Funke Alabi has been
working in a bank as a contract employee for the past four years and she is now getting apprehensive about what the future holds for her. She does not know if her contract with the bank will be renewed or not and even if the contract is renewed, her salary will not be better than what it is now in any case.
Alabi has struggled endlessly to ensure that her employer converts her employment to a permanent one but her aspiration seems to be a mirage. To make matters worse, the bank often threatens its entire contract staff with termination of appointment at any given opportunity.
Alabi and her colleagues are quite eager to secure good jobs with better conditions elsewhere but since such jobs are not within their reach, they are compelled to make do with their current occupation, although the working conditions are unpalatable.
The unemployment situation in Nigeria is quite grim, as millions of graduates roam the streets every year without the hope of getting jobs, whether in the public or private sector.
After many years of joblessness, the hapless jobseekers would gladly accept with gratitude any kind of job that comes their way.
The dream of an average undergraduate is to come out of school and secure a very good job. But the dearth of employment, coupled with frustration, has compelled many graduates of tertiary institutions to take up jobs which are sometimes demeaning.
Many companies and organisations take undue advantage of the unemployment situation to keep people working under unpalatable conditions. This has given rise to casualisation of labour or contract employment, thereby compelling people to work without receiving wages that are commensurate to the work done and any entitlements whatsoever.
The disparity between the wages of casual and permanent workers is so wide, and casual workers are often treated like second-class citizens. Casual workers are not entitled to pension, housing fund, national health insurance scheme, bonuses or profit sharing, while their salaries are often slashed arbitrarily.
Banks, hotels, construction companies, telecoms firms, oil companies, foreign companies and manufacturing companies are the major establishments which engage in recruiting contract staff.
Some casual employees with solid qualifications, which could be better than those of the permanent staff, are made to operate as subordinates, even while working extra hours for lesser pay.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines casuals as “workers who have an explicit or implicit contract of employment which is not expected to continue for more than a short period, whose duration is to be determined by circumstances.
“These workers may be classified as being employees or own-account workers, according to the specific circumstances of the employment contract.’’
Tinuke Fapohunda, in her paper on “Employment Casualisation and Degradation of Work in Nigeria’’ published in International Journal of Business and Social Science, said that casualisation was gradually becoming a problem in employment patterns across the world.
She noted that in Nigeria, casualisation of employment had been gaining ground in an unprecedented proportion, intensity and scale. “The trend has been largely attributed to the increasing desperation of employers to cut down organisational costs; as casualisation of employment is seen as an appropriate strategy for cost reduction.
“Casual workers occupy precarious positions in the workplace and society; they are effectively a new set of ‘slaves’ and ‘underclass’ in the modern capitalist economy,’’ Fapohunda added.
However, contract employment and casualisation of labour contravene Section 7 (1) of the Labour Act, Cap 198, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990. The law provides that “not later than three months after the beginning of a worker’s period of employment with an employer, the employer shall give the worker a written statement, specifying the terms and conditions of employment.’’
The conditions “include the nature of the employment and if the contract is for a fixed term, the date when the contract expires.”
Describing contract employment and casualisation of labour issue as worrisome, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) says it has kicked against the practice repeatedly but with little progress.
Mr Nasir Kabir, NLC’s organiser on anti-casualisation, said that banks often employ casual workers because of the obvious desperation of young people who were in dire need of a means of livelihood.
“For the construction companies, they complain that government no longer gives them funds to execute their projects; so, their workers cannot be sustained with the little funds they have.
“If the government looks into this issue and gives the construction firms enough funds to execute projects; they will be able to employ more persons and they will also be able to retain their workers,’’ he added.
Nevertheless, Kabir said that whenever the NLC received a complaint regarding casual employment, it immediately swung into action, adding that the NLC had picketed some companies, while others were shut down until the right thing was done.
“We raised this issue before the congress during our meeting and it was agreed that if we discover workplaces that are casualising their workers; we give them an ultimatum of two weeks to desist from that practice. “After that, we take the next line of action, which is picketing the place and that is what we have been doing,’’ he added.
Kabir, nonetheless, alleged that many union executives were colluding with employers of labour, adding that such connivance had been frustrating the NLC’s efforts to tackle the menace of workers’ casualisation decisively.
“The NLC is a body controlling affiliates and the bankers’ union is affiliated to the NLC but the major problem we are having is that the union’s officials are conniving with the executive directors and chiefs of those banks.
“When we move for a motion, some of them will agree but when we start hitting the banks, they will later turn back and sign a letter of undertaking; submitting themselves to the banks,’’ he said.
Nevertheless, Kabir blamed the country’s judicial system for the delay of cases brought before the courts, saying that the defaulting organisations usually hid behind court cases. “We have about three cases before the National Industrial Court on this issue but up till now, we have not been cleared by the court.
“Some of them (employers) rush to the court, believing the court is a hiding place for them and as a result, workers’ casualisation is still taking place. “There is no law supporting workers’ casualisation and the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) has assured us that any court delaying in any case of casualisation will be dealt with,’’ he said.
Kabir, however, advised jobseekers to be very vigilant when taking up appointments, so that they could refuse demeaning job offers.
“Of course, there is unemployment in the country but jobseekers don’t have to rubbish themselves by accepting casual employment. “If people reject casual job offers, the organisation will treat their staff better and respect them instead of employing more.
“It’s not fair for a graduate to be paid peanuts while the records say he or she is earning more; we kick against this and we will continue to do so,’’ he said.
All the same, the House of Representatives has been striving to stop casualisation of labour and contract employment in the country via a bill sponsored by Rep. Emmanuel Jime
The bill, which has been passed for a second reading, is an amendment of the Labour Act of 2004 and it seeks to limit the casual or temporary status of employees to two years.
The bill also seeks to compel employers to convert casual staff in their organisations to permanent staff after working as temporary staff for two years.
Jime, the bill’s sponsor, argued that the practice had created discrimination in the workplace, as casual workers were often perceived as “inferior’’ workers.
He also noted that the discrimination had negatively affected the economic wellbeing of the casual workers. “It means we have two categories of workers — the permanent ones and the casual ones — in the same workplace. This division is unacceptable and unhealthy for the country’s economic growth.
“But this amendment has opened up the protection of the Nigerian workers by way of a legal backing,’’ the lawmaker added.
Observers hope that Nigerian workers will soon breathe a sigh of relief as soon as the amended law comes into effect.
Lawmakers Want CBN To Halt Naira Devaluation
The House of Representatives has asked the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), to urgently put in place a policy to check further devaluation of the naira to the United States dollar and other international legal tenders.
The House decried that while the Nigerian currency was losing value, others in Africa were appreciating.
At the plenary on Wednesday, the House unanimously adopted a motion moved by the Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Pensions, Mr Bamidele Salam, which warned the CBN of the implications of further devaluing the naira.
The motion was titled, ‘Matter of urgent public importance on the need for the Central Bank of Nigeria to urgently put in place monetary policies to stop the free fall of the naira against the dollar and other international legal tenders’.
Salam recalled that the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, while addressing the Bankers’ Committee at a summit on the economy in Lagos earlier in February, informed the committee about the naira devaluation against the dollar.
The lawmaker also quoted Emefiele as saying at the summit that the official exchange rate stood at N410 to the dollar.
“That is 7.6 per cent weaker than the rate of N379 published on the central bank’s website,” Salam noted.
According to the lawmaker, while the value of the naira relative to the dollar had declined by nine per cent in the last six months, the South African rand and Ghanaian cedi had appreciated by 11.4 per cent and one per cent, respectively.
Salam also recalled that the CBN adopted multiple exchange rates in 2020, in a bid to avoid an outright devaluation.
He noted that the official rate used as a basis for budget preparation and other official transactions differed from a closely controlled exchange rate for investors and exporters known as the Nigerian Autonomous Foreign Exchange Rate Fixing Methodology.
He stressed that the naira had traded in a tight range between N400 and N410, while the NAFEX rate was different from the parallel market, considered illegal by the CBN, where the naira closed at 502.
Salam said, “The House is concerned that devaluation is likely to cause inflation because imports will be more expensive any imported goods or raw material will increase in price; aggregate demand increases, causing demand-pull inflation. Firms/exporters have less incentive to cut costs because they can rely on the devaluation to improve competitiveness.
”The concern is that the long-term devaluation may lead to lower productivity because of the decline in incentives.
”The House is further concerned that devaluation of the naira makes it more difficult for Nigerian youths especially in the IT sector, whose businesses are online and must necessarily transact businesses in the US dollars.
“It also reduces real wages. In a period of low wage growth, a devaluation that causes rising import prices will make consumers feel worse off “.
Four West African Countries To Buy Nigeria’s Unutilised Electricity
Four West African countries, Niger, Togo, Benin and Burkina Faso, are collaborating to buy the unutilised power produced in Nigeria.
The Chairman of the Executive Board of the West African Power Pool (WAPP), Sule Abdulaziz, disclosed this at the WAPP meeting on the North core project in Abuja, on Wednesday.
Abdulaziz, who is also the acting Managing Director of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), said the four countries were collaborating to make the power purchase from Nigeria through the North core Power Transmission Line currently being built.
He explained, “The power we will be selling is the power that is not needed in Nigeria.
“The electricity generators that are going to supply power to this transmission line are going to generate that power specifically for this project. So, it is unutilised power”.
He said Nigeria was expecting new generators to participate in the energy export for the 875km 330KV Northcore transmission line from Nigeria through Niger, Togo, Benin to Burkina Faso.
Abdulaziz said, “In addition, there are some communities that are under the line route, about 611 of them, which will be getting power so that there won’t be just a transmission line passing without impact”.
The WAPP chairman noted that the project, funded by World Bank, French Development Council and the African Development Bank, had recorded progress, adding that the energy ministers would be addressing security issues for the project at another meeting in Abuja.
He said, “Nigeria has the greatest advantage among these countries because the electricity is going to be exported from Nigerian Gencos (generation companies).
“So, from that, the revenue is going to be enhanced and a lot of people will be employed in Nigeria”.
The Secretary-General, WAPP, Siengui Appolinaire-Ki, said the cost of the project was about $570 million, adding that part of the investment in each country would be funded by that particular nation.
According to him, the countries in the partnership, including Nigeria, are also being supported by donors.
He said the funding agreement was ready as partner countries were awaiting the disbursements.
Appolinaire-Ki, however, said the donor agencies had said they needed a Power Purchase Agreement between the buying and the selling countries to be executed before releasing the fund.
Reps Probe N275bn Agric Loans Under Yar’Adua, Jonathan, Buhari
The House of Representatives has resolved to investigate the disbursement of loans and credit facilities by the Federal Government in the agriculture sector since 2009.
The period under review covers the administrations of the late Umaru Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan as well as the present President, Muhammadu Buhari.
The resolution was sequel to the unanimous adoption of a motion moved by Hon. Chike Okafor at the plenary last Wednesday, titled ‘Need to investigate disbursements of all agricultural loans/credit facilities to farmers from 2009 to date to enhance national food security’.
Okafor said, from 2009 to date, the Federal Government had approved the disbursement of funds to farmers in various schemes to the tune of over N275billion, ranging from Commercial Agricultural Credit Scheme to the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending, to help farmers improve agricultural production and guarantee food security in Nigeria.
The lawmaker also noted that apart from increasing food supply, the schemes were to grant agricultural loans to large and small-scale commercial farmers to lower the prices of agricultural produce, generate employment and increase foreign exchange earnings.
He said, “The House is aware that since the approval, most farmers have not been able to access the loans due to stringent requirements being demanded by banks from prospective borrowers and the alleged siphoning of over N105billion meant for farmers by management of NIRSAL.
“The House is concerned that food production has not attained the expected level, despite the approval of over N275billion facilities to farmers.
“The House is worried that the projected diversification of the economy from oil production to agricultural production and increase in agricultural output, food supply and promoting low food inflation will not be achieved if farmers are unable to access loans meant to increase agricultural production”.
Adopting the motion, the House resolved to mandate the Committee on Banking and Currency to “investigate disbursements and compliance of all agricultural loans/credit facilities to farmers from 2009 to date to enhance national food security in the country”.
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