17 July 2018

Nigeria: Fresh Push Against Casualisation in Workplace

Where there is acute shortage of jobs for those seeking them, the temptation to exploit the system is high.

Coupled with lack of adequate laws to protect the vulnerable casualised workers by government, the lot of protecting those entangled in the mix naturally falls on the labour unions.

While the labour unions obviously lack the political powers and authority to stamp out casualisation, they often times rely on various conventions and regulations of international organisations such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to carry out picketing of premises of firms that engage in the practice.

Once again, it is this onerous task that the Ayuba Wabba-led Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) took upon itself for three consecutive days last week picketing the premises of MTN Nigeria for engaging thousands of its workforce under third-party arrangement that thrive on casualisation and outsourcing.

Indeed, casualisation cuts across virtually all sectors of the Nigerian economy.

A report published by the campaign for democratic workers' rights, showed that 45 per cent of the workforce in Nigeria operates as casual workers while 50 per cent of the burden of casualisation exists in the downstream oil and gas sub sectors of the economy, telecommunication, banking, construction, mining and some other work places.

According to experts, the development is assuming a worrisome dimension because of the saturated labour market and quest to maximize profits by multinationals and other corporate entities.

Some labour leaders recently alleged that some multinationals on a regular basis import 'expatriates' into the country to take full time employment, leaving qualified Nigerians as 'casuals or contract' workers with no legal status or employment benefits.

Speaking at a rally to mark the 2018 May Day in Abuja, the President of NLC, Ayuba Wabba, who spoke on outsourcing and casualisation of labour, said Nigerian workers can no longer offer their labour to slave drivers whose only interest is profit maximization and capital mobility. He

Sounded a note of warning to employers thus: "Our laws allow all workers to exercise their freedom of association to belong to unions of their choice in line with the provision of ILO convention 87 and section 40 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria."

Personally supervising the onslaught on MTN premises in Lagos, Wabba particularly mentioned MTN as a major culprit, describing the firm as the worst employer of labour, the revels in trampling upon the rights of its local workers.

He said: "We warn offending employers that they should expect organised labour soon at their doorsteps as we will increase picketing activities against such roguish entities. We will dare you! We shall win you!"

The NLC chief described casualisation as workers in the workforce who operate under very precarious conditions with near total denial of the benefits associated with permanent and decent work.

NLC boss alleged that the telecom company had, since inception, refused its workers from participating in unionism, while paying them below national minimum wage and laying off staff members arbitrarily without benefit against civilized labour practices.

NLC also accused MTN of indulging in casualisation for nearly all types of work, fixed- term contract work for Nigerian workers, and other abuses that include exposing its workers to worst forms of precarious environment without the required protection.

The NLC chief alleged that it is only in Nigeria that MTN refuses to allow workers to unionise.

"MTN Nigeria since it commenced operations in Nigeria, in clear violation of extant national and international labour laws, especially ILO Conventions 87 and 98 has denied its workers the fundamental principles of their rights at work," NLC said.

NLC explained further that on several occasions, it had protested to the MTN and government about the perceived unwholesome practices, saying, its demands have apparently been falling on deaf ears, a situation that eventually led to the picketing of its offices nationwide.

On alleged destruction of properties during the exercise, the national umbrella body of workers denied some media reports that its members vandalised the telecom properties in the course of the picketing actions.

Wabba explained: "In prosecuting this picket, our members have been peaceful and orderly. We have not destroyed the property of MTN and we do not intend to do so as that is not our objective anyway. There is no doubt we are clear about our objectives and we shall not allow anything distract us. We are responsible workers and we are alive to our duties and responsibilities.

"Even when MTN sponsored members of a private security company (with which it works) to attack and injure some of our members, we resisted the option of a proportionate response."

President, Human Capital Providers Association (HUCaPAN), Aderemi Adegboyega said that in Nigeria, agency work and outsourcing is legal and an approved business model, explaining that organisations involved must ensure they follow laid down regulations to ensure ethical and fair labour practice to the workers.

Ensuring that wherever a Nigerian is found working, he or she must be engaged in decent work, Adegboyega said that HuCaPAN carried out joint inspection and made alliances with the central labour organisations to guarantee that Nigerian workers in the employment of private agencies are employed under decent work conditions with respect to payment of minimum wage to the least person, granted freedom to associate, eligibility for pension and to work under conditions that are not injurious to health.

On his part, the President of the United Labour Congress (ULC), Joe Ajaero alleged that MTN has never shown willingness to allow unionisation since they started operations in Nigeria.

For companies practicing casualization, Ajaero said if the labour laws are clear and the Nigerian government is there, he is of the opinion that such firm should be licensed to operate to violate the laws of the country at will.

He said: "In such situations where you decide to allow illegality, you don't regulate them when the picket. If workers are angry and they have been subjected to all manners of inhuman treatment over the years, when they protest, what you see is what you take."

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) as well as the Association of Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ATCON) have openly condemned the acts of violence, and the ATCON went as far as saying it will advise MTN Nigeria to consider preventive shutdown of network if telecoms facilities are damaged.

The statement by ATCON Executive Secretary, Mr. Ajibola Olude said: ATCON sees these nationwide disruptions of its member's operations as unnecessary venture and it an intentional attempt to frustrate and sabotage the effort of our member to provide a seamless communication for all Nigerians. We are even worried that the picketers became so violent during their unnecessary demonstration. ATON thinks if NLC wants to do anything at all NLC should have peacefully carried out their picketing instead of going violent."

Meanwhile, MTN has denied claims that its workers are casualised.

A statement signed by its Corporate Relations Executive, Tobechukwu Okigbo over the weekend, said it considers the rights of all its employees to be paramount and have consistently ensured that those rights are protected adding that its employees have full-time employment contracts.

MTN said it provides working conditions in line with international best practices, stressing that all employees earn above minimum wage.

The telecommunication giant said over the years, it has engaged productively with representatives of labour unions who reached out, holding numerous extensive meetings, saying it would continue to pursue amicable resolutions in its negotiations with organised labour.

Trade unionists insisted that those they referred to as contract workers are workers recruited for them by some employment 'agencies' whose operations contradicts Section 23 - 27, part 2, CAP 198 of the Labour Act.

The provisions include the number of workers required; the place where the work is to be performed; the nature of the work; the wages to be paid; the duration of the proposed contract and whether or not it is desirable to obtain the workers through a recruiter.

According to NLC, section 26, subsection 2a-c prohibits any recruiter from operating without a permit from the Minister, "and even when a permit is granted, a recruiter must not engage more than the number of persons stated in his application, or engage them in places not specified in the permit.

"Many of those called contract staff by employers in Nigeria today are legally not contract staff basically because the method of their recruitment as well as status, contravenes Nigeria's labour laws.

According to experts, the way forward is for the Federal Government to develop the political will required to enforce compliance to decent and acceptable work environment by employers of labour.

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