2018 Global Slavery Index (GSI) shows that out of 16 countries in the whole of West Africa, Nigeria has the highest number of people in modern slavery. The population of people shackled to their jobs in Nigeria is 1,384,000, more than the total number of people other African countries have in modern slavery, which is 1,081,000.
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If you haven’t worked in a Chinese, Lebanese, or Indian company in Nigeria before, it would be hard for you to believe that most of the foreign companies in Nigeria are centres for modern slavery.
As foreign employers enjoy cheap labour, they place little or no importance on the lives of local people working with them. They believe that no worker is irreplaceable since there’re always thousands of people in front of their gates still begging for jobs.
The conditions under which local employees work in most foreign companies in Nigeria are very terrible. Some foreign employers in the country find it difficult to take necessary measures to prevent occupational accidents as required. They always find one excuse or other to avoid recommendations given to them by concerned regulatory agencies.
Consequently, many of their workers are exposed to dangerous chemicals. While many have lost their lives, those who lost their fingers, arms or sight become useless for themselves without any substantial insurance scheme to cover their losses.
Modern slavery is different from that of the colonial era. Then, people were indiscriminately bought and sold to do some certain jobs against their will. Children as young as four years old were separated from their parents. Both men and women were forced to work without contract.
They were beaten and worked long hours, usually from 4 am to 5 pm in a very dangerous work environment. Some were summarily killed if found dozing, some died in gas explosions, while others developed lung cancers and other deadly related diseases and lost their lives untimely.
Both orphans and abandoned children were sold as pauper apprentices and worked for their masters without wages. Anyone trying to flee would be whipped and returned to their cages and became shackled for months to avert further similar attempts.
In modern slavery, despite the fact that most employees are aware that their employers aren’t being fair with them, they still commit themselves to their jobs. While they’re not being treated fairly, they have no choice than to remain loyal to their employers in order to retain their jobs. They’re helpless because government is also guilty of the same labour offence.
In comparison to the amount of salaries which ordinary public office bearers take, civil servants deserve better in Nigeria. No wonder the South African Government increased its minimum wage to N126,480 come 2019, while the Nigerian government failed to consider N30,000 minimum wage. Amidst this struggle, National Assembly workers protested against unpaid salaries.
How is this different from what private employees are facing? They do overtime without appropriate pay. Some are overdue to be confirmed as permanent staff. Consequently there’s no promotion, no salary increment, no substantial Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) policy for them.
The implication of modern slavery is undervaluing human resources, violation of labour laws and exploitation of workers. The forms it takes include ripping off workers’ human value, stealing their intelligence and potentials to grow a business with no or little compensation.
In the current economy, the public sector is not saint as the menace of modern slavery is concerned. Both the private and public employers all over the world are guilty of the unholy treatment of workers. But because the culpability of the private sector is higher, most people think modern slavery is peculiar to foreign companies.
In year 2016, the then executive governor of Osun State, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola sacked doctors working in the State because the government couldn’t afford to pay their salaries. Earlier, the governor said he regretted owing the doctors five months salaries.
Since the government had chosen to treat civil servants that way – giving them work without pay, definitely the case couldn’t be better off in the private sector. There, issue of sack, salary, allowance, insurance, non-remitted taxes, compensation, annual leave, maternity leave, promotion, HSE are perennial. And that makes most Nigerians working in foreign companies shackled to their jobs.
In the private sector, employees are threatened with the statement, “There is no job outside!” while in the public sector, they’re threatened with “No work, No pay!”
Both the two statements are commonly used to suppress workers’ agitation for their entitlements or improved conditions of work which is their right. Instead of listening to their grievances, their employers choose to threaten them with their jobs.
In some typical Chinese companies, workers that don’t want a lion share of their salaries to be deducted may have to drink their boss’s urine. In fact, many have lost their sight, arms or legs while struggling to meet up with a work target.
It’s unfortunate both the Labour Union and Trade Union in Nigeria don’t help the matter in any significant way. They only place their attention on the government. Whereas the government is not the only employer of labour in the country. How are they helping their comrades in private sector?
The situation of things in the private sector needs the attention of the Ministry of Labour, Trade and Labour Unions, and human rights activists to help advance the interests of people working in the private sector.
If the concerned ministries, agencies, unions and individuals cannot effectively facilitate a fair treatment of Nigerians workers irrespective of the sector or industry they work, it means they’re partial. And I hope the spirits of the wasted victims won’t haunt them when they sleep.
In conclusion, the government can’t achieve a sustainable industrial revolution while having its human resource undermined. While the government is creating infrastructures, economic and industrial policies that can attract foreign investors, human resources should be safeguarded with substantial policies that would go hand in hand with productivity.
That is the only way whatever additional jobs government intends to create by bringing foreign investors into the country can be sustainable, sensible, reliable and profitable.
They all should be aware that most foreign companies in Nigeria have failed to exhibit good sense of human value in their business policies as motivation is getting the wrong end of the stick.
The need to motivate workers is being overlooked. As a result of this, strike action becomes incessant. Employers pretend as if the cost of motivating their workers is an overhead and try so hard to cut it down by infringing labour laws. And that creates master-slave relationship between employers and workers.
No matter what a company aims to gain in costs cutting, it is counterproductive to cut costs required to motivate its workers. People are the backbones of every organisation.