Strategies for workers to navigate difficult economic periods
Rising inflation, high cost of food commodities, weak economic growth and increased oil prices due to the Russian/Ukraine war, among others are challenges that have continued to affect households and erode workers’ income.
It is no doubt that low-income households will continue to struggle to keep pace with the rising cost of living.
Already, the N30,000 minimum wage, which is not accompanied by other support measures, has become insufficient to keep many households running. In fact, most workers have lost nearly a year’s salary due to rising inflation.
Some of the workers told The Guardian how the situation of the economy is biting hard on them.
To strive for economic justice, the Lagos State Council of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) at its yearly workshop, came up with strategies on how workers could navigate the difficult economic periods.
The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Cowry Asset Management Limited, Johnson Chukwu, who took the audience on a snapshot of the Nigerian economy in the past 10 years, spoke on the theme ‘Workers’ Struggle for Economic Justice in a Declining Economy – The Nigerian Perspective.’
With graphical illustrations, he explained how the headline and food inflation rate trend had continued to soar.
Comparing food inflation and exchange rate, in 2013, the country’s food inflation on yearly average stood at 9.7 per cent, inflation rate on the average was 8.48 per cent; while food inflation continued to rise. In 2017 it rose to 19.51 per cent while inflation rate also rose to 16.52 per cent.
Meanwhile, in 2019, food inflation dropped to 13.73 per cent, while the inflation rate too dropped to 11.4 per cent.
Similarly, while food inflation was at 20.5 per cent in 2021, the inflation rate stood at 16.95 per cent.
During the period, employment and underemployment rate continued to soar, where the rate as released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in Q4 2020 still stands at 33.28 per cent and 22.84 per cent respectively.
In all these, the minimum wage was N18,000 until 2019, when the government increased it to N30,000.
With Nigeria having about 32 per cent of its population living in extreme poverty, Chukwu, who compared it with other countries, hinted on how countries could achieve reduced poverty and arrest economic decline.
According to him, Nigeria must improve food security through the improvement of agricultural productivity.
He said there is a need for improved transport system, energy supply communications and infrastructure.
He called for access to quality healthcare, access to quality of education, clean water and sanitation.
The economist said there was the need for broad-based economic growth with job creation opportunities and targeted support to the most vulnerable in the society, through subsidised houses, skills acquisition, free basic education and conditional cash transfer, among others.
For citizens to navigate the difficult economic periods, Chukwu advised families to have multiple streams of income and there must also be secondary means of income.
He advised that families should prioritise expenditure and also control birth rate.
According to him, with the current economy, having a smaller family size is the way to go.
Lastly, he advised families to have an investment income that would grow with interests, dividends and capital gains.
Similarly, Prof. Odion Akhaine of the Department of Political Science, Lagos State University (LASU), who spoke on trade unionism and politics, said political intervention is needed in trade unionism due to the insufficiency of trade unionism in overcoming workers’ conditions.
This, according to him, is a crisis of peripheral capitalist state struggle on the economic field of production, adding that the emerging consciousness of the working class is a class for itself.
Speaking on how trade unionism was formed, the present and what needed to be done, the don urged the unionists that adhocism must be avoided.
He called for political education for critical consciousness, ideological commitment and the need to take over the labour party or build an alternative political party platform.
Chairman of the union, Gbenga Ekundayo, who said the theme of the workshop was apt and considering the economic situation of the country, the union wanted to look at how it could strive for economic justice, through improved remuneration for workers.
Ekundayo, who recalled what happened in 2020, during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, said “there was gross erosion of workers’ remuneration and we have seen the effect on the devaluation of the naira and rising inflation, these are all affecting our take home. It is very necessary at this time to find the level of economic justice that can speak to the needs and concerns of workers for us to have meaningful lives.”
Charting a way out, he said the country needed to focus more on producing rather than importing to create wealth and jobs.
He expressed the union’s readiness to collaborate with the government and relevant authorities to achieve this.
He said: “The challenge in the economy is that we have neglected production for decades. On the devaluation of the naira, we import more rather than produce and our production in most cases, is not up to international standards. We need to improve our level of production and quality of manpower. Achieving these will create jobs and more sources of revenue for the nation. We talk about effective rail transportation, good road network and better infrastructure. We expect deeper engagement with the government on wealth, job creation and capacity building.
“We need to improve the standard of our artisans to measure up with those from neighbouring countries to curtail wastage. On plumbing and electricals, there are lots of substandard products in that sector, leading to fire outbreak due to quacks. We need to standardise the way we work, standardise what our artisans do, so that we can eliminate wastage to improve the quality of jobs and standards or delivery, and the state need to be at the forefront of this.
“Lagos, being at the forefront of development in Nigeria, as done in other climes, needs to come up with a licencial programme for artisans. If artisans don’t go through the relevant training school and be licensed, they should not be able to practice. We need to get to that point where we regulate what the artisans do. When done, we can begin to channel our energies to improve the economy and create wealth. We need to first improve the quality and capacity of the people to do the job.”
Earlier, President of the TUC, Festus Osifo, who was represented by the union’s Deputy President, Jimoh Oyibo, lamented that labour had been quiet lately, while the economy continues to fall into a messy state.
Noting that it was time for labour to break the silence, Oyibo, who is also the National President of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Senior Staff Association (FOBTOB), said policies that are anti-people and anti-worker should be challenged.
According to him, policies that are anti-people should not just end in protest but be taken to the next level.
“If it requires us to go on hunger strike or disrupt economic activities to bring the government to its knees, why not?
“Workers are struggling for their sources of income but eroded by multiple taxation, rising inflation, insecurity, and high cost of food stuff. In the food sector, it is either you are in business or not. As long as we remain silent on what the government is doing they will continue to perpetuate evil. This is a wake up call for us,” he said.