NAIJA BIZ

EXCLUSIVE: Strike, resignation, and dismissals rock Lagos Emergency Call Centre

Staff members of the Lagos State Emergency Call Centre are allegedly on strike at the moment, over Avantgarde Management Services’ failure to pay their salaries. At the moment, only an average of 15 out of 50 Agents have been answering emergency calls per shift over the last two months.

According to Nairametrics’ findings, Avantgarde Management Services has failed to keep to its terms of agreement as regards payment to staff.

How the problem started

Avantgarde Management Services is in charge of the Call Centre which is owned by the Lagos State Government. The company took over from ConSol Limited in 2016 after the 2015 General Elections. Avantgarde Management Services is a business processing outsourcing firm.

In November 2018, Avantgarde Management Services failed to fulfil its salary commitment. It wasn’t until late December 2018 before the company could pay November salaries, even as December salaries were paid in January 2019.

Salary cuts

In January, the call centre agents were allegedly informed that in order for management to be able to pay their salaries, they would have to accept a 15 percent reduction in their monthly salaries. The agents agreed.

Despite the 15 percent salary cut, Avantgarde Management Services is still struggling to pay salaries. The company allegedly owes its workers two months salaries; having only paid January salaries about two weeks ago.

A staff of the company who spoke to Nairametrics under condition of anonymity, said the following:

“THEY REDUCED OUR SALARIES BY FIFTEEN PERCENT IN JANUARY. THEY EVEN MADE A MEMO THAT FOR THEM TO BE ABLE TO PAY, THAT’S WHY THEY ARE REDUCING THE SALARY BY FIFTEEN PERCENT. AND EVERYBODY AGREED. SINCE THAT TIME, WE’VE ONLY BEEN PAID SALARY ONCE. SO THAT’S WHAT WE HAVE AT HAND.

“THIS YEAR WE DID NOT COLLECT ANYTHING UNTIL LAST TWO WEEKS THAT THEY PAID JUST ONE. (THE PAYMENT IS FOR) FEBRUARY, BUT WHEN WE WENT TO THEM, THEY SAID IT WAS A MISTAKE, THAT IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE JANUARY SALARY.”

Call Center Agents embark on strike

The Call Agents have been on strike for the past two months now, leaving just the Call Centre Manager, Supervisors and some times, expatriates to attend to emergency calls. When the strike began earlier this year, Nairametrics learnt that only about five staff were always reporting to work. The number has since increased to about 15 persons out of 50 Agents that normally answer distress calls per shift – the company has about 200 staff.

Luring the staffNairametrics learnt that the Management resorted to threatening some staff members whom the company suspected instigated the strike. Our source informed us that some of the unnamed staff were informed by management that with or without them, the call centre would continue to operate. The company later reached a compromise with the staff, leading to some of them resuming work.

Sacking spree by Avantgarde: Many staff were sacked between July 2018 and January 2019 because of the financial troubles the company is allegedly experiencing. While our source was unsure of the number of staff sacked in July, it was estimated that 35 people were sacked in November 2018. Among those sacked include a member of the company’s HR Department.

In late January of 2019, an additional 35 people were sacked by the management.

The MD’s Resignation: The crises allegedly led to the resignation of Avantgarge‘s Managing Director, Kingsley Uwagbale, in January. The current Managing Director is Kolade Martins.

History is repeating itself

Note that under the previous project handler, ConSol Limited, the Call Centre Agents were also owed two months salaries. However, the company never downsized or sacked the staff back then.

This is not to say that ConSol Limited was not without its own troubles. The company was accused of employing Industrial Trainees (IT students), a ploy aimed at cutting costs. The implication of this is that while ConSol Limited was receiving funds for permanent staff from the Government, they were hiring IT Students in large numbers; paying them as Interns rather than as permanent staff. This is despite the fact that all staff, including Interns, were working same hours and same job description.

Why is Avantgarde Management Services struggling to pay salaries?

According to our source, Avantgarde Management Services informed the staff that the Lagos State Government is yet to pay the company. However, this is the easiest way for the company to absolve themselves of blame, Nairametrics learnt.

“THEY ARE SAYING THAT IT’S THE GOVERNMENT. THAT THE GOVERNMENT HASN’T GIVEN THEM MONEY, AND MEANWHILE, FROM A RELIABLE SOURCE, WE HEARD GOVERNMENT DID NOT OWE THEM ANY KOBO.”

The source disclosed that the company has been struggling financially since the collapse of Vision Scape, which was equally managed by Avantgarde Management ServicesNairametrics learnt that Avantgarde Management Services allegedly diverted the funds of the Lagos Emergency Call Centre to Vision Scape when the latter was about to be audited.

The reason Avantgarde Management Services did that was to conceal the fact Vision Scape’s funds were siphoned at some point, the insider said. So in order to save face, Avantgarde Management Services diverted the Call Centre‘s funds to Vision Scape.

Now, Avantgarde Management Services is struggling to raise funds to pay the Call Agents’ salaries.

In the words of our source whose name cannot be disclosed for obvious reasons:

“YOU KNOW WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED, AVANTGARDE IS THE SAME COMPANY T THAT HANDLED VISION SCAPE TOO. SO THEY ACTUALLY SIPHONED MONEY AND AFTER THE COLLAPSE OF VISION SCAPE, THEY SPENT SO MUCH THAT THEY COULDN’T RECOVER FROM VISION SCAPE.

“SO THEY ACTUALLY USED AMS (AVANTGARDE MANAGEMENT SERVICES) TO COVER UP FOR VISION SCAPE SO AS TO GET EVERYTHING DONE. YOU KNOW WHEN THEY WANTED TO COLLECT VISION SCAPE BACK FROM THEM, THEY DID AUDITING WHICH MUST BE ACCURATE.”

Political undertone

When ConSol Limited began to owe the Call Agents’ salaries in 2015, there were speculations that it could be due to the election season in Lagos State which could usher in a new Government. Even the eventual emergence of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode in 2015 caused many to believe there would be a change of ownership/management; as is often the case in Nigeria.

As expected, ConSol Limited was relieved as the manager of Lagos State Emergency Call Center, with Avantgarde Management Services taking over.

Now, there is speculation that the same could happen this year or early next year after Governor-elect Babajide Sanwo-Olu takes over the office from Governor Ambode in May.

Note that it has never happened in the history of the call centre for Agents to go on strike.

As at the time of filing this report, all calls to LASEMA contacts on the Lagos State Government website went unanswered.

Source: Nairametrics

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