COVID-19 forces NLC, TUC to go online with May Day celebrations


• FG will prevent job loss, says Ngige
• How to avoid looming recession, by labour
• SEC tasks workers on retirement saving
• Aviation workers, others rally against Covid-19

The 2020 edition of the May Day celebration will come as the most uneventful in a long while. Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President Ayuba Wabba and his Trade Union Congress (TUC) counterpart, Quadri Olaleye, will deliver their addresses through zoom today.

Also expected to speak through zoom are Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo; Head of Service of the Federation, Dr. FolasadeYemi-Esan; and International Labour Organisation (ILO) director in Nigeria, Dennis Zulu, with contributions from National Administrative Council (NAC) members and representatives of the state councils.

The Guardian was unable to confirm from labour leaders if specific requests on the implementation of the new minimum wage would be tabled before government, beyond the caution that government should not retrench workers on account of COVID-19 pandemic.

It was learnt yesterday in Abuja that the proposed rationalisation of government agencies, ministries and parastatals will not lead to massive job cuts.

A source said: “There are no plans to sack people when the agencies are trimmed down. What will happen is that workers will be moved around government offices. The general idea is that heads of agencies will reduce and the number of people that earn big money will reduce. There might be some job losses, but not in the way people are thinking.”

The Director General of ILO, Guy Ryder, said with over three million cases and some 217,000 victims of the virus to date globally, and the expected loss of the equivalent of 305 million jobs worldwide by mid-year, the stakes had never been higher.

According to him, as the world braces up for the ‘new normal’, nobody seems able to say what the new normal will be.

“This is because the message is that it will be dictated by the constraints imposed by the pandemic rather than our choices and preferences, and because we’ve heard it before. The mantra which provided the mood music of the crash of 2008-2009 was that once the vaccine to the virus of financial excess had been developed and applied, the global economy would be safer, fairer, more sustainable. But that didn’t happen. The old normal was restored with a vengeance and those on the lower echelons of labour markets found themselves even further behind.”

As Nigeria joins the world to celebrate the Workers’ Day today, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, has called on the workers to develop and imbibe a common will to fight and conquer the invisible enemy.

Ngige made the call in his May Day message to the workers yesterday. He said government and social partners would look at the four-pillar plan of policy responses to COVID-19 laid out by International Labour Organisation (ILO) which were intended to be human-centred and built on global solidarity.

This, Ngige said, would be in addition to the Federal Government’s plan to sustain the economy in the context of the current global crisis.

The minister further assured the workers that all relevant factors would be identified, analysed and solidified to ensure job retention and continued realisation of decent work agenda.

He emphasized that the Federal Government would be guided by labour standards as benchmarks for social and employment protection at this time of vulnerabilities.

According to him, talks are ongoing along this line, between the Presidential Economic Sustainability Council and employers on job protection and even job creation at this time and progressively to post COVID-19 crisis time.

The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) greeted the workers on the 2020 commemoration which came at a time the world is combating the deadly coronavirus that has kept economies across the world locked down.

APC, in a statement enjoined workers to use the lockdown to equip themselves with information and skills that will enable them to productively function in the changing global work culture and tap into opportunities that the eventual and gradual easing of the lockdown will bring.

The APC further acknowledged the tireless efforts, resilience, patience and commitment of the Nigerian workers in the onerous task of nation building.

While assuring our workers that the Federal Government would continue to prioritise their welfare, the party assured that President Muhammadu Buhari is putting all necessary measures in place to ensure that workers and, indeed, all Nigerians are not negatively impacted from the economic effects of the pandemic now and in the future.

The opposition Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) enjoined the authorities to ensure prompt payment of hazard allowances to health workers in the country.

The National Chairman, Mallam Falalu Bello, in a message called on the Federal Government to ensure the safety and wellbeing of health workers by providing them with the necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other tools to boost their performance in containing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the country.

The organized labour canvassed a rejigged economy to avoid acute recession. The labour centres called on all social partners, that is the government, employers and the workers, to give all it takes to build an economy that would keep the country out of imminent recession.

The TUC, which advocated new refineries while old ones should be fixed, urged the government to sign the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) into law.

The labour centre said it would shield the economy from the vagaries and vicissitudes of international oil prices and politics, adding that delaying the PIGB bill robbed the country the benefits and revenue that could have accrued from the hydrocarbon industry.

President of TUC, Olaleye, on the COVID-19 pandemic which met the country in a state of unpreparedness, advocated that all existing federal teaching and specialists hospitals should be upgraded and equipped with the state-of-the-art medical equipment to meet the modern-day standards and the new emerging disease conditions.

The group appealed to the government to set up standard hospitals in each of the six geo-political zones to ensure the pandemic does not consume more Nigerians needlessly.

The Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA) called for a more coordinated strategy in salvaging jobs and enterprise in the wake of the possible job losses.

The measures to be taken, NECA said, should include “direct wage or income support, wage subsidies, tax credits or tax deferrals, short-term work schemes and moratoriums on loan payments by organisations.”

NECA Director-General, Timothy Olawale, urged the government to take decisive action on concerns of the informal sector and intervene in areas of electricity supply, security and enabling environment for businesses to thrive.

The Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), commended the offer of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) to support the operations of oil and gas companies during the perilous period so as to avoid the stoppage of operations and unnecessary loss of jobs by workers.

President of NUPENG, Williams Akporeha, said employers should not exploit the pandemic to declare unnecessary redundancies. The National Public Relations Officer of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), Fortune Obi, said that the greatest gift the oil workers required from the Federal Government with respect to the peculiarities of the industry was the complete passage of the PIGB and the complete implementation of the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) model for the nation’s refineries.

He stressed the need to ensure that the right legislations were in place to protect workers from casualisation and outsourcing in the oil and gas sector.

Meanwhile, aviation workers yesterday rallied other Nigerians to support the government in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. The workers, under the aegis of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), said it was a workers’ day like never before, but all Nigerians could contribute to the task of eradicating the disease by cooperating fully with the government.

Similarly, the Petroleum Products Retail Outlets Owners Association of Nigeria (PETROAN), urged the Federal Government to support the private sector with stimulus package to forestall job losses and ensure business continuity even after the pandemic.

The National President of NUATE, Ben Nnabue, yesterday said the celebration was further dampened by job insecurity and hyper instability of income hanging over the heads of all workers, especially in the aviation industry.

National President of PETROAN, Dr. Billy S. Gillis-Harry said: “Government should be concerned about business sustainability in the formal and informal sector. What is paramount at a time like this is for government to support the private sector to ensure the retention of jobs.

“Economic stimulus should be impactful to avoid the laying off of workers and to increase productivity. I appreciate the Federal Government for the palliatives and economic stimulus already put in place, but more need to be done by government and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)”.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) urged Nigerian workers to invest some portion of their earnings in the capital market to create more wealth and saving towards retirement.

The Acting Director General of the commission, Ms. Mary Uduk, in a goodwill message to commemorate the 2020 International Workers’ Day,
stated that capital market operations were still ongoing in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic, urging Nigerian workers to take advantage of opportunities in the market to create more wealth for themselves.

She assured Nigerians that the commission had adequate rules and regulations in place to ensure that workers investments were safe. But public and private servants in Imo State lamented that they would celebrate with empty stomach. Workers of the state-owned palm oil company, Adapalm, said they were being owed 56 months of salary arrears.

The State Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Austin Chilapku, who spoke on a privately owned radio station in Owerri, Darling FM yesterday, said the workers were lamenting the non-payment of their salaries.

“We are celebrating on empty stomach. We are saying, pay us our salaries. We have not started receiving minimum wage. We are still negotiating and the governor said we should give him a little time,” he said.

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