Sunday, 10th December 2023

Casualisation: Concerns over exploitation, high demand for cheap labour

By Ameh Ochojila, Abuja
02 October 2023   |   4:05 am
Casualisation of the workforce is not new in Nigeria, but recent developments have made the bad situation worse. Sadly, the prevalent economic situation and limited job opportunities have forced many workers into precarious employment arrangements that are not acceptable under the law.

President, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Joe Ajaero (middle) at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.  

As the economy gets messier and more employers close shop, survivor companies now rely more on casual workers for no-frills cheap labour, but in gross violation of the Labour Act, AMEH OCHOJILA reports.

Casualisation of the workforce is not new in Nigeria, but recent developments have made the bad situation worse. Sadly, the prevalent economic situation and limited job opportunities have forced many workers into precarious employment arrangements that are not acceptable under the law.

As companies seek to cut costs and maximise profits, they increasingly opt for casual labour arrangements that provide flexibility and require almost zero benefits for workers. This trend is exacerbated by the lack of effective enforcement of labour laws and regulations to protect workers’ rights and ensure fair treatment.

Therefore, the employment landscape in Nigeria is characterised by a high rate of casualisation, where workers are denied job security, adequate compensation, and social benefits.

A figure disclosed by the organised private sector placed casualisation in Nigeria’s workforce at 69 to70 per cent of the nation’s workforce in the private sector.

This phenomenon, according to observers, is aimed at saving costs by chief executives, managers, and greedy labour handlers. Under the arrangement, the worker is not entitled to any peck such as transportation, leave, medical allowances or special benefit package. Besides, the worker’s take-home pay is so miserable that it can hardly take him/her home.

The general view is that casualisation is thriving because of the high rate of unemployment, even though it contravenes Section 7 (1) of the Labour Act, Cap 198, Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1990. The Act provides that, “Not later than three months after the beginning of a worker’s period of employment with an employer, the employer shall give to the worker a written statement specifying the terms and conditions of employment, which include the nature of the employment and if the contract is for a fixed term, the date when the contract expires.”

Also in consonance with the Labour Act, section 17(a) of the 1999 Constitution condemns casualisation. The section makes a provision that guarantees equal pay for equal work. Furthermore, Convention 153 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), of which Nigeria is a signatory, does not support any form of discrimination in the workplace.

In fact, the section holds that casualisation is out of tune with 21st century best practices. Hence, the discrimination in pay between permanent and casual employees should not exist. Besides, the section frowns against discrimination on account of sex or any grounds whatsoever.

According to the industry observers, besides casualisation, there are other unfair labour practices that also contravene international labour law, humanity and natural law.

They noted that continued efforts are needed to ensure that all workers, regardless of their employment arrangement, are afforded fair treatment, decent working conditions, and access to necessary benefits and protections.

Efforts have been made to review and update labour laws to provide better protections for workers in non-standard employment arrangements. For example, the National Assembly has considered amendments to the Labor Act to address issues such as casualisation and contract work.

Monday Ikpe, a lawyer, said employers are contravening the labour law to maximise profit for themselves. “Employers in the quest to have a flexible labour market have devised new forms of work pattern that enables them to circumvent the protection, which labour law gives to workers.

According to him, a growing body of research has indicated that compliance with international labour standards is often accompanied by improvements in productivity and economic performance.

He said rather than comply with international best practices, some companies are engaged in inhuman practices such as prolonged internship, freelance, and volunteering that provides cheap labour.

The lawyer said minimum wage and work time standards and respect for equality can translate into greater satisfaction, improved performance of workers and staff turnover.

Another lawyer who would not want his name mentioned said the plight of workers in Nigeria is very pathetic, saying young lawyers in chambers and others are even getting exploited as result of unemployment in the society and lack of enforcement of the labour law.

According to the Abuja based lawyer, it is pathetic, when a graduate of law is given N20, 000 monthly with a heavy load of work to handle. He called for enactment of a living wage for all in service. According to him, it could be hourly or weekly payments, given the economic circumstances.To Maliki Sylvanus, casualisation and freelancing in the private sector have significant implications when viewed from the perspective of labour laws.

According to him, casualisation refers to the practice of hiring workers on a temporary basis, often without the benefits and protections that permanent employees enjoy.

This practice, the lawyer said, can lead to the exploitation of workers, as they may not receive fair wages, job security, or access to social security benefits.

“In Nigeria, the Labour Act provides certain protections for workers, such as minimum wage requirements, limits on working hours, and provisions for leave and termination. However, casual workers may not benefit from these protections,” he said.

He explained that freelancers are typically regarded as self-employed and not considered traditional employees. “While freelancing can offer flexibility and autonomy, it can also present challenges in terms of labour rights and protections,” he pointed out, adding that they may face issues such as payment disputes, lack of access to social security benefits, and limited legal recourse in case of disputes with clients.

Nigerian labour laws, he said, may not provide the same level of protection to freelancers as they do to traditional employees. The lawyer, however, stressed that the Labour Act primarily focuses on the employment relationship between employers and permanent employees.

He explained that casual workers and freelancers may fall into a grey area, as they may not be fully covered by the Act. This, he said, can create challenges in terms of ensuring adequate protection and fair treatment for those sets of workers.

“The casualisation of staff and freelancing in the private sector raise important questions about labour rights and protections in Nigeria. While labour laws exist to safeguard the rights of employees, there may be gaps in coverage for casual workers and freelancers,” declared.