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Concerns mount as Lagos plans to regulate domestic workers, guards

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PHOTO: Ridge Times

The Lagos State government recently made public, plans by it to regulate the activities of domestic workers and security guards.

According to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, an executive bill to that effect would be sent to the state House of Assembly, to prescribe regulations for these classes of workers, as well as, monitor their activities, that of their employers and agencies involved in the process.

“There is no room for child abuse or under-aged workers. It has been discovered that domestic workers are largely undocumented and pose a grave security threat in the state. The recruiting agencies must be licensed and regulated henceforth. Our safety is now non-negotiable,” the governor said on that occasion.

The state government’s decision to regulate activities in this informal sector may not be unconnected with prevailing negative tales that have made the rounds lately, including how the affected workers are being abused by their employers.

The case of 14-year-old Faith, a domestic servant, who was forced to sit on a burning electric cooker because she wet the bed of her principal, Roseline Uzoamaka, is one such cases of abuse.

Another is that of Mary, a house help, who after three months of employment, absconded with her boss’ 12-year-old daughter, from their residence in the Fagba area of the state last year.

In another incident, an 18-year-old boy, Hounvenou Yavine, killed his boss, Mariam Abiola, at her home in Agege. The incident happened at the Ijaiye Low Cost Housing Estate, Pen Cinema, Lagos.

His elder sister brought Yavine, who had his primary education in Porto Novo, to Lagos. He was, however, taken to work with the deceased by his sister’s husband, who was also collecting his monthly salary of N8, 000.

In May last year, a beautician, Mrs. Oby, was arrested for beating to death, her eight-year-old maid, Miracle, at her Ago Palace Way, Okota, Isolo residence. That Miracle’s death got reported was a miracle because Oby was apprehended while trying to dispose off her corpse.

Earlier in December 2016, a Cameroonian cleaner was accused of killing his boss, Miss Temidayo Adeleke, who just returned from the United States, for not granting his request for salary advance.

Since the state government made known its preparedness to come up with a law that would prescribe regulations for these classes of workers, diverse views have been making the rounds even with the law yet to be in place.

For instance, Oge Ekeanyanwu, a resident of the state is a bit skeptical about the intention of the bill. That notwithstanding, she insisted that the process of making the law must be painstaking.

She also suggested that when the law comes on stream, it must necessarily protect the interest of all parties involved.

“I hope the proposed law would not just be all about taxation, but about protecting human rights and dignity of labour… It should also clearly define who a domestic worker is, and the various categories of domestic workers are, or should be.

Oiza Balogun, another resident, agrees with the state government on the need to put in place a law that would regulate activities in this area, even as she wants age limit included in the law, as well as, who qualifies to do such jobs.

She also stressed the need for proper profiling of domestic workers in order that accessing or tracing them when they engage in fraudulent or sundry heinous practices would be a fairly easy assignment.

Also weighing in on the proposed law, a legal practitioner, Lekan Alabi, who said the country’s labour laws have already made clear provisions for ages that are qualified to take up employments, adding that any law that is passed without considering the social background of the people will be ineffective.

In a situation, where relatives could be misconstrued as domestic workers, he said, “There is no law that can change the social relationship of a people; an example is the law of bigamy. It only exists in breach in Nigeria. So, it is very difficult if not impossible, to regulate family affinity in Nigeria. This is acknowledged across ethnic lines, regions and religions.”

On how the law may affect the activities of private security guards, Alabi cautioned that the law must not be drafted in a manner that it would compound the woes of Nigerians.

“The idea of private security guards is one of the signs of the failure of a state. It is against the law of social contract. It is not the social responsibility of a citizen to provide security for his/herself having surrendered his sovereignty to the state,” he stated.

On her part, Co-Director at Justice & Empowerment Initiatives Megan Chapman, said domestic workers and informal security guards were among the poorest and most vulnerable of Lagos residents, and most of them are subject to abuse because of the economic desperation that has made them dependent on their employers, who may take advantage of their desperation by having them work in poor, or even abusive conditions.

“Child rights violations (denial of education) and sexual/other forms of abuse are real problems for domestic workers. Economic exploitation without recourse is an even more predominant problem with employers, who may refuse pay for work done, taking advantage of the workers’ vulnerability and dependence.”

She disclosed that her organisation has intervened in several cases involving children trafficked to Lagos to serve as domestic help. These children, she said, are often subjected to physical abuse, malnutrition, and denial of education.

“In such cases, when possible, we have tried to work with the police to see employers arrested and prosecuted, and also tried to return the children to their families, while involving local authorities and other leaders in the home location to ensure the children are put in school.”

She advised that a holistic approach must be taken to tackle such issues, as well as, build protections for vulnerable workers.

“The problem is not the lack of a legal framework per se. For instance, Lagos State has a Child Rights Law and a Domestic Violence Law, both of which provide protections for persons in many of these situations. The problem is generally limited enforcement of these laws due to corruption and others.”

According to her, there have been cases of child abuse, where abusers were released from police custody and other state authorities after paying a bribe, while JEI paralegals were the ones pushing for prosecution.

Chapman expressed concerns that based on approaches the state government has taken in regulating other sectors of the informal economy – hawking, street trading, informal waste collection, the intended approach may be simply to make informal domestic work or informal security arrangements illegal, in such a way that criminalises vulnerable workers rather than providing them with protections.

“These fears are exacerbated by the governor’s comments during the announcement of government’s plans that seemed to suggest “undocumented” domestic workers and security guards pose a security threat.

“A ‘crack down’ approach to regulating the sectors would only worsen the plight of vulnerable workers, subjecting them to criminal prosecution, imposition of fines they cannot afford and/or prison terms, or extortion by law enforcement agents.

“This is what we are seeing as the result of government’s crack-down on street trading, hawking, street begging, etc. But we are not seeing the ‘crack-down’ approach actually stop the targeted practices because, in reality, those employed in these sectors have no economic alternatives.”

Chapman, nonetheless recommended a regulatory approach that puts in place, mechanisms to help workers who are in abusive situations, prosecutes employers responsible for sexual, physical, and economic abuse, and help build protections to ensure workers are formally recognized through an accessible system and have basic labour protections providing the minimum wage, regulation of working conditions and working hours.

“There are international laws that would be useful to look at, for instance the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No 189 on Domestic Workers, which is yet to be ratified by Nigeria. We would also urge the Lagos State government to consult broadly with those working with the urban poor such as JEI, the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation, the Federation of Informal Workers of Nigeria, among others, to develop a legal framework and mechanisms that can actually help curb abuses and improve working conditions for vulnerable workers in these sectors.”


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