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Nigeria’s workers as endangered species

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Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari holds a press conference with US President Donald Trump in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, April 30, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB

As Nigeria marks its workers’ day it is pertinent once again to discuss workers’ plights with a view to drawing the government’s attention to where the shoes pinch and, the urgent need for resolutions to the myriad of problems confronting the Nigerian workers.

It is disheartening that in a land ‘flowing with milk and honey’ workers are relegated to the background and most of them continue to live like second-class citizens in their own land.

Successive governments have often paid lip-service to the issue of workers’ welfare and never consider the need for equitable distribution of the nation’s wealth in such a way that all citizens would feel some sense of belonging.

Rather what is noticeable is a culture of corruption-engendered opulence and extreme profligacy of the ruling class at the expense of Nigerian workers who can best be described as the goose that lays the golden egg.

The Nigerian workers must rank among the most pitiable beings on the planet earth.

This is because considering the mind-boggling income accruing to the nation’s coffers as disclosed from time to time and the fact that people only listen to humongous figures without feeling any positive impacts in their daily lives, the workers are no more than mere onlookers in the scheme of things.

Their helplessness stems from the fact workers are not blessed with a virile union that can truly champion their cause and force successive governments to keep them in view.

Almost all labour unions in the country are politicised, rendered useless and most times manned by highly incompetent people bereft of the ideals of unionism.

For many years, the Nigeria Labour Union was fragmented and workers therefore left in the lurch.

Even when that was not happening, most labour leaders work for their own pockets and are not really concerned with issues affecting their members.

In all of these, the workers are the losers and endangered species as they are made to work under very excruciating conditions, worse still without any hope of an end to their hardship.

Workers are endangered as they and their loved ones continually fall easy prey to avoidable deaths arising from inability to access proper medical attention.

Another dimension to workers’ plight is the impact of acute unemployment in the land which puts more burdens on the few working class. To every worker there can be up to ten hangers-on and how anyone hopes to cope under such tension remains to be seen.

The resultant effect is that apart from being underpaid, workers are also forced to shoulder more responsibilities than they actually can. Such condition encourages many to engage in so many unwholesome practices in order to make ends meet.

No one raises any eyebrow as regards workers’ sharp practices since the government itself seems to realise its guilt in many fronts and the fact that there cannot be any moral justification to sanction anybody in the prevailing situation.

Even when the posturing of some governments suggests something positive in the horizon the approach and emphasis are often sorely wrong.

All talks are always centred on increased wages as that is the only means of alleviating workers’ sufferings.

Labour leaders invited to round-table discussions at such periods also often lack the capacity, or even the sagacity to put issues in proper perspectives. What is the essence of increased wages when it is certain that most states are still unable to cope with the present salary structure?

Indeed, that anyone would argue for increased wages in the present circumstances is a clear indication of thoughtlessness and irrationality.

Even going by past experiences, what does any worker stand to gain with increased wages with the prevailing inflation?

Who benefits from wage increase if not the traders and landlords who would hurriedly hike their goods, services and rent, and in the long run, everyone is back to square one?

Rather than dissipate energy on increased wages, workers need is the putting in place of sustainable welfare packages for different categories of workers.

For instance, there ought to be a provision for any worker who has put in up to ten years in service to be entitled to a flat, even if on a mortgage arrangement and a decent car or the monetary equivalent.

Besides, he should have his medical bills and the education of his children highly subsidised by the government so that workers can avoid distractions and face their jobs squarely.

Again, some category of levels should attract some privileges. For instance, officers on level 15, 16 and 17 should have access to some big loans that can enhance and improve their living conditions.

It must be stated clearly at this juncture, for the sakes of sceptics, that if all the funds being frittered away on a daily basis are checkmated, and governments thinks more about bringing happiness to a greater majority of its citizens, these recommendations are not only plausible but also realisable.

Another area the government should look into is the issue of the pension funds. Undoubtedly, the reason behind the whole idea is good and desirable.

But there shouldn’t be any reason for workers to continue to suffer when they have their savings hanging up somewhere and even being stolen by some unscrupulous elements.

So why not let part of the fund be made available to the owners after some years of operation so that such fund can be invested in readiness for the retirement?

What has happened so far is that why workers are not having anyone thinking about the issue of their welfare, they are at the same time being short-changed on their own hard-earned personal savings! This must stop forthwith and government must allow workers’ savings to work for them when it matters most, at least for the sake of justice.

Workers’ welfare must be seen as very paramount. This is the only sure ways of building happy civil servants and then a highly functional and effective civil service

Oyewusi, an educationist, lives in Lagos.


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