By Charles Nwaoguji
The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC or Commission) became aware of credible reports of unfair treatment of Nigerian employees at Inner Steel Company Limited located at Obehie, Ukwa-West Local Government Area, Abia State.
The information received alleged unscrupulous and potentially illegal treatment and working conditions at Inner Steel’s factory. Although it was unclear how the subject conduct falls within the mandate of the FCCPC, regardless, the Commission proceeded in an abundance of caution, considering treatment of citizens was implicated in the report, and the urgency required made it expedient to deploy anyway.
Yesterday, August 13th, operatives of the Commission from the South-East and South-South zonal offices conducted an investigatory stop at the company’s location in Obehie, Abia State. Company executives and representatives were cooperative and provided requested information.
Initial findings establish that:
- Employees are housed on work premises in less than ideal boarding conditions
- Some employees felt restrained on-site and unable to leave, even though going home has been their preference.
- A workplace injury previously occurred and led to an amputation with respect to an employee.
- Employees were required to work non-stop shifts of 11 hours with inadequate breaks.
- There are possible questions about the company’s compliance with prevailing standards for the steel/iron products it makes.
Although the vast majority of the conduct discovered are labour relations and not consumer issues, the Commission secured an express and urgent commitment from the company to immediately, and forthwith:
- Take steps to improve the living conditions of on-site employees including immediately purchasing foams/mattresses for their bunk beds, and cooling fans.
- Modify required working hours from 11 to 8 hours daily effective immediately.
- Immediately discontinue mandatory quarantine on-site for employees who desire to depart the facility.
- Improve on-site medical access and responsiveness.
With respect to the work-related accident that led to serious injuries (amputation), considering the circumstances are currently subject of litigation, the company was disinclined to make statements.
Regarding the quality of the company’s products, the Commission has opened an active investigation and is commencing materials testing to determine compliance with prevailing standards.
The company recognizes it is under monitoring and supervision pending the satisfactory resolution of all outstanding or open issues. The Commission is making a fuller report and transmitting to the more relevant Ministry/Agency for follow up, monitoring and compliance. The enforcement mechanisms including penalties (where applicable) under relevant laws and processes of the appropriate ministry, department or agency, for violations in these circumstances should take their course.
The Commission commends the courage and commitment of the investigative journalist who followed this through, and welcomes credible intelligence that leads to robust enforcement of its competition and consumer protection mandate.