It has become the norm to delimit age in employment, particularly during the recruitment process. The Nigerian society (the main focus of this article) has carried on without a challenge of the discriminatory practice. The Ministry of Labour and Productivity does not seem to have a coherent policy on age and other discriminatory practices in employment. This seeming lack of regulation on the part of government has led, for many years, to local and multinational firms pegging employment age(s) in Nigeria to a point of irrationality.
It is admitted that certain jobs require youthfulness and agility to perform them. For example, age is a critical factor in football and some other sports contracts. Therefore, it has become an internationally acceptable convention to engage or refuse a footballer/athlete a playing contract on account of his/her age. This, in the real sense, does not amount to discrimination against the older athletes as age in the circumstance may hinder their capacity to execute the contract in the much physically demanding endeavour of sports. The older sportsmen must then, necessarily, find some other opportunities on the sidelines
However, the prevalent corporate policy of many Nigerian companies and organisations in refusing employment to Nigerians of certain age bracket in industries other than sports has defied logic. It is common to see job adverts in newspapers or other media platforms requesting for applications for employment and pegging the age to 25 years for entry level and other age limits for intermediate levels. Vacancies are rarely seen for the top-level jobs as occupants of top job positions seldom leave, and in cases of death or compulsory retirement, their positions are filled in a non-competitive process.
The jobs for which most of these companies delimit age are mostly routine office and corporate jobs. Such jobs, typically, do not require a great deal of physicality to warrant the embargo placed on Nigerians of certain ages. This is further widening the unemployment gap. The prevailing ‘societal dishonesty’ of procuring false affidavits/age declarations is a consequence of the discriminatory practice. We can no longer pretend that citizens’ false declaration of their ages has not become a social menace. The National Population Commission only recently attempted to arrest this ugly trend by its recent decision to replace age declarations with some other alternative documents that are now required to be procured from the commission. These false declarations would not have arisen if the government had been alive to its responsibility of protecting the citizens’ fundamental rights against age discrimination et cetera. Discrimination of citizens by reason of age or circumstances of their birth is the poisonous tree; declaration of false ages by citizens is the fruit of that poisonous tree. This ‘societal dishonesty’ will persist unless this poisonous tree is taken out
The right to secure employment and work without any form of discrimination is a universal right. It is the fundamental right of everyone to be protected against unemployment. Articles 1, 2, 7 and 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are explicit on this. Other human rights instruments, including Section 42(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), also protect citizens from deprivation of employment merely by reason of the circumstances of their birth
There is an urgent need for government to come up with a framework that will ensure that all age barriers and other discriminatory practices in employment processes are jettisoned, especially in cases where they are unjustifiable. In some other places, innovations have been made to enable older citizens enjoy protection against unemployment even in cases where their exclusion would have been justified. For example, in some parts of Asia, new technologies have been created to assist older people to be able to cope with highly tasking physical jobs such as lifting heavy goods in factories and warehouses. An instance of such new technology is the ‘robotic suit’. Robotic suit is designed to specifically support the lower back by keeping it aligned and taking a lot of weight. Employees in their 40s and 50s in companies where highly tasking physical jobs are carried out are using the technology to push and lift large and heavy loads.
It is our hope that this humble effort will prod the needed reform in this regard. Our similar humble effort (Revisiting Lagos State Tenancy Law five years after) published in this prominent newspaper on the July 7, 2016 prompted the ongoing review of the Lagos State Tenancy Law, 2011 by the Lagos State House of Assembly. We, therefore, encourage various stakeholders to participate in order to ensure that expected amendments will suit the needs of all concerned.
Rafiu Bello is a Lagos-based legal practitioner
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