Social justice and decent work in Nigeria

The Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC) of Nigeria recently threatened to embark on a strike following the breakdown in negotiation on the consequential adjustment on the N30,000 (approx. $82) National Minimum Wage. To avert this, the Federal Government agreed to hold talks to address the plight of workers. Yesterday, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President Comrade Ayuba Wabba met with the Minister of Labour and Employment Dr. Chris Ngige on a courtesy visit ahead of further talks today.

The NLC under Comrade Wabba’s leadership has long prioritised the fight against casualisation of work, outsourcing, contract jobs or zero-hour employment or any other name that this evil has been baptized with. They have not only embarked on major advocacy and sensitization campaigns especially through rallies, but have also taken this fight to the gates of many employers who still practice this heinous crime.

In 2017, as part of the NLC celebration of the World Day for Decent Work, the NLC led Nigerian workers to picket the Abuja Regional Headquarters of the giant telecoms company MTN over its entrenched practice of casualization. The actions forced MTN to make promises to address their concerns on the company’s unethical and illegal corporate practices against their Nigerian employees. Following delays in living up to its promises and changing the ugly spectre of casualisation in its workforce, the NLC proceeded to picket all MTN offices nationwide from 9-12 July 2019. Eventually, MTN agreed to a template for the unionisation and regularisation of the employment of its workers. This agreement to cease and desist from casualising the company’s workforce was signed by both the company’s leadership and the NLC.

On the 2018 World Day for Decent Work, the NLC organized a picketing action against Bolton White Hotel in Abuja’s Federal Capital Territory as part of their efforts to bring to book obstinate employers who still indulged in the casualisation of labour.

As part of continuing actions towards ensuring decent work and equal rights for workers in Nigeria, Comrade Wabba and over 50 other members from PSI-affiliated organizations that are part of PSI’s National Coordination Committee (NCC) for Nigeria met for a two-day workshop to discuss relevant strategies under the following themes:

  • Combating privatisation in Nigeria’s Public Service

  • Addressing the challenges of migration and re-integration

  • Precarious employment in the world of work (campaigns from global to local)

  • Social justice system in Nigeria: Issues, challenges and prospects

  • Fighting privatisation, defending access to quality public services, and People over Profit

The workshop resolved:

  1. That trade union movement must, as a matter of urgency, resist any form of privatisation of public utilities by the Government, since it is clear from all indications that privatisation of public utilities has failed in all sectors of the economy.

  2. The trade union movement must continue to struggle against precarious employment in all ramifications, going by the fact that precarious employment does not guarantee job stability and the future.

  3. Labour migration is a human phenomenon which cannot be stopped. However, conscious efforts must be made by the Government to sensitise would-be-migrants and also assisting the returnees.

  4. The Labour movement must continue to engage the Government for the provision of social protection for the workers in Nigeria, most especially in the area of health, education and the basic needs among others.

In his address at the workshop, the NLC President referred to precarious employment as the modern re-invention of feudalism in its most depriving, disconcerting and dehumanizing forms. Precarious employment is therefore the denial of humanity.

“It is only when we as organized labour view precarious work from this ideological prism that we would be able to identify casual employment for what it is and be motivated to muster appropriate actions to halt its menacing onslaught against workers and our trade unions globally."
- Comrade Ayuba Wabba, NLC President

The workshop further resolved that trade union organisations should develop the following strategies to campaign against public private partnerships (PPPs):

  1. Mobilisation and sensitisation against privatisation

  2. Collaborate with the like-minded Non-Governmental Organisations, Community Based Organisations and Civil Society Organisations against privatisation

  3. Conduct an in-depth research on where privatisation has failed in different economies to further strengthen the campaigns against privatisation

Across the globe, the advancement in technology (especially as pronounced in the shrinking of work spaces and deregulation and or non-personalization of labour recruitment through internet connectivity) has provided further leverage for organised capital to re-define labour, reduce its value and re-label it as a cheap commodity to be traded, trampled and tossed aside. The penetration and permissiveness of the perversion of precarious work is therefore rooted in the ideological mindset of “profit before people” which is the badge of global organized capital.

Globally, 13.8% of full-time employees and 60.4% of part time employees are casual workers. It is even more worrisome that about thirty five percent (35%) of casual workers are young people. Casual work therefore does not only rob our youth of today but also of tomorrow.

Going forward, Comrade Wabba recommended the following as more holistic and sustainable ways of dealing with precarious employment:

  • Government should reform the Labour Act especially Section 7 to criminalize casualization, introduce timeous conditions and provide stiffer penalties for any employer that indulges in casualization of work or outsourcing of employment;

  • Government should strengthen the Labour Inspectorate Division of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment to ensure regular visits to corporate entities to ascertain their compliance with employment regulations in our labour laws;

  • Nigeria should ratify Convention 102 on Social Security (Minimum Standards) as a boost to already existing legal framework and labour standards against the casualization of work; and

  • We call on the ILO and the United Nations through its relevant organs and institutions to designate casualization of work as a crime against humanity.