Daily Independent Online.
Wednesday June 18, 2003
NLC and the war against casualisation
By Rita Onoshevwe
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
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.
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
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.