by Drew Povey
This new book by Femi Aborisade provides key information on the complex legal position of casual and temporary workers. This is important as with ‘labour flexibility’ promoted by the neoliberal reforms over the last few decades the number of workers not on permanent contracts has increased significantly. Workers and their trade unions need to understand the law so that they can wage a more successful fight for permanent jobs.
Since 2012, the Federal Public Works and Women/Youth Employment Initiatives (funded by SURE-P) have provided jobs for around 120,000 young people. The major problem is that these are temporary jobs and not paid as well as official civil service posts.
Similarly, in Edo State, as in many other states, there is a Youth Employment Scheme. Up to six thousand people have been employed on temporary contracts over the last six years. As well as the insecurity of not having permanent jobs, these workers which include teachers, office staff, street sweepers and bus drivers, is paid significantly below the civil service rates. For example, graduates receive N30,000 a month rather than more than N40,000 they should receive as civil servants.
The additional problem is that these workers are not official civil servants and so they are not allowed to join the official civil service trade unions. Several hundred of them have applied to join AUPCTRE. However, this is being blocked by Edo State Government and the union has said that it will not officially act until at least 1,000 staff apply to join the union.
As a result, these workers have taken affairs into their own hands and have organised a series of meetings and protests. This has won some significant gains for some groups of workers. For example, workers in the Board of Internal Revenue have had their posts regularised and the recent recruitment scheme for teachers is being re-arranged to ensure that YES teachers with several years of experience have a better chance of gaining proper teaching posts.
The Constitution indicates that citizens shall have “adequate opportunity to secure suitable employment” and the law indicates that workers should have rights to permanent jobs after working for two years. However, workers have to apply through the courts to gain these rights. Unless they are members of a trade union they will probably not be able to afford the legal fees involved.
Even if workers do go to court, they are not guaranteed victory. In 2012, the Supreme Court of Nigeria decided that labour rights, that is the right to keep a job, is not a human right. Similarly workers may only win compensation for the period of notice they should have received rather than getting their jobs back.
As well as covering the legal position in Nigeria, Femi compares the legal rights in Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabawe with those included in the International Labour Office (ILO) conventions. He finds that in several ways the laws in these other African countries are better than those in Nigeria.
Even casual workers are protected, as under the law in Zimbabwe, they are deemed converted to permanent status where they work for six weeks in any four consecutive months. In South Africa, the foundation of the labour regime is that every worker has a right not to be unfairly dismissed and the burden is placed on the Employer to prove that the dismissal was not unfair.
This book attempts to answer one question – are all categories of workers entitled to the fundamental right to a fair hearing before their jobs can be taken away? Unfortunately in this regard, Femi cannot but acknowledge that Nigeria lags far behind the two other countries and questions why this is so.
Femi does, however, provide a comprehensive review of labour and case law in Nigeria. This is essential for any trade union attempting to use the courts to protect the labour rights of their members. Femi inevitably comes to the conclusion that only a sustained struggle by organized groups of workers can realise what should be a human right for all – a proper paid and secure job.
Established Nigerian civil servants do enjoy protection against unfair dismissal – we have to fight to extend this right to all workers in both the public and private sectors, as the Edo YES workers and others are doing.
Until this fight is won, this book should be an essential reference document for all trade unions assisting their members to win and preserve their right to work. The law may not currently guarantee these rights, but it can provide important ammunition in this struggle.