Enough is enough – The Nation

  • Nigeria should no longer tolerate exploitation of labour by foreign firms

Thomas Hobbes, a 16th Century English philosopher and scholar, is perhaps best known for his writing on the state of nature that he famously described as an unorganised society where life was nasty, brutish and short. There was no government, consequently, no laws, rules or regulations.

This scenario is akin to what obtains in many foreign, especially Asian, firms in which Nigerian labour is engaged. Workers are used as the foreign employers deem fit.

There are no proper contracts of employment, the environment is largely unsafe and wages are generally poor.

The situation caught the attention of the Speaker of the House of Representatives who, while contributing at the processing of his bill to bring order to bear on operations of the companies.

The speaker who first introduced the bill in 2016 is irked that Nigerian workers are treated like slaves in their own country. He told the House that the foreigners are simply exploiting the loopholes in extant labour laws.

The Labour Act (Amendment) Bill under consideration in the House seeks to provide for mandatory registration of such firms, regular inspection by officials of the labour ministry, reports submitted to the minister and particular attention to safety equipment and remuneration.

We fully agree with the speaker. The law is long due for amendment and it’s a shame that such unwholesome practices could have been on for so long without due attention paid by the ministry.

In November, last year, one Mr Femi Olatunde lost his life in unsavoury circumstances in a plastic firm in Oregun, Lagos. His head got stuck in a running engine.

While the uproar it generated caught the attention of the state government, there is need to put in place enduring structure to prevent a repeat of such accidents and incidents. In 2002, about 120 workers got burnt overnight in a rubber factory in Ikorodu, Lagos.

Also, in 2013, a worker in a Chinese firm producing nylon bags in Ikeja, Lagos, died of electric shock while repairing a machine.

His colleagues attributed his death to unavailability of safety tools. In similar companies, female members of the staff are sacked if they got pregnant, staff work long hours contrary to international best practices; there are no provisions for retirement benefits and work schedules are not specified.

We call on the relevant committees of the National Assembly to be alive to their responsibilities in ensuring that the labour ministry is up and doing henceforth.

Foreigners should not be permitted to take advantage of the unemployment situation in Nigeria. Nigerian firms similarly exploiting their compatriots, too, should be sanctioned. This is the 21st century and Nigeria is an active member of the international community.

The International Labour Organisation has enough provisions for protocols and codes that protect workers. It is laxities like this that encourage other countries to treat Nigerians shabbily.

If the rights of citizens cannot be protected in their own country,what moral right do we have to condemn same in foreign lands? We look forward to the House summoning the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, and officials of the ministry to explain what is being done about the sub-human conditions in firms and factories owned by foreigners in Nigeria.

The relevant authorities should also be invited to a public hearing on application of expatriate quota to foreign firms. Any official found to be conniving with such firms should be brought to book. The dignity of labour must be fully observed always.

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