By EBUN SESSOU, FLORENCE AMAGIYA, ANOZIE EGOLE & OLAYINKA AJAYI
It is really not easy to work here especially, as a casual staff. Some of us that are here as casual staff are most often subjected to what could be called slavery. We are often treated like slaves. If not that, I don’t like staying idle, this is not the kind of place I had in mind working after spending some years in the polytechnic to get an OND certificate.
I am more experienced than some staff in there,”. These are some of the words that came out from the mouth of 24 years old Micheal, a casual staff with one of the leading equipment companies located in Mushin.
When he gained admission to study estate management in a Federal Polytechnic, in the year 2009, to him, the sky was not only his limit, but his starting point as he started seeing himself as an estate valuer in incubation. Little did he knew that, it does not always go as we think.
To him, his present condition leaves him no other option than to fully believe in God as provider. Not only that he takes care of his transport to his work place on a daily basis which costs him a minimum of N500, he is faced with his landlord who is on his neck presently to renew his rent which is long overdue, he is also rendering little assistance to his siblings and his aged mother in the village. He collects N15000 as his salary on a daily basis.
According to the Enugu state born Micheal, what mainly is his problem is not only that they are being under paid, they are also subjected to a very nasty working condition which seems to be an indirect way of enslaving them. He said that they work from 8:am in the morning till 6:pm in the evening with no rest. “ We resume office as early as 8:am in the morning as against the time permanent staff used to come.
Their staff come at 9:am. We do all kinds of work, there is no clear specification of our work. As far as it didn’t involve technical work, we are asked to do it and you won’t complain. We do not have any insurance in the job, they sack people at will. If you talk, they will tell you that you don’t have option.
“The worst part of the whole thing is that, the CEO of the company is not aware that his employees are enslaving us. When ever the man comes around, they will all pretend as if they have been nice to us, and immediately he leaves, the whole scenario will change. We have planned a peaceful protest sometime ago, some of us sneaked away to tell the manager about the planned protest.
The people who initiated that were not only sacked, they were detained for some days before they were finally asked to go. Casualization is indeed a disgraceful way of working; it shouldn’t be wished on one’s enemy to say the least. In a Society where hunger is prevailing and work is scarce like the clean air. It is hard to say if this trend would be aborted in the nearest future. It is also risky to say that it should be totally abolished since it sometimes genuinely save ugly and unpredicted situation. It also can serve momentary need and hunger.”
However, some workers are of the opinion that there are no more casual staff in their individual working places; especially in the federal establishments; they claim that casual staff were previously in their companies, but that they have all been absorbed. Others said casuals are needed so that money related crimes can be curbed as these ones become the armed robbers because of unemployment.
Others claim that casualization is a momentary solution to unemployment; as the casual staff are people actually desperate for work because of where they are coming from; they manage the available when the desirable is not available. However, it should be noted that only few people are employed in these companies especially in the bank; hence it becomes expedient to employ casual staff as they handle the odd and dirty work for the company, but most often times, these casual staff may get absorbed at the end of the day.
Many claimed that casualisation is not so bad in itself as it affords the people some wages to take care of their bills while waiting for employment or the big break. But it becomes terrible and sad when the casual staff is maimed, injured or even die in the line of duty as they are never compensated. Mr. Johnson, who pleaded anonymity related a sad story of how his younger brother became a casual hand in his office; while working with one of the company’s equipment, he had a fractured hip. His casual appointment was terminated as a result of the injury and nothing was paid to him as compensation.
A few others said that casualisation is good because not everyone is literate enough to be gainfully employed, but if you are a casual staff and you are conscious to learn the trade; then you can be gainfully employed at the end of the day. But as the story goes; what has advantage certainly has a disadvantage, so is the case of casualisation.
The casual staff is not compensated when he or she is down or accidented. They do not give the casual staff any benefits or incentives, yet they are inhumanly treated,’’ says Abodo Okiemute, a former casual staff of a bank.
Abodo Okiemute, a resident of Lagos state said; ‘’I was a casual staff with a bank for three long years and those years were not easy for me. Along the line, l had to learn to bake and walked away from the bank. The casual staff were used, yet they were never compensated. They were inhumanly treated, you are given jobs that staff cannot possibly perform and you cannot cry out. All these were happening until l walked away.’’
Like many other victims of casualisation, this was the predicament of committed Chima Akachukwu a victim of casualisation who after his predicament, the hospital bill was forcefully paid by the company and after that he was not properly compensated and was laid-off due to been unable to operate machines with an amputated hand.
Saturday Vanguard sought the views of a Social commentator and a public affairs analyst, Olufemi Samuel. He said Casualisation is a form of work practice whereby a person works without the full benefits an employee is entitled to get; he only gets stipends agreed on with his employer at the outset of employment.
It is however sad that Nigerian government’s effort to boost employment has not been followed with assurance of decent work, given the increasing level of contract-based employment in the country. They rather clamour for Nigerian graduates to explore the wealth in mechanised farming that is capital intensive for fresh graduates to embark on. Casualisasion of staff in any organisation is an unsafe system as major problems bedeviling it are uncountable.
“Nigerians are forced by the realities of gross unemployment to sign any contract of employment just to have a job. In most cases, the agreements were never entered on equal terms but were forced on workers by the realities of the country’s large labour market,” he opined.
He however recalled that sometimes last year, the House of Representatives admonished the Executive arm of Government to urgently address the issues of casualisation, contract staffing and expatriate quota which was seen as a laudable step in the right direction. Months later, many believed it would help curb these issues that have been described as slavery in modern times but still a mere desire as there is no obvious change.
He further added that; “the massive shift from regular employment into temporary jobs through agencies and labour brokers is having a deep impact on all workers and their families. According to analysts, the inflow of graduates yearly into the labour market, led directly to a growing number of violations of workers’ rights.
The alarming rate of unemployment in Nigeria and the hopelessness resulting from inability to afford a good standard of living led people to become casual workers as a last resort. Also, some in a bid to ease hunger and avoid idleness earn stipends barely able to sustain them. A majority of these workers endanger their lives working in factories where chemicals that are detrimental to their health are used. In the occurrence of an accident such as that of Akachukwu in the printing press, no proper or adequate medical care is given to them since they are not recognised and given the full benefits entitled to an employee.
There is no job security and they are often exploited and cheated through irregular salaries and responsibilities not aligned with their posts.They get laid off and replaced by the management whenever it suits them even if they have spent years working for the organisation. Their employers threaten them with the situation of unemployment in the country, and they are reminded at every given opportunity that they are fortunate to be employed as casual workers in the first place. As a result, these workers conform to everything odd for fear of not being sacked.
In the same vein, there is no disparity between casualisation and contract staffing as far as exploitation is concerned. Contract staff are regarded as third parties because their jobs are based on contract. A contractor deals with them directly and not the owners of the organisation. The contractor employs, trains and pays their salaries. They have no access to incentives given to a full member of staff of the organisation.
They do not have a stake in pensions, gratuities, loans, staff buses, medical care, official houses and cars etc. They can also be retrenched at anytime by their employers because there is no job security unless fought by the company’s labour union. It is therefore not unusual to see labour union members clamouring for more benefits for these workers.
“Most foreign employers are guilty of maltreating their workers. In some multinational companies, Nigerians are paid lower than their foreign counterparts. On the other hand, workers in these firms have accused their Nigerian bosses of involvement with the foreign ones, to rip them of their full benefits and entitlements.
“In Nigeria, a foreigner or an indigenous person with connections in high places that has a Diploma certificate could supersede a Nigerian staff with a PhD in the work place; with huge difference in their salaries. This kind of maltreatment may not end soon because most of the thriving multinational companies are owned by the elite and foreigners who have the expertise and advanced technology. In the time past, it was unheard of that graduates would be employed to do menial jobs”.
High rate of unemployment has become unacceptable in a country like Nigeria. The menace caused by such unfortunate situation is huge such that countless Nigerian youths are now roaming aimlessly on this streets.
Some of them have become hoodlums while others are now into different vices including crime, corruption, kidnapping to mention a few.
To worsen the situation, most of the youths who are currently faced with this great challenge are university graduates. They have suddenly become victims of casualisation, unemployment, Keke Napep drivers, street hawkers even decent beggars to mention a few.
Unfortunately, Nigerian government has not been able to fix this great problem that has crippled the Nigerian system. Today, we now celebrate casualisation and brain drain.
Chidi, 28, a graduate of University of Nigeria, Nsukka who studied Computer Engineering is one of the victims of unemployment.
Lamenting the ordeal of unemployment, he said, “unemployment has turned me into a street hawker. I hawk second had clothes in Oshodi just to make ends meet.”
“After scrabbling to get a white collar job for more than four years which proved abortive, I settled for what was available. Unfortunately, most Nigerian youths have become victims of this same problem. There is no job anywhere. Those who are ready to employ youths put them on casual level.
“Today, graduates are now street beggars, hawkers of all kinds of things struggling to survive. It is the result of a failed government. It is unfortunate, that all the sectors are crippling. No one can get job in companies now except you are connected.
“If Nigerian government pretends not to know what is going on in the country in terms of unemployment, then, it is too bad. Many youths are now involved in so many vices including corruption but if government can create employment opportunities, it will reduce the rate of crime. “Casualisation has become a slave master in Nigeria. Our government now see it as another way of letting the youths face reality of life.
“This is what is happening in nearly all sectors of the economy – manufacturing, construction, banking, telecommunication, oil and gas where contract staffing and casualisation has become the order of the day, as workers in these sectors no longer have regularised employment terms. Nigerians should stop the issue of tribalism and racism so as to move forward” he opined.
For Comrade Samuel Obuseh, Chairman Dangote Union Pasta, Ikorodu, most employers of labour use their workers as cheap labour, denying their benefits. Some of the workers are now faced with different health challenges including cancer. There was a man who couldn’t afford to pay his hospital bills and in the process died.
According to him, “The problem of unemployment has to do with government. Every year, the country produces graduates who are not employed. And those who are employed are underpaid. They are paid as low as N10,000 per month because they are casual workers. This is as a result of unemployment. “There is no jobs anywhere for graduate and that is why there are lots of societal vices in the country. Anyone who is employed will not engage in crime. The government should provide enough jobs as well as vocational training centres for people to be self-employed. The bedrock of insecurity is unemployment.
“If we cannot fix the issue of unemployment, what is the future of country in years to come? We are going to experience multiple armed robbery. Right now, we are cannot sleep with our eyes closed. There are day to day robbery activities in the country. The population of unemployment is about 37.5 percent and this percentage is increasing by the day”, he added.
Lamenting, the present situation of workers in Dangote Pasta now Tiger Brands, he said, the management laid off, about 250 workers as a result of joining Nigerian Labour Congress. “The case was reported in court but we are still suffering the aftermath of this until today.
A trader Sylvester Offia, also shared his pathetic story, he lamented that, he became a wanderer on the street after searching for job. “I couldn’t secure a benefiting job and I was traumatised. The company I was working with relocated to Ghana and that the beginning of my problem. My family struggled for a longtime before I met a friend who introduced me to second hand wares. The same applies to other graduates who have not been able to secure a white collar job but seek solace in the sale of okrika things. “Most of the youths who are employed as casual workers are treated as nobody. There are stories of those who have worked for years and are still placed on casual. If this trend continues in the country, it is a bad omen. If youths are gainfully employed, they will not think of engaging in evil acts”, he submitted.
Lawrence Agbo works as a casual worker in one of the Indian companies in Lagos. He told Saturday Vanguard that, “Unemployment is a great challenge in the country and it is caused by under-utilisation of resources on the part of Nigerian government. If resources are well utilised, unemployment will be reduced to its barest minimum”.
On the effect of unemployment, he said, “Unemployment has negative influence on Nigerian youths as it contributes to the increase in the number of thuggery in the society. Nowadays, many youths are jobless and that is why they are trading along the road of Nigeria”, he observed.
Meanwhile, President, Women Arise for Change Initiative and Campaign for Democracy, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin described the casualisation of workforce as slave trade, noting that Nigerian workers have become third-class citizens in their father’s land.
According to her, the issue of casualisation most especially in the private sector has become a very disturbing phenomenon. It is nothing but a flagrant abuse of the rights of workers and all hands must be on deck to stop it.
Speaking further, she said the harrowing experience Nigerian workers go through in the hand of their employers in the name of casualisation is a clear indication that workers have become third class citizens in their father’s land.
“Part of the pains casual workers have to go through are that they never benefit from special packages like others, most of the time they are treated like lepers. They never have the full entitlements on the job allowances, transportation, leave allowances medicals etc.
“As I speak, about 2,500 Chinese artisans are engaged on a full time at Lafarge WAPCO Cement at Ewekoro, over 5,000 are said to be working at an ongoing electrification project at Papalanto, with over 3,000 in Sango at Ado-Odo Ota Local Government of Ogun State working as artisans in different companies whereas, Nigerian workers are placed on nasty allowances as casual workers. It is high time we did something concrete about it now,” she said.
She stressed that, it was rather unfortunate that issue of workers right, appropriate strategy and development approach has not been the major issues of national discourse but rather leaders are concentrating on zoning at the expense of improved welfare for the masses.
“The national and international instruments have been devised to protect workers’ rights, which have been codified in national laws and international labour conventions and recommendations of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in addition to constitutional provisions which also confer on them certain rights as citizens.
“These instruments are observed in the breach because employers of labour value their profits more than the workers”.
She maintained that the importance of a dedicated, healthy, knowledgeable and motivated workforce to the development of any nation cannot be over-emphasised, adding that the quality of a workforce affects the productivity and development indices of any country.
“Government must have the political will to address these inhuman treatments called contract staffing, because according to them a lot of recommendation are dusting in files in most government offices without implementation. Nigeria’s effort to increase employment has not been followed by assurances of decent work and worker protection; given the increasing number of contract-based workers”, she concluded.