Nigeria, like many other developing countries, has a long history of exploiting workers. Casualisation, or the practice of hiring workers on a temporary or short-term basis without providing them with the same benefits and protections as permanent employees, is a significant problem in Nigeria. This practice is not only unethical but also has negative consequences for workers, their families, and society as a whole.
For many years, this practice has gone on unrestricted and unpunished mostly because the culprits are big firms that are owned by ‘big fishes’. In the corrupt Nigerian business environment where survival is often predicated on one’s ability to be in the good books of the government, casualisation of workers is perhaps one of the acts which are considered a small ‘sin’. Again, the ballooning rate of unemployment and the number of people knocking on various recruitment doors on a daily basis has given companies a false idea that they can afford to treat workers anyhow and get away with it.
For starters, casualisation is a term used to describe the practice of hiring workers on a temporary or short-term basis without providing them with the same benefits and protections as permanent employees. Casual workers are often not entitled to health care, pensions, or other benefits that permanent employees receive. They are also often paid less than permanent employees and may not have job security.
Over the years, events have clearly shown that casualisation has grown to become a significant problem in Nigeria for several reasons. First is that; it is exploitative. It is no longer a secret that casual workers are often paid less than permanent employees for doing the same job. They are also not entitled to the same benefits and protections as permanent employees. A look at the wage structure of some of the biggest employers of labour in Nigeria will prove this fact. This is unfair and unjust.
The idea that casualisation could be normalised is what has now created a class of workers who are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse in Nigeria. To make matters worse, casual workers are often afraid to speak out against unfair treatment for fear of losing their jobs and going back to a state of despondency. This had made them easy targets for employers who have continued to exploit them by paying them less than the minimum wage or making them work longer hours than they are legally allowed to. The Nigerian labour market has become a place where everything goes and all manner of ills happen without consequences.
The negative consequences that casualisation has inflicted on Nigerian workers, their families, and society as a whole are immeasurable. In the country today, it is no longer a secret that casual workers often have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, which means they have less time to spend with their families. This has left a negative impact on their mental health and well-being. This has ultimately left a major dent in the quality of families and the standard of children being raised. Additionally, casualisation has created a culture of low pay and poor working conditions which every new employer who enters labour party quickly copies and implements, there is no gain in saying the fact that this ugly practice has left a ripple effect throughout society.
Casualisation is growing at a worrisome rate as available statistics show that the preponderance of casual workers is in the telecommunications, oil and gas, banking, insurance, mining, and steel sectors. To put it in proper perspective, about 50 percent of workers in telecommunication and cement manufacturing companies are on casual fringes. Sadly, outsourcing is also used interchangeably with casualisation in all these sectors as a ploy to avoid regularising their employment. More disturbing is that expatriate companies, mainly owned by Chinese and Indians are worse culprits. Nigeria is a haven for their illicit and inhuman ventures.
Nigerian workers have over the years continued to groan under the immoral strategy of cutting costs by employers which has rendered them inferior to their counterparts in other countries of the world. Firms such as MTN, Dangote, Nigerian Breweries, and the like have formed a habit of grossly underpaying their Nigerian staff while their while their expatriate counterparts who are mostly Indians smile to the banks yearly with billions of Naira in remittances. Statistics from the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) show that many citizens of Nigeria who are workers in the telecommunications, oil, and gas sectors are engaged as casual labourers by employers of labour. This is discriminatory and contrary to the provision of Section 17(2) CFRN paragraph A which states that: ‘Every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations, and opportunities before the law.’ This ugly practices surely has to stop and the NLC must be called to make ending it a priority.
Recently, the organised private sector unions released alarming data indicating that over 70 percent of the nation’s workforce in the private sector is casualised. Casualisation is the practice of employing temporary staff for short periods rather than making them permanent staff. This phenomenon is aimed at saving costs at the detriment of hardworking Nigerians. Under the arrangement, the worker is not entitled to any pecks such as transportation, leave, medical allowances or special benefits package. Besides, the worker’s take-home pay is so miserable that it can hardly take him/her home.
The truth remains that employers have over the years been exploiting the lapses in the various labour relation frameworks to perpetrate this unprincipled work practice by allowing employers to hire casual employees incessantly to fill permanent positions and also limiting their various legal rights. This ugly practice has gone on unrestricted and unchallenged due to the docility of the Labour unions. However, with the coming to the office of a forward-thinking unionist as NLC President in Comrade Ajero, the practice can be brought down to the barest minimum only if he and his team decide to tackle the scourge head-on.
A few years ago, Dangote Savannah Sugar Company Plc in Numan, Adamawa State was called out by Nigerians for subjecting workers of the company to conditions akin to slave labour. This came after workers of the company protested in anger at the condition of slave labour they have been put through. According to the protesting workers, 80% of the staff of the company are casual workers and many of them have worked for upward of seven to eight years yet they remain casual workers in absolute disregard for Nigeria’s labour laws. They work from 7am to 6 pm under terrible working conditions and are paid a peanut of N500 per day!
Truth be told, the CEO of the company, Aliko Dangote has remained the richest man in Africa for years with a net worth of around $13.8bn. With various reports which have been filtered to the media space, it would not be out of place to conclude that the source of his wealth is the super exploitation of the blood and sweat of poor workers not just in the Sugar Company but in all other companies under the Dangote Group.
The slave labour in Dangote Savannah Sugar Company Plc is not an isolated case; it is a pattern that can be seen in all the factories and companies in Nigeria. The failure of the Inspectorate Division of the Ministry of Labour and other authorities to discover this shows the inefficiency as well as the fraudulent conspiracy which officials of the Ministry and government have always had with private businesses to overlook clear cases of anti-labour sharp practices in exchange for money.
It is safe to conclude that Dangote’s multi-billion empire has been built on the creaking backs of laboring masses in Nigeria. However, people like him and his likes should be made to understand that it is only by reorganizing society along a more just and egalitarian lines wherein the commanding heights of the economy are nationalized and placed under the control and management of the working masses that majority of Nigerians can actually enjoy a prosperous and comfortable life.
The Comrade Ajaero-led NLC must now understand that it has a lot of work on its hands. They are hundreds of employers who must be compelled by the union to obey Nigeria’s labour laws, respect the dignity of labour and the principle of decent work and pay minimum wage to workers.
As if to boost the labour act, section 17(a) of the 1999 Constitution condemns casualisation because is at variance with its provisions, which guarantees equal pay for equal work. Furthermore, Convention 153 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which Nigeria is a signatory, does not support any form of discrimination in the workplace. In fact, the section holds that casualisation is out of tune with 21st century best practices. Hence, the discrimination in pay between permanent and casual employees should not exist. Besides, the section frowns against discrimination on account of sex or any grounds whatsoever.
Stopping casualisation in Nigeria will require a concerted effort from all stakeholders, including the government, employers, and workers themselves. The government can play a critical role by not just enacting laws that protect workers’ rights, however, they must be pressured to ensure that employers are held accountable for their actions.
The Ajaero-led NLC must declare war against casualisation of Nigerian workers and begin to take holistic actions against it. The strength of the union has always been in their numbers and those numbers can and should be deployed to make these demands from Nigerian CEOs and owners of conglomerates. This inhumanity must stop because Nigerians deserve better.