Casualisation: How Nigerians Are Enslaved | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Casualisation: How Nigerians Are Enslaved

Posted: Jun 18, 2015 at 1:11 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

 In this special report, fourth of five –part on the menace of casualisation, outsourcing and contracting of jobs, Sylvester Enoghase, Phillip Oladunjoye, Emma Okwuke, Abel Orupke, Saheed Bakare and Judith Eshemitan, examine how the massive shift away from regular employment to temporary work, or jobs through agencies and labour brokers is having a deep impact on all workers, their families, and on the society. Excerpts:

Threat to Decent Employment

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 in the country.

The global economic and employment crisis have continued to threaten the future of workers all over the world particularly in developing nations like Nigeria.

Although there are efforts by government to boost employment generation in the country, this has not been followed by assurances of decent work and worker protection given the increasing number of contract-based employment in the nation’s economy.

It is pertinent to note that contract and agency labour and precarious forms of employment have been increasing rapidly in the country, bringing with it two categories of workers: one with good secure jobs and another faced with short term jobs, low wages, no social protection and a loss of rights.

Specifically, the massive shift away from regular employment into temporary work or jobs through agencies and labour brokers is having a deep impact on all workers, their families, and on the society. Erosion of the employee-employer relationship, often the basis of labour law, is leading directly to a growing number of violations of workers’ rights.

There is therefore a disconnect in employment and productivity resulting from policy changes especially those inspired by the international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which have in recent years encouraged work flexibility and brought with it a lowering of work conditions at both national and international levels.


The ILO Perspective

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has emphasised that the expansion of precarious forms of work and deregulation of the labour market are not the answer to the employment crisis. Indeed, the international labour centre had maintained that the insecurity of working people in recent decades was a significant contributor to the recession.

More so, it has been established that agency hires and temporary contracts destroy job security and undermine all other rights and promote gross exploitation of both the temporary worker and the permanent employee working alongside them.

There are instances where workers employed on an agency-type arrangement with inferior wages and conditions are being used to reduce and eventually eliminate a permanent workforce of long standing.

This is what is happening in nearly all sectors of the economy – manufacturing, construction, banking, telecommunication, oil and gas- where contract staffing and casualisation has become the order of the day, as workers in these sectors no longer have regularised employment terms.


Casualisation Or Slave Trade

It is sad to note that permanent jobs are gradually being eroded by an increasing reliance by employers on labour hire via employment agencies. This is because employers have come to realise that dismissing workers with no rights to severance pay or notice periods is a cheap and easy way for them to reduce their workforces.

This trend has had significant and far reaching impact on employment given the dangers that precarious employment poses for society.

Section 7 (1) of the Labour Act, Cap 198, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990 provides that: “Not later than three months after the beginning of a worker’s period of employment with an employer, the employer shall give to the worker a written statement specifying – the terms and conditions of employment, which include the nature of the employment and if the contract is for a fixed term, the date when the contract expires.

Available statistics reveal that about 49.9 per cent of workers in the oil and gas, telecommunication and cement manufacturing companies are on casual employment. Also, a recent report published by the Campaign for Democratic Workers’ Rights in Nigeria, a non-governmental organisation, revealed that over 45 per cent of Nigeria’s labour force is made up of casual workers.

More worrisome is the fact that most multinational companies operating in the country bring in expatriates to take full time employment with all the benefit that accrue to the job, while Nigerians are placed on contract, which is being renewed without benefits. This phenomenon has continued to elicit concern among stakeholders.

For instance, President, Women Arise for Change Initiative and Campaign for Democracy, Dr. 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.

Speaking further, she said the harrowing experience Nigerian workers go through in the hand of their employers in the name of casualisation is a clear indication that workers have become third class citizens in their father’s land.

“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 a 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.

Reacting to the issue of casualisation, former President General of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), Comrade Peter Esele, condemned what he described as the continuous and flagrant abuse of the laws of Nigeria by employers particularly in the area of expatriate quota abuse.

According to him, the institutionalisation of flexible employment models globally, as championed by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) fuelled the enslavement of workers through casualisation and contract staffing.

These categories of workers, he said are denied the right to unionisation and collective bargaining as entrenched in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and other international labour conventions.

“Workers are denied their inalienable right to unionization and collective bargaining in the face of intimidation, harassment and threat by the employers. We demand that workers should be given the freedom of choice to unionization, which should be based on offer of first refusal by the worker if he elects not to belong,” Esele stated.

Esele, however, charged government to place priority on job-driven economic growth and decent employment, noting that Nigerian workers and its dependants want to feel the impact of all the growth reeled out periodically by relevant governmental agencies.

In his opinion, Executive Director, African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development, Dr. Otive Igbuzor, said 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.

He observed that 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.

He added that these instruments are observed in the breach because employers of labour value their profits more than the workers.

He 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.

Igbuzor, who observed the excessive exploitation of workers in Nigeria, however, noted that the level of consciousness on the part of workers has not been developed to the level of taking action.

He affirmed that the role of trade unions have been undermined in recent years adding that the responsibility for the protection of worker’s rights lies with workers.


Tackling Precarious Employment

In the last two years, government has taken various steps among which was to review the guidelines, conditions and issuance of licences to outsourcing firms in order to ensure the creation of decent employment and adoption of best practices in workplaces.

The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Productivity Dr. Clement Illo, has continued to express government determination to ensure that the rights of Nigerian workers are adequately protected by operators in the industry.

Illo reiterated that the creation of decent employment is one of the basic concerns of the present administration stressing that the focus is on creating a conducive working environment with adoption of international best practices.

“Even though outsourcing is an internationally acceptable practice, it should not be allowed to result into indecent employment. Some companies lack the technical and managerial competencies to deliver on their objectives to the country.

“One of the ills of unfair labour practice, which is of great concern to the ministry, is casualisation, which has denied workers the right to freedom of association. Government is putting in place policies and programmes that will promote good working environment and human life,” he said.

Though the labour ministry has made effort to comprehensively address the ever burgeoning precarious form of employment in the nation’s economy but it has not been effectively monitoring the activities of private sector employers, particularly those in the Niger Delta region.

Also, the Federal Government has not done enough in checking the abuse of expatriate quota, despite several regulations that could be leveraged to curb the phenomenon, such as: the regulation that stipulates that before any organisation can “import” workers, such position must be advertised for Nigerians; foreigners can only be engaged if there are no Nigerians to take up the appointment.

In his opinion, the former TUC president, said the labour ministry has not met the expectations of Nigerians in tackling the issue of casualisation and other forms of exploitation of workers’ rights. According to him, nothing concrete has come out of several meetings that have been called to deliberate on the issue.

“The ministry has not been able to effectively tackle the issue of casualisation because, we are still where we are and casualisation has been on the increase in the banking sector and the oil and gas sector. Nothing seriously has been done to comprehensively address the issue. It is still more like a talk,” Esele stated.


Calls for Decent Employment

The issue of decent employment has been brought to the front burner of national discourse as stakeholders have expressed concern over the continuous derogation of the average Nigerian worker through casualisation.

They observed that outsourcing or contract-based employment introduced through the implementation of a flexible labour market system are the most obvious examples of worker exploitation.

They call on government to intensify campaign against casualisation and contract staffing noting that it is high time something concrete is done to address the issue.

For instance, Dr. Okei-Odumakin emphasised the need for government to develop policies that will put an end to casualisation and other forms of exploitation of Nigerian workforce by both local and multinational companies operating in the country.

She maintained that government must fulfill the promise made to Nigerian workers by ensuring that they are not treated as third class citizens in their places of work. She berated the labour ministry, which she said has not been up and doing in monitoring the activities of employers of labour.

She emphasised the need for the Federal Government, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), TUC and other stakeholders to come together to find a lasting solution to the problem.

According to her, bold steps must be taken to correct the anomaly of casualisation as this will create an opportunity to address other issues of good working conditions for Nigerian workers.

“There is the need for concerted efforts among stakeholders to make input into the Federal Government’s campaign to eradicate casualisation and other forms of exploitation of Nigerian workers by some foreign and local employers through genuine advocacy work and information sharing. The workers themselves must also open up so that bad practices will be brought to the fore.