By Funmi Komolafe in Geneva
GENEVAâ€”Nigeria was dragged before the International Labour Committee onÂ the Application Standards in Geneva yesterday for gross violation of labour standards which has made the workplace unsafe for workers in the country.
It was also reported for failure to file reportsÂ at the appropriate time.
The report against NigeriaÂ made by the Workersâ€™ Group which stated, â€œThe caseÂ which has been brought against the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria regarding its poor record in enforcing and reporting on the Labour Inspection Convention 1947 (No. 81) is a genuine and fundamental concernÂ to the working people of Nigeria, especially the members of the independent and democratic trade union movement in Nigeria.â€
However, Mrs. Moji Olanrewaju, Acting Director, Trade Union Services and Industrial Relations, Federal Ministry of Labour, whoÂ Â spoke in defence of the government said: â€œWe appreciateÂ that Convention 81 is key to the implementation and enforceability of labour standards.
“It is for these reasons that Nigeria strives withinÂ the limited human and material resourcesÂ at her disposal, to monitor the implementation and enforcement of labour standards through the process of labour inspection.â€
On the failure to render full reports, Olanrewaju said, ”We recognise theÂ need to improve upon the quality of our reports and it is for that reason that we had placed a requestÂ before the NORMES Department before now, for technical assistance to build our capacity.â€
She said, Nigeria has 550 inspectors out of which 105 are women. The inspectors are distributed all over the 37 field offices (36 states and the Federal Capital Territory).
Mrs. Olanrewaju, however, admitted, â€œThis number is no doubt inadequate, considering the large area to be covered and the more than four million workplaces to be inspected.
“The reason for this low number of inspectors is not unconnected with the embargo that was placed on employment into the civil service for some years.
“However, as soon as the embargo was lifted in 2001, 171 male and female inspectors were recruited and 34 more had since been added to that number. Efforts are on going to recruit more inspectors,â€ she added.
The complainant had stated, â€œthe issue of occupational safety and health has been relegated to the backyard by the authorities in Nigeria to an extent that companies, especially those in the private sector have turned nightmare for workers.â€
It addedÂ â€œFor instance, there are factoriesÂ housing between 400 and 600 workers with onlz one orÂ two exits that areÂ placed under lock during working hours .Â Most of these factories do not have a single fire extinguisher or maz have only expired ones, whichÂ are of no use in the case of fire disasterâ€.
It was also reported that â€œ Factorz Inspection Officers in the federal ministry of labour are not up to 20 and are compelled by obvious circumstancesÂ to contend with lack of operational equipment, chronic shortage of vehicular transportationÂ facilities and pre-employment as well as on the job training of relevance to their responsibilities.â€.
Besides, the complainants stated, â€œThis unfortunate state of affairs has also heightenedÂ the plight of children from poor communities who are being employed and exploited on a sustained basisÂ by unscrupulousÂ employers who are particular about profit and not the well-being and dignity of their workersâ€.
In addition they stated that â€œ one way to ensure that workers giveÂ their best to boost economic growth and development is to guarantee their safety and health at work.â€.
Describing unsafe work as â€œhuman tragedyâ€, the workers group which made the complaint against NigeriaÂ stated, â€œ For Nigeria to achieve balance sustainable development and eradicate poverty, it must balance economic goals with security, environmental and social concerns but at the heart of each of these concerns is the productive worker- the workersâ€™s life , safey , security , freedom , family and ^futureâ€.
Urging the federal government to recruit more facotry inspectors,Â the complainant stated, â€œ the mere ratification of a treaty is not an end in itself. Without real commitment to its proper domestication and enforcement, the whole process becomes useless and a window dressingâ€.
Mrs. Olanrewaju of the federal mi nistry of labour attributed the ministry^s short coming to lean budget saying, â€œ we rely on the main budgetry allocation from the federal government for the training of Inspectorate staff.Â What we get from that source can hardly be described as adequate, partly because there are so many other Government AgenciesÂ competing for the same resources.Â The situation has even been further aggravated by the current global financial crisis which has thrown up other serious challenges for the Governmentâ€.
She made a request to the ILO for technical assistance â€œ in view of the demonstrable effect whcih such assistance has had in countries likeÂ Liberia, Bolivia, Cambodia and the CEMAC countries to name a fewâ€.
Beyond this she said, Nigeria would also appreciateÂ technical assistance and training slots forÂ inspectorate staff and social partners;employers and labour organisationsÂ to enhance â€œ our inspection and monitoring activitiesâ€.
In conlclusion, Mrs. Olanrewaju said, â€œ We thank the Committee of Experts for drawing our attention toÂ lapses in our reporting system and we pledge our commitment to the protection of the rights, welfare, health and safety of Nigerian workersÂ through a modernized inspection system which we hope to achieve with the assistance of the ILO especially in keeping with the 2008 DeclarationÂ on Social Justice for a fair globalizationâ€.