In a bid to cushion the effects of the current economic crisis on their finances, most construction workers have increased their charges, MAUREEN IHUA-MADUENYI writes

Some artisans have increased their charges on construction sites by as much as 60 per cent in response to the current challenges in the nation’s economy.

According to findings by our correspondent, some builders who have ongoing construction works now have to contend with increased artisans’ charges.

Some of the skilled workers such as carpenters and masons, among others, who used to charge about N3,000 per day on building sites before the current economic hardship, now ask to be paid N5,000, accounting for an increase of about 66.6 per cent.

The unskilled labourers, who were previously being paid between N1,000 and N1,500 per day, now charge a minimum of N2,000.

This, according to investors, means that instead of paying about N90,000 monthly for a skilled worker on long-term projects, they now have to pay close to N150,000 every month, while for an unskilled worker, they have to pay between N50,000 and N60,000 every 30 days.

A former Chairman, Nigerian Society of Engineers, Lagos State Chapter, Mr. Olatunde Jaiyesinmi, said the construction sector was the first to be affected by challenges in the general economy as building material prices were subject to market forces.

Jaiyesinmi, who is also a former Chairman, Nigerian Institute of Building, Lagos Chapter, added that the cost of labour had also been recently affected.

He said, “Labour is now affected too; the artisans and labourers’ wages have gone up by between 25 and 60 per cent based on which of them you want. We have skilled labour and unskilled labour; now, a labourer who is not skilled will take about N2,000 instead of the normal N1,500 or N1000.

“The artisans, on the other hand, who were taking N3,000, now ask for N5,000. And when you hire and take them to a site say in Lekki and they have to come from Ikorodu, Agege or Abule Egba, they keep complaining about the cost of transportation; so, you are forced to meet their demands.”

Professionals in the construction sector said activities across all segments of the industry had in the last few months dropped by up to 70 per cent.

Only a few projects are ongoing, with many stalled, while investors have opted to watch before starting new construction works.

The 2nd Vice President, NIOB, Mr. Kunle Awobodu, said the increment in labour cost had not been made official by the artisans’ associations but was merely individuals’ response to the economic situation in the country.

He noted that since the inception of this government, construction activities had been at the lowest, while several companies in the sector had retrenched more than 50 per cent of their staff and others had closed down completely to venture into other things after selling off their equipment.

“Government is the major client to professionals in construction; so, if the government is not engaging in construction activities, the sector will be down,” Awobodu said.

He said that due to the dearth of artisans in the country and the current economic crisis, investors/developers were being forced to yield to the demands of the available craftsmen in order to get their jobs done.

Awobodu added, “Basically, it is not an agreed increment but a spontaneous reaction to the economy and the general inflationary trend. Transport fares have gone up; fuel prices increased; so, invariably, everything else has also increased, even the price of the foods that artisans eat on site has equally been increased.

“It has forced most of us who have ongoing projects to introduce fluctuations into the business; we have been forced to review the wages of contract staff; everything around the artisan has gone up.

“It is only natural for them to seek increase in their wages. For instance, a carpenter who was charging N3,000 or N4,000 per day now wants to be paid N5,000.”

However, a mason and the General Secretary of the Lagos State Bricklayers Association, Mr. Akinmoladun Olaniyi, told our correspondent that those who had raised their charges were individual artisans and labourers, who were not affiliated to registered associations.

He said, “As of today, we as an association have not increased the artisans’ fees because we are thinking that the economy may soon stabilise; if we increase it now, we may not bring it down after this time. Individuals have no authority to increase fees; when we increased from N2,000 to N3,000 sometime ago, we carried everyone along; so, those who are doing it now are doing so illegally.

“We know that our fees should be increased but we are watching the economy; but if we want to consider the way the government is neglecting us, we should increase the fees but that will affect everyone.”

According to Olaniyi, a formal increment in construction workers’ wages will raise rents across the country.

“There will be a general increase in house, shops and office rents, but we don’t want to be the cause of this country’s economic woes,” he said.

He said registered bricklayers were at the moment charging N3,000 daily and nobody had authorised them to increase the fee, adding that whoever charged more was doing it alone.

Olaniyi stated that the artisans’ major problem in the country was negligence by the government.

He said, “They don’t recognise artisans, so a lot of them struggle to fend for themselves. We are still hoping that this government will do something good. For now, the government only recognises professional bodies and leave artisans out. The building industry generally has been relegated to the background.

“There is a lingering issue that has caused a lot of problem; builders, for instance, use labourers such as those who are into concreting, neglecting the artisans who are skilled. These are labourers and are largely unskilled; that is one of the reasons why we have building collapse. And this may be the reason why they have raised their wage demand.”

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