Workers Day Celebration: The Plight Of Informal And Domestic Workers In Nigeria

By Roseline Oghenebrume

A report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 2018 estimated that 93% of all employment in Nigeria is informal.

This report aligns with the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) 2020 quarter-four Labour Force Statistics which revealed that the private sector contributed 91.3% to the total number of persons engaged in economic activities in Nigeria.

The two reports indicate that workers in this sector account for a significant portion of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Nigeria’s workforce.

Workers Day also known as Labour Day is celebrated annually on the 1st of May to recognize workers for their contribution to the development of their countries. It also provides the avenue to recognize the achievements and struggles of workers and to advocate for their rights and well-being.

While the celebration is laudable and appreciable, as it speaks to the rights of workers in general, the issues of workers welfare comes to mind. One may ask, is this celeby about workers in the Public Sector alone? If not, where is the place of Informal and Domestic Sector workers in these celebrations? Is Workers Day worth celebrating for worker in the Informal sector?

Informal and domestic sector workers in Nigeria are workers who are self-employed, small-scale entrepreneurs, maids, cooks, or those who work for small businesses (registered and unregistered). Informal sector employment from the colonial period has always been the resort of poor people in any country, even though they have a mutual coexistence and historical linkage with the formal sector of the economy in terms of backward and forward linkages.

Nigeria has signed up to various treaties and charters, such as the International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions in which the rights of workers are enshrined and are essential for promoting decent work, thus enabling workers to live with dignity and security. Additionally, there are several laws and policies in Nigeria that address the issue of inclusivity of informal and domestic sector workers in the formal economy.

They include the National Labour Law, the National Social Protection Policy, etc. The National Labour Law provides for the rights of all workers, including the workers in the informal and domestic sectors, and set out procedures for resolving employee & employer disputes.

The National Social Protection Policy seeks to provide social protection to vulnerable groups, including informal and domestic sector workers, through a range of interventions such as cash transfers, pensions, health insurance, etc.

Despite Nigeria being a signatory to international treaties and having domesticated several labour laws, the Informal and Domestic Sector workers still face challenges that affect their overall working conditions and quality of life.

These challenges include and are not limited to: Inadequate remuneration – Workers in this sector earn below the minimum wage. Their wages are not commensurate with their skills, responsibilities, and time invested in delivery. This makes it difficult to meet basic needs and negatively impacts their quality of life. Zero or limited access to social welfare benefits – They have zero or limited access to social benefits such as pensions, health insurance, housing, etc.

They are unable to cope with health emergencies and plan their future, which drives them further down the poverty ladder. Job Insecurity – Unlike their counterparts in the public sector, they are largely employed on a casual or temporary basis and most vulnerable to termination with notice, delay/non-payment upon termination, and constant threats from employers. Exploitation – They are prone to exploitation by employers and the government. Employers take advantage of their vulnerability to extort them by working overtime without pay, withholding salaries, etc.

Government officials demand bribes, impose arbitrary fines, arrest petty traders trying to eke a living, etc. Unfavourable Working Conditions – They work in unsafe and substandard working conditions which expose them to physical & health hazards and ultimately reduce their quality of life.

The UN Declaration on human rights and the ILO Declaration on fundamental principles and Rights at work contain provisions to advance human rights and workers’ rights, which show that human rights, gainful employment, and dignity at workplaces are closely interconnected.

Lawyers Alert is currently collaborating with Informal Workers Union in reversing these trends by engaging oversight state agencies and the judicial system. This intervention will advance the rights of workers in the informal sector for inclusion in the Nigeria Labour Act towards the full enjoyment of employment rights and protection under the law.

With the fast-rising value of Informal and Domestic sector workers in Nigeria’s Labour Force, we are calling on relevant stakeholders to engage towards preserving and enforcing the rights of workers in the informal and domestic sector through the below recommendations:

Enforcing Labour Laws:

Government needs to enforce existing labour laws, policies, and regulations to protect the rights of informal and domestic sector workers. These include creating mechanisms to monitor/enforce compliance with labour laws and ensuring employers who violate labour laws face penalties. Improve Working Conditions:

Employers need to improve working conditions by providing fair remuneration, compliance with contracts, reasonable working hours, a safe working environment, engaging in collective bargaining to negotiate wages, etc.

Literacy on Workers’ Rights:

Workers need to be educated about their rights in the workplace which will result in a decline in their vulnerability and willingness to seek redress when their rights are violated.

Legal Support:

The government needs to provide free legal aid to workers whose rights are violated and who cannot afford legal representation. Additionally, the judiciary should treat cases associated with workers in the informal and domestic sectors timely and as human rights cases.

Awareness creation:

Citizens need to be aware of the rights of workers which include informal and domestic sector workers, and perpetrators made to face penalties when extortion/harassment occur.

Strengthening Labour Unions:

Government needs to support the activities of Labour Unions which play essential roles in protecting the rights of workers, as well as protect Labour Union leaders who are often attacked in the discharge of their duty to vulnerable workers. In celebrating Workers Day, there must therefore be frameworks that protect the rights of informal and domestic sector workers who account for a large mass of the Nigeria workforce.

As of today, they are at best a footnote in Workers Day celebration, unseen, and will remain vulnerable if deliberate efforts are not made to enforce their rights as workers in Nigeria. Rights of Informal and Domestic Sector Workers are Human Rights.

Roseline Oghenebrume, Director of Programs of Lawyers Alert writes from the United Kingdom.

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