By Bimbola Oyesola, [email protected]
Most Nigerians could not wait for the year 2020 to pass, dittos for many Nigerian workers. So far, the year has been the most traumatic and challenging. Just like every other sector, the Organised Labour had entered the year with so much hope and aspiration as the turn of a new decade. But little did the movement knew that what started in Wuhan, China as a little health concerns would have a devastating effect on the whole world and would bring the global economy under its knee.
The first blow on the workers was their inability to hold the age-long Workers Day, also known as May Day, usually marked with pomp and pageantry as it’s considered Workers day of celebration and remembrance for the veterans who laid down their lives for the freedom which the present day generation enjoyed.
The annual International Labour Conference (ILC), organised by the International Labour Organization (ILO) was also cancelled. However as the economy has been shut down since March, most Employers of Labour in the Organised Private Sector (OPS) could no longer fulfill their responsibilty to their workforce and has started paying half salary or nothing at all.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disruptive effect on the global economy especially as it relates to the employment status of millions. The International Labour Organisation (ILO), in a preliminary report, has projected that the COVID-19 pandemic will push millions of people into unemployment, underemployment and working poverty.
Already unions in Nigeria, on daily basis are busy negotiating with the employers on the exit package for their members who are being retrenched daily due to the negative impact of the pandemic on the economy as a result of the compulsory lockdown.
Before now, many Organised Labour unions have diversified into businesses during the previous recession in order to have other sources of income aside the check off to ensure their existence.
But this is also been threatened with collapse of infrastructures and government policies.
President of the Nigeria Labour Congress ( NLC), Ayuba Wabba noted that the year has been turbulent for the workers hence government must steer away from making workers’ burden an ounce more grievous.
“This will be resisted. Workers cannot be the cannon fodder for the misgovernance of successive years,” he said.
He stated that Nigerians especially workers have suffered a lot of downturns and reversals this year, noting that while wages remained constant, fuel and electricity prices have been severally and arbitrarily increased inducing a galloping inflation.
The President of the National Union of Chemical Footwear Rubber Leather and Non Metallic Products Employees (NUCFRLANMPE), Goke Olatunji equally wondered why government have been insensitive to Nigerians at this period by increasing costs of all essentials, fuel, electricity, tax and without palliative to cushion the effects.
He noted that it was not the best of time for the union with lots of jobs loss, salary cut, low sales, shortage of raw materials and the recent #EndSARS protest which was hijacked by hoodlums.
Though presently there may not be official report of how many workers who have lost their means of livelihood in Nigeria during the COVID-19 pandemic, but unconfirmed report puts it at over 40 percent of the workforce. For example in the banking sector, the banks since coming back operate at 60 percent, both in branches and manpower in compliance with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s directive.
The effect which the President of the Association of Senior Staff of Banks Insurance and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFFI) warned may see more workers losing their jobs in the New year as the managements would be looking towards replacing Staff with robots.
The President of the Chemical and Non-Metallic Products Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (CANMPSSAN), Segun David, decrying the rate of job loss in the sector, has charged entrepreneurs to desist from making workers sacrificial lambs wherever there is need to cut cost in an economic crisis or difficulties.
He lamented that the present time is a difficult time for Nigerian workers who has to deal with the challenges of job loss, reduced salaries and zero appraisals at work places.
“It is an open secret that economic effects of COVID-19 pandemic cut across all facets of life. Workers should not always be at the receiving end whenever there is need to cut costs,” he said.
According to the CANMPSSAN President, workers in the Sector sacrificed a lot during the lockdown to ensure survival and continuous running of some of their companies.
He said, “We therefore reject being used as a scapegoat whenever management is contemplating on cost cutting measures.
“There is need for the stakeholders (i.e the management and the staff) to engage in meaningful deliberations that will improve input and output capacity without job losses.”
The Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) has said that the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic only further exposed the appalling state of the country’s economy.
According to the General Secretary of the Non-Academic Staff Union of Education and Associated Institutions (NASU) and Vice President of Public Service International (PSI) for Africa and Arab region, Peters Adeyemi, it is an undisputable fact that Nigeria is one of the Sub-Saharan African countries with high level of youth unemployment and under-employment which was further exacerbated by the pandemic.
“The problem of youth unemployment in Nigeria raises complex economic, social and moral policy issues. The youth affected by unemployment and under-employment are both skilled and unskilled with some of them involved in migration in search of decent employment as well as better life,” he said.
He expressed that successive administrations at federal, state, and local government levels continue to pay lips service to the issue of youth unemployment and under-employment.
Noting that as at Tuesday, 24th November, 2020, unemployment in Nigeria was 27.1 percent.
He said, “Precarious youth unemployment continues to be on the rise as jobs for young people are increasingly becoming contractual or temporary. Working from home is gaining ground in the country. This was very obvious during the period of lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. To be able to key into the emerging trends, special skills are required.”
He explained that the #EndSARS protest was just an exposition of the underlying problem of youth unemployment in the country, further aggravated by the
He said Coronavirus which torn the social fabric, causing massive unemployment and even hunger, exacerbating inequalities, raising havoc and threatening institutions of good governance, caused destruction in the livelihoods of people among other heart breaking challenges which affected the whole country.
This was also corroborated by the Vice President of the IndustriAll Global Union, Issa Aremu, who stated that there is a nexus between industry and sustainable jobs.
According to him, the underlining condition for the recent #ENDSARS protests and its violent fall out was “massive unacceptable” unemployment and underemployment .
He said, “Sustainable mass jobs can only come from industry and manufzacturing adding that decent jobs, should not be an act of charity, but as a necessary condition to promote productivity, transform Nigeria and Africa from underdevelopment, from dependence to sustainable development”.
“Africa must copy China’s industrialization drive and diversification which within 20 years moved over 250 million people out of poverty through manufacturing and industrialization.”
Despite the pandemic disruptions of many economic activities, the nation still experienced some industrial actions by unions in the health, education and oil and gas sectors. The Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU), had embarked on a 14-day warning strike and an MoU signed on October 20, 2020, but union has lamented the MoU failed to yield the desired result.
The Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) comprising of all health unions likewise prosecuted seven days warning strike successfully, yet government did not seem it fit to act positively, hence the joint body is proposing a total strike any moment from now. For the unions, the strikes were initiated to protest government flagrant disregard to agreements and the contentious Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS).
The President of NASU, Dr. Makolo Hassan said for almost 10 years, the federal government has failed to honour the content of the agreement it freely entered into with the union despite several reminders, several strikes and several Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) entered into with the Government.
On the IPPIS, the labour leader said government has failed to live up to its promise of a hitch-free migration as IPPIS has demonstrated high level incompetence and inefficiency.
“Our experience since we migrated to the platform has been a painful one and all our efforts to get Government and the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) to redress the noticeable shortcomings have not yielded positive result.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) last Wednesday called off its strike, ending a protracted industrial action that started since March 23, 2020.
But not without conditions which Federal Government has to adhere to, failure which the union threatened to return without notice.
ASUU National President, Biodun Ogunyemi made the announcement during a briefing of the union in Abuja, explaining that the development followed consultations with its National Executive Council (NEC).
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President, Ayuba Wabba however has charged the government that due to the peculiarities in the education sector in relation to the IPPIS platform, Labour demands urgent intervention into the challenges and difficulties faced by the workers and trade unions especially those in the tertiary education institutions.
“Honourable Minister, we may not be able to guarantee industrial harmony in all our tertiary institutions if the foregoing concerns are not attended to and resolved immediately,” Wabba has warned.
The indication may simply means that more Industrial action may be prosecuted in the coming year most especially in the public service where state Governor’s have failed to implement the new minimum wage signed into law in 2019.