Insecurity on front burner as workers mark May Day
This year’s May Day, also known as Workers’ Day, may have come and gone, but the message by the organised labour cannot be set aside.
Notwithstanding being celebrated amid the COVID-19 pandemic, emergence of the third wave and other pertinent demands by the organised labour, like the haphazard implementation of minimum wage, rising inflation, concrete action on the revitalisation of the comatose refineries as well as push for full deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil industry, and devaluation of the Naira, among others.
The major takeaway at this year’s celebration was the need for the government to address high level of insecurity in the country.
While they demanded urgent action aimed at curtailing the spread of insecurity, they warned against any attempt by leaders to politicise the country’s increasing security challenges, pointing out that the majority of the targets were mostly workers.
The Lagos State Council Chairmen of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC), Funmi Sessi and Gbenga Ekundayo respectively, said that government must, as a matter of urgency, address security concern, noting that Nigeria was heading into the precipice as a result of the heightened insecurity.
Ekundayo, in his May Day speech in Lagos, lamented that the pathetic security situation has pushed Nigerians into questioning the very essence of government, which he said, was the protection of lives and properties of the citizens.
According to him, this could be the reason why some people are now adopting self-help mechanisms to secure themselves.
However, they commended Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu for consistently prioritising the welfare of workers.
The labour centres said despite the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the economy, world of work and the lives of the people, Sanwo-Olu’s administration has kept welfare of workers on the front burner by ensuring salaries and other statutory payments are paid as and when due.
The TUC boss urged governments to, just as a matter of urgency, strengthen the social security system so that workers can be adequately protected at all times.
He stressed that post-COVID-19 was not the time to dispense with labour, rather a collaboration between all social partners in the industrial relations arena at this critical period in the world of work was the only solution.
He said employers must carry labour along on critical decisions at this time, adding that this was the only way that collective bargaining agreement could be respected and enforced in an atmosphere where international best practices are adopted in resolving disputes.
Similarly, his NLC counterpart, Sessi urged Sanwo-Olu to prioritise welfare package for pensioners.
She urged the governor to listen to the cries of retired senior citizens, ensure a better welfare package to make life after retirement meaningful and enjoyable one for them.
Also, the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), in a statement by its National President, Williams Akporeha and General Secretary, Afolabi Olawale, equally expressed concern about the increasing state of insecurity in the country, ranging from kidnapping, banditry, insurgency, ritual killings, civil unrest, and unhealthy rivalry among ethnic groups, farmer-herder conflicts, and citizen’s harassment by law enforcement agents.
The oil workers called on the Federal Government to rise to the occasion by providing security of lives of the citizens, noting that the country was in a state of war and no one should pretend otherwise.
The union urged the government to seek external help as it was becoming very apparent that the situation has overwhelmed it.
According to them: “The high level of insecurity has further worsened economic situation and has made the country to be going in and out of recession. The twin problems of insecurity and economic recession must be addressed without further delay as this is taking a toll on the health, safety and livelihoods of the Nigerian workers.”
The union also called on the Federal Government, especially the National Assembly to fast-track the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).
The union also urged the National Assembly to ensure that the minimum wage is not moved from the exclusive to the concurrent list, stating that the payment must remain non-negotiable despite the pressure coming from some interest groups, who desperately want a change in the status quo at the detriment of the workers.
“We are also using this platform to admonish government that while people are gradually adjusting to the new normal, Nigerian government needs to do more in facilitating citizen’s vaccination and ensure job security as well as socio-economic empowerment of Nigerians so that life could be more meaningful and promote sharp decline in defiant behaviours,” it said.
NUPENG added that it would not rest on its oars to defend and promote the rights and privileges of oil and gas workers in Nigeria, adding that NUPENG as trustee of posterity would continue to serve as a pillar of strength “for our members and the working people as we brave challenges and storms, with other patriots to build a dynamic, strong, united and prosperous nation where decency of employment will flourish and prevail.”
Similarly, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) has expressed fears over constant rumours of sacks and redundancies of workers in the oil and gas sector.
PENGASSAN in its May Day message, signed by the President, Festus Osifo and General Secretary, Lumumba Okugbawa, respectively, said employers were threatening their jobs daily.
The union added that their female counterparts were not protected, as job and income losses had been severe on them, despite being on the frontline providing essential services and risking exposure to the coronavirus.
The oil workers urged government at all levels and employers to unite and deal with the issues entirely.
The union urged every worker to remain optimistic and continues to offer their best services in their various employments for the growth of their organisations and overall interest of the Nigerian economy.
“To the workers in the oil and gas sector, you are specially celebrated today because you have remained hopeful in the face of many uncertainties, challenges and discouraging pressures that have come upon the industry in the past.
The union said: “We are sure that we will also surmount the current challenge brought about by the low oil price and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“To the government and all employers, we appreciate you all, for your roles in the social and economic advancement of the nation. We look forward to a stronger and better tripartite spirit of working together to build our nation.”
Among other issues of national importance, the workers called for the rebuilding of the labour market.
The union said the pandemic had exposed deep-rooted labour market fragilities and structural inequalities, with low-paid workers, young people, women, ethnic minorities, self-employed and informal and fixed-term workers among the hardest hit by the crisis.
They said policymakers must begin to think beyond policies for the recovery and start on the task of building a future of work that is safer, fairer, greener and more effective in cushioning the consequences of future crises on jobs as well as incomes.
Former deputy president of PENGASSAN, Frank Esanubi, said with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, insecurity and economic crisis, the future looks very gloomy and dim for the Nigerian worker, who is still made to grapple with a minimum wage of N30, 000, which some states have refused to pay.
He said with the collaboration of the organised labour, including the NLC and TUC, appropriate engagement with the government will resolve the issues.
He stressed the need for government to take a definite stand on the issue of insecurity, saying insecurity was hindering the country’s development, adding, “Our security architecture is too centralised for the challenges we are faced with. We need to decentralise the security architecture so that people can deal with peculiarities within their local communities.”
Meanwhile, Secretary of TUC, Lagos State Council, Abiodun Aladetan, in his message, saluted the bravery of workers and their contribution to humanity.
He condemned the attack on the working class, particularly the informal sector since the pandemic, stating that workers deserve a better living condition as without them not a single wheel can turn.
“Today we identify with their pains and challenges and hope for a better tomorrow. Today, we call on all oppressors to stop all anti-labour practices because without labour there is no wealth. We condemn very strongly all the antics of the political class aimed at keeping workers in deplorable conditions.
“To all our oppressors, we say repent. We are using this day to ask them to change their ways and go and sin no more. This is not the time any employer or government can dispense with labour. Labour must be carried along on any issue that has an impact on the welfare of the working class. This is the only way we as organised labour can guarantee industrial peace and harmony,” he said