June 9, 2009

Nigeria gets knocks over poor labour ethics

By Funmi Komolafe in Geneva
GENEVA—Nigeria was dragged before the International Labour Committee on  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 reports  at the appropriate time.

The report against Nigeria  made by the Workers’ Group which stated, “The case  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 concern  to the working people of Nigeria, especially the members of the independent and democratic trade union movement in Nigeria.”

However, Mrs. Moji Olanrewaju, Acting Director, Trade Union Services and Industrial Relations, Federal Ministry of Labour, who   spoke in defence of the government said: “We appreciate  that Convention 81 is key to the implementation and enforceability of labour standards.

“It is for these reasons that Nigeria strives within  the limited human and material resources  at her disposal, to monitor the implementation and enforcement of labour standards through the process of labour inspection.”

On the failure to render full reports, Olanrewaju said, ”We recognise the  need to improve upon the quality of our reports and it is for that reason that we had placed a request  before the NORMES Department before now, for technical assistance to build our capacity.”

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, “This 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,” she added.

The complainant had stated, “the 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.”

It added  “For instance, there are factories  housing between 400 and 600 workers with onlz one or  two exits that are  placed under lock during working hours .  Most of these factories do not have a single fire extinguisher or maz have only expired ones, which  are of no use in the case of fire disaster”.

It was also reported that “ Factorz Inspection Officers in the federal ministry of labour are not up to 20 and are compelled by obvious circumstances  to contend with lack of operational equipment, chronic shortage of vehicular transportation  facilities and pre-employment as well as on the job training of relevance to their responsibilities.”.

Besides, the complainants stated, “This unfortunate state of affairs has also heightened  the plight of children from poor communities who are being employed and exploited on a sustained basis  by unscrupulous  employers who are particular about profit and not the well-being and dignity of their workers”.

In addition they stated that “ one way to ensure that workers give  their best to boost economic growth and development is to guarantee their safety and health at work.”.

Describing unsafe work as “human tragedy”, the workers group which made the complaint against Nigeria  stated, “ 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 workers’s life , safey , security , freedom , family and ^future”.

Urging the federal government to recruit more facotry inspectors,  the complainant stated, “ 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 dressing”.

Mrs. Olanrewaju of the federal mi nistry of labour attributed the ministry^s short coming to lean budget saying, “ we rely on the main budgetry allocation from the federal government for the training of Inspectorate staff.  What we get from that source can hardly be described as adequate, partly because there are so many other Government Agencies  competing for the same resources.  The situation has even been further aggravated by the current global financial crisis which has thrown up other serious challenges for the Government”.

She made a request to the ILO for technical assistance “ in view of the demonstrable effect whcih such assistance has had in countries like  Liberia, Bolivia, Cambodia and the CEMAC countries to name a few”.

Beyond this she said, Nigeria would also appreciate  technical assistance and training slots for  inspectorate staff and social partners;employers and labour organisations  to enhance “ our inspection and monitoring activities”.

In conlclusion, Mrs. Olanrewaju said, “ We thank the Committee of Experts for drawing our attention to  lapses in our reporting system and we pledge our commitment to the protection of the rights, welfare, health and safety of Nigerian workers  through a modernized inspection system which we hope to achieve with the assistance of the ILO especially in keeping with the 2008 Declaration  on Social Justice for a fair globalization”.