What we want from the new ILO Country Director – Wabba

The leadership of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), led by its President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, held a crucial meeting with the new ILO Country Director for Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Liaison Office for ECOWAS, Vanessa Phala. MOSES JOHN reports.

Why the meeting? 

We received the new ILO Country Director that has just been posted to Nigeria to cover the English speaking West African countries- Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra-Leon, and The Gambia. It is our normal tradition to share with her our expectations, progress we have made so far with the outgoing Country Director, Dennis Zulu, who has been transferred to the Caribbean and she happens to replace him. Our commitment to respecting the ILO mandates and also the different declarations contained in the ILO constitution have made it very explicit that all development around the world should be about a human-centered approach. A development that does not have a human face cannot be a development and that has been at the core value of ILO.

Also important is the issue of international labour standards. Labour standards are lLO standards and are shaped by various ILO Conventions.

Nigeria’s prime place in ILO

I told the new country director that Nigeria is the first country in Africa to host the African Regional Conference and also host the first ILO office in Africa. Therefore , Nigeria occupies a very prime place in the anal of the ILO, and  we therefore deserve special attention. That is why the issue of making sure that the international Labour standards are not only ratified but they must be seeing to be implemented, especially our Labour law which has become obsolete. I also briefed her and appreciated the fact that the ILO has supported the review of our Labour law since  2005, but we are yet to see that brought to light. That is because it is still work in progress. I briefed her that some of the hiccups we have had in the process are because when that assignment was completed, the National Assembly could not pass it into law until the end of that NASS session and therefore it has to be done all over again.

So, in the new review, we need to take into consideration both observations and the gaps identified by the ILO Committee of Experts because each year, ILO Committee of Experts examines the Labour law of each country and identifies gaps that have not been able to conform with the ratified conventions; especially Convention 87 and Convention 98, that deal with the right to form unions and the right to organise. Also, that supports the Freedom of Association and the right of every worker to collective bargaining without exclusion. 

Casualisation and out-sourcing

The review of the Labour law is imperative in the light of the fact that part of the challenges we are confronted with in Nigeria  today is the issue of casualisation and out-sourcing of services. There is no exemption whether a worker is a casual or a full time employee whether is in formal sector or informal sector, that law covers it that every worker must have social security cover, social protection cover, so that when he aged out, he will have something to fall back to. That is the whole essence of maintaining the ILO core standards, especially the standards that should be enforced.

Supervisory mechanism 

Supervisory mechanism means every ratified convention by a country should be supervised by a structure of the ILO and that is the Committee of Experts. We also have standing Committee on Freedom of Association, also on the Principles of Freedom of Association. Every year, these committees meet, where any worker’s right is infringed upon, or trade union is infringed upon or employer’s right is infringed upon, it is expected that we report those infringement where the Committee of Experts, or the Committee of Freedom of Association will examine them and then make recommendations to those countries. This process has been on-going and we want it to continue.

Supports from ILO

We have also appreciated the supports received from the ILO in the time past. As I speak to you now, we have about four projects going on. We have the Research Project on Migration; we have the National Migration Governance Project; we have the Fareway Project; and importantly we have a lot of training that is presently going online with the Turin Center. That is the ILO training center. We also solicited for ILO supports particularly in the two schools we run, the Harmattan School and Rain School  that we have run for the past 20 years.  It  is a school where we try to impact knowledge. With the  changing world of works, workers need to be continuously receiving the necessary information and training to fit into the current and contemporary challenges of the world of work. We have solicited for their support to keep these two schools afloat. It is only last year that we have not been able to hold the schools because of COVID-19. But this year, we are going to leverage on technology to have a mix of both physical and virtual.

Tripartism  and UN new reform policies

We have also been able to request that because of the new structure of the United Nations (UN), you know that United Nations is undergoing reform and in every country now, you have Resident United Nations Coordinator where all the other UN agencies will have to function under the UN Resident Coordinator and because ILO is the only organization that is tripartite in its formation and its working. It  is a new situation for other agencies of UN. So, we are soliciting how the peculiar nature of ILO can be accommodated in the UN new reform policies. This is making sure that in strategic decision making process, the views of social partners will be taken on board. 

Kaduna labour crisis and attacks on workers’ rights

I also reported to the ILO country director the issue of undermining workers’ rights, or direct attack on workers’ rights. I shared with her what workers in Kaduna state underwent and why NLC had to wade in and embark on the action we had declared, including protest and how the Federal Government had, through the Federal Executive Council (FEC) intervened and that there has been continuous meeting.

 The meeting has been shifted to the office of the Minister of Labour. The  Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Labour is now the chairperson while we also have membership from the Kaduna state government, being led by Secretary to the State Government, the head of service, two commissioners and other members (seven of them). Here we have the deputy president of NLC and two other members, including the chairman and Secretary of NLC Kaduna State Council being part of that process. I said we have to reach that decision because of the fact that there has not been value for issue of social dialogue, because part of the core value of ILO is that in resolving any conflicts parties must be committed to social dialogue. Therefore, whereas we are committed to social dialogue, at the end of the day, it took all the intervention of the federal government for the parties to actually resume discussion and dialogue.

That  ought not  to be so, because parties should come to the table with the understanding that all the parties are the same, and that unions are there to protect the rights of workers. The right of worker includes the fact that he should not be sacked like a slave. Employment is a contract between the employer and the employee, and those contracts are very explicit- 35 years in service or 60 years of age, or if you have any other disciplinary case. If that does not happen, then it’s a case of redundancy. Redundancy means a worker losing his job permanently or an employer disengaging a worker on permanent basis before his due date for retirement. In doing that, a worker has to be paid and his redundancy package have to be negotiated by his union. That’s what the law says in section 20; that before issuing him letter of disengagement, his benefits must be negotiated. As you are giving him letter with right, his benefit including severance package should be ready for him to go and start a new life, because either the worker or the employer can terminate employment benefit, but the law must be respected. This is the whole issue, and that is what we tried to put across that these ILO Labour Standards are very fundamental and important. We also told her that the Kaduna State Government tried to be a judge and an accuser on issues that are purely an industrial relations issue. 

Minimum wage

These are some of the issues we have discussed with her and we would continue to make sure that the issue of workers are brought to the front burner. I remember also the issue of national minimum wage, they supported a workshop to actually strengthen our capacity to be able to engage the issue, when we had it. That also we have tried to appreciate the ILO, and importantly during the challenge of COVID-19, ILO also supported the NLC to make sure we were able to disseminate the information to our members. They also provided protecting devices to our members, that we have appreciated. We thought that such an understanding must continue to exist between the ILO and all its constituents, I mean the social partners. 

Need for human-centred devt

Also, we have reemphasised that any development must be human- centered approach because this is the recovery that is being posited by the ILO. ILO said with the challenge of COVID-19, what will get countries and nations out either economically or on the health issues is human- centered approach to responding to those challenges. In the context of Nigeria, even the palliatives, we are aware of how it was diverted or hoarded and people on their own had to help themselves. That certainly is not a human approach, whereas in other climes, everybody was able to access some level of support. So, those are some of the issues we shared with the new country director. We wish are a very wonderful stay in Nigeria and to continue the that we have started with her predecessor in office.