May 1st is usually celebrated as the International Workers’ Day across the globe including Nigeria, but since 1981 that its celebration began in Nigeria, neither have we heard nor read of the labour movement making any significant pronouncement on the inclusion of people with disability in the labour market and the potential of their contribution to the nation economy let alone include their demands in the overall struggle.
In the past three decades, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has used different bargaining tactics to make their demands from different tiers of government with issue of salary increment review negotiation being the popular one. Of course, this is a genuine right for the labour movement. As inflation increased, the purchasing power of income earned dropped, thus the need for this demand. The last review on this issue was the approval of thirty thousand Naira minimum wage in the country.
Evidently, disability-inclusive collective bargaining has never come to fore and never considered for adult with disability within the labour market. Perhaps, this is not perceived as a concern and this article will reveal the need for this.
Let’s take an instance of Miss Felicia working in the civil service. She gained employment as a public admin officer at the State Ministry of Information. As the civil service is structured, she started working at level 8 and her salary which is same as her colleague after tax and including all basic allowances is fifty-eight thousand naira.
Miss Felicia is a person with physical disability and uses motorized wheelchair. When coming to office, she cannot make use of a motorcycle or the popular ‘NAPEP’. Thus, she has an agreement with a taxi who picks and drops her at work. On a monthly basis, she pays thirty thousand Naira to the cab man at the rate of N1,500 daily. Her colleague without disability do ply the public transport and spend about five hundred Naira daily making a total of ten thousand Naira monthly. Both are working at same level, contributing significantly to the public service. But while one is been able to save about N48,000 of her salary, the person with disability is saving only N18,000.
This additional money spent by Miss Felicia is called the “disability extra cost”.
According to the WHO 2011 report, about 15% of all developing country like Nigeria have their population to be people with disability. In Nigeria, it is estimated that there are about 30 million persons with disability and between 12-15 million among these population are still active and within the labour market age range.
Unemployment rate among people with disability is about 64% and there are still large attitudinal barriers like discrimination and stereotype against disabled persons. Inability for government to make adequate disability inclusive legislation and economic empowerment programs have largely contribute to more than 80% people with disability to live in abject poverty.
However, in spite of these reality, many who are fortunate to be educated have been able to struggle to convince the hiring panel or who got job through the so called ‘charity means’, they are working but suffering. Just like the late afrobeat legend ‘Fela’ sang in his music, they are suffering and smiling just because they could not complain and not to lose their job.
Government, who are the largest employers of people with disability have never made attempt to consider the disability extra cost in determining the take home for employee with disability. They have never also considered it as a component of the basic allowances that should be included for a staff with disability. The worst is that the Nigeria Labour Congress who ought to fight for the voiceless and marginalised employee with disability have never seen this as an issue, yet many expect such person working with lesser saving power to work at peak performance.
High cost of transport as sighted as example above is not the only disability extra cost people with disability incurred. Someone like Miss Felicia with physical disability will likely be going for regular therapy which will cost her extra because the government isn’t paying for it nor providing such service for her for free or at a discounted rate. In an unsecured and inaccessible society like Nigeria, a Blind person will be spending quite similar on transport to office like the person with physical disability. For a person with hearing impairment, paying for a sign language interpreter who comes to work with him or her daily, will cost about 30% of the salary. If the Deaf person rather uses hearing aide, there is need to always change the assistive device quite often, sometimes annually or twice in a year. When the Deaf person attend virtual meeting, he or she will spend more on data bundles because of the need to turn on video for relay interpretation service. These are just varying disability extra cost people with disability incurred depending on their impairment.
Through the Inclusion Works project implemented by the leading disability development organisation – Sightsavers, there has been an increase attention on disability inclusion by giant private sector companies in Nigeria who want to be more disability inclusive post COVID-19 recovery. Most have made these commitments through the Nigeria Business Disability Network – a private sector led group championing disability inclusion. But if these giants’ companies have the fund to make workplace adjustment disability-inclusive and sensitive to qualified people with disability whom they hired, what about medium and small enterprise who contribute significantly to the country’s GDP.
For this reason, it is high time the government of Nigeria strategically decide to consider the following:
1. Mandate that a certain percentage of an employee’s salary is paid as ‘disability extra cost’ allowance. This is most suitable for public institutions like government ministries, department and agencies. Of course, reasonable accommodation vary, same as the cost. While this is not going to be suitable for all, but it would serve as a benchmark for support.
2. Initiate an incentive to support and encourage the private sector company to hire disabled person such that takes the burden of disability extra cost away from both the private company and the employee with disability. A strong example of this is the “UK access to work” scheme.
3. Strengthen our social protection system such that create a separate National Disability grant scheme which takes cognisance of disability extra cost in cash, in kind and in service.
While the suggestions above are thoughts for the government to consider, there is need for the organisation of people with disabilities to find every possible means to advocate and work with the Nigeria Labour Congress to ensure that demands and negotiations are done through inclusive collective bargaining and the thoughts above are put forward to the government to consider.
Until this is done will people with disability in Nigeria be meaningfully engaged with decent jobs.
Long live Nigeria. Long live people with disability.
Rasak Adekoya is a disability inclusion specialist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org