As workers celebrate today
IT is a truism to say that Workers’ Day began from the 1886 Industrial Revolution in Chicago, United States where workers laid down their lives to defend the rights of the working people.
It is also clear that Workers’ Day celebration commenced in Nigeria during the Shehu Shagari administration on May 1, 1981. This, I think and believe, was in recognition by the Shagari administration of the significant contributions which Nigerian workers have made and shall continue to make towards the progress of the country.
It is most appropriate to say that Nigerian workers have also had a fair share of the struggle for enthronement of rights and privileges as well as enhanced package for workers, especially under the current administration of President Goodluck Jonathan.
Despite this, it is correct to say that the road to the current situation by workers in Nigeria has been long, rough and tortuous. Interestingly, the unions have vast power and the right to commence strike has been one of organized labour’s strongest weapons in realizing their goal.
Once a union wins a bonafide election, the recognition of that union as a bargaining agent for workers is guaranteed under the law. In Nigeria, many trade unions and workers’ associations like the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), the Congress for Free Trade Union (CFTU), Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), among others will hold their celebration rallies at different locations.
Writing on workers’ dilemma in The Pointer of May 4, 2009, Godfrey Ubaka opined that Nigerian workers even fared reasonably well under the colonial authorities, when shelter was part of his condition of service, remuneration was sure and he had the right to express his opinion on major burning issues.
Continuing, he stated that the fortune of workers actually plummeted in the long years of military maladministration of the country. The military, he went further to say, recognized the centrality of professionalism in the public service and the private sector.
Ubaka further advised that Nigerian workers should get more organized politically and be ready to play a key role in the determination of their future and destiny, and must insist on genuine electoral reforms.
It seems to me that Nigerian workers need one another to achieve more for this country, especially the civil/public service, which I may describe here as the engine room of any democratic structure.
The Organized Private Sector (OPS) is also not out in this regard. Workers need to be empowered economically and their promotions, especially in the public service, should follow extant rules or guidelines.
Workers have also been faced with series of problems, many of which arose from the oppressive and obnoxious policies of previous administrations.
Happily, the current democratic structure, under Dr. Jonathan, has looked into the welfare of both serving and retired workers with the increase in minimum wage, regular monthly salaries/allowances and some retirees being paid accordingly. Whatever the case may be, workers are expected to reciprocate and support government to ensure peace and sustainable development.
Available records reveal at a glance that workers are still fighting against unprogressive practices in both the public and the private sectors. They have had a struggle against casual work status, exploitative contract employments, especially for expatriates and outsourcing jobs even when competent hands are available within.
In some organizations, employers deny employees their right to belong to trade unions, they work under sub-human conditions and eventually they are paid starvation wages rather than living wage, which is often irregular.
There is no argument to the fact that the largest employer of labour in Nigeria is the government, through Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). To this end therefore, professionalism and excellence as well as relevant qualifications should be taken into consideration, avoiding god-father and god-mother’s influences, including tribalism, nepotism and favouritism.
This is to say that postings and deployments to various MDAs should take into consideration one’s area of specialization in order to at least maintain minimum standard and work ethics.
In applying this, it would help to boost corporate image of an organization and Nigeria in general, locally, nationally and internationally. There shall be need for long and short-term courses/programmes occasionally to make such employees become more relevant and update his or her knowledge to enable such organization grow faster.
Some organisations have fizzled out or remain redundant in the past as well as perform abysmally low as a result of engaging non-technocrats or neophytes to manage their affairs.
There is the need to address the issue of professionalism and technocracy in the management of establishments. This should be quickly and urgently addressed to avoid waste of scarce resources, both human and capital. Delivering a paper entitled, “Industrial Harmony: A panacea for job security” at PENGASSAN’s Industrial Relations Workshop in Benin-City, Edo State on April 2, 2011, Dr. Samuel Ebika Ovuru, an administrator, stated that,
“Today, it seems the workforce in most cases is not interested in the growth of the organization, rather efforts are mainly directed at improving welfare benefits… there is need at this time for management and workers to clearly understand the mission statements of their organizations”.
I believe workers must play a major role in this direction so that the workforce and management could have mutual understanding of the organization’s objectives. The truth is that, as we celebrate this year’s May Day, workers and other Nigerians should smile, because the three tiers of government need to massively concentrate on improving the standard of living of Nigerians.
Part of this should be immediate solutions for the teeming millions of unemployed youths and those compulsorily and prematurely retired by former administrations need to be properly paid their entitlements, including severance package based on the agreement reached. There is no need for any organization to renege on agreement as such is not good enough for industrial harmony.
The only way out is for government and all those who are engaged in policies formulation to use the opportunity of the Workers’ Day to reflect on the real plight of Nigerian workers.
The labour movement must reciprocate the good intention of government. It is only when labour is backed with commensurate returns that the doctrine of dignity of labour could become fully realized.
In this connection, therefore, workers would have hope and a future. However, it is most appropriate for Nigerian workers to prepare and rededicate themselves towards national reconstruction and growth, which current attitudes of graft, corruption, lack of loyalty to employers and willful sabotage do not encourage. •Dr. Soeze was Assistant Director (Administartion)/Head, Academic & Physical Planning (A&PP), Petroleum Training Institute (PTI), Effurun, Delta State.
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