Stories by Bimbola Oyesola, 08033246177
With more workers losing their jobs in 2017 in spite of the unbearable living conditions fostered on them through the present economic situation in the country, the concluding year no doubt was not the best of time for the Nigerian workers who may have been stretched too far. The statistics recently released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) indicated that over 4 million Nigerians lost their jobs in 2017.
The year were characterised with strikes, lock outs as workers led by their unions and labour centres protested against poor wages and unpaid salaries which run into several months by some private employers and state governments.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), congratulating the Nigerian working people and pensioners for their resilience in surviving and pulling through the year 2017, has said the year proved to be one of the most difficult for most Nigerians in recent history.
The NLC President, Ayuba Wabba has expressed that the previous year saw the working people, pensioners and other Nigerians facing series of daunting socio-economic and security challenges, even though Organised Labour had hoped that the year would offer succour for the masses of the people.
That the labour was disappointed in the present government on the heels of NBS report would be an understatement as the NLC President said the ruling party is failing on its campaign promises.
“Against the background of the campaign promise of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) government to create three million jobs annually, this statistics from the NBS underscores the grave and depressing situation of the Nigerian economic landscape in 2017.
“Rather than work to create jobs and improve the condition of Nigerian working people and Nigerians in general, leading elements in the ruling APC government, like Governor Nasir el-Rufai, have been taking measures to further chastised and ruin Nigerians by throwing tens of thousands of workers into the already saturated unemployment market and wretchedness.”
“In the same vein, 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), states like Kogi, Osun, Benue, Ekiti, Bayelsa and several others entered 2018 with huge arrears spanning up to ten (10) or more months of wages and pensions.
“Under these conditions, Nigerian workers, pensioners and their families remained the most despondent group in an economy that even the well-to-do are groaning and struggling to survive. No wonder, our country is one of the worst, known for having many hungry people in the world according to the World Hunger Index report 2017.”
According to the NLC president, many Nigerian workers were denied the joy of the festive period by the state governors who failed to use the last Paris Fund remittance to pay workers salary and outstanding as instructed by President Buhari.
To further worsen the situation, Nigerians in the last four weeks, have witnessed one of the worst shortages in the supply of petrol in the history of the country. For the workers who have to go to work or travel for the season it was adding salt to injury.
Wabba lamented that this was in spite of Federal Government’s repeated claim that with the complete removal of subsidy on petroleum products, scarcity of petroleum products would become a thing of the past.
He said, ”Our position with regard to the prevailing situation in the petroleum industry remains constant, which is that the crisis in the industry is squarely due to the inability or refusal of our ruling elite to REFINE ALL OUR PETROLEUM NEEDS IN NIGERIA. We are the only major producer of crude oil in the world that depends on importation of refined products from abroad. As long as this remains the case, Nigerians would continue to be subjected to this intermittent scarcity.
“For us in the Congress, and for majority of working people in Nigeria, the hope placed on the capacity of President Buhari to bring about positive change is being undermined by his government’s inability to address the infrastructural deficit and other related problems in the oil industry, such as making our existing refineries work at optimal capacity by refining products for domestic consumption.
“Not only is government unable to achieve this for almost three years now, but moving forward, more refineries, especially modular refineries which can be built between 12 and 18 months are required to address the reoccurring challenge of fuel scarcity and price hike in Nigeria and stop the exploitation of ordinary Nigerians. The inherent corruption in the system has made this impossible for more than three decades and should be addressed headlong.”
The Trade Union Congress (TUC), also shared the view that the pain workers bear is a needless even as it promised that organised labour shall work to correct the anomalies in 2018.
The TUC President, Bobboi Bala Kaigama, noted that Nigerian workers have not only lost their jobs in millions, but many even committed suicide when they could no longer fend for their families. A fresh case was that of a director in Kogi state who hanged himself due to the inability to care for his wife and the new born babies.
“It is no news that pensioners (our senior servants) who served this country meritoriously die on a daily basis, even at verification locations throughout the country. Though their pension is not paid yet , they are burdened to feed their graduate children who are yet to get jobs five years after graduation.
“This is not the best of times in our country as Nigerians are subjected to various dehumanizing conditions. How do we explain it, that in the midst of the gruelling fuel scarcity, many workers are still being owed up to six months salary.
“Bailouts were given, but unfortunately diverted by governors and the Federal Government seems not to be doing anything about it. Those governors involved in such irresponsible act should be brought to book. There is no milk of kindness left in our leaders anymore. They prefer state of the art monuments and house as five star hotels to human life and the education of our children (the supposed leaders of tomorrow). Families die on our roads yet they tell us our roads are not as bad as some Nigerians claim. It is only in Nigeria people pay for services that they did not use. The power sector is a case in point. If things remain like this, the Congress may have no option than to hit the street.”
He decried the astronomic rate, factories close shop in Nigeria and the billions spent on medical tourism, adding that there was a report recently lamenting the spate at which medical experts flee the country.
“Nigerians are brought back from Libya, lame, blind, abused. As an organization we do not blame Libyans. We blame our leaders who have failed to provide the basic things of life. What about our young graduates who have now become prostitutes, political thugs, engaging in ritual killings and other criminal activities?”
The Nigeria workers expectation to get the New Minimum Wage was dashed last year, two years after its long due for review.
The 5 year cycle of the current Minimum Wage Act legally backing the subsisting negotiated minimum wage of N18000 signed by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2010 was due for negotiation in 2015, two years ago.
With the present wage, Nigerian workers are considered as one of the worst paid among the United Nations members countries. The Nigeria National Minimum wage of N18,000, according to the UN was equivalent to $115, but with the devaluation, the national wage has drastically fallen to $58 or $38 per month using the parallel market.
Other African countries and even countries in the West African sub region where Nigeria is seen as big brother paid better wages. Countries like Angola paid $170, Republic of Congo, $170, Ghana, about $200, South Africa, $155, Tunisia, $140. Mauritius which is one of the least paid, recently increased her wage from $26 to
$257, about N92,520 per month
The organised labour last year had submitted a new proposal of N56,000 as a new minimum wage and had expected that government would speedy up the negotiation, bearing in mind the excruciating pain and level of poverty Nigerian workers have been subjected to due to the economic recession and the attendant inflation.
But the committee for the negotiation for the review of the National Minimum Wage was not inaugurated by President Muhammad Buhari until Monday 27 November, 2017. The Governors were reported to have been responsible for the late constitution of the committee as other members of the tripartite committee, including labour, private sector employers and federal government had sent representatives early.
Both the NLC and TUC however are looking forward to an early conclusion of the negotiation in order to give workers the desired respite from the present economic crisis.
The NLC president had said that it is the expectation of Nigerian workers that the committee under the chairmanship of Ms Ama Pepple, former Head of Service of the Federation, will expeditiously conclude its assignment.
This, he stressed is because a new national minimum wage has been due for over a year now.
“It is also our expectation 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 before the end of the 3rd quarter of 2018”, he said.
The TUC likewise as a demand for the 2018 has said that the National Minimum Wage Committee set up by the Federal Government should conclude everything concerning the new wage on or before the end of the second quarter of 2018.
It is not only minimum wage that the organised labour is concerned with in the new year, but has equally mandate all state governments to pay all outstanding salaries and allowances to workers before the end of the first quarter in 2018.
Kaigama added further, “All corrupt political officials should face the music, irrespective of their political affiliation. No more soft landing for any body found to have looted the country.
“That Congress can no longer accommodate this perennial fuel scarcity, especially during the yuletide or any other time. If it happens we will direct and mobilise our members all over the country to abandon their cars on major roads.
“We call on the president of the federal republic to do the needful in putting the country on the path of progress. We cannot continue to do the same thing and expect a different result. This is not how it is done in other climes.”
The NLC also unequivocally re-state its determination to continue to mobilise for the full payment of the workers outstanding salaries and pensions.
Drawing inference from the battle for the autonomy of the local government spearheaded by the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), the NLC called on the State Houses of Assembly to demonstrate courage, patriotism and assert their desired independence by passing the constitutional amendment bills designed towards emancipating the local governments and freeing their finances from being usurped by governors who are determined to truncate the quest for democratisation at the local government level.
“In the same vein, we call on the National Assembly and State Houses of Assemblies to ensure that payment of primary school teachers’ salaries is put on first line charge of the Federation Account to assuage the fears of all stakeholders in the local government system”, the NLC said.