In a country like Nigeria with huge a workforce, how to reduce their ordeal and ensure that they have good reward for their labour has always occupied the front burner.
This is because the workers in the workers in the informal sector face serious predicament in the society and the government has not been able to take any measures towards ameliorating the situation.
Thus, unions in their various capacities have advocated for good working condition for these set of workers to reverse the situation which had remained the same over the years.
To this end, the Federation of Informal Workers Organisation of Nigeria (FIWON) has gone round some states to propagate the gospel that there is the need for these workers to unionise, and also have good working condition.
This reality also informed why the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) national women conference in Abuja focused more on “women workers and the challenges of the informal economy in Nigeria” as the central theme of discussion during the conference.
The women from 36 states in Nigeria unanimously called for better working conditions and promoting the concept of decent work agenda in line with the newly adopted International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention No 189 on domestic workers 2011.
Participants at the conference were drawn from affiliates of the NLC, National Women Commission, Chairpersons of NLC, women committees in 36 state councils including the Federal Capital Territory and other selected women workers in the informal sector.
The conference which examined the journey so far in mainstreaming gender issues in all activities of congress and its affiliates saw the forming of alliance with informal sector women workers who shared their experience and identified areas of cooperation and strengthening solidarity among women workers.
One of the discussants, Gbenga Komolafe, the General Secretary of the Federation of Informal Workers’ Organizations of Nigeria (FIWON) was of the opinion that informal workers had the right to association and to form a union.
He enumerated the challenges faced by these set of workers, which include incessant harassment by government officials, excessive taxation and extortion by regulatory authorities, poor access to affordable credit, occupational health and safety facilities and training, among others.
Komolafe referred to section 40 of Nigeria constitution that guarantees every person to belong to any trade union or any other association for the protection of his or her interest.
This, he used, support his argument that informal workers have the right to form common platform.
The general secretary made it known that FIWON was ready to help informal workers to form credit and savings cooperatives through which business friendly credits from private and public institutions could be procured to boost productivity and income in the informal economy.
Harping on the theme of the conference, “Women Workers and the Challenges of the Informal Economy in Nigeria”, Chairperson of NLC national women commission, Ladi Iliya, lamented that women are more vulnerable when talking of people affected.
According to her, “it becomes more worrisome when it is viewed from the concept of vulnerability of workers in the informal sector, who are constantly, abused and grossly underpaid. The conditions of the women and the girl-child still calls for concern nationally, regionally and globally.”
Iliya stressed that domestic workers are often physically abused, denied educational and other opportunities to pursue economically productive careers.
She went on to say that women are mostly caught in a ‘low-skilled paid jobs trap’ and thereby occasioning low unionisation rates which excludes them from the coverage of collective agreement which sets basic pay and working conditions.
The chairperson affirmed that the unions must be at the forefront to champion the decent work agenda as means of addressing the imbalances in employment conditions in the informal economy especially women.
She further held that effort should be made to promote employment creation, social protection, rights at work and gender equality to enable the empowerment of workers in the informal sector.
“The researches carried out by ILO and other interest groups have shown that economic changes in the past few decades due to globalization that affected the position of women and men in the informal economy differently.
“The informal economy is dominated by women as they continue to take more and more responsibilities of caring for their families and the community. It therefore implies that women’s productive rights are closely linked and should be properly addressed to enhance their productivity and welfare at work”, she added.
The chairperson therefore challenged women at the conference to work together without discrimination, where issues affecting all workers should be seen as problem of all no matter the gender or colour.
In a related development, the women at the conference also lamented how some of them maltreat their domestic workers.
They all submitted to the fact that women are most guilty in abusing the underage girls without looking back. House helping, according to them, is a good profession in the developed countries, and those who have domestic workers should treat them well.
One of the chairpersons from Kaduna, Esther Cookey, from the Agriculture and Allied Employees Union of Nigeria, lamented the hazard faced by women who work in the farm, calling on Federal Government to provide materials that would allow them to work effectively.
“Some of these workers who are women were killed by dangerous animals in the process of working and it is necessary for government to come to our aid in order to salvage the situation”, she said.
Comrade Bose Daramola, who is the state chairman of NLC in Ondo State, said it was high time unions and relevant authority assisted the informal workers, saying that doing this will reduce poverty in the society.
She said, “If we fail to fight poverty in Nigeria, it would be difficult for this country to move forward and one way of combating it is to create good working condition for informal workers.”
Meanwhile, the NLC women election was unable to hold due to inadequate preparation by the organizer. The women complained that some of them were being sidelined out of the planning.
One of the women who spoke on condition of anonymity likened the preparation to that of primary school pupils.
Parts of the conference objectives were creating of platform for women in the union to interact with women in the informal sector, to identify and map out strategies for tackling the challenges facing women workers in the informal economy.
It was also tailored to provide the opportunity for women workers to share ideas and experiences with the view of improving the working condition of women in the informal sector and promoting decent working.
It was also planned to promote linkages, networking among women to kick start the process of campaign and popularising of the newly adopted ILO Convention 189 on domestic workers.
When all these steps are skillfully utilised, it would enhance the strategic approaches and techniques of organising women in the informal sector of the economy and increase women participation in the unions.