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Union seeks factory inspectors to curb anti-labour practices in plantations

By Collins Olayinka, Abuja
17 September 2019   |   3:18 am
The Nigeria Union of Agriculture and Allied Employees (NUAAE) has urged the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment to deploy labour inspectors to farms and plantations in the country to curb anti-labour practices.

A banana plantation SOURCE: Google

The Nigeria Union of Agriculture and Allied Employees (NUAAE) has urged the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment to deploy labour inspectors to farms and plantations in the country to curb anti-labour practices.

The President of the union, Simon Anchaver, who made the call in Abuja, alleged that child labour was gradually creeping into some plantations in the country, which was alien in Nigeria prior to this time.

He explained that this was part of the revelation of studies carried out to access working conditions in the rubber and palm industries in conjunction with Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Solidarity Centre.

He said: “The findings indicate an alarming trend of precarious work as well as lack of protection of the right of workers to freedom of association and right to bargain collectively in the agriculture sector.”

NUAAE chief stressed that in spite of Nigeria’s commitments through ratification of ILO conventions 87 and 98, which are core labour standards, workers’ trade union rights are violated by employers in rubber and palm industries and absence of worker-driven compliance allows anti-union hostility, corruption, wage theft, illicit financial flows, systemic health and safety issues, child labour and a general decent work deficit exists with impunity.

He explained: “The practice of using child labour is very prevalent. The workers on casual are either recruited and are not yet given any written statement outlining the conditions and terms of their employment within the three months period as stipulated by Section 7 of the Labour Act or directly recruited on a casual basis and referred to as ‘non-staff’.”

Anchaver also alleged that in the private rubber and palm plantations, wages are differentiated according to the category of work done.

He added: “Wage payment methods vary in the plantations, but they are very low. There is a high level of job insecurity in the plantations because of the use of casual labour and job-shedding during low production periods. A gender wage gap exists in the industry as women’s roles are differentiated in the plantations and therefore women receive lower wages.

There is a high rate of wage discrimination in private palm plantations and the salaries are miserable and inadequate.”

Anchaver disclosed that workers were exposed to extreme weather, which eventually results in skin irritations, caterpillar bite during the raining season, snakebite, malaria, and so on.

He also mentioned lack of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) such as helmets, raincoats, hand gloves and eye masks.

Anchaver declared that there is an enormous improvement that is needed to bring palm and rubber plantations into compliance with Nigeria labour laws and international best practices.

He added that his union believes that based on analysis of the issues that the studies unearthed, there is urgent need for enhanced labour inspection and more stringent penalties for non-compliance will help Nigerian workers in large scale agriculture to improve labour rights compliance including trade union rights and establish conditions of employment so that workers can get out of the poverty that ensnares them and their families.

“This requires strengthening of the labour inspectorate to function in Nigeria farms and factories through adequate funding, adequate staffing and training and retraining of labour inspectors,” he stated.

While challenging the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, to strengthen and mobilise the labour inspectorate department of the ministry to embark on unscheduled inspections of plantations and farms with the aim of curbing the excesses of the employers in the plantations and farms, Anchaver said the union is ready to collaborate to make this happen as soon as possible.

He said: “Inspections conducted by trained, well-resourced core inspectors without the influence of employers can help establish virtuous cycles of increased compliance, investment and productivity. This will also ensure that workers enjoy living wages, regular work hours, leave, have clear job descriptions and respect for the termination in a written contract in accordance with Labour Act.”