La Casera shuts down firm, lays off 700 workers

Hundreds of workers of the La Casera Soft drinks company staged a protest on Monday in front of the company’s premises in Amuwo Odofin section of Mile-2, Lagos as company officials said they have sacked all employees for what they described as an invasion of its premises by “hoodlums.”

The workers say the trouble started when they tried to form a union to protect their rights. The Senior Assistant General Secretary of the National Union of Food, Beverage, and Tobacco Employees, Mike Olanrenwaju, said that they made overtures to engage the company but were rebuffed.

“So they have been thwarting every move we make, through overt or covert means to sabotage it.”

The workers chanted and danced in solidarity in front of the company’s premises, under the watchful eye of about half a dozen police officers in two patrol vans.

The La Casera Company Plc, formerly known as Classic Beverages Limited, is a foreign company, owned by Indians. They began operation in the country about 15 years ago and they manufacture the popular La Casera soft drink, Nirvana table water, bitter lemon, tonic water and soda water.

Mr. Olanrewaju said that the workers of the company expressed an interest in joining the labour union a few months ago. The union asked them to elect an interim executive among themselves.

Richard Jome, a Maintenance Supervisor was elected the Chairman of the company’s branch of NUFBTE.

However, on July 31, Mr. Jome was sacked by La Casera management for what they termed “poor performance.”

“We reported to the Federal Ministry of Labour, which intervened promptly and invited us for a meeting in Abuja, “Mr. Olanrewaju said.

“The management tactically avoided that meeting. What they did was to take us to National Industrial Court. We too, we’ve sent our lawyers, they are already there.”

Last Friday, the union said they received “very reliable” information that the company’s management was planning to issue letters of disengagement to the workers.

On that day, union officials arrived at the premises of the company, went in and spoke to the workers, said Olanrewaju.

“We went inside to address workers, to sensitize them not to collect those letters because the case is already in the court,” he said.

But on Monday, the La Casera Company, citing acts of vandalism on its premises notified the employees of their disengagement.

On the note pasted on the company’s gate, the company said that it was no longer able to continue operation due to “unprovoked acts of vandalism.”

“As a result of the unwarranted illegal break-in and invasion of our business premises on Friday 11th September, 2015, we currently cannot guarantee the wellbeing of our esteemed employees, from these hired hoodlums and their collaborators,” the company said.

“The criminal and malicious action resulted in physical attack on innocent and law-abiding workers, as well as vandalization of our property causing damage to our business in general.”

The company further informed the employees to go to their representative, Tusen Consulting, in Victoria Island to process their entitlements September 22 and 23.

The Chairman of Nigeria Labour Congress, Lagos State Chapter, said the union will continue to picket the company’s premises until they reverse their decision and also agree to let the workers join the union.

“For some people from India to come to Nigeria and call Nigerians hoodlums is just like they are here to call us black monkey again, and we will tell them we are not black monkeys, we are human beings, even better than them in India,” Mr. Adelakun said.

“We are not hoodlums. If the people were hoodlums, you will not see the Nigeria Labour Congress coming here to stand with them, so they are not hoodlums; they are fighting for their rights.”

Mr. Jome, who was sacked in July after being elected Chairman of the employees, said there were no acts of vandalism during last Friday’s protest.

“Nothing was damaged, it was a peaceful protest. Even, we the executives, we stayed on the premises till past 6 p.m. to ensure that nothing was destroyed.”

The angry workers also criticized the company’s working condition, describing it as inhumane.

For instance, the health insurance does not cover any family member of staff; and treatment for any ailment does not exceed N3, 000.

On the 31st of July, the union was supposed to come and do the inauguration of the elected leaders here, but the management pleaded that they should postpone it till the following week, that they have one important thing to do in the premises,” said Mr. Jome.

“That was the day they sacked me.”

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