Welfare challenges before new NLC leadership
The 12th delegates conference of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), may have taken place without rancour and acrimony, but delegates’ expectations from their new leaders in the next four years silently showed on their faces.
As the delegates moved round from one seat to another conferring with their colleagues, how to improve the working condition and enhance their take home pay topped their priorities.
Though they appreciated the battle Congress had fought for a new minimum wage in the last three years, their submission was that a lot more could be achieved in other areas that could improve their standard of living in addition to a living wage.
They pointed to the suspension of tenure system in the federal civil service by the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration as a struggle the Congress should spearhead instead of leaving it to the Nigeria Civil Service Union.
The workers also tasked the new leadership on devising means of ensuring the sustained payment of salaries by the state governments as well as enforcing the faithful implementation of the N30,000 minimum wage when the National Assembly passes it into law.
The delegates were obviously responding to the submission of the Kebbi State Governor, Atiku Bagudu, who had stated that most state governments are not in a healthy financial situation to pay N30,000 as minimum wage.
Bagudu had cautioned against imposing a minimum wage that most state governments would not be able to implement.
He opined that Nigeria does not earn enough to compete at the international wage level.
His argument: “I came at a time many states could not pay the salaries of their workers though Kebbi state managed to pay. The Federal Government spent above N1trillion to support state governments to pay salaries and pensions.
Sitting through the tripartite meeting, all the arguments about a need for an increment were accurate. But I am sure that the labour leaders must admit that there is need for them to sympathise with those of us in the public sector about the ability to pay.
Why are we particularising only one element of workers’ welfare? What other areas do we need to accelerate quicker in order to change the narrative so that workers can earn better income and a decent living? I think we are ignoring the most fundamental thing, which is the size of our economy.
This leads to a wider issue of globalisation. Nigerian President and even presidents before him, have about five per cent of the revenue that is available to the Brazilian President that has about the same population as Nigeria.
In 2018, the Brazilian federal budget was above $650billion while Nigeria had about $30billion. This deserves an urgent wake-up call. The promise of globalisation, which we thought would make countries becoming global neighbours, has not happened. I think that the labour movement has to use its unity to ensure unfair trade and restrictions that are limiting growth are tackled.”
For the re-elected President of the NLC, Ayuba Wabba, national minimum wage of N30,000 is a done-deal and a figure that is no longer open to negotiation especially in view of its passage into law by the House of Representatives.
He said: “On January 29, 2019, the House of Representatives passed into law a new national minimum wage of N30,000. It is expected that upon the passage by the Senate, a conference of the two chambers of the National Assembly will harmonise the bill and send the National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Act to Mr President for signing into law.”
On the suspension of the tenure system for directors and Permanent Secretaries in the federal civil service, Wabba submitted that as the engine room for the implementation of government policies, the public service must be professionalised and motivated for career progression.
“We urge government to revisit the policy that discarded the eight years tenure for permanent secretaries and directors in our civil service. The current policy has made our bureaucracy top heavy. Government should think this policy through to avoid talent haemorrhage and redundancy,” he stated.
The Congress also called on government to remedy the low pay and huge salary disparity in the core civil service when compared to other ministries, departments and agencies of government.
Wabba insisted that government must respect ILO principles of equal pay for work of equal value, adding: “we also call on government to stop forthwith the use of consultants in executing tasks that the personnel in our civil service can render. The consultancy business in government circles has turned into a major conduit pipe for national resources. We need to plug that leak.”
The NLC chief also pointed out that the payment of promotion arrears, transfer allowances and other legitimate claims of workers should be attended to as when due.
He also urged government to provide the working tools and facilities that can make workers more effective and productive.
He also bemoaned Nigeria’s slipping out of manufacturing countries in Africa, saying, “despite being Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria lags behind in Manufacturing Value Added (MVA). In order for Nigeria to meet the Sustainable Development Goals 2030, Nigeria must urgently innovate and industrialise! We must stop exporting raw cottons, crude oil, and mineral resources only to be importing finished products. Nigeria must make what it consumes; else we will be consumed by the rest of the world.”
Wabba also called on government to focus on improving the agriculture value chain especially agro-processing.
He added: “We must now make the critical transition from primary production to secondary and even tertiary modes of production. It all starts with adding real value to our agricultural products. By so doing, we would not only unlock huge potential for the creation of decent jobs, we would also be creating more wealth for our people and for government.”
Wabba admonished government at all levels to increase funding for agricultural research, improve the synergy between ‘gown’ and ‘town’ and expand the bridge between small scale and commercial farmers and government support initiatives especially in a manner that improves timely delivery of farming inputs and information to farmers.
Wabba also frowned at the non-inauguration of the boards of Nigeria Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), Michael Imoudu Institute of Labour Studies Ilorin and that of National Pensions Commission (Pencom).
“This is not only a violation of the Act establishing these bodies but a denial of the critical role of social partners in the management of these boards.
“Also, the National Labour Advisory Council has not been constituted thereby denying any avenue for tripartite consultation. No reason is good enough for this unhealthy development,” he said.
The President of NLC also demanded for the removal of immunity against criminal prosecution, especially corruption cases for all political office holders as obtain in other climes.
Like Wabba, other 15 positions in the National Administrative Council were returned unopposed.
Amongst those staging a comeback is National Treasurer, Ibrahim Khalid, while Peters Adeyemi, Abdurafiu, Lawrence Amaechi and Oyelekan Lateef are Vice Presidents.