Over 67% workers in casual employ as firms cut costs
• Proposed anti-labour bill will not work without support of industries, stakeholders warn
• FG vows to end practice
Nigeria’s underemployment situation has been aggravated by the devastating effects of the pandemic and harsh realities of the economy going by the growing number of the workforce sinking into the ‘casual’ zone.
Casualisation, which is an anti-labour practice, has become the last resort of employers that want to cut high cost of operations and break even.
Findings by The Guardian showed that casualisation has steadily spiked with unemployment, causing employers to renegotiate employees’ status from regular to less expensive casual grade.
Consequently, the number of casuals has reached an average of 67 per cent going by reported figures of between 45 to 90 per cent of workers in the manufacturing, banking, insurance, steel, mining, media, oil and gas, among others.
Casual work is often temporary, with uncertain wages, long hours, and no job security. On a daily basis, the workers are recruited, their labour maximally utilised and then fired at the discretion of the manager without any compensation.
Stakeholders have expressed worry that the practice is on the increase and becoming a norm in the Nigerian labour market.
They argued that employers of labour, who are increasingly filling positions in their organisations that are supposed to be permanent with casual employees, attribute the trend to the increasing desperation of employers to cut down operation costs that have lately climbed higher.
The fourth quarter (Q4) 2020 statistics report released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) titled: ‘Labour Force Statistics: Unemployment and Underemployment Report,’ showed that the level of underemployment stood at 22.8 per cent.
The underemployed are graduates and skilled workers who are willing to work but could not find full employment.
When considered by educational status, those reporting educational groups had the highest rate of underemployment with 30.9 per cent, followed by those with vocational/commercial at 28.5 per cent. Those with Doctorate Degrees as their highest qualifications reported 20.7 per cent during the reference period.
In the case of underemployment by age grouping, those aged between 55-64 recorded an underemployment rate of 25.7 per cent, the highest amongst the age groups. This was followed by those aged between 45-54 with 24.4 per cent, while those with the lowest underemployment rate were those aged between 15-24 with 19.8 per cent.
A combination of unemployment and underemployment rates shows that those aged between 15-24 reported a combined rate of 73.2 per cent, showing a serious challenge for the age-group to secure full-time employment.
For instance, in the food and beverage sector, President of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Senior Staff Association (FOBTOB), Jimoh Oyibo, told The Guardian that most casuals in the sector are not treated like humans, but slaves.
He said in an organisation with about 2,000 workers, over 1,000 operate as casuals. He said with the way things are going, even as the labour union has continued to kick against the menace, a time will come when all workers in an organisation would be casualised as full employment is gradually fading away.
SIMILARLY, in the financial sector, over 80 per cent of workers operate as casuals. President, Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI), Oyinkan Olasanoye, lamented that casualisation is a major challenge confronting the union.
The ASSBIFI boss, who also described the precarious work condition in the sector as pathetic, blamed the high unemployment rate in the country as a reason for the increased number of contract workers in the sector.
She said the workers are subjected to lower wages, being denied social benefits and exposed to more dangerous working conditions, and hence, could easily compromise on ethics of the job.
Specifically, she said the Labour Act made provision that there should be contract staff but the workers should have dignity of labour and adequately compensated.
Meanwhile, Section 7(1) of the Labour Act, 2004 provides that no worker should be engaged on probation or temporary employment for more than three months.
This follows the International Labour Organisation (ILO) protocol that provides for the transition of employees from temporary to permanent employment within three to 12 months of their contract.
Apparently worried by the violation of extant labour laws, the Senate had in March 2020 begun consideration of the Prohibition of Casualisation Bill 2020. The bill specifically seeks to end all forms of dehumanising practices in the labour market.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, had last month, said his ministry was committed to a seamless amendment of the labour laws to bring them at par with international best practices, insisting that casualisation was a vexed anti-labour practice, which the Federal Government has been addressing since 2016.
Chairman, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), Lagos State Council, Gbenga Ekundayo, pledged to intensify efforts to curtail the menace.
Ekundayo noted that it is a period that calls for collaboration, especially with the effect of the pandemic on organisations.
He said the union has been in discussions with its affiliates for them to bring to their notice such organisations.
On effects of casualisation on the economy, a lecturer in the Department of Management, Rivers State University, Port Harcourt, Bayo Lekara, submitted that casualisation might have negative effects on important aspects of national economic performance such as skills formation and development.
Within such a framework, he said the labour force would continue to suffer and be greatly affected as it could derail advancements in economic progress of the nation due to agitations, industrial actions and breakdown in production and services.
Casualisation, according to him, may also increase the rate of brain drain and capital flight in the country, since the nation’s labour force will begin to run to other countries with perceived better employment conditions and working environment as has been witnessed in Nigeria.
He added that it renders the citizens, who are supposed to be the major beneficiaries of economic investments impoverished and completely hopeless, leading to disparity among households over time.
He argued that casual workers should be entitled to the same right as permanent employees no matter the duration of their employment.
He said: “Nigeria’s wealth must be used to build broad-based economic stability and support equitable economic development, with decent jobs for all. Trade unions must take the lead in the campaign against casualisation of labour and the restoration of decency and dignity to work in all its forms and categories.”
Similarly, President of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators of Nigeria (ICSAN), Taiwo Owokalade, said due to the economic situation in the country, employers need to develop strategies to survive, among which is casualisation.
Listing the many challenges confronting employers, he added that part time work and casualisation are some of the symptoms of employers’ methodology of reacting to the very tough business environment.
An analyst, Jide Ojo, said casualisation, as bad as it is, also provides opportunity to learn on the job, whereby the casuals could easily apply to other companies with work experience.
According to him, it also provides employment opportunities, work experience and helps the company not to go under due to the economic situation of the country.
He argued that the government needs to set examples by discouraging casualisation in their institutions.
“You cannot be having programmes and pay graduates peanuts and expect the private sector not to do the same. They should strengthen the labour laws and say no worker should earn less than the minimum wage even when they are interventionists programmes. The economy should improve through innovation and diversification so that with job opportunities no one will be available for casualisation,” he said.
A lawyer and labour expert, Paul Omoijiade, who hinted on the current position of the law on casualisation by the National Industrial Court (NIC), stated in unequivocal terms that casualisation must engage the letters and provisions of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
He said even as some had argued that there is freedom of contract, which one can either accept or not, it was because of the high level of unemployment as people are ready to take offers grudgingly.
He said in Nigeria, the employees that are not entitled to certain benefits and don’t have a future with the organisation will not equally show more commitment to the job.
“Today, most employers are only looking at the short term benefits but the long term effect on the economy will be very devastating because we have a crop of employees that believe they don’t have a future and that is not good for the economy in the long run. They are looking at it that they want to cut costs but that cost is a cost to the economy because labour productivity will decline.
“Where the employees believe they don’t have a future, there is a limit to which you can push them, because an employee must have that reasonable expectation that tomorrow will be better than today. But when you are a casual worker, that will not work.
“Nigerian employers are circumventing the Labour Act provision by giving letters from month to month. The NIC in one of its decisions said that to style a worker as ‘casual’ is demeaning and a constitutional breach,” he said.
He urged that government should come up with regulations on casualisation on non-standard work so that citizens are not subjected to slavery.