One issue that was discussed at the recent three-day retreat on the review of the National Labour Bills was how to curb the use of casual workers by employers in both public and private sectors. Often, employers have been accused of casualising workers in utter disregard for Nigerian labour laws. Consequently, the Federal Government has warned that henceforth, employers that indulge in such practice would face the wrath of the law. Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, said the present administration is determined to defend every Nigerian worker whose employer fails to ratify his or her employment after six months, but not exceeding one year as stipulated by law.
He, therefore, urged any casual worker who has overstayed in any organisation to report such case to the ministry. He also advised them not to be afraid to do so for fear of losing their jobs.
The government’s renewed effort to end casualisation of labour is coming on the heels of threats by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), to picket banks, telecommunication companies, oil firms and construction companies that indulge in the employment of casual workers. Labour said the planned picketing would begin if the affected organisations truncate the ongoing negotiation being supervised by the Ministry of Labour and Employment.
We support every effort to end casualisation of workers. The practice contravenes relevant provisions of Nigerian Labour law as well as the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention. It is sad that companies owned by foreigners are allegedly maltreating workers in terms of poor wages, lack of social security and capital flight. Specifically, casual employment is against the provisions of section 7(1) Labour Act, Cap 198 Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1990. Among other things, it provides, “not later than three months after the beginning of a worker’s period of employment with an employer, the employer shall give to the worker a written statement specifying the terms and conditions of employment, which include the nature of the employment and if the contract is for a fixed term, the date when the contract expires.”
The Act also forbids the employment of workers beyond three months window without employment letter detailing the conditions of service among other provisions of the Act. However, in virtually all sectors of the economy, this law is breached by employers. In many private and public establishments, workers overstay far beyond the prescribed period without confirmation of their appointments. Casualisation of labour is a euphemism for modern slavery and should not be acceptable.
It leads to job insecurity, poor working conditions, low and uncertain wages, long hours of work without overtime payment and denial of sick leave and maternity leave for women. Casualisation can also lead to poor health and non-payment of compensation for injuries sustained at work, arbitrary deduction and non-remittance of pension, denial of right to form union and bargain collectively among others.
While there may be few instances where short-term jobs like three months to six months may apply, keeping a worker for months on end or years as a casual worker, smacks of insensitivity and wickedness on the part of the employer and should be condemned. Not quite long ago, the NLC carried out picketing of some telecom providers in Lagos, Ibadan and Abuja to draw attention to the evils of casualisation of labour. Despite that, many establishments that engage in such practice have not stopped. There is urgent need to strengthen our labour laws in order to discourage the phenomenon. We also call for stiffer sanctions against organisations that engage casual workers.
Apart from being dehumanising, casualisation of labour is humiliating. It is servitude to say the least. In some climes, like the United States, where casual employment still exist in some form, this category of workers even earn more than some regular or permanent staff. But that is not so in Nigeria. So bad is the situation in the country that at many International Labour Conferences, Nigeria has always come under severe criticism for violating some ILO Conventions. Casualisation is nothing but “use and discard,” and should not be allowed to continue in a decent society. Henceforth, all employers of Labour should grant full employment and benefits to their employees. We, therefore, urge the National Assembly to enact stricter laws against casualisation of labour. Exploitation of workers by employers should no longer be tolerated.