…Workers won’t be sacrificial lambs for pandemic, NLC warns

…ULC draws up 19 point post-COVID agenda for FG to return Nigeria to path of growth

…TUC urges FG to protect workers from job losses

By Victor Young & Johnbosco  Agbakwuru

Organised Labour yesterday said the rampaging corona virus, COVID-19 pandemic, had worsened the nation’s economic, security, employment and poverty woes among others crises.

Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, United Labour Congress of Nigeria, ULC, and their Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, counterpart, in their May Day messages to the Nigerian workers, were unanimous that the nation’s socio-economic and political environments would never remained the same after the pandemic.

They lamented that the worst hit with even those on the frontline, and at homes living in fear of non-payment of their salaries and other benefits as well as the security of their jobs after the pandemic, and urged the federal government to guarantee job security.

In its message, NLC warned that it would not take it lightly for government at any level to offer workers as sacrificial lambs due to the socio-economic effects of COVID19 pandemic.

It made it clear that workers would resist any attempt by the government to transfer the cost of government ineptitude, corruption and inefficiencies in the downstream petroleum sub sector to poor Nigerians as the global oil price crashes.

President of NLC, Ayuba Wabba his address among others, said “The over bogus salaries, allowances and other perks of office enjoyed by elected public officials are hardly touched. We warn that the Nigeria Labour Congress would not take kindly to any attempt to offer workers as the sacrificial lambs for the inordinate emoluments of public office holders and outright embezzlement of public funds by political leaders.

“Many workers are forced to ‘telework’ from home using internet technology. We commend the compliance of workers and other Nigerians with government’s lockdown directive. That was a worthy contribution to the fight against Covid-19. The Corona virus pandemic has raised a number of soft underbelly questions that we must confront as a nation and a people going forward. Amidst the onslaught of the Corona virus, the dusts raised by this pandemic has settled on the corrugated iron sheets of truth – “how have we treated ourselves? How have we treated the weak and vulnerable? How has Nigeria treated her longsuffering workers?

“It is on this note that we make the point that labour is not a commodity to be taken, trampled, and tossed aside.  Workers create the wealth. It is no greed to demand a decent fraction of the reward of our efforts. We urge workers everywhere to continue to draw inspiration from the fact that without our sweat, no sweet gain can be made.

Without the twitching of our muscles, no socio-economic puzzle can be solved. Without our intuition, no initiative can be sustained. Without our dedication, no dividend can ever be declared.”

On Oil production, he said “Our dependence on imported refined petroleum products have left us perpetually broke. Workers will resist any further attempt to transfer the cost of government ineptitude, corruption and inefficiencies in the downstream petroleum sub sector to poor Nigerians. We can no longer go on wasting precious foreign exchange reserves in the name of importing refined petroleum products.

“Also, the whole fuel subsidy regime remains opaque. Nigerians are yet to be told the mechanism for the recent reduction in the price of the Premium Motor Spirit (PMS). Nigerians also wonder why the price of other derivatives of crude oil such as diesel and kerosene did not benefit from the unilateral reduction in the pump price of PMS.

“We also warn that government cannot outsource carbon governance to one private refinery. We need our four public refineries and even more to be up and running as this would provide the perfect competition for locally produced petroleum derivatives.

“Organized Labour in Nigeria views the huge severance payment and pension to political office holders as a form of corruption. It is even more disturbing when many of the recipients of these self-sponsored and self-benefitting allowances are State Governors who left office with piles of unpaid salaries, gratuity and pension liabilities.”

On security, Wabba said “Sadly, some of our security agents failed to live up to public expectations. There were reports of citizens harassment, use of disproportionate force and acceptance of bribes to compromise the lockdown.  It is deeply reprehensible that during this lockdown more Nigerians have lost their lives to rogue security operatives than to the corona virus disease.

” We particularly condemn the harassment of informal sector workers especially foodstuff sellers and drivers whose hard work ensures that there is food on the table of every Nigerian. While calling for the free movement of goods and personnel on essential duties, we demand thorough investigation of these infractions and diligent prosecution of law enforcement agents in dereliction of their responsibilities at this time.”

ULC tips on recovery

Similarly, In an address, President of ULC, Joe Ajaero, among others, contended that this year’s May-Day was unusual but as “workers, we remain undaunted and committed to their duties of building our nation. We have made sacrifices. We have given our lives in the effort to defeat the Pandemic. “

According to him, in the spirit of solidarity and the new objective conditions, he drew up no fewer than  19 steps for the federal government  to follow to return Nigeria to path of growth and development, saying the government should “immediately set up a Post COVID-19 think tank whose membership should be wide and inclusive to come up roadmap that would drive this nation out of the expected challenges that are inevitable.  The government should strengthen the nation’s Social Security Net to capture more vulnerable people and make its impact felt more by all. The overhaul of the handling of the NSIP has become imperative as its work is shrouded in secrecy and has left room for doubt in the minds of Nigerians especially in the areas of transparency and probity.

“Re-think thoroughly the Privatisation exercise especially in the Public utilities with a view to re-acquiring them. Return the local refineries to full capacity and invest in new refineries. Reduce the price of Petroleum products in line with prevailing realities and stop all fraudulent activities in the subsidy regime of the Petroleum sector.

“Set out on a deliberate effort to build domestic industrial capacity not just by stimulating Private sector investments but by also investing in establishing Medium and large scale industries in critical sectors of the economy. We cannot be the voice of neoliberalism trumpeting the mantra that Government is not good for business. Many strong nations have grown their domestic industrial base on this model

“Stop immediately the haemorrhaging of our jobs to foreigners who are employed by companies that receive waivers from Nigerian Government. Take active steps in checking the behaviour and activities of Chinese companies and individuals in our nation to avoid what is happening in other African countries. Take steps to salvage the steel industry as one of the basic infrastructure for catalysing manufacturing and industrialisation in any society. Begin implementation of the agreement with Russia on the revitalisation and completion of the complex as announced.

“Make our governance framework less parochial and more national in outlook and actions. Seek the active participation of all groups in the country by deliberately involving all in all spheres of national life to avoid the feeling of alienation and maximise our human and material resources. Immediately reconstitute the National COVID-19 taskforce to include all national stakeholders especially the labour movement whose members are at the frontlines of the struggle against the Pandemic.

“Look inward to encourage Individuals and organisations to develop capacities at different areas of the COVID-19 struggle. We seek a more nationally grown response that is anchored on our realities as a nation with a rich history of providing solutions to our internal problems. Expand the reach and penetration of COVID-19 palliatives and make it more inclusive cutting across every region and section of the country.

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“Invest more in Education especially in the area of Research institutes across the nation. We suggest the investment of at least 20% of the entire donations received by the federal government towards mitigating the pandemic to the fund the activities of the various Research institutes whose mandate relate to Medical, Pharmaceutical and herbal Research.

“We propose a special fund, not the usual CBN one that is not accessible, to help Medium and Small Scale Enterprises restart their businesses that were shut down as a result of the Pandemic. Informal Sector businesses like the Barbers and Salons, Carpenters and Wood workers, Plumbers, Waste and Scrap pickers, Road side vendors; majority of who eke out their living through Daily earnings and whose little start-up capital must have gone into food and basic necessities during the Lockdown need to be deliberately assisted to resuscitate their businesses.

“The federal government should call to order every employer be it private or public planning to embark on lawless acts within the nation’s industrial relations clime. It is the duty of the federal government to ensure strict compliance to the traditions, ethics and laws governing Industrial relations in the country and none should be encouraged to hide under the guise of fighting COVID-19 to breach workers’ rights and privileges.

“Consequently, we reject the impunity laden plan of the Kaduna state government under Nasir El-Rufai to cut the salaries of workers in the state. it is unacceptable and would be resisted by the ULC in the spirit of solidarity. If he has implemented it, we demand that they be returned to the workers immediately. We insist that the most effective strategy to fight Coronavirus Pandemic and indeed other national challenges is to build solidarities across our various divides. The deepening of cooperation and widening of inclusivity amongst our various peoples would enable our nation successfully confront all its challenges. It remains the only way we can turn the adversity that the COVID-19 has become into a huge platform for development as a nation.”

TUC seeks job security

Also, TUC, in its message among others, asked the federal government to ensure protection of job across the country even as it advocated for tax rebate of at least three months to companies in Nigeria.

TUC President,  Quadri Olaleye, in his address, said Convid -19 has affected our lives in such a way that it is as if the country is starting life de nouveau. To this end, we must together- Government, Employers and workers to give all to rejig our economy to avoid the looming acute recession by attending to the following. TUC believes that subsidy no longer existed in our economy and advocates fixing of the refineries and building of new ones. This will shield the economy from the vagaries and vicissitudes of international oil prices and politics.

” Consequent upon this Covid-19 , many workers might eventually lose their means of livelihood. We call on government to protect the workers from some uncharitable employers. Workers should not be made victims of convid-19. Similarly, it has been brought to our knowledge that some employers are saying they cannot pay salaries for the duration of the COVID-19 lockdown. It is evil and inhuman to come up with such decision. . This is the time individuals and organizations should show that workers are partners in progress.

“COVID 19 has once again brought to realisation that any economy dependent on a sole commodity is incapable of taking that country out of the wood. Nigeria must take advantage of her natural and human resources now. Diversification and incentives from government are key to successful industrialisation.”

“We call on government at all levels to exploit the potential of the  agricultural sector. The Small and Medium Scale businesses (informal sector) should also be encouraged because of the critical role it plays in employment generation.

The Congress advocates tax rebate of at least (3 months) to companies in Nigeria, especially the unionized ones. This will help reflate the economy. We also recommend 2 months free electricity to SMEs generally and Nigerians in general. Again, we demand that the sector be made to work efficiently. If it will take a review of the privatization process to resolve the power question government should go ahead no matter whose ox is gord.”



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