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

Posted: Jun 16, 2015 at 1:06 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

In this special report,  second of five –part on the menace of casualisation, outsourcing and contracting of work, Sylvester Enoghase, Phillip Oladunjoye, Emma Okwuke, Abel Orupke, Saheed Bakare and Judith Eshemitan, examine the implications on the employees and employers and what should be done to bring the practice to the barest minimum. Excerpt:

Casualisation: Workers Are Prone To Abuse

There is no doubt that casualisation in both the private and the public sectors have exposed Nigerian workers to abuse in which many have lost their lives. For instance, few weeks ago in Lagos, a worker in a private company (name withheld), Atukpo Wisdom, died because of a poor working environment coupled with the management’s carefree attitude.

Atukpo died on September 24, 2014 while working and the management cruelly dumped his body in the gutter outside the premises the next day to give the impression that he died outside the company’s premises in order to evade responsibility.

The unpleasant incident prompted the organised labour to query the company during their 2014 work descent day. They sent warnings to Chinese companies who denied unionisation to stop such act.

Contract employment and casualisation of labour contravene Section 7 (1) of the Labour Act, Cap 198, Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1990.

The law provides that, “not later than three months after the beginning of a worker’s period of employment with an employer, the employer shall give the worker a written statement, specifying the terms and conditions of employment.’’

The conditions include the nature of the employment and if the contract is for a fixed term and the date the contract expires.

Recently, the orgnised private sector unions accused employers of hiding behind what they call the ‘core’ value of their businesses to casualise over 70 per cent of their workers.

The unions alleged that the growing culture of casualisation by employers was more common in banks and other financial institutions, insurance firms, food and beverage companies as well as in the printing and publishing sectors of the economy.


Union’s Calls For Intervention Of Labour Ministry

Speaking on the issue, the assistant general secretary of the National Union of Textile Garment Workers of Nigeria Comrade Ismail Bello warned that private and public companies especially those owned by the Chinese must stop the precarious working conditions and also allow workers to join unions.

“I can assure you that it is not going to be easy for any employer who engages in such act, because unions have joined hands to fight this battle,” he said.

He also called on the ministry of labour and productivity to help in fighting casualisation in Nigeria.

The organised labour said, in Nigeria, companies are replacing their full-time workers with temporary, casual, outsourced and contract workers at a high rate adding that employers now hide behind what they call the ‘core’ value of their businesses to casualise over 70 per cent of their workforce.

In his response, the president of the Association of Senior Staff of Bank Institutions and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI), Comrade Sunday Salako, stressed that there was need to have equality, justice and fairness for workers in their workplace.

He said: “Casualisation and outsourcing are satanic influences. They are like ill winds that blow us no good. I have always said that they are alien to this country.  Anybody that encourages casualisation and outsourcing in Africa is satanic. The person should be examined, because in Africa, for instance, for every man that works, there are 10 or 12 or thereabout to feed. It (casualisation) can work in Europe, because of the type of life they live-it is me and my immediate family, nobody else. You do not have extended families. You can even decide not to greet your brother.

“But here in Africa, because of our communal way of living, for every one that works, no fewer than 10 persons feed from one person.

“So, if you casualise people and do it the way we do it here, it is satanic. Here, you have two people working in an environment; they have gone to the same school probably, they have the same qualification, and so on because he/she is a permanent staff and the other is unfortunate to be a casual staff, the disparity in their salary is so wide. That is bad.”

Salako, told our correspondent that casualisation was one of the numerous challenges that the Nigerian economy and not just the banking sector alone is facing and grappling with. The ASSIBIFI president said that casualisation was another form of modern day slavery and that the union should confront and put an end to the scourge. He pointed out that decent work and decent pay is the right of all and any worker, though it was unfortunate that Nigeria has become a dumping ground for all manner of goods, services and policies, no thanks in a large part to the Indians and Chinese.

“We have taken and will keep taking steps to tackle the problem of casualisation. Both ASSIBIFI and its parent’s body, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) has repeatedly urged the Federal Government to invoke the relevant laws of the country against companies that enslave Nigerians through the practice of casualisation and contract staffing,” he said.

According to him, central labour organisation including the Nigeria Labour Congress, (NLC) is also seeking appropriate sanctions against companies including those outside of the financial services sector like the oil and gas companies that violate the expatriate quota rules and promote casualisation. He noted also that the practice of casualisation is gradually abating in the banking sector, but said that oil and gas companies have remained adamant despite all previous conferences and dialogues between the organised labour and the management of the companies.

Citing a recent report by a non-governmental organisation, NGO, dealing with labour and related issues; the Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights in Nigeria, which said 45 per cent of Nigeria’s labour force was made up of casual workers, labour and industrial relations expert, Dr. Peter Okhiria, said it was evident that casualisation is on the rise, and that the situation would only worsen as employers seek out ways to reduce cost of doing business.

The industrial relations experts said it was not out of place for the country’s workers to express fears and worries over the continued practice of casualisation, saying many workers could also now begin to opt out of labour unions.

Okhiria said, “Why do workers join or belong to labour unions if it is not to protect their jobs, interests and welfare? When that is not done, and workers are getting sacked in their thousands, or worked with little or no security, what then do you expect?”

He added that this year may see to the formation of a new national labour center because many workers are actually fed up with the existing system and would willingly embrace any change, adding that another report by the United States Solidarity Centre detailed the Nigerian oil industry as already shifting from permanent and direct employment towards outsourced and temporary labour.

According to Mr. Matthew Egwate, and Chuka Idi, both former employees of Mainstreet Bank, casualisation in the banking sector just like other sectors in the economy has continued to remain a challenge.

They said what can be done to tackle the problem of casualisation of workers in Nigeria is still a mirage to labour unions, ASSIBIFI inclusive. Egwate said more than 10,000 bank workers have been sacked or disengaged from work in the past two years with many of them not getting desired benefit due to the casualised status, and that casualisation in the Nigerian labour market has become a subject of great concern.

The former bank workers pointed out that more workers have continued to groan under this “immoral strategy” of cutting cost by employers, noting also that the statistics from the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, show that many workers in the banking, telecommunications, and oil and gas sectors in Nigeria are casual workers.

Other sectors with thousands of casual workers, they explained, include the mining, steel and insurance, saying that in all these sectors workers’ outsourcing and casualisation have become the order of the day, as workers in these sectors no longer have regularised employment terms.


Casualisation At Variance With Constitution

Other analysts said that the continued engagement of casual workers was at variance with provisions of section 17 (a) of the Nigeria constitution, which guarantees “equal pay for equal work”, with the section frowning on discrimination on account of sex, or any other ground whatsoever and that the discrimination in pay between permanent and casual employees should not exist.

According to the Act, “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.”

The TUC’s Secretary General, Comrade Musa Lawal, said, “You cannot have inequality in workplace and say there is justice and fairness to workers, most especially in this part of the world where the rights of workers are constantly under attack. I believe that coming together to address this issue will help to create the ideal work environment we all crave for.”

The president, National Union of Textile Garment Workers of Nigeria, Comrade Oladele Hunsu, who frowned at casualisation, said the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has set up a committee to prevail on employers on the issue.

“As far as I am concerned, it is one of the problems we are battling with in the labour sector except the textile industry,” he said.

Only recently, the National Union of Civil Engineering Construction, Furniture and Wood Workers (NUCECFWW) threatened to down-tools without further notice to Chinese construction firms over what it termed unfair labour practices in Nigeria, particularly the casualisation of workers at their sites and in their offices.

NUCECFWW’s national president, Comrade Amaechi Asugwuni, accused the federal government of failing to enforce strict compliance with the terms of contract for capital projects as well as failure to prevail on Chinese companies to adhere to the expatriate quota policy and also called on workers in the industry to be at alerts for actions for the next directives from the leadership of the union.

He said, “We are more concerned that the federal government has not done enough in checking the abuse of expatriate quota by Daewoo Nigeria Limited, Alcon Nigeria and other Chinese construction companies, despite several regulations that could be used to curb the phenomenon, such as the regulation which stipulates that before any organisation can import workers, such positions must be advertised for Nigerians and foreigners can only be engaged if there are no Nigerians to take up the appointment.

“One of the ills of unfair labour practices in the construction industry, which is of great concern to us is casualisation which has denied our members the privileges accruable to permanent staff and the right to freedom of association and the government is not putting in place the right policies and programmes that will promote good working environment for workers in the country.”

According to Asugwuni, 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 the contract expires.

“But the reverse is the case in Nigeria as the action of the management of the Chinese construction companies amounts to, not just a violation of the fundamental rights of the workers, but also a clear violation of the Nigeria’s labour laws, constitution and international conventions and standards,” he said.

The labour leader, who stressed that the time has come for bold steps to be taken to correct the anomaly of casualisation as it will create an opportunity to address other issues of good working conditions for Nigerian workers, called on the nation’s workers in all the sectors of the economy to open up so that bad practices would be brought to the fore.

He said, “The Chinese construction companies, including China Engineering Construction Company (CECC), China Railway Construction Corporation Limited (CRCC) and CGC Nigeria Limited have not been observing all relevant labour laws in Nigeria, hence the union was compelled to register its displeasure and will down-tools if nothing is done soon.”

He also noted that the ministry of labour and productivity had not made much effort to comprehensively address the ever burgeoning precarious form of employment in the nation’s economy as it had not been effectively monitoring the activities of private sector employers, particularly those in the construction companies.

“Other alleged anti-labour practices by the Chinese construction companies which do not go down well with our union includes but not limited to intimidation and victimisation of workers, refusal for us to unionise the workers, non-adherence to the provisions of the local content policy, which made human resources/industrial relations practice difficult and non-implementation of the NJIC agreement.

“The national headquarters of NUCECFWW cannot fold its arms and watch yet another era of labour slavery and exploitation despite series of agreements reached between the union and the management of the Chinese construction companies in Nigeria to put a stop to these unholy practices,” Asugwuni warned.

Speaking in Abuja, the chairperson of the Industrial Global Union, Sub-Saharan Africa, Comrade Issa Aremu, said the organised labour was determined to end precarious working conditions in the country.

He said, “Currently, worldwide and in Nigeria too, workers are exposed to worsening health and safety situations with increased cases of deaths and injuries at work.

“In Nigeria, companies are replacing their full-time workforce with temporary, casual, outsourced and contract workers at a frightening rate. Employers now hide behind what they call the ‘core’ value of their business to casualise over 70 per cent of their workers.

“Low incomes, job insecurity, delayed payments of salaries and pensions, long hours of work without overtime payment, denial of sick leave and payment for sick leave, denial of annual and maternity leaves, lack of redundancy benefits, poor health and safety conditions and non-payment of compensation for injuries sustained at work, poor working conditions, poor motivation and lack of social protection are bedeviling employees.

The unions frowned at what they described as “violation” with “impunity” by employers particularly in the private sector as workers are often denied the right to organise protests against unwholesome practices by their employers.”

He said workers are often employed on causal, outsourced and contract work bases because under such arrangements, workers are not protected and are exposed to all kinds of abuses, unfair and unjust practices.