Employment and Labour Law practitioners evaluate businesses compliance to ILO’s Decent Work Agenda

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Participants at the BD Legal Business Digital Conversations, Monday evaluated how businesses in Nigeria are complying with the International Labour Organisation’s Decent Work Agenda in a webinar hosted in collaboration with the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) Employment, Labour and Industrial Relations (ELIR).

Decent work is a broad term that captures equal employment opportunity, working conditions, social security, social dialogue and economic indicators meant to enhance the wellbeing of employees. According to the International Labour Organisation, Decent Work is central to sustainable poverty reduction and is a means for achieving equitable, inclusive and sustainable development.

The ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalisation recommends the establishment of appropriate indicators to monitor the progress made in the implementation of the ILO Decent Work Agenda.

In Nigeria however, the descent work agenda is more of a dream for many. In a country where the unemployment rate is conservatively placed at 23 percent by the National Bureau of Statistics but estimated to be well over 40 percent by human resource management experts, demand for decent work from employers is a tall order.

According to Nneka Idam, human resource partner, Africa and Emerging Markets at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants modern slavery is happening and there is a perpetuation of the cycle of poverty.

“High unemployment rate has guaranteed indignities in some work environment. Many employers are paying way below the minimum wage and children have to work to augment the family income. They will have no time to go to school and this perpetuates the cycle of poverty,” Idam said at the webinar. This hinders the promotion of ILO’s Decent Work Agenda in Nigeria.

Nigeria has the legislative structure for decent work said Seni Adio, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and chairman of the NBA-SBL. Although he strongly suggested that requesting for marital status and age of applicants seeking to take up roles in any company was discriminatory.

Not many Nigerians have reported experiences of been discriminated against based on gender, age or ethnicity of at their work environments however, such experiences are not uncommon in some instances. Chinwe Odigboegwu, Senior Commercial Legal Manager at Guinness Nigeria Plc (A Diageo Company), said she has never been unfairly treated.

“I have been treated fairly from personal experience but from a general point of view, there are different experiences. Discriminations based on age, marital status and other characteristics abound,” she said.

Anthony Nwaochei, managing partner at the Law Crest LLP argued that the objective of the ILO Decent Work Agenda is none other than to deliver a guideline for distributing the fruits of progress in a business or work environment. He insisted employers need a shift in mindset. “Every worker should get a just share of commensurate to their effort in making a business or an organisation prosperous. This can comes in the form of trust schemes or bonuses. Everybody is a stakeholder.”

This means that living wages, transport and housing allowances need to be provided. This is tied to the economic performance of countries. Nwaochei said the time has passed when seniors in the legal profession thought of juniors out of law schools, pupils joining law firms rather than stakeholders in the practice.

Many other imbalances lead to indecencies in a work environment. Positive discrimination and affirmation are some of the policies used in redressing these imbalances. Although these have their drawbacks too because affirmative action in South Africa after Apartheid favour urban blacks while rural blacks still suffered. Affirmative action sometimes also puts unseasoned people in positions of authority, which in turn negatively impacts organisational performance.

“An inclusive workplace should take disability access seriously. For instance, sign language in the courts and the translation of documents into braille are critical. Women can be mothers and career people at the same time,” said Olumide Akpata, partner Mergers & Acquisitions, Immigration & Employment Corporate & Commercial at Templars, a Nigerian Law Firm.

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