Bimbola Oyesola, [email protected]
Mixed reactions have continued to trail the return of Senator Chris Ngige to the Ministry of Labour and Employment as minister. When President Muhammadu Buhari last Wednesday announced his new cabinet, Ngige’s re-appointment came as a surprise to some stakeholders in the industry bearing in mind the controversy and confrontations that trailed his last months as minister in the first tenure of Buhari’s administration.
Most workers interviewed opined that the minister should have been taken to another ministry, as he was not in support of workers in most of their struggles during his first tenure. The new minimum wage was the most prominent issue in which the workers claimed that the minister frustrated them and almost scuttled the negotiation process.
The workers also recalled that, instead of being a good arbiter, the minister, anytime the workers decided to go on strike, always looked for ways to work against the International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention with his pronouncements of “no work, no pay.”
The last confrontation he had with the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) on the appointment of Frank Kokori as the chairman of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) barely a month to his exit still remains fresh in history.
Reacting to the return of Ngige to the labour ministry, the NLC president, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, said organised labour had nothing against his reappointment. He, however, warned that the minister may incur the wrath of Nigerian workers if he fails to respect the independence of labour as partner in the tripartite system.
He said, “We don’t have permanent friends and enemies. We have nothing personal against him. If he respects the independence of labour as enshrined in the labour laws and as we have it in the ILO convention, which Nigeria has been a signatory to since the ’60s, we will not have any issue with him.
“Clearly speaking we have nothing against him, but where there is a fundamental issue, we will engage him. It’s also a welcome development that the minister will now attend the consequential adjustment meeting on the new minimum wage, but the minister has nothing to do with it. It is already a law. Hence from the side of the labour centres, we will ensure that workers are not shortchanged and that is the reason why we have told our members to do proper research on what the increase was when the minimum wage was increased to N7,500 and N18,000, respectively.”
However, the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), in its congratulatory message to Ngige, noted that the reappointment of the minister by the Buhari-led administration was proof of his commitment and contributions to the ministry, workers and the nation at large.
The TUC president, Comrade Quadri Olaleye, said labour would not fail to draw the attention of the President to the wide range of challenges confronting the labour movement in Nigeria.
He said, “The ministry under his watch must as a matter of urgency brace up for the task ahead. It is imperative to state here that we are not happy that months after the new minimum wage was approved by the Federal Government the issue is still foot-dragging over parity. His presence must make a difference.
“Other issues include casualisation, outsourcing, pension, etc. The strength of any union is their number; unfortunately, our members are losing jobs in droves. This has to be checked if we must put a stall to acts of criminality. Posterity will be fair to him if he protects and creates more jobs instead of losing the existing ones. We must not forget that an idle mind is the Devil’s workshop.
“There are serious tasks ahead, but we shall continue to count and trust in his wisdom, adroitness and proficiency to provide the mida’s touch needed to positively turn around the ministry for the good of all.”
The TUC president urged the minister to review the country’s labour law to curb the excesses of employers who are deeply involved in anti-labour practices, adding that they must be adequately punished to deter others from embarking on such a predatory venture.