Labour dispute looms over alleged casualisation plans
A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will answer the poser, but deciding between the two is at the centre of a major disagreement between employers of labour in the country and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).
Indeed, the centre labour body has threatened to resist such “obnoxious” action by picketing organisation allegedly guilty of the act.
The Guardian investigation revealed that at least four major organisations in Lagos have reviewed the employment status of over 75 per cent of their workers into nominal employment.
The action, it was gathered, has left the workers with about half of their original pay and nothing in the region of employment benefits.
Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), the umbrella body for Organised Private Sector (OPS) has tactically defended the action in some organisations, saying there is nothing illegal in outsourcing.
According to NECA president, Larry Ettah, private businesses that are still running in this “tough and hostile business environment” deserve to be congratulated.
Addressing Chief Executive Officers of member-companies at the 58th yearly general meeting of NECA in Lagos recently, Ettah said businesses operating in Nigeria had in the past years encountered the usual challenges of poor infrastructure and public services, insecurity, official corruption, multiple taxes, power supply shortfalls and volatile capital markets.
In the last one year, he observed that the challenges have indeed gone beyond the usual. “Power supply has declined so precipitously that public power supply became almost non-existent; currency devaluation as a result of the challenges in the global oil market has seen another round of sharp increases in input prices; interest rates have risen; as even inflation is rising again.
“As a result of elevated political risk arising from our recent elections, which thankfully have gone well, investment dried up and economic activity declined to its lowest level in many years in the first quarter of 2015; and consumer purchasing power remains weak. The impact of all these factors is low corporate revenues and margins and higher cost of doing business,” Ettah said.
By implication, criticisms against employers of labour that downturn, disengage workers, outsource or casualise workers should be done against the backdrop of current economic realities.
Factional President of NLC, Ayuba Wabba, said he empathised with employers of labour.
Wabba said that, though Nigeria was recently adjudged to be the largest economy in Africa, he pointed out that nobody is fooled by the stark reality on ground, which according to him does not seems to agree with the “largest economy” label.
According to him, “Our country takes the glory of having the largest population of blacks in the whole world, and also endowed with both human and natural resources enough to make our country greater than any other country in the world but still lives below the poverty line.
Wabba said: “We, as workers share the pains of every employer in Nigeria. That you struggle to survive under the excruciating conditions imposed by a ruling class that think less of the collective interests of our people is in itself a plausible patriotic disposition. Not a few of your members have either closed shop or compelled to relocate to other countries being the consequence of lack of enabling environment and infrastructures as important as electricity.”
The president, however, added that the new NLC leadership felt disturbed by recent directives by some employers, allegedly acting on NECA’s advice, “converting regular workers to casuals and contract staff, while some production lines were out rightly outsourced, for example in Nigerite and Wapco Lafarge Cement Company.
“This directive is not only unlawful but a total violation of an agreement we had with NECA after a painstaking meeting at the instance of NECA on May 2, 2002 fundamentally to avert the planned massive picketing of some member companies of NECA,” said Wabba
According to him, part of the agreement was that: “(a) employers who still have casuals will regularize their employment; (b) in regularizing their employment, the rates to be paid will be in accordance with prevailing procedural and substantive collective agreements in the industry, which will also be taken into account in protecting the rights of the workers.
“It is expected that any current arrangement, in respect of regularized workers, which does not conform with [b] above, will also be regularized with immediate effect. These conclusions will be extended to all employers who would, otherwise, have been picketed by the NLC but for the intervention of NECA, which led to this conclusion.”
Wabba stressed that the agreement was still sacrosanct and “we will not allow its violation as we are prepared to picket any employer who chose to unilaterally violate it without holding dialogue with the union, if there are specific difficulties, we must be willing to sit and dialogue with the hope of resolving issues amicably.”
Specifically, the labour law says any worker engaged by any employer must have his or her job regularized with a formal letter of employment stating specific duties and conditions of employment, just as all contract employment must have the approval of the Minister of Labour, after the submission of details such as justification for such employment, names of the employer, full details of those to be recruited who must not be denied their rights to be members of the union and be covered by all collective agreements between the union and the employer, including minimum wage.
Wabba said the NLC, under his watch, is fully determined to protect and advance the rights of all workers to decent employment and membership of the union, which remains non-negotiable.
“We have already directed our affiliates to submit names and addresses of employers found to be violating workers’ rights, as we prepare to massively picket those employers,” he said.
Responding to the allegation, Ettah, said NECA, as a business management membership organisation, is a responsible corporate citizens; recognising the rights of the employee as much it protects the rights of the employers (her members).
He goes philosophical: “So doing, it is important to emphasize that a worker and work exist when it is a sustainable private enterprise and it is in the workers’ enlightened interest to ensure the sustainability of that work enterprise itself.”
While he chooses to be silent on the alleged casualisation advice to organisations, Ettah argues that outsourcing is provided for in the Nigerian Labour Act, adding that nothing illegal about it.
He said: “There are several provisions that support that. The Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity, empowered by sections 23, 24, 25 and 71 of that Labour Act to regulate and regularise outsourcing as a form of employment and issue recruital license to private employment agencies in that regard. So, there is nothing illegal about it.”
On the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that exists between NECA and the workers’ union, the president said that, the provision also provides for dialogue, “and we also employ the NLC to respect the position of that MoU.”
“I will also like to say that the spirit of tripartitism should be encourages. So, if there are issues we should exhaust, established procedure and existing statutory processes for dispute resolution should guide so that industrial harmony is actually encouraged,” he said.
NLC Deputy-President, Odeyemi Peters, said as social partners, they indeed felt pained at the state of the economy, but that NLC would not share lamentations with anyone.
Rather, “We will take every necessary steps to ensure that public policies in our country are inclusive and people driven, focused on the promotion of job creation and this can only be done through industrialization, because we know history has showed that no nation can progress by export of its raw materials, that is why we have consistently insisted that our refineries must be working.”
Another menace facing us as a nation is corruption and it is multifaceted, Peters reckoned.
“A system where an employer will have to pay so high to run a generator to produce sure encourages corrupt practices as he will pass cost of production to the worker through low wages, unfair labour practices and also to the consumer with unbearable prices for the products, which eventually lead people into spending more than they earn and therefore either go borrowing and be enmeshed in unending debt crisis or continuously steal to survive.
“Just as we won’t allow our economy to go through further impunity, it is important to state that abuse of workers’ rights in Nigeria by any employer both in the public and private sectors anywhere in Nigeria will be met with stiffer resistance.