Nigeria, Nigerians and the challenge of decent work

Posted by | October 7, 2014 | News

Today, 7th of October is World Day for Decent Work and as this day is marked across the globe, I wish to ask: wither Nigeria and the decent work agenda? How far have we gone and how far do we still need to go? Have we even started on the journey? What are the prospects of decent jobs in Nigeria and to what extent do employers offer decent jobs in the public, private and informal sectors of the economy? Before we discuss these questions, we shall briefly discuss the concept of decent work and share an experience of an accidental encounter I had with an unknown Nigerian worker recently. Decent work is the availability of employment in conditions of freedom, equity, human security and dignity. It involves opportunities for productive work that delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all.

Decent work is a tool for poverty eradication and equitable globalization and is achieved through four strategic pillars of job creation, rights at work, social protection and social dialogue, with gender equality as a crosscutting objective. Decent work is central to peoples’ welfare as it provides income, paves the way for broader social and economic advancement and strengthens individuals, their families and communities. Decent work is linked with the concept of human development- a process of enabling choices, freedom to live ones value and manage ones affairs-the key indicators of which are long and healthy life, education and a decent standard of living. These indicators are usually measured by the UNDP Human Development Index. The ILO, is the godfather of Decent Work.

At about 10am on 18/9/14, I picked up an elderly lady, neatly dressed for work at Oru junction (about 5 kilometers to OOU). I had assumed that she was going to the university. The lady should be around retirement age but is still ‘working’, probably due to affidavit culture. When I engaged her in a discussion, I learnt she was actually on her way to work at the Local Government in Ishara, along Lagos-Ibadan express way. I would drop her at Ago-Iwoye-Ishara junction where she would get another lift or at worst, pair with somebody to charter an okada for N200 to the place. I dropped her around 10.30 and I estimated that the earliest she would get to work that day would be 12.00. She had taken off from Ijebu-Ode around 8 am, with a free-ride and that was why I picked her up at the junction. Incidentally, I had dropped off another hitch-hiker on the way to the LGA at Ijebu-Igbo. You see, that axis is a lift-environment with students, workers and ordinary folks flagging down any and every vehicle. We shall not go into the economics and sociology of this lift environment today. On further probing, my ‘passenger’ revealed that they were two in the office and they have an arrangement whereby each person comes to work every other day. It is also conveniently arranged so that she would be in the office 3 days in week one and 2 days in week two. On why she would not relocate to the town she said that the LG Service Commission transfers them every 4 years and that these transfers could be from one end of the state to another. She was for instance transferred from the LGA along Sagamu- Benin expressway to another along Lagos-Ibadan expressway. She opts for lift because there is no direct route from Ishara to Ijebu-Ode and in any case, whichever route she takes, will cost at least 1000 naira daily.

By the time I dropped off this unknown worker, I started wondering on the nature of work, productivity and the fate of workers in Nigeria.  What would be her physical and mental condition when she got to work around 12 noon and what would be her productivity? How long would she stay before leaving so as to get home that day? At such age, could she survive this type of work and daily stress? How does she cope with the multifaceted risks inherent in this process? Do employers actually care about what their employees go through and to what extent do employers care about the whole-person in the employment and job equation? What work do people in LGAs-politicians and civil servants- actually do? The fact that she goes to work every other day indicates that two of them are employed for a person’s job. How sincere is she in pretending to be going to work while she is actually doing the motions of going to work? Is this woman actually working? Is she working to live or is she living to work? How can she-and others like her-talk about decent work when she lives just to go to work and return from work?  As our people would say, people would have to drink tea before looking for over-tea! People who are looking for work-any type of work at all- will not have time for decent work!

So, wither decent work in Nigeria? In terms of preachments, we are there! Two weeks ago, the permanent secretary of Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity reiterated its determination to ensure that employment conditions conform with the international best practices and in line with the Decent Work Agenda; employment that is consistent with the fundamental principles of right at work and which delivers fair income, social protection and guarantees social dialogue.”. That was at the AGM of Human Capital Providers Association of Nigeria. But in practice, we are still very far away and the main reason for that is that there are no jobs! When there are no jobs, talking about decent jobs becomes nonsensical! And because we are in an employers’ market, employers do unmentionable things to their workers who cannot take a walk because they have no choice. And because the government has no meaningful social security scheme and its house is not in order, it cannot do more than bark. When banks draw the timetable for women to get pregnant and degrade womanhood in the name of marketing, when our ‘Kora’ investors treat Nigerian workers like chattels, when private schools employ teachers for N10000 monthly and keep them at school 7am-5pm, and when various business outfits turn our graduates into executive hawkers in the name of  marketers or even when people are subjected to the indignity of being employed but not having anything to do to put their hands, brains and skills to work, it is obvious that we still have very far to go.

This year’s Decent Work Day is an opportunity for us to start afresh and seriously address the issue of work, whether decent or not. The path to the attainment of decent work agenda involves creating jobs, guaranteeing rights at work, extending social protection and promoting social dialogue. All these four are very necessary but the most important first step is to create jobs. As I said earlier, he who has not taken tea would not be seeking for over-tea!  Happy decent work day to those who are lucky to have jobs and to those who are responsible for providing jobs, remember that there is Godoooo!!

Ik Muo

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