Recently, Nigerian workers have been confronted with changing work structures, characterised by employers declaring redundancies without following procedures set out in the Labour Law. This anti-worker change in the world of work has been driven by a combination of economic, political and technological factors, which put a significant burden on workers, in the interest of capital. We will recall that in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers laid-off workers in their thousands without regard for the interests and welfare of these workers. In many cases, this was done while deliberately violating the principle of social dialogue.
That trend has continued after the pandemic, with workers bearing the brunt. This situation has led to increasing precarious work and contributes to the detrimental effects of neoliberal policies on the workforce in Nigeria.
Non-procedural redundancy and labour casualisation
According to Section 20 Subsection 3 of the Nigeria Labour Act, redundancy is defined as an involuntary and permanent loss of employment caused by an excess of manpower. While hiring and firing is legally within the powers of employers, Section 20 of the Labour Act referred makes it mandatory that the reasons for redundancy must be established, its intended extent must be declared, and the employer must negotiate compensation for the redundancy with the workers’ representatives. In other words, while redundancy is allowed by law, it must be seen to be fair and just. Such cannot be said of redundancy exercises being carried out by many employers in recent times.
The practice of unfair and non-procedural redundancies is escalating, particularly in the private sector. Similarly, labour casualisation, which means employment of workers on a temporary or contract basis without standard employment benefits (such as pensions, health and life insurance, etc) is increasingly prevalent. The prevalence of indiscriminate layoffs and labour casualisation are connected and linked to the global neoliberal policies of labour market deregulation, competition and profit maximisation, at the detriment of workers.
Equally, the renewed turn to precarious labour practices amidst the several campaigns by ILO and trade unions for a decent work agenda is not unconnected to the global crisis of capitalism. It must be noted that the descent to non-procedural and indiscriminate redundancies is not necessarily out of ignorance of the extant labour laws and standards guiding the exercise. It is rather driven by the profit motive of the big bosses who embark on the worst form of labour casualisation in order to cut costs and maximise profits.
A good instance is the Nigerdock FZE, a major Nigerian maritime and ship maintenance firm privatised in the early 2000s. At the end of February 2023, it terminated over 30 employees in its maintenance and IT departments on the basis of redundancy without consultation with the Unions.
These were all the workers in the two affected departments. The management of Nigerdock FZE sacked these workers, not because their functions had become redundant. It was to casualise the labour delivering such services.
So, the next thing it did was to sublease these departments functions to a third-party organisation called Provast, which will bring in workers on short-term casual contracts. The Provast workers who now work indirectly for Nigerdock FZE are not just denied standard work benefits, they are prevented from joining trade unions. It is on record that they are made to sign that they will not join or form a union as part of the terms of their employment contracts.
To rub salt on an open wound, Nigerdock FZE management has refused to pay workers that were laid off in the redundancy exercise their full terminal benefits. That is part of the reasons the management avoided negotiation as mandated by the labour law. Although the workers and Unions that organise in the company particularly AUTOBATE Senior Staff Association, are determined to fight this criminal act of impunity. Solidarity from all trade unions and workers federations will be crucial for victory. Victory for these workers will be a significant victory against indiscriminate redundancies and labour casualisation.
Precarious work and the harm of neoliberal policies
It goes without saying that the government is complicit in the criminal practice of non-procedural redundancies and labour casualisation. The government at any time has not demonstrated a genuine commitment to ending precarious work.
This is in line with its demonstrated commitment to intensify neoliberal policies in the country without regard to the adverse impact on the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. Just recently the Tinubu-led Federal Government hiked the price of premium motor spirit (PMS) by 270%. That is just but one out of many neoliberal attacks the new government has enforced in its 30 days of emergence.
These policies have given employers more latitude to terminate employment or employ workers on a casual basis to reduce costs and increase profitability. However, these practices have resulted in precarious working conditions for many workers. And that has further contributed to increasing the inequality gap in Nigeria.
Precarious work and living conditions, characterised by job insecurity, low wages, and limited or no access to social protection or rights at work, has become a significant issue in Nigeria. It is largely a byproduct of neoliberal policies that prioritise economic liberalisation and deregulation over workers’ rights and welfare.
The rise of non-procedural redundancy and labour casualisation in Nigeria is a clear indicator of the damaging effects of neoliberal policies generally on the workforce. Equally with the roles of successive governments, it is evident enough that it will require concentrated and decisive actions of workers and labour movement to fight precarious work.
There is a need for stronger labour laws and regulations that protect workers against non-procedural redundancies and casualisation. Furthermore, the government must be made to respect international covenants it has entered into, to uphold decent work, social protection, and workers’ rights to organise and collective bargaining. Historically, it is clear we cannot have that without the pressure from below. Victory comes only through struggle.
The ills of neoliberal policies are not only seen in workplaces and factories, working-class people are confronted with the danger of profit-driven policies in our communities and homes. That shows the need for us to unite and organise for a massive fight back to put an end to the menace of anti-people policies and unending hardships.
by Lai BROWN