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Challenges ahead of organised labour in 2021 

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Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige

The year 2020 was used by the organised labour to prepare for likely frustration awaiting the movement in 2021.

The characterisations of the struggles that the organised labour embarked upon last year and the unsatisfactory resolutions indeed prepared the docility labour will witness this year.

For the records, the struggles of labour movement were divided into two. The first was the two-in-one struggle against deregulation of the downstream sector and increment in electricity tariffs. The second aspect was the struggles of the trade unions in the federal universities which lasted for more than nine months.

While the central labour bodies – Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress – drove the process of the first struggle, the second struggle was led by the four trade unions in the universities which are the Academic Staff of Universities (ASUU), Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT).

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The struggle against petrol price increments, for lack of suitable name to describe what Nigerian state is executing in the downstream of oil and gas sector was tacitly termed, ‘deregulation’ policy was unwittingly accepted by the movement. The implication of this is that whenever the prices of crude oil go up in the international market, the price would be expected to move up in Nigeria. The country is mercilessly opened to the vagaries of the wholly imported refined petroleum products. When this happens, will the labour be justified in going on strike? This is unlikely for two reasons.

The first reason labour may unlikely have the sympathy of Nigerians is encapsulated in the submissions of the General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Emmanuel Ugboajah in an interview with The Guardian when the first round of the negotiation was rounded off which elicited negative reactions from Nigerians.

In the interview, he submitted: “It is not about losing the plot finally because part of the challenge over the last three decades of engagements with government over the matter, it has always been a one-track solution where a couple of Naira is taken off the pump price and the issue still remain hanging . . .. With the direction we have taken now and our affiliates in the sector involved in the monitoring and evaluation of the rehabilitation process of the refineries, we seem to be headed in the right direction.”

If anything, the removal of N5 from the pump price that now put the pump price to N163 per litre is the highest in the history of Nigeria. Yet labour has continued to romanticise the pump price of petroleum in Nigeria.

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With the achievement of N30,000 minimum wage which lasted for more than three years of negotiation under the present administration, Nigerians today earn much less than N18,000 they earned before May 2015 when Buhari administration began in real terms.

With the movement of pump price to N163 per litre (labour achieved removal of N5 per litre after more than two months of negotiation in the comfort of Aso Villa banquet hall), Nigerians are poorer than they were several years ago.

The General Secretary of NASU, Peters Adeyemi, who believed that labour did its best given the circumstances, submitted that indeed Nigerians are now poorer.

He said: “Yes while I do not share the belief that labour did badly given the circumstance, I agreed that Nigerians are now poorer than they were in 2015. If we consider what N18,000 could buy in the market in 213 and 2015 to what N30,000 can buy in 2020, there was no basis for comparism. While the N18,000 was widely paid and some governors even paid higher than that, most state governments are not paying the current N30,000.”

The second point while labour would be docile and helpless in 2021 is the submission of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, while conveying the N5 removal from pump price ‘good news’ to Nigerians.

Ngige gleefully enthused that the N5 removal from the price of fuel at the time was not as a result of pressure from labour movement, but the magnanimity of the almighty Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

Ngige flagrantly rubbished the negotiations by the organised labour movement.

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Ngige’s arrogance reinforced the belief in the oil and gas industry that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has emerged a state monopoly of importer of petroleum products into the country.

The ‘negotiation’ was nothing but a family meeting with the docile government-friendly Wabba Ayuba-led Congress ‘to explain to labour why government could no longer sustain subsidy’.

By virtue of the ‘negotiation’ with the Federal Government, labour movement made it clear to Nigerians that gone are the days labour movement fight for all Nigerians workers and the downtrodden. It made it crystal clear that NLC and TUC are basically for Nigerians workers that are their members.

Where does help come for the Nigerians masses?
These were the items labour negotiated: a commitment of government to help facilitate more mass transit buses. The labour transport company has since been comatose in need of new fleets; housing scheme for worker will be allocated a certain percentage and loans to allow workers go into farming.

On the achievements, NLC Scribe said: “These are clear gains. For workers, we did not come out empty-handed. That was more beneficial to workers than being on the streets protesting that will result into removal of a few Naira from the pump price and electricity tariffs (this was what eventually happened).”

Labour also claimed it threatened strike to protest the hike in electricity tariffs. After three months of negotiation, which is still on-going, electricity tariffs have gone up by more than 300 per cent with the representatives of the labour movement on negotiation table with government.

The second struggle by the university workers’ is a sweet-bitter experience for average Nigerian parents. While the struggle was for the betterment of the campuses, it also meant to extract more comfort for the workers. With nine months away from the campuses, the four unions in the universities are now known more with ‘news of strike’ whenever they are mentioned more than enhancing teaching in the ivory towers. 2021 is a year Nigerians masses are hoping to have children in school and less of disruption academic calendar.

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Chris NgigeNAATNASUNLC
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