By Michael Oche
The Federation of Informal Workers of Nigeria (FIWON), with support of the American Solidarity Centre, has launched a campaign to draw government attention to discriminatory policies that have worsened plight of workers in the informal sector as well as app-based drivers.
Through the campaign, the workers said they seek to use tools such as advocacy, organising and litigations to ensure that workers in the informal sector enjoy a decent work environment by being part of policy making processes.
“The starting point is that we must be at the table in the policy making process,” Gbenga Komolafe, FIWON general secretary, said while speaking in Abuja during the campaign launch.
He argued that workers in the informal sector constitute over 80 percent of the work force in Nigeria, and policies that affect them must be taken very seriously.
The FIWON general secretary explained that most of the policies designed by the government for informal sector workers don’t work because the people that are supposed to be the beneficiaries of such policies are not involved in the formulation process of such policies.
He said to ensure that workers take part in the process, workers in the informal sector must be allowed to unionise and their unions recognised and respected.
He said, “Unionization in the informal sector must be encouraged, must be recognised and employers must be ready to sit down with the representatives of the workers to address issues.”
Comrade Komolafe decried the lack of social protection for vulnerable workers in the informal sectors, lamenting that informal workers are subjected to daily harassment, and are criminalised, with many having their work places taken over by “powerful estate developers with support from corrupt government officials.”
He explained that the workers have made several representations to draw government attention to their plight, including the “the health is a human rights” campaign which exposed the absence of healthcare for workers in the informal sector.
The Federation also called for recognition for app-based drivers in Nigeria under the umbrella of National Union of Professional App-Based Transport Workers (NUPABTW) and the Professional E-Hailing Drivers and Private Owners of Nigeria (PEDPAN).
The App-based drivers lamented constant harassment and extortion by state agents like police who ought to be protecting the already disadvantaged workers.
Consequently, he said through the campaign, the workers are demanding respect for their rights to unionisation, and by that will push against unilateral deactivation and blocking of account by app-based companies without fair hearing, and also demand that their members should be given opportunities to have a say in pricing mechanism within the sub sector.
In the same vein, they aim at using the new union to demand enhanced safety and security measures through adequate profiling of customers (riders), and at the same time demand training and upskilling for increased output, quality, efficiency in production and increased market share of local produced goods.
Also, part of their demands are; decent workplace through the establishment of informal work clusters and provision of basic infrastructures such as drainages, electricity, water and toilet as well as increased credit access to informal businesses through their cooperative.
Also speaking, Christopher Johnson, the regional programme director for the Solidarity Centre, said this campaign is tied to a bigger desire to formalise the informal economy, to provide benefits and proper wages and a way of life for young people especially but for also for the older workers who are working in the informal sector, to provide them with a future that can protect them and their families and can feed them and their families.
He said, “One of our very important strategic areas of engagement has been the informal economy – be it in markets, in the platform economy, be it in domestic work- all of these spaces throughout the continent of Africa where the majority of workers are employed. Far too often, be it government, be it even Civil Society has been able to engage that population of workers to those workers satisfaction. So oftentimes, those workers feel like they are outside of the traditional sort of Employment or workers Solidarity movement.
“These types of campaigns have two focuses. One is to specifically engage improvement in the sector, whether be E-Hailing or informal sector broadly. Secondly, it is for the labour movement or for worker-based NGO to create messages that attract the interest and energy of young people. And attached to that is to create or help to create a collection of young leaders who can speak for themselves.
“It is not proper for a middle-aged or elderly man or woman or a comrade to be speaking for young workers. So, the development of those young workers to speak for themselves is very important. And how they do that, the way that we organise is going to change, it is already changing. The one-on-one conversation, nothing replaces that. But in addition to that, social media for mobilising, to get messages out. These App drivers are using technology to receive clients. That same phone can be used to produce messages through WhatsApp, through Twitter, through Instagram, through Facebook. If they are collected as a group, then their message can be amplified in such a way that my generation of organisers never could have imagined.”