By Kayode Ketefe
Today is International Workers’ Day! It is a day historically linked with working people in their struggles to actualise fair and auspicious working conditions within the gamut of workers’ rights as enshrined in international and national laws of civilised countries.
The Nigerians workers would today join their counterparts in other parts of the world to mark this day. A day like this, however, calls for a sober reflection on the plight of the workers in this country.
By and large, it is very disturbing that conditions of workers in this country are still very far from what they should be. They are still a long shot from what even an average capitalist system could offer. To start with, most of our laws on labour are archaic and, what is more, even the so-called archaic provisions are poorly enforced with the resultant negative impact on the industrial sector.
Conditions of employment in many Nigerian organisations are still appalling with a good number of employers cashing in on high employment rate to shortchange workers. Only a segment of the workforce could beat their chests for privileged membership of the “gainfully employed” club; majority of the workers are on subsistence mode, working laboriously to keep bodies and souls together.
A sizeable number of the workforce are under- employed while millions of other do not derive job satisfaction in what they do, working only for survival from pay day to pay day.
In the public sector, incessant industrial actions by the likes of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Academic Staff Union of Polytechnic (ASUP), Nigerian Medical Association, etc, are an indication that all is not well. Only last Monday, a large number of electricity sector workers disrupted activities at the head offices of Benin and Ibadan electricity distribution companies over allegations of unfulfilled agreements, including payments of benefits, retrenchment of workers and collection of fixed charges without supplying power.
The so-called organised private sector is even worse as many employees under multifarious contracts of employments are exploited and denied conventional workers’ rights. This is not to talk of the culture of casualisation of workers, which seems to be soaring even in the otherwise strong institutions like banks.
Under the International Labour Organisation’s treaty to which Nigeria is signatory, the rights of workers, otherwise known as labour rights, include right to work no more than eight hours a day and forty hours a week, right to collectively bargain with employers, right to occupational safety and health, right not to be discriminated against, and the right to strike. Moreover, section 40 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) guarantees Nigerians the right both to form a trade union and to belong to any trade union of their choice.
There is certainly a lot the Federal Government can do to improve the lots of Nigerian workers. For example, paying the least paid worker a paltry N18, 000 per month under the National Minimum Wage Scheme is callous and inhuman, when everybody knows that the sum cannot even feed a child for one month!
It is instructive to note that the 1999 Constitution gives an insight into the conditions of work envisaged for Nigerian workers when in section 17 (3), it provides, inter alia, “The State shall direct its policy towards ensuring that- (a) all citizens, without discrimination whatsoever, have the opportunity for securing adequate means of livelihood as well as adequate opportunity to secure suitable employment; (b) conditions of work are just and humane, and that there are adequate facilities for leisure and for social, religious and cultural life; (c) the health, safety and welfare of all persons in employment are safeguarded and not endangered or abused; (d) there are adequate medical and health facilities for all persons: (e) there is equal pay for equal work without discrimination on account of sex, or on any other ground whatsoever; (f) children, young persons and the age are protected against any exploitation whatsoever, and against moral and material neglect…”
Capitalism may be the best a form of government, but the most stable organised and progressive capitalistic states are those where broadsides of capitalism are whittled down with some dose of welfarism.
It is laudable that the National Assembly has empowered the National Industrial Court through an amendment to the 1999 Constitution, by enhancing its capacity to adjudicate more efficiently on the issues of labour disputes and industrial relations in Nigeria. It is, however, too early to judge the NIC on how well it is discharging its enhanced responsibilities towards fostering better industrial harmony in the country.
While calling on all the governments, organised private sector and other stakeholders to strive to improve the lots of workers in the country. Let me wish all our workers, Happy Workers’ Day!
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