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The road is rough, hard…but -Omar,NLC president

•NLC during one of its struggles against deregulation

By Funmi KOMOLAFE

TODAY is another May Day.   To         Naval officers it is a signal of distress. To workers around the    world, it is a day to collectively  express their views on issues that influence either their working conditions or living standards.  It is a day of solidarity.

However, since workers are a part of society, the issues around them especially in the polity are of great concern to them and their unions around the world.

Today’s May Day anniversary is being marked in the year of   the nation’s           golden jubilee anniversary.
For their workers  in Britain, this is a year of election.  The election of a new government is only    four days away.   It will hold on May 6, 2010.

So, what are the issues, what do workers and their trade unions expect, what role would labour   play in the polity.  We also had an opportunity to have a five minute chat with the NLC president, Abdulwaheed Omar.

As usual in all the 36 states of Nigeria, rallies would be held by members of the two labour    centers; Nigeria Labour Congress ( NLC)  and the Trade Union Congress of  Nigeria ( TUC).

The NLC ‘s theme for this year’s May Day is “ 50 years of Nationhood and the working class: Challenges of Good Governance, Unity and Credible Elections”.

Be patient and trusting- Omar tells workers

The president of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Abdulwaheed Ibrahim Omar said “ This year’s May Day coincides with Nigeria’s 50th anniversary .  As usual, we will look at the challenges, problems of Nigeria over the years.   Consider the economy, politics etc generally how the nation and labour fared and reason together on the way forward.

National Minimum wage, Deregulation , Electoral reform , these are important to us.
He made a plea “ the patience that our members are known for should be sustained.  We are not sleeping.  We are working to improve the living conditions of workers.  The road is rough and hard but with cooperation and understanding from all workers, we shall succeed.  Workers  should always support us bearing in mind that our strength is in our unity”.

Labour and Politics
Organised labour played a very crucial role in Nigeria’s   attainment of independence from the British Government. The 1945 Cost of  Living Allowance Strike against the British was one the factors that led to the attainment of our independence.

There as also the IVA valley massacre.  This was a dispute of coal miners against their British employers which resulted in the killing of coal miners in Enugu, Nigeria, just to mention a few.

There was the battle against racism led by Labour Leader No. 1, Michael Imoudu at Bristol Hotel  Lagos.   Blacks were until then not allowed into that hotel.  It was for the colonialists only.

It also note worthy that politicians  like H.O. Davies,   Nnamdi Azikiwe, Herbert Macualay, Aminu Kano, Obafemi Awolowo and several others who played leading roles in the attainment of Nigeria’s independence at one time or the other had to work with the labour movement to achieve the objective of political independence.

Sadly, however, whenever  the political class in Nigeria marks the nation’s independence, it is the military and later day politicians who found themselves in elective offices via  flawed elections  that are visible.

Several attempts by Labour to get into active governance has failed until the election of a former NLC president, Adams Oshiomhole as Governor of Edo State. This position is the highest any labour leader has ever attained.  Even then that mandate was stolen by the candidate of the Peoples’ Democratic Party ( PDP) under the supervision of Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency.

It took Oshimohole 18 months to win back his mandate through the election tribunal.  Oshiomhole won on the platform of Action Congress in an alliance with Labour Party.

However, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko a former member of the PDP contested on the platform of Labour Party and was elected Governor of Ondo State.  Like Oshiomhole the PDP stole his mandate and more almost 24 months , Mimiko struggled to regain his mandate in the courts while Agagu of the PDP held sway in Government House, Akure. Labour Party was the idea of the NLC.

Although, this is an election year, Nigerian politicians have never been known to make labour issues campaign issues.  Will it be different this year?  Quite unlikely.

…  The Economy
This is  one area in which government policies have made labour worse off.  For instance, the so-called reform in the banks introduced by the present governor of the Central Bank saw the exit of thousands of employees.  Many lost their jobs not necessarily due to non performance but the executive recklessness or management failure.
Not only did they lose jobs many are yet to receive their severance pay.

Casual labour remains an issue in our industries.  From the petroleum sector to the service sector, many are engaged as casuals beyond the period stipulated by law.

Employers are taking advantage of the unemployed to offer job opportunities that do not conform with the Decent Work Agenda of the International Labour Organisations.

Labour rights are violated with impunity . Employees are often times offered appointments on a condition that they would not belong to the trade unions.

For employers too, it isn’t as if all is well.  Industries have continued to produce below installed capacity due to non availability of electricity, excessive taxes from governments at all levels, high cost of raw materials etc.   All of these factors have a negative impact on the work place and raises tension between employers and employee.

Deregulation
The deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry is an issue which has put labour and successive governments on the war path for several years.  By the account of the NLC,, this issue has resulted in price increases of petroleum products 18 times .

“The Nigeria Labour Congress along with its allies in the civil society has all these years led the  masses to stiffly resist these policies including the deregulation policy which has seen the government increasing the pump prices of petroleum products 18 times since January 6, 1978 to May 27, 2007. Out of this number, the Obasanjo government holds the record as it increased pump prices within his eight-year tenure by eleven times, the last being on May 27, 2007, just two days to his handing over to President Yar’ Adua.

Three times the NLC and its civil society allies grounded the nation’s economic activities in 2000, 2004 and 2007.   Nearly all the strikes resulted in loss of lives directly or indirectly.

As we mark May Day 2010, deregulation will surely be a part of the speech of the presidents of the NLC and the TUC.
Over the years, NLC has maintained that “ deregulation will lead to massive deterioration in living conditions.

It is out of place for government to contemplate the deregulation of the prices of petroleum products when the wages of working people have stagnated; inflation has increased ; the value of the Naira has maintained a downward slide; unemployment has increased; general and core poverty has worsened dramatically .  To add insult to injury, the collapse of the global economy has exacerbated these problems for the Nigerian people”.

After a decade of struggle  against deregulation, it would appear that Labour has no option now but to give in as government continues to insist that the subsidy of petroleum has become a huge financial burden  it can no longer shoulder but also that it has continued to enrich a few at the expense of the masses.   Employers have also pleaded with Labour to accept deregulation.

However, Labour and Government are yet to agree on how to cushion the effect of the deregulation policy  on wage earners and the generality of the people.  Proponents of deregulation admit prices may rise at the initial stage but with more players in the market,  it would subsequently  drop.

National Minimum Wage

This is another contentious issue.     The current national minimum wage of N5,500 per month came into effect May 1, 2000 after a successful negotiation of employers, government and organised labour.  It was agreed that there would be a pay raise of 25% after two years and another 15% in the next two years.  Which meant 25% pay raise in 2002 and 15% in 2004.  However, President Olusegun Obasanjo reneged on the agreement on the basis that the nation could not afford it.

December 2008, the national executive council of the NLC made a fresh demand of N52, 500 per month national minimum wage.   It took a while before government took labour seriously and got down to talk.  Tripartite negotiations between Labour, Government and Employers were concluded just before May Day.

The negotiations, according to our sources  have conformed with the standards of the International Labour Organisation

( ILO) and the National Assembly should have no difficulty passing it into law.
Authoritative sources told Vanguard that  negotiations on the  new minimum wage  has been concluded and workers should look up to a bumper package.    This is quite different from the N5,500 per month national minimum wage  of year  2000 which was only about basic salary.  Allowances were excluded.

Although many issues remain unresolved, Nigerian workers are still hopeful.
Happy May Day!


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