certain requirements to be met for an employer.
A section of the Labour act emphasized the need for workers to be paid hazard allowance to cater for unexpected accident during the course of performing their duties.
The Labour act also emphasised the need for companies to provide safety equipment for its workers so as to avoid accidents during working hours.
The Labour Act reads partly: “It shall not be a defence to an employer who is sued in respect of personal injuries caused by the negligence of a person employed by him, that that person was, at the time the injuries were caused, in common employment with the person injured.
“Any provisions contained in a contract of service or apprenticeship, or in an agreement collateral thereto (including a contract or agreement entered into before the commencement of this section) shall be void in so far as it would have the effect of excluding or limiting any liability of the employer in respect of personal injuries caused to the person employed or apprenticed by the negligence of persons in common employment with him.”
Despite violating the labour laws and the acts that established many of the Chinese companies, findings showed that the government has reportedly failed to take actions against many of the companies.
The “horrible” environment
Although they work like elephants, where Nigerian Workers at Quarries live is not different from a home meant for rats. While many of the Quarry companies provided accommodation for workers that want to stay, this reporter observed that the condition of the rooms does not look like a place where human being sleep.
The work at the Quarry was expected to be a shift, a building was provided by the three Quarry companies visited to accommodate workers at the Quarry.
The buildings were coloured with squalor, sprawled with filth, clothes in clutters lumped on furniture not even furniture makers will consider usable, the condition at which the workers live is, to say the least, pathetic.
It was observed that toilets were built with planks, the rooms have no ceiling, nor are they being plastered. The workers claimed the rooms were also overcrowded. They claimed a room accommodating a minimum of five workers.
The workers claimed some of them sleep on floors, while some got cartons where they lay their heads on every night.
One of the workers at Xiyuan Quarry, Tajudeen lamented that due to the open roof and bad doors of the rooms, snakes easily gain access to the rooms. He complained that killing snakes has become normal as they see it almost everyday.
He said, “the rooms here are the worst, I am not sure a dead man can sleep here peacefully without complaining.
“About some days ago, I killed a snake inside my room. We sleep on a bare floor, no ceiling, no good doors. The state of the rooms here are the worst and it is just unfortunate that we have no choice.”
Emmanuel Bankole, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) chairman in the state, spoke of the efforts made to get the Chinese operators to do the needful.
“Because of the way Nigerians are treated, we have had cause to take about two to three of them up at certain times. I think about two or three lives have been lost through negligence because there was no PPE,” he said.
“It is a pity we have not been receiving cooperation from the mine officers at the federal ministry of mines in the state. We have to take them to the commissioner for trade and investment in the state and the woman really berated and condemned their attitude and warned them seriously. So, we are not folding our arms, but you know, we act on information, when we get one, we pick it up.”
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) says it will probe the “maltreatment” of Nigerians employed at Chinese-run companies in Ogun state.
Mai Fatima Ahmed, assistant director, legal, economic, social, and cultural rights department at the NHRC, said this during an anti-corruption radio programme, tagged ‘Public Conscience’.
Ahmed said the commission will launch an inquiry into the development.
“NHRC will not fail to bring culprits of human rights abuses to book,” she said.
“Ordinarily, when NHRC observes the rights of individuals that are likely to be trampled upon, they can swing into action, let alone this one that has already happened. So, we are going to build on this report, investigate and address all the areas that need to be addressed, and in due course, we will come up with a better solution.”
Some names mentioned in this report have been changed to protect their identities.
“This work was produced as a result of a grant provided by the Africa-China Reporting Project at the Wits Centre for Journalism at the University of the Witwatersrand.”