Agenda setting for labour movement in 2017
The failure of labour movement to influence policy direction of government for the benefit of workers in 2016 necessitates the need for it to fashion out strategies that would better the lot of the working class in 2017.
Indeed, two major issues that would require labour attention most this year are negotiation for a new minimum wage and the likely increment in the pump price of petrol once again.
Though the need to get ready for another round of negotiation of petrol price increment is yet to manifest, the steady rise in the price of crude oil at the international market in the coming months would soon result in the open market price of imported petrol that would necessitate a rise in the price of petrol.
Curiously, while labour, especially the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has been upbeat about its desire to ensure government inaugurate the committee that will negotiate the minimum wage early in the year, there is yet to be a clear roadmap to achieving this. But why would labour needs a roadmap to guarantee this committee is put in place in earnest? This is necessary owing to the slow progress recorded so far by the palliative committee on the fuel price increment effected since May last year.
For 11 times that labour went on strike during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration orchestrated by the immediate former governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole as the President of the NLC, and even under Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, all of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), such negotiations were done few days after the increments. This is the first time that negotiations on palliatives would still be on eight months after fuel price increment.
Therefore, it goes to show that negotiations such as this would be slow under this government and speeding the process would require a fresh strategy by the movement.To a former President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Peter Esele, the two labour centres must devolve powers to the industrial unions in the negotiation of wages and may have to focus less on the minimum wage.
He argued that minimum wage does not really serve the greater interests of the working class.On what he expects from labour movement in 2017, Esele said: “I expect labour movement to seek better welfare and wellbeing for its members. One of the ways to achieve that is that is to empower industrial unions to negotiate wage increment of workers sector by sector because most times minimum wage does not take any worker anywhere.
The most efficacy way of getting the best for workers is for the industrial unions to play a bigger role in the determination of wages for workers. The industrial unions are responsible for day to day office negotiations and should take the lead. Once they take the lead, those negotiation and increments that come are often not made public. So, workers are able to avoid inflation that normally trails wage announcements.”
He also said labour must be at its best in 2017 and be ready to weave social service delivery of government as pre-condition for the introduction of certain government policies.
His words: “Another area is that whenever government is introducing any policy, labour needs to be proactive in ensuring that government does something about transportation system as well as housing.
For instance, if government increases fuel price, labour must insist that steps are taken to provide mass transit and build mass housing. Through these, transport would be cheaper and available and workers would also be able get their own houses through deliberate policy on housing. Labour can also negotiate free medical care for pregnant women when doing these negotiations. Through all these initiatives, workers will spend less on transport, housing and healthcare and their salaries no matter how meagre would then reduce social pressure on them.”
Esele lauded the payment of N5, 000 stipend to the vulnerable persons as an improvement on the payment of N5, 000 to pregnant women under the immediate past administration.
He called on government to ensure that the system is foolproof and that the means of identification of the poor of the poorest is not opened to manipulation. However, the former TUC President highlighted his opposition to the payment of stipend to the unemployed graduates saying, “no I don’t support that. What that would do is to kill the creativity of the youth. In my thinking, the problem afflicting Nigeria is really under-employment and not so much unemployment as erroneously believed. It is only here in Nigeria that people who sell recharge cards or do bus conductors do not regard themselves as employed.
Our thinking here is that we are not employed so long we are not working in a government establishment or in at least an office space where we are paid salary. That orientation is wrong. In Europe or in the United States, anybody who earns even one dollar for a service or exchange of goods is working. If we consider those that sell recharge cards or work in unorganised sector, what they make on monthly basis is bigger than those working in offices make.
Government must use this stipend to help the poor of the poorest among us and in doing this, government must locate these people who are mostly located in the rural areas.”
The General Secretary of the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities and Associated Institutions (NASU), Peters Adeyemi, insisted that labour might not have done excellently well in 2016, but to say that the movement failed woefully to influence policies that impacted positively on the lives of Nigeria workers is a misplaced argument, adding, “if anybody says we have not done enough, that we can accept.”