Airtel, Labour Settle Rift

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Airtel Networks Nigeria has resumed full operations in all parts of the country, following the settlement of the dispute over outsourcing between it and call centre agents. The agents were hitherto attached to its business process outsourcing partners, TechMahinda and Spanco Channel BPO.

The telecommunications company has also opened customer service shops across the country.

The reopening of the offices and the restoration of services came on the heels of an agreement reached by the telecommunication company, its partners and the Labour Unions, the National Union of Post and Telecommunication Employees (NUPTE) and the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC).

The accord between Airtel and the other parties came after two days of conciliatory meetings at the instance of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity in Abuja last week.

In a communiqué signed at the end of the meeting, Airtel agreed to mandate its Business Partners, SPANCO and Tech Mahindra, to ensure that all the call centre staff affected by contract expiration before the dispute resume work not later than Thursday, October 13.

Nigeria’s central labour union, the Nigeria Labour Congress and the National Union of Post and Telecommunication Employees, had backed the call centre agents, following the expiration of the contract of their employers with the BPOs, and mounted a massive picketing campaign that shut down both the call centres in Lagos and Abuja and the customer shops across the country.

While the union claimed that the companies sacked workers, Tech Mahindra and Spanco asserted that their contract with the Human Resources firms that employed the workers expired on September 30 and that they were willing to engage suitable hands from among the workers directly. They also asserted that the contract with some of the other firms, and thus their workers, still held firm till January, 2012.

Moreover, negotiation will commence between Airtel, Spanco, Tech Mahindra, and NUPTE with a view to putting in place a collective bargaining agreement. The parties have to conclude the collective bargaining agreement on or before October 28, according to the communiqué.

On its part, Airtel and its partners are to ensure that none of the call centre agents that participated in the wave of violence are victimised over their actions.

Airtel Nigeria Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Mr. Rajan Swaroop, in a statement on October 9, said the telecommunications firm was grateful for the loyalty of its customers while the impasse lasted.

Swaroop stated: “We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience the impasse and misunderstanding may have caused our customers just as we thank them for their understanding. We also commend our customers for their loyalty and abiding faith in the Airtel brand.

“We wish to reassure customers of Airtel’s continuous commitment to providing Nigerians a world-class mobile network, innovative and relevant products and services and affordable tariffs which will empower our people to succeed in their business and personal endeavours. Airtel remains committed to the task of building a robust telecommunication infrastructure and providing Nigerians a pleasant communication experience.”

Swaroop added, “We reiterate that the unfortunate incident was due to a misunderstanding between our business partners, their employees, and the labour unions. Though the affected workers were not employees of Airtel Nigeria, the company would continue to persuade its partners to ensure fair treatment within the provisions of Nigeria’s labour laws and the dictates of best practice within and outside the industry,” he said.

—Henry Ojelu