Workers’ welfare and challenges of 2018

The President of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Ayuba Wabba PHOTO: NAN


Even though 2017 was a very tough and challenging year for workers, pensioners and Nigerians generally with attendant loss of jobs, unpaid salaries and pensions, stunted minimum wage, rise in inflation, petrol scarcity across the country and the fall of the Naira, the organized labour remained optimistic that 2018 holds a more prosperous year.

Minimum wage
Although a 30-member tripartite National Minimum Wage Committee for the negotiation of a new National Minimum Wage was inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari on November 26, 2017 it is yet to begin sitting. Workers’ expectations are that the committee would expeditiously conclude its assignment make recommendations that would eventually be passed into law before the end of first quarter, 2018.

The President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba, in his New Year message expressed optimism that upon completion of negotiations, the National Assembly will give the executive bill that will emerge, an accelerated passage for the new national minimum wage to become a reality early in the year.

He said that the meeting of the tripartite committee would be a social dialogue and that of a collective bargaining and that effort will be made to fast-track negotiations to ensure that workers and pensioners get their accrued benefits.He said labour would discuss issues relating to exchange rate of the Naira because the exchange rate had increased from when labour proposed N56, 000.

In the same vein, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the United Labour Congress (ULC) through their presidents, Bobboi Kaigama and Joe Ajaero respectively, also demanded that the issue of minimum wage be addressed as quickly as a possible to avoid industrial unrest.

Unpaid salaries and pensions
One of the developments of preceding years is the irregular and non-payment of wages for workers and retired civil servants, which surpass 12 months’ arrears in many states.While the NLC anti-casualization campaigns would be intensified this year, Wabba also stated that the congress would continue its campaign against the incidence of non-payment of workers’ salaries.

Despite bailout fund and the Paris Club refunds from Federal Government to enable states pay workers salaries, the General Secretary of the NLC, Peter Ozo-Eson told The Guardian that states who owe workers’ salaries are those that are not managing their affairs properly, even when the resources are available to them. He accused those states for not setting their priorities right.He said as 2019 draws close for the general elections, workers would mobilise themselves effectively by using their voters cards, ready to vote out such state governors.

Corroborating Ozo-Eson, Wabba bemoaned states like Kogi, Osun, Benue, Ekiti, Bayelsa and several others who entered the new year with huge arrears spanning up to ten or more months of wages and pensions, despite the huge revenue that the states have received through the Federal Government intervention funds to clear arrears of unpaid salaries and pensions in many states of the federation, coupled with additional payment of three tranches of windfall, (Paris Club debt refunds).

Wabba said Congress would work with state councils of the NLC to engage state governments to pay up pension arrears of their retired employees, and to conclude arrangements to join the Contributory Pension Scheme as provided for in the Pensions Reform Act of 2014.He said the congress would also continue to restate its determination to continue to mobilise for the full payment of these outstanding salaries and pensions.

Tackling unemployment
Following the deplorable economic situation in the country that led to over four millions of Nigerian losing their jobs, the NLC Chief said crisis of unemployment will be a major focus of the congress this year, even as workers expect government to invest in job creation initiatives.According to Wabba, against the background of the campaign promises of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) government to create three million jobs annually, statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) underscores the grave and depressing situation of the Nigerian economic landscape in 2017.

He said: “How many jobs have the Federal Government and the 23 states controlled by the ruling party created in furtherance of its pledge to Nigerians during the electioneering campaign.“We had stated in our past new year’s messages, as well as other policy pronouncements, that we have some ideas on how we can create new and sustainable jobs.

“Unfortunately, no one in the government has thought it necessary to give us a hearing on what these ideas are, and what they entail. At present, we are not even sure which ministry or agency of the government is the focal point on job creation.“What we have said of the ruling APC party, applies in large measures as well to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the states they control.

“We will in the new year continue to knock on the doors of all organs of government and put on the agenda the massive unemployment situation the country is facing.”Trade Union Congress (TUC) President, Bobboi Kaigama, appealed to the Federal Government to remember its “change mantra”, adding that it makes no sense accusing and condemning the previous administrations for corruption only for the recovered money to be re-looted.

“Mere leaving a political party for the ruling party must not make anybody a saint. Anti-graft agencies and the judiciary must prosecute those who were caught with our money. We know corruption is fighting back but we are confident that the war over evil will always emerge victorious. The world is watching and waiting for the pride of Africa and most populated black nation to blossom. The Federal Government’s economic recovery plan must not fail.  No more excuses,” he said.

Campaign against corruption and good governance
Although, the organized labour movement argued that as it has advocated and campaigned against corruption in its body polity, it has remained the greatest impediment to the quest for national development.“Our expectation in 2018 is that the executive arm of government would push for the implementation of key anti-corruption protocols and good governance principles in our public and private institutions.

“For us, there is the need to strengthen the fight against corruption and make it holistic and speedy enough for Nigerians to reap the benefits by deploying the recovered looted funds into meaningful development ventures. We call on the National Assembly to expeditiously pass into law the two Executive Bills that we consider critical to make the fight against corruption effective, as follow “The Special Criminal Courts Bill”, which was submitted to the National Assembly last year; and the “Whistle Blowers and Witness Protection Bill”, meant to protest whistle blowers and witnesses from injury, death, economic sabotage, job termination, among others,” Wabba said.

Increase in pump price of petrol 
While awaiting the full implementation of all the palliative measures to cushion the effect of the increase in fuel price increase from N87 to N145 per litre introduced in 2016, NLC has called on the government to expedite action on the implementation of the recommendations by the technical committee.

Also, Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) has decried the pains caused by the recent fuel scarcity.Its President, Igwe Achese frowned at the incessant fuel scarcity, which has resulted to long queues, loss of man-hours and endless search for products. NUPENG said the scarcity has further worsened the citizens’ standard of living through increased fares and goods and services’ prices.

The Union called on the government to address the situation instead of trading blames when the depots are dry. It, therefore, called on the Federal Government to urge the appropriate bodies to flood the market with petroleum products in 2018 as a stopgap. In the long run, it stressed that the nation’s four refineries should be revamped to reduce the pressure on foreign exchange for petroleum products import.

Also, a statement signed by the United Labour Congress’ National President, Joe Ajaero, on the current fuel scarcity and the return of long queues at fuel stations across the country, the union said: “It is indeed worrying that governance has been turned upside down in this country as the objective of governance seems to be more in the direction of making life and living more and more excruciating for the masses.

Perhaps this explains why many have unfortunately come to the conclusion that Nigeria and Nigerians will be better off if Government is removed from the nation’s equation.”

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Ayuba WabbaNLC


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