On Monday, May 4, many offices slowly reopened in some states in the country after weeks of lockdown. But now, amid concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, the fear of resuming work has gained ground among many workers in the country’s private sector, again highlighting the impact of the coronavirus on the economy.
For over a month, activities in Lagos, Ogun and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), were grounded since the imposition of a lockdown ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari took effect. Shops and businesses were put under lock and key, unrestricted movement and the usual hustle and bustle of the cities faded in compliance with safety precautions and guidelines specified in the ongoing fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
When government announced its decision to end the lockdown with directive that some activities could resume on Monday, May 4, it came as an answer to prayers for many citizens. A lot of people had, through the period of staying at home, lambasted government for not providing essential relief necessities before asking them to stay at home.
Sources of livelihood and streams of financial income were suddenly interrupted when businesses had to cease and companies closed their doors to customers. These challenges, which already have seeped into homes and families, are the irregularities that individuals have had to adapt to following the infiltration of the economy by a seemingly minute virus.
Psychologically, socially and health-wise, the pressure continues to mount with no remedy in sight. Ordinarily, the easing of the lockdown should provide relief to Nigerians, but many have expressed fear of job loss and pay cuts.
In places where work is expected to resume, workers across the country have expressed concerns over imminent pay cuts and even losing their sources of income.
Being a commercially driven and capitalist economy, corporate employees and business owners alike have valid apprehension over resuming work in the face of an economy experiencing a downturn following the coronavirus impact. As the lockdown in Lagos and other parts of the country is being lifted, there is the fear that job losses, pay cuts and a drastic downsizing may take effect within the workforce across private and corporate organisations.
Samson Obalaiye, who works in a microfinance bank, did not conceal his excitement about resuming work after more than four weeks, but he lost the twinkle in his eyes when the thought of having a pay cut or losing his job hit him.
“Anybody who raised that sort of issue now would be a wicked person. What do they want us to do then? How do we survive this corona-infested year without jobs?” he queried.
On May 1, on the occasion of the Workers’ Day celebration, President Muhammadu Buhari had addressed this premonition. He said: “I understand the anxiety, which has plagued the minds of workers over the possibility of job losses due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic and lockdown, especially in the private sector.
“In this regard, the government will ensure that no employer would retrench or lay off workers without going through due process of social dialogue, which includes consultations with workers and with the competent authorities – the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment.”
He added that he had earlier put in place a Presidential Economic Sustainability Committee (ESC) with the objective of developing a credible sustainability plan for repositioning the Nigerian economy and after COVID-19 crisis.
“The ESC is required to specifically explore ways and means of growing our non-oil sector – all in a bid to minimise the adverse effects of the current crisis and to also protect existing jobs and even create new jobs to help absorb the teeming army of the unemployed even before the crises,” he said.
A worker in the aviation sector, Efe Onuge, said the situation was already becoming worrisome for some workers, including himself.
“We didn’t even get paid for last month since the airports are still shut,” he lamented. “No business means zero pay. This is what comes with working for people. May God help us.”
On the flipside, an entrepreneur, Blessing Ditimiya, with a catering service business online, stated that she could not have had it any better since the COVID-19 episode commenced. In her words, her business was actually dependent on customers who could afford it.
“I need a customer base of people who can pay for my services and buy my products. If their jobs are taken away they cannot afford to patronise me. One way or the other, it affects me and it doesn’t end there,” she noted.
Prior to resuming work on May 4, it was gathered that some employees had received circulars instructing them to keep working from their homes. Those in this category have also picked this up as tell-tale signs of something inauspicious in the offing. Another worker revealed that her company struggled to pay April’s salary since staff worked from home. She was, however, unsure of what might happen in subsequent months.
In support of the Nigerian workers who were celebrated by the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba, the NLC president, cautioned