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Outsourcing: The source of modern day slavery

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Since creation the callous exploitation of man by those who own the means of production has continued in various forms and degrees. In the same vein, the struggle for the emancipation of the workers has continued unceasingly, being championed by civil right/trade union movements. These agitations over the years have culminated in the enactment of statutory instruments that placed restraints on the ponderous tread of the capitalist on the rights of the proletarian. However, it takes continued monitoring accompanied by protest, strike, boycott, work-to-rule, go-slow, sabotage, picketing and sit-in whichever that is applicable in a given circumstance to compel employers to yield to labour laws.

Outsourcing which is an indirect method employers devised in getting employees to execute various tasks began in Nigeria in the early 1980s with low cadre jobs as gardeners, cleaners and security guards that formed only a tiny part of the workforce. This was followed by organisations contracting out their book keepings to account firms, a phenomenon that has now assumed a monstrous dimension as contract staffs now constitute a major percentage of the workers of most companies in Nigeria. If it could be ignored back then because contract staffs constituted only a negligible part of the manpower, it should give cause for worry now that the reverse is the case. Like a malignant cancer that starts by manifesting seemingly harmless symptoms, the malaise of outsourcing has over the years spread all over the entire system.

First generation Labour leaders as Pa Michael Imodu and Hassan Sunmonu fought against poor remuneration leading to the institulisation of minimum wage in Nigeria. Successive leaders as Wahab Goodluck, Pascal Bafyau and Adams Oshiomhole fought vehemently against casualisation, the evil that plagued industrial society in their day. Up till recent past, a number of firms including financial institutions were picketed at the instance of labour leaders for gross violation of labour regulations as regard engagement of casual staffs and succeeded in reducing the menace to its bearest minimum. A greater evil is here and there is no one to speak against it.

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The idea of an organisation sourcing its manpower should not be a deplorable one if the process had not been attended by acute poor remuneration and overall appalling condition of service. Under this scheme, the worker is reduced to a mere industrial adjunct. Benefits as medical care, annual and maternity leaves that were taken for granted in the past are now a luxury to the worker while welfare programmes that formed part of the their incentive are now beyond the reach of the average worker in Nigeria. A good number of these hapless ones work for 12 hours a day and seven days a week against the International Labour Organisation (ILO) stipulated 40 hours work week.

By its nature, mobility along the vertical and horizontal progressions is difficult if not impossible for the contract worker. Gone are the days when Nigerians felt proud working in multinational corporations and a number of local industries and banks whose identity cards they flaunted at any given opportunity to the envy and admiration of their less privileged friends and relations. Government officials make much effort to woo foreign investors to Nigeria for the opportunity which gainful employment offers to the youth. With the trend of outsourcing, this aim has been flatly defeated. Multinational conglomerates that were once the worker’s haven including foreign investments that enjoy a fabulous tax incentives and duty wavers in collaboration with local predators mercilessly feed fat on the sweat of the Nigerian worker. Contract workers like their casual hands counterparts do not get annual increment, neither do they have benefit in the NLC and TUC neither negotiated minimum wage nor enjoy any of the benefits secured by its 29 affiliated industrial unions at their triennial collective bargaining. An employment letter of a typical contract worker bears the following austere features: basic salary- N73, 440.00; housing allowance- N42, 200.00; transport allowance- N34, 560.00; feeding/utility allowance- N64,800.00; all totaling N216,000.00 per annum.

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Save for public corporations/civil service where the trend is yet to gain dominance as contract jobs are limited to menial and technical fields, most jobs from the plumber to the driver and from the blue collar to the white collar are executed by contract hands who are compelled to make do with 25 to 35 per cent of what was hitherto paid for the same positions. While the worker pines away the unscrupulous slave drivers smile to the bank. Outsourcing is ‘monkey de work baboon de shop’ writ large. The worker in Nigeria today is coerced into high productivity rather than being induced with incentive. A good number of these so called workers trek far distances, some as far as 10 to 15 kilometers to work daily and are constrained to make do with just one ‘square’ meal for the whole day.

The condition of workers in Nigeria is pathetic and shabby to say the least. In their wretchedness, many employees have become so morally bankrupt as to engage in all sorts of criminal acts in their desperation to survive. Child and gender rights activists need to look into the difficulties faced by workers in Nigeria to nip in the bud the incidents of child abuse and rape rampant in the society. Frequent infighting and the quest for pecuniary gains have combined to render the Nigeria Labour Congress incoherent, inconsistent and emasculated while, workers groan under hardship.

At May Day rallies one finds members of the NLC executive council file out in their colourful regalia chorusing solidarity forever (x2)… we will always fight for our rights. They will pontificate on the relevance of the trade union movement to the socioeconomic and political development of the nation and as the bulwark for the defense of the workers’ rights. But will prevaricate on being confronted with the challenges confronting workers in Nigeria. The NLC slogan: ‘We are committed to ensuring the protection of job, full employment and humane working environment’, is all a farce or at best a mere rhetoric. The trade union movement has for long lost its voice in Nigeria. Since the NLC has lost its relevance, it should be shoved aside for a more purposeful, vibrant and dynamic labour union to step in and save Nigeria workers.

• Agenro lives in Lagos.

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