THE job losses in the country has continued unabated, worsening the already employment crisis confronting Nigeria. Among other challenges facing the sector, President of the National Union of Chemical Footwear, Rubber, Leather and Non-Metallic Products Employees, Comrade Olatunji Babatunde ‘Goke, in this interface with Labour Vanguard, said no fewer than 20,000 members have been lost in the last five years.
Influx of imported products
We have been dealing with it in the best way we can. Even at the IndustriAll Global Union level, we have addressed the issue because the market has been flooded by imported/foreign materials and products that we can actually produce in Nigeria. We have been appealing to the government to ensure that their policies on local content and others aimed at improving and sustaining local production are implemented effectively.
For instance, if you go to Oshodi market in Lagos, you will see a lot of imported detergents. You see these products in every market across the country and we say no to this uncontrolled importation. We have appealed to the Federal Government to stop the importation of these products that we can produce locally. It is affecting our sector drastically, and many of our employers are talking about retrenchment and redundancy.
Redundancies and retrenchments weaken our own membership and membership happens to be our strength. As we speak, most of the companies that had over 1,000 workers, today have less than 100. The workers have been replaced with casual, contract staff or outsourced workers who are not union members and so, do not pay union dues. Once again, we want to use this opportunity to appeal to the Government to do the needful and save our sector, and indeed, local industries from extinction.
Before now, we were about 40,000 and as at today, we are less than 20,000. Within the last five years, we have lost over 20,000 members. Take for example in Lafarge, we had over 1,000 members, but as at today, we have less than 100 members. When you ask, the management will tell you that the minimum entry in Lafarge is OND. The moment you have the OND and you present the OND, you become an automatic senior staff. What that means is that we now have higher number of senior staff in the company. That is another problem that confronts the union.
As a contract staff, the casual job is a job that is casual in nature, so it is a job that you could do between two and three days or a week. But contract staff and outsourcing issue has been discussed at the National Assembly and the Executive arm has kicked against this practice. The Ministry of Labour is the one encouraging the practice and worsening the situation. It is the ministry that issues licence to recruiters.
It is a policy of patronage to friends and cronies. The ministry issues them recruiters’ licences and vice versa to employ casual workers, contract staff and outsourced. So, it is the ministry that is encouraging the employers. In Nigerian constitution, there is freedom of association, you are free to associate in as much as the worker is interested to join the union, but the employers have continued to refuse the workers the right to freedom of association.
We have approached the employers, talked with them, they even agreed that we should organise all the contract staff and the outsourcing, yet, they put roadblocks and obstacles everywhere by threatening the workers with sack should they opt to join the union.
We are afraid for future of the union. In the next five years and above, we do not know what will become of the union. However, we are not sitting idle, we are already diversifying to boost our revenue base. The responsibilities and expenses of the union are increasing by the day, but sadly, the income from union dues is reducing drastically as the only way we derive our income is through the check-off dues.
One of the problems we face in our sector is erratic power supply and our employers like other employers in the country, are not finding it funny because they spend so much on alternative sources of power especially generators and diesel for most of their operations which has eaten deep into their profits. If you recall, Dunlop and Michelin were major companies in our sector, but they left this country because of harsh operating environment, mainly the issue of power, and threw all their workers into the unemployment market. Today, their products are everywhere in the nation’s market.