For years now, the unemployment problem in Nigeria has left employers with so much leverage in the determination of the employees’ working condition and remuneration leaving the latter in an unduly helpless condition.
This has been compounded by the influence of corruption in high places and the ownership by government policy makers themselves of stakes in lucrative local and multinational businesses. It goes to explain why labour matters are treated with kid-gloves when we sadly make reference to some progressive countries which stand solidly behind their workers.
For instance, it’s no longer news that many corporate organizations like banks, multinational companies and even government organizations, contract the recruitment of their staff to third parties. Most involved are security contractors among others.
As a result, staff are grossly underpaid and without job security. In effect, all the labour laws enacted to protect the Nigerian worker are left impotent without effect.
Indeed, the latest outcry by the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers ( NUPENG ) that the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment is not making concrete efforts to wade into the protracted labour issues concerning the operations of the multinational oil and gas companies in the country underlines the point.
President of the Union, Comrade William Akporeha, believes that the Ministry appears overwhelmed by the ever changing and manipulative policies of these companies who never want to halt “precarious work” by employees.
The union is accusing Dutch oil giant, Shell of pioneering the practice of casualisation and precarious work in the Nigerian oil and gas industry and has stopped employing workers on permanent basis for the past 20 years.
The Union said, SHELL alone has close to 2000 contractors with over 20,000 precarious workers from their three subsidiaries of SNEPCo, SPDC and SNG, without a single direct staff member of NUPENG in SHELL Nigeria.
Besides that, Shell continuously frustrates union activities in their contracting companies which run their contractual policies, ranging from six to 12 months.
As a result of the casual/contract employment policy by these multinational companies, workers are denied collective bargaining power and in some instances, where a Collective Bargaining Agreement is signed, the all-powerful multinationals through their contractors, refuse to implement despite all entreaties.
Because of this, Contractors to these IOCs wickedly elope with contract workers severance benefits despite the fact that “they are constantly exposed to hazardous chemical, no personal protective equipment, no access to medical facility, no annual vacation, no insurance cover, long hours of work with no time off from work”.
The repressive anti-labour activities of these multinational oil and gas companies often led to the social upheavals in the Niger Delta region in the form of organized attacks on installations and hostage taking which spread to other parts of the country.
In view of this, we urge the Federal Government through the labour ministry to see itself as the first line of defence for the Nigerian worker everywhere as is done by other labour-friendly nations given the multiplier effect to the economy. No sane people allow their nation’s resources to be pillaged and still abandons its citizens to illegal exploitation.
We should see this primarily as an insult on the integrity of our nation first and act accordingly.
The right thing for the labour ministry is to shift forward beyond the advisory and negotiative role and defend it’s countrymen by aligning with trade unions in taking comprehensive inventory of employers of labour and ensure the implementation of agreements binding employers and employees.
Nigerian government like it’s South African counterpart, should see labour as a friend in the battle for the rights of it’s nationals as passitivity in the face of injustice amounts to dereliction of its constitutional duty.