Some organisations, public and private, are hanging perilously in the air, waiting to drop dead, and die they will, except urgent steps are taken. The idea we have here will benefit from predictions:
There are some media outfits in Nigeria. Some day, soon, their General Manager will be picked form among the casual workers. The Editor-in-Chief will be a youth corps member, and down the line, every worker in the establishment will be a contract staff or temporary employee, by whatever name called.
This much we owe to government policy of attrition — workers are leaving, dying and retiring but they are not being replaced. Rather, establishments have conveniently chosen the path of casualisation, which is cheaper in the short run but hopelessly more expensive and destructive in the long run.
We are now busy mortgaging the future of our labour force to casualisation. The practice of casualisation is pervasive. At the local government level, there is what they call “hire and fire”. Under this scheme, some highly unskilled staff are employed on a paltry wage of some N3000 a month. They are to be found as auxiliary workers at the health centres. They do all the dirty jobs and get the peanuts.
Incidentally, too, the Youth Employment Schemes, YES, that they parade at the state and federal levels are all euphemisms for casualisation. There is really no alternative to a regular employment where the employee can take part in union activities and fully express his constitutional rights of free movement and association.
The major industries have since arrived here. The practice at that level is to farm out the major operations - production, bottling, security, catering, etc- to the Shylocks around who in turn, take advantage of the heavy unemployment in the system to engage these youths and pay them slave wages while they work under conditions that are sometimes not good enough even for lower animals.
The banks are the worst culprits. The young girls are employed under what passes for corporate prostitution scheme. Whereas in government, contract staff are older people who have worked and retired from the system but either because of their competence and the essential nature of their assignments, they cannot be easily dispensed with, they are therefore retained on a small stipend; the banks engage their employees as contract staff right from the very beginning. These contract staff are expendable at will. They are also paid slave wages while the employments last and it is only the lucky ones among them that ever get elevated to the permanent status.
We cannot continue to take everything out on labour. Over the years, tariffs have risen astronomically and the general cost of production has also skyrocketed. The easiest way out for most organisations has been to cut down on employment by resorting to casualisation. This is unacceptable.
Under the employment statistics, a casual worker is an unemployed person. He is supposed to take the temporary job while looking for a permanent one. But what do we find in Nigeria? Some casual workers have remained so for upwards of 20 years. After some time, they get used to their misfortune and they therefore live and die as casual workers, under the illusion that they are real workers.
For them, it is work, work and work. They end up dying in penury — no health facilities, no retirement and its benefits, no housing, no houses, no homes. Their journey through life has been one of suffering and smiling.
From time, organised labour in the construction sector has been crying out that the abuse of expatriate quota and casualisation are killing the industry and denying Nigerians of jobs. There is a complete disregard of the Nigeria Content Development Act and a refusal by most employers from China, Korea and other Asian countries to respect our labour laws. In the educational sector, many institutions — public and private — are now resorting to the use of auxiliary teachers. What we are now faced with is modern day slavery and exploitation.
The saddest aspect of it all is that we are not even developing for the future, the type of vibrant labour force which we inherited from our founding fathers. In the past, a man was either employed or unemployed — no hangers-on and no midway. Without the necessary training and development, who would blame this casual employee if one day he sends out a circular, signed on behalf of the Chief Executive that “two Communities is fighting”? A nation gets the type of public service it deserves and it is easy to foresee the type of public service we are bequeathing to the future.
If we must survive the apocalypse ahead, the buck must stop with the labour unions. The problem is real and urgent. It is no longer enough for the labour unions to watch on and only call out their members on strike if the salary arrives late. They must be interested in the full structure and welfare of the hangers-on. The problem at hand is pressing and should not be left for when you pop champaign at annual general meetings.
The unions must constantly be on the neck of the legislators to put in place definite regulatory framework to revive this dying labour force. We cannot continue like this. Contract and casual employments must be viewed as crimes against humanity. Those jobs are exploitative and dehumanizing. Our laws must ensure fair and sufficient compensation as well as good welfare packages for all categories of workers through unrestricted legitimate rights to union activities, collectives bargaining and other statutory engagements. These cannot be achieved by cheap shots but by consistent engagements with the lawmakers.
It is relatively easy to enact laws but implementation is where the major problem lies. The labour unions must also be constantly on the throats of the various organisations to ensure full compliance. Until every situation stabilises, the courts cannot also be at rest. Casualisation should not be allowed to kill this country!