Many failures of Labour movement in 2016
It may be right to say that 2016 was a year that the labour movement in Nigeria laboured in almost futility.
There are many factors that influenced this conclusion. Major events that shaped the direction of the nation that labour failed included, but not limited to, the increment in the pump price from N87 per litre to N145. Labour failed to sway a reduction in the fixed price, the non-payment of salaries at the state and federal levels and failure to raise a committee for the negotiation of the minimum wage.
In fact, labour did not only fail to better the standard of living of Nigerian workers, but it was a house that was sharply divided against itself. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), which is still seen as the major labour centre failed to put an end to the bitterness that the last delegates’ conference in 2015 engendered.
Towards the end of 2016, the General Secretary of National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), Joe Ajaero and President of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Igwe Achese, after trying to get into the National Executive Council (NEC) failed, opted for a new labour centre. Though the Registrar of Trade Union has not registered the ‘centre’, the protagonists insisted they have the required number of unions to form a centre.
Going memory lane, the refusal of a very strategic Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) to participate in the NLC’s four-day national strike against increment in the price of petrol last May resulted in the ‘defeat’ of labour in the struggle. Indeed, that was the first time in the history of labour strikes against fuel price increases that a sitting President failed to spearhead a discussion with labour during strike action. Not only did President Muhammadu Buhari fail to discuss with labour, he has not spoken on the increment since the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, decreed it into existence.
Also, part of the monumental failure of labour is their inability to ensure government raise a panel on the minimum wage as well as successfully negotiate palliative measures for workers as a result of the hike in the price of petrol eight months after the increase.
The Trade Union Congress (TUC) is the biggest partaker in the conspiracy of silence that has pushed labour into extermination under the current government. The silence of TUC on all policies that were deemed anti-workers was so deafening that Pa Michael Imoudu (Labour number one) and the late Pascal Bafyau could be restless in their grave.
Well, it may not be all glooming last year as labour indeed recorded victory in Imo State where Rochas Okorocha rescinded the sack of about 6,000 after labour occupied Owerri for two days. Also, in Nasarawa state where both TUC and NLC united, though two lives were lost, labour successfully resisted payment of half salaries to different cadres of civil servants in the state.
But for occasional statements on national issues, labour was literarily ‘dead’ to its responsibilities in 2016 and TUC was a major culprit.
In conformity with labour tradition, TUC chose the New Year message to Nigerian workers to explain away its indifference all year long.
In a statement jointly signed by its President, Bobboi Kaigama and its Secretary General, Musa-Lawal Ozigi, TUC said its silence on some disturbing national issues was deliberate in expectation that the Muhammadu Buhari administration would take the opportunity to settle down and subsequently hit the ground running, which has not happened in the past 20 months.
Even without initiating a single national strike in 2016, TUC called on government to review the minimum wage, speed up the process of passing the Petroleum Industry Bill into law, diversify the economy and jail treasury looters.
It added: “The devaluation of the Naira and other unfriendly economic measures are taking tolls on the workers and Nigerians generally. The usual excuse of no money because of the activities of the Niger Delta militants and fall in the price of crude oil does not subsist here. Our suggestion is: see to the demands of the Niger Delta militants, pass the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) into law, diversify the economy, reduce cost of running government, jail treasury looters of our treasury and there would be money to do much more than Nigerians are yearning for. We hope governments at all levels listen to the voice of reason.”
In its message to workers, the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba stressed that the Buhari administration has not shown the capacity to take Nigeria’s economy out of the woods in 2017.
His words: “We are afraid . . . we are not seeing the positive impact of government’s plans for the economy. It is common knowledge that in times of economic recession, governments put funds into the economy, building infrastructure and increase social spending to reflate the economy. Not much is being done in this direction to get us out of the economic recession. Government, on the contrary is sticking to its neo-liberal economic management path.”
While giving inkling into what 2017 holds for workers, NLC insisted that it would continue its opposition to the introduction of unfriendly policies by various tiers of government.
The labour centre declared that it would not allow government use workers as sacrificial lambs out of the recession.