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19.07.2021 news Low Pay, High Blood Pressure… Life as an Employee of IT Company ‘Tek Experts’

Published 19th Jul, 2021

By Socrates Mbamalu

In 2018, Tek Experts, a partner with Microsoft and a global provider of business and IT support services, located in one of the posh places in Lagos, on the island, was filled with dignitaries during its grand opening. Inside, computer screens and headsets gave the aura of a firm serious about work. The working environment was exquisite, good for Instagram photos, and a testament to the international presence of Tek Experts. The office launch was attended by Hakeem Fahm, the Lagos State  Commissioner for Science and Technology. Then work started. Beneath the glamour, employees tell FIJ, a toxic work space that pays poorly and slaves them was born.

On LinkedIn, the company has great PR in which employees appear happy and smiling. An employee who asked not to be named told FIJ that “people are not smiling, people are dying”.

“Not one person, not two persons have died here, young people are having high blood pressure,” the employee told FIJ. “People are practically working themselves to death.”

One employee choked on his food and died before they could get him medical attention. Another slumped at work and died. And yet another, after his shift at 10pm, died in a road accident. The office had a rule against sleeping over. The management later on opened a clinic at the premises.

THE COVID-19 GRANT THAT BECAME A LOAN

In 2020, when the world shut down, and offices closed, Tek Experts employees in Nigeria moved from their homes and worked from different five star hotels for five months. A former employee told FIJ that he was lodged at Four Points by Sheraton and the bill accrued to his room was over N2 million, while the Raddison Blu Hotels were fully booked out with Tek Experts employees, over one thousand of them. FIJ learnt that Microsoft gave its partners a compensation package of $500 to give each support engineer for the job done. Tek Experts however offered it as a loan to its employees, an offer that many rejected.

Tek Experts offers software support, security software support, sales support and customer success management. On their website they state that “retaining our top talent is crucial” and that they “believe in rewarding great performance”. However, there has been such high level of attrition it has become a cause of concern to the Microsoft management.

POOR PAY: BELOW $2/HOUR IN NIGERIA, OVER $17/ HOUR ABROAD

When Chinedu, not real name, joined Tek Expert in 2019, he was not familiar with the line of business or what was involved. The company was the first in Nigeria that offered cloud computing services. With a teeming young population, many ready to just earn a living, Tek Experts trained many young Nigerians and then put them on a salary ranging from N79,000 to N145,000 — less than $500 a month, which was in stark contrast to what was paid by the company in other places.

Nigeria has in recent times become a hub for tech talent where young people are sometimes poached for their expertise by different companies. Chinedu was more focused on getting enough experience and wasn’t that concerned about the salary. But with time, when Upworks, another company, also a partner with Microsoft, came into the market and recruited support engineers, it raised questions on how much salary Tek Experts was paying its Nigerian employees.

Chinedu told FIJ that Tek Experts paid its employees in Colorado, United States, a minimum of $17 an hour. In a meeting held with Michael Tufts, the Global Head M365, on Microsoft Stream, employees were asked about the biggest change they needed to see in the company. Almost all applicants mentioned the issue of poor pay that was not standardized.

Tufts told the employees: “There is a different cost structure in each and everyone of the different geographies. So what you see in India versus the Philippines versus Africa, there is different cost structures and there is different wages and the remuneration that gets paid to the companies that do that work are always different from country to country.”

He further explained that in his experience representing clients, they never paid the same wages across different countries. When employees pointed to a racial bias, Tufts argued that it was business practice when conducting business in a large global scale economy and it was not racist.

“The cost of services, cost of telecommunications coming into the country, infrastructure cost are different from one geography to another geography,” he said.

BAD PAY, EXTREMELY HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE

Interior of Tek Experts where employees are paid poorly and exploited.

This response did not suffice, as employees asked if that justified being paid below $2 per hour despite doing bulk of the work. Tufts explained that in Latin American countries, the pay is as low as 75 cents an hour. When asked if the same business practice was extended to country managers, expatriates, in the country, he stated he was not aware of the salary structure of the country manager.

Former employees who moved to Upwork, another Microsoft partner, told FIJ, they earned three times more than what was paid at Tek Experts. Joseph, not real name, told FIJ that when he was at Tek Experts his blood pressure was “extremely high”.

FIJ learnt that Lars Johannisson, Tek Experts’s country manager, has been living in Raddison Blu hotel since he assumed the role in November 2019. “This same person is saying that the salary being paid to Nigerians is enough,” an employee said, lamenting that the country manager who is shielded from the economic realities in the country is in no moral position to dictate what is considered as adequate salary when his daily hotel bill exceeds the monthly salary of a worker at Tek Experts.

Since 2019, when President Muhammadu Buhari shut the Nigerian border to stop smuggling, inflation hit the country. The latest inflation reports by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) put food inflation at 22.28 percent in May. The N30,000 ($75) monthly minimum wage, which is inadequate in the current economic times, has been used as a yardstick to pay Tek Experts employees.

ANNUAL LEAVE ONLY 10 DAYS

For those who have had their salaries reviewed at Tek Experts, it was increased by N2,000 at most, an employee said.

“For a company that could afford to keep their staff in a five star hotel in Nigeria during a pandemic… I was lodged in Raddison Blu for five months as a continuity plan for the pandemic,” Chinedu said. During that time, there was no salary increase.

Chinedu told FIJ that he takes home N90,000 while the lowest price for a room at Raddison Blu is N75,000. However the person who can make a change in their pay isn’t Tuft, but the country manager, Lars.

Chinedu told FIJ that they don’t observe public holidays, and are given most cases to work on.  They have 10 days as leave days per year. This has sparked a mass exit from Tek Experts to Upworks. The multiple town hall meetings and multiple surveys that have been had always boil down to remuneration, compensation and emolument.

“They intentionally don’t want to increase the salary,” he said.

On Glassdoor, an American website where current and former employees anonymously review companies, the reviews on Tek Expert ranged from poor pay to insignificant salary review, to a good learning environment, serene work place, staff bus, working on holidays and no career progression.

The question on whether software engineers in Nigeria should be paid the equivalent of their counterparts in different parts of the globe raged on Twitter some weeks back. While some argued that the jobs would be lost to India, which also has a young population of tech experts, others pointed out that better remuneration could be given.

Jamal (not his real name), another employee, told FIJ that when the question of remuneration was raised with the global manager, he said it was not his duty to fix Nigeria or its economy, as the company was paying above the minimum wage set in the country.

“Averagely from Microsoft standards we are supposed to pick 3.2 cases for enterprise support per day but since 3.2 cases can’t be quantified we do four. But most days we end up picking five to six cases. Every time we are told the queue is bloated and we need to help the business, and nothing extra comes in. Nobody seems to care.”

FIJ reached out to Lars Johannisson on the story but he said he had no comments to make.

Tek Experts has 1,600 Nigerian employees who support Microsoft cloud infrastructure as Technical Support Engineers Tier 1 and 2, as well as Technical Leads for both Europe, Middle-East and Africa and North America customers globally. In a country where 41 per cent of the population lives in extreme poverty, having a job at all is considered a privilege.

Independent, public-interest journalism has never been more vital than in times like this when truth is constantly being suppressed. With your support, it will be easier for us to continue speaking truth to power and preserving your right to know.

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Published 19th Jul, 2021

By Socrates Mbamalu

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