THERE is little doubt that the failure of countries like Nigeria to empower individuals through decent work was one of the key factors behind the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the United Nations General Assembly(UNGAS) in New York in September 2015.
It is remarkable that 'Decent Work and Economic Growth', which is goal number 8 of the SDGs specifically encourages all UN-member countries, including Nigeria to do more to empower individuals through the promotion of development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation.
Indeed, SDG-8, which promotes inclusive and sustainable employment as well as decent work for all, is meant to set a new path to economic growth for a country like Nigeria which has about 112 million people living in poverty and over 20 million people without jobs.Targets of SDG-8
The targets for SDG-8 are as follows:
Pillars of decent work
- To sustain per capita economic growth in accordance with national circumstances and, in particular, at least 7 percent gross domestic product growth per annum in the least developed countries.
- Achieve higher levels of economic productivity through diversification, technological upgrading and innovation, including through a focus on high-value added and labour-intensive sectors.
- Promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage the formalization and growth of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, including through access to financial services.
- Improve progressively, through 2030, global resource efficiency in consumption and production and endeavour to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, in accordance with the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production, with developed countries taking the lead.
- By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value.
- By 2020, substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training.
- Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.
- Protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment.
- By 2030, devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products.
- Strengthen the capacity of domestic financial institutions to encourage and expand access to banking, insurance and financial services for all.
- Increase Aid for Trade support for developing countries, in particular least developed countries, including through the Enhanced Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Technical Assistance to Least Developed Countries.
- By 2020, develop and operationalize a global strategy for youth employment and implement the Global Jobs Pact of the International Labour Organization.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) recognizes that concept of decent work as a leeway for the creation of opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration. It also enables workers to actively participate in decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment of all women and men.
In fact, decent work is a tool for poverty reduction and equitable globalization and is achieved through four pillars, namely:
Decent work deficits in Nigeria
- Employment creation and enterprise development: This covers measures that promote 'employment-rich' growth and pro-poor growth. It also encompasses programmes and policies that enhance productivity; macroeconomic and fiscal policies that aid employment growth; creating an environment conducive for employment activity; linking trade policies to employment; promoting education and training; addressing youth employment and employability; and adopting policies that help improve the management and governance of labour migration.
- Social protection: This pillar encompasses policies that provide safety nets, thereby reducing the level of risk to workers' lives, health and well-being. It embraces social security and unemployment benefits; basic health provision for rural and informal workers (including occupational health and policies addressing HIV); social transfers and cash benefits for those not able to work or too old or too young to work; development of policies that address fairness at work; and promotion of pension systems.
- Standards and rights at work: This pillar relates to measures that promote compliance with fundamental principles and rights at work.
- Governance and social dialogue: This refers to activities that promote social dialogue between government, employers, and workers, including institution building; labour law reform and strengthening enforcement; promoting collective bargaining; and strengthening dialogue and consultation processes.
Since the Nigerian leader, President Muhammadu Buhari joined other world leaders to endorse SDG-8 as one of the 17 global goals; Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in the country have been collaborating with the labour unions to safeguard the basic rights and interest of workers in the country through decent work and economic growth. This is because Nigeria has continued to record decent work deficits.
It is on record that Nigeria has over the years has ratified a total of 40 International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions that deal with the rights of workers in the workplace. However, the country is famous for ratifying conventions that are crucial to the wellbeing of workers but successive administrations in Nigeria easily violate the conventions with impunity. Apart from government, transnational corporations, global financial institutions as well as private employers who are supposed to respect these rights, are also key violators.
Nigeria has therefore continued to record decent work deficits which include employment and labour market deficits, labour standard deficits, deficits in social protection, labour administration deficits and social dialogue deficits.Employment and labour market deficits
Nigeria has had a decade of jobless growth in which years of economic growth have not translated to more employment opportunities or poverty alleviation. For instance, the labour force in Nigeria has not reflected the impressive level of economic growth experienced from 2005 to 2013.While the economy recorded an average of 9.8 percent growth in its GDP per annum between 2008 and 2010, the official unemployment rate for the working population ranged from 12 to 15 percent between 2002 and 2007.
This trend of "jobless growth" was captured in the 2009 World Bank report on Employment and Growth in Nigeria. Currently, half of the country's 170 million people live in urban areas with high rates of unemployment. The high level of unemployment was demonstrated when about 18 job seekers died and many were injured during a nationwide recruitment test conducted by the Nigeria Immigration Service in March 2014.
Poverty in Nigeria has been exacerbated by the persistently high unemployment levels. According to the recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria's unemployment rate increased to 18.80 percent in the third quarter of 2017 from 16.20 percent in the second quarter of 2017. Unemployment rate in Nigeria averaged 10.63 percent from 2006 until 2017, reaching an all time high of 19.70 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009 and a record low of 5.10 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010.
The Nigerian government seems not to have regard for target 6 of SDG-8 to reduce substantially "the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training" with about 42 million in the youth age bracket of 25-44 years unemployed, according to National Bureau of Statistics (2016). It is therefore not surprising that thousands of Nigerian youths have been travelling abroad at all cost to eke out a living but ending up doing precarious menial jobs. Some travel irregularly and become a prey in the hands of human rights violators such as human traffickers.
The increase in the unemployment rate is attributed to a number of factors. Some of the factors include, the increased number of school graduates with no matching job opportunities, a freeze in employment by institutions, the crash in the capital market and continued job losses in the manufacturing and oil sectors.
Another contributing factor to the unemployment situation is the limited employability of the workforce. This is due to the fact that graduates and young people lack training opportunities and to the level of skill required in the world of work. Apart from this, the training available and the curricula of technical vocational institutions are obsolete and do not reflect current market requirements.
In addition, employment and human resource planning functions are not developed adequately to equip the nation to face the challenges of the present labour market.Labour standards deficits
Nigeria has ratified 40 ILO conventions, of which 35 are currently in force, including all eight core conventions.
However, the country is yet to ratify a number of conventions that are crucial to addressing decent work deficits in the labour market and the critical challenge of poverty and social exclusion, particularly within the context of prevailing economic difficulties. These include ILO conventions C122, C129, C150 relating to labour market governance; C102 dealing with social security; C181 on Private Employment Agencies and C189 which focuses on domestic workers. Even though Nigeria ratified the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 in 2013, it has not been domesticated.
Many Nigerians in employment in public and private sectors receive poor remuneration. For those in public sector, their take-home-pay is not commensurate with the efforts they put in. While the average Nigerian civil servant earns merely N18, 000 as minimum wage the political leaders especially the senators and members of the House of Representative are living in opulence. Workers in the private sector are worse off as the casualization mechanism of the workforce has dealt a great blow on the poor workers. Horrendous stories of occupational hazards leading to maiming and dismemberment of workers are deafening. Some are hospitalized for months as a result of job-related causes and are abruptly laid off while others often meet rough deaths while their employers seem not to be bothered in violation of labour laws.
Besides, some labour laws that were reviewed more than a decade ago are still pending at the National Assembly. Consequently, many greedy and lawless indigenous and multinational employers continue to take delight in violating labour standards to their own selfish advantages.Deficits in social protection
The social protection model adopted by Nigeria in 2005 declares that the goal of social protection in the country "is to reduce poverty and protect vulnerable groups through effective and sustainable management mechanism."
The specific objectives are to:
• Assist the population who are poor to get out of poverty;
• Protect the vulnerable against poverty;
• Provide income support to the poorest, especially the sick, disabled and retirees;
• Increase the enrolment and attendance rates of poor students in school;
• Address short-term employment needs by developing skills and competences.
However, several components of the social protection model are yet to be fully deployed in Nigeria. The country has not lived up to expectation when it comes to enacting and implementing policies which provide a safety net that will reduce the level of risk to workers' lives, health and well-being, as well as offer social security and address HIV/AIDS.
The plight of people aged 60 and above who have retired from formal salary or wage employment, self-employment or other forms of work such as small scale farmers and artisans, is pitiable. This is due to the absence of any meaningful policy or practice of social security for this group of Nigerians. Indirectly, this puts the welfare of several other dependants who rely on the fortune of these retirees to eke out a living for themselves in jeopardy. With the prevailing economic difficulties in the country, pensioners in many states of the federation are being owed arrears of their pension payments.
The situation is the same for informal sector workers who account for about 70 percent of the workforce in Nigeria. The future and retirement life of most of these workers who have no organised pension plan remains a cause for concern.
In terms of protection for the vulnerable, the country has not fared better. For example, there are no unemployment benefits for persons with disabilities. Nigeria's HIV epidemic is described as generalised (above one percent prevalence among those attending antenatal care facilities) with a wide variation of prevalence within the country. The figure given for Nigerians living with HIV/AIDS – 3,459,363 – out of an estimated total population of 170 million Nigerians, means that Nigeria has the second highest HIV burden in the world and the largest in the West African sub-region. The 2012 estimate showed an adult prevalence of 4.1 per cent. However, the 2015 report by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) showed that HIV among adults in the country was 3.1 or 3.2 million people. The key drivers of the epidemic in Nigeria include the low perception of personal risk, multiple concurrent sexual partners, chronic poverty and the persistence of HIV-related stigma and discrimination.
In 2013, the ILO supported the Nigerian government and its social partners to revise its out-dated National Workplace Policy on HIV and AIDS and its implementation guidelines to meet the International Labour Standard concerning HIV and AIDS. Although a national workplace policy on HIV and AIDS exists, there is no comprehensive programme on HIV and AIDS which covers all elements of the world of work.
Deficits identified include the continued stigma and discrimination against those infected and affected by HIV as well as lack of HIV and AIDS interventions in the workplace with focus on vulnerable sectors.
Besides, Nigeria is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation. Within Nigeria, women and girls are trafficked for domestic servitude and commercial sexual exploitation. A 2010 survey of the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) showed that over 10,000 Nigerians were engaged in prostitution in Italy, constituting 60 percent of all prostitutes in the Italian sex market.
Child labour is most predominant in Nigeria among African nations, with an average of 28.8 percent of the under-15 years population engaged in child labour. In many parts of the country, boys are trafficked for forced labour in street vending, agriculture, mining, stone quarries and as domestic servants. In Northern Nigeria, religious teachers traffic boys, called almajiri, for forced begging.Labour administration deficits
The Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment is charged with the responsibility of ensuring effective labour administration. The objective of labour administration is to strengthen labour standards and practice in all sectors, especially in the weak sectors, to ensure minimum levels of protection for vulnerable groups. Thus, all aspects of the ministry's mandate are covered in labour administration.
However, there are major gaps in achieving the goals that labour administration espouses. Decent work deficits in labour administration include capacity gaps in training for factory and labour inspection, and in funding of monitoring services. Until recently, factory and labour inspection continued to attract very low budgetary allocations in spite of Nigeria's ratification of Convention 81 on labour inspection.
Infringement of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining has become more rampant. Often, victimised groups do not seek state intervention, especially in the informal economy because they fear further victimization by the employer. The Ministry of Labour and Employment appears to lack the capacity to sanction offending employers, and indeed, its structure and processes suggest that the ministry has neither the mandate nor the capacity to sanction factory owners with substandard labour practices.Social dialogue deficits
The social dialogue pillar in Nigeria consists of a network of actors and the institutions they have established for the promotion of joint discussion, negotiation or determination of issues that confront the social partners either within the place of work, or even outside it when the object of is the resolutions of identified conflicts.
In terms of workers' organizations, there are two main umbrella bodies in Nigeria – the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC).
Forms of social dialogue in Nigeria include collective bargaining, which is bipartite, and cooperation among government, employers' organizations and workers' organizations in formulating or implementing labour, social or economic policy, which is tripartite. Tripartite-plus dialogue involves all stakeholders such as the host community, non-governmental agencies, civil society and the three arms of government (executive, legislative and the judiciary)as well as workers' organizations and employers' organizations.
Other efforts at social dialogue involve the Nigeria Employers' Consultative Association (NECA) which has been conducting seminars and training programmes on business development and growth as well as labour market dialogues. Collective bargaining is quite effective in Nigeria, especially in the private sector where trade unions and employers or employers' associations have shown a visible commitment to the sanctity of collective agreements.
However, the system of collective bargaining in the public sector does not encourage appointed bargaining agents to secure firm commitment from their government counterparts by signing draft agreements. This often leads to delay in the ratification process, with resulting social dialogue deficits.
Social dialogue deficits in Nigeria are noticeable in the following areas:
• Low rate of unionism in the informal economy, even though approximately 70 percent of the workforce is in this sector;
• Low union density in the formal sector;
• Anti-union stance of some employers in spite of the ratification of freedom of association and collective bargaining conventions;
• Tendency of the state to introduce non-inclusive reforms (i.e. without reference to other interested or affected parties, such as labour and host communities);
• Absence of values that are accepted by all sides to inspire dialogue in good faith.
CSO-Labour collaboration in demanding for decent work
Worried by the negative impact of decent work deficits on the Nigerian workers, the CSOs have been collaborating with the major labour unions –the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) to campaign for decent work and the creation of employment opportunities.
Collectively they have been making concerted efforts to pressure the Nigerian government to sign the conventions that address decent work deficits especially those geared towards poverty alleviation, curbing occupational hazards, indecent work environment and social exclusion through human rights-based approaches.
Some of the vital roles of civil society organizations and labour leaders to guarantee decent work in Nigeria as follows:
• Supporting the move to adopt a realistic basic global level of social protection as set out in the ILO's Social Protection Floor Initiative;
• Organising and giving voice to workers and other vulnerable groups in their call for equity and decent livelihoods; and in holding governments and the international community to account when they fail to implement the legislation, policies and funding to which they have committed.
• Raising awareness among workers of their rights so that they can claim and exercise them;
• Getting workers organized by bringing together unorganized and isolated workers (in cooperative and/or trade unions) and supporting them in gaining official recognition as interlocutors so that they can fully participate in pushing for the development and implementation of a basic level of social protection;
• Advocating for and supporting legislative changes; and monitoring the implementation of national laws and international commitments (for example, ratified ILO Conventions) and holding governments to account when they fail to deliver on commitments.
Protest against unfair labour practices
CSOs in Nigeria have always rallied behind labour unions while protesting against unfair labour practices.
Indeed, the World Day for Decent Work (WDDW) which is marked on October 7, every year, has become an avenue for the CSOs and the labour unions to unite in campaigning against all forms of violations of the rights of workers.
For instance, during the 2017 Word Day of Decent Work (WDDW), some CSOs and labour unions took to the streets of Lagos to protest increasing casualization of workers, outsourcing, contract staffing and the anti-union posture by employers among other perceived unfair labour practices.
Among the CSOs who joined labour unions in the protest are the Joint Action Front (JAF), Campaign for Workers Democratic Rights (CWDR) and the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM). The protesters carried various placards with inscriptions such as "Stop casual and contract work"; "respect workers rights"; "Equal pay for equal work", "Just and humane conditions of work", "Improved health and safety conditions, "There should be respect for freedom of association" and "Respect for collective bargaining", among others.
Comrade Issa Aremu, General Secretary, National Union of Garment and Textile Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWN) reminded the protesters that the struggle for decent work is historical. He recalled that workers in colonial employment in the mines, railway and colonial public service were poorly paid, discriminated against and denied the right to unionism. He expressed concern that there is a new form of colonialism in which employers are destroying the many gains of the workers struggle. "Employers now engage workers on temporary basis without good pay, good conditions of work, good health and safety provision, social protection and without the right to belong to workers'union," he said.
Comrade Abiodun Aremu, Secretary of JAFsaid that the campaign to stop precarious work is critical in the struggle to restore the right of workers to organize and join the labour union as the basis for collective bargaining and social dialogue.
A year earlier, on October 7, 2016, pro-labour CSOs and labour unions had picketed some companies accused of subjecting workers to precarious work conditions. Some of the companies picketed for poor conditions of service include Crown Sack Plc and the Jagal Group of Companies.
CSOs had also protested the high level of unemployment in Nigeria. For instance, on March 27, 2014, no fewer than one hundred people including unemployed youths and civil rights activists gathered at the Nigerian Civil Service Union Secretariat at Alausa – Ikeja, Lagos, to protest the death of 18 youths during the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) recruitment exercise on March 15, 2014.
The Joint Action Front (JAF), which is a pro-labour coalition, organized the protest to underline the fact that the crisis of unemployment is the root cause of the sad incident and to demand decent jobs and payment of unemployment benefits.
Abiodun Aremu, Secretary of JAF said that the governments at all levels were culpable of the failure to create decent jobs opportunities despite the huge resources at their disposal.
Achike Chude, Deputy Chairman of JAF said that the protest was meant to compel government to pay compensation to the families of all dead and injured applicants, implement decent work and living wage for all as well as unemployment benefits for all unemployed Nigerians.
Clamour for new minimum wage
The CSOs have also become dependable allies of the labour unions in their current struggle to compel the Federal Government to increase the national minimum wage from N18, 000 to N56, 000.
On September 20, 2017, the Campaign for Democratic and Worker's Rights (CDWR) organized a symposium which focused on how the labour movement could actualize living wage for Nigerian workers and the payment of backlog of salary arrears by some state governments. Chinedu Bosah, Publicity Secretary of the CDWR said that the widening disparity between the rich and the poor as well as the high cost of living demands that the labour movement should wage a spirited battle to secure living wage for workers. The government and the organized labour are still at the negotiating table.
Expectedly, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, NLC President has vowed to mobilize workers and the CSOs to resist any attempt by government to frustrate the current moves to give Nigerian workers an improved minimum wage. Wabba disclosed during NLC's 40th anniversary in February, this year, that the demand for an upward review of the minimum wage was borne out of the current realities of higher cost of living, free fall of the local currency – the Naira, and high cost of goods and services.
The demand for an upward review of the minimum wage appears to be yielding the desired result as Dr. Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour and Employment has promised that the Federal Government will announce a new minimum wage by September, this year.
With the ongoing collaboration between the civil society organizations and the labour unions in the struggle to safeguard the basic rights and interest of workers in the country, it is hoped the Nigerian government would be propelled to promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities and decent job creation.