Saturday, 2nd December 2023

Workers demand better pay amid subsidy, debt concerns

By Collins Olayinka, Adamu Abuh (Abuja), Gloria Nwafor (Lagos) and Michael Egbejule (Benin City)
02 May 2023   |   4:37 am
Despite the country’s debt burden and lingering confusion over fuel subsidy removal, Labour unions, yesterday, demanded better welfare, just as the outgoing and incoming governments sought understanding of the workers on action plans.

President-Elect, Bola Tinubu and Nigeria Labour leader, Joe Ajaero

•Salary payment will be a miracle after June without subsidy removal, Obaseki warns
• Labour to go after governors yet to fully implement minimum wage law
• Tells FG to use $800m World Bank loan to fix refineries
• Port Harcourt refinery April restart delayed • Respect workers’ rights, Buhari tells Tinubu
• Your fight will be my fight, Tinubu tells workers
• Be hopeful, don’t despair, Atiku to workers
• Obi: We must build Nigeria for our children

Despite the country’s debt burden and lingering confusion over fuel subsidy removal, Labour unions, yesterday, demanded better welfare, just as the outgoing and incoming governments sought understanding of the workers on action plans.

Indeed, the governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, two years after he raised the alarm that the Federal Government was broke and printed about N60 billion to augment allocation to states, , yesterday, sounded another warning bell, that the Federal Government may not be able to pay workers’ salaries beyond June without massively printing money or removing petrol subsidy.

Speaking at the Workers’ Day celebration in Benin, the capital of Edo, Obaseki said Nigerians, and workers, in particular, would face hardship if the government decides on any of the options.

“It would be a miracle for the Federal Government and state governments to pay salaries beyond June this year without resorting to massively printing money or removing fuel subsidy. Either of these decisions will bring more hardship and pain to Nigerians, particularly workers,” he said.

“We must all make sure that the burden and pain of these measures, which must be taken, are not carried by workers alone.

“Workers must now rise and ensure that they champion any discussion on subsidy removal. You must shift from the tradition of reacting when these policies have been made but insist that you take charge and ensure full transparency and disclosure. If we are all undertaking a reform, then the benefits and pains that will come out of the reforms must be mutually shared by all Nigerians, not just the downtrodden.”

Recall that Nigeria spent N2.04 trillion to offset subsidy payments in seven months, even as it plans to spend about N6 trillion on subsidy in 2023.

However, organised labour has vowed to take action against state governments that are yet to fully implement the national minimum wage law, as well as governors who still owe salaries, pensions and allowances.

Labour said some state governments have refused to comply with the provisions of the 2019 national minimum wage act, while some others have pocketed deducted check-off dues belonging to trade unions.

President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Joe Ajaero, and his Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) counterpart, Festus Osifo, said this in their addresses, yesterday, during the celebration of Workers’ Day at the Eagle Square in Abuja.

They equally pointed at some private sector employers that have begun to act in total disregard to the nation’s laws, stating that they should be prepared for more robust engagement with organised labour.

Speaking on the theme ‘Workers’ Rights and Socioeconomic Justice, Ajaero reiterated labour’s preparedness to resist every action of the government to inflict suffering on Nigerian workers and masses. He said labour would not allow its members to be turned mindlessly into beasts of burden any longer.

“We will stand together as workers and as a people to protect our rights to decent work and social justice!

“Why would the welfare of workers be seen as charity? Why would governments at diverse levels owe workers arrears of salaries running into years without remorse? Why the lethargy in paying workers their hard-earned income?” he said.

Ajaero also demanded that the salary of core civil servants should be beefed up to narrow the gap between the emoluments of civil servants and those of employees in other segments of the public service.

Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen (left); National President, Nigerian Labor Congress, Joe Ajaero; Minister of Labour and Productivity; Dr. Chris Ngige and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha during Workers Day’s celebration in Abuja…yesterday.

According to him, since they all possess the same educational qualifications and cognate experience on the job, there should be no disparity.

In Lagos, where the celebration was held at Onikan Stadium, NLC Chairman, Funmi Sessi, urged the Federal Government to use the $800 million World Bank subsidy palliative to fix the nation’s four refineries.
She said the need was necessary so that independent marketers could reduce the importation of petroleum products to the barest minimum.

She implored the Federal Government to quickly do the turn-around maintenance of the nation’s four refineries before the total removal of the fuel subsidy.

Similarly, her Lagos TUC Chairman counterpart, Gbenga Ekundayo, said there was no doubt the fact that the removal of fuel subsidy would usher in a new era of mass poverty in the country due to some of its immediate negative consequences on salary and wages earners.

He said Lagos, being the most populated part of the country and the commercial nerve centre of the country, would bear the majority of the brunt of post-fuel subsidy removal.

He queried what palliatives are being put in place to cushion the effect on Lagosians should the Federal Government go ahead to remove fuel subsidy and urged the incoming administration to consult widely and put adequate measures in place before embarking on such a sensitive policy that was capable of creating serious challenges for the citizens.

Meanwhile, the first phase of a project to rehabilitate Nigeria’s 210,000 b/d Port Harcourt refinery, which had been slated for completion in April this year, may not be finished for another four months at least, according to sources.

The Federal Government had awarded Italian engineering firm, Maire Tecnimont, a $1.5 billion contract for the rehabilitation work in April 2021. At the time, the Italian company said the first phase of the work would be completed in 24 months, with the second and third phases taking 32 and 44 months, respectively. But the first phase has missed its April 2023 target and may not be completed until September, according to an oil ministry source.

The source suggested that September may be ambitious, indicating that a quick-fix programme at Nigeria’s 125,000 b/d Warri refinery, scheduled to finish by November, could be completed first. Warri is undergoing a $492 million repair programme under a contract awarded to South Korean engineering firm Daewoo.

In his May Day address to workers yesterday, President Muhammadu Buhari urged President-elect Bola Tinubu to respect workers’ rights when he assumes office.

Represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, at the workers’ day event in Abuja, Buhari said workers’ rights, coupled with socioeconomic justice, ensure happiness of workers.

He encouraged the incoming administration to continue to respect workers’ rights imbued with socio-economic development and driven by the four pillars of the decent work agent to promote jobs and enterprises, guaranteeing rights at work, extending social protection, and promoting social dialogue for consensus building and maintaining a sound national industrial relations systemTinubu, in his solidarity message, pledged to put in place a living wage for workers, saying his administration would leave no stone unturned to put in place measures aimed at empowering the Nigerian workers.

President-elect Bola Tinubu

Tinubu said in his administration, workers will find a dependable ally and co-labourer in the fight for social and economic justice for all Nigerians, including all the working people.

“Your fight will be my fight because I will always fight for you. My plans for better welfare and working conditions are clearly spelt out in my Renewed Hope Agenda for A Better Nigeria. It is a covenant born of conviction and one I am prepared to keep,” he said.

Tinubu, however, demanded a better understanding and cooperation from all sides, ahead of the tough and hard decisions that may be taken while at the helm of affairs of the country.

Former Vice President and presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, advised workers to see this year’s May Day as a moment for sober reflection and stocktaking, in view of the myriad of socio-economic tribulations facing them in the last eight years of the Buhari-led All Progressives Congress’ administration.

The Wazirin Adamawa, in a message of solidarity to the nation’s workforce, said the lives and welfare of workers and their families have been reduced to the abyss of mere existence due to the litany of policy errors by the ruling APC government, which created insecurity in all facets of workers’ lives: food, shelter, health, wealth and education.

Despite the precarious situation, Atiku enjoined the workers not to despair and cowed, but to keep their heads above water and stay afloat, be resilient and hopeful; for the sake of the younger generation and the country’s future.

“In Nigeria of today, the minimum wage of N30,000 cannot buy a full bag of rice, let alone cloth or pay for a worker’s many utility bills. In fact, hyperinflation in all sectors of our nation has constituted serious socio-economic strangulation to the average Nigerian worker, who’s now poorer than 2015 when APC came to power.”

The former VP reminded the workers to stand together, with him, to legally reclaim their stolen mandate at the February 25 presidential polls.

Presidential Candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi, stormed Eagles Square, Abuja, in solidarity with organised labour. There was wide jubilation among the workers when Obi was introduced and called upon to the podium for his goodwill message.

As he was marching to the podium, the workers started chanting, “Freedom comes by struggle, freedom comes by struggle by struggle, freedom comes.”

In his goodwill message, Obi said; “I am here on a solidarity visit. All leaders, we are all workers. All of us are workers. I thank you Mr President for what you are doing. The topic of today is workers’ rights and socio-economic justice.

“When you talk about it, we talk about justice for all. We want to build a country where Nigerians will be proud to say that they are Nigerians; a country where people will not be struggling to go out; a country where workers will be working and say that they are happy.

“And that is why we say we want to move the country from consumption to production. I encourage you to continue what you are doing. There is no other country we have aside from this and we must build for it our children.”