By Victor Ahiuma-Young
THE 26th Annual Nationwide Industrial Relations Seminar of the National Union of Chemical, Footwear, Rubber, Leather and Non-Metallic Products Employees, NUCFRLANMPE, that took place in the ancient city of Benin, Edo State, few days ago, was not only educative, but also provided an avenue for stakeholders in the sector and others to brainstorm on emerging industrial relations issues, challenges and way forward.
Between Monday and Friday, participants including academia, employers, Labour leaders and industrial relations practitioners, busied themselves with finding ways of confronting the exigencies of the time at the seminar with the theme “Emerging Industrial Relations Practices: Issues, Challenges and Way Forward”.
Addressing participants and others, President of the Union, Goke Olatunji, explained that the theme of the seminar was carefully selected to critically examine the recent developments in the industrial relations with a view to coming forth with ideas and strategies for peaceful relationship between employers and employees with special consideration for a win-win situation.
He said, “gainful employment in Nigeria of today is rare. Economic reasons advanced by the employers have resulted in the promotion of casual and outsourced employment that are fast replacing normal full time jobs. Labour is now seen as cheaper factor of production. To worsen the matter, advancement in technology is fast replacing Labour intensive with capital intensive mode of production. This has made the Labour market to become more saturated, and as a result, people now settle for precarious jobs. Decent jobs are in extinction while job security is daily threatened by unstable and recessed economy.”
While decrying that the difficulty in accessing foreign exchange was becoming a big challenge to the manufacturing sector, he lamented that workers had been the victims as employers and management deployed tactics of saving cost by lowering workers welfare and standard.
Speaking on how the union has been trying to cope with some its challenges especially on membership drive, the President said: “I want to inform you that a lot has been done on the drive for more membership while we are not relenting in protecting the rights and interests of our members. You will recall that our National Joint Industrial Council, NJIC, is inconclusive.
The proposal of the employers’ body for the scrapping of gratuity was stepped down for a year and two months for proper study and sensitization.” He said the union’s position to the employers’ federation would be presented to the body at the appropriate time. Olatunji added that in the bid to diversify the union’s revenue base, among others, “construction work is ongoing in our ultra modern shopping complex at Sango-Otta.”
Declaring the seminar open, Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, advised chemical and leather workers to boost their knowledge on modern technology to be relevant in the technology driven modern world.
Represented by Mr. Emma Usoh, Commissioner for Wealth Creation, Investment, Cooperatives and Employment, the governor reiterated his earlier pledge to turn the state into Nigeria’s best emerging industrial hub in the next twelve months.
Obaseki who noted that the state would use its comparative advantage over other states in the country to re-invent and redirect Nigeria to the path of economic growth, lamented that Nigeria lost her economic direction when it abandoned agriculture she had comparative advantage in the 50s and 60s for oil. He said, “We have comparative advantage over other 35 states, as a gateway to other regions we want to maximise it to the benefit of the people. We want to go back to where we lost it several years ago.”
The governor said the state had been encouraging investors into the state through several incentives and infrastructure to boost investments and job creation. While advising workers in the sector to be ICT literate to remain relevant in the modern world, he insisted that workers must equip themselves through trainings to improve their work as technology had taken over today’s world.
He commended the union for organising the programme, saying: “training is a tool for industrial relations harmony. Human relations and industrial relations are anchored on trust and there is need to return to industrialisation.” Obaseki added that Nigerian workers were the brightest in the world since they are found in every part of the globe contributing to national development.
In his key note address, Mr. Femi Oke, Executive Secretary, Chemical and Non-Metallic Products Employers Federation, CANMPEF, called for increase in the use of internal conflict resolution mechanism. “The way forward to industrial relations challenges is to increase professionalism of trade unions and employees. Also, there should be social dialogue between employers and employees both at the national and plant level,” Oke said.
He also spoke on the need for a shift in adversarial and traditional labour relations concept to partnership as a solution to industrial relation challenges.