By Victor Young
Organised labour has pleaded with the Federal Government to provide palliatives and other necessary materials to workers on essential services, as the nation battles to contain the spread of coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic.
In a statement by the President of United Labour Congress of Nigeria, ULC, Joe Ajaero, labour equally asked for adequate protection of the frontline workers against continuous harassment and intimidation by security agents.
ULC expressed concerns that the workers at the frontlines of the COVID-19 battle are not adequately protected, not only against being infected but from violence against agents of the government, who are supposed to protect them so that they could provide their services.
The statement read: “ULC is compelled at this time to draw the attention of the Federal Government to the urgent need to take action to support Nigerian workers, who are not just at the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19 Pandemic, but also those who provide essential services that are ancillary to the overall success against the outbreak.
“We have received several complaints from our affiliates of continuous harassment and intimidation against their members in the hands of some overzealous security operatives while on the way to or back from their places of work while yet others have been beaten in the process of delivering their services.
“These workers complain of being side-lined from the distribution of the COVID-19 relief package, which they see in the news of daily basis. They believe that they are being punished rather than rewarded for their commitment to the battle against the pandemic.
“The continued manhandling of workers in the electricity sector, in the oil and gas sector, in the aviation sector, in the health sector and indeed even journalists, who are in their various beats, is unacceptable and ought to be corrected immediately.
“Without these men there will be no electricity for our homes, no fuel to run our cars and generators, our air spaces would remain unmanned thus exposed to abuse and much more; the hospitals both traditional and orthodox, cannot remain open.
“How can we win this battle if these men are not actively supported by protecting them and compensating them for the risks they take on daily basis?
“Congress is, therefore, worried that workers who are at the frontlines of this battle are not adequately protected, not only against being infected but from violence against agents of the government who are supposed to protect them so that they can provide their services as required by all in the effort to contain the outbreak.
“We cannot effectively engage this Pandemic without giving Nigerian workers the needed palliatives and encouragement to give their best. For this to happen, their protection must be uppermost in the minds of all actors within the society.
“If these workers cannot work, the battle against the disease is dead on arrival. It is only when the environment allows them to do their work unfettered that the collective effort against COVID-19 can be successful.
“The ULC urges the government to quickly sensitise its security operatives on the need to change their attitudes towards members of the public especially those who are at work.
“We had expected proper education of the agents and other enforcers of governments policies on the content thus essence of the entire strategy to contain the outbreak. If this had been done adequately, we are sure that the reports we are getting from the field would have been different.
“Also urgent at this time is the need for proper compensation for these workers. If a worker has to go out to the field at this time, it becomes very important that special adequate allowances be provided for them.
“These are men and women who are at work while majority of us in the spaces where Lockdown has been implemented are at home relaxing and sleeping. We need to reach out to them.
“It will be dangerous to have those at work at this time to make all of us comfortable at home and defeat COVID-19 to feel cheated in anyway. We would rather want them motivated rather than discouraged so that our collective effort to defeat the disease will not be a waste of time and resources.
“The government must do something concrete immediately to correct this apparent anomaly before it scuttles our effort.
“On the basis of this, the ULC calls on the federal government to quickly send the COVID-19 relief package to these workers who are yet to receive any. Being at the frontlines of this battle, we strongly believe that they ought to be at the frontlines of receiving this package if they do exist as we have seen in the media.
“They deserve it and our appreciation of these hard-working men and women should not just be in commendation but in deliverables that would help them manage their lives and families more effectively at this time.
“Private Sector employers who must have their workers out and about at this time must be compelled to put in place adequate compensation packages for the workers exposed to the vagaries of the Pandemic.
“It is either government makes the transfers directly to the affected workers or they work with the Employers to put in place a scheme to take care of these workers.
“This is why once again; we suggest the setting up of a comprehensive national COVID-19 response task force that would involve all the major national stakeholders in the battle against the disease.
“It is only such an all-encompassing body that can craft an effective coherent strategy to defeat the pandemic in Nigeria. This is the experience we have coming out of the Ebola Outbreak and we must not allow that to be lost.
“We call for proper insurance for these workers to indemnify them against the risks that they are exposed to at this time as they go to work on a daily basis.
“A hazard and life insurance is much needed for these gallant workers all over the nation and we suggest that the government works with the relevant sector stakeholders to immediately put such in place.”