By Victor Ahiuma-Young
I have come to consolidate on the victory you have obtained for this country, I promised not to disappoint Mr. President and I will not disappoint my state and Nigeria at large.
Those were the words of Senator Joel Danlami Ikenya, the new Nigerian Minister of Labour Productivity, while taking over from Alhaji Tanimu Turaki SAN, who supervised the ministry following the resignation of Chief Emeka Wogu, to contest the Abia State Governorship election.
While congratulating the Minister on his appointment and appreciating his enthusiasm over the new job, it is the opinion of Labour Vanguard that the minister needs to fully grasp the enormous challenge before him and keep his promise not to disappoint his principal, his state, also Nigerian workers and employers as well.
Labour Ministry: Ordinary, the ministry ought to be the most important and respected ministries in Nigeria because of its unique and vantage position in dealing with industrial issues affecting workers of other ministries, Parastatals and Agencies, MDA, among others. But over the years, the ministry has been relegated to the background because successive ministers have failed to exert their authorities.
As if that is not bad enough, the ministry in most times is starved of the needed funds to function.
Today, the all important Factory Inspectorate Division of the Ministry does not have the necessary manpower to function and the few hands lack the needed tools to work while factories owners are committing a lot of atrocities and going scot free to the detriment of hapless Nigerian workers.
Another department that if is failing to live up to expectations is the office of Registrar of Trade Unions. For over the years, the office has not been dealing with its over sight functions as it affects trade unions’ accounts, constitutions and so on. Many trade unions do not submit their accounts for scrutiny as required by law. To worsen the matter, some labour leaders abuse their constitutions at will without the office of the registrar of trade unions querying or sanctioning them. Either they amend their constitutions to suit their personal aggrandizement, or trample on them with ease while the office of the registrar of trade unions look the other side. Hence we are witnessing sit-tight labour leaders who stay beyond their constitutional tenure and create problems in their unions. In some other instances, some will shamelessly transmute to General Secretary of their unions after serving their tenures as president. Yet, the office of the registrar of trade unions does not see anything wrong in that.
While there is no doubt that the ministry has very capable hands beginning from the Permanent Secretary to do the right thing under conducive environment, there is no doubt there are those who needed to be reminded of their responsibilities and who should either shape up or shape out.
Many parastatals under the ministry, like the Industrial Arbitration Panel, IAP, have lost its usefulness.
Unbiased umpire: To start with, the new minister must see himself as unbiased umpire in all labour issues especially in relations to workers’ disputes with government, or private employers. No matter the circumstances or temptations, he must look at every issue before him objectively and in its merit and pass judgment without fear or favour to gain the confidence of stakeholders especially organized labour and private employers. One of the easiest ways of losing confidence is assuming a spokesperson for government once the issue at hand concerns government and unions.
Though the Minister Alhaji Tanimu Turaki SAN while handing over had declared that “when I leave this office today I can look back, beat my chest and say I came, I saw and I conquered”, Alhaji Turaki might have forgotten that he came into office and met a united Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, but left a factionalised NLC for Senator Ikenya to deal with.
This is an onerous task to handle and how the new minister addresses it will go a long way in shaping the success or otherwise of his tenure. It is in your enlightened self interest to remain neutral and does all within his powers to reconcile the factions. They are children of the same parents and like a quarrel between husband and wife, outsider’s intervention is done with caution because once they settle in their bedroom, the outsider may find himself in trouble. This is not the first time Congress is factionalised. It happened in 1988 and it came out of it stronger.
Unfair labour practices: The greatest challenge before Senator Ikenya is the evil of unfair labour practices plaguing the nation’s industrial set up today which casualisation of workers is at the top. In most sectors of the economy, the increasing rate of casualisation of workers in both public and private sector is alarming. In fact, in the private sector, permanent workers are being retrenched only for them to be re-engaged as casual workers, contract workers and outsourced workers. This definitely, is compounding poverty among working families.
These forms of employment policy are dominant in the oil industry, banking, telecommunication, manufacturing and service sectors. There are agonizing and dehumanizing stories of workers spending over 20 years as casual in the oil and gas industry and financial sectors.
In the oil industry for example, there are several unimplemented agreements and understandings between the employers and trade unions on the auspices of the labour ministry. This has remained a major threat to industrial peace.
Another dangerous trend is what is known as “slave labour” in most manufacturing companies run by Indians, Lebanese, Chinese and other Asians nationals. Investigations have revealed that these employers have no respect for extant labour laws or minimum international standards. With their Nigerians collaborators, these employers breach every rule and regulation with impunity and have no regard for human dignity. The issue of health and safety at the workplaces are relegated to the background.