Casualisation and contract staffing have been a hard nut for organised labour to crack for over a decade now. Organised labour believes that this is now more pronounced due to the economic downturn confronting the country. But the new national president of the National Union of Shops and Distributive Employees (NUSDE), Comrade Innocent Jaja, said his union is now ready to re-ignite the battle against employers engaging in casualisation and contract staffing in the sector and fight it into a standstill.
He also slammed government for its inability to deliver on its campaign promises, calling on the workers to get their voters’ cards and send the current administration packing.
Jaja speaks also on matters, which cut across expectations of workers, challenges and other sundry issues.
The challenges are quite numerous. But let me start with the economy, which is like the father of them all. Our economy, if you ask me, is in coma, even though the federal government said we are out of recession. But like my immediate past president always said, how does that affect us? How does that put food on the table of an average Nigerian? Our economy is that bad, and if the head is sick then the entire body is sick. Whatever we do is derived from the economy. The system is not defined and, if the economy is not growing, everything about the system is going down. Take, for instance, in 2017, the national vice president of Maritime said in less than eight months, over 3,000 workers were laid off from just Port Harcourt port, arising from the harsh economic situation in the country. That is just in a single period. Now, because the economy is bad, companies are folding up, the ones that are around are managing to exist. The most hypothetical is the issue of power; the cost of running generators for one day in any establishment would tell if the economy is right or not. If a man, for instance, has 50 workers, and has a business that he earns N100,000 as profit in a day, that is fairly what is required for diesel to run generators for the business. Of course, workers are part of the larger part of the society. We are the worst hit because there is hardly any a week or month that we do not discuss the issue of downsising with our employers arising from hardship.
We are into retailing, if an employer requires five loads of diesel a day to run a shop, do that by one month, including other variable cost, the man cannot break even and that is why we are having all these issues, it is that bad and we pray, by his grace, we will not go into extinction.
Our expectation starts from the government because we will not talk about the employer without the government. We must have electricity fixed. I remember when Jonathan was President, the former Lagos State governor, who is now minister of power, said a responsible government would fix power in less than one year. The power outage now should be compared with that of the last administration. Why have they not fixed power within the past three years when he has been the minister of power? If we get power right, we will be able to fix everything in this country.
Secondly, one wonders why those in government want to sell everything in this country. Everything privatised. Why is the minister of solid minerals insisting on selling Ajaokuta Steel after spending so much to construct it? The employers need to tell the truth because when they were making money, nobody heard their compliants.
The issue of downsising; yes, the economy is bad. But if you have 10 expatriate staff, and you want to sack indigenous workers, the salary of one expatriate can take care of over 10 Nigerian workers. There is need to draw a balance between the jobs Nigerians can do and the ones the white man can do.
Our employers need to reduce dependence on expatriates and see how they can improve the welfare of local employees.
By next year, our collective agreement would have been over, we would be going back to ask them to improve on the present agreement.
We are equally asking them, the economy is bad, but if its bad to the establishment, it is worst for the workers. We have tried to create palliatives for our members at various levels. Then to us as an organisation, we are equally asking our members to ensure that they do their best where they work, because if there is no establishment, there would definitely be no jobs for them to do. They should not use the working hours to do personal business, they should put in their best.
It still comes down to government policies. In the last administration, they had what was called local content law, to encourage ourselves first. But that is just in policy, what about implementation? Are we implementing it? For instance, the issue of Ajaokuta Rolling Mill, it was learnt at the National Assembly that the jobs which Nigerians can handle, which the company in Nigeria can handle, the minister gave it to a foreign firm. The issue is certainly implementation by government. All we can do is to continue to talk. I was at Ariara market recently, in fact, I bought one pair of sandals that I equally saw in one shop for N43,0000, the man actually goes to Ariara to purchase it. I heard from Senator Ben Bruce that all the shoes he is using are from Aba. All we can do as individuals, let us encourage what we have. But the problem is government, the policies we have on ground are enough. We don’t need more laws. So, we must keep talking. As a union, we are talking. We must encourage ourselves to patronise our local products.
Like I said earlier, the unions are working, but it has to do with government, if we uphold the law, we will achieve a lot. But our labour laws are like toothless bulldogs that only bark, but do not bite. If one goes through the labour law, it does not give organised labour the strength to hold employers responsible on the basis of not engaging the workers properly. But as a union, we are going to fight casualisation, contract staffing or whatever they call it, we want to fight it in our sector to a standstill within the limit and the ambit of the law. I did mention that I am warning the management of J.B. Chanrai in Port Harcourt, they have over 66 workers, contract workers, which they call security workers, working inside the shops. You can imagine that, they call them security staff, but working inside the shops, that is strange.