ZAKA ABD-KHALIQ writes that rising cases of casualisation has become a dangerous monster affecting the psyche of Nigerian workers leaving them injured in the process, which if not nip in the bud, could paralyse the entire workforce in the nation.
When slavery naturally ended in the 20th century, with Mauritania becoming the last country in the world to abolish slavery in 1981, the whole world went into jubilation, as people were cherishing the freedom they just got, while dreaming of a brighter future.
Unknown to them another form of slavery was breeding somewhere in the labour market, the over-bloated unemployment rate across the world, especially, in the developing countries, led to rapid growth of the new monster that is now gradually taking over the employment market.
Across all sectors of the Nigerian economy, the word ‘casualisation’ is no longer alien; it is now the king of the labour market.
The fact that over 40 million Nigerians are unemployed with about four million people losing their jobs yearly has made casualisation of workers come to stay, especially, in the formal sector of the economy.
The practice of engaging casual workers in Nigeria for permanent positions have been referred to as casualisation and this practice abounds mainly in the manufacturing, banking and oil and gas industries. It remains a practical option as well as a socio-economic necessity to cut costs and remain competitive in an environment of increasing competition, cost minimisation and flexibility.
Banks, hotels, construction companies, telecoms firms, oil companies, foreign companies and manufacturing companies are the major establishments which engage in recruiting contract staff.
Some casual employees with solid qualifications, which could be better than those of the permanent staff, are made to operate as subordinates, even while working extra hours for lesser pay.
The increase in the spread and gradual acceptance of this labour practice in the Nigerian labour market, according to Mr. Kalejaiye Peter Oluwadare of the
Department of Sociology/Psychology, Olabisi Onabanjo University(OOU), Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, has become an issue of great concern to stakeholders as employers of labour are increasingly filling positions in their organisations that are supposed to be permanent with casual employees.
Tinuke Fapohunda, in her paper on “Employment Casualisation and Degradation of Work in Nigeria’’ published in International Journal of Business and Social Science, said that casualisation was gradually becoming a problem in employment patterns across the world.
She noted that in Nigeria, casualisation of employment had been gaining ground in an unprecedented proportion, intensity and scale. “The trend has been largely attributed to the increasing desperation of employers to cut down organisational costs; as casualisation of employment is seen as an appropriate strategy for cost reduction.
Casual workers occupy precarious positions in the workplace and society; they are effectively a new set of ‘slaves’ and ‘underclass’ in the modern capitalist economy,’’ Fapohunda added.
However, contract employment and casualisation of labour contravene Section 7 (1) of the Labour Act, Cap 198, Laws of the Federation 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, the date when the contract expires.”
CASUAL WORKERS LAMENT
Mr. Odu Irewamiri said, contract staffs in banks are really poorly treated. “I even have a friend who works for a new generation bank who told me that he is really finding it tough as a contract staff but has no choice due to the lack of jobs in Nigeria. He complains of the very little salary he collects which is about #70000 and works from morning till around 9pm,” he stressed.
Funke Alabi has been working in a bank as a contract employee for the past four years and she is now getting apprehensive about what the future holds for her. She does not know if her contract with the bank will be renewed or not and even if the contract is renewed, her salary will not be better than what it is now in any case.
Alabi has struggled endlessly to ensure that her employer converts her employment to a permanent one but her aspiration seems to be a mirage. To make matters worse, the bank often threatens its entire contract staff with termination of appointment at any given opportunity.
Alabi and her colleagues are quite eager to secure good jobs with better conditions elsewhere but since such jobs are not within their reach, they are compelled to make do with their current occupation, although the working conditions are unpalatable.
This is a semblance of the story of most casual workers across sectors of the nation’s economy. They virtually all have palatable stories to tell, but who are them to complain openly when they are yet to secure a new job.
The President of Nigeria Labour Congress(NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba, quoted a Report published by the Campaign for Democratic Workers Rights, which states that 45 per cent of the workforce in Nigeria operates as casual workers, adding that Fifty per cent of the burden of casualisation exists in the downstream oil and gas and banking sub sectors of the economy and some other work places.
Casual workers in workforce , according to him, operate under very precarious conditions with near total denial of the benefits associated with permanent and decent work. He, however, vowed that Nigerian workers can no longer offer their labour to slave drivers whose only interest is profit maximisation and capital mobility.
“We warn offending employers that they should expect organised labour soon at their doorsteps as we will increase picketing activities against such roguish corporate entities,’’ he stressed.
On his part, the President, Human Capital Providers Association (HUCaPAN), Aderemi Adegboyega said, 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 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.
A union leader, Eze Okechukwu said: “under the employment statistics, a casual worker is an unemployed person. He is supposed to take the temporary job while looking for a permanent one. But in Nigeria, the case is different. Some casual workers have remained so for upwards of 20 years. After some time, they get used to their misfortune and they therefore live and die as casual workers, under the illusion that they are real workers.”
Another labour activist, Williams Kayode said, “Contract and casual employments must be viewed as crimes against humanity. Those jobs are exploitative and dehumanizing. Our laws must ensure fair and sufficient compensation as well as good welfare packages for all categories of workers through unrestricted legitimate rights to union activities, collectives bargaining and other statutory engagements. “
Other experts who spoke to LEADERSHIP identified losses suffered by casual employees include: abysmal low wages, absence of medical care allowances, no job security or promotion at work, no gratuity and other severance benefits, no leave or leave allowance, freedom of association which is often jeopardized, no death benefits or accident insurance at work, no negotiation or collective bargaining agreement, among others.
TAMING THE MONSTER
Speaking at the conference in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, declared that casualisation of Nigerian workers was a crime against humanity.
Represented by Mr. Kingsley Chinda, the Speaker informed that the National Assembly(NASS) would continue to work towards a good workplace, welfare of the Nigerian worker and the entire Nigerian citizens.
“National Assembly shall continue to work closely and support organised labour in all its pursuits. We shall continue to work towards a good workplace and the welfare of the Nigerian workers, which is the welfare of the entire country. We are partners in progress with the labour movement,” he pointed out.
Stating that the bill against casualisation and outsourcing is also before the House, he said: “I have to assure you, we feel to casualise the Nigerian workforce is a crime against humanity and that bill will receive speedy passage.”
Whether the legislators have the will to address this scourge or not, only time will tell. But market observers are sitting on the fence, waiting for the legislators to work the talk.