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June 23, 2024

Global body ranks Nigeria among chronic workers’ rights violators

"NLC, TUC have proposed N615,000 as new minimum wage"

•Report vindicates us – NLC

By Victor Ahiuma-Young

The International Trade Union Confederation, ITUC, representing 191 million workers in 169 countries and territories, with 340 national affiliates, including the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, has released its 2024 Global Rights Index, indicting Nigeria.

According to the report, Nigeria is ranked among Costa Rica, Finland, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Mexico, Qatar, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Switzerland for chronic violations of workers’ rights.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) said with the report, it has been vindicated by what it called the Federal Government’s unfaithfulness to the National Minimum Wage negotiation, among other things, saying, “Instances of non-compliance with labour laws, infidelity in honouring negotiated agreements, distorted and unfaithfulness in the tripartite national minimum wage negotiation process including delayed implementation of minimum wage adjustments, and inadequate enforcement of occupational health and safety standards highlight systemic failures”.

The minimum wage negotiation has been deadlocked with the Federal Government offering N62, 000 and Organised Labour, comprising NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), insisting on N252, 000 after initially quoting N615, 000 which many people considered unrealistic in view of the downturn in the nation’s economy.

The report of the negotiation committee is currently before President Bola Tinubu who is expected to break the deadlock.

The ITUC Global Rights Index is a comprehensive review of workers’ rights in law ranking 151 countries against a list of 97 indicators derived from ILO Conventions and jurisprudence, and, as such, is the only database of its kind.

It rates countries on a scale from 1 to 5+ based on the degree of respect for workers’ rights. Violations are recorded each year from April to March.

According to the ranking, “The 10 worst countries for working people are Bangladesh, Belarus, Ecuador, Egypt, Eswatini, Guatemala, Myanmar, the Philippines, Tunisia and Turkey.

“Twenty-two trade unionists were killed in six countries: Bangladesh, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, the Philippines, and the Republic of Korea. Conditions are so bad in 12 countries due to the breakdown of the rule of law that they are rated 5+.

“Only two countries have seen their rating improve in 2024: Romania has moved from 4 to 3 and Brazil is now rated 4, an improvement on 5 last year.

“Thirteen countries have worse ratings: Costa Rica, Finland, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Mexico, Nigeria, Qatar, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Switzerland and 87 percent of countries violated the right to strike. 79 percent of countries violated the right to collective bargaining. 75 percent of countries excluded workers from the right to establish or join a trade union.

“74 percent of countries impeded the registration of unions. In 65 percent of countries, workers had no or restricted access to justice. 43 percent of countries restricted free speech and assembly.
“Workers were arrested and detained in 74 countries. Workers experienced violence in 44 countries.”

Democracy, trade union, workers’ rights

Speaking on the report, ITUC General Secretary, Luc Triangle, said: “For 11 years now the Index has tracked a rapid decline in workers’ rights in every region of the world. Workers are the beating heart of democracy, and their right to be heard is crucial to the health and sustainability of democratic systems. When their rights are violated, democracy itself is attacked. Democracy, trade unions and workers’ rights go together; you simply cannot have one without the other.

“Despite a few modest improvements, the general picture shows a relentless attack on civil liberties, workers’ rights and the interests of working people. The Index tells the story of courageous workers and trade unionists who face grave dangers to improve the lives of their colleagues and defend democratic rights.

“This comes against the backdrop of a continuing, devastating cost-of-living crisis, technological disruption rapidly changing the world of work, and worsening global levels of violent conflict where working people face the catastrophic consequences of war.

“A truly democratic movement is the only way that these trends can be addressed, sustainably. A movement that crosses borders and sectors, ages and genders, races and religions and has the power, presence and accountability to change the balance of power in every workplace, country and global institution. Trade unions are that movement.”

‘We aren’t surprised’

Reacting to the ranking, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, said it was not surprised, saying it justified its fears of workers’ rights abuses in the country.

“NLC acknowledges the recent report by the ITUC, which places Nigeria among the 13 worst countries for workers’ rights”, it said.

“This ranking, though alarming, is a critical and necessary reflection of the ongoing struggles faced by Nigerian workers. It underscores the urgent need for comprehensive reforms to protect and uphold workers’ rights in Nigeria.

”The Nigerian government, entrusted with the regulation and protection of workplace relations thus workers’ rights, has frequently fallen short of its responsibilities.

“Instances of non-compliance with labour laws, infidelity in honouring negotiated agreements, distorted and unfaithfulness in the tripartite national minimum wage negotiation process including delayed implementation of minimum wage adjustments, and inadequate enforcement of occupational health and safety standards highlight systemic failures.

“Additionally, the repression of labour unions through legal and extra-legal means further exacerbates the plight of workers. The increasing use of violence, threats, harassment and intimidation rather than sane dialogue by the Government in Industrial relations engagements speak of the gravity of the situation in Nigeria. Strikes and peaceful protests are often met with heavy-handed responses, undermining workers’ fundamental rights to organize and demand better working conditions.

Unfair practices

Employers in both the public and private sectors have also contributed significantly to the abuse of workers’ rights. Practices such as unfair dismissals, non-payment of wages, and the exploitation of temporary and casual workers are rampant. Many employers fail to provide basic benefits, such as health insurance and pensions, leaving workers vulnerable and insecure. The lack of adherence to international labour standards not only harms workers but also diminishes overall productivity and economic stability. Refusal to allow the exercise of the fundamental rights of workers to collectively organise and bargain is on the increase as the government colludes with some powerful employers to deny workers the right to join unions of their choice.

The continued payment of starvation wages to Nigerian workers is a great abuse and deeply violates the rights of a worker to a decent income. The increased subjection of the Nigerian worker to a working poor strips him of his rights to humanity and thus denies him active participation in the nation’s socio-economy. The right to a fair equitable National Minimum Wage is key but has continually been abused in Nigeria’’.

Wake-up call

“The NLC strongly believes that the ITUC’s report should serve as a wake-up call for the Nigerian government and employers to take immediate and decisive action to rectify these injustices. We are harming ourselves as a nation if we continue treating workers the way they are being treated right now. The international community is watching and documenting it as the world is now a global village.

”There is, therefore, an urgent need to revise and enforce labour laws to ensure they meet international standards. This includes stringent penalties for violations and mechanisms to protect whistleblowers who report abuses.

”Agencies responsible for workplace rights protection and compliance must be adequately funded and staffed. Training for labour inspectors and the removal of the bottlenecks in workplace conflict resolutions is expedient.

“The right to unionize and bargain collectively must be protected and encouraged. Unions play a vital role in advocating for workers’ rights and improving workplace conditions. Constant tripartite workplace audits have become central.

”Employers both private and public must comply with minimum wage laws and provide essential benefits to all workers. This includes health insurance, pensions, and paid leave, which are critical for the well-being of workers and their families. Employers and the government must work together to create a culture that values workers as essential contributors to economic growth. This involves regular dialogue with labour unions and addressing grievances promptly and fairly.

Ranking understatement

“The NLC reiterates that the ranking by the ITUC, while alarming, is an understatement of the harsh realities faced by Nigerian workers. It is a call to action for the Nigerian government and employers to address these critical issues urgently. By implementing the recommended measures, Nigeria can create a more just and equitable work environment, conducive to decent work and increased productivity, ultimately benefiting the entire nation.

“The Government and other social partners in the Tripartite process can show commitment to redressing this poor ranking by agreeing to pay Nigerian workers a National Minimum Wage of N250,000 (Two hundred and Fifty thousand Naira) only as demanded by Nigerian workers and immediately prosecute all reported cases of abuses and violations of workers’ rights in our various workplaces.”

NLC added that it “remains committed to working collaboratively with all stakeholders to ensure that Nigerian workers’ rights including that of other workplace actors are respected and upheld, and that workplaces become beacons of fairness and productivity.”