Workers under the aegis of Federation of Informal Workers Organisation of Nigeria (FIWON) recently drew attention to the deplorable conditions of their employment and the penchant of many employers for bringing in foreign workers to their detriment. The workers, who are mostly casual employees, communicated their grievance via a statement issued on December 22 by the FIWON General Secretary, Mr. Gbenga Komolafe.

The problems of casual workers in Nigeria are well known to the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the government. The surprise, however, is that nothing has been done to adequately address their plight over the years. This situation is probably on account of the serious employment crisis that has left many Nigerians without jobs, and the employed ones at the mercy of unconscionable employers.
Those familiar with the deplorable conditions under which these categories of workers are engaged over the years and government's seeming acquiescence cannot but be worried. The conditions under which many of these workers are engaged are generally degrading. They call to question government's planning ability and its commitment to the citizens' welfare.
Komolafe specifically referred to Section 3 (2) of the Nigerian Labour Act which provides that "... exclusive consideration is given to Nigerian indigenous service companies which demonstrate ownership of equipment, Nigerian personnel and capacity to execute such work on land and swamp."

Sections 37, 38 and 39 of the same Act require operators in the country to subscribe to a programme that promotes the training and progressive empowerment of locals in jobs that foreigners hold but which they can do.
Whereas the 1972 indigenization policy has ample provisions for local content, it is mostly observed in the breach. The drive for all kinds of foreign investments in a challenged economy like ours has seen government drop its guard on its own policy. It has allowed foreign companies in the country to run riot on Nigerians by treating their Nigerian workers like trash in the effort to cut corners, subjecting them to long working hours with little pay, and oftentimes with no entitlements such as leave, bonuses, medical care and retirement or long service benefits. They also deny qualified Nigerians of jobs that they can do, preferring to bring in less qualified persons from their own countries.

These foreign concerns subvert the local content provisions in our laws in collaboration with the agencies charged with the responsibility of enforcing them. The federal government, Immigrations and the police are guilty of this offence.
In practice, apart from filling their allotted quotas, these foreign businesses are allowed to bring in unskilled labour from their countries and elsewhere, leaving Nigerians who are eminently qualified to fill such positions in the lurch. Komolafe, in particular, listed "certified welders, construction workers such as tilers, Plaster of Paris technicians, masons and carpenters" as most affected.
The excuse that skilled labour is hard to find in the country in a worn out one. For example, some of these foreign businesses are known to hire their nationals as gate keepers and errand boys. What special skills do those categories of work require that Nigerians do not have?

The 1972 Indigenization Policy provides that Nigerians be trained to take over, as much as possible, jobs that foreigners do. In many other foreign countries, especially oil producing countries like ours, this local content policy is strictly enforced by all the responsible agencies of government. But in Nigeria, this appears not to be the case.
Our citizens are invariably denied jobs that they can do and the few who find employment in these foreign companies suffer indignities. The tragedy is that most of these infractions happen with our government looking the other way.

We do not deny that there may be areas where our citizens fall short on the skilled labour count, but what all concerned stakeholders should do is to ensure that the gap is bridged. We, therefore, call for more synergy between the industries and our tertiary institutions with a view to articulating and addressing the specific needs of industries in an increasingly globally competitive world.
Our law enforcement agencies, too, should be awake to their responsibility in this regard. They should strictly enforce the allotted quotas for expatriate staff in the various businesses that operate in our country and where there are violations, those culpable should be punished. In fact, with our soaring unemployment figures, maybe this is the appropriate time to review such quotas with a view to progressively reducing them to accommodate more Nigerians.

To achieve this, agencies saddled with the responsibility of enforcing these quotas must put pro-active measures in place to curtail this threat to our national interest. For example, the Immigrations should carefully examine the curriculum vitae of expatriates who seek clearance to work here to ensure that they qualify on all counts, before they are given residency and work permits. This way, the illegal influx of aliens into the country can be controlled.
These agencies, too, must look inwards with a view to identifying bad eggs in their midst with a view to rooting them out. The simple reason the local content provisions are badly applied today is not because those who should enforce them do not know what to do. It is because of other interests which relegate the long term health and overall development of the country to the background. Most of these foreign companies which violate their expatriate quotas have our big men who are only concerned with protecting their selfish and personal interests on their boards. The enforcement agencies which allow them to breach the allotted quotas would rather accept bribes than insist on the law. The government should stop all these unpatriotic acts forthwith if we are to stop this flagrant disregard of our laws and the unwholesome maltreatment of casual workers in the country.