We are Workers! Not Commodities!

Trade Unions MUST Fight to stop casualisation of labour

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Labour outsourcing or triangular model of labour engagement has often been criticized and condemned. But this disastrous model that has been going on unchecked for year now worsens the hardships workers suffer at the workplace. It benefits only the rich employers and contributes to rising unemployment.

Labour outsourcing has become the first resort of big companies in Nigeria today as the bosses see the outsourcing model as an avenue to pay less for more. It is used to deny workers access to appropriate and fundamental working benefits such as stable employment, living wages, and health insurance, even when they do full-time work.

Workers are treated no better than machines or tools which can be discarded at will. The bulk of outsourced workers are not members of a labour union. This is not of their “free” will but because a larger percentage of the companies that explore the triangular model of employment are into union busting.

The case of Coscharis with Sixt mobility readily comes to mind. In an article published on socialistworkerleague.org on 16 October 2019 it was mentioned that the management of Coscharis group engages in fraudulent employment practices, where a subsidiary of Coscharis Group, SIXT Mobility outsources workers to Coscharis Motors.

Companies that engage in labour outsourcing block every attempt to unionize workers because the very essence of labour outsourcing is to reduce expenses, squeeze and discard the workers at will without responsibility or consequences thereby creating more wealth for the bosses. And they understand fully well that workers’ organizing is a first step towards liberation and self-emancipation of the working class. Therefore, they regularly violate the fundamental rights of workers including the right to decent work and the right to association as established by the ILO convention 87.

While they often hide behind the clause of section 40 of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria that provides the right to voluntarily join or not a join a union for workers, the reality is that they often compel the workers not to ‘voluntarily’ join the union, banking on the pool of unemployed people to “discipline” workers into accepting their fate.

Cases abound of management victimizing workers who showed interest in unionism with impunity. A good instance is Volkswagen assembly plant under the management of Stallion group where a large number of the workers were sacked because they were organizing themselves to join a union. And workers in that company till date are being subjected to precarious conditions of work and poor wages. And in July, over 300 workers were retrenched by Stallion Motors without proper remuneration using the cover of Covid19 crisis.

It can be said that the Federal Government is complicit in the vicious exploitation of workers because the outsourcing or recruitment agencies derive their so called legitimacy from Section 91 subsection 1 of the Nigeria Labour Act CAP L1 LFN 2004, which defines employers partly as any person who has entered into a contract of employment to employ any other person as a worker either for himself or for the service of any other person.

Similarly, the labour contractors have to get the recruiter license, which is issued by the National Electronic Labour Exchange (NELEX). This is an agency under the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, but the operations of these labour contractors are unregulated by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment.

This allows the bosses to further exploit the liberal hole provided by the anti-workers policies to multiply their profit at the expense of the workers and it this regards the outsourced workers. Labour outsourcing which is enabled by labour market liberalization is part of the neoliberal paradigm of development, driven by the logic of capitalism to accumulate wealth, by exploiting workers as much as can be done.

It is on that basis that the bosses as employers of labour have favour such casualisation of labour as a means of tightening the nut around the necks of workers. We now have the case in which a company set up labour recruitment firms and also outsources workers from its own recruitment firm to the parent companies.

In basic terms, a company pays itself to employ workers for itself. And in that manner the recruitment firm will bargain how much to pay the workers and pay the workers what is left after it must have removed its cut. This denies workers the right to collective bargaining and to determine under which conditions they work.

Labour outsourcing is terrible on its own, but the fraudulent act of outsourcing for one’s firm is not just terrible but exposes the illogicality of outsourcing altogether. Trade unions have to point out this and demand of government that laws are passed to eradicate it.

A similar case to that of Coscharis Group is Jagal Group which has NigerDock FZE and Prime Services FZE as subsidiaries of  Jagal Energy, a Division of the Jagal Corporate structure. But the reality is that Prime Services FZE outsources workers for NigerDock FZE. These are companies the labour centres should target in fighting against outsourcing, labour casualization and precarious working conditions.

Outsourcing the workforce has reduced workers to worse than waged slaves, making them the barest of commodities that can easily be transferred or discarded without at the whim of the bosses. Hence, we demand that the triangular employment approach should be discarded in its totality and section 91(1) of the Nigeria Labour Act CAP 1 LFN 2004 be amended.

To achieve that, it is important for the trade unions particularly the labour centres to initiate a massive campaign against Labour Outsourcing, and mobilise workers’ power against precarious work, labour outsourcing and contract staffing in the companies that are notorious for doing these. The NLC, TUC and FIWON including radical civil societies and coalitions like CORE should fight for decent work and end to labour outsourcing.

by Lai BROWN

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