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Nigerians on Workers’ Day Celebration
Workers’ Day Celebration
IT is May Day. As usual Nigerian workers will join their counterparts worldwide to organize rallies, essentially protest rallies to draw attention to issues of interest to the working class. The exception is in the United States of America where labour Day is marked, first Monday in September.
For Nigerian workers, what are the issues? The issues include, non-payment of the negotiated N18,000 national minimum wage, job losses , inflation, failure of government to honour agreements reached with the trade unions, subsidy of petroleum products , corruption etc.
Abdulwaheed Omar, NLC President
The year began with a national strike organized by the trade unions and the civil society organizations over government’s intention to totally remove subsidy from petroleum products in the downstream sector especially Petroleum Motor Spirit popularly called petrol.
The strike ended without any form of collective bargaining and government announced N97.00 per litre price of petrol.
It should be noted that the genesis of the so-called withdrawal of subsidy on petroleum products could be traced to 1986 when the government of General Ibrahim Babangida while trying to meet the conditionalities of the International Monetary Fund ( IMF) stated that it would withdraw subsidy on petroleum products.
The Nigeria Labour Congress through its then general secretary, Dr. Lasisi Osunde, an economist placed an advert in some Nigerian newspapers titled “ Oil subsidy Lies not Facts”.
Twenty six years after, the issue of oil subsidy is still very current. The findings of the House of Repressentative Committee on Petroleum which probed the issue of subsidy has confirmed the NLC’s position made public 26 years ago. The question is as a nation, does it mean we have not made progress?
The can of worms opened as a result of the House Committee’s probe of the petroleum industry coincided with an ongoing scandal on pension funds in the public sector. In both cases, billions of Naira which could have been used to improve the lot of Nigerians generally have gone into private pockets.
Consequently, Corruption ithe main issue to be addressed by union leaders during this year’s May Day but can labour go beyond the usual rhetoric of mere condemnation?
Union leaders especially the two labour centres must rise beyond this level. They need to think out of the box and work out a response that would put an end to government officials stealing with impunity.
Job loss- is another issue that Labour needs to wake up to. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan suggested that there would be job losses earlier in the year, when he said, his government would reduce the cost of governance. This was included in his response to the strike against withdrawal of subsidy in January. This has been confirmed by the Oronsanye Committee report which recommended the reduction of statutory Commissions, Departments and Agencies to 161 from 263. This would be done by aishing 38 agencies, merging of 52 and reversion of 14 to their departments.
By the time this is implemented, thousands of civil servants would be thrown out of jobs.
A former treasurer of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Barrister, Ivor Takor shares this view. In his words, “whenever governments begin to consider cutting of cost, the first thing that readily comes to mind is loss of jobs. In the present instance, thousands of jobs are surely going to be on the line”.
So, to an average worker in the public service, the issue now is not payment or nonpayment of national minimum wage but how can his union protect his/ her job. What is the strategy of the trade unions in this regard? Where there must be job losses what are the terms?
On the part of government, President Jonathan and his economic team led by Dr. Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo –Iweala would have to reconcile the government’s plan to create job opportunities with the impending massive retrenchment that would soon hit the public service. the level of insecurity in the land, can we afford to throw thousands of people out of jobs? It may make economic sense to those in government but what about the social impact of such an exercise? Your guess is as good as mine. Private Sector- Whereas the public sector worker ‘s main challenge as we mark May Day is whether or not, he/she will still have a job in the service by the next May Day, the private sector counter-part, is confronted with largely economic issues such as the value of the Naira, inflation etc.
Consumer inflation is over 12% and interest rates are still are double digit. Banks aren’t lending and small scale businesses are not struggling to stay afloat.
This notwithstanding, the private sector appears to be a bit stable though it is not expanding.
It is not creating more job opportunities. Why is this so? It is simple; Collective Bargaining is alive in the private sector. Though there may be minor breaches here and there, it is nothing compared to that of the public sector.
Largely, issues of inflation, security, falling standard of education, will surely be on Workers’ placards today.
In Nigeria of 2012, about 1.5 million students wrote the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board exam and only THREE scored 300. With this type of result, do we still believe that Nigeria’s future lies with the youths? Certainly, the rot in our educational system can no longer be ignored.
Corruption remains a common thread that runs through us as a nation.
For organized labour , this should not be another May Day of rallies .
We must move beyond rallies to take our leaders to task. The culprits in the pension scandal, the oil subsidy probe must be brought to book.
Beyond, this, government and oraganised labour must seek common areas of interest and jointly work for the progress of our country.
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