By Appolos Christian
In recent time, inaction of Nigeria’s government; especially when it is of utmost important for action to be taken, has caused grave consequences to its citizens and increase negative perception of its modus operandi within the international community.
The recent killing of a female job seeker in Akwa Ibom State, Miss Iniubong Umoren, which could be considered a typically example of the consequences of Nigeria’s government delay in ratification of the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 190, is as at today a flash-point reason for President Muhammadu Buhari-led government to act now.
Prior to Iniubong’s death, public opinion among labour unions and journalists believe that a ratified and domesticated laws on gender base violence (C190): be it at work place or wherever, will largely serve in no small measure as deterrent against the unfortunate increasing menace.
Today, Miss Iniubong’s death has again given justification to the push by workers for the federal government to speed up the ratification of the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 190.
The C190 protects workers and “other persons in the world of work,’’ (including workers irrespective of their contractual status like interns, apprentices, terminated workers, volunteers, job-seekers and job applicants).
The delay in ratification of the Convention despite NLAC recommendation for Nigeria to ratify since March 2021 continues to draw heightened concerns from women workers, trade unions and civil society organizations who feel that government should quickly ratify this all important convention which applies to all sectors of the economy, including the public, private sector and the informal economy.
Workers (particularly women) continue to face different forms of abuse in the world of work; the recent trending video of a female lecturer who was physically assaulted by her male student in one of Nigeria’s foremost private universities is one among many examples of what workers continually and consistently face in country’s world of work.
Workers continue to share horrible experiences of gender based violence and harassment with more women reporting how they have been attacked due to lack of legal mechanism to protect women and men workers on the job.
Survivors remain afraid to speak up while their perpetrators walk free.
Narrating her experience, one Amina James ( real names withheld ) who is a cleaner for over two years with one of the Chinese construction companies in Abuja, Nigeria, described how she was bullied and harassed by her employer before she was sacked with no benefits.
Amina was employed as a permanent staff and her job was to clean the administrative offices of Chinese supervisors. She however started experiencing problems at work sometime in March 2020, during the pandemic as she had to come to work to clean the offices . It was at this time that one of her Chinese supervisors suddenly started sending text messages to her phone and sometimes calling her at odd times to clean his office.
In her words, ‘when I stopped answering the calls, he started harassing and bullying me by publicly saying to the hearing of other Chinese supervisors that I am incompetent and do not know how to do my work well. The company eventually sacked me”.
The story is the same for thirty five years old Adeoti Ngozi who works as a market porter (alabaru) at Mile 12 International Market Lagos State who also shared how she continues to experience incessant sexual harassment from men while trying to get home especially when while trying to get on and off the public bus at night.
Male workers are also not left out as Paschal Dam a driver and civil servant shared how his boss would often address him in derogatory language that makes him feel stupid and less confident.
In March, the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) resolved to ratify the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 190 which is the first ever global standard that aims to eliminate gender based violence and harassment in the world of work.
By NLAC’s approval, the Ministry of Labour and Employment is expected to convey written communication of approval for Nigeria to ratify ILO C190 to the Federal Executive Council (FEC), who will direct the Ministry of Justice to perfect the proposal in the form of a bill for onward transmission to the National Assembly for the eventual ratification process.
Attempts to get officials of the Federal Ministry of labour and Employment to give an update on the state of the ratification process proved abortive as they declined comments; this is as Nigerian workers continue to suffer and consistently lament over how they are abused and harassed at the workplace based on their gender identity.
Iniubong’s death is one death, too many as the aspiring jobseeker may not have died had there been mechanisms in place to check how criminally minded individuals virtually advertise jobs they cannot provide. A lecturer in our universities irrespective of their gender identity should also be adequately protected from physical assault from students and the public.
Where such abuses occur, the legal framework should be such that would ensure adequate punishment and deterrent of potential perpetrators while providing needed support to survivors – ILO Convention 190 provides a guide on how government can tackle this highly pervasive problem. Nigerian women workers continue to call on government to ratify this all important convention as it will serve as a positive step towards ensuring that workers and even employers are adequately protected while trying carry out their livelihood activities.