The Nigerian labour market exposes us to the realities of vulnerable persons in the employment sector. Who can be described as being in the vulnerable group in labour, they are simply persons who for the reason of their age, status, or gender are more likely to face bias, marginalization or exploitation based on lower productivity.
The issue that arises is not only limited to the status of their employability but also stretches to the conditions of their work. Without realizing these factors they are group of persons that we interface with on regular basis, they include children/young persons, physically challenged persons, persons with limiting health conditions and women especially those that fall under the pregnancy ages. Recently, Nigeria is experiencing a rising addition of Internally Displaced Persons into this category.
Looking at the employment conditions of young persons, it is evident that there is a need to safeguard a suitable working environment for them. Although the Labour Act which is the guiding Norm for labour practice in Nigeria does not specifically state the age range which defines young persons, Part III of the Act providing for special classes of workers highlights the ages permitted for apprenticeship.
A walk down memory lane would reveal that the origin of apprenticeship is one that was family based and served as a tool to promote cultural and social development of the growing populace. Young persons were not only taught to appreciate labour and work but they were equipped with other skills other than the formal education they acquired.
In Section 49 of Part III of the Labour Act, it is provided that young persons under the age of 16 but above the age of 12 can be apprentices but must all execute a contract of apprenticeship with the consent of their parents. It goes ahead to protect the interest of orphans or persons without a known guardian or parent by creating requirement for a Labour Officer to be present to authorize their apprenticeship,S49(2) of the Labour Act.
However, the reality of apprenticeship and child labour in Nigeria is highly informal and unregulated hereby making it difficult to provide an adequate structure for skills to be acquired or exercise control over the value of social interactions that these persons engage in. This challenge drives home the point that it is one thing to create a law and another to implement it. Positively, the existence of these guiding rules will create platform for affected person to be protected when the need arises.
Another affected class of persons under the vulnerable group are women. They experience marginalization in labour practice because they find it difficult sometime to get jobs without external help. Their salaries are also affected because of probable absentism on the likelihood that they will affect productivity level. However, Section 54- 56 of the Labour Act provides for maternity protection which is a welcome provision in the light of protection of women’s right universally. Although every citizen of Nigeria has the right to dignity of labour, the law cannot force an employee on an unwilling employer.
The law also goes ahead to protect persons who are physically challenged or living with HIV or other health conditions. The Lawyers Alert, a Civil Society Organization in Nigeria has succeeded in getting remarkable judgments from the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) for the employment of vulnerable workers owing to their HIV status over the years contributing to the establishment of their rights overtime. In creating an atmosphere that dispels any form discrimination against these persons by employers of labour, the onus of the duty of care to protect their fellow employees in this instance shifts from them.
The event of the Covid-19 pandemic however creates another discuss on the discrimination of persons in an employment based on their health status. There are also other Statutes and Conventions which kick against the bias experienced by these class of persons, they are referenced below. Most times, employers neglect to create a physical condition to suit these challenged persons and it is only right that adjustments be made to align with international best practices and conventions in employment.
Although Nigeria doesn’t have a perfect structure for employment and labour control, a system indeed exists that recognizes and deems to protect employments rights and benefits. Also the Nigerian labour sector is experiencing a new generation of changes and inputs that have helped to shed light on issues that were previously deemed irrelevant. In my opinion, this is helping to change the conditions of vulnerable employees in our workspace.
Labour Act, Cap 198,LFN 1990
Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention No 182, of 1999, ratified by Nigeria in 2002
Minimum Age Underground Convention No 123 of 1965
Discrimination against Persons with Disability (Prohibition) act 2018
The National Policy on Disability in Nigeria,2017