- Over the years, workers in informal sector have been neglected, as they enjoy no benefit from the government. Ezeh Fred writes.
Informal sector workers are attached to people whose economic activities are not captured in the database of the government because their actual figure and proper identities are not hatched by the government. As such, they neither have proper records of their business nor pay their due tax of proceeds from for their business or work.
Several reports by both local and international organisations have noted that the informal sector which is mostly made up of artisans, mechanics, hawkers, construction workers, and other related workers provides over 75 percent of employment opportunities, thus accounting for as much as an estimated 57.9 percent of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product, GDP. This is according to the United Nations.
But despite the gigantic contributions of the workers to the economy as acknowledged by local and international community, workers in the sector have not been able to enjoy the support of the government in terms of provision of conducive atmosphere, to enable them improve in the services.
Most worrisome is the fact that with their huge number and contributions to the economy, workers in the sector are not captured in the social security scheme of the government, thus living their social welfare hanging in the balance.
The General Secretary of the Federation of Informal Workers Organisation of Nigeria, FIWON, Comrade Gbenga Komolafe, at a stakeholders meeting in Abuja last week, frowned at the non inclusion of the workers in the informal sector in the policies and programmes of the government particularly the federal ministry of labour and productivity which ought to cater for labour force in Nigeria.
As part of the quest for the workers to be recognized by the government, the General Secretary said that the workers had made several efforts to gain the recognition of the government to the plight of the workers particularly in quest for inclusion in social security system and other welfare packages that would help in improving the working conditions of the workers, as against the current practice in which they are termed “informal workers”, thus not recognising them in the welfare programmes of the government.
Programme Coordinator of the union, Onokpe Bamidele, told Journalists that they have made efforts to be recognized by all stakeholders in the activities of labour but all the efforts proved abortive.
“When we came on board, we visited all the ministries and departments soliciting their cooperation in the matters of the informal sector workers, but they kept referring us to the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency of Nigeria, SMEDAN.
They welcomed us at the initial time but as time went on, they were not carrying us along in their policies and programme and we have no option than to back out as the situation became discouraging.
Speaking, Senior Programme Officer, International Labour Organisation, ILO, Country office for Nigeria Mrs. Chinyere Emeka-Anuna, said that the ILO in its 102th session had tasked its members on social security for the informal economy.
Emeka-Anuna said the informal workers often engage in the most hazardous jobs, conditions and circumstances, and they are vulnerable and are unable to defend themselves against such situations.
“The vast majority of this workers are not covered by social security schemes, occupational safety, health measures, working conditions, and limited access to health delivery.
“That is why social security is a major priority to the ILO which is to improve knowledge on the different risks faced by the informal workers, extend social security to them, develop community based scheme for micro-insurance, among others.” she said.
However, at a meeting in Abuja few weeks ago, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour, Dr. Clement Illoh, stressed the need for increased attention to workers in the informal sector, in order to improve and technologically assist them for improved service delivery.
He reaffirmed the commitment of the federal government through the ministry of Labour to improve the working conditions of the workers in the sector, revisiting the plans of the ministry through one of its parastatals, the National Social Insurance Trust Fund, NSITF, to include the informal sector in the social security programme.
Meanwhile, at a stakeholders meeting on: addressing the social security needs of the informal sector through cooperatives held in Abuja last week, the Permanent Secretary acknowledged that the core mandates of the Department of Social Security and Cooperative Development of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity focuses on devising a means of achieving the objective of addressing the Social Security needs of the informal workers through Cooperative delivery system.
“It is noteworthy that the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity is the sole ministry saddled with the major responsibility of human capacity welfare and drives the economy, creating an enabling environment for national growth through intermediary measures.”
Dr. Illoh said that the Social Security mandate of the ministry, seeks to secure the rights of the citizens against poverty and social exclusion. While government is a key stakeholder towards achieving the aim together with other stakeholders and donor organizations and it can only be achieved with g long lasting results through the key role of cooperative delivery systems.
He noted that the informal sector has been confirmed to be the larger source of employment for women than men, as the majority of the extreme poor are found in the category of informal workers. He further stressed that they work under the most hazardous conditions and are vulnerable and unable to defend themselves against natural and man-made hazards.
Represented by the Director, Special Duties, Mr. Felix Ogenyi, the Permanent Secretary endorsed the reports that revealed that barely 10 percent of workers in the informal sector is covered by current Social security schemes, frowning that such constitutes a significant denial of a fundamental human right, as the International Labour Conference, ILO, in its 89” and 90” sessions in 2001 and 2002 on Social Socurity and the informal economy respectively, placed the extension of coverage to excluded people in particular the informal cconomy.
“Social Security has found innovative ways to overcome problems and has evolved to meet society’s changing needs. Everyone as a member of the society has the right to Social Security and is entitled to its realization through national effort and international cooperation.
“People irrespective of the social status in the society, should make the most of all the advantages (cultural, work and social welfare) which are offered in society they live. Social Security is the action program of the government, intended to promote the welfare of the population through certain assisted measures that guarantees sufficient access for food, shelter and the wellbeing of the population at large, not limited to cash transfer.”
Adding her voice, the Director, Social Security/Cooperative Development in the Ministry of Labour and Productivity, Mrs. Mojisola Sonubi, described informal sector activities as economic activities in the sectors of the economy that are operated outside the purview of government regulations, adding that the activities of the sector encompass a wide range of small scale, largely self employment activities including retail trade, transport, restaurant, repair services, financial intermediation and household or other personal services.
“The vast majority of these workers are not covered by social security schemes, occupational safety and health measures, working conditions and regulations, while they are allowed limited access to health services. Over the years, the Nigerian government at various levels has adopted policies at enhancing the performance of the informal sector including entrepreneurship development, international financial assistance.” she said.
She said that the Ministry is working to further consolidate on the achievements made so far, by using cooperatives as an avenue to meet the social security needs of informal workers. “Cooperatives are autonomous association of people who voluntarily cooperate for their mutual, social, economic and cultural benefit.
“This can be formed in virtually every sector of the economy including housing, utility, agriculture, credit unions etc. Cooperative is an important way to attain social security as economic benefits are distributed proportionally to every member and this helps to settle the fear of lack and want in families and the society at large.
The Director however indentified the importance of cooperatives, as it has the potential to facilitate and accelerate the implementations of major social development activities, thus expanding access to social services and addressing specific social protection needs of the informal economy with proven records to create and sustain employment, hence cutting across major sectors of the economy.