FILE PHOTO: A worker attends to a customer at an MTN shop at mall in Johannesburg
JOHANNESBURG - Africa's largest mobile operator MTN is battling worker revolt in two of its biggest markets, Nigeria and South Africa.

The group has been putting out fires in Nigeria after it was forced to close its offices in the country after violent worker protests over its alleged refusal to allow workers to unionise.

MTN has denied this claim. The company said on Friday that it had reopened its offices in the country after they were closed for four days.

In e-mailed responses to questions, an MTN spokesperson said that it had no objections to its employees forming a collective, through a union, or choosing not to do so.

“Given ongoing interventions by various stakeholders - Association of Licenced Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria, Nigerian Communications Commission and the security agencies - we trust that there will be no further protests, aggression, attacks on our employees or damage to the network and property,” MTN said. “Most of all, we expect that our employees’ rights to associate freely and without coercion will be respected”.

The protest action was led by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NCL), an umbrella organisation for trade unions in Nigeria representing about 4million workers.

File image: MTN. (IOL).

The NCL could not be reached for comment, but in a statement last week blasted MTN’s treatment of its workers in the country.

“MTN Nigeria since it commenced operations in Nigeria, in clear violation of extant national and international labour laws, especially ILO Conventions 87 and 98, has denied its workers the fundamental principles of the rights at work,” read the statement.

The week-long protest action in Nigeria came the same week as the Securities and Exchange Commission denied media reports that MTN had filed an application for its much-awaited initial public offering.


MTN Nigeria is the country’s biggest telecommunications provider with more than 50million subscribers. The group’s capital expenditure in Nigeria during 2017 reached R9billion and was second only to the R11.5bn spent in South Africa, among all of MTN’s 23 markets.

The group had agreed to list the Nigerian unit as part of the 2016 agreement to cough up a $1bn (R13.24bn) fine for missing a deadline to disconnect unregistered subscribers amid a security clampdown in the country.

Just as it seemed the group was making headway in arresting its Nigerian workers’ problems, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) on Friday warned that MTN’s services in South Africa could be affected as its members embark on a strike.

The union wants, among others, a 10percent salary increase, paid extended leave and a R2500 housing subsidy.

Aubrey Tshabalala, CWU general secretary, said he expected the stores, customer care, call centres and warehouses to be affected by the industrial action.

“After a series of negotiations from February we have not made any agreement with MTN. It is safe to say that we are dealing with a dishonest management,” Tshabalala said.