Casualisation should be limited to genuine temporary work that does not exceed six months. It is inhuman and unethical for workers to sign contracts where they declare they are working at their own risk… The victims of accidents and or negligence are left uncared for. Our labour laws should restrict fixed-term employment and require that workers receive equal benefits as those granted to permanent employees.
The casual worker is totally expendable. His work is determined on an hour-to-hour, week-to-week or year-to-year basis. If casual work is the prime source of income to a worker, that worker faces a serious living challenge. He cannot predict his earning and cannot define his time. Casual work is bad in Nigeria, it is like working on a slave plantation. The essence of casual work in Nigeria is indentured servitude. Casual workers are locked in abysmally bad conditions of work, such as employment insecurity, irregular hours, intermittent employment, low wages and an absence of paid entitlements. Two weeks ago, workers of Indian owned La Casera Company Plc shut down the company’s factory in Lagos following the management’s decision to sack all 700 employees. The decision was the management’s response to the workers’ decision to unionise and press for better conditions. The worst labour conditions in this country are found in concerns owned by Indians, Lebanese and the Chinese. They are primarily disdainful of Nigerian employees on whose soil they are making a fortune and on whose brows the sweat that Rajesh in the money runs. They treat Nigerian employees like monkeys. A few years ago, some Nigerian workers were locked up in a factory in Lagos as they worked the night shift. They were roasted alive in a fire outbreak because they could not escape as the “masters” had locked the gate from outside to forestall stealing. They were often locked in at night and released like prisoners the following morning. Because of official corruption, little else was heard of the case till date.
In our comatose manufacturing sector, we are seeing the most brutal forms of casualisation, which is the raw phase of capitalist development, where the employee does not count. In the long run, it is antithetical to the evolution of co-operative employment relations and industrial citizenship. The foreign owned companies in Nigeria are strict taskmasters and slave drivers. They are killing whatever pride is left in their employees that Nigerian rulers have not destroyed. Most of them are having a swell time using Nigerian resources without any respect for their workers and host communities as they flout every national and international labour law, promote environmental degradation, and bribe regulatory agencies.
The companies involved are taking advantage of high unemployment but casual work and its spread is bad for the workforce and the country. This is because those involved in casual jobs experience a rights and benefits deficit, compared to permanent employees. In these Chinese, Lebanese and Indian companies, formal deficits even depend on the kindness of the supervisor! This kind of ugliness makes the casual worker vulnerable to arbitrary dismissals, undesirable swings in hours and schedules, unethical treatment and underpayment. These deficits extend to skills formation and promotion when employees are stuck in casual jobs for long periods of time.
Nigeria must take a strong stand against casualisation of labour. It will prevent exploitative practices and ensure decent work while giving workers the right to speak against injustices in workplaces. The government must amend the Labour Act and set the Basic Conditions of Employment to ensure protection to vulnerable employees, including compliance with international labour standards.
The reasons above and many more give casual work a precariousness that is unique and bad for the workers, the company and the country. Unfortunately, the banking sector in this country is almost totally casualised. The banks champion casual work as a way to increase flexibility and lower cost but they refuse to see poor commitment and lower productivity that comes with casual work. That is why the preference for casual labour is proving to be more of ideology rather than genuine economic calculation because on the long run, casual work does not chart a good path to profitability and performance. Casual work may suit short-term interests of saving costs, but it depresses dynamic productivity and is therefore not in the medium or long term interests of employers. In broader terms, it is not in the best interests of the economy. National economic performance indices such as skills formation are severely impacted.
Everyday, Nigerians are losing fingers, limbs and their lives in these factories and these companies do not pay any compensation nor do they treat the victims with dignity. They are used, dumped and left to care for themselves. It is time this country begins to respect its citizens and send strong signals to countries and corporations investing on our shores that we love ourselves and that Nigeria’s most important asset are its citizens. Nigeria must take a strong stand against casualisation of labour. It will prevent exploitative practices and ensure decent work while giving workers the right to speak against injustices in workplaces. The government must amend the Labour Act and set the Basic Conditions of Employment to ensure protection to vulnerable employees, including compliance with international labour standards. Strengthening labour laws will give effect to the fundamental constitutional right to fair labour practices, to engage in collective bargaining and the right to equality and protection from discrimination.
Casualisation should be limited to genuine temporary work that does not exceed six months. It is inhuman and unethical for workers to sign contracts where they declare they are working at their own risk. When these workers get injured as it is usually the case in factories where profit concerns relegate safety to the back burner, the companies do not pay compensation. The victims of accidents and or negligence are left uncared for. Our labour laws should restrict fixed-term employment and require that workers receive equal benefits as those granted to permanent employees. Under current laws, employers often sack workers just before they automatically become permanent employees. I urge the Buhari administration to adopt a more comprehensive floor of minimum labour standards, which can remove or at least narrow some of the existing gaps. Punitive damages must be awarded in such instances to avoid exploitation. Nigerian workers need the right tension between minimum regulation and maximum fairness. We must ask ourselves and our government, what kind of future do we want for Nigeria’s working people?
Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú maintains a weekly column on Politics and Socioeconomic issues every Tuesday. She is a member of Premium Times Editorial Board. Twitter @olufunmilayo