Asian Investments In Nigeria: The Good, The Bad (5) | Independent Newspapers Limited
Newsletter subscribe


Asian Investments In Nigeria: The Good, The Bad (5)

Posted: Jun 12, 2015 at 12:27 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

An estimated N15 billion is lost annually to fake or counterfeit products in terms of tax revenue to the government, income to local manufacturers and employment generation to Nigerians. Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) says that about 99 per cent of the fake products circulating in Nigerian markets came from China. Meanwhile, the high volume of counterfeit and sub-standard products in the domestic market is a threat to Nigeria’s economy, raising serious doubts on efforts by the federal government to resuscitate the real sector to contribute meaningfully to the gross domestic product (GDP). In continuation of this special report, Andrew Airahuobhor; Bamidele Ogunwusi; Oyeniran Apata, Nkasiobi Oluikpe, Akinwunmi King, examine both the positive and negative impact of Asian investments-particularly the Chinese-on Nigeria’s economy over the past decade and how the country can reappraise its bilateral relations with Asians, with a view to effecting some review that take the national interest into cognizance, which will ultimately revamp local industries that have gone comatose.

Irregular labour practices in Nigeria

Apart from flooding the Nigerian markets with substandard manufactured goods, some Asian investors make use of the citizens as casual workers, engage them in very hard jobs and eventually offer them peanuts as take home payWork environment in many factories and business concerns owned and operated by the Asians, Lebanese and Indians are probably one of the worst work arenas an average Nigerian would want to stake his or her life to earn a living.

The outright disregard for safety, poor pay, inhuman welfare package and conditions of works were some of the common attributes of working with foreigners on Nigerian soil.

In outright disregard for human life in many of the factories otherwise referred to as slave camps, many have lost limbs, eyes, arm, fingers and or completely maimed as a result of poor safety measures and hazards workers are exposed to as they suffered to earn a living.

In an interview with Daily Independent, a female worker with a plastic manufacturing company along the Oshodi Apapa Express road painted a gory picture of the work arena as degrading on the soil of Nigeria.

She recounted that a lady that got bathed with hot water from the burst pipe of a compressor machine with little or no attention by the employer.

“I must tell you since that day, working and suffering to make sure my work is delivered on a daily basis melted away because the ill-treatment meted to the lady was not encouraging. “

“The staff in question got her shoulder blade and the back completely burnt by the hot water from the busted pipe. All the white official did was to give her N1, 000 for treatment and that was all.

“I felt like resigning but because I had no alternative other than to continue to work with more caution and care in order to avoid accident,” she lamented.

When asked about her letter of employment, she told Daily Independent that she was not aware of any employment letter talk less of condition of service.

“I was charged N1,500 for filling a form and my take home Monday through Friday for working from 7am to 7pm is N800 per day, N1,050 and N1,200 Saturday and Sundays respectively.

Speaking further, she lamented that offer of employment is also discriminatory not along gender line but the body mass of a would-be employee.

“If you are fat, no way because you will not even be allowed to fill the form not to talk of getting a job. We are paid weekly but the salary is regular,” she stated.

The story was not completely different with Janet (not real names) that works with lady care products as workers were recently introduced to and allowed to proceed on annual leave.

Janet who joined the company about eight months ago said she had no formal letter of employment or identification card and added that as full time employee, her monthly take home was N21, 000 while casuals were paid N16, 000 as take home.

A casual worker at a factory situated in Oju-ore area of Ota in Ogun State, disclosed that workers in the factory where he works, get as low as N20,000 at the end of every month despite engaging in serious hard labour. “We produce metals in our factory and you can imagine how stressful that kind of work can be. We make use of machines that produce fire because we need to melt in some cases, though there are provisions for protective wears but we work under a harsh condition.

“The heat alone is enough to kill someone; it is like being in hell fire. But we just have to make money to keep body and soul together. Some of my friends that we started the work together here have left because they could not withstand the fire. Some of the people I met there told me that somebody died the first day he worked in this place. He came and work and when he got home, he started complaining that he was not feeling comfortable and after some minutes he slumped and died instantly.

“The experience here has been very terrible. The Lebanese are not treating us well at all and when you try to complain, if they don’t sack you, they will tell you to go and look for another job. We can’t do anything because there are no jobs out there. Imagine me a HND holder working in a factory as a casual worker. And from what we have seen, these Lebanese are not operating legally because I saw two of them one day running when they saw a police vehicle coming their way. Our government must do something about this because these kinds of things cannot happen in their own country,” the casual worker added.

Sharing his experience, Lucky, a worker at a Chinese factory, also located in Ota, said “once the machine is switched on, there is no resting. You will work from morning till evening and another set of people will take over from evening till the next morning again. Sincerely, these Chinese people treat us as slaves. They even molest the females in the factory. Some of us can’t hear properly again because of the noise from the machines.

“Most times when I get home after work, I become so useless to the extent that I won’t be able to eat not to talk of do other things. The little money we get at the end of every week is used on drugs. If you are not the strong type, you won’t be able to cope. For me, I don’t plan to stay too long there. I just needed to gather the money to return to school for my HND programme. The job is not worth it at all. It can cut short one’s life if care is not taken,” Lucky added.

Reacting to the poor work conditions Nigerians working with foreigners are subjected to, former President of the Ogun State Council of Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (OGUNCCIMA), Alhaji Sakirudeen Labode blamed the government, Immigration Service and Ministry of Labour for exposing citizens to the dubious and inhuman treatment meted to Nigerians by the business owners.

He also blamed labour unions that could have filled the gaps created by the inactivity of the government representatives for also compromising on enforcement of labour laws.

According to him, “The condition of service is the job of our immigration and Ministry of Labour officials. Are they really protecting the interests of Nigerians working with these people?  They don’t visit the work arena regularly until when accidents occur and they will all write beautiful reports in favour of the factories operated by these foreigners.

“We have to blame government officials who collude where safety measure is almost zero and write report that all was correct. If those who are supposed to do the job did it well, workers employed by the foreigners are supposed to be in the workmen compensation insurance. By the laws of the country today, every worker should be contributing to the pension insurance scheme. There should be life insurance,” he added.

He argued that there are sufficient labour laws, rules and regulations that can guarantee that no Nigerian is treated with levity by any local or foreigner if properly implemented.

Our so called labour unions who are supposed to monitor compliance have also compromised.  Every worker stand sufficiently protected by the laws of the land. All those provisions are mandatory for all workers.

He affirmed that if the laws of the land are sufficiently implemented, workers in every organisation stand to be protected.

“I know we will continue to develop as time goes on. All my workers are insured against accident and we make our contributions for workmen compensation insurance. I have fulfilled all these because I don’t want to be challenged for failing to implement all these for my workers as a former president of city chamber, president of state chamber and professional bodies.

“These are basic rules but when officials pay visit, before they even go round the factory, their host organisations would have packaged what they have for them.  They will just be eager to do the job hurriedly because they know what is in the packs,” he stated.

In his final submission, Labode said I would for no reason want to vilify the Asians, Lebanese or the Indians, ‘but vilify my fellow country men and women for failing to do their jobs sufficiently in the best interests of their fellow citizens.’


Alleged Sexual Harassment

A female casual worker, identified as Blessing, at a popular Indian factory around Ifako Ijaiye area, admitted that female workers are sexually harassed by these Asians. According to her, “they always try to harass some of us. I have experienced it before; the man just called me into his office and started touching me all over but pushed his hand away. So he said he will take care of me if I can date him and that while other females are working, I will always be in his office and relax and at the end of the day, I will get my pay. I just told him that I have heard and that he should allow me come and give him my reply the following day. That was how I escaped from his office that day.

“They have slept with many ladies and in the end; they will still ask them to go. We that are ladies are not finding it easy here. Apart from harassment, we are at times forced to do the jobs meant for men. Once they make advances at you and you don’t agree, it is either they fire you or force you to jobs meant for men. And they will tell you that ‘what a man can do, a woman can do it better’. We are facing a lot from these Indians, it is like they are enslaving us in our own country and nobody is doing anything about it,” she added.

“It is really not easy to work here especially, as a casual staff. Some of us that are here as casual staff are most often subjected to what could be called slavery. We are often treated like slaves. If not that, I don’t like staying idle, this is not the kind of place I had in mind working after spending some years in the polytechnic to get an OND certificate. I am more experienced than some staff in there,” a male worker at the Indian factory located around Ifako Ijaiye said.

Idris is another victim of casualisation. He works in an Asian factory situated along Wempco Road, Ogba, Lagos. To him, his present condition leaves him no other option than to fully believe in God as provider. Not only that he takes care of his transport to his work place on a daily basis, which costs him a minimum of N500, he is faced with his landlord who is on his neck presently to renew his rent which is long overdue, he is also rendering little assistance to his siblings and his aged mother in the village. He gets N15, 000 as his salary on a monthly basis.

According to Idris, what mainly is his problem is not only that they are being under-paid; they are also subjected to a very nasty working condition which seems to be an indirect way of enslaving them. He said that they work from 8 a.m. in the morning till 6 p.m. in the evening with no rest. “We resume office as early as 8 a.m. in the morning as against the time permanent staff used to come.

“We do all kinds of work; there is no clear specification of our work. As far as it didn’t involve technical work, we are asked to do it and you won’t complain. We do not have any insurance in the job, they sack people at will. If you talk, they will tell you that you don’t have option.

“The worst part of the whole thing is that, the CEO of the company is not aware that his employees are enslaving us. Whenever the man comes around, they will all pretend as if they have been nice to us, and immediately he leaves, the whole scenario will change. We have planned a peaceful protest sometime ago, some of us sneaked away to tell the manager about the planned protest,” he stated.

Speaking recently on the plight of casual workers in the country, President, Women Arise for Change Initiative and Campaign for Democracy, Joe Okei-Odumakin described the casualisation of workforce as slave trade, noting that Nigerian workers have become third-class citizens in their father’s land.

According to her, the issue of casualisation, most especially in the private sector, has become a very disturbing phenomenon. It is nothing but a flagrant abuse of the rights of workers and all hands must be on deck to stop it.

“Part of the pains casual workers have to go through are that they never benefit from special packages like others; most of the time they are treated like lepers. They never have the full entitlements on the job allowances, transportation, leave allowances medicals etc.

“As I speak, about 2,500 Chinese artisans are engaged on full time at Lafarge WAPCO Cement at Ewekoro, over 5,000 are said to be working at an ongoing electrification project at Papalanto, with over 3,000 in Sango at Ado-Odo Ota Local Government of Ogun State working as artisans in different companies whereas, Nigerian workers are placed on nasty allowances as casual workers. It is high time we did something concrete about it now,” she said.

She stressed that, it was rather unfortunate that issue of workers right, appropriate strategy and development approach has not been the major issues of national discourse but rather leaders are concentrating on zoning at the expense of improved welfare for the masses.

“The national and international instruments have been devised to protect workers’ rights, which have been codified in national laws and international labour conventions and recommendations of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in addition to constitutional provisions which also confer on them certain rights as citizens. These instruments are observed in the breach because employers of labour value their profits more than the workers”.

She maintained that the importance of a dedicated, healthy, knowledgeable and motivated workforce to the development of any nation cannot be over-emphasised, adding that the quality of a workforce affects the productivity and development indices of any country.

“Government must have the political will to address these inhuman treatments called contract staffing, because according to them a lot of recommendation are dusting in files in most government offices without implementation. Nigeria’s effort to increase employment has not been followed by assurances of decent work and worker protection; given the increasing number of contract-based workers”, she added.