‘Government should encourage retirees to tackle unemployment’
What type of labour activism should Nigerians expect under your watch as the new president of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC)?
Aside from the usual union activities, Nigerians should expect some renewed energy that we have to project into the labour centre. We have to make sure we carry everybody along, which is one of the powers and strategies of the union and then take decisions that start from the grassroots; all members of the union must be part of the decision-making process. While we will work assiduously to improve the conditions of service of our members, we will take seriously their yearnings as well. We all will agree that Nigerian workers suffer a lot.
The meagre amount we collect as salaries are not enough to cater for everything, most especially now that workers cater for their own bills. So we will continue to enhance a better living condition for our members and that would be a top priority. We will also defend workers’ rights. We will ensure their jobs are secure and safe from unnecessary hindrances, such as redundancy, termination of appointment and issue of performance, as most companies use performance as a better way to defend redundancy because of the packages involved in it. So they believe that once you declare that you are not performing, and then you will feel ashamed and bow out of the system without asking for compensation. These are some of the enormous tasks ahead of the union, and we are taking it seriously and follow it passionately.
Do you think the government is doing enough in the way it is handling the economy?
It would be wrong for me as a labour leader to condemn the government that they are not doing enough. But the issue is that the government should be able to assess and evaluate if the workers are happy with the way things are moving. Are the workers happy with the way things are moving? We have just signed the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. Workers expect that government should do more to improve physical infrastructure and electricity. We are more of a consuming nation than producing; we should be exporting our goods and services. We keep buying goods and services outside and keep on downgrading what we have in our country because of bad roads and poor electricity supply. So, when government fixes those infrastructures, I think workers would be happy, and ready to put in more efforts and even sacrifice beyond their capacities.
How can government, unions and the private sector tackle the rising unemployment in Nigeria?
Government should be ready to give incentives. In the past, there used to be agricultural settlement all over the nation. Where are those agricultural settlements today? There used to be Agric show sponsored fully by each state or the Federal Government to encourage young farmers to go into farming. Where are those shows? They’ve all disappeared. No agric settlements.
For example, for somebody that is retiring, the retirement job that should come to his mind should be to see how he or she could support the economy. Such people normally go into agriculture. Is that the way it is today? It is only when there is an agriculture village that people can key into the service. So the government should make use of retirees to create more jobs. They will form part of the private sector that can move the economy forward. It is not government that will be creating jobs; it is the private sector. So government should revive the agriculture settlement. Let us say it the way it is. If the government wants to really create jobs, they know the way to go about it. You have to shun your political platform to create jobs for the people. Government should focus on the retirees; they have a lot to contribute to the economy. They have acquired the experience and also the maturity to be investors. With the token they are collecting as retirement, if they can have incentives from government, it could be in the form of seedlings, a lot would want to go into agriculture. But there is no land because of the land policy. But I am very sure there is nothing we have mentioned that government don’t have its policy paper on. The problem confronting us as a nation is implementation.
How can Nigeria benefit maximally from the African Continental Free Trade Agreement?
We should benefit from it; that is if we don’t go to sleep. But if we go to sleep and assume that we are the giant of Africa, and we are not doing the needful, we might be favouring other countries. You know what makes the cost of production high in our own country is because every company serves as its own PHCN; they generate their electricity at a very high cost. Go to all industrial estates across the country, look at the billions of naira those industries are losing on a daily basis. So there is a need for government to, first of all, fix the infrastructure in the industrial estate.
About 99% of the companies, especially the multinationals generate their own electricity, something that should have been an income to PHCN. If government provides electricity, I can tell you confidently that those companies would have not less than 50% of what they use in generating electricity and that will increase the tax they are going to pay to the government.
The government should fix infrastructural gaps in all our industrial areas. They are the first people that should have the standard infrastructure and by then we will be benefitting from this agreement.
Instead of government to encourage industrialists to employ more workers and try to give tax incentives, the government is compensating them for bringing in sophisticated machines such as robots into a country that is facing a high level of unemployment.
…Probably government is not aware that this will lead to Nigerians losing their job.
I am very sure the government is aware of that. Knowing such things should be the responsibilities of the ministries of Labour, Trade and Commerce. Why can’t they advise the government on the implications of that move? Everybody should stand up to their responsibility and provide the right information.
Today, we claim that 80% of our raw materials are sourced locally. I stand to challenge the government that it is not true, but 80% of raw materials are imported. What evaluation do they do to prove that 80% of the raw materials are locally-sourced? We have tomatoes that are getting spoilt in our local areas if they are sourcing 80% of the raw materials are we going to have those tomatoes getting spoilt in the rural areas? Where is even the road to transport the raw materials to the industrial areas where they would be consumed? The cocoa that we produce in Nigeria, is it the same thing that those companies that use cocoa use, the tomato paste and the rest? People that are in charge of this rely on information they get from the third party. Government has no way of cross-checking the information they get in order to ascertain its authenticity.
The 80% of the raw materials they said they are sourcing locally are from who, where? Let us know from whom, from which source, which state of the nation is giving them that raw material? They should come out and tell us all this analysis. But until they can do that, I stand to be corrected, I disagree with the Federal Government that we source the majority of our raw materials locally.
Why is negotiation stalling between labour and government on the consequential adjustment of salaries of civil servants?
As a labour leader, you need to study the trend and also understand the nitty-gritty of what the government is planning to do. We had enough information that the government is trying to divide the labour movement by robbing Peter to pay Paul. We were united in asking for minimum wage and we achieved it. It has been signed into law, so why the partial implementation? The government felt that since we asked them to go ahead to pay the N30,000, the majority would have benefitted while the minority would not be able to do anything. But we in labour centres do not reason like that because in unity lies our strength, and united we stand because if we are divided, we fall.
So the total labour movement is rejecting that from the government. We say no. There is no partial implementation; it must be 100 per cent. We have to agree on the consequential effects, which we ought to have negotiated alongside the signing of the minimum wage. It is not the first time that we are having a minimum wage in the country, so that should have been agreed. The best thing for a government that loves workers is to have applied that 66% because it is not honourable. Nobody is asking for 100% of what they are giving to the lower cadre, so 66% is reasonable.
The government should have applied it, but instead, they are thinking otherwise. What are they going to gain if they divide the labour centre? How can you create a problem within your own nation? With all these crises in the country, the government is trying to create another one. So we are not going to accept that and that is why we have signed a joint letter from both TUC and NLC to say: no, we are rejecting it. They should go back to the negotiation table and if the committee needs our assistance, we are ready to support but partial implementation is totally rejected from both TUC and NLC.
In what ways can the government reduce the adverse effects of casualisation and outsourcing on the working class?
I think we have moved away from contract casualisation to contract to staff. What should be our focus now is for us to see how much we can try to reduce the number of contract jobs that we have, then how do we standardise those contract jobs.
Presently, the Ministry of Labour and Employment licenses recruiters of contract jobs, what are the conditions attached to giving a certificate to those recruiters? I think that is where we have a problem.
Majority of those recruiters are not qualified to provide employees to companies that need contract employees in their known core area. The Labour Ministry should be ready to listen to labour unions on how we can set new parameters and will be well-informed.
Presently, recruiters pay 60% of what they receive in the name of those contract staff from the companies to their employee, which is totally unacceptable. It is cheating on Nigerian workers. So, there must be a guideline by the Ministry of Labour allowing the company to pay directly to each employee even if they are on the contract list. The user company should pay what is due to workers directly to them, and pay the recruiters commission that is due to them. Some are paid 50% of what the company is paying them and some do not remit pension to their Pension Fund Administrators.
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