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Inside Lagos Factory Where Workers Stand For 12 Hours Daily To Earn N1,500

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Inside Lagos Factory Where Workers Stand For 12 Hours Daily To Earn N1,500

Inside Lagos Factory Where Workers Stand For 12 Hours Daily To Earn N1,500
December 31
00:38 2023

• Factory, workers operate without safety equipment, protective gears

• Employees: Why we can’t stop working in spite of hazardous conditions, poor pay

• Standing for long hours causes hypotension, damages spine, cartilage – Medical experts

After working for weeks as an undercover in a Lagos-based shoes factory, DAMOLA KOLA-DARE reveals the hazardous conditions under which workers in a Lagos shoe factory operate only to be paid peanuts and the serious threat the mode of operation poses to their health, particularly their spinal bones.

On a Monday morning in the Ayobo suburb of Lagos, hundreds of job seekers besieged the gates of JTH Badroh Limited, a Lebanese-owned shoe manufacturing company, daring the cold dawn and desperately waiting to be picked for employment. The reporter was one of them.

That has been the norm for years. As early as 6.30 am from Monday through Friday, people of different age grades line up to be picked by the company’s Nigerian supervisors for the day’s job. At 7 am, the selection exercise ends and those that would be engaged for the day are taken to different departments for the jobs they needed to do.

Nestled in the interior of the rusty Lagos community that shares a boundary with Ota in Ogun State, there is no billboard or signpost to indicate the presence of a manufacturing firm. Right from Megida Bus Stop directly opposite Anchor University all through the tarred road that ends around ‘Poultry Oyinbo‘, where the factory operates from, it comes across as a nondescript entity.

With not fewer than 50 workers engaged daily for morning and night shifts, it is a place where workers are expected to work their socks off for peanuts. The shoemaking company is a world of its own; a workplace that reeks intrigue, nepotism and corruption, where workers are made to work until their spines crack.

At the factory, there is no payroll for workers. Employment terms, dismissal as well as salaries/wages are verbally determined. Job seekers do not need to submit credentials and curriculum vitae or even go through any formal interview process to get employed. They are not issued any identity card or company’s handbook.

Before entering the company’s premises, a worker is asked to drop his belongings at the security post. There is no arrangement in place to secure their jobs as they are hired on ad hoc basis. And there are no perks or bonuses aimed at motivating workers even if they work their hands sore. The highest position a Nigerian worker in the company can attain is ‘supervisor’, and that is only possible after the worker must have worked consistently in the company for many years.

Inside the factory’s production line
Once a worker leaves the security post, he or she is ushered into a fairly large hall where workers are given different tasks to handle in the production lines. And once work begins, a worker cannot sit or squat for the more than 10 hours they operate every day.

No worker is allowed to use his or her cell phone while production lasted, and anyone caught violating the rule is sacked instantly without any pay for the day no matter the number of hours already put in. For workers who are expected to stand at their duty posts, any attempt to sit or rest a little is deemed laziness which also attracts dismissal without pay.

Workers on morning shift work from 7 am to 7 pm with an hour’s break in between. And for the night shift, work begins from 7 pm and ends at 7 am, also with an hour’s break to get some sleep.

Once the workers resume duties in the morning, they work non-stop for six hours before going on break at noon. By 12:50 pm, they must be back to work for another seven hours before closing for the day.

Altogether, a worker works for 13 hours each day, 12 of which they spend standing and without shoes. So, for five days from Monday to Friday, a worker puts in 65 hours of work for a meager N7,500.

On hourly basis, a worker’s pay in the factory amounts to about N115 per hour. A source at the factory said that N1,000 was the amount paid to workers before it was increased to N1,500.

Considering that the amount payable to a worker engaged for one month in the factory is N30,000, the amount the worker spends on food and transportation leaves him or her with virtually nothing at the end of the month.

The reporter experienced serious dehydration in the period he worked at the factory, such that two plastic bottles of water were never enough for food break.

A Lebanese manager known simply as Jay at the factory told the reporter who had complained that the N1,500 paid each worker daily was too meager: “This is what we offer people. Even young boys and girls work here. If you cannot take the N1,500, there is no job for you.

“If you work very well today, we will pick you up tomorrow. If you don’t work well today, there will be no job for you tomorrow.”

During the production of shoe soles, materials are poured the men in the section have sweat cascading their bodies as they pour materials into the funnel-like furnace. Inside here, it is a beehive of activities as workers of different ages are seen fixing, hitting, painting and performing all sorts of hard tasks with urgency in order to meet the targets set for them.

There is usually a cacophony of noise from different sections as busy hands strive to impress roaming supervisors. It is not uncommon to see blistered hands of those that sit on mats all day to affix fittings, laces and tags on straps.

On the part of those designing the shoe soles, standing for hours on end is no less arduous for such chicken feed. In the factory where production takes place, the heat experienced by workers is extreme. The ceiling fans are positioned to cool the raw materials while workers are left sweat profusely. While the factory is installed with air-conditioners, they are found only in the offices of the Lebanese and in the warehouse where goods are stored.

Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras are installed in every part of the factory. A source said that many workers have been sacked because the CCTV cameras showed that they were in possession of flip-flops from the factory.

Due to the tedious nature of the job, many of the workers cannot afford to come to work every day of the week. Some come two or three times a week. But those who have targets strive to go very early in the morning.

After the day’s job, workers line up at 7pm to be paid in cash by the supervisors, after which everyone departs. Checks revealed that a pair of slippers cost N800 directly from the company, although it sells in bulk and not in units.

Different classes of workers
There are different categories of workers according to the various sections. They range from young boys and girls to fairly elderly men and women. The designing section is replete of youths, mostly young women and men who are deemed strong. Saddled with the task of designing the soles of flip-flops, they use chemicals to print on the soles and design more than 1,000 soles per hour. They do all this standing for 10 to 12 hours.

Once they are done they take the designed soles to those who would affix the strap to the soles. These are men who also work standing. Sadly, they are not paid N1,500 per day like their counterparts in other sections. Rather, they are paid N100 per 60 pairs of soles they work on. In sum, they are paid N100 for working on 120 soles.

The number of soles they work on in a pack determines their take-home for the day. On their part, the fairly elderly sit on mats all day to fix different fittings on straps.

Why we can’t stop coming’
A single mother of four in her late 40s, Funmi, admitted that the work is too tedious, particularly when one considers the amount that is paid in return. But she said she could not stop coming because she wanted to save the proceeds from the factory to travel to Iraq and become a housemaid, a caregiver or a surrogate mother.

She said: “I have a target. Once I am able to save enough money, I will travel to Iraq to work either as a maid, a caregiver or a surrogate mother. I have made enquiries about Iraq and I learnt they are liberal. You don’t have to wear hijab like in Saudi Arabia.”

Favour, one of the workers, who has spent three years at the factory, said she had got used to it. She says she comes to work every day despite the tough nature of the job and the scant reward for it.

Another worker, who identified herself simply as Wunmi, says she works in the shoe firm because she has no choice. She recalled that she experienced excruciating pains the first time she came to work, saying: “The job is not easy. You resume very early in the morning and close at night, standing all through the period. But I have no choice, it is better than lying idle.

“When I first started, I spent my daily pay on painkillers. Standing for more than eight hours is not a joke. I had pains all over my joints. It was extremely tedious, but there are no jobs in the country.

“In fact the supervisors pick you only if you can bribe them with money or your body.

“When I first started, one of the supervisors started touching and teasing me, calling me his ‘crush’. He would give me preference over others, so at times I could sit down and rest if I got tired.

“But others dared not. Many times, he would ask me if I had money for lunch.”

One of the supervisors, a Nigerian, who gave his name as Charles, said he got disillusioned with life and decided against furthering his education. Instead he pitched his tent with the company for N50,000 monthly salary.  The Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) holder says he does not need to go to a higher institution because at the end of the endeavour, there would be no job.

Corruption reigns supreme
A source who works in the company revealed the dark side of operations in the factory. According to her, the Lebanese allegedly sleeps with desperate female workers. She said many young girls and ladies had to trade sex in exchange for daily work slots.

She also accused Nigerian supervisors of doing the same, saying: “One of the supervisors had enquired about a young lady who had come to work and had started making passes at her. It was later I told him she was married and had children. That was why he eventually left her alone.

“Many of the young girls and ladies have to sleep with the supervisors and the foreign owners just to retain their place.

“A certain lady was having an affair with one of our supervisors at a time, but it seemed the supervisor got tired of it when he a new lady. So he told her he was no longer interested, and the lady collapsed in the factory.”

Efforts made by the reporter to speak with the management of the company met a brick wall. All the telephone numbers on their Facebook and Instagram handles were said not to be reachable.

However, a senior supervisor, Sunday Stephen, told our reporter that the owners treat workers poorly because they believe Nigerian work is stressful. He blamed the poor treatment of Nigerian workers by foreign interests on the nonchalant attitude of Nigerian leaders towards citizens’ welfare.

He said that that when government officials come for inspection in the firm, they don’t even enter, not to talk of inspecting the facilities and the conditions in the factory. Instead, the Lebanese owners bribe them, present some documents to them and then leave.

He appealed to the reporter to help do something about the issue.

He said: “Nigerian work is stressful. That is why the Lebanese are doing like that. In fact, if you can do something about it so that they can change, it will be nice.

“When government officials come here on inspection, they don’t even enter into the company. The Lebanese give them money and show them some papers and they go back.

“That is the way Nigeria is, and that is why the Lebanese are doing like that,” he said.

Poor safety standards
At the factory generally, no premium is placed on safety. There is no sensitisation on hazards and safety measures. It was observed that the workers do not wear safety jackets or overalls. There are no protective head gears, hand gloves for those handling chemicals or nose masks to ward off offensive smell of pernicious chemicals.

While putting in a shift at the designing section where instep of soles are designed and printed upon, after the designing the soles, workers are required to clean the paint-stained containers with a certain colourless chemical which at first does not give any irritating feeling, but once you take your hand off it, you feel extremely hot sensations which cools after some time.

Asked if it was safe to clean the container with the chemical, one of the supervisors on duty claimed it is not harmful.

Recalling his experience at a fan manufacturing company in Agbara, Ogun State, Mr. Tolulope Sanusi, who works for a human rights organization, urged the government to make efforts to create jobs for the youth. He also called for strict monitoring of foreign companies in the country even though they pay taxes.

He said: “Government should ensure it creates jobs for the youth. It should deepen industrialisation. There are thousands of youths out there who are either unemployed or underemployed. Those foreign companies who treat workers poorly are doing so because they know that there are no jobs in the country.

“I once worked at a fan-making company in Agbara, Ogun State. It was a terrible experience for me. We resumed at 8am, go on break from 12 pm to 12:30 pm; then we would continue till 8 pm.

“We spent one week on day shift and another week on night. We were used anyhow. We could not talk or explain. They threatened us with physical assault and sack.

“They paid us N1,000 per day, and the work was extremely tedious. A major accident happened then and the machine operator lost his fingers while he was trying to work on molding machine for the fan blade.

“We also had minor accidents while using cutlass to cut plastics, and in the end, no treatment, no compensation. Government should be strict with those companies even if they are paying tax.”

Psychology of employees working under poor conditions
A clinical psychologist at Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso, Dr. Fisayo Adebimpe, noted that employees working under terrible conditions are prone to anxiety and depressive symptoms. She said they might feel hopeless, worthless and extremely sad.

She urged government to intervene urgently, adding that individuals should be able to report their grievances to the relevant agencies with punitive and corrective measures put in place to safeguard their mental status and well being.

Adebimpe said: “Exploitation is one demeaning action anyone can experience from fellow humans. This trend, unfortunately, has been there over time without being curtailed.

“Our concern is the psychological trauma the individual experiences during this distress. The people who find themselves there are the most vulnerable. They do not have a choice or any alternative to sustain their daily livelihood. Hence they become victims to different kinds of abuse.

“There are links between labour exploitation and other forms of exploitation such as sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and forced criminality.

“Most of labour exploitation happens when there is a strong disparity and manipulation on the part of the employers on their employees. The employees are subjected to unfair working conditions, even without been adequately compensated for the services that they render.

“Employment/labour exploitation, especially in the private sector, needs proper monitoring, especially by the Ministry of Labour and Productivity. Most of the employees find themselves in those situations either voluntarily or through some form of coercion working in sub-par conditions. Some have their wages held for work that is being completed.

“Some of these employees even live in groups in the same place where they work and leave those premises infrequently despite the hostile treatment. Some do not even have access to their families at all.

“Basic provisions are not always provided by the employees, such as access to health care treatment, good shelter, and even feeding. Some might even lose their lives without being compensated.

“Since there is no labour contract, they are subjected to long working hours without access to their earnings.”

Long-term implications
Asked about the long-term implications, Adebimpe said: “Most of them are prone to anxiety and depressive symptoms. The fear and apprehension of what will happen next become the bone of contention for their fate.

“They cannot dictate or predict what is going to happen next. Some might feel hopeless, and at an overwhelming undue sadness, they might feel worthless. At a point, some might experience a form of suicidal thoughts because of the unfriendly working conditions.

“We should not forget the current economic situation in the country. The poverty level is high, and these employees always find themselves in compromising situations and do not have a choice.

“Some might even find themselves in life-threatening situations and even bullied as being a failure. The little stipend received might even be diverted into maladaptive behaviour such as substance/drug abuse, betting, gambling, and so on. Some ladies/women might be forced into prostitution and sexual activities

“There is a need for urgent intervention by the government. Individuals who find themselves in the situation should be able to report their grievances to the relevant agencies with punitive and corrective measures put in place to safeguard the mental status and well-being of these individuals.

“These cases are well reported but we have not seen any drastic changes.”

Standing for long hours at work endangers workers’ lives – Experts
President of the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria, Ijanikin, Lagos State, Prof. Akin Osibogun, said employees who stand for long hours risk swollen feet, elevated blood pressure, varicose veins, among others.

In an interview with The Nation, Osibogun said: “Standing for long hours can be an occupational hazard in some professions such as traffic wardens, neurosurgeons, security personnel, etc. Some of the health effects include varicose veins, swollen feet, muscle fatigue, waist or low back pain, elevated blood pressure, orthostatic hypotension, and dizziness.”

A specialist doctor, Managing Director of  Hamaab Medical Centre, Lagos, Tunji Akintade, said: “When soldiers are on parade, they stand for long hours, and until the President comes to check the parade or their commander. If they fall, nobody gives attention to them. They stand up on their own and go back to standing.

“What has happened there is simple: there is a redistribution of blood flow away from the brain, so they lose balance when they fall flat, the blood flows at the level of the heart back, so they regain their senses.

“It is only lethal when the person falls into hot oil or is driving. That is called orthostatic hypotension. That is one effect of standing for long.

“But the major effect of standing is on the backbone, the legs, and the muscles. The muscles ache badly. I stood in a BRT from 3:30 pm till 9 pm yesterday, and as of now, my muscles are still aching. Relaxing, and drinking enough water will relieve the ache.

“The effect also is that there is a tendency for you to be dehydrated. Another one is, in our spine, there is a pack, which is a disc in between the bones. There is going to be weight in the bone, so the cartilage will keep eroding, reducing in size.

“If it is 5cm, it will reduce to 3cm, like that till the bones start grinding against each other. That is when we have back pain. Regular standing causes joint aches, muscle pain, back pain, and orthostatic hypotension.

“The support of the backbone reduces through regular standing, and the cartilage which prevents the bones from rubbing against each other can flatten out through excessive standing.

“Naturally, bones should not touch bones. If that happens, you have back pain and you also feel it in your brain. When the synovial fluid (lubricant) in between the bone joints dries up through dehydration and long-standing, the cartilage too starts eroding and you start having serious back pain.

“Those that stand excessively risk the cartilage eroding. Those sitting too are at risk of back pain. It is more severe when a patient has underlying health issues. For instance, a hypertensive person would aggravate the condition. For an arthritis patient too, it becomes more serious.”

Asked how the issues can be managed, he said: “Managing the issue requires doing an X-ray or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan to determine the extent of damage. People who stand or sit for long hours are likely to abuse drugs, and most of the drugs they abuse will predispose them to ulcer and the drugs they usually abuse are under the family of what we call non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.”

ILO convention and approved practices on wages, others
The international Labour Organisation Convention Articles 2 and 3 states that: “Minimum wages shall have the force of law and shall not be subject to abatement, and failure to apply them shall make the person or persons concerned liable to appropriate penal or other sanctions.

“Subject to the provisions of paragraph 1 of this Article, the freedom of collective bargaining shall be fully respected.

“The elements to be taken into consideration in determining the level of minimum wages shall, so far as possible and appropriate to national practice and conditions, include–

“The needs of workers and their families, taking into account the general level of wages in the country, the cost of living, social security benefits, and the relative living standards of other social groups.

“Economic factors, including the requirements of economic development, levels of productivity, and the desirability of attaining and maintaining a high level of employment.”

On chemical use/ handling, the ILO reckons that “the protection of workers from the harmful effects of chemicals also enhances the protection of the general public and the environment, and noting that workers require, and right to, information about the chemicals they use at work, and considering that it is essential to prevent or reduce the incidence of chemically induced illnesses and injuries at work by ensuring that all chemicals are evaluated to determine their hazards; providing employers with a mechanism to obtain from suppliers information about the chemicals used at work so that they can implement effective programmes to protect workers from chemical hazards; providing workers with information about the chemicals at their workplaces, and about appropriate preventive measures so that they can effectively participate in protective programmes; establishing principles for such programmes to ensure that chemicals are used safely, and

Article 12 of the ILO on exposure to chemicals says employers shall: “Ensure that workers are not exposed to chemicals to an extent which exceeds exposure limits or other exposure criteria for the evaluation and control of the working environment established by the competent authority, or by a body approved or recognised by the competent authority, following national or international standards; assess the exposure of workers to hazardous chemicals; monitor and record the exposure of workers to hazardous chemicals when this is necessary to safeguard their safety and health or as may be prescribed by the competent authority; ensure that the records of the monitoring of the working environment and of the exposure of workers using hazardous chemicals are kept for a period prescribed by the competent authority and are accessible to the workers and their representatives.”

Article 13 section 2 says: “Employers shall limit exposure to hazardous chemicals to protect the safety and health of workers; provide first aid; make arrangements to deal with emergencies.”

On working hours, the ILO standards provide the framework for regulated hours of work, daily and weekly rest periods, and annual holidays. These, in turn, ensure high productivity while safeguarding workers’ physical and mental health.

Article 2 of the organisation’s Convention on Work Hours says: “Working hours of persons employed in any public or private industrial undertaking or any branch thereof, other than an undertaking in which only members of the same family are employed, shall not exceed eight in the day and forty-eight in the week…”

‘Ineffective policies and regulations cause human rights violations in foreign companies’

A legal practitioner, Florence Adewale, said ineffective policies and regulations are responsible for the violation of human rights especially by foreign companies who come to invest in the country. According to her, exploitation comes where there is no effective structure or compliance-monitoring mechanism.

Adewale said: “There are lots of human rights violations in foreign companies and yet remedies couldn’t be gotten due to ineffective regulations.

“There is a case study of a hardworking young man, who was a casual worker in a foreign company four years ago.

“He was engaged as an able-bodied young man but was discharged with an amputated leg while working in the foreign production company. Yet no compensation!

“There are several instances out there.”

Factory inspectorate division, strict measures imperative — NLC
Comrade Ismail Bello, Deputy General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), said: “The issue of exploitation of workers is a global one. It is not only peculiar to foreign companies.

“As members of labour, when we notice a violation of workers’ rights, we take quick action. We ensure we bring in workers to the union to fight for them, but it is increasingly difficult.

“When employers resist union activities, then we know what they are out to do.

“Government has a lot of responsibility to shoulder. Every employer should comply with Nigeria’s labour laws. We need the government to strengthen labour.

“It is a tripartite arrangement that involves government, labour and the employer. And we are in a big fight with the private sector. It is sad that most companies have no billboards to show their addresses.

“Labour is trying. We as a union actively compel employers to do what is right through picketing, strikes, demonstrations and all that.

“A workplace without a union is like a concentration camp. Only a labour union can help enforce laws and protect workers.

“The government is not doing enough. There is a big gap. If government does its bit, then things become easier.

“It is the duty and responsibility of the government to protect citizens’ rights irrespective of labour intervention.

“The government should set up a factory inspectorate division. Factory inspection is as essential as wages and other welfare packages. It should also ensure foreign companies comply with our laws.

“As a union, we will expand and deepen our sensitisation campaign to ensure workers join the union.”

In a clarion call to the government, Adewale charged the government to impose strict punitive sanctions on employers that violate the laid down laws of employment/labour, among other sanctions.

She said: “The government can help to safeguard the rights of the workers in foreign companies especially foreign production companies by providing adequate infrastructure and manpower in the Ministry of Labour; duly check/safeguard against abuse of power by employers.

“There should also be strict monitoring, compliance and evaluation systems to checkmate the companies and to ensure that they comply with ethical practices.

“Sometimes, the location of the companies to the office of the ministry is quite a distance. This alone discourages/hinders inspection of the officers in the company.  Hence, manpower and adequate infrastructure are needed.

“Nevertheless, the government should also ensure that there are good, effective, and practicable regulations of business in Nigeria, whereby, there are adequate provisions for the employee in terms of good and conducive working conditions and adequate if not sufficient compensation is paid in cases of injury or damages.

“It is important to also formulate and implement laws that prohibit unethical practices in organisations.

“Public awareness/sensitisation is necessary so that the workers/employees can know their rights, especially on the need to have an insurance trust fund. Then the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund should be strong and effective.

There should be an effective union that can fight for victims (employees) once their rights are violated; an effective union that will supervise the excesses of owners of foreign companies and prevent ill-treatment of employees.”

FG to go tough on employers
The Federal Government (FG) has said  it will sanction employers of labour over indecent working conditions that go against  local and international labour laws.

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Simon Lalong, made this known during the inauguration of Decent Work Country Programme III (2023-2027) on in Abuja.

The DWCP was inaugurated to promote jobs, guarantee rights at work, extend social protection, and promote social dialogue.

The programme was organised by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation.

Lalong noted that workers in the informal economy are exposed to poor working conditions, low pay, long hours of work and low rates of unionism, unsafe working environments.

“Government is aware of the activities of some of these employers, who, due to the pursuit of profit, disregard the extant labour laws. This creates work environments that frustrate the attainment of decent work for employers or employees because of the quest for profit.

“Many workers are exploited and made to work in very indecent and intolerable conditions, which negate all local and international labour laws. Hence, we shall not fail to sanction such organisations and ensure that the rights and privileges of Nigerian workers are protected,” he said.

He directed the Inspectorate Department in the ministry to wake up to its responsibilities and ensure full compliance with decent work regulations across the country.

“I shall be engaging relevant government agencies to ensure that these entities are fully made to face the wrath of the law,” he added.

 

 

-The Nation

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