For decent work, against precarious work, By Issa Aremu

Today Monday 7 is Decent Work Day as declared International Labour Organization, ILO. Working members of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and its affiliate unions would today join the rest of organized labour world wide to observe the day protests and picketing against casual work in both private and public sectors. It’s a day to promote global awareness against Precarious Work and the need for Decent work. Decent work means productive, rewarding and protected work while precarious work takes the forms of casual, temporary, indirect, zero-hours contracts.

Permanent decent work is increasingly in short . Sadly short time temporary unsecured work is increasingly being used to replace direct, permanent jobs, allowing employers to reduce or even abandon their responsibility to workers. Workers in precarious work lack job security and generally have lower salaries, limited social protection, and few, if any, benefits. Precarious workers face more difficulties to exercise their rights, notably to join a union and bargain collectively for better wages and working conditions. Injury rates are higher for precarious workers, often due to a lack of on-the-job training given to permanent employees.

Precarious workers have little or no choice in determining their working hours and pay, even if they are freelance or independent contractors. Many work on rolling contracts, doing the same job month after month or year after year. It’s a tragic paradox: for all intents and purposes casual workers  “are permanent employees” in slavery who  have no rights to holiday pay, paid sick leave or redundancy payments. 

Precarious workers are often the so- “indirect workers” who most times find themselves trapped “in triangular employment relationships”. It works like this: workers  are officially employed by a subcontractor or agency, but actually working for another company, with neither taking responsibility for workers’ rights.

Most telecoms companies and banks are in this employment racket. This is bogus employment scandalously offered by big respectable brand companies that include most of our commercial banks , oil and gas companies in the entire value chains. Precarious work also takes the form of the so- “Bogus self-employment”.

Here “independent workers” have just one employer, who enslaved the workers under payment and non-commitment to pension and general welfare. Such are the delivery workers or taxi  drivers or Okada riders who lack minimum pay or pension or minimum health and safety standards.

Decent work must guarantee minimum and living wages for the workers, wages that are paid as at when due. Decent work means work that is secured and done by free workers who are entitled to form trade unions and engage in collective bargaining to protect their rights in the world of work. Decent work delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration.

Many countries subscribe to ILO Decent Work Agenda. However with unbridled pursuit of profits by private employers of labour, work is no more decent. Indeed work is getting precarious as millions of workers worldwide face hard times in the face of worsening conditions at work.

World wide, Nigeria inclusive, many workers  are exposed to worsening health and safety situations with cases of deaths and injuries at work. Today there is a dangerous unacceptable delayed, non-payment of salaries of workers  in some States.

Delayed and non-payment of salaries is wage theft, which should be treated as economic crime. Workers have the right to make ungovernable and unmanageable companies and States that are defaulting on wage payment, remittance of pension contributions and union dues! And that would be lawful as Nigeria labour laws define such employment relations unfair. 

We certainly President Muhammdu Buhari for working out ways and means to assist some states governors to meet their wage obligations. We must however say that workers’ monthly wages are legitimate regular earnings that must not be tied to presidential bail outs.

Apart from non-payment of salaries, recruitment of workers for few available jobs is getting precarious. Some unscrupulous employers rather than employing directly outsource their workforce under inhuman and criminal terms as we have seen in the many commercial banks and in government agencies with the tragic case of immigration in which many applicants died after criminally paying for employment forms. Few Workers who are employed are getting poorer because of poor remuneration. Jobs are no longer secured as employers opt for casual short term flexible employment as part of the strategies to save cost and boost profit. 

Regular, permanent and direct employment remains under constant attack from multinationals and other that are instead promoting precarious work. Across sectors, more and more precarious workers are unable to realize their fundamental rights at work and enjoy social rights. High of women and young workers are caught in the web of precarious work, especially in the banks. Because of their employment status, an increasing of women have no access to maternity protection, young people are trapped in a vicious circle unable to move from precarious work to permanent employment. 

Ministers of Labour, Employment and productivity must be judged how they ensure decent work based on Nigeria’s law. Many employers violate aspects of our labour laws and in particular section 40 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic and sections 9(6a) and 9(6) of the Labour Act cap 198 Laws of the federation 1990, which guarantee Nigerian workers unfettered rights to associate and join the union. There is enough consensus of opinions that there is a direct relationship between decent, productivity and economic growth. Only decent labour can create sustainable wealth. The Trade Unions must also do self critical assessment.  There are some unions that are collaborating with employers to promote precarious work. Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) should have a code of conduct to reward unions that are promoting decent work and sanction unions that promote precarious work in collaboration with criminal employers.