At no point in the history of mankind has the health and safety of occupations raised so much concern as it has today. It is also a time that government has developed apathy and lacks the will to ensure that its citizens are protected as they contribute to the economy by not making provisions for a lot of issues that characterise the work environment, such as the emergence of OHS (Occupational Health and Safety) as a practice in the context of Labour-Management relations.
Unfortunately as at today, the Factory Inspectorate Division of the Ministry of Labour and Employment does not have the necessary manpower to function and the few hands available lack the needed tools to work while factory owners are committing a lot of atrocities and going scot free to the detriment of hapless Nigerian workers.
Many workers in the country work under terrible conditions. The issue of casualisation is also predominant, especially in the construction and manufacturing sectors. Stakeholders agree that the reason why this unfair labour practice persist is because of the absent of labour inspectors, whose job it is to inspect factories and ensure employers comply with decent work standard.
This parlous state of affairs in our safety management system cuts across all facets of our endeavours. A trip to manufacturing plants and industries, especially steel smelting plants and plastic factories, would show workers toiling under the most appalling, inhuman and harsh working conditions, without suitable, personal protective and respiratory equipment. Workers are subjected to hazardous conditions and unsafe work practices, with many exposed to highly corrosive and toxic substances.
In a May 2015 incident, bottling operations at the Benin plant of the Nigeria Bottling Company (NBC) were abruptly halted by casual workers, following the death of one of their colleagues whose name was given as Jerry Ayo. The angry workers completely shut the plant located at Eyean in Uhunmwode local government of Edo State, while protesting the death of their colleague.
In September of same year, dockworkers at the Five Star Logistics Terminal, Tin-Can Island Port, Lagos, suspended work over the death of their colleague, Mr. Paul Ifah. The incident, which brought to two the deaths of dockworkers in the terminal in less than two weeks, occurred when stacked heavy-duty pipes rolled off and killed Ifah instantly.
Daily Trust on Jun 13, 2016, reported that employers of West African Ceramics Limited and BN Ceramics Industries Nigeria Limited were not getting a fair deal from their job places. Workers alleged that there had been cases of substantial noncompliance with labour laws on employment, remuneration and the adoption of unethical measures in punishing employees. The report equally stated that there were concerns over disregard for the rights of workers to rest and leisure. The workers claimed that they were underpaid, and made to work during weekends and holidays with no commensurate appreciation.
Workers, especially at the West African Ceramics, expressed their displeasure over prolonged working hours and casualisation of workers and working without appointment letters. A similar situation was alleged by employees of BN Ceramics Limited.
Workers in West African Ceramics described how majority of the staff earn only between N18, 100 and N20, 100 while those in BN Ceramics earn between N18, 000 to N30, 000, a remuneration they said was not commensurate to the workloads of workers at the factories who work from 7:00am-7:00pm.
Workers of the two companies alleged disregard for industrial legislations which seek to protect workers from work-related hazards and diseases and refusal of the companies to pay compensations for injuries or disabilities suffered in the course of work, citing how some workers, especially at the West African Ceramics, suffered injuries and died in the cause of their jobs without compensation.
These show that the work environment is increasingly getting precarious for millions of workers in different sectors of the economy as they are daily exposed to worsening health and safety situations with increased cases of deaths and injuries at work.
Hard to believe is the recent disclosure by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Dr. Clement Iloh that the ministry had in three years recruited only 400 labour and factory inspectors, a number considered grossly inadequate in accordance with the standards of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Nigerian workers as a result will continue to be at the mercy of callous employers since Factory Inspectorate department of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment responsible for the enforcement of occupational health and safety at work places lacks adequate manpower to oversee the implementation of several other subsidiary legislations, which provide for safety, health and welfare of workers in all workplaces nationwide.
If Nigeria must recover from the recession, she has to give due consideration to the welfare of her worker who would in return build a viable economy.
The labour market is bulging by the year with millions of unemployed graduates seeking employment. This labour force need jobs, and can be utilised, to carry out these inspectorate functions as stipulated by the Factories Act to effect the needed changes in work condition of factory workers.
There are enormous challenges in industrial relations environment that need to be addressed: casualisation and outsourcing of services which has compelled a lot of workers to work under very terrible conditions; and lack of access to decent work environment and occupational safety. For us, these are very critical. In every economy, the working conditions have to be well regulated.
So for us, this should be a priority for the Ministry of Labour and Employment. Factory inspectors must be doing, and be seen to be doing, the job for which they are being paid. And they must be up-to-date on the contemporary trends in their line of work. The era where workers are caged under terrible conditions to be exploited as their heartless employers see fit must be confined to the past.