Will modern slavery really end in Nigeria?

(By Dami Adeoye)

The desire expressed by the House of Representatives late last year that it wants the Executive arm of Government to urgently address the issues of casualisation, contract staffing and expatriate quota was lauded as a step in the right direction. Months later, this wish many hoped would help curb these issues that have been described as slavery in modern times is still a mere desire as there is no significant change.

 IN retrospect, Nigeria’s story depicts that of the Midianites reaping from the sweat of the Isrealites in the Bible. This is because many people wonder why the citizens of a country with vast wealth should continue to wallow in abject poverty, considering the fact that each of the 36 states of the Federation is blessed with one or more mineral resources. Foreigners also wonder why Nigerians emigrate in droves abroad to become hewers of wood and drawers of water; citizens of a country where they come to live like kings and queens.

Not a few thereby heaved a sigh of relief when the House of Representatives announced sometime late last year that it wants the Executive arm of government to quickly address the issues of casualisation, contract staffing and expatriate quota which continue to rear their ugly heads due to the high rate of unemployment and poverty in the country.

Casualisation is a form of work practice whereby a person works without the full benefits an employee is entitled to get; he only gets stipends agreed on with his employer at the outset of employment.

The alarming rate of unemployment in the country, and the despondency resulting from inability to afford a good standard of living lead people to become casual workers as a last resort. Also, some in a bid to assuage hunger and avoid idleness earn stipends barely able to sustain them. A majority of these workers endanger their lives working in factories where chemicals that are inimical to their health are used. In the occurrence of an accident, no proper or adequate medical care is given to them since they are not recognised and given the full benefits entitled to an employee. There is no job security and they are often exploited and cheated through irregular salaries and responsibilities not aligned with their posts. They get laid off and replaced by the management whenever it suits them even if they have spent years working for the organisation. Their employers threaten them with the situation of unemployment in the country, and they are reminded at every given opportunity that they are fortunate to be employed as casual workers in the first place. As a result, these workers conform to everything incongruous doled out to them for fear of being sacked; as they resolve to the sayings, “Half a loaf is better than no bread’’ and “beggars can’t be choosers.”

In the same vein, there is no disparity between casualisation and contract staffing as far as exploitation is concerned. Contract staffs are regarded as third parties because their jobs are based on contract. A contractor deals with them directly and not the owners of the organisation. The contractor employs, trains and pays their salaries. They have no access to incentives given to a full member of staff of the organisation. They do not have a stake at pensions, gratuities, loans, staff buses, medical care, official houses and cars etc. They can also be retrenched at anytime by their employers because there is no job security unless fought by the company’s labour union. It is therefore not unusual to see labour union members clamouring for more benefits for these workers.

According to findings, there is segregation in organisations that have contract staff and direct staff who are the recognised members of staff of the organisation. This breeds resentments in the work place which is not a good work ethic.

Some local and foreign employers are guilty of maltreating their workers. In some multinational companies, Nigerians are paid lower than their foreign counterparts. Foreign employers based in other countries may be aware of this or not. On the other hand, workers in these firms have accused their Nigerian bosses of complicity with the foreign ones, to rip them of their full benefits and entitlements.

Discrimination in the workplace did not just start today; in fact, it has been on since independence. A foremost politician who experienced it had said, “While a foreigner could arrive and walk in to a furnished house, have a chauffeur-driven car on the first day of his employment, a Nigerian supposedly much more senior to him and quite obviously, much more qualified, must wait for six months to be confirmed before he could have a car loan – not even an official car. The question of company house did not even arise at that time for the Nigerian staff.” He went further by quoting his expatriate boss as saying, “This company belongs to us and our people. Its location in your country is a mere accident of geography. We’ll always do what we want to do here. And, mark you that will not change for a 100 years. People like you may read all the books in the world but companies like these were not founded by your people. If you cannot thank God about the opportunity we give people like you, you can do me the greatest pleasure of leaving my office.” Apparently, his boss was right because this scenario is still playing itself in the country today even as Nigeria prepares her centenary celebrations designed around key concepts of unity, indivisibility, virility, progress and promise of the Nigerian Federation. It also has the vision to project a progressive and respected nation eager to lead in world affairs.

In Nigeria, a foreigner or an indigenous person with connections in high places that has a Diploma certificate could supersede a Nigerian staff with a PhD in the work place; with huge difference in their salaries. This kind of maltreatment may not end soon because most of the thriving multinational companies are owned by the elite and foreigners who have the expertise and advanced technology.

Some years back, it was unheard of that graduates would be employed to do menial jobs. But today, they are gladly employed as gatekeepers, cleaners, drivers etc.

This may sound incredulous yet it is true, especially when illiterate employers deride their educated employees that they wasted years studying. This pathetic situation makes one lachrymose considering the fact that parents strove to send their children to school. With the present situation of unemployment in the country, respite may not come soon for these graduates of a country that boasts as the Giant of Africa and one of the top producers of petroleum in the world.

A lot of people have blamed these issues on government for not taking proper actions on stipulated laws, and the high rate of unemployment which leads to poverty and crime; the rigours and vagaries of unemployment have made many youths become vicious. One wonders what the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) is doing to make sure that laws governing exploitation of workers are well implemented even at the remotest work place. For example, the law says a worker should work for eight hours, but some employers make them work for more and if they complain, they are sacked immediately.

“Casualisation and contract staffing should be eliminated. Expatriates working in the country encourage foreign investments which are good for the economy, but the quota should be checked so they would not mine all the gold and cart them away,” says Nini Smith, a social analyst.

However, it is really tragic for someone to spend most of his years working for an organisation where there is no job security; no gratuity, and pension scheme or better still, nothing tangible to show for his years of labour.

If this administration can put an end to these vile sufferings of Nigerian citizens involved, it would be a laudable effort.

(By Dami Adeoye )

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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