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Nigeria’s workplaces unsafe

*Workers fault FG on factories inspection at ILC

By Funmi Komolafe, VictorAhiuma Young & Wahab Abdullah

WITH globalisation, governments, especially in developing countries, have been been making efforts to attract foreign investments.  That’s in order, you would say but at what cost? In an attempt to retain such investors, some governments have either just looked the other way or have simply not paid the necessary attention to factories inspection.

As a result, our citizens are maimed daily at work. Nigeria was taken up on this issue during the 98th International Labour Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. Titled, “Labour’s Statement on Nigeria in Case Concerning Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (no. 81)”, a representative of the African Workers Group  made a case on non-compliance with Labour Inspection Convention, N0.81 of 1947 against Nigeria.

Poor record
He said, “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. 83), is a genuine and fundamental concern to the working people of Nigeria  (especially the members of the independent and democratic trade union movement in that country).

The precarious nature of most workplaces, which continues to expose many workers to a wide range of work-related diseases and accidents coupled with the lack of political will and commitment to address this problem is disheartening. “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 exercise.

* Some Injured workers...
* Some Injured workers...

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

“Yet, Section 35 sub-section 3 of the Factories Act stipulates that ‘every owner or occupier of a factory shall ensure that persons employed in the factory are adequately trained to enable them operate fire extinguishing apparatus provided in the factory’. If the  laws governing labour inspection are working or not, it  should be viewed against the backdrop  of the Ikorodu fire incident of September 16, 2002 and the other similar incidents that  claimed scores of precious lives and destroyed properties worth billions of naira.

“Factory 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.

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 only particular about profit and not the well-being and dignity of their workers.

All of these anomalies explain the gap or disconnect between the law and the practice as well as the magnitude of the disservice displayed by the authorities towards the welfare of the working population. One way to ensure that workers give their best to boost economic growth and development is to guarantee their safety and health at work.

To this end, workers must be accorded adequate protection against work-related diseases and accidents. Occupational Safety and Health is a human right and an integral part of a people-centred agenda for sustainable development. Unsafe work is a human tragedy. It deepens poverty if ill health or injury reduces or takes away the capacity to work, especially if mechanisms for support are absent. A safe workplace is a win-win situation as workers, their families, governments and enterprises will all benefit from improved productivity and workplace motivation.

For Nigeria to achieve     balanced sustainabledevelopment 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 worker’s life, safety, security freedom, family and future.

“Against this background, we would like to appeal to the members of this August assembly and the ILO at large to bring more pressure to bear on and urge the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to live up to its constitutional obligation by ensuring the effective enforcement of the Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (No. 81). We also urge the Government to recruit more factory inspectors, guarantee their jobs security of tenure and protect them from undue interference in the discharge of their duties, afford them adequate resource and logistic support and also provide them with appropriate pre-service and in-service training opportunities”.

All maimed at work!

Virtually everyday in this country, an innocent worker gets injured at work. In most cases, these citizens do not receive any form of compensation. The Workmen’s Compensation Act is long out-dated and the labour bills which have been presented to the National Assembly including a review  of the Workmen’s Compensation Act  are lying in the files of the members of the parliament.

Neither the Senate Committee on Labour nor its House of Representatives counterpart has done anything about it. Perhaps because there are no immediate benefits for members. The bills remain in the files but Nigerians are maimed daily by our so-called foreign investors. Of course such incidents do occur in Nigerian companies too but they are hardly reported because the workers are ignorant of how to assert their rights.

The stories presented below could make anyone develop goose pimples but they are real. The factory accidents occurred right here, in Lagos. Is it a case of everyone to himself, God for us all? Only the Federal Government and the National Assembly members have answers to this question.

‘With four fingers chopped off, what does the future hold for me?’

WHAT is your name?
My name is Arogu Ojo. I work with      Wempco Group

How old are you?
I am 23 years old.

What happened to your fingers?
An  industrial accident that claimed part of my hand (fingers) happened November 30, 2007. On that fateful day, my friend and I were working. After some time, the machine stopped. I was arranging material in the machine and suddenly the machine came on and before I could remove my hand, it had chopped off four of  my fingers. I was taken  to hospital for treatment.

I stayed in the hospital till June 2008. When I left the hospital, I went to the company to ask what will they do about my situation. Since then, they have kept on telling me to come today, come tomorrow without anything.
Any day I go there, they will say that out of the three people that would discuss what they would pay, the most important person, Alhaji Alli (African director), is not available. Till today, they have not given me anything as compensation. I have been going there, but I cannot work. Every two weeks, they give me three thousand naira (as at February).

As staff or what?
No, as a casual worker. Because of how they are playing me around, I decided to inform Falana Chambers about the issue.

I got injured, lost my job, now my dream of becoming an economist has been  aborted – Adetula

WHAT is your name?

My name is Emmanuel Adetula.

How old are you?
I am 23 years old.

Tell us where and how you had  the accident?
I was working at Lucky Steel Industries, located at kilometre Two, Ijoko Road, Sango Ota. I was a machine operator. On March 3, 2008,  as I was operating a  machine, suddenly, probably because of a fault or something,  my hand was in the machine. It broke my bone and I was taken to Rubi Hospital at Sango.

I spent about two months there before the managing director of the company called the doctor to discharge me. There was a time that I needed tooth brush and I called the company. The managing director was annoyed that I was asking for tooth brush and he called the doctor to discharge me.

When I was discharged, I went back to the company, they said they could not do anything for me unless I began to work  for them again. Since I had no option, I decided to work with them. When I was employed before the accident, I was employed as a machine operator.

But after the accident, when they called me back, they said I would be the store keeper. I called the production manager and told him the development, that when I was first  employed, I was employed as a machine operator. I made him to understand that I do not know anything about store keeping because I had not done anything concerning store keeping before.

Therefore, I  have no experience. The production manager then said  he would put me through. He told me to accept it, that he needed me to take the job. But I did not know that it was all a trap to get me out. So, about two weeks of taking the job as a store keeper after the injury, they just called me one day to say that two pots were missing. The company produces aluminum and other pots.

The Indian managing director now called me, ‘Mr Emmanuel, we are looking for two pots.’ I said ‘what concerns  me with that? You have security and nobody can take anything out without the knowledge of the security men, why are you asking about what I know nothing about?’

If it was not planned  before, especially in the store, if any thing got lost, they would be deducting the money from the salary of the person who is in-charge of the area. Instead, what they told me was that since these two pots are missing,  I could no longer work with them and that I had  to go.  I asked, ‘I should just go like that?’ I called the production manager who is also an Indian and reminded him that the day they wanted to make me the store keeper, I told him no because I have no previous experience in store keeping, he said he would  put me through the job. So, I told him that he planned this to get me sacked. I started crying, but the managing director said I should leave the office and that I should not explain or complain about anything. I left the office and since that day, I did not hear anything from them. So, we decided to bring the matter to Falana Chambers.

Were you doing the job on permanent or temporary basis with other plans in mind?
I was doing it on temporary basis with the aim of raising enough money to continue with my education. I had planned to first and foremost retake my WAEC which I had done before the accident. Thank God, my papers are complete. I had planned to gather some money to enable me proceed for studies in the university education. I planned to become an economist.

Injured worker can’t fend for his family – Lawyer

THE case of another employee,     one Femi, 42, an employee of Universal Nigeria Industries Company Limited, 3, Awosika  Industrial Avenue, Oba Akran Road, Agege, a Chinese company, was discussed with our team. The lawyer in charge of the case said Femi, like others, had worked with the company for 15 years but remained a casual worker. Sometime in August 2008 , he said Femi was at work when, suddenly, the machine came down and chopped off parts of his hands and four fingers.  According to the lawyer, Femi was rushed to Light Chapel Hospital, along Agege Motor Road and was hospitalised for three months.

The accident also affected one of his eyes and he had to bear the cost of that on his own. However, the company later engaged him as a production record staff. We asked the lawyer how Femi could  write.  He said the man had no option but to train himself to use his left hand. The lawyer said a major problem now is Femi’s inability to cater for his family.  He has three children one of whom is a student of Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education. About a year since this accident, our source said there hasn’t been any compensation from the company.

Femi’s case, we were told, was brought to the attention of Falana and Falana Chambers by the Redeemed Christian Church of God ( RCCG) where he played the piano before the accident. The legal practitioners have asked the company for N5million compensation but, till date  no deal has been struck. The company  is still waiting for its insurance company ( identity unknown) to assess the damage done to Femi’s body and recommend monetary compensation.

We pay injured workers, says African director, Wempco, TokunboAlli
WE paid a visit to Wempco office located at Ogba in  Lagos to discuss the issues with the management of the company and was received by Alhaji Tokunbo  Alli and two other officials, including the administration manager. Although  the company made it clear that they do not discuss their management- employee relations on the pages of newspapers, nevertheless they spoke to us because of what they called “ our formal request for an interview on the issue”.

Alli said like other companies involved in   production and manufacturing, the company is not immune to industrial accidents and insisted the company provides all necessary safety wears for staff in the production lines. He said the “severity of the injury determines what the insurance company pays. In most cases, we add to what the insurance company recommends that  we  base on humanitarian grounds.

We read about companies sacking workers who sustained injuries while  working. We do not do that. We pay them full salaries as if they are on sick leave.” He said the company is still meeting with the families of victims especially those who said they are no longer interested in working for the company. “I can tell you that their cases have not been concluded.” Request by Sunday  Vanguard to do on the spot assessment of the factory situated at the company’s head office, to confirm if safety regulations were being complied with,  was rejected. The company’s management team however presented to us  an injured casual worker now engaged as a receptionist.

FG admits lapses, says it’s not deliberate
AS expected, the Federal Government of     Nigeria responded through Mrs. Moji Olanrewaju, acting director, trade union service and industrial relations in the Federal Ministry of Labour.  Titled, “Nigeria’s Reaction on the Comment of the Committee of Experts on Convention 81″, Olanrewaju, said: “Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the conference committee on International Labour Standards, I like on behalf of the Nigerian government to thank you for the opportunity given to us to clarify and explain our country’s situation with special reference to Convention 81. Let me start by reiterating Nigeria’s commitment to its constitutional and reporting obligations as an ILO member State. We are also mindful of the fact that the development of our economy is dependent in part, on our workers being protected and that an insecured worker cannot be a productive worker.

 Labour minister, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode,(right) led the Nigerian delegation to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Labour minister, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode,(right) led the Nigerian delegation to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

“We appreciate also 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. The Inspectorate Staff in Nigeria are in permanent and pensionable employment.

They are career civil servants and not political appointees. Consequently, their tenure is independent of changes in Government, in keeping with Article 6 of Convention 81. The inspectors are, essentially, university graduates with a minimum of first degree in social sciences, arts, humanities, law, engineering, sciences and medicine. They are taken through an induction programme as soon as they are recruited and the training at that point includes exposure to the provisions of the Labour Act and the Factories Act – the two major legislations with wide ranging provisions for protection of workers’ rights, welfare, health and safety at work. It is pertinent to state that these two important legislations derive essentially from the ILO conventions which have already been ratified by Nigeria since we became a member of the ILO in 1 960.

The inspectorate staff are also taken through training in inspection procedures, inspection checklist etc. At intervals, they undergo refresher courses locally and also outside the country – At the ILO International Training Centre in Turin and at the African Regional Labour Administration Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe. In the last three years, a total of 380 Inspectorate Staff have undergone various forms of training to enhance their performance. Recently, 63 maritime labour inspectors were trained on ports and flagstate labour responsibilities. There are presently 550 Inspectors out of which 105 are women. The inspectors are distributed all over the 37 field offices (i.e. 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory). 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 have since been added to that number. Efforts are ongoing to recruit more inspectors. In order to complement the services of government inspectors, especially for specialised activities, certified experts are contracted for inspection of boilers, air receivers, pressure vessels, cranes and other lifting equipment. Independent consultants from one of our colleges of technology are used for the purpose of appraising and certifying this group of Inspectors.

The Inspectorate Staff in Nigeria also carry out specialized inspections on child labour, gender issues and labour conditions in the maritime sector. In order to improve coverage of labour inspection activities and motivate the inspectorate staff, project vehicles dedicated for inspection activities were purchased for all the 37 field offices and the level of fund allocation for inspection activities has been boosted to enable settlement of claims by the inspectorate staff. To further motivate the staff, they are given promotion as and when due.

“The inspectorate staff are empowered by the Factories Act to require alterations to an installation or plant and to stipulate period within which such alterations should be carried out to secure compliance with the legal provisions relating to the health and/or safety of the workers.

Our inspectorate staff are also empowered by national legislation to require measures with immediate executory force in the event of imminent danger to the health or safety of workers. We rely in the main on budgetary allocation from the Federal Government for the training of the 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.

Over the years, our reports have been communicated to the ILO on the work of the Inspectorate Department. The reports are usually derived from the mandatory reports submitted by the field offices. Information extracted from such reports is reflected in the International Labour Review of December 2008 which showed the estimated active working population per Labour Inspector in Nigeria between 2003 and 2006.

We have, however, received comments on the quality of the reports submitted which were described as not detailed or comprehensive enough. We recognize 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 in that area.

We therefore wish to restate our request for technical assistance in view of the demonstrable effect which such assistance has had in countries like Liberia, Bolivia, Cambodia and the CEMAC countries, to name a few. Beyond the training in report drafting/writing, we shall also appreciate technical assistance and training slots for our Inspectorate Staff and our social partners to enhance our inspection and monitoring activities.

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.”


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.