By VICTOR AHIUMA-YOUNG
RECENTLY, IndustriAll Global Union affiliates in Nigeria gathered at the National Secretariat of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, Lagos, at a one day workshop to mark the World Day for Safety and Health.
At the event that attracted not only labour leaders and workers, but officials of Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity, Lagos, office, speakers bemoaned the worsening safety concerns at workplaces in Nigeria and called for greater commitment and strengthening campaigns for the prevention of health and safety hazards at work.
Work related accidents
Delivering the lead paper, General Secretary of the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria, NUTGWN, and Executive Committee Member and Chairperson Industrial Global Union, Africa Region, Comrade Issa Aremu, noted International Labour Organisation, ILO, statistics indicated that “one worker dies every 15 seconds worldwide, 6000 workers die every day and more than two million workers die annually as a result of work related accidents and diseases.
In fact, increasingly more people die at work than at wars. Beyond job related deaths, each year, there are some 268 million non-fatal workplace accidents; the victims miss at least 3 days of work as a result, as well as 160 million new cases of work related illnesses.
The statistics are simply grim and certainly unacceptable.”““But the danger is not abating, technological and social changes along with global economic crisis are aggravating existing health hazards and creating new risks. The ILO estimates that occupational accidents and diseases result in annual 4 per cent loss in global gross domestic product (GDP) or about 2.8 trillion US dollars in direct and indirect cost of injuries and diseases.
In Pakistan and Bangladesh, several hundreds of workers in textile and garment factories were lost to workplace accidents. The worst ever industrial accident in Bangladesh has just killed more than 200 garment workers with fears of a final death toll reaching 1,000 as hundreds remain injured and trapped in the debris.“Sanction for employers.
“While calling for a severe sanction for employers who turn work places into industrial mortuaries, Aremu said workplaces in Nigeria “are increasingly becoming killing fields of working people. In recent years, there had been pockets of safety disasters as in the case of Boiler explosion in a Distillery company in Otta in which two young workers lost their lives.
“We recall the pains and agony of scores of workers who were consumed in the Ikorodu Fire incident about a decade ago. There are several cases of bodily injuries some reported to the Union and several others happening in non-unionised workplaces with very little support and compensation for the affected workers.
Just recently, a staff of Dura Pack, a Chinese-owned Lagos-based company that produces nylon bags, died, as a result of electric shock while carrying out a repair work in the company. We wholeheartedly condemn this industrial murder by employers that disregard minimum safety standards at work.”
““We support the workers’ demand for adequate compensation for the family of the diseased. We call on the Federal government to sanction employers who turn work places into industrial mortuaries! We must also learn to come out to picket murderous employers and even demand for their prosecution because it is criminal to expose workers to avoidable hazards and dangers because of profit making.
“Often we hear that Gunmen in northern Nigeria have attacked places of worships. But we must know that increasingly workplaces have also been attacked by these unknown forces. Having attacked a camp belonging to a construction company, killing a guard in Bauchi state recently it was also confirmed that other kidnapped seven foreign workers from Britain, Greece, Italy and Lebanon, have been killed.
As affiliates of Industrial Global Union, we demand strong international Health and Safety standards. We note that healthy and safe workplaces rest on the tripod of respect for workers rights, employers’ commitment to its obligation and supportive legislations and policies by governments. On this occasion we restate our collective commitment to strengthen workplace action in promoting and fighting for health and safety issues.”
“Synergy between labour, NSITF
“He commend the Federal government under President Goodluck Jonathan over the enactment of the Employees Compensation Act, ECA 2010, but noted however that “the benefit of the new legislation cannot come alive except we are determined to work together to promote health and safety standards at work.
ECA is about compensation for injury at work. The emphasis really should be on prevention of accidents. There must be increased synergy between the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund, NSITF, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity, particularly the Factories inspectorate division and the relevant departments in the ministry of health, and the employers in promoting health and safety education, awareness and healthy and safe work practices.“Report industrial accidents
Speaking, Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity, called on organized labour in the country to report workplace accidents to appropriate authorities for necessary action prevent regular occurrence.
Controller of the Ministry, Lagos, Alhaja Nofisat Arogundade, who represented the ministry, said unions should keep statics of accidents and diseases and report same when they occurred to ensure that the incident did not repeat itself.
According to her “Union leaders’ should have proper documentation. We want the employers and employees to make issues of safety and prevention of occupational diseases at workplace a collective bargaining issues. If the employees or union make complaint to the ministry the issue will be taken up and necessary measures put in place to avoid recurrence.’’
Arogundade said it was regrettable that the law on workplace accident was weak but it was time for the unions to rise up to enable government take proactive step on the issue, noting that for the wealth and economy of the country to grow and develop, the health of workers should be protected.
Speaking, Oladele Hunsu, President, National Union Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria, NUTGTWN, condemned employers who disregarded minimum safety standard.
He said that workplaces in Nigeria had become a regular scene of accidents and that labour must call for prosecution of such employers, saying “apart from lack of electricity and smuggling, lack of safety at work is also leading to collapse of industries especially in some parts of the country.’’
He called for international health and safety standard because healthy and safe workplaces rest the tripod of respect for the right of workers and urged employers to support legislation and policies by governments to strengthen work place action in the promotion and fight for health and safety.
In his remark, Mr Ola Joseph, General Secretary, Food, Beverage and Tobacco Senior Staff Association, FOBTOB, said that urged the inspectorate division of the Ministry of Labour to acquaint themselves with diseases affecting workers and how to prevent them.
He appealed to the ministry to fund the inspectorate to enable them inspect factories and write report.