As we celebrate workers and their contributions toward nation building, it is prominent to take a critical look at the challenges and pains of Nigerian workers. It is true that the workforce of every country is as important as the country, hence nations seek innovative ways to protect, promote and guarantee the interests of workers. Schemes like pension plans, health insurance, gratuities, incentives, bonuses, promotion among others, are various ways designed to ensure the welfare of workers.
In Nigeria, while we can attest to the fact that many Nigerian companies are doing their best to secure the future of their workforce, it is verifiable that many establishments are merely out to extort workers, and take advantage of the unemployment crisis rocking our country to inflict unwarranted pains on workers. Today, workers face a series of hidden challenges with their various managements in the course of their services. While some battle unpaid salaries, under-payment and excessive workloads, others experience delayed promotion, denial of pension/health insurance alongside unpaid gratuities, the frustration of pensioners and intimidation from their managements.
That apart, Nigerian workers are facing the threats of job layoffs, retrenchment and unjustifiable dismissals. Several companies are blaming these on the worsening economic situation of the country, which is obviously affecting employees in diverse ways. As we keep witnessing the steady rise of the dollar against the naira in the parallel markets, as well as fuel scarcity and hikes in pricing, alongside the inflation of the costs of goods and services in double and triple-folds, these are certainly detrimental to the welfare of workers, whose salaries are either the same dispite the alarming increases in the cost of commodities or they remain unpaid.
The government has done little or nothing to protect the interest of workers. A look at a few months back confirms that government has been multiplying the pains of workers. As we speak, several local governments workers across the country, like in Edo and Delta States, are being owed up to five months salaries. How such workers are keeping up with family responsibilities in this era of inflation is what one can hardly explain. A few days ago, a group of pensioners had to protest in Asaba, the Delta State capital, over unpaid pensions. These are people who exhausted their energies working for the development of the State in years past. The government has not been fair in dealing with these our patriots.
Meanwhile, a brief timeout with some workers of the Delta Transport Service Ltd (Delta Line) revealed several inhuman treatment the company metes out daily to its workforce. While it does not have pension plans for its workers, its health insurance scheme was scrapped sometimes ago, jeopardising the lives of its entire workforce. This is aside a four-month salary arrear that the company has kept since last year, refusing to pay the workers for no just reason. Honestly, no one will be wrong in describing the workforce of Delta Line, who do not observe public holidays and weekends, as a set of corporately abused citizens.
An insider account of the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) also reveals a series of improper acts visited upon workers. Outside the delay in payment of salaries, an unimaginable number of staffs have been fired, increasing the number of Nigerians in the labour market. As if that is not enough, the salary of the few remaining workers was reduced by over 30 percent. While workers were battling hard to recover from these undesirable occurrences, unrealistic goals set for the workers, which further attracted about 50 percent in salary cuts, if any worker is unable to meet the target. As a result of these anomalies, the best hands in the company have kept resigning on a daily basis.
Although workers are experiencing situations worse than the above stated in several establishments, public and private, they find it difficult to express their frustrations for the fear of being suspended, made to work without payment or being dismissed, knowing the unbearable condition of the unemployed.
As we mark this year’s workers day, the government should try to design good policies that can guarantee the security of workers against abuse and also protect them from exploitation. Additionally, a scheme should be designed to compensate workers in the event of unimaginable inflation, which is capable of jeopardising workers welfare. Ultimately, private establishments should avoid misusing and abusing workers for whatsoever reason. While this leads to unnecessary conflicts between employers and employees, it is more profitable to inspire workers than to intimidate them.
HAPPY WORKERS DAY.
Paul E. Michael, a criminologist and civil activist, writes from Benin City, Edo State, and can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org