By Victor Ahiuma-Young
Recently, Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG in partnership with Friedrich Ebert Stifftung, FES, organised seminar on genders issues at workplaces for leaders of its women committee , Warri zone.
Among the resource persons was Vanguard Newspapers’ columnist and former Assistant Editor (Labour), Funmi Komolafe.
Mrs Komolafe, a veteran journalist of over three decades with bias for Labour, presented a paper on “Understanding gender issues and women’s rights in the workplace.”
In the paper, she gave insight among others, on issues confronting women in the workplace, zeroing on Violence at Work, Sexual harassment, Gender Discrimination, Maternity issues .
After a detail exposé of these issues with concrete examples, and implications for individuals and national development, she informed that “globally, these issues and several others are common in the workplace. They are not peculiar to developing or developed countries. Neither is there any work place that is immune from.
To address some of these challenges, she said fortunately, Nigeria has ratified the core conventions of the International Labour Organisation, ILO, and other Conventions as a basis for the enforcing the rights of women in the workplace. They include: *Convention 87 ( Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention ,1948 . Ratified on October 17, 1960 * Convention 98 ( Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949) Ratified October 17, 1960. * Convention 100 ( Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951) Ratified on May 8, 1974 * Nigeria has supported Convention 186 ( Maternity Protection Convention).
“In principle ,Nigeria for over 30 years, has included in the contract of employment, the right of a woman to maternity leave.
“In line with the ILO’s Exemption of Women from Certain Employment and Maternity Protection, Nigeria domesticated this stating, “ A woman is entitled to be absent from her work six weeks before her confinement is due and six weeks thereafter, if she produces a medical certificate to that effect. In such cases she is entitled to 50 percent of her wages regardless of her absence and cannot be given notice of dismissal during her absence. A woman must be allowed ½ an hour twice a day to nurse her baby during working hours”.
According to Komolafe, Nigeria had since moved beyond this to maternity leave with full pay.
“All disciplinary proceedings against any female staff which might have been taken during the period of maternity leave shall be put in abeyance till the expiration of the leave. Employers of labour are also barred from removal of women from work due to their marital or maternity status. Illegal labour migration, contract staffing and labour casualization which affects woman most, are being reformed through policies and regulations at national, bilateral and multilateral levels”.
Komolafe however stressed that despite all these, we still continue to experience the violations of women rights in workplace. We cannot continue to agonize, rather, we should take concrete steps to put an end to these actions that humiliate women in the workplace .”
Actualizing rights in workplace
According to him, education plays a major in the actualisation of rights at workplaces, warning “Without education, we cannot have knowledge. Without knowledge, we cannot claim our rights. Without education, women will continue to be victims of all types of vices in the workplace. Therefore, the trade unions have to educate female workers on their rights in the workplace. Such education must be simplified for the understanding of the average worker. Equipped with education, woman, you can demand your right. No one can claim what she is ignorant of. Therefore, the trade unions have a crucial role to play , which can only be successful with the cooperation of workers.
How to deal with gender issues
Suggesting how to deal with the issues, the minister for Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige admitted that there is still a lot to be done to actualize the rights of women in the work place, pointing out at the ILC that “ A lot needs to done in terms of putting in place, appropriate legislation, policies and practices to deal with the gender gaps that inhibit greater participation of women in the labour force.
The most effective method of eliminating gender inequality from the workplace lies in vigorous opposition to employers’ discriminatory conducts, policies and harassment in all forms wherever and whenever they occur. Women who fall victim to these abuses are encouraged to oppose such through legal actions and reporting to labour inspectors”.
In her welcome address, the chairperson NUPENG women Committee, Warri zone, Comrade Adesua Oribhabor said, “ It is common knowledge that women do not get involved in trade union activities as much as their male counter parts at the work place.This is a result of various challenges confronting them in the world of employment and their homes. These daunting challenges have been identified as responsible for low participation of women in union activities.
The representative of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Mrs. Remi Ihejirika said, “ the essence of the programme is to empower you as women . The ultimate is not the women’s committee. The ultimate is the main stream union but we need the women’s committee to discuss our own issues”.
She recalled the gesture of the union in accommodating FES when it was thrown out of the university of Lagos.
Comrade Olawale Afolabi, the deputy General Secretary of NUPENG, (Education) said the programme is a forum for exchanging ideas aimed at encouraging women to play leadership roles in the union.
The zonal chairman of NUPENG, Comrade Innocent Iyere told participants, with the training, they are expected to actualize what is being taught. Adding that at the end of the programme, participants should have a change of attitude towards life.