Sino-Nigerian relations: The next 50 years
Issa Aremu

…Urges legislators,governors to improve knowledge on labour issues

By Ibrahim HassanWuyo

A frontline labour leader and labour member of the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC),Comrade Issa Aremu,
has described as      “unhelpful”, “uninformed” and “diversionary” the  controversial private member  bill sponsored by Hon. Garba Datti Mohammed representing Sabon Gari Federal Constituency in Kaduna State.

The bill sought to move minimum wage from Exclusive list to concurrent legislative of the 1999 constitution.

While addressing journalists in Kaduna on Sunday, Comrade Issa Aremu who also doubles as the Vice President of Industrial Global Union with 50 million workers world wide ,advised law makers and  governors to renew their social contract with their constituencies, adding that the sponsored bill shows “a scandalous disconnect” between some representatives and the people they claim to represent.

He said 21 years after uninterrupted  democratic process, it was “unacceptable” that some legislators lack sufficient knowledge of 1999 constitution which he said rightly puts critical factors of development like labour, capital and land  on the exclusive  list with a view of promoting “ a planned and balanced economic development; of Nigeria.

According to him, all Federations of the world maintain minimum labour, health, safety pension, welfare  and financial standards failing which sustainable and harmonious development is impossible. He said 1999 envisages good governance and welfare of all persons “in consolidating the unity of our people which he says explains while it directs that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens”.

Aremu who commended  President Muhammadu Buhari for following in the footsteps of Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Musa Yar/ Good Luck Jonathan to increase minimum wage as part of agenda for Decent work, growth and development said only the President and his able Ministers, Chris Igige and Festus Kyamo can pronounce on minimum labour standards, governors and legislators can compliment not undermine it.

“My fear is that under the separation of powers or true federalism, some governors would want to print their currencies, have their CBN, put working age at 10, criminalize pregnancy at work, deny pension, that will no more be a federation but fiefdoms, and you know few governors are loud mouthed emperors of the 18th century in 21st century ”

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He urged all elected and appointed officials to avail themselves of knowledge about labour market issues regretting that in recent  labour issues have become “all comers affairs”, even as he said labour like money and capital markets is a specialized and the most important factor of growth and development.

Aremu said since the second Republic with the enactment of the inaugural Minimum Wage in 1981 as demanded for by NLC’s Chatter of Demands, it’s a settled issue that national minimum wage determination is   a Federal Executive affairs who through Ministries Labour and Finance, Bureau of Statistics,  CBN has the data to engage organized labour and private sector before arriving at the national minimum to ensure Decent, not slave work and productivity.

He described as “ a disgrace”, the clamor by some governors for exclusive right to determine minimum pay bellow the national minimum adding that it shows collapse of governance at sub-national levels compared to the Second Republic.  He recalled that notwithstanding less endowment in the 80s progressive governors of UPN and PRP states pushed for higher minimum wages which in turned compelled NPN led government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari to negotiate N 125  ( $200) in 1981.

While observing that: “A just wage for the worker is the ultimate test of whether any economic system is performing justly’, he commended state governors like Lalong, Of Plateau, Gandije of Kano, Shanwolu of Lagos and Obaseki who pay more than National Minimum .

“In Nigeria today there is no just wage for workers. In some instances no wage at all. To this extent, our economic system is far from performing justly. Beyond corruption, at the root of Nigerian worsening economic crisis is income insecurity engendered by low pay and sadly no pay in recent times. Behind almost all the strikes, which have hit all the sectors of the economy in recent time, is the crisis of compensation and declining purchasing power in the wake of massive Naira devaluation and rising costs of living.”
“The real threat to democratisation process is the desperation of workers in the face of falling purchasing power and the attendant poverty.  A hungry workingwoman will be less tolerant and less democratic.  Indeed a hungry workingman is susceptible to worse forms of corruption. We cannot fight corruption with miserably low paid and certainly with unpaid workers. Above all, with working poor and (Allah forbids! now working beggars!), we can as well say farewell to economic recovery, productivity and wealth generation.”
” A worker as hunter and gatherer of food cannot be productive. Workers in the club of 20 developed economies, Nigeria envies are well paid on time and well motivated too.”

“But let’s pause a bit and ask the question; what about the workers? Perhaps we may for one consider the plight of that worker not paid for one, two, three or four months.  If he or she is the only breadwinner, it is clear then that the family support totally collapses.  Food will be difficult to find to feed the children with all the implications for malnutrition.”

“Some kids may be withdrawn from school on account of non-payment of school fees while Easter or Sallah cloth will necessarily elude them.  Pray the member of the family is not ill either.  Since the breadwinner cannot meet expectation, depression logically replaces love within the household.  The options before unpaid workingmen and women in a society without social security like Nigeria are therefore better imagined.”
The labour leader ,however, challenged organized labour and organized private sector to be more proactive in promoting literacy about labour market policies among elected officials.

He urged NLC and TUC to expand national Minimum pay to Minimum for women, youths and students and the vulnerable especially as part of the strategy to combat the adverse impact of COVID: 19

Comrade Aremu who is also a member of National Institute for policy and Strategic studies, Kuru Jos said Nigeria cannot be part of leading economies in Africa without sustainable labour motivation and productivity.
He ,on behalf the African region of IndustriALL Global Union,congratulated Dr.Ngozi Okonjo Iweala ,saying the consensus of the World Trade Council on her election as the first female and first African Director General  of the World Trade Organisation, indicated that this historic appointment was earned and well deserved.

“We recall your impeccable legacies as Finance and Foreign Affairs Minister of Federal Republic of Nigeria and  your globally acknowledged performance at the World Bank in financing critical infrastructure to alleviate poverty.”

“On behalf of the Africa Council of IndustriALL Global Union Africa, 40 affiliate industrial Unions, we congratulate you for achieving the  feat as the 7th Director General of the WTO,” he said.

Commenting on the challenges ahead of the WTO boss, Aremu said while   fighting  for better working conditions and trade union rights around the world, IndustriALL also promotes sustainable trade and sustainable industrial policies.

“We hope WTO under your leadership will partner with our Head office at the  global level, to make sure trade agreements foster creation of sustainable mass Decent work and ensure workers’ rights and sustainable development world wide. We are encouraged by your commitment to job creation for Africa’s youth population before and after your appointment. The  history of WTO in Africa is mixed. Indeed in many respects uncritical lowering of tariffs had fostered de-Industrialization and job losses in the past.”

“Your election is in fullest of time when African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA) involving 54 African countries with a combined population of more than 1billion people and combined gross domestic product of more than US$3.4 trillion had become a reality. ”

“African trade unions through your respected  good office look forward to an engagement on alternative trade policies  that must  “take into account the needs of working people around the world, inclusive economic growth and sustainable development.”

“The WTO under the leadership of an African must make a difference by ensuring that trade serves the purpose of wider growth, advance  industrialization and create mass jobs  on the basis of respect for workers and their rights. Trade facilitation must go hand in hand with workers’ rights to form free trade unions to represent labour, to collectively bargain on wages and working conditions,” he said.

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