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‘Nigeria allowing more foreigners to phase out indigenous workers’

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President of the Chemical and Non-Metallic Products Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (CANMPSSAN), Segun David, speaks to GLORIA NWAFOR on how COVID-19 impacted Nigerian workers, need for another review of the national minimum wage, ways government can tackle insecurity in the country and other related issues.

With the theme of this year’s May Day celebration, ‘COVID-19: Social Economic Crisis – The Challenges for Decent Jobs, Social Protection and Welfare’, in what ways do you think the pandemic has impacted Nigerian workers?
COVID-19, in so many ways, has made some positive and negative impact on Nigerian workers. Some employers used the opportunity to better the lots of workers while some did otherwise. Some of them did so many things that were inimical to the growth of workers under the pretense of COVID-19. For instance, a lot of companies downsized arbitrarily and indiscriminately, while some even went ahead to reduce the salary of workers. Now that things have improved reasonably, those salaries were not reversed. Also, we saw where a majority of companies declare huge profits than they usually made in recent past. But most of them to date have not done salary appraisals and yet they are declaring huge profits. These profits, if I may say, part of it was gotten as a result of suppression of workers because some of them did not increase salary, some employees retired and there were no replacements, they froze promotions and in all these, they counted them as profits, not even considering the workers that worked for them to make these profits.

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Looking at the socio-economic situation in the country vis-a-vis workers’ welfare and N30,000 national minimum wage amid rising inflation, do you think the national minimum wage should be reviewed? 
Going down memory lane when the minimum wage issue was being discussed with the Federal Government then, the exchange rate was N360 and fuel price was still N97. But now the dollar is going on N500. Also, fuel is now N165. These developments have thrown a challenge to labour leaders to once again rise to the occasion. Apart from inflation and exchange rate, the high level of insecurity in the country has made it difficult for an average worker to get things at ease, which had made things go above the reach of the common man.

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How has the insecurity in the country impacted your sector and labour as a whole?
Insecurity in the country has been a very big challenge for labour. Apart from the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is scared of travelling. Recently, we had elections up north and not everyone could go because we couldn’t afford to put the lives of our secretariat employees at risk, and so this is affecting connectivity, relationship and interaction. You can’t even still reach some of our members in some areas in the north even if we want to organise meetings online due to poor network. We also have the issue with some companies struggling due to cases of kidnappings, which has made some of the companies provide their security, which adds to the cost of production thereby impacting on their revenue.

At the end of the day, it is the workers that bear the brunt as workers cannot ask for a salary increase or welfare package since it is obvious that the bulk of their revenue had been used to pay for security.

On how government should approach the issues, I think it is time for the government to stop playing the ostrich in this matter. They should admit that there is a problem because if they fail to do so, then we have not started. Insecurity in Nigeria is now a misnomer in the sense that people no longer report incidences, they just take it that it has happened. It is only those that it has affected that come to make noise about it.

Investors are shying away due to insecurity. This calls for attention and the Federal Government and President Muhammadu Buhari in particular need to address this matter. We must stop playing the ostrich in the case of insecurity in Nigeria if we must move forward.

Expatriates quota has been grossly abused in recent times just as we have more foreigners in some organisations. What step is labour taking to address this?
This has been a source of concern to labour leaders and we are coming up with a position on this. We are planning to have a meeting with the Ministry of Interior and Labour on this matter.

There is a benchmark; it is one per cent to the indigenous workforce but what we have now is about three to five per cent, which is unacceptable. We know that Europe is saturated now, and so, most of these companies are pushing their workers, because they cater for their citizens so that they still keep them in active employment and still get returns in terms of taxes to keep their companies afloat. But in Nigeria, the government is not looking at this because the more we allow more foreigners in, the more they deplete our workforce or industry. However, we are not averse to having expatriates working in our country, but there is a process and standard, we should follow the rules so that all of us can work in one accord.

Most of them, when they come in, the only way they can get their way is to gradually phase out indigenous workers.

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What are the major challenges confronting your sector?
The chemical and metallic sector was among the worst hit during the pandemic, and we are still not completely out of the woods yet. There were cases where salaries were reduced by various per cent and cases of redundancy declared, only for the companies to come back and reinvest in the same plant and bring in casual workers, which is anti-labour. In the sector, employers see the pandemic as an avenue to cash out on the frailty of the workers and helplessness of the workforce to make more profit.

Specifically, how has your union been able to deal with the challenges, especially with those companies making life difficult for workers?
We still have a couple of companies now that we are having challenges with, but because we are toeing the line of peace we are being careful to see that we resolve issues amicably. For instance, we had a very long battle with one of the companies in the sector, Nycil, and until we got to the ministry of labour, where the office of the minister had to wade in before we were able to resolve and settle the matter among others. Also, while the Federal Government in its way tried to release palliatives and loans for workers, even though they were questionable, employers in their way did not make the work environment conducive for workers to access the palliatives and loans provided by the government. For instance, we have tried to review our procedural agreement and the condition of service, which we discovered has not been reviewed since 2007, and employers are cashing on this too short change workers. Among our plans are for the expatriates where there are double standards. They have different years of retirement while the indigenous workers have different years of retirement.

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For the expatriates, they’ll give them long years of retirement, claiming that it is what they have in their country and for the indigenous workers; they have lower years of retirement. Most of the companies have been reluctant to adhere to government’s mandatory 60 years for retirement age. I believe the union will treat the matter dispassionately and bring up a good resolution on that. The other issue is on workers’ welfare. We know that many companies shy away from giving their employees loans, considering their poor remuneration. Nigerian workers can hardly afford bank loans considering the collateral involved, as their remuneration is very poor. What is the benefit of working in an organisation if you cannot get a loan? No wonder, most employees after few years of retirement, fall ill and some die. As president of CANMPSSAN, I will ensure that some of these policies are reversed and good ones sustained.

What is your take on organisations that sacked workers without consulting unions?
Recently, we had cases where we took some employers to the National Industrial Court and we won. There are lines of the process we also want to take where we will talk to the employers. Some of them don’t even respect their unions, the employers’ federation. We will not hesitate to take whatever action we deem fit to save our members. We have also involved the Industriall global union and they have given us the backing through the ILO and we will also engage all necessary tools to ensure we will no longer accept anything that will jeopardize the lives of Nigerian workers. We will not hesitate to picket companies; we will not hesitate to take them to the arbitration panel and ultimately the industrial court.

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