Prioritising workers’ welfare in 2019
With rallies and protests slated to be held in all the states of the federation, 2019 presents a unique opportunity for the labour movement to enhance the strategy for the improvement of workers’ welfare.
While some labour leaders have described 2018 as a year full of motion without movement, others said it was indeed the most traumatic for workers, especially given the failure of the Federal Government to enact and implement the new national minimum wage of N30,000.
Notwithstanding the continued fight for decent work and fair wages for workers, the organised labour has expressed its determination to ensure it overcomes the many challenges confronting it, either through social dialogue or outright strike.
Going through some of the challenging issues that occurred last year, labour experts, who charted paths for a favourable year for workers, and their expectations in the New Year, said until government becomes sensitive to the plight of workers and the masses, 2019 might be tougher, especially with the forthcoming general elections.
Clamour for a new national minimum wage
Organised labour has expressed displeasure over government’s reluctance to implement the agreed N30,000 as new minimum wage by the tripartite committee constituted by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2017.
Besides, based on current economic realities, N30,000 is not up to the value of N18,000 of a few years ago.
The President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba, urged Nigerian workers and the citizenry to brace up for a prolonged nationwide strike that may happen after the national day of rallies and protests, as government continues with the delay tactic.
Wabba, in a New Year message to Nigerians, said the Congress remained committed to the welfare of Nigerian workers and the quality of governance in the country.
He described 2018 as one of the most traumatic year for workers especially given the failure of government to enact and implement the new national minimum wage of N30, 000.
“This is in spite of the unimpeachable tripartite process leading to the agreement by the social partners on the new national minimum wage. It is unfortunate that the Federal Government is yet to transmit to the National Assembly an executive bill for the enactment of N30,000 as the new national minimum wage,” he stated.
He said government’s dillydallying on the issue has strained government-labour relations with a potential for a major national strike, which could just be days away.
He urged workers to fully mobilise for a prolonged national strike and enforce their right. The mobilisation for the nationwide strike is planned to hold today, unless a positive outcome emanate from yesterday’s (Monday) meeting summoned by the Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige with labour leaders.
Wabba explained: “This strike action becomes the inevitable last option for us, and we crave the understanding and support of all Nigerians and businesses. We would want to assure workers that their labour, patience and diligence will not be in vain, and that this leadership remains committed to giving all that it takes to ensure that they get just and fair wages due to them in a decent work environment appropriate to their well-being.”
Also expressing his displeasure, the President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Bobboi Kaigama, said the Federal Government and some state governors have refused to heed the unions’ peaceful call, as they claimed they have no money to pay.
He said it was unfathomable and shameful that the Federal Government could think of constituting a technical committee over a wage that had been negotiated by a Tripartite Committee set up by the same government.
He said: “We wish to sound it here that the Congress can no longer tolerate government’s deliberate refusal to pay us the N30, 000 national minimum wage as agreed. Mobilisation throughout the country is on already, and we should not be blamed for breaching industrial peace. We are voting out irresponsible politicians in the coming elections.”
On his part, the President of the United Labour Congress (ULC), Joe Ajaero, expressed fear for workers in the New Year.
Ajaero, who said government for the first time seemed to be playing politics with the workforce, argued that the unresolved issues in 2018 would constitute the agenda in 2019. “So I fear for labour in 2019, in the sense that there are some political activities that would characterise the first half of 2019, and within that period, not much may be expected except the labour movement remains strong, and then put forward a common front to get what we want.
“But no matter how much we fight to get what you want, a government that is insensitive will remain insensitive to the plight of the working masses, no matter if you use force to squeeze anything for the benefit of workers.
“My appeal this year is to operators of the states for them to realise the consequences on the citizens they are governing. Any good policy that impacts positively on the working masses is by extension impacting of the masses of this country.”
High unemployment rate
Last year, the country witnessed highest unemployment rate. The recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), revealed that 115.4 million Nigerians were unemployed, with no hope of having any job soon, while many also lost their jobs due to government’s fiscal policies. This made it difficult for workers to earn what they expected from both the public and private sectors.
Labour and employment relations in Nigeria became more tensed in the work place. Workers were treated harshly, some employers operated with impunity, and there was mass sack the financial sector, and there was disregard on the law that governs employment relations.
Ajaero, who said the unemployment rate is at unimaginable proportion, charged governments on the need for conscious movement to get people to work to take care of their families.
He said government should work harder to ensure more jobs are created so that the rate of job creation runs much faster than the new entrants to the job market.
Ajaero, said the union kicked against the rising incidence of unemployment, especially, youth unemployment and the danger it portends.
He canvassed for the preservation of existing jobs and creation of new sustainable ones through alternative policy options with potential for expanding the economy.
Non-payment of salaries/pensions
One of the developments of the preceding years is the irregular and non-payment of wages for workers and pension for retired civil servants in many states.
Ahead of the forthcoming elections, the NLC demanded a probe of state governors who owed workers’ salaries, pension and gratuity. They called on the Federal Government to henceforth, only make available the Paris Club Fund releases to states that judiciously used previous releases to offset workers’ entitlements.
“Throughout 2018, the NLC was completely invested in the struggle to protect workers’ interests, promote democratic values, advocate for the rule of law and defend human cum trade union rights. We sustained our fight against anti-labour practices at the work place and insisted on the observance of the rules of decent work and fair wages,” the NLC helmsman stated.
In furtherance to this, Wabba said the NLC would intensify the struggle for regular, predictable, and appropriate payment of salaries, pension and gratuity in the New Year.
He added: “This struggle will continue to be our topmost priority. We went further to call on the Federal Government to make subsequent release of further bail-out funds or Paris Club refund contingent on clear evidence of judicious use for payment of salaries, pensions and gratuities of previous releases. We will continue to insist on accountability.”
2019 general elections
As the election period draws near, while praying for a free, fair and credible elections, labour demanded that both the election umpire and political actors played by the rules of the game by shunning violence, election malpractices, vote-buying, manipulation of election rules and politics of bitterness.
They also demanded that the recovered loot be invested transparently for the benefit of all Nigerians.
NLC said it would deepen its campaign for good governance and fight against corruption in the same manner it sustained the campaign for tax justice and illicit financial flows.
Kaigama on his part, urged all politicians to espouse the spirit of sportsmanship and ensure the 2019 polls are held under the atmosphere of peace and tranquility.
He said what should be paramount to all is to put the country on the path of progress, saying: “we must do things differently forthwith if Nigerians are serious about developing the country.”
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