May Day, The Labour Market and Nigerian Job Seeker – Should You Work for Free? 3

May Day

May 1st every year is celebrated as International Workers’ Day also known as Labour Day or May Day in some countries. On this day I pondered on the origins of this day. I was shocked to see it had a violent history. People were shot so we could have the 8-hour work day, homes with families in them were burnt to the ground so we could have Saturday as part of the weekend. Many fought and sacrificed their lives for the rights we seem to enjoy today.

In the late nineteenth century, the working class was in constant struggle to gain the 8-hour work day. Working conditions were severe and it was quite common to work 10 to 16 hour days in unsafe conditions. Death and injury were commonplace at many work places and inspired such books as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Jack London’s The Iron Heel. As early as the 1860’s, working people agitated to shorten the workday without a cut in pay, but it wasn’t until the late 1880’s that organized labor was able to garner enough strength to declare the 8-hour workday. This proclamation was without consent of employers, yet demanded by many of the working class. Read more here

As we mark this day in Nigeria what’s the story so far? Where are we presently?
After the completion of NYSC, thats when you realize that all the ” bring your CV to me when you through” was just a mouth warming exercise.

— john adewale (@johnadewale16) April 25, 2016


We all get disappointed by uncles that told us to bring cv after nysc. Lol. It’s like a rite of passage.

— The Captain (@Headbobba) April 15, 2016


Uncle: Finish NYSC n bring ur CV
X: Uncle, I had my POP y’day

Uncle: You’re still young. Go n get ur ACCA, ICAN, CFA and Masters
X: ???

— Jöey (@_JosephUdofia) April 15, 2016


The tweets above show a funny but sad reality in Nigeria today. If you take a survey you would discover many young graduates went through similar situation, myself included.
I remember vividly in my final year as an engineering student, a lecturer was telling us the realities of the labour market. He advised we shouldn’t seek for paid employment immediately but rather opt to work for free to gain experience. As true as his words were, owing to the critical situation in the labour market, many employees take advantage of that to put many job seekers into a form of slavery.
Nigeria’s Unemployment/Underemployment Rates…

— NESG (@nesgnigeria) April 29, 2016


No doubt, the Technology Age is changing the face of employment. Robots are taking center stage, and they are here to stay. As labour costs rise in Nigeria and around the world, companies have discovered that advances in robotics and other manufacturing technologies offer some of the best avenues to improve productivity. Now, the question is not whether robots will replace human jobs, but instead, what jobs will they not replace?

This article by Isaac Asabor paints a clear picture of the Labour Market in Nigeria.

Most of these self-acclaimed recruitment agencies are wont to drop names of reputable organisations in order to hoodwink unsuspecting and desperate job seekers who are often fleeced through different guises. It could be through payment for form, processing fee, CV design fee and various spurious names invented to rip off job seekers.
The labour market is in this crisis due to the abysmal negligence and levity being exhibited by the government at all levels. In other climes, the issue of spurious employment agencies ripping off vulnerable youths would never come to play as there would have been statutory measures to nip it in the bud.
Moreso, it appears governments have literarily conspired not to create jobs for the unemployed. Or how else can one explain the prevailing state of laxity from government quarters, so to say? Today, most businessmen are frustrated from businesses as a result of epileptic power supply, unjustified and multiple tax payments to virtually all levels of government and prevailing high interest rates charged on money borrowed from banks. Given these militating factors, how would it be possible for the private sector to create jobs for the unemployed and an in turn keep themselves and their family members away from the biting effects of the harsh economy?

So that brings me to the question… Should you work Free or below your worth? As a start up should you charge cheap?
It’s true working for free can sometimes be a good idea if you’re able to pick up valuable skills you can’t get elsewhere. But, other times, when people ask you to do something for free or negotiate down to a cheap price, it’s just an insult you shouldn’t take.
Andrew Griffiths made this suggestion;

I suggest you take a moment right now and think about the following. How many hours have you actually spent learning about what you do? How much time have you invested in educating yourself? How much money have you invested in your chosen business? How much has getting to this point cost you?

You have to value this investment and have the self respect to charge accordingly

So when should you work for free?

Take a look at this chart by Jessica Hische.
The chart is for designers but can be applied to any profession. So if you are a programmer, a writer, an engineer or have any payable talent or knowledge, follow it.
Consider working for free if it meets with one or more of these possibilities:
  • You Can Have Access to the Very Best in Your Industry
  • You Can Learn Skills You Couldn’t Learn (or Not So Quickly) in a For-Pay Job
  • You Can Have a Title You Couldn’t Qualify for Otherwise
  • Your Free Work Will Give You Leverage for a For-Pay Position
  • You Just Really, Really Love What Your Work is Doing


Sometimes harsh economic situations force us to accept anything just to make living especially in Nigeria. People would say why not be an entrepreneur?,..start your own business and all that. Truth is not everyone can be an entrepreneur, many businesses hardly survive the harsh economic situations we face today.
Still nothing beats being your own boss. As long as you still depend on a paycheck to survive, you’ll never truly be free.

“Follow the dreams of others and you will receive a paycheck. Follow your own dreams and you will never check your pay.”
― Vincent Lowry

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Frederick Damasus is a tech enthusiast and blogger who has a passion for creativity and innovation. He is a self-taught graphic designer and currently delving into web design and development. He loves photography and volunteers his spare time to inspire children in orphanages through dance. He is a trained Petroleum Engineer but found himself in the AID/Development sector. He currently serves as the M&E/ICT Manager at the Center for Creative Development Strategies, an NGO based in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria.

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