The International Labour Organisation (ILO) Country Director for Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Liaison Office for ECOWAS, Vanessa Phala, and the term of managers of ILO in Abuja office, recently engaged members of the Labour Correspondents Association of Nigeria (LACAN) on the UN labour organisation’s works in the country. CHRISTIAN APPOLOS, reports.
The media engagement had over 15 journalists on the labour beat in attendance. About six managers of different ILO intervention projects in Nigeria, and the Country Director, Venessa Phala, on the side of the International Labour Organisation, and other staff of the ILO and other agencies of the United Nations were present as well.
Presenting a brief but comprehensive background of the many works the ILO is doing in Nigeria, Ms Venessa Phala, harped on the importance of various Interventions of the International labour Organisation in the country, starting with decent work agenda and its components, and went further to highlight the nature of their work/support to Nigeria and its people through different projects.
On ILO’s support in the area of public employment services, she said; “We supported the assessment of what we called public employment services in Nigeria. We are now at the moment where we are evaluating the National Employment Policy of 2017. And out of that evaluation and assessment, we will be able to provide the necessary support to revise and develop a national responsive policy to the needs and the demands of of labour market in Nigeria.
“The other project that we are having under employment is what we call the ILO/ITU/AU joined programme. And this one is on boosting jobs and enhancing skills for young persons in Nigeria’s digital economy. We know that digital advancements provide a lot of opportunities for young persons to take part, be innovative and startup IT or tech companies and really develop and contribute towards job creation.
“As much as the digital advancements are going at the rate it’s going in Nigeria, we still have a lot of young persons unemployed. So this particular intervention is therefore very important and we are trying to understand the opportunities that are there in the digital economy and then be able to facilitate the jobs that will be required in order to support the advancement of that economy.
“Last year we presented a report we did, assessing the digital demand and digital skills and to try to understand what the labour market demands as far as the digital skills and what the workers have in terms of the supply. And of course, there’s a lot of room, especially some of those critical digital skills.”
She went on to say; “The other project that we are implementing is largely also on employment and it is dealing more with macro, medium and small enterprises. We are implementing this project as a joint UN project. We are implementing it with UNIDO, UN Women and WHO. And basically this also came during the COVID 19 pandemic where we needed to implement innovative and creative solutions to support manufacturers of PPE during that part that period.
“For the ILO, we’ve been working with a number of MSMEs from across the country. The entire project is working with around 174 SMEs. The ILO have provided different training to help SMEs improve their business. We’ve also provided training on occupational safety and health. As we know it’s a very important thematic area out of COVID but also for ILO since now OSH has become a fundamental principle and right at work.
“So we’ve provided quite a number of interventions around the space of small and medium enterprises. And the thing about our interventions is, even though we are working with direct beneficiaries we are also continuing to work with our social partners so that when the project is over, our social partners can continue providing the support and interventions to more other beneficiaries out of those identified by the projects.”
The ILO Country Director added, “We’ve worked with financial service providers around issues of accessing finance by small and medium enterprises. Most importantly out of their business development services or other capacity building interventions and the training that we have provided, many of them have now developed their business plans in order to refine and reposition their enterprises to really strive and grow. So those are the specific interventions around employment.”
“The other intervention that is very important for the ILO is the work we are doing under labour migration. Basically, we’ve been working with the migrant resource centres to strengthen their role and their capacity in providing advisory services to returning migrants so that they are reintegrated into society. A lot of work has been gone into that including refurbishment of the migrant resource centres in Benin and Abuja.
“Using our own capacity building programmes and training manuals, we’ve also provided different trainings to the centres so that they can be able to roll out those trainings to internees in order for them to either start businesses as they come back to Nigeria.
“The other important project we are facilitating is the FAIRWAY project. Through this project, what we are trying to do is to improve the conditions of labour migration across the migration pathway, especially from Africa to the Arab states. And in this particular project at the policy level we’ve been able to support the revision of labour migration policy, and now we are actually in the process of facilitating implementation of the revised policy. But not only that, we have to actually produce some very useful knowledge products that can be used by migrant migrant workers.
“We have produced three departure and post arrival materials. We have also developed a media toolkit for reporting. We have also developed gender mainstreaming strategy.
“Last year, the biggest achievement was a union to union memorandum of understanding that was signed by the Nigerian NLC and the Bahrain union federation. And this is actually saying we will collaborate with trade unions to make sure that we continue protecting the rights of migrant workers, creating the necessary awareness and understanding of the legislations that governs employment in the countries of region and the countries of destination.” She hinted.
On child labour, She said; “We ’ve been doing quite a lot of work now since 2019 with the ACCEL African project. There have been other interventions in the past, but this particular project looks at issues of child labour in supply chains. And for Nigeria, we worked with two supply chains; cocoa and artisanal mining in Ondo and Niger States.
“With this project, we’ve achieved a lot. Through our interventions in some communities on eliminating child labour in Akure, where we worked with civil society organisations to coordinate the invitations, worked with community members to establish community child labour steering and monitoring committees, working with parents of the children to make sure that they are allowing the children to go to school and stay in school, working with the teachers as well, and even providing some entrepreneurial skills to some of the young persons in the communities so that they can be able to start businesses and earn a living for themselves.
“As we implemented the different interventions, some other issues come up. In Akure there was a case where the only primary school in the community was in a very bad condition. And ACCEL African was able to refurbish that school and we went theremto officially hand over the refurbished to school and engage with the children and their parents. And I think the way the school looks now, motivates the children to look forward to going into school. Of course, there’s a lot that needs to be done. But as the famous saying goes, a journey of million steps starts with a single step. So we believe that we have made quite a number of few meaningful steps, and we will continue moving in that regard.
“Under the ACCEL Africa project, we’ve been dealing with not just direct issues of child labour or developing the national action plan on the elimination of child labour, but also providing resources. We have provided back to school equipment to children, school bags, school shoes, books to facilitate their stay in school.
“For us, those are the real impactful results that we see on the ground even though our work as the ILO is mostly at the policy level. Things that happen at the policy level, you don’t touch them, you don’t see them immediately. It takes time to start seeing the results. But when have an opportunity to see the tangible results on the ground, it actually even motivates us.
“We were in another school in Ibala community of Osun State, where we also hand over a refurbished school last year. Under the ACCEL Africa project, we have done a lot, we have involved even the traditional leaders in the communities, and everybody is on board. I want to believe that with the second phase of ACCEL Africa project, we will be able to not only maintain the good work that we have done but also build on it and achieve more.”
Also, she said, “We are implementing a new project. The project is called GALAP. It is about intensifying action against force and child labour though a number of innovations. This is a new project that we are beginning also to implement in Ondo. But this one will rather provides opportunities to facilitate access to health insurance for vulnerable in rural economy and rural communities. Also look at establishing mobile one stop shops for child labour, monitoring and provision of health insurances and also support for informal workers.
“The third one is the ACLAWA project. This is a more wider project. In Nigeria we are also working in Ondo. What this project will allow us do, is to take the achievements of ACCEL Africa and go lower in the communities and be able to do more work in the communities, developing the necessary action plans for communities, engaging with even more additional communities to achieve our work. So this is a very big area for us. As we know. the issue of child labour is a very critical one not only for Nigeria, not only for Africa, but for entire Africa.
“The last report that was issued by ILO and UNICEF showed that actually we have regressed as far as the number of Children that are involved in work is concerned and therefore there has to be really concerted, dedicated effort and coordinated and collaborative effort in order to deal with issues of child. It will not just be ILO, but it requires the relevant ministries, civil society organisation on the ground, the parents, the teachers, the communities, the community leaders, and everybody involved. And I think we have began to develop that comprehensive framework in Ondo and Niger States. I want to see if we can get more opportunities to also go into other states where child labour is also a concern.
“The other project we are doing side out child labour is the Just Transitioning. And as we know, we are moving into green economy. There are opportunities just like the digital economy, there are opportunities in the real economy. How do we take advantage, how do we facilitate an environment that will allow us to realise the opportunities out of the green economy and the just transitioning to sustainable enterprises.
“This project is also a project that started last year. It’s about capacity building. It’s about supporting constituents in their Just Transitioning. We’ve finalised a green jobs assessment and beginning to identify tangible interventions to realise the implementation. We’ve also managed to forge in close collaboration with Nigeria Institute of Social and Economy Research.
“For us it’s important because this is a capacity that will enable us to make more progress as far as the substantive work of our organisation is concerned.”
The ILO Country Director also hinted, “The other project we are are doing is on women enterpreneurship. Women economic empowerment. So we also are doing a lot of work in this area supported by NACA (Nigerian Consultative Association), where we use the ILO wide assessment, (women entrepreneurship development assessment), to look at some of the challenges that are really creating this huge bottlenecks for women to start and sustain their business.
:We looked at about six conditions. They are policy, business development, services, platform, access to markets, access to finance and the institutions that are there to support women entrepreneurs. So we finalise the assessment. We validated it, and we will be developing action plan in collaboration with the relevant ministries in order to implement the recommendations.
“And in this project we focused on Lagos and Rivers state. NACA of course, is coordinating our interventions. We also looked at how we can support some of these women entrepreneurs to transition to formality. As we know, the challenges that are coming up with informal work are conditions of work, instability, no access to social protection, no access to platforms for organising, having a voice and be represented. So we are now through this work trying to support that kind of transitioning to formality.”
She also said, “On our work on social protection. We know it’s one of the most important areas of work. When you look at the four decent work pillars, one of the pillar is around social protection. In Nigeria, we know the challenges, but we also want to acknowledge the work that has been done so far.
“For the ILO our work on social protection is established under Convention 102 which is convention on Social Security. And there are nine branches that the convention speaks to that needs to be in place in order to expand coverage, but also have a much more comprehensive coverage to social protection that will include things like medical care, sickness benefit, unemployment benefits, employment injury benefits, and so forth and so on.
“The Convention also is very flexible as it did not prescribe step by step process on how to achieve the nine branches but it provides flexible ways of achieving it. It says it can be done through social insurance schemes, social assistance schemes and universal access. For Nigeria, there has been some progress made, I think. Of course, the coverage is still low.”
She also said, “Last year, we were able to finalise and get approved and adopted the National Social Protection Policy. Already that policy means that the government is committed in providing a clear guidance in terms of how to achieve social protection coverage or expand social protection coverage in Nigeria.
“We’ve done a fiscal space assessment that has been adopted and integrated into relevant interventions. We are also working with the Kaduna state. We have assisted them to establish a new management information system that will help them to automate their Social Security interventions. Also, we’ve provided capacity building interventions, and we were very fortunate to collaborate with other UN agencies under the joint SDG projects such as UNDP, UNICEF and WFP in order to probe to implement some of the targeted interventions and I want to believe that some of these achievements are actually part of some of these meaningful collaborations that we have flushed with other agencies.”
Moreso, she added, “To highlight what we believe we have been able to achieve so far. The achievements of ACCEL Africa, is something we are very proud of. The work we have done to establish the structures on the ground; establishment of the National Child Labour action plan, is really something that is worth celebrating. It’s the beginning of many more work to come.
“The work we have done in terms of refurbishment of the migrant Resource Centres. We will be handing over the refurbished centres in Abuja and Benin.
I want to really commend the Government of Nigeria for its effort in terms of really taking seriously the work among the international legal standards. The government has since approved, deposited and ratified Convention 190 on violence and harassment and also Convention 187.
“This for us is very important, because it actually means that the country will have at the convention of international labour standards, guidelines to domesticate the conventions’ international policies for implementation.
“At the level of the sub region particularly on the issue of child labour, on the first, second and the third of March, the ECOWAS ministers of labour and employment approved the regional action plan on the elimination of child labour. This is very important.
“The revision of the labour migration policy, we are now rolling it out in terms of of its implementation.
“Again, as I said, the National Health Insurance Act is a very big step, very commendable step in the effort to watch towards strengthening social protection in Nigeria.
“The work we are doing at the state level, for us it is important as much as most of our work is at the federal government level. And we are also beginning to do more work at the state level because that’s where the action is. I’m happy that we have done in Kaduna, we can also get some inspiration also to do it in in other states.
“We are also going present some of the work that we have done particularly the National Child Labour and forced labour survey. This is the first of its kind for Nigeria. And it’s very important because this is now going to give us tangible information facts around the issues of child labour in Nigeria and enforcement. Therefore we’ll be able to inform our policymakers on the strategies to implement in order to address issues of child labour.
“We have worked with the Ministry of Labour and Employment to revise the HIV and AIDS, workplace privacy. This is something we have been working with the Ministry and it’s very important because issues of HIV and AIDS are very important for the world of work and around issues of discrimination.
We launched also the Alliance for green jobs for Nigeria.
In addition to this, we’ve also continued to work with our social partners: the NECA, NLC and TUC, and have provided them with different capacity building interventions. I’m very proud and honoured that NLC now have what they call Labor Migration Policy for the workers, and also Agenda Policy. These two policies have been approved in their last Congress.
“For us, this means that as we are doing work together, they’re also taking some of this work very seriously and running with it. So that’s quite commendable.
“With NECA, we have been able to support them to establish an online training platform. With COVID the need to have this digital spaces for learning in order to reach as many persons as possible. So that will be the intervention so far.”