Sunil Bharti Mittal, the billionaire owner of Airtel

 Many would remember that over the past few months, there have remained several disagreements between staff of Airtel, Nigeria and the company’s management over several issues; issues which have led two 2 strike actions within the past 5 months. It should be noted that before now, Airtel’s Call Centre had been run by the subcontracted Nigerian firms: CCSNL, HR Index and Bezaleel.
 Barely three months after the Indians took over from ZAIN, they introduced their own Subcontracting firms: Tech Mahindra and Spanco BPO to ultimately take over from the Nigerians that have until now run the Abuja and Lagos call centre and the shops as well.
Fast forward: June, 2011. The Indians decided to make some organizational ‘adjustments’. Adjustments that led to the first strike action by the Abuja Call Centre agents. It was decided by the Company’s management that all staff who had gone on leave would be unpaid for those days not worked for; pregnant women to be indiscriminately sacked, termination of medical insurance and delay in the payment of June Salaries.
 This led to the first strike action which led to the total downing of tools by the Abuja Call Centre agents; an action which led to all customers’ calls being routed to the Lagos call centre. A day later, management had a change of mind and paid staff salaries, the payment of staff salaries that had been on leave and the enrolment of all staff in the National Health Insurance Scheme.
July 18, 20011. Airtel had declared excessive profits from the 2010 year and decided to award CERTAIN staff bonuses ranging into the millions of naira. One would think this largesse would go round all workers but the Indians decided that some staff where MORE EQUAL than others. Call Centre Agents that did 60% of the work were neglected. Also, staff that joined the call centre from November, 2010 till date were never given the benefits of staff lines prompting them to recharge their lines like any other network subscriber (imagine living by the ocean and washing your face with spittle).
 These issues led to a strike which involved the NLC that lasted over a week and a half. Finally, certain agreement were reached and the company promised to pay bonuses ON OR BEFORE 31ST AUGUST 2011 as contained in a communiqué issued to all staff; an agreement which it has not been acknowledged till date.
Monday, 19th September, 2011. After a meeting between Airtel Managent and their subcontracting Indian firms, Spanco Bpo, Tech Mahindra, and representatives of the workers union, it was decided unanimously by Airtel that ‘all staff salaries, effective from 1st October, 2011, would be reduced by at least 60%’ because “…the company needs to survive as the salaries were to hectic for the company to bear’.
 As such, call Centre Agents that have since the last two years earned N74,070 would now earn N29600; ‘Junior’ supervisors that have earned N180,000 would now earn N72,000 and some Assistant Managers that have earned N240,000 would now earn N96,000 per month!!!! Imagine Airtel ‘needing’ to survive after a $10.7 billion takeover of Zain, the highest ever trans-continental transaction
Now, with N29,600, how would Call Centre Agents, for instance, pay house rents that range between N80,000 and N450,000 in Lagos and Abuja, buy food, tend to their respective families/friends’ needs then clothe themselves. Seemingly, this is highly IMPOSSIBLE with the newly proposed Airtel salary structures. A corper, for intstance would earn as much as an Airtel Call Centre agent.
Sandeepn Nair, one of the mangers the Indians brought over was quoted to have said that the call centre job was a job not meant for graduates, since it was so in his country. He also claimed that he started work as a call centre agent in his country (a country that tolerates child labour) at the age of 14! Now at 29, his is a ‘proud’ call centre manager. There have been other indications that the proposed salary reduction was due to the ‘extravagant’ life styles (according to the Indians) of the call centre agents at the Abuja call centre.
 When one visits the Airtel Call Centre at Abuja during a typical shift, several flashy cars are seen parked and it could be mistaken for a car shop. The Indians on the other hand who earn FAR MORE than the workers still chatter cabs to take them to their various destinations. Also, at the staff canteen, while at least 3 Indian mangers ALWAYS share a plate of rice with a bottle of 7up, call centre agents eat lavishly, and individually as well. (Seriously, no pun intended).
One thing the Indians REALLY need to understand is to ‘act like Romans while in Rome’. This is Nigeria! The fact that India permits child labour, Indian-call-centres-run-by-school-drop-outs and the unschooled and peanuts being earned as salaries doesn’t mean it can work in Nigeria. Nigerians would prefer to ‘get rich or die trying’. Fact!
 Unless a consensus is reached between Airtel’s management and Workers union before 30th September, 2011 on NO SALARY REDUCTION, don’t be surprised when you call the Airtel Call Centre with your line’s issues and being unable to go through. Workers are ready to down tools again for as long as possible to press home their demands as there is a planned match to the National Assembly to press home issues.
It should be noted that inhumane working conditions are also being experienced by workers at the Indian run Delta Steel Company at Aladja, Warri, Delta State.eleme petro chemical port Harcourt
 Ps: kindly forgive if the word “Indian(s)” used mostly in this article sounds racist. This is because ‘a spade has to be called a spade’


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