Clamour for new minimum wage, viable economy dominate May Day rally
AS expected, the 2015 May Day has once again brought to the front burner various challenges confronting workers nationwide.
Held across the country, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, River State, Enugu and Kano State, among others, it was indeed an opportunity for the labour movement to address the public and private sector employers on issues affecting its members.
It was also an opportunity for members of organised labour to challenge the incoming administration on performance especially need to fulfill electoral promises.
The ceremony also brought to the fore the leadership crisis rocking the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) as factional presidents of the body addressed workers in Abuja and Lagos simultaneously.
While President of the NLC, Ayuba Wabba, led NLC workers to the Abuja programme, factional president of the body, Joe Ajaero addressed workers in Lagos.
In Abuja, President Goodluck Jonathan did not attend the ceremony for the first time since 2011.
The Minister of Labour and Productivity, Senator Joel Danlami described labour as the creators of wealth on which the prosperity of the countries of the world derive their economic survival.
He stated that the peaceful industrial atmosphere in the country is attributable to the democratic atmosphere, which recognized and accorded workers the right to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.
Danlami admonished labour to adopt a shift from adversarial to developmental industrial relations practice and trade unionism.
He added: “I urge the labour movement to buy into this new mechanism of social dialogue and collective bargaining in realizing their demands,
goals and aspirations. This development would no doubt engender the spirit of patriotism, national consciousness, renewal, abiding natural justice and equity.”
The Labour Minister also stressed that labour movement is central to national productivity and development and as such has a critical role to play in charting the way forward for our continuous growth and development.
Danlami also urged contestants who lost in the last delegates’ conference to embrace peace and emulate President Jonathan who resisted the urge to head to the tribunal and rather accepted the results of the 2015 general election in good faith.
Also expecting that the labour movement would reel out demands, the Minister urged caution saying any expectations must be within the ambience of the current global economic realities in order not to plunge Nigeria into labour unrest that is likely to further retard economic growth.
His words: “Within the perspective of global economies, the current fall in the price of crude oil at the international market which, has impacted negatively on the nation’s income and revenue would invariably pose a challenge in the national industrial relations system. The trade unions are urged to brace up to realities within this context as no democracy can be consolidated if the industrial relations atmosphere is in turmoil and riddled with incessant industrial actions.”
Danlami urged Wabba to midwife a strong and vibrant federation of trade union while enjoining the leadership of Trade Union Congress (TUC) led by Bobboi Kaigama to continue in its current strides to ensure workers’ welfare and work constructively with the new leadership of the NLC for the transformation of Nigeria.
In his speech, Wabba said the labour movement would closely monitor the administration of Muhammadu Buhari in its efforts to revive collapsed social and institutional infrastructure that will serve as the foundation upon which to drive the economic recovery of the nation.
Wabba decried the spending of about $40billion on electricity in the last 16 years by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led Federal Government without commensurate result.
His said: “It is truly tragic that despite sinking a whopping investment in excess of $40 billion for the past 16 years in the power sector, the only proofs we have to show for it are megawatts of darkness and gigabytes of excuses. Currently, power generation in Nigeria hovers around 3000 megawatts.
Yet, the $25 billion Three Gorges Dam in China generates more than 22,000MW of electricity. The excuse of inadequate gas for the power stations is already time worn.
The volume of gas that has been flared since 1956 when commercial quantities of crude oil and natural gas were discovered in the oil producing communities of Niger Delta, with all of its environmental and climatic consequences, is enough proof that blaming gas supply for our perennial national darkness is what it is – mere excuses!”
He stressed that the NLC believes that regular power supply will unlock the inertia potentials available in the economy.
The NLC boss then declared that the labour movement would hold the Buhari-led government to account based on the promises he made to Nigerians generally and to the working class people in particular in the course of the political campaigns.
“The incoming government must revive the Ajaokuta Steel Complex. This edifice was conceived to be the cornerstone of our industrialization.
Unfortunately, our political class has refused to accept the simple truth that no country can truly industrialize without any iron and steel industry. The fate of Aladja, Osogbo, Jos and Katsina steel rolling mills post privatization is too grim to recall here,” he stated.
He hinted that the NLC would soon set the machinery in motion for the review of the National Minimum Wage, which was last raised in 2010.
Wabba highlighted that having implemented the wage for five years, it is naturally due for re-negotiation given the prevailing economic realities.
He said: “The first direct symptom of the prevailing economic crunch; the continuous devaluation of the naira, has dealt devastating blows on the purchasing power of the Nigerian worker.
This is unacceptable! The last national minimum wage of N18, 000 which was negotiated in 2010, is clearly no longer of any meaningful economic value to workers as the inflationary trends engendered by the continuing devaluation of the naira has made the minimum wage now grossly inadequate.
“The above situation plus the fact that the five yearly circle provided for periodic review of the national minimum wage is almost at hand, we wish to use this May Day to give notice that we shall formally table a request for a new national minimum wage for the consideration of the tripartite social partners, as soon as the incoming government is sworn in. This has become pertinent given current economic realities.”
He argued that the continued shrinking of the resources base of Nigeria should naturally calls for urgent innovative ways to diversify the economy. He stated that the free fall of the price of crude oil in the international market, the gross mismanagement of our national resources by the political class and their cronies in the private sector and the failure of successive Nigerian governments to build critical infrastructure that can support the diversification of the national economy have all contributed to the construction of our current narrative of economic woes.
Wabba maintained that Buhari must move swiftly to reduce costs of governance, block leakages, and institute reforms that are required for speedy economic growth and stability.
To make these happen, he said government need to be open and transparent as well as accountable to the Nigerian people.
Addressing workers in Lagos, Ajaero urged the incoming administration to put in place a new minimum wage of not less than N90, 000. Ajaero said the nation cannot address the challenge of income inequality and poverty without addressing the question of salaries and wages for working people “because there is intricate linkage between income, consumption and production”.
He said the incoming administration must be put on notice that five year tenure of the national minimum wage ends this year, adding that the NLC under his leadership is putting before the new administration a proposal of N90, 000 naira for negotiation with the Federal Government and Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA).
According to him this modest proposal’ is based on the unstable micro economic environment, naira devaluation and the high rate of inflation.
.These milestones have been achieved through positive struggles and peaceful engagement of governments through social dialogues. As the primary factor of production, workers are the main drivers of growth, development and revival. Economically, attempts to implement sustainable economic development at national, state or enterprise level will involve labour.
As representatives of workers, trade unions are vital actors in facilitating the achievement of sustainable development in view of their experience in addressing industrial change.”
The ILO sub-regional chief maintained that the aspiration of Nigeria becoming one of the top 20 largest economies in the world by 2020 can only be achieved when Nigerian workers work with the government to ensure a peaceful political environment, strong economic and technological capabilities, quality service delivery and policies which integrate economic and social goals.
She added that this change calls for a greater recognition of issues that promote political peace, economic inclusion, technological innovation, quality education amongst others.
Delivering a paper at the pre-pre- May symposium titled: ‘The Nigeria Working Class Democratic Consolidation and Economic Revival; Charting the Path to National Rebirth,’ renowned Prof of Economics, Prof. Assisi Asobie, said one way of overcoming the challenges of downstream oil sector is to allow state and local governments to have equity in the extractive industries.
He hinted that this was the Chinese model that helped produce widely acclaimed Chinese miracle of development. His words: “To this end, Nigeria should make and operate, not one constitution, encompassing provision for governance at all levels, but 37 different constitutions.
Each state of federation should make and give itself a state constitution, which will outline the powers, function, duties and responsibilities of the state government.” Asobie, who is a former President of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), called on the Labour movement to strengthen their commitment to democratic principles and practice and consistently practice, and be seen to imbibe internal democracy.
He also urged labour movement to produce a long-term developmental plan for Nigerian working class. Asobie said the goal is to encourage the incoming government at all levels to commence a process of long term, bottom-up planning in line with the provision of 1999 constitution. He added: “The second purpose is to use the alternative development plan as a basis for mobilizing the Nigeria working people with a view to engaging fully and overtly in partisan politics.”
In his address presented in Port Harcourt, River State Chairman of TUC, Hyginus Chika Onuegbu said the benefit of a conscious and strong trade union movement cannot be overemphasised. He explained that Nigeria’s history attests to that, adding that the government, employers and workers ought to collectively and consciously build such a movement for the consolidation of “our democracy and the advancement of our nation”.
He said: “However, the labour movement cannot be strong to chart a meaningful course to national rebirth without first of all re-engineering a rebirth within the consciousness of the working class. The truth is that we cannot play our historical roles to the nation’s democracy without first of all rebuilding ourselves internally.
We cannot radically contribute positively to Nigeria’s economic revival without first of all engaging our inner imperfections creatively. A national rebirth is therefore not possible with a working class that is stripped of its strength and bereft of its potent force.
“Without the working class operating optimally, our democracy or the entire political structure presents a façade that is not only highly distorted but seriously disarticulated thus unable to deliver its promises to the citizenry.
The contributions which our past leaders such as Pa Michael Imoudu, the great Milton Dabibi and comrade Ovie Kokori among others have made in shaping and directing national discourses and conversations in Nigeria are all pointers to the critical importance of the working class to national rebirth and development”.
Kaigama said the war against corruption needs to be fought with greater vigour and commitment, adding that, “ The best way to tackle the menace is to make the independence of the judiciary a permanent reality. To affect this, the judiciary should be placed on the first-line charge for budgetary allocations, just like the executive and the legislature.
“Furthermore, just as appointment and promotion of judicial officers by the executive is on recommendation/approval of the National Judicial Council and/or the legislature, so also should the executive have no power to sack any judicial officer without the recommendation/approval of the Council and/or the legislature.
“Similar policy should apply in the case of the Inspector General of Police, the Governor of the Central Bank, the chairmen of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), as well as other public officers whose official independence need to be protected by law if they are to perform their duties conscientiously without fear or favour.
“The two anti-graft bodies – the EFCC and the ICPC – should be strengthened. For instance, they should be statutorily empowered to arrest and prosecute culprits without any recourse to any other authority.
Indeed, a comprehensive review of the anti-corruption laws and the body of laws relating to finance and the economy is highly recommended to them.
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