GOING by the economic condition of the country, Mohammed Abdul Gafar, President Chemical and Non Metallic Senior Staff of Nigeria (CANMPSSAN) concludes that the present government has not really got its bearing right.
The Labour leader states that the government seems to have no clear-cut pathway to economic recovery, more so as the manufacturing sector is considered to be neglected.
He opines that the way out of the present economic crisis still lies with the real sector being the second largest employer of labour.
Gafar tasks government to double its efforts towards making the economic environment more conducive through tax incentives, improving power supply and provide other infrastructure.He also speaks on workers welfare and other national issues.
What’s the story in the chemical sector in the past one year?
There is no way we can separate society from labour, because the two go together. It’s a kingdom within a kingdom, an operation within operation. We fought for change, we got the change. We have a change mantra and agenda and the Federal Government is pursuing it with vigour, most especially in the area of fighting corruption. The anti -graft war of this present regime is on course, except that it needs some modification. But on the economy, I think the government has not really got its bearing. It’s still wobbling and there is no clear-cut pathway to economic recovery as far as the government is concerned. This is a year running now , we can’t dissipate the whole energy on fighting corruption. We have to look at how we can grow our economy and make it more solid so that we can be respected all over the world. So far, to a large extent, the President is winning. If he’s able to win the anti-graft war, then it would impact positively on the economy, because most of this money is just stashed away developing the economy of other countries. If it’s retrieved and utilized for the benefit of the people, then we have dividends of democracy. Two, if we are saying how the workers have fared, we have not fared better, because most states are owing about seven, eigth or nine months salaries. Our industry is mostly affected, because of the exchange rate that has suddenly somersaulted to almost N350 to a dollar, and most of our raw materials are imported from Europe America, China and other Asian countries. It has impacted negatively on the operational efficiency of our organisations. It has equally increased the overhead cost of most of our industries. The manufacturing sector under this regime is not having a fair share because it’s been neglected, nothing is being done. Apart from government, the manufacturing sector in any country, is the second largest employer of labour.
Any country that has to grow should focus its attention more on the sector. Workers in the chemical sector have not fared well. We have had to contend with closure of firms, downsizing and right sizing, as a result of operational and economic challenges. We cannot say we have fared well, because it’s only when an organisation is doing well that workers can have a better share of the cake they have baked. But if there is nothing to show, what do we say? Employers are complaining, investors are complaining and we can say physically that things have not been working right.
What are your demands from Buhari?
I see more challenges in future, more of engagement in future and I see more of compromise and understanding. Challenges in the sense that workers welfare will no longer be taken lightly. More engagement, because we need to engage the government to proffer solution, suggest to them and agitate on how the country should be run and run very well. Again I see more of friction, because if the government fails to do what is right, definitely, labour will not accept, then there must be understanding from the government that workers are suffering. Also workers must realise that we need to sacrifice more. So, the two must endeavour to build a virile, vibrant and resourceful country which we all hope to have in future and if we don’t do that, there would be more of problem. So, I see labour doing more engagement, playing our extra curricular activities, playing our oversight function better in this dispensation because we can’t allow things to go wrong while we are sitting down representing workers.
What’s your take on workers’ welfare?
The leadership of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (NLC) are already putting heads together proposing a minimum wage of N50,000. If we go by realities on ground, we will discover that the N50,000 is very very low going by the present exchange rate, the inflationary trend and the purchasing power of the naira. So, we are partnering with our labour centres to ensure that the agenda is pushed forward and the result is obtained as quickly as possible. Workers welfare will be at the front burner of our activities and henceforth be taken more seriously because the government itself is cash-strapped. Little money is competing for so many projects and one of the projects I can say is workers’ welfare which should have its own better share of whatever money available. That’s where we are going to have problem, where we are going to have engagement, understanding and the struggle.
What’s the strategy for salvaging the chemical sector?
Over a period of one year, we have lost close to 10,000 workers and that is not just statistics, but reality and so many firms are on the verge of closing down. So many are producing at less than installed capacity. So many cannot even market what they have produced, because whatever happened in the larger society, will affect a company. Those that have been buying maybe five or ten units of a product and whose financial fortunes have nose-dived will prefer to place their order on the order of priority now open to them. Basicaly what we are having right now is that a lot of industries are producing on a skeletal basis. Even those that are still producing, on that skeletal basis are having it so difficult. We have gotten invitations to come for redundancy negotiation, outsourcing, and outright closure in most cases. I will give a clear example. Etex Group that used to be very strong, Nigerite, Eternite and Emernite. Today, close to 30 percent of workers in Eternit have been retrenched, and the organisation is on the verge of being closed, meaning that if multinationals can even have those hitches, then one can imagine what our local firms and those in Category B, are going through for now. We know that those challenges will come, because 16 years ago, when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government came in, they bastardised the economy, nobody took care of the manufacturing sector and things have gotten worse over the years. Now, it will take a longer time to reposition that particular sector to an enviable level. Government must double its efforts to make the environment more conducive through tax incentives and more regular power supply.It should make gas available for plants to operate as well as diesel and other components that are required for efficient production to firms that need them.
How are you coping with lack of forex?
Raw materials now is another problem, because it the issue of forex. How do you source for raw materials without foreign currency? How can companies source for raw materials when domiciliary accounts are being unnecessarily scrutinized and closed down. It’s a strong challenge and I want the government to pay more attention to this, because without raw materials, companies cannot produce. For example, I was at a company recently and the management was complaining bitterly about the level of the stock of their raw materials. The stock had gone down drastically to the extent that in the next few weeks, production may stop, workers will be sent on compulsiry leave or sent on leave without pay. That’s why I say the economic policy of this government must be overhauled. There is need for a think-thank approach. Let government get economic experts , sit them down, reform our economy so that we can have reasonable economy growth, then formulate a pathway to economic recovery and sustainability. From there, we can now move forward and say we are having a strong economic footing for this great country. Until that is done, I still see the economy fluctuating. The president’s trip to China centred on how the infrastructure could be improved, I think it’s going to help on the longer run, because there would be less dependence on the dollar, euro and other things like that.
Can you score Buhari’s administration in the past year?
There are two things here, this present regime never thought they would win election and because they didn’t think they would win election, there was no properly articulated road map for governance. I think that is the problem they had. When they came in, they are now struggling, to see how they can formulate their own policy towards economic recovery, improvement in security and all others. So, as of today, I can say there is hope, in the sense that if we are able to fight corruption and bring that monster to its knees then we would have achieved something. But again the fear is that it’s only one person that we see fighting it very strongly and that is the President. I wish others around him emulate him and fight it as a total war, so that we can have a general victory. If that is not done, I don’t see us improving better than what we are doing now. But we have hope, because we have a leader who is resolutely devoted to improving the welfare of our nation and who is not corrupt but focused and has a good pedigree.