Losing over 10,000 members in a year, indeed is not a palatable story for the National Union of Chemical Footwear Rubber Leather and Non-Metallic Products Employees (NUCFRLANMPE). The President, Goke Babatunde Olatunji could not but described the past year as pathetic, characterized with so many horrible tales for the workers and the companies operating in the sector.
Consequently, he believes that the sector and indeed Nigeria as a country cannot afford another lockdown because it will create lots of problem.
He speaks more on other issues affecting the sector and Nigeria as a whole.
How has COVID-19 affected your sector?
It has really affected our sector. For instance, it’s has reduced our membership strength. Lots of the companies in our sector are closing down because they can’t meet up. Many of the companies are operating from home because the expatriates are afraid. We can’t engaged them. So, it has affected production because of the social distance. Some of the companies cannot meet up with the market demand. Job losses in the country have continued unabated, worsening the already unemployment crisis confronting Nigeria. Many companies in the sector were still threatening to downsize their workers as several goods had remained in the warehouses unsold as a result of the closure. The announcement by the Federal Government on the opening of the borders have not taken effect. Some of the member companies are already lamenting over the poor sale because their products cannot be exported to neighbouring countries. Nigeria’s economy cannot be better because of the land border closure. By closing land borders, some other sectors of the economy are suffering. If the options are weighed, it is for us to open the border while putting in place efficient and effective monitoring and controlling measures to curb prohibited commodities. But we thank God for the co-operation from some of the companies. They don’t joke with the welfare of their staff. For instance, despite the COVID-19, Vitaform has increased the workers salary. The same thing with PZ. We appreciates all these companies.
Do you think Nigeria can afford another lockdown?
Never. We cannot afford another lockdown because it will create lots of problem. The rate of armed robbery, kidnapping, will definitely be so high. Many family will suffer in such situation. Many jobs will be lost. Government should not try it.
On the issue of vaccines. Some believes in it and some don’t.
Majority of people are afraid, even despite the fact that some of our leaders have taken it. Some even believe that what they were given is not COVID-19 vaccine . But I will say there is need for us to trust ourselves. If our leaders can take it, then we should be able to take it. It’s for our own good
Governors sponsoring bill against minimum wage.
The Organised Labour is putting together every efforts to ensure that every state implement the minimum wage. Yes, about 18 governors are the one behind this bill. They don’t want to implement this minimum wage and they are the ones sponsoring this bill that it should be move into concurrent. We are aware of this and we are saying no to this. The Organised Labour recently met with the leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives and they assure us that the bill will not see the light of the day. The NLC president told them if they do otherwise, labour will rise up and shut down the country.
On tackling the governors who are yet to implement the new Minimum Wage, there are lots of things labour need to take into consideration. For instance, COVID-19 has caused lots of setback. And as it is now, we are waiting for the outcome of the responses from the two Houses.
Problems of the economy in comparison to that of the 80s,90s
The problem is our leaders. We have selfish, greedy leaders. Leaders that don’t consider the masses. Whatever they promised at the manifestoes, they don’t keep to it. The gap between the rich and the poor is so wide. Even though they travelled outside the country, the see the ways things are done. But by the time they come back, they don’t take to it. These are the problem. It’s just like me been the leader enjoying myself, while the people around me are not sufferings, what type of leader am I? Yes, it’s not possible we share the wealth equally, but at least let it go round.
How is the issue of Forex affecting your sector?
We don’t have access to the forex and it has become a big challenge. Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is the one controlling forex and is doing what is expected, but the commercial banks are not. Majority of the companies in the sector are going through the black market to get their forex and of course this will not favour them. Before, they used to have access to the forex, but now they don’t. This is killing businesses. We are appealing to the president and those making the policies to please look into this.
Increase in the fuel price and electricity tariff?
For government to increase fuel price now, it’s means they want to kill us. Another thing is that government should not depend on the Dangote refinery which is on the way because he is going to monopolise it. The only way out is for the government to revive all our refineries.
On the issue of the plan increase in the fuel price, which looks as if seems labour is not doing enough like they way it handle the minimum wage, you know before labour can carry out a protest or anything, labour will need to carry everybody along. Many things will be involved. There has to be meeting upon meeting. So it is not an easy thing. Lots of sensitisation will need to be done. But I can say that labour has the interest of all Nigerians.
As far as we are concerned, everywhere is not secure in Nigeria. For me, I think it has a political undertone. These kidnappers, herdsmen, Boko Haram that we are talking about, are they invisible. Some of our leaders are behind it. Some of our leaders are the ones sponsoring them. How can you say you are negotiating with a bandit. It is wrong.
Workers day celebration is here. Is it worth celebrating, judging with what has happened in the last one year because of COVID-19?
As I said earlier, it has not been easy. Lots of the workers have passed through lots of challenges. Some have even lost their jobs.
For instance, no fewer than 10,000 members have lost their jobs in one year as a result of COVID-19 in our sector. And to make it worst, the borders that government claimed to have opened, have not been opened. Some of our products are still there. They are not going our because of the closure and this is a big challenge to some of these companies. Majority of the companies are moving to other neighbouring countries. It’s been very difficult for workers and even an average Nigerian to survive. It has not been easy. Notwithstanding, we want to appreciates our members for their understanding.