Offshoring is taking away much needed jobs and technical capacity development from the shores of Africa to Asia, Nigeria’s telecom sector is the latest casualty of this menace, in this interview with FOOTPRINT TO AFRICA, Comrade Okonu Abdullahi, General Secretary of Private Telecommunications and Communications Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PTECSSAN), speaks of strategies to nip the scourge in the bud.
Who makes up the Private Telecommunications and Communications sector?
Non-government establishments/investors rendering ICT and courier services broadly speaking, make up the telecommunications and communications sector.
How has the current recession impacted on the sector?
The recession has impacted so negatively on the sector like other sectors in the economy. The purchasing power keeps going down as the cost of basic needs keeps soaring. Hence, spending on calls, data subscriptions by customers naturally dropped compared to period before the recession where so much money was made through calls, sms and data subscription.
What is your take on the already developed National Broadband Plan which is yet to see the light of day?
It is unfortunate that implementation of policies is always a bane of this country. It is regrettable that a wonderful plan like that put in place since 2012 has not seen the light of the day. It’s sad.
Despite the gains of the big players none of them has registered on the Stock Exchange, what could be responsible for this?
The big players as you called them have what it takes to be listed on the stock exchange but they are not doing so because nothing in our laws or policies compel them to do so. I stand to be corrected.
What are some of the challenges of the sector?
Challenges facing the sector are enormous and are not different from other sectors in the country in terms of infrastructure like erratic power supply – as operators practically run their business on generating sets; Insecurity multiple taxation; instability in foreign exchange, etc. All challenges I mentioned above are seen in the light of the investors.
To the workers which I represent, incessant/arbitrary sack of workers, casualisation, gross abuse of expatriate quota, the most recent of them, offshoring, harassment and intimidation, non-existence of conditions of service otherwise known as workers/staff handbook, non-remittance of statutory deductions made from the workers’ salaries i.e. tax, contributory pension fund to the relevant agencies, resistance of unionisation of workers by the employers, lack of terminal benefits, poor remunerations, exploitation, delays in salary payment, no leave and leave bonus, no carrier growth etc.
What is your take on offshoring activities?
Offshoring is a new term adopted globally and gradually creeping into Nigeria’s economy, it simply tells us about taking jobs away from a particular country, into another country.
In the case of Nigeria, specifically the telecoms sector, what is being done is taking some technical departments away from Nigeria to India.
Offshoring is a practice that must never be condoned in any economy, especially developing countries like ours. As a union, PTECSSAN will do everything legally right to stop the menace from festering. Also, we will fight to ensure that companies that have implemented it bring the jobs back into the country and the sacked workers recalled.
How is your union trying to reverse the impact of offshoring?
Our union has sprung into action, we have written to the government at all levels, DSS, Ministry of labour and employment, calling their attention to this menace. Our fear is that in due time, it will eat deep beyond the telecoms sector. We feel the necessity and urge to stem the tide from now. We have also written to labour centres to inform them about the bad trend unconsciously being introduced into the country and we must arrest it now. We also are creating rooms for preventive measures.
So far, only ministry of labour, three companies initiating the trend have called us for a meeting in Abuja to discuss. Ericsson did not come up because they have implemented the trend and there is enough evidence to show. As a matter of fact, one of their spokesperson confirmed it and gave reasons based on cutting cost; and it was a directive issued from their head office. Huawei restated their decision of not implementing, even at the meeting. But unfortunately, we have documents showing that they have started implementation.
We are looking at taking it further beyond writing letters, we want to take bold actions against all the companies that have implemented. Our demand is that they recall all the sacked workers. MTN denied knowledge, and we are saying that it is impossible for a client or vendor to take such decision without briefing them. We have proof of their activities.
We want to start a campaign against any company that indulges in offshoring; such that Nigerians will seize to patronise them. We are working with sister unions to achieve this.
As a union, we believe that it is something that must not be condoned. We must not tolerate this. These companies still have their businesses here; the revenue being generated by them is made in Nigeria. Those paying for services of these countries are Nigerians. Therefore, the jobs should remain in Nigeria and not that the money generated via service charges will be used to pay workers in India instead of Nigeria. So that is why we as a union frown at offshoring.
What are the implications of offshoring?
The bourgeoisie everywhere in the world is mainly concerned about continuous lowering of cost of production in order to maximise profit.
Offshoring is simply about sending work abroad that hitherto was done locally. According to Dean Davison of Meta Group research, offshoring is growing 20-25% per annum, with little evidence of slowing.
Sadly, this monster of a practice is creeping into Nigeria at this critical time that the country is facing its worse economic situation in decades.
Apart from job losses, monitoring of sites is a thing that should be done locally, we should not be depending on foreigners to be monitoring our sites and calls transactions.
It is a threat to our national security. The country will be forced to rely heavily on foreigners for most of the things that should be done locally.
The social implication also is that families will be destroyed due to the job losses which will be unfortunately massive.
It will also reduce revenue for the government. While it is true that bulk of the revenue generated in the sector comes from tax paid by the operators themselves, the tax paid by the employees cannot be over-emphasised. Income tax of over 3,000 employees in the sector working in Huawei and Ericsson will no longer be available as the workers will no longer be on the job. Same can be said of Contributory Pension Scheme in the country, when workers are no longer in service the funds usually contributed thereto will no longer be available, hence, investment used from the funds will become reduced drastically.
It is worth noting that terrorism and militancy as currently experienced in the country blossom, as argued in some quarters, as a result of high rate of unemployment and poverty, hence, if these sacked or to be sacked workers choose to sabotage telecommunications infrastructure in the country the resultant devastating effects of their actions will be far worse than sabotage on oil pipelines by the militants.
Nigerians will also be paying the salaries of Indians because the jobs are being taken to India.
Do you have evidence to support the occurrence of offshoring in Nigeria?
The first port of call of offshoring is in the telecommunications sector with the sack of over 160 workers was by the second largest employer of telecommunications professionals- Ericsson- as reported by Punch Newspaper on 1st December, 2016. A source in the company claimed this exercise was in its first phase of implementation.
What this simply means is that when the plan is finalized, not less than a total of 1000 workers would become unemployed. Evidence at our (Private Telecommunications and Communications Senior Staff of Nigeria, PTECSSAN) disposal shows that Huawei Technologies Nigeria Limited, the largest telecommunications professional employer in the country, has begun its own process of offshoring to India just like Ericsson, with a resulting effect, when fully implemented, of more than 2,000 employees thrown into unemployment. In total, a combined number of over 3,000 employees from these two companies will be thrown out of their jobs within the next couple of months.
Most of the top managers in these sectors have been blinded; forgetting that Nigeria should come first. Nigerians in top positions of these companies should know that it will affect them soonest.
How should the government respond to this menace?
The All Progress Congress (APC) government who have promised to provide jobs should not allow this menace see the light of day because it will affect their promises.
The jobs are going away to India from Nigeria, who is among the few that has embraced this trend. The NCC should not present itself as a saboteur by ignoring this trend. They need to safeguard this country through the telecommunication sector. It is unfortunate that it is fast becoming a practice and even the senate is yet to debate over it.
PTECSSAN is up and doing now, we want to assure Nigerian workers that they have nothing to fear, we will fight for the Nigerian worker.
Should Nigerians expect more competitive prices from the operators anytime soon?
Nigerians should expect competitive prices when NCC allow it. What we have been seeing in the sector is a situation whereby NCC either puts ceiling or floor to the prices charged by the operators. With a step like this there is no competitive pricing as an operator will not be able to go lower than pricing floor if it can afford to.
Is there anything regulators need to do to attract more foreign investors and improvement in the sector?
Beyond putting in place good policies, the regulators should be fair to all players in the sector. If this is done the sector will continue to attract foreign investments and development.
What is your vision for the union?
Our vision is to grow and develop the union to become the best not only in the country but in the world in terms of efficiency in approach to workers’ issues in the sector in particular.
Is the sector still capable of creating more employment for Nigerians?
There are still several grounds yet to be covered by the sector hence, the sector will continue to create more jobs.