Repositioning labour movement to resist anti-worker policies
Although the country is faced with numerous challenges, the need for a united labour movement to collaborate and defend the rights of Nigerian workers is paramount.
Majority of these challenges, which take a huge toll on the masses, range from increasing unemployment rate, insecurity, kidnappings, corrupt practices by government officials, to high inflation, and the recent six per cent charge on stamp duty to tenants being prescribed by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), among others.
Labour leaders have called for a united force to reposition the movement to resist anti-worker policies, especially at critical times like this when the nation needs forthright, focused and incorruptible leadership.
They argued that the return to a stronger undivided voice could only serve to enhance the strategic position that the labour movement holds in the tripartite and the nation in general.
This comes on the heels of recent reconciliation between the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), and United Labour Congress (ULC), thereby shelving a five-year disagreement that arose from the 10th National Delegates Conference of Congress in 2015.
At the unification in Abuja, the Joe Ajaero-led, United Labour Congress (ULC) is now NLC’s Deputy President, and the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers’ President (NUPENG), William Akporeha, gets the congress’ vice chairmanship.
In his remarks, NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, said the commitment to brotherhood and solidarity, which the labour movement the world over is known for, had kept aglow the light of peaceful relations in resolving differences, exemplified in the fresh rapprochement.
He explained that both the NLC and ULC had always collaborated in defending Nigerian workers, especially during negotiations for the new national minimum wage.
“With this reconciliation, the leadership and structures of the United Labour Congress have been re-integrated into the Nigeria Labour Congress. In the reconciliation’s memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between the two leaders, the modus operandi for this re-integration and ancillary issues is spelt out to the satisfaction of both parties,” Wabba stated.
Also commending the reconciliation were former trade union leaders, labour experts and members of the organised private sector, among others.
The Director General, Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Timothy Olawale, while congratulating the entire labour movement for the significant action, affirmed NECA’s commitment to continue to work with them in the promotion of social dialogue, enterprise competitiveness, decent work and enduring tripartism.
Olawale said the reconciliation, which was overdue, is a good omen for the labour movement in Nigeria, and the generality of Nigerian workers.
He said: “The position of NECA has been an encouragement to organised labour to come together to reunite and speak with one voice on behalf of labour, and it is a thing of joy that they have been able to put their differences aside and come together. While we commend them for this, we hope they have learnt from the issues of the past that led to their disunity.
“Specifically, they are supposed to be a force that will protect the interest of workers, and because of the division that was there before, even the authorities seized that to use them through the divide and rule factor. But now, it is time for them to come together, to be a voice for the voiceless and the masses, and also to regain the confidence that had been lost in them.”
Similarly, the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), while commending Ayuba Wabba, Joe Ajaero, and the National Executive Council (NEC) of NLC, said with the reconciliation, it expects a stronger and united labour movement that would help redirect the Nigerian ship.
President and Secretary General of TUC, Quadri Olaleye, and Musa-Lawal Ozigi, respectively, reaffirmed their responsibility as a labour movement to the Nigerian workers, saying they “cannot afford to fail them no matter how hard the external forces try to penetrate us.”
“The country is faced with numerous challenges that require a united labour movement to address. We could recall how difficult it was to actualise the new minimum wage due to the schism in the movement.
“We are happy that some people who wanted to take advantage of the situation were eventually disappointed. They failed to understand that no matter the crisis there is an internal mechanism the labour movement uses to resolve its differences. We shall remain eternally committed to the bond of brotherhood and solidarity that we vowed to uphold.”
Excited at the unification, a former president, Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association (PENGASSAN), Peter Esele, said the movement was now stronger to confront unpopular policies.
The African Region President, Public Service International (PSI), Peters Adeyemi, also urged African labour unions to believe in the principles and objectives of the organisations they lead, and work towards improving what they inherited.
He said: “Labour activism is not about what you get; it is about what you give. Capitalists are uniting everywhere in the world; workers also have to unite. For me, we have to come together so that we can be a formidable force to confront the bourgeoisies in government. Until labour speaks with one indivisible voice, we will not get to the promised land.”
However, The Guardian gathered that some employers and governments, who were using the disunity to deny workers their entitlements and benefits will sit up to avoid picketing by the labour centre.
A worker in one of the private firms told The Guardian that “they are now afraid and thinking of the best way to create and sustain peace in their workplaces to avoid picketing by the now larger body. The unity of the two will create fear in the minds of employers that have been hiding under the guise of unemployment in the country to hire and fire workers without giving them their entitlements.
“Most of us have been trying to endure the harsh condition of service by employers of labour because they believe that no Nigerian government or organised labour can come to our rescue based on their disunity. But now that they have finally come together again, wise employers of labour will think twice before taking any anti-workers’ decision because the strength of the united force of NLC will deal with any employers of labour that violate the rights of Nigerian workers.”