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LogoDaily Independent Online.         * Wednesday June 18, 2003

NLC and the war against casualisation

By Rita Onoshevwe

Daily Independent, Lagos


Four key issues formed the core of the International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s declaration of 1998, including freedom of association and effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour, the effective abolition and discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

In Nigeria, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), in pursuance of the declarations, took decisive steps to uplift the status of Nigeria by prevailing on employers to desist from unfair labour practices, especially casualisation of workers.

Having identified casualisation as one of the strategies being used by employers of labour in Nigeria to trample on the rights of workers,  NLC decided to combat the scourge. The congress set up an anti-casualisation committee in 2000 and charged it with the responsibility of fighting against the evils of casual and contract labour in Nigeria.

The committee swung into action after identifying some companies that engaged in this act and issued an ultimatum to them to stop the practice. However, it did not take action against these companies, which informed its reconstitution by the leadership of NLC and expanded its mandate to include campaign against all forms of unfair labour practices.

The initial step taken by the committee was the holding of a two-day workshop on the evils of casualisation in Benin, the Edo State capital. It was organised in collaboration with the America Centre for International Labour Solidarity.

The immediate outcome of the workshop was the picketing of the Bendel Feeds and Flour Mills Limited, Sapele, Delta State, which was carried out in conjunction with the Edo State Council of the National Union of Food, Beverages and Tobacco Employees. This ensured the return of unionism to the company.

A two-phased trade union training course was sponsored to ensure effective unionism at the Bendel Feeds.  At the Benin workshop, the NLC committee on anti-casualisation drew up an action plan, which included printing of hand bills and posters, to create awareness on the evil practice.

Bearing in mind that the issue of casualisation is a sensitive one which  some companies have been practising for many years and to that extent would take a long time to eradicate, the congress went on with the awareness campaign but concentrated mostly on Lagos with a view of covering other areas, such as Port Harcourt and Kano before the end of the year.

The theme of the campaign entitled, “Campaign against unfair labour practices”, was chosen by NLC with a slogan, “Organise and unionise.” Posters, banners, T-shirts, face caps and hand bills were produced reflecting these slogans.

In April 2002, the campaign against casualisation took off on a sound note, and six companies were picketed. These included West Africa Household Utilities Manufacturing Company Limited, Wahum Packaging Limited, Pioneer Metal Products Limited, Bamaco, ABM and PZ Industries Nig. Plc. However PZ opted for dialogue. The team and the organisation entered into agreement, thereby avoiding picketing. It was not so for Wahum as its effort to resist the team  led to its picketing for two days before it succumbed and an agreement was reached.

On April 22, 2002, it was the turn of companies like Dunlop Nigeria Plc, Guinness Nigeria Plc and Cadbury Nigeria Plc. Their factories in Ikeja industrial areas were paralysed for a day. In May, the picketing committee shifted its fight to Sango Ota industrial area. A total of 222 companies were mapped out for the action. However,  before the action took off, some companies opted for dialogue and reached an understanding with the committee,  but those who chose the path of violence had their companies picketed.  The team took off to Unilever, Staford Chemicals and Drug in Agbara Estate, Ogun State.  These companies were picketed, but agreement was later reached. But then, Eleganza  Group of Companies proved stubborn. Despite two days of picketing, all efforts to bring the management of the company to a negotiating table failed.

The NLC picketing campaign did not end in Lagos as it moved to Port Harcourt where Michelin Nigeria Limited fell victim. The company was picketed for four days. Worst hit by the picketing is Zenith Plastic as it was picketed for 43 days following its rebuffing all efforts towards dialogue. But after 43 days of picketing, the company succumbed and an agreement was reached.

The team moved to Oyo State and six companies were picketed, including Black Horse Nigeria Limited,  Asia Plastic, Beutos Pharmaceutical, Altak Industries Limited, Subil Oil and Chemicals Limited, Niger Hygiene Nigeria Limited.

It is to be noted that during the picketing, it was discovered that majority of workers in Nigerian industries are casual workers. Companies in Nigeria derive joy in engaging its workers as casual workers. For example, PZ Industries Plc has a total 495 as causal workers, but through NLC effort, 247 were regularised. At Wahum, 556 are casual workers and 278 were regularised, Assometa has 60 casuals, Wempco Group has 1,004 causal workers, Sona Breweries Plc has over 227,  Universal Steel Limited (Enamel, a mere division) alone has 159; Michelin Limited, Port Harcourt has 460 casual workers,  among others.

But one may wonder why companies prefer to put workers on casual basis than employing them as permanent staff. The Assistant Secretary NLC, Mr. Denja Yaqub , in an interview said that companies want cheap labour while they make high profits. Said he: “We have found out that their reason is because they want cheap labour and high profit. They prefer to use casual workers whom they will pay peanuts and at the end of the year declare high profits,” adding that NLC has come to stop that practice.

According to him, the law does not allow the practice, but since companies do not respect the law, NLC will stop it.

On the effect on the economy, the NLC chieftain said that casual workers do not contribute to the economy because what they earn was not taxed. “It is not subjected to any form of tax, so they do not contribute to the economic development of the country,” he said.

He, however, blamed the government for the high rate of casualisation in companies operating in the country, saying that the infrastructure the company needs to grow and pay workers well are not there, and so they choose casualistaion to meet up.

The government,  according to investigation, has not provided a conducive environment  for companies to operate effectively. These include electricity, water, communication facilities, good roads and low duties on imported goods.

On the effect on individuals, especially Nigerians that are engaged as casual workers, it has been traumatic and demoralising. According to Mr. James Essien, a staff on a company located in Lagos, as a causal worker, you don’t have a say or cannot demand for better condition of work.

“As a casual, I do not have a say of my own as I can be sacked any time. And if such happens, I will not be entitled to any money, which they pay permanent staff when they are leaving the company,” he said.

He added that casual workers’ pay  represents  just 10 per cent of what permanent staff earn, yet they do the same type of work.“ As a casual worker, I am paid a meagre salary that is not enough for me to feed my wife and children. I am always in a state of confusion because one is working, yet he could not pay school fees for his children,” he said, lamenting that has been a casual worker for over a year in the company.

Reacting to the war against casualisation, the Organised Private Sector (OPS), an association of companies, recently called on NLC to softpedal on its anti casualisation and picketing measures. They disclosed that the group had lost about N10 billion in revenue due to the picketing action by NLC.

Reacting, the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA) appealed to NLC to exercise patience over the resolution of the issues on casualisation, pledging to intervene to ensure that causalisation is reduced. It appealed to NLC to cancel its proposed picketing of First Bank Nig Plc because it is a big bank that carries other banks. NECA noted that any disruption in the operation of First Bank would affect other banks in the country and that it could result in the collapse of other banks and the banking industry in Nigeria.

But it seems that NLC is bent on carrying out its threat on First Bank if it fails to stop its anti-labour practices. NLC and the National Union of Banks Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees (NUBIFE) and the Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions have planned to carry out the war if talks failed.




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