Idara has been working at a juice factory in Lagos, Nigeria for six years, 9 hours every day – Monday to Saturday, packaging juice for distribution. She and the other ladies in that department are made to work in their underwear because according to their employers – some workers were in the habit of stealing packs of juice in the past, which they concealed in their overalls.
Two times a week, the workers are provided free lunch – four slices of bread and a cup of Juice during the lunch break; if anyone is caught drinking the merchandise at any other time, the result is an immediate lay off. Every Monday, during the general assembly briefing, the Lebanese Production Manager never forgets to end his speech with a charge for the workers to be grateful because according to him, the company was the only foreign owned factory in Nigeria that paid the approved minimum wage to ‘casual workers who do very little work, but gossip all day’.
Nigeria’s approved minimum wage of 18,000 Naira (about 49.9 USD) is one of the lowest in the world. It was increased from 7,500 Naira (about 20.8 USD) in 2011 by former President Goodluck Jonathan, and calls for an upward review of the amount has often been met with stiff opposition especially from politicians and government officials. On paper, Idara’s monthly salary is 20,000 Naira (about 55.4 USD) including all bonuses and allowances, but at the end of the month, she receives a credit alert of 15,620 Naira about (about 43.3 USD) after 10% government tax, 7.5% pension charge and 4.4% caution fee - which the company claims would be refunded in total upon retirement or registration, if no damage of factory equipment by the worker was recorded, are deducted. The take home is even further reduced if she had accrued charges for lateness, absenteeism or inactivity during work hours.
This is hardly enough for Idara and her seven years old daughter to live on, the father of her child had denied responsibility of the pregnancy and her family had sent her out of the house for ‘bringing shame’ to the family name, leaving Idara to cater for her child alone. With a rentage of 4,000 Naira (about 11.1 USD) monthly, daily transportation cost, school fees, feeding and other unpreventable expense, life for this hardworking woman is a sad reality. Yet, there are many like her and even more with worse case scenarios.
Every May 1st in Nigeria, government workers gather under the scotching sun (or rain) in different stadia across the country awaiting the arrival of their governors and top government officials who give speeches of empty promises and wave from VIP boxes to mark the International Workers Day Celebration. To show appreciation to the workers, soft drinks, snacks and/or packs of food are shared to the workers, but there is hardly ever enough to go round. Workers who fail to turn up for the ‘celebration’ are usually fined by their bosses after the holiday.
For Idara however, International Workers Day is a work free day or one in which she receives 1,000 Naira (about 2.8 USD) after work, if she decides to work on the holiday. As part of the celebration, Idara receive six small packs of juice and some souvenirs from the company. She often prefers the second option and spends her day at the factory because the extra cash would go a long way in settling some bills, but for how long can Idara and those like her continue in this manner?
The International Workers day is a celebration of worker’s contribution to society and it is workers like Idara who deserve the most recognition. Yes, there are always projections which indicate that workers like her occupy the lowest positions on the work force ladder because of their poor education and lack of adequate skills, but we cannot deny that these people do a lot work and contribute immensely to economy and well-being of society. Without them, there would be no buttons on our shirt, zips on our pants, laces on our shoes, stamps on merchandise, bread on the shelves of the marble eateries we often patronize and so on. A society containing only individuals with all the Yale and Harvard degrees will lack the fulcrum to function without these low skill workers.
The world must review the disheartening wage disparity in the work force. We cannot continue to neglect and pay cheap lip services to the plight of these citizens because we need them more than we need all the billionaire CEO’s in the world put together. The time has come to appreciate them and recognize their massive contribution to the success story of organizations, government and society.
The world needs to build societies based on value, service, dedication and hard work; we can only achieve this by conscious attempts in reducing the pay disparity currently experienced in the work environment and continuously appreciate deserving workers irrespective of the positions and job titles.
Let us make this International Workers Day worthwhile by putting a smile on the faces of unappreciated workers around us towards making the world a better place.
Unus Pro Omnibus, Omnes Pro Uno (One for all, all for one)