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Over 1,400 jobs lost, firms shut down in food, beverages sector

By Gloria Nwafor
01 June 2021   |   4:04 am
From 2015 till date, about 1,478 workers in the food, beverages and tobacco industry have lost their jobs and 10 companies have shut down due to the Federal Government's foreign exchange policy...

From 2015 till date, about 1,478 workers in the food, beverages and tobacco industry have lost their jobs and 10 companies have shut down due to the Federal Government’s foreign exchange policy and forced implementation on backward integration without support, operators in the sector have stated.

Workers in the sector lamented that despite the vantage position of the industry to economic sustenance, it has not received 10 per cent of government’s attention given to other sectors of the economy.

Rather, they argued that they were subjected to different bans ranging from accessibility of forex to import of raw materials.

The immediate past National President of Food, Beverage Tobacco Senior Staff Association (FOBTOB), Quadri Olaleye, at the union’s 14th National Delegates’ Conference, in Abuja, said the sector was not opposed to backward integration in any form, but noted that its implementation was ill-timed as it has led to massive redundancy in the industry.

Acknowledging the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic spotlighted the industry as an engine room for boosting the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP), he said members of the association defied all odds to ensure that food items were made available to Nigerians during the lockdown.

He described as very unfortunate, that despite the vantage position of the industry to economic sustenance, production cost skyrocketed and nothing was done as financial support and tax relief by the government to cushion the effects, rather than the sector was being subjected to different bans.

He urged the government to meet with employers’ association for engagement on how to move the food sector forward and find a lasting solution to the problematic issue of de-industrialisation of the country.

He listed some of the companies affected by redundancies; Pharma Deko, Nestle Nigeria, Cadbury Nigeria and Flour Mills of Nigeria Limited, among others, while some of the firms that had shut down and equally expunged from its books included Vitamalt Plc, Deli Foods Limited and Jos International Breweries Limited, among others.

Speaking on the theme, ‘The Role of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Industry in the Promotion of Sustainable Economic Growth and Quality Job Creation’, Labour Socialist, Jaye Gaskia, said the food, beverage and tobacco industry has a huge potential to contribute to economic growth and job creation, given its place in the economy, as the largest contributor to manufacturing sector share of GDP, as well as its potential as a bridge between agriculture and industrialisation.

He argued that economic growth does not automatically equate mass reduction in unemployment and or poverty; nor does appreciable national development, measured in economic growth and infrastructural development terms alone, equate human development.

He said for economic growth and national development to lead to human development, growth must be equitable.

He said the wealth created by increasing productivity of labour, must be equitably distributed, citizens must be able to access opportunities without hindrance, and infrastructural development must be such that they enable equitable access to available, affordable, and quality basic social services in education, health, transportation, housing, and security, among others; all of which are delivered as public services.

Gaskia, who is also a member of the national leadership of Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 And Beyond (ASCAB), added that for the potential of the industry, along with other sectors to be fully realised and maximised for human and national development; policies must be such that they are integrated and their design and implementation coordinated and synergised.

Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, who was represented by the ministry’s permanent secretary, Dr. Yerima Tarfa, noted that the role of food and beverages in the country could not be underestimated.

He called on the union to remain firm and complement the Federal Government’s effort in its drive to eliminate hunger through local food and drinks production, and also ensure nutritional quality of the same for consumption by the citizens.

Emphasising on the United Nations policies on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), aimed at eradicating poverty by year 2030, he added that the role of the sector in driving sustainable growth and eradicating poverty through job creation could not be over emphasised.

In his opening remarks, Chairman of the event and Managing Director, Nigerian Bottling Company Limited (NBC), Matthieu Seguin, said the industry needed all the support at this time to grow and add value to the economy, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the sector.

He said the impact was felt in the areas of reduced economic activities, shortage in raw materials availability, disruption in the supply chain, devaluation of the naira and higher import cost, among others.

Noting that the contribution of the industry to the country’s economy could not be underestimated, he estimated that the sector generates over 1.5 million jobs.

He tasked the union on building consensus on the needed partnerships by relevant stakeholders to accelerate the momentum of the industry in value creation.

According to him, partnership with government, the private sector employers, and the union to build a resilient industry that will support the government in driving non-oil receipts while creating employment for the youths.