CICA Motors in Bad Labour Practices?-Aggrieved Employees Stage Peaceful Protest

Aggrieved employees of CICA Motors-Liberia on Tuesday, June 7, 2022 staged a massive peaceful protest at the company’s Bushrod Island office, calling for the immediate replacement of their new Nigerian Manager Olaboye Ajayi for allegedly engaging into a fraudulent act of forging the resignation of a female employee without consent, and infringing on the constitutional rights and downplaying their wellbeing at the entity.

The company, which is the sole distributor of Toyota vehicles and parts in Liberia, is owned by the Cooperation for Africa Overseas (CFAO) based in Paris, France.

The employees, under the banner ‘Workers Union of CICA Motors’ were seen during the week chanting anti-management slogans and holding placards with inscriptions: “We Cannot Be Slaves In Our Home”, “Our People Are Suffering At CICA Motors”, “Bad Labour Practice At CICA Motors”, “Wrongful Dismissals At CICA Motors”, “Total Witch Hunting Boye Must Go”, amongst others.

The employees claimed that since the appointment of Mr. Ajayi by the company’s Board in February of 2021, the smooth working environment at the company suddenly turned “hostile and unbearable” for them. The workers added that Mr. Ajayi has been allegedly inconsistent in his actions and statements concerning employee’s wellbeing.

According to them, Mr. Ajayi recently wrongfully dismissed one Mr. Tyrone Bowein, former Service Advisor, and refused to pay him off as required by the Labour Law of the country.

They maintained that even though Mr. Bowein served the company for more than nine years; the reason given by the management to dismiss him for alleged “poor performance, absenteeism, loitering and not meeting targets” was uncalled for.

In the same vein, they noted that their decision to protest was also due to the latest dismissal of Ernest Wolo, Customer Care Officer, for no justifiable reasons.

They claimed that Mr. Ajayi has a “bad manner of approach to employees/staffers using harsh and disparaging words against them. The workers also maintained that they are continuously shifted from one working-section to another without due cause, incentives, or increment in salary.

The aggrieved employees emphasized that their boss has imposed a “self-centered style bordering on anger and aggression, by using invectives against them in the midst of even customers and others.

The workers also claimed that their loan facility has been reduced from 30% to 20%, while employees were being suspended instantly without any prior notice or warnings.

According to them, Mr. Ajayi sometimes ago sat behind the assigned computer of a female employee at the company and wrote a letter of resignation on her own behalf on grounds that the lady in question abandoned her assigned tasks and responsibilities by exposing sensitive documents of the company to the public. They maintained that the alleged action of their boss prompted a psychological trauma on the employee.

Speaking in an interview with reporters during the protest, the President of CICA Motors Workers Union, Odecai Godia, disclosed that they have exerted all efforts to ensure that management improve their wellbeing and reconsider the decisions taken to dismiss their colleagues without any substantiate reasons, but all efforts have proven fruitless.

He recalled that Wolo has been suspended by the company two consecutive times, but was shocked to have received a letter of dismissal following his return to work on Monday, June 6 after serving more than a month of suspension.

He said the Union engaged the management to ascertain what prompted the dismissal of their colleagues, but Mr. Ajayi allegedly informed the leaders that the decision came from the company’s headquarters in Paris, France.

“We asked if we could form part of the investigation from the headquarters. But unfortunately, nobody from the headquarters has ever communicated with us. We were not in the know and we didn’t form part of that investigation. We called his attention this morning through the Human Resource Director to provide clarity as to why our colleague’s service was terminated and he said ‘nothing can be done and he absolutely has no comment’”.

Odecai maintained that employees, especially those in the leadership of the workers union at the company are being allegedly targeted by their boss for “personal reasons”.

“Since Ajayi’s ascendancy, the working environment here has been very, very unbearable. He’s very hostile and arrogant. He thinks that he owns the company. But as a matter of fact, he’s just the Managing Director for Liberia. Things have declined since he came here. We wrote the headquarters asking them to recall him and he misinformed Hq that those issues we raised have been addressed and that was false,” Odecai stated.   

Matter before Ministry of Labour

On May 3, 2022, employees of the company complained to authorities at the Ministry of Labour on the matter.

Odecai stated that though the Ministry has not invited their Managing Director to respond to the allegation, the leadership of the Union and the dismissed employee Wolo has not been invited for questioning also.

According to him, Mr. Ajayi is in the constant habit of allegedly “bragging of having control over the system”, and as such, he (Ajayi) continues to take additional punitive actions even though the matter is before the ministry.

 Dialogue failed

He pointed out that the union has applied efforts on numerous occasions to hold a dialogue with the current management in finding solutions to their concerns and plights, but Mr. Ajayi has not been showing any interest or cooperation.

He said the peaceful assemble was an evidence of their boss non-compliance posture in promoting and showing concerns towards their wellbeing.

“We will go on with this protest until this message reaches the headquarters. We hope to achieve the best possible results meaning, we don’t want to work with Mr. Ajayi under no circumstances. We are asking HQ to recall him”.

“The Union members have been targeted because of the communication we sent to the headquarters about what is going on at the company here. Mr. Ajayi wants to get us out of the way”, Madam Agnes Manneh stated.

She recalled that since the takeover of the managerial role of the company by Mr. Ajayi, employees have been constrained to consistently “quarrel with management” before their entitlements are given.

“Every other thing other managers were doing for us, there will be a confusion. Our bonuses were set already but he came and decided to reduce those bonuses. We had a quarrel before we could even receive our bonuses. They have blacklisted us and they have our listing”.

She noted that loan opportunities which were normally accorded the employees from the headquarters of the company were allegedly cancelled, with their boss requesting them to go to the banks only-something which discouraged many of them from venturing due to the huge percentage that was being requested by the banks.

Freedom of expression curtailed?

Martha Devine was the employee who left her computer unlocked that Mr. Ajayi used to write and acknowledge the receipt of her letter of resignation. She complained that freedom of expression has been curtailed at the company.

“He (Ajayi) hates for people to express themselves. He wants you to do as he pleases and once you oppose to that, he sees it as an issue. The same Managing Director who is accusing someone of falsifying document sat behind my computer on October 11, 2021 and wrote my letter of resignation to himself and went in his office and responded to that same mail”.

Evil motive

Devine claimed that it was due to alleged “evil motive” Mr. Ajayi sat behind her desk and wrote her resignation letter without her consent-something which she claims runs contrary to the policy of the company.

She expressed regret over the slow manner and form in which the Labour Ministry is proceeding with the matter, noting that, “the labor Ministry is compromised if they were not, they couldn’t have sat in their offices and called our Manager and forget about the complainant to do due diligence”.

She observed that foreign nationals are given credence and extra preferential treatment over Liberians in their own country.

For his part, Ernest Wolo claimed that he has been encouraged to undermine others at the company by his boss on grounds that, “it’s time for the young people to take over”.

He said as a result of his non-compliance and refusal to get into a partnership deal with Mr. Ajayi, he has been a subject of witch-hunt at the company until he was finally dismissed wrongfully on June 6.

“This place used to be a very good place to work. I remember 2018, the then Managing Director made this place so lively that in fact, if you missed a day from work, it looked like you have missed something. Everybody used to come to work until the current MD Boye Ajayi took over this company”.

“Everything we do have not been good in his eyes. Everything we previously enjoyed smoothly during past administrations, we have to fight or quarrel for it”.

Clandestinely altering the handbook?

Wolo claimed that the employees’ handbook at the entity was allegedly altered to best suit the desire of the company’s current management. He observed that the provision of medical benefits which was enshrined in the document was clandestinely removed without the involvement of the employees.

As a result of this, he noted that “only people who are biological children” should benefit from the health insurance, noting that, “it was not like that in the past”.

   “There was a clause in the handbook that used to benefit employees. For example, the MD removed housing allowance from the entire clause without the employees’ consent”.

   Wolo maintained that employees at the company are currently working in fear and are faced with psychological trauma and as such, the government and the Board of the company must intervene to arrest the situation.

He said his dismissal was shocking since in fact, he has not received any verbal or written warning letter from the company since he got employed in 2019.

He attributed the decision taken by the management to terminate his service due to the action of the workers union to officially complain to the headquarters of the company.

“Boye Ajayi has placed us on blacklist to get rid of us at all cost. We complained to the Ministry of Labour and we have not received a call up to now”.

Wolo further alleged that the premises of CICA Motors remain a spot for the performance of “rituals” during the night hours since Mr. Ajayi was appointed as MD.

Management responds

Responding to the workers’ allegation, Marketing and Communication Manager Peter King admitted that his boss, Mr. Boye Ajayi unprofessionally and unethically sat behind the desk of a female staff and wrote her resignation letter and copied others at the entity.

According to him, Mr. Ajayi admitted that the move was a “prank” only intended to ensure that the employee in question does not leave her desk without locking her computer since in fact, she controls sensitive documents at the company and has been warned multiple times.

He said Wolo was dismissed for allegedly falsifying reports from customers.

“The company applied all efforts to be able to solve Ernest’s issue. A five-member committee was setup to go through the process and it was agreed by the company. It was also enshrined in the handbook and it was found that Ernest tempered with a job that he was supposed to do. The reports he did were not co-relating. Most of the people he said he reached out to, confirmed that he didn’t reach out to them”.

King claimed that as per the handbook of the company, fraud is equivalent to dismissal, but Wolo was called by management to respond to the reports.

According to him, the justification given by the dismissed employee prompted management’s action to terminate his service, adding that, “he was served several letters”.

However, the management of the company filed to provide copies of the warning letters served to the dismissed employments as well as the outcome of the investigative report. But King claimed that the outcome of the investigation was shared and evaluated “internationally” in keeping with best practice.

King emphasized that the employees and the management agreed on “principles” over an increment in their bonuses. Though the handbook calls for 20% increment, he justified that bonuses have been increased to about 33%.

He denied reports of rituals being performed at the company, but noted that, “the man is a Nigerian man and we do not expect his culture to be like ours”.

He admitted that the health insurance of the company has been restricted to only biological children of the employees in keeping with the handbook, and it was also resolved that employees of the company also “present birth certificates” of the dependents.

King maintained that the employees can only revert to a dialogue over the present health insurance policy of the company.

“This handbook revision was done and presented to them; and everybody agreed. If there is an omission, they should revert to a dialogue. They should not forget that due to the global crisis, every company has issues”.

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