One of the most exciting news that came out of the House of Representatives last week was that it has passed for second reading, a bill seeking to amend the Labour Act to criminalize casualisation of workers in Nigeria.
The bill, which seeks to prohibit engagement of casual workers beyond six months, was sponsored by Olawale Raji (APC Lagos).
The increase in the spread and gradual acceptance of this labour practice in the Nigerian labour market has become an issue of great concern to stakeholders.
Employers of labour are increasingly filling positions in their organisations that are supposed to be permanent with casual employees. The trend has been largely attributed to the increasing desperation of employers to cut down organisational costs.
Casualization of employment is seen as an appropriate strategy for cost reduction. Casualization may, on the periphery, seem to be justifiable since reduced cost means higher profit which is the ultimate goal of every organisation. However, casualization ultimately presents lots of challenges for the employees and organizations alike.
Also, behind this issue of casualization in the country is the high level of unemployment and accompanying poverty. These two issues have bred a dangerous work environment and have given much aid to the prevalence of employment casualization, as many desperate job seekers in the labour force are willing to take any job no matter how dirty or degrading it is.
Labour leaders have argued in the past that casual workers occupy a precarious position in the workplace and society, and are effectively a new set of ‘slaves’ and ‘underclass’ in the modern capitalist economy.
Leading the debate for the general principles of the bill, Mr Raji said the bill seeks to add a clause to the Act which provides that every worker shall enjoy full employment benefits as a permanent staff after six months of engagement.
The lawmaker stated that Section 8 of the Act states that “every worker in Nigeria engaged or employed and has remained in such employment for a period of not less than six months shall have his engagement regularized by the employer as a full and permanent staff.”
He said such employer also will be entitled to all accompanying benefits.
“Any employer who disengages a worker after a period of six months from the date of first engagement without regularising the worker’s employment shall at the date of disengagement pay to the worker full salary, allowances and entitlements due to a permanent staff for two months provided the worker has not been found liable of any criminal act involving fraud resulting to financial loss to the company,” he said
The bill recommends a maximum fine of N2m or imprisonment of two years or both as penalty for individual defaulters.
For corporate bodies, Mr Raji said that a fine of maximum of N2m or imprisonment of two years or both as penalty for each director of the company found to have defaulted.
Contributing to the debate, Tajudeen Yusuf (PDP Kogi) said casualisation of workers is most common with foreign companies.
He added that they come into Nigeria to do what is not done in any other country in the world.
He said there is need for the Nigerians citizens to be confident based on the power of the law to protect them from being exploited.
He called on his colleagues to support the bill, saying that they should put it on record that the 9th Assembly made the law that protects the Nigerian worker.
Also, Egho Idahosa (APC Lagos) stated that though casual workers are used by employers once in a while to address issues, it should not be permanent.
He said that in the case of Nigeria, casualisation is a permanent thing as some top management staff use it to make extra money for themselves.
“This is inhumanity of man to man and this green chamber is the only institution to correct it; if you do not need a worker, do not employ.”
“You cannot keep a worker and keep him for years and at the end of the day, you throw him out, I think it is wicked,” he said.
After passing the bill for a second reading, it was referred to the House Committee on Labour and Productivity for further legislative action.
Daily Trust sought the views of Nigerians on the bill.
Reacting to the development, Barrister Seyi said: “I doubt if this can work in Nigeria. Private organizations demand for 10-12 hours daily with no remorse.”
Folarin Ademola in his intervention said: “I’ll be glad to see bill being pass on this, at least it will give workers in private sector opportunity to have enough time for their personal life. If possible, for some private organizations they can engage workers for 15 hours.”
Edafe Mathew Eseoghene who also supported the bill, however pointed out that, “most companies would start doing four or five months renewal contracts. But I salute the Bill.
“Today, corporate bodies are doing five years employment after which the employee automatically leaves just to avoid conversion to permanent staff. We are a special breed in this country.”
Samuel Akinlotan would however point out an entirely different dimension to the argument. He said: “There are different categories of employment; Fixed, contract, seasonal, leasing etc.
“Such bill only validates that knowledge gap that exists from the sponsors about the current workplace realities. People don’t even want full time employment again.”
“Businesses that require seasonal engagement of talents in their workforce (e.g. farms, audit firms), what do they do with people when there’s no work?”
He said businesses can choose to offer fixed term non-renewable contract for 6 months or lesser. Do these bills beat all angles?
Other respondents who also commended the bill demanded that the bill be designed to put a check on the companies that work above eight hours.
They noted that most Chinese and Indian production companies in Nigeria work as high as 12 hours daily without overtime payment.
Duke Ayo, another worker, said: “I hope this bill gets the harmonisation of the green and red chambers because we know once the CEOs start paying visits to lawmakers, then the harmonisation of the bill will be difficult not to talk of presidential accent.”
Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú in her column on Politics and Socioeconomic issues wrote: “Everyday, Nigerians are losing fingers, limbs and their lives in these factories and these companies do not pay any compensation nor do they treat the victims with dignity. They are used, dumped and left to care for themselves. It is time this country begins to respect its citizens and send strong signals to countries and corporations investing on our shores that we love ourselves and that Nigeria’s most important asset are its citizens.
“Nigeria must take a strong stand against casualisation of labour. It will prevent exploitative practices and ensure decent work while giving workers the right to speak against injustices in workplaces. The government must amend the Labour Act and set the Basic Conditions of Employment to ensure protection to vulnerable employees, including compliance with international labour standards. Strengthening labour laws will give effect to the fundamental constitutional right to fair labour practices, to engage in collective bargaining and the right to equality and protection from discrimination.”
Also reacting to the development, the president of the Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institution (ASSBIFI), Comrade Oyinkan Olasonoye, in an exclusive chart with Daily Trust said: “We appreciate the move by the House of Representative and we have waited for a long time for this.
“While we wait for the final bill, my worry from the current scope of the bill is that it will only re-enforce what is being practice if the bill allows for six months casualization. There should be permanent or non permanent cadre. The non permanent cade can be anything from 5 to 10 years with growth opportunity.
“If you allow six months, because of the level of desperation to stay employed, the employers will keep cancelling and re-offer after six months and that will keep these workers for 10 years on a single level and salary. And that is responsible for the level of fraud we are seeing in the system.”