Tackling labour exploitation via collaboration
GLORIA NWAFOR writes that the move to tackle exploitation against migrant workers by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), through the Fairway Programme, in collaboration with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) will strengthen interregional collaboration between trade unions in Nigeria and destination countries.
Forced labour, contemporary forms of slavery and human trafficking are the subject of international attention and concerns. The liberalisation of trade and heightened global competition, challenges to the governance of domestic labour markets and international labour migration, as well as long-standing patterns of circulation and social inclusion, are among the many factors undermining current-day forced labour.
Migration is driven more by work opportunities and a safe environment where individuals can realise their ambitions and employability. Migration has become a very serious issue in recent times, particularly concerning work, the workplace and working people.
This is even as economic migration has become topical and real in the face. While it is certain that migrants contribute to the development of their host countries, there are challenges such as exploitation, abuse and discrimination in the labour maarket and workplaces.
This is just as demands in economic sectors such as agriculture, fishing, mining and construction, as well as services – domestic work, healthcare, restaurants, hotels, and retail trade – are fuelling migration within the continent. To address this, the NLC and ILO have staged an interregional collaboration among trade unions to fight forced labour.
According to the ILO, the lack of protection for migrant workers undermines safety for everyone. At the national stakeholders’ workshop on strengthening interregional collaboration between trade unions in Nigeria and destination countries, experts stressed the need for developing countries to align with solutions.
They say migrant workers are becoming more vulnerable to forced labour, as it is estimated that there are about 27.6 million victims of forced labour around the world as of 2021.
The African Union’s (AU’s) 2015 report on Labour Migration Statistics highlighted that international migration on the continent is across Regional Economic Communities (RECs).
The report stated that the labour force participation rate of international migrants in Africa seems to be higher than that of the population, representing the highest at 93.3 per cent for Mauritius to the lowest at 71.7 per cent for Ghana.
NLC General Secretary, Emmanuel Ugboaja, said the collaboration with the ILO would be treated as an issue that concerns everybody. Noting that a worker is a worker, irrespective of his or her citizenship, he said the Congress is set to enter into more bilateral talks in tackling migration on the global scene.
Ugboaja said that in-country, there are workers like security men and domestic staff, among others, who are non-Nigerians. He said many Nigerians are migrating based on economic challenges and what they might deem discomfort or lack of opportunities in their homeland. He said there are also people from neighbouring African countries and far away from Africa, also migrating to Nigeria.
“So, clearly, on those issues, that is why we are not placing a column to it. We are treating it as a phenomenon. We are treating it as a matter that concerns everybody, rather than making it look one-sided. The same concession you want citizens or brothers and sisters to enjoy elsewhere must also be available to people in your own country. So, clearly, for us, it is an issue that we are working on as a global issue; not as a local issue.
“Our collaboration with ILO is an eye-opener. It is something we have used to break the eyes and we are looking forward to more bilateral collaboration.
“We are looking into research to add more of the facts or variants that we will have. We are looking into it as a regional issue, we are looking into it from a bigger perspective. We are looking into it as a key- point in ILO, International Labour Congress (ILC) discussions so that it can get the real global attention,” he said.
On improper documentation and records, the NLC chief said Congress was taking steps to have proper documentation of migrant workers within and outside the country without any discrimination.
His words: “For us, a worker is a worker and because of that bond, we are trying not to discriminate, we are trying to get an understanding by making provisions to have their record taken.
“Also to know about where they are working, the kind of work they are doing to avoid exploitation. We are trying to and as part of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) make sure that where such people exist, colleagues or counterparts in those places help to lay the foundation for proper legal processes to be followed.
“This is part of the challenges we are working on, but we are ready to deal with it. There are some places you will work and consider it as greener pastures and it might not be greener in some places.”
On the plight of retirees outside the country, Ugboaja said the challenges have pushed the Congress to discussions so that they don’t cut them off from their benefits.
He gave instances of a huge number of Nigerians that have retired in some places and want to relocate home, but the fear of how they will get their pension benefits keeps hanging on their neck.
Stating clearly on conversations around that so that they don’t miss out on their benefits, he said the NLC is already in talks with social partners in Italy and other countries. He pointed out that Congress has agreed with other partners across the globe.
For instance, he said NLC, in collaboration with the ILO, signed a MoU with the state of Bahrain in the Middle East, among others. His words: “It has been very wonderful with the support of the ILO. There was the need to use the instrumentation of the ILO and the tripartite nature of trying to reach an understanding. We then had to begin to explore competitions around making migration not as prolific or as scandalous as it has become in recent times.
“So now, it has become something we can discuss, explore and try to navigate properly. How both sides can benefit, rights can be preserved and certainty can be brought to bear.
“We have had some reasonable progress because compensation has been opened. We have gone as far as having an MoU with the state of Bahrain, in the Middle East, among others. Compensations are going on around the world.”
Also, the Director of the ILO Office for Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone, Vanessa Phala, said the ILO was supporting the NLC in the workshop that focuses on strengthening inter-regional collaboration, as well as disseminating information with its affiliate members on the resource that was developed.
She said this was achieved with support from the ILO within the framework of the fairway programme. Phala, who was represented by the National Programme Co-ordinator at the (ILO), Austin Erameh, said the information guide, particularly, looks at providing returning migrant workers with access to user information, as well as direction on where they could get return and reintegration information.
Corroborating Ugboaja on progress and achievements made, Phala said the fairway programme facilitated the signing of MoU between workers’ representatives in Nigeria, led by the NLC, workers’ representatives in Bahrain, led by the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions.
She said the MoU was signed in Geneva on the sidelines of the ILO.
“What the MoU looks at is facilitating collaboration and cooperation between the two trade centres, through the interregional lenses, protecting the rights of migrant workers on books, paths of the corridor.
“It is within that context that we are furthering support to the NLC, particularly bringing the affiliates union and stakeholders to look at the provisions of the MoU, as well as improving its implementation.
“Particularly, also, is the provisions and seeing how we can support its implementation. In the area of the possibility of benefits as raised by the General Secretary of the NLC, the ILO encourages the governments and stakeholders to look at opportunities and strengthen the systems and frameworks to be able to ensure that benefits can be assessed on both sides of the corridor. It is a conversation that is going to help us in taking a decision,” she said.