With unemployment rate in Nigeria put at 23.9% by the country’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), people in employment are forced to accept whatever terms their jobs present to them. The soaring rate of job seekers in Nigeria has eroded the bargaining power of those within employment and has paved way for the emergence of poor reward system, casualization of employment, contract jobs and employment racketeering and other unwholesome employment practices. While a lot of people suffer in silence for fear of losing their means of livelihoods, some employers are only particular about their bottom-line. It then becomes pertinent for human resource practitioners to speak out before these trend envelopes the entire employment industry.
When the national minimum wage of N18000 (monthly), an equivalent of £72, was signed into law by the President, workers across the country celebrated the increase and heaved a sigh of relief. Their joy was soon short-lived as the salary increase generated heated argument between the states and the federal government. As I write this piece, there are state governments that are yet to implement the minimum wage. The implication of this is that workers across many states of the federation earn less than £72 pounds in a month! If a government which is a custodian and an enforcer of law of the land brazenly flouts it, private employers then cannot be forced to pay the minimum wage. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.
Private sector employment constitutes a significant percentage of the labour market. It is also imperative to mention that they vary in different forms and sizes. While the big companies in telecoms, banking and oil and gas have no problem paying the minimum wage, their notoriety is profound in casualization of workers. I will shed light on this in subsequent sections below. There are the medium and small private organisations paying far less than N18000 and yet workers are still owed arrears of salaries. Employment is a contractual agreement between employers and employees. If companies cannot pay the minimum wage, whatever that has been agreed between the two contracting parties, it should at least be paid as at when due. This takes me to the delay and non-payment of salaries.
Until it is made a crime to owe salaries, employers of labour in Nigeria will not desist from this ugly act. It is on record that most civil servants are paid into a new month rather than in an ending month. There are bills to be settled and loans to be repaid at certain specified dates but most workers cannot meet these obligations because salaries are not promptly paid by employers. They are further subjected to fines and charges for default. Employees of a popular newspaper were recently forced to down tool because of non-payment of their salaries which was running into months. If companies are facing austere times, it should reflect in the lifestyle of their executives. This is not the case with the chairman of that newsprint. There are also people who in their individual capacities employ others to work for them as drivers, cooks and the rest.
Our ‘big-man’ attitude and taste for ostentatious lifestyle have fuelled the need for a coterie of personal workers. It is then contradictory when we cannot meet up with the attendant demands of this lifestyle. In Nigeria, drivers are being paid as miserly as N10000 monthly, an equivalent of £25 pounds. Most of them commute daily from the suburbs to the cities where their masters live; with the high cost of transportation prevalent in most cities across the country, I cannot fathom how these people survive. Do not be deceived that this is limited to the unskilled end of the labour market. Has anyone ever given it a thought why private schools are almost outnumbering public schools? The fallen standard in government schools is a plausible answer for this poser. However, I beg to differ as most rickety structures that lined up our streets in the name of private schools are as worse as the maligned public schools. It is because they have a cheap supply of labour through our teeming unemployed graduates.
Most of these private schools are manned by university graduates who on the average are paid N10000 per month. Yet the teaching job does not come easy, it entails a lot of lobbying and follow-ups. Proprietors are in the education business for pecuniary benefits and not because they are professionals in the field nor because they want to contribute to revamping the dwindling fortune of the sector. This is illustrated by the meagre amount paid to graduate teachers in the face of the perennial hike in school fees.
Another observable trend that has surreptitiously crept into the labour market is the casualization of workers. Its origin could be traced to the lucrative oil and gas industry where people who missed out on fulltime employment are placed on the casual cadre and are later absorbed into the mainstream. On seeing that they could save on personnel costs, the oil companies turned what was hitherto a means of support to a means of exploitation. Casual workers earn far less than their fulltime colleagues. They are not entitled to allowances and other benefits available to core employees but are however given greater responsibilities. These exploitative tendencies soon extended to other industries like banking and telecoms.
In most banks today, front desks and teller points are manned by casual workers or contract staff as they are often called. They do all the dirty jobs like note counting, cash specie, cash sorting and boxing. It is disturbing to discover that most of these guys have the same qualifications with the mainstream workers. When cashiers are faced with issues like cash shortages, they are made to pay from their small salaries but cash shortages are written off as loss to the bank if it involves a core staff. Another worrisome discovery is that contract staff do not move up the ladder; they are stuck in that job role until eternity. Drivers, cleaners and dispatch riders all fall within this category and these shabby treatments characterised their job positions.
This article won’t be complete if I omit Call Centre workers. In countries like the United Kingdom, It is on record that Call centre jobs have been exported to the Far East, India to be precise. Indian natives are forced to learn how to speak and sound like the English when attending to customers’ enquiries over the phone. One can only imagine how degrading this could be! This is fast encroaching into Nigeria. Call centre workers are forced to speak without accents, are poorly paid and their employment contracts can be terminated with ease. Undiscerning jobseekers are further lured to part with money which they do not have, considering the several cookies which appear on your computer once you sign into Google telling you how you can learn to be a good Call centre worker and also earn big. If this appears to be a scam, then wait for the real scam.
Job racketeering is now a norm in Nigeria. I mean job positions are sold to the highest bidder. This is common in the public service. Police, Customs Service, Civil Defence Corps, and government ministries are some of the institutions bedevilled by this unpleasant filth. A friend of mine, who used to work with the state-owned telecommunication company, now closed, once told me that a Director in one of the federal ministries demanded for the sum of N500000 an equivalent of £2000 pounds before he could be offered a job. Some officials of these government institutions go as far as creating spurious websites to dupe unsuspecting members of the public. This claim was the import of Channels Television’s interview with the former Lagos state Commandant of the National Security and Civil Defence Corps, a governmental security outfit, Mr Shem Obafaiye.
The interview gave rise to the infamous “My Oga at the Top” meme which sadly eclipsed the theme of the discussion. I am sure most Nigerians did not watch the entire interview but focused only on the comic-relief provided by Obafaiye. The former Commandant did confirm cases of people being duped for job opportunities within the Command and arrest have even been made. While senior public servants live in denial of the existence of job racketeers, the truth is that racketeering is prevalent in government establishments. Rather than put up a bold face as if these unwholesome practices are figment of people’s imagination, efforts should be geared toward improving the working conditions of workers.
Obviously, blames should be harped on the government for failing to provide strong institutions that will protect workers. Where such exist, they are often not empowered. Government should wake up to its responsibilities by creating jobs for the teeming unemployed youths. If our infrastructure is developed, it will trigger job employment which automatically buoys an affluent middle class. Searchlights should be extended to the activities of the private sector as they relate to workers welfare. We all agree that the business world is on a nosedive the world over and Nigeria is not an exception, however basic working standards should not be compromised. A well-motivated employee will boost productivity and ultimately lead swell the profit margins. Human capital is the most important asset of any organisation; workers should be treated with dignity.
Bashir Mudi Baba can be reached on Twitter via the handle @El_De_Bash