By Victor AHIUMA-YOUNG
PRESIDENT-GENERAL of Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, Comrade Peter Esele, in this interview as part of activities marking the Workersâ€™s Day celebration, talk about workers and governance, the new minimum wage expected to be announced for public workers among other things, and declared that Nigerian workers should keep faith alive, while working towards a better Nigeria.Excerpts:
What is the key message from TUC to Nigerian workers for the May Day celebration?
The key message is for us to look at ourselves and look at 2011, because wether we like it or not, we cannot separate 2011 from what is going on now. This year, Nigeria will be 50 years, for the past 50 years, our progress has been very disappointing.
However, in the same 50 years, we should never give up hope. The fact is that when you have hope, you have strength to overcome whatever adversity you found yourself. That is why we are looking at governance, how it affects workers. We have to look at it vis a vis, in the last 50 years, and moving forward.
The ordinary workers, who hardly understand the linkage between quality governance and welfare of workers, what is you message of hope to them?
Our message of hope is that as a labour centre, we will never abandon our core values and we will also enure that the challenges are in the front burner. If the way things are going on, if politicians are able to march their words with necessary action, may be in another three years, this power problem might not be as terrible as it is.
Why talk about power so much is that, you find out that we all buy diesel or petrol or even kerosine. Which invariably means that as little as I pass my nieghbour generator is in your house, from the meagre salary that you earn, you have to remove some out to buy petrol to power your generator. So, if you calculate how much you spend on the average to buy fuel to runÂ generators, it is huge.
So, we will continue to talk about that and we will also continually stress that it is going to be a collective responsibility for all of us. I will say that the problem we have in Nigeria is one problem, which is electoral reform. Let our votes count.
The moment our votes start counting, we will start electing President, governors, Local government chairmen who are labour friendly, who really care, who believe and know they draw their mandate from the workers. They would now want to do the peopleâ€™s bidding.Â But what we have had in the last couples of years, are people who drew their mandate from godfathers, godmothers and godsons.
So, their loyalty is to those people. So, if we collectively agree, we can achieve it. We are going to stress on the need for sacrifice no matter what it will cause us. We need to make that sacrifice to make life good for us and better for our children. That is the key towards the liberation of Nigeria and Nigerians from the hands of the cabal that is holding us to ransom. Because we operate in the realm of mediocrity, they do not talk about ideas and they do not talk about values.
They only thing they discuss about is whether you are from the North, whether you are from the South, whether you are a Christian, whether you a Moslem and things like that. That is what they discuss about. Nobody has come out tell us what he would do with the educational sector, what he would do to power, how he intends to create jobs, how he intends to provide healthcare delivery to Nigerians and so on. We have not heard it. All we have heard are a couple of people who said they want to be President.
You want to be President for what? What do you stand for? These are some of the things that the Nigerian workers must start asking themselves. Why do we want this person to be President? I am saying it categorically, the reason why we will support anybody should be that we know that person can put food on our table and if he is able to put food on our table, then we will be happy for it. I do not care whether you are an Hausa, Moslem , Christian or whatever.
Irrespective of religion or ethnic background, if the person can deliver on the mandate that can make life easier for Nigerian workers, we are in for it. The truth of it is that poverty does not know religion or tribe. It can deal with you anywhere and the people who talk about these very divisive areas in our national polity are people who truly have little or nothing to offer.
So, the message to workers is to keep the faith alive and continue the work. In doing all of these, we must alsoÂ be ready to pay the price for whatever it would take to make life good for ourselves and better for our children.
The public sector workers are expecting the new minimum wage to be announced on May Day. What will you tell them?
I can assure you that we have gone so far in the minimum wage and it is likely to be announced on the First ofÂ May. We as labour, we are going talk about it on the First of May. Like I said, we have gone very far and we also want things to change.
We want minimum wage after this to be automatic in the sense that Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC and TUC will not have to write a letter to the government that the minimum wage is due for a review. There will be a law that when the time reaches, Salary and Wages Commission will be saddled with the responsibility, will activate the section of the act for the tripartite meeting where a new minimum wage would be fixed.
The Salary and Wages Commission will have a template which will look at the standard of living, the level of inflation and other associated things. The employers will be there and we will also be there. What we have done is to look at all these indices and look at the minimum base that will take workers somewhere because what we are collecting at the moment keeps workers where they are.
The commission will work on the template and we will fix a certain number of years for the tripartite committee to meet and base on the template, statistics, the level of inflation, the economy and the general global trend, we can fix a new minimum wage.
There will not be this long gap in the review of the minimum wage because when you discuss with some people, they would say maybe we are moving from N5, 500, with a 50 percent because the last minimum wage was done about 10 years ago, you have a long lapse. So, in trying to close that gap, you move five, six, ten fold or whatever. But if we now do it periodically, there will be no need for those gaps.
We can now work on the percentage level. If you recall, the last one was 19 years ago before the one of 10 years. So we have a huge gap . That is what we are working towards and hopefully, we are going to achieve that. So, workers will know our direction by First of May.