Precarious work, precarious life: Whither Nigerian worker?

October 7th every year is Decent Work Day. Declared by the UN oldest organization the International Labour Organization, ILO, it is a day to promote global awareness against precarious work and the need for decent work.
Decent work means productive, rewarding and protected work. Thanks to organized labour in Nigeria for joining the global movement in drawing attention to the worsening plight of the most important factor of production: labour.
Last Saturday, as the Vice President IndustriALL Global Union, I bear witness to the mass participation of members of the Nigerian Affiliates of IndustriALL Global Union namely National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWN), National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), Chemical and Non-Metallic Products Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (CANMPSSAN), National Union of Chemical, Footwear, Rubber, Leather and Non Metallic Products Employees (NUCFRLANMPE), Nigeria Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) together with civil society organisations who observed the World Day for Decent Work in Lagos. The unions organized a symposium at the National Secretariat of PENGASSAN in Lagos and a mass match along Ikorudu road of Lagos to Maryland roundabout.
Earlier, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) with 42 affiliate member unions led by the President, Mr Ayuba Wabba on Friday picketed the offices of Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) and telecommunications giant MTN for casualisation of their respective workforce and rights’ denial and disregard for trade union rights to commemorate World Day for Decent Work (WDDW).
In unison workers called for a STOP to all forms of jobs’ distortions in forms of outsourcing precarious, unpaid and underpaid employment. The unions called on employers and governments to act responsibly on matters affecting workers and put a stop to all forms of violations of the rights of workers with respect to unionization, pay, tenure of service and pension.
Decent work must guarantee minimum and living wages for the workers, wages that are paid as at when and due. Decent work means work that is secured and done by free workers who are entitled to form trade unions and engage in collective bargaining to protect their rights in the world of work. Decent work delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration as well as national development. Many countries subscribe to ILO Decent Work Agenda.
However with unbridled pursuit of profits by private employers of labour, and corruption in governments, work is no more decent. Indeed work is getting precarious as millions of workers worldwide face hard times in the face of worsening conditions at work.
Worldwide, Nigeria inclusive, workers are exposed to worsening health and safety situations with increased cases of deaths and injuries at work. Teachers last week marked World teachers Day. One key feature of precarious teaching life in Nigeria is the revelation that hundreds of teachers have lost their lives to the atrocious activities of the Boko Haram sect in Borno State alone, while over 19, 000 teachers have been displaced in the North East since insurgency broke out in the country. This means in addition to work, life of workers is getting precarious.
There is a dangerous unacceptable delayed, non-payment of salaries of workers of up to 7 months in some States, in federal ministries of health and education, universities and polytechnics leading to serial strikes. Delayed and non-payment of salaries is wage theft which should be treated as economic crime. Workers have the right to make ungovernable and unmanageable companies and States that are defaulting on wage payment, remittance of pension contributions and union dues!
It is commendable that President Muhammed Buhari worked out ways and means to assist some states governors to meet their wage obligations. We must however say that workers’ monthly wages are legitimate regular earnings that must not be tied to presidential bail outs. Apart from non-payment of salaries, recruitment of workers for few available jobs is getting precarious. Some unscrupulous employers rather than employing directly outsource their workforce under inhuman and criminal terms as we have seen in the many commercial banks and in government agencies with the tragic case of immigration in which many applicants died after criminally paying for employment forms. Few workers who are employed are getting poorer because of poor remuneration. Jobs are no longer secured as employers opt for casual short term flexible employment as part of the strategies to save cost and boost profit.
Many employers violate several aspects of our labour laws and in particular section 40 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic and sections 9(6a) and 9(6b) of the Labour Act cap 198 Laws of the federation 1990, which guarantee Nigerian workers unfettered rights to associate and join the union. In the oil and gas sector, major players like Shell, Chevron, Agip and Mobil are busy outsourcing and engaging in casualisation of oil workers to Contractors with no clearly defined conditions of service. The two unions in the sector NUPENG and PENGASSAN have consistently drawn attention to the grand conspiracy by the oil multinationals to phase out regular employment through outsourcing, contract staffing and casual employment. The oil majors have resorted to migrating the labour contracts to service contracts and made the workers not to join the union or the workers are victimized for joining the union. Workers are often compelled to sign not to belong to the union contrary to the provisions of the extant labour laws. The labour law is an important regulator of the relationship between workers and their employers. Violation and open disregard for the progressive Nigerian labour laws by parties in the Industrial relations system is capable of creating atmosphere of industrial anarchy and chaos. Nigeria can only get out of the economic crisis with well-motivated, secured and protected workforce.

By Issa Aremu, mni Oct 9 2017 VOICE-AGAINST-300x133

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