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Global crisis weakens organized labour

By Funmi  Komolafe

The effect of the global  melt down on industry and labor  was one of the issues raised at  the  education summit of the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers  Union of Nigeria (NUTG).

This edition of Labor Vanguard focuses on the effect on industry, employment generation and  organized labor as  presented by Professor Dafe Otobo.

Professor  Dafe  Otobo of the industrial relations department of the   University of Lagos spoke on “ Industry and Labor  in the context  of current global economic crisis.

Taking a  look at industry and the  global economic melt down, the professor said. ‘ Corporate  governance in Nigeria and Africa is a critical  aspect  of the global crisis”.

 *Textile workers during a May Day parade.

He observed that “ most important corporate bodies are foreign-owned and foreign controlled”. For this  reason, he said, “ Many African  governments  do  not appear  to have much influence  over how these companies  are governed nor their policies and activities.  Many African communities , especially those experiencing  environmental degradation and  pollution , may not be in a position to substantially   influence corporate governance  and policies either.”.

The professor  noted that “ globalization, liberalisation and deregulation go against any attempts at Africanisation of management  positions  and thus fewer and fewer  Africans are likely  to remain in powerful corporate positions so  long as large multinational companies now recruit freely from a global  market”.

More importantly, he observed “ more money  leaves Africa as repatriated  profits than investments flow in”.
He attributed the global melt down  to many factors including  the now familiar “ badly performing  businesses, outsourcing, changing technology, declining  demand, declining industry due to technical changes , bad investments portfolios, mismanagement , bankruptcies,  mergers/acquisitions, etc”.

Meltdown  aggravatesunemployment
Across the globe  thousands of employees have lost jobs and many more are still losing jobs .
Why is this so?  Professor Otobo  is clear that with the meltdown, there is hardly room for employment generation. He said  many businesses may relocate facilities , outsource supplies and services in reaction to costs and profit  margins. With declining demands,  industries make lower profits  and therefore resort to ‘mergers, takeovers, bankruptcies and loss of jobs”.

He explained that though “ some businesses  do flourish during economic  depression and expand, providing   some  jobs- but not enough to make significant difference”.

The  informal sector   he noted had created jobs but he said, many of these jobs “ are not decent jobs”. On the part of governments,  he is of the opinion  that many  governments especially in Africa,  including Nigeria are “ weighed down by  external debts , some economic mismanagement,  corruption  and struggling to implement  World Bank / IMF adjustment policies for the last two decades, retrenchment has been continuous”.

Harsh times for employees
As  it is in Nigeria so , it is in many African countries.  The professor observed that  with globalization and the current economic  crisis,  “ fiscal and monetary  policies  designed  to ease  the flow of capital and as added incentives to investors ( elimination of excise duties in some  cases and wholesale  downward  review of custom duties among others )are being adopted in an ad hoc manner.
Unions he remarked have been losing   members “ by way of down-sizing, (restructuring, retirements, dismissals, etc)
He also observed that “ Many workers in Africa have become part-time workers in orientation, pre-occupied  with how to supplement  the pay- packet”.

Unions under threat
It is not only employees that are threatened by the effect of  the global economic crisis, unions too have their own share of the problem.

Trade unions according to Professor Otobo have had to contend with “declining capacity among union leadership due to wastages,  attrition and prevalence of younger and relatively inexperienced hands”.

The emergence of   non-governmental organizations with focus on labor issues have weakened  trade unions considerably.
He said  although retrenchment of workers have continued , “ there has been a corresponding  growth in the development of certain skills and jobs accompanying  rapid changes  in technology, they are yet to be organized  by unions”.

The economic melt down has further polarized government and labor on many issues.
Professor Otobo said, “ Indeed it is   difficult today to find a government’s socio-economic  policy that  does not have oranised labour’s counter-proposal.  Organised  labor often embark on nationwide campaigns  against official policies , starting  with direct approaches to traditional rulers, the use of pamphlets and posters, radio jingles, symposia and workshops and eventually  ending in demonstrations  and strikes’.

A competent source at the education programme summed it up this way, “  it is clear that we need to promote more social dialogue”.

He said for instance, it is clear that government, employers and organized labor need to work together to ensure  get the best  out of the global economic recession.


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